Schumacher takes record sixth title at Suzuka 12 Oct 2003
"I'm so proud to be part of this team. Most of the time it has been Michael doing the winning, but I am so proud to have been there so often and to have played a key role."
Thus spoke an emotional Rubens Barrichello after the seventh victory of his career had cemented a record sixth world championship for his illustrious Ferrari team mate Michael Schumacher.
In an unusual race, the champion barely played a part. Moving from 14th to 12th at the start, he chased Takuma Sato initially but damaged the nose of his Ferrari as he tried unsuccessfully to pass the BAR at the chicane on the sixth lap. A pit stop for a new nose dropped him back to last place, and set him on course for an afternoon playing catch-up.
Meanwhile, Barrichello had boiled into the lead for the first part of the opening lap, but exiting the hairpin Juan Pablo Montoya blasted his Williams into the lead and immediately pulled away. By the end of the lap he was 1.3s ahead; after four laps it was 4.4s. Then Barrichello began to reduce the deficit, and when the Colombian suddenly slowed dramatically on the ninth lap it was all over for Williams' hopes of winning the constructors' championship. Ralf Schumacher had climbed up to 14th place by the end of lap one, but on the same lap as Montoya dropped back he hit the back of Heinz-Harald Frentzen's Sauber in the chicane and lost further ground.
In the early going Fernando Alonso offered the sternest challenge to Barrichello's Ferrari, closing the gap to less than a second, but the Renault only lasted 17 laps before blowing its engine. That was when the McLarens moved into the equation. Initially David Coulthard led Kimi Raikkonen, but soon the Finn was past his team mate. On the 13th lap, as Raikkonen led the race after Barrichello had made the first of his three pits stops, and Michael Schumacher was only 16th, Raikkonen held the championship crown in his hands. But on this day McLaren had no answer to the Ferrari. Their two-stop strategy was not sufficient to dislodge the Ferrari in subsequent stops, and Barrichello drove superbly without making any mistakes. McLaren's sole hope lay in the red cars proving unreliable, and that was indeed a forlorn hope.
Further back Jenson Button had another brilliant race for BAR and again led a race, this time on laps 14 to 16. He didn't have the speed to stay there, but he did stay ahead of Jarno Trulli who drove equally well in his Renault as he battled up from his back-row start. They would finish fourth and fifth, just over a second apart, while Sato drove extremely well to bring his BAR home sixth. That haul of eight points pulled the Honda-powered team back into fifth place in the constructors' championship, with Sauber finishing sixth after Nick Heidfeld's ninth place. Frentzen was to retire with a broken engine following his incident with Ralf Schumacher.
Toyota's day promised more than Cristiano da Matta's well-driven seventh and Olivier Panis's 10th realised, as the team's strategy didn't work out. The Brazilian did a fine job to fend off a persistent attack from the Schumacher brothers, which faded when Michael got his braking wrong at the chicane on lap 41 and, having locked his front brakes trying to avoid the back of da Matta's car, pulled into Ralf's path. The Williams also locked up, and its nose hit the Ferrari's left rear wheel. Both Schumacher brothers slid down the escape road at the chicane, and da Matta was free. After that Michael admitted that he had thoughts in his head about tyre damage, and since he was in the eighth place he needed to win the championship he backed off. Ralf made a pit stop for a replacement nose, and finished an unhappy 12th, just behind Mark Webber, for whom Jaguar's three-stop strategy proved disastrous.
It was an edgy race, because one slip from Barrichello could have gifted the title to Raikkonen at one stage, but in the end the result worked out the way most had predicted it would, with the remarkable Michael Schumacher winning a record sixth world championship crown, and Ferrari wrapping up the constructors' title.
"It's probably not appropriate to describe my emotions," Schumacher said. "It's been a tough year and tough late stage of season, and this was a very tough race, probably one of my toughest. But much more to mention is the team. They did an incredible job, Rubens had a fantastic drive, so we won the constructors' title now five times in a row, the first time this has ever happened, and we did it in big style. You have seen what happened in Nurburgring, Hockenheim and Budapest, and how many people wrote us off. But here we are, back, because we never give up, we always fight. That's one of the strengths of a fantastic team."
Click here for the race results in full.
Click here for final drivers' championship standings.
Click here for the final constructors' championship standings.