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Schumacher one-two at Suzuka 10 Oct 2004

Race winner Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari F2004 celebrates at the finish.
Formula One World Championship, Rd17, Japanese Grand Prix, Race, Suzuka, Japan, 10 October 2004 Race winner Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd17, Japanese Grand Prix, Race, Suzuka, Japan, 10 October 2004 Pole sitter and race winner Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari F2004 leads at the start of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd17, Japanese Grand Prix, Race, Suzuka, Japan, 10 October 2004 (L to R): Olivier Panis (FRA) Toyota TF104B and Juan Pablo Montoya (COL) Williams BMW FW26 battle at the start of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd17, Japanese Grand Prix, Race, Suzuka, Japan, 10 October 2004 Japanese fans.
Formula One World Championship, Rd17, Japanese Grand Prix, Race, Suzuka, Japan, 10 October 2004

Who says 13 is unlucky?

Michael Schumacher wins the Japanese Grand Prix from brother Ralf, with Jenson Button third for BAR ahead of Takuma Sato.

If Michael Schumacher’s seventh world championship-winning season had gone slightly awry since Hungary - these things are relative, of course - he got it right back on track in Suzuka with a pluperfect 13th victory that demonstrated his utter domination of the sport.

Thanks to Typhoon 22 qualifying was crammed into this morning’s schedule, and though the track conditions were changing all through the session, it generally worked out quite well. Michael took pole position, and grabbed the lead right from the start. After that, nobody saw which way he went. He played with brother Ralf, who was in the running for second place all afternoon, both of them running three-stop strategies.

Behind them, the BARs didn’t quite have enough to challenge the Williams, but it was close. Jenson Button got the drop on Takuma Sato in the first corner, but could not shake his team mate who was running a lighter fuel load. As his car began to oversteer Button let his partner through on the seventh lap. Sato was running a three-stop strategy, but Button was on two and made the most of it. When the cross-over point came, with Sato’s final stop on lap 41, Button went back up to third place for his 10th podium of the season.

Some way back, a two-stop strategy worked out for Fernando Alonso once he had fought his way past team mate Jacques Villeneuve in the early going, but his fifth place points were probably not sufficient to give Renault a chance of beating BAR to runner-up slot in the championship when the action switches to Brazil in a fortnight.

Kimi Raikkonen seemed off the pace in both qualifying and the early going, but the reason became clear as his two-stop strategy unravelled. The Finn might have seemed unobtrusive, but he held on in the thick of the action with a lot of three-stopping cars, and came through to a strong sixth. His biggest problem came when Glock’s Jordan hit his McLaren - quite hard - at Degner Curve after the German failed to see him coming, slightly damaging the steering.

Raikkonen’s drive was good news for McLaren, because David Coulthard had been savaged out of fifth place on the 38th lap. The Ferrari driver had been pushing very hard and set the fastest lap on lap 30, but ran into the back of the McLaren. Coulthard retired with rear-end damage; the Ferrari was out with its left front wheel toeing out dramatically.

This left seventh place to Juan Pablo Montoya, who was another in the thick of some very serious fighting in the middle of the pack. The Colombian made up a place on lap 16 when Giancarlo Fisichella slid wide in the Spoon Curve, and held on to beat the Italian by less than a second. The Sauber driver was speaking on the radio to his pit crew when the incident happened, losing concentration and braking a fraction too late as they discussed a problematic fuel alarm sensor at a crucial moment. He recovered quickly, and pushed hard back to eighth place for the final point.

Ninth fell to Fisichella’s team-mate Felipe Massa, who screwed up qualifying with a spin, started from 19th on the grid, and then fought all afternoon with anyone and everyone. The Brazilian’s reward was fourth fastest lap and the pleasure of giving notice to his 2005 team mate, whom he overtook twice. The French-Canadian was 10th, unhappy with his car’s behaviour after making a strong start to lead team mate Alonso. Jarno Trulli, his predecessor at Renault, had similar problems in his Toyota, running hard in the opening stages as he fought with Alonso, Webber, Montoya and Barrichello, but then faded to 11th place.

Christian Klien was 12th after a relatively uneventful race, but team mate Mark Webber retired from the initial seventh place fight for the most extraordinary reason. His car’s ride height was too low and eventually as it kept bottoming the titanium skid block got so hot that the Australian’s posterior began to overheat. He came in for attention on lap 18, and retired two laps later.

Nick Heidfeld survived electronic glitches on his Jordan to finish 13th, with team mate Timo Glock 15th, troubled by wayward handling. Between them, veteran Olivier Panis drove his Toyota to 14th in his final race as Ricardo Zonta will replace him in Brazil. “To stop after 11 years is a special moment,” he admitted.

Gianmaria Bruni was Minardi’s only finisher, three laps behind in 16th, as Zsolt Baumgartner spun out on his 41st lap.

So that was the Japanese Grand Prix, the first world championship event to come perilously close to cancellation. Michael Schumacher, and 221,000 Japanese fans, were pretty glad it went ahead.