Japan 2005 - Raikkonen at the last 03 Oct 2006
The weather played a crucial role in last years Japanese Grand Prix weekend. Nothing as extreme as 2004s typhoon, but the rain was enough to conjure up a topsy-turvy grid which helped produce one of the most thrilling races in living memory.
Qualifying started with a damp track and ended with a soaked one, the tricky conditions claiming the cars of Jarno Trulli and Tiago Monteiro, both men spinning off at Degner, the latter on his out lap. Ralf Schumacher, at the wheel of the heavily-revised Toyota TF105B, brought consolation for the team in the shape of their first pole position on home soil. As 13th man out, a great lap, fortuitous timing and, as it turned out, a very light car helped him take P1. Just minutes later, heavy rain made running all but impossible, even on full-wet tyres, leaving many of the big guns - Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya among them - languishing in the bottom third of the grid. Joining Ralf on row one was the BAR of Jenson Button, while row two comprised Giancarlo Fisichella (great news for Renaults constructors title hopes) and the Red Bull of Christian Klien.
A dramatic race start saw Takuma Sato understeer off at Turn 1. Ferraris Rubens Barrichello did the same, tagging the front of the BAR as he did so, though miraculously both were able to crawl from the gravel and rejoin. Less fortunate was Montoya. At the final turn of the opening lap he was forced off track by Jacques Villeneuves Sauber and the McLaren star was into the wall and out of the race. The safety car was deployed for five laps, ruining Ralfs ambitious three-stop strategy. Things got worse for Toyota shortly after racing resumed, when Sato slew into the side of Trulli with a do-or-die overtaking attempt, eliminating the innocent Italian. Then, when Ralf made his first stop, he handed the lead to Fisichella and the real pattern of the race began to emerge.
It featured some classic racing between arguably the three greatest drivers in the field. Alonso twice had to find a way past Michael Schumacher - the first time he audaciously went round the outside in the 130R - while Raikkonen eventually muscled past the Ferrari into Turn 1. It was the Finn who had the real pace, and it was he who moved into the lead when Fisichella made his second stop. That lasted until lap 45 of 53 when Raikkonen made a late final visit to the pits, leaving an apparently straightforward victory within Renaults grasp.
McLaren and Raikkonen had other ideas. By lap 50 the gap to Fisichella was down to half a second and as the pair crossed the line for the penultimate time it was just a tenth. As they went into the Turn 1 braking zone for the final time Raikkonen was wheel-to-wheel with the Italian and pulled off a fantastic move to go round the outside and into the lead. The win was his. A gutted Fisichella was left to pick up the pieces, while Alonso clawed his way up to third after passing an impressive Mark Webber in the closing stages. The result left Renault leading McLaren by just two points in the constructors championship, leaving everything to play for at the final round in China.
Links: Results / Live Timing Archive, Photos, TV images.