Michael Schumacher bookended his fourth world championship season in fitting style, taking a ninth win of the year and enough points to ensure that he became the highest scorer of all time in Formula One.
The German needed just six points to take the final accolade held by Alain Prost, but left no-one in any doubt of his intention to win the race by cutting violently across the track as soon as the red lights went out. The now traditional 'Suzuka Swerve' was conducted as much out of concern that second-placed Juan Montoya would vault ahead of the Ferrari into turn one, but Schumacher need not have worried as he laid the foundations for a blistering opening stint.
Running lighter than any other front-runner save team-mate Barrichello, Schumacher fairly blasted away from the pack to hold an astonishing 3.6secs lead at the end of the first lap. His cause was aided by the action in his wake, as Barrichello, needing to win the race to have any hope of making it a Ferrari 1-2 in the championship, carved his way through from fourth on the grid to be challenging Montoya at the final chicane.
Ralf Schumacher had already been despatched by the time the Brazilian ducked inside the second Williams, blown away at 130R, and it was clear that the Grove team had chosen to run the controversial scrubbed Michelins from the start. Knowing that the tyres would pick up performance as the race wore on, both Montoya and Schumacher Jr were sitting ducks for the lightweight Ferrari in the opening laps, but Barrichello quickly discovered that Montoya was not about to lie down.
Having made his move at the chicane, Barrichello was astonished to find the Colombian blasting back past him into the first corner of the second lap, and thereafter had to settle for a view of the FW23's gearbox as Montoya's game plan took effect.
By this stage, the leader was some 8.2secs up the road, and seemingly heading for an uncontested ninth win of the year. But it was clear that Schumacher was pushing, as two untypical errors on lap nine would later testify.
Already the midfield had begun to thin out, as Giancarlo Fisichella undid all the hard work put in by his launch control to spin away an early fifth place. The Italian had been ahead of Barrichello off the start, such was the ferocity with which the Benetton cleared the line, but was bundled back to fifth - still ahead of the two McLarens - at turn one.
In the pits was Heinz-Harald Frentzen, the German requiring a new nose on his Prost after unscheduled contact with another car, while Alex Yoong and Enrique Bernoldi were tailed off at the back after having had to start from the pits.
None of these became the first retirements, however, as the unfortunate 'honour' fell to the man who would have no chance to redeem himself in the future.