The 2002 Formula One season ended in style at Suzuka, with the Japanese Grand Prix encapsulating everything that the rest of year had contained.....

Michael Schumacher showed why he is a five times world champion with a crushing display at the head of the field, Ferrari did likewise with a photo-opportunity 1-2 finish, Williams and McLaren duelled to be best of the rest and a rookie driver scored an emotional top six finish in front of his home crowd.

Fresh from dominating the morning warm-up session, Schumacher streaked away from the lights to open up a two-second advantage over team-mate Rubens Barrichello by the end of the first lap. Spurred on by the criticism he received after trying to contrive a dead heat at Indianapolis, the world champion was leaving nothing to chance as he prepared to show exactly how much better he and the Ferrari F2002 are than the rest of the field.

On a slightly remodelled Suzuka circuit, every new fastest lap was a record, and Schumacher used them to good advantage to pull effortlessly away from Barrichello. In turn, the Brazilian opened out a useful advantage over David Coulthard and Ralf Schumacher, who got the jump on Kimi Raikkonen into turn one, with Juan Montoya rounding out the initial top six.

Takuma Sato, the darling of the home crowd held his nerve and his seventh place through the opening lap, but quickly had the two fast-starting Renaults swarming all over his rear wing. Despite being slow away on the formation lap, Jarno Trulli showed that there was little wrong with his R202 by squeezing past team-mate Jenson Button through the Esses and latching onto the back of the lead Jordan. Sato's team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella, meanwhile, had dropped back at the start, the result of having to switch to the T-car shortly before the race, allowing Nick Heidfeld to complete the top ten.

The Sauber assault, however, was shortly to be reduced by half, as another rookie, Felipe Massa, made a mistake at Degner, running wide on the exit of part one and failing to make part two as he plunged into the tyre wall. It was a sorry way for one of the most exciting men in F1 2002 to make his exit, not only from Sauber, but also possibly the category.

Massa's swansong lasted longer into the Suzuka day than that of Allan McNish, however, the Scot having decided that discretion should be the better part of valour by withdrawing from the meeting shortly after the warm-up, the legacy of his qualifying shunt on Saturday.

Reliability is always a cause for concern in Japan, but no-one expected the field to be reduced quite as quickly as it was. With McNish sidelined and Massa already trudging back to the pits, Olivier Panis' BAR slowed dramatically, dropping him behind the backmarking Minardis with a throttle problem. Two pit-stops, one taken inside the garage, followed as Honda attempted to keep a full quartet running in front of its home crowd, but eventually driver, team and engine supplier had to call time on Panis' last outing before switching to rivals Toyota.

Incredibly, a throttle problem also accounted for Coulthard, robbing the Scot of the chance to at least make a play at challenging the Ferraris. While Panis' waited gamely in the pits first time around, the leading McLaren trundled past before being waved straight behind a rapidly closed garage door. The Scot made a swift exit thereafter, symbolically thanking his crew before heading off to a well-earned holiday in the sun.

And thus there were 16, now brought up by Alex Yoong, who threw away a golden opportunity to head home team-mate Mark Webber when he spun when under no pressure at the hairpin. Another spin, this time at turn one just seven laps later, looks likely to have pulled the curtain down on another F1 career.

By lap ten, shortly after Yoong's first rotation, Schumacher had opened out 15secs on his brother, now running in third place following Coulthard's departure. The elder German had already dipped below Ralf's 2001 race lap record and appeared set for another cruise to victory.

If the world champion had it easy, however, there were others further down the order who were already plotting means of overcoming their problems. Chief among these were the two Renaults, still stuck behind the stubborn Sato as the first round of pit-stops loomed. Expecting to be able to run faster in clear air, the Enstone-based team called, first, Trulli, then Button in for new rubber and fuel, and managed to leap-frog both ahead of the Jordan by the time the trio's stops panned out. The Jordan driver, having been elevated to sixth by Coulthard's demise, was slowed further by a set-up change, albeit one that would pay dividends later in the race.

Elsewhere in the midfield, Mika Salo was crowning his final race in F1 with a fighting display, heading a train that comprised the luckless Fisichella and Jacques Villeneuve's BAR, which also made a bad start to drop out of the top ten. Heidfeld was not too far ahead in the lone Sauber, and the two Jaguars not too far behind, but it was the Toyota-Honda battle that caught the attention once Renault had done its stuff.

The first round of stops did little to split the trio, but Villeneuve began to rapidly reel in the cars ahead of him. Feinting to pass Fisichella at the chicane on successive laps, the Canadian grew increasingly frustrated by what he saw as a wider than usual Jordan, before losing his chance of progressing to a plume of white smoke from his right exhaust. The 1997 champion did well to control the ensuing slide as the rear of the car locked up, before depositing it at the side of the road on the exit of the final corner. The 'new' car expected for 2003 cannot come soon enough...

The leaders, with Schumacher in particular believed to be running a three-stop strategy such was his pace, confounded the rest of the pit-lane by making their stops at roughly the same time as everyone else. Barrichello took over briefly at the front of the field while the German stopped, but Michael was ready to resume the position as Ferrari turned him around quickly enough to emerge ahead of his brother.

Williams and McLaren stayed out longer than most, but the stops did little to adjust the order, merely increasing gap between Schumacher Jr and Raikkonen and allowing Montoya, running a lonely race in fifth, to close in.

The two Ferraris continues to pull away as the race moved into its second half, and the race went into a ten lap lull until Button kicked off the second round of stops. With both Renaults fuelled for the same amount of laps first time around, it was odd to see the Briton coming in first, and the decision appeared to have backfired when Trulli coasted to a halt exiting the tunnel. Initial thoughts suggested that the Italian had run out of fuel, but the team later confirmed that an undisclosed mechanical problem has halted his progress.

Trulli's exit, combined with Button's second stop, allowed the dogged Sato to reclaim tenure of a point-scoring position. It was now that the technical change made during the first stop came into play, as a handful of searing laps allowed the rookie to get back out ahead of the chasing Button, having systematically reeled the Briton in during the mid-race period. The team later revealed that the front wing had received a few extra turns of downforce, correcting the nervous car that Sato had begun the race with, giving the Japanese driver the confidence to push.

Team-mate Fisichella was also making progress, albeit more slowly as he adapted to a car hastily converted from Sato-spec prior to the start. Having seen off the challenge of Villeneuve, the Italian set about chasing down Heidfeld and Salo, eventually passing the Toyota driver during the second round of stops. Any thoughts he had of making it into the top ten evaporated quickly, however, with a spectacular engine failure exiting the Spoon Curve.

With three Honda-powered cars out of the race, two with conspicuous engine failures, the word went out to Sato to preserve his powerplant. With several seconds in hand over the chasing Button, and the Briton about to be lapped by the leaders, the Japanese driver was able to do so, bringing his EJ12 home in the points for the first time, to the great delight of team and yellow-clad fans alike. What was expected to be sixth place, however, soon became even more, as the top three took on its third different make-up of the afternoon.

The leaders made their final stops on schedule, with the two Ferraris holding station because of Schumacher's growing advantage. Barrichello slipped momentarily to third, between the following Williams and McLaren, but regained his place as runner-up when his later stopping rivals made their calls. With Raikkonen making a final effort to close the gap to Ralf, who had been slowed on his in-lap by the smoke billowing from Fisichella's Honda, the German responded in kind, only to see his BMW powerplant give up the ghost with five laps to go. It was a sad end to a fighting 100th grand prix drive from Schumacher, but elevated Raikkonen to the podium - and Sato to fifth.

With 90 per cent of the crowd holding its breath, crossing its fingers and praying to whatever god they chose to believe in, the closing laps took on an air of tension, but Taku brought the car home in one piece to recreate a reserved version of the euphoria that greeted Mark Webber's debut points in Melbourne. As Michael Schumacher confirmed later in the press conference, Japan had had two winners in one day.

The world champion was greeted equally enthusiastically by his section of the pit-lane, slowing sufficiently to allow the sort of photo-opportunity not frowned on by race fans and give Barrichello the chance to participate in the celebrations that surrounded their becoming the most successful partnership in Formula One history. It was Schumi's eleventh win of the year - another record - and moved Ferrari to a points total exactly double that of the rest of the field put together.

It may have been predictable at the front, but somewhere down the field, a diminutive Japanese star in the making proved the Formula One has a heart and soul after all.

Race result:

1. Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari 53 laps 1hr 26min 59.698secs
2. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +0.506secs
3. Kimi Raikkonen Finland McLaren-Mercedes +23.292secs
4. Juan Montoya Colombia Williams-BMW +36.275secs
5. Takuma Sato Japan Jordan-Honda +1min 22.694secs
6. Jenson Button Britain Renault-Renault +1 lap

7. Nick Heidfeld Germany Sauber-Petronas +1 lap
8. Mika Salo Finland Toyota-Toyota +1 lap
9. Eddie Irvine Britain Jaguar-Cosworth +1 lap
10. Mark Webber Australia Minardi-Asiatech +2 laps
11. Ralf Schumacher Germany Williams-BMW +5 laps [not running]

Rtd Pedro de la Rosa Spain Jaguar-Cosworth 39 laps completed
Rtd Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Jordan-Honda 37 laps completed
Rtd Jarno Trulli Italy Renault-Renault 32 laps completed
Rtd Jacques Villeneuve Canada BAR-Honda 27 laps completed
Rtd Alex Yoong Malaysia Minardi-Asiatech 14 laps completed
Rtd Olivier Panis France BAR-Honda 8 laps completed
Rtd David Coulthard Britain McLaren-Mercedes 7 laps completed
Rtd Felipe Massa Brazil Sauber-Petronas 3laps completed

Dns Allan McNish Britain Toyota-Toyota

Fastest lap:

Michael Schumacher Ferrari-Ferrari 1min 36.125secs lap 15


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