Typhoon 22 may have given Suzuka a wider berth than expected, but a hurricane by the name of Michael Schumacher howled through the Japanese Grand Prix venue on his way to a comprehensive lights-to-flag victory.

The world champion showed that his disappointing outing in China was a mere aberration by trouncing the field on a day when three-stop strategies proved the way to go after the rescheduling of qualifying to Sunday morning.

Right from the time that the lights went out, Schumacher was a man on a mission stretching away at the head of the field, initially with brother Ralf in tow, before breaking the Williams and adding tenths to his advantage with every lap. The only question over the elder German's lead surrounded just what strategy he was running, with the rest of the pack already hoping that the Ferrari would have to stop three times as Schumi opened out a seven-second lead on third-placed Jenson Button by lap four.

Related Articles

Their prayers were answered, at least in part, when the two leaders stopped in quick succession, but Ferrari's call to the world champion didn't come until lap 13, allowing Schumacher to return to the track still in P1.

Ralf had made his first call for fuel and tyres on lap ten, dropping behind the squabbling BARs of Button and local hero Takuma Sato before he rejoined down in ninth place. Button had run third early on, having made a demon start to squeeze between his team-mate and the slow-starting Jaguar of Mark Webber, before holding Sato off running around the outside of the first turn. However, it quickly became apparent that the Japanese driver was running lighter than his British team-mate, and the two swapped place on lap eight to allow Sato a shot at reeling in the Schumacher brothers.

Further back, the re-arranged qualifying session, and lack of meaningful practice on either Friday or Saturday, had produced an 'all-star' midfield group, as several big names attempted to recover from poor grid positions brought about by a combination of mistakes on track or the misfortune of doing well last time out. Jacques Villeneuve headed a six-car train that comprised names such as Alonso, Raikkonen, Montoya and Barrichello, with Olivier Panis - in his final grand prix - thrown in for good measure. Barrichello had suffered from having to run first in a wet pre-qualifying session after winning in China, while Montoya was just plain slow in pre-Q and paid for it second time around.

The Brazilian was the first man on the move, picking off Panis at the chicane before making up further places during the first round of pit-stops, but Alonso also passed Villeneuve, and Montoya Raikkonen, as Suzuka proved unusually conducive to overtaking in the early stages. Raikkonen also suffered from a sticky fuel hose, dropping him behind the Ferrari.

Webber might have lost a handful of places at the start, but remained ahead of the illustrious group, and continued to hold his own in the chasing pack ahead of the early pit-stops. However, the Australian made a quicker-than-expected return to the garage, complaining of a burning sensation in the cockpit and, after another couple of laps was forced to call it a day. The team has yet to discover the exact nature of the problem, but it may have been that the Jaguar was bottoming out more than most after the lack of dry weather set-up time, transmitting heat through the seat.

By mid-distance, Schumacher Sr's lead was up to 36secs, albeit flattered slightly by the different strategies and second round of pit-stops for those planning on using four sets of tyres. With brother Ralf stopping on lap 24, the massed ranks of Sato supporters were able to briefly cheer their man into second place, but it wasn't long before the two leaders made their own stops, following each other into the pits exactly at half-distance. While Ferrari again ensured that Schumacher emerged at the head of the field, however, Sato dropped back behind team-mate Button, David Coulthard and Ralf Schumacher.

DC was enjoying perhaps his best outing of the year, at a circuit that tends to highlight his ability at just the right time of year, and was in the thick of the battle for the final podium position as, like Button, he followed the two-stop route. Team-mate Raikkonen, meanwhile, again showed that Suzuka is not one of his favourite stops on the tour, and was still involved with Montoya and Giancarlo Fisichella who, despite running out of road at the Spoon Curve early on, was running on the fringes of another points score.

Barrichello, however, had made his break, helped by an error from Montoya on lap 22, when the Colombian over-ran the chicane while trying to force a way past Jarno Trulli. The Italian, making his race debut with Toyota, was acting like the stopper in a bottle, frustrating the 'all-stars' as they attempted to make ground on the runners holding points positions ahead of them.

JPM thought he had a run on Trulli coming into the chicane, but out-braked himself, allowing both the Toyota and Barrichello to take advantage. While Fisichella also pounced on the Williams past the pits, Barrichello made no mistake in his attempt on Trulli and, with a clear road ahead of him for the first time, proceeded to pull away rapidly.

Entering the final third of the race, Barrichello's new-found pace had brought him within touching reach of the Button-Ralf-Coulthard battle, but there was to be no further fortune for the Brazilian. Having come into the weekend chasing a hat-trick of wins to follow on from his triumphs in Italy and China, Barrichello would leave without even a point, as an optimistic move on Coulthard at the chicane left both cars with damaged front suspension. Barrichello owned up to the error, but that was of little consolation to DC, who saw a rare top finish snatched from his grasp.

With the leader already long gone, and the podium battle reduced by two, the focus quickly fell on the battle of strategies being played out between Ralf Schumacher and the two BAR-Hondas. It appeared at first glance that the Williams driver had blown his chances of adding second place in the race to that which he achieved in qualifying, but a stirring final stint turned his fortunes around.

While the BARs again appeared to run into handling problems immediately after their tyre changes, Schumacher Jr made up vital ground, eventually emerging in front of Button when all was done and dusted. With Sato then making his third and final stop without enough in hand to resume in front of the Williams, the Schumacher 1-2 was virtually ensured.

Sato also dropped behind team-mate Button in the final reckoning, handing Jenson his tenth podium of the season. The 3-4 result was also notable for the BAR team, as it lifted it exactly 16 points clear of the chasing Renault squad. With just one race to run, in Brazil in two weeks' time, the Enstone squad would need to find a way to finish 1-2 without either 006 finishing. And then it would only take second on countback of victories....

As he did in China, Fernando Alonso tried all he could to keep the regie in the hunt, taking fifth place, six seconds behind Sato, but team-mate Villeneuve again failed in his role as point-scorer, coming home in tenth place, behind both Saubers.

The exit of both Coulthard and Barrichello allowed Raikkonen and Montoya to guarantee their respective teams a haul of minor points, while Giancarlo Fisichella again rewarded the reliability of the Sauber with a fifth scoring appearance in a row. In fairness, the two C23s also showed a fair turn of pace, with both Fisi and team-mate Felipe Massa making decisive moves during the 53 laps. Massa had to use that advantage, as an off in qualifying limited him to 19th on the grid, but performed more solidly in the main event, claiming ninth after a late-race pass on future team-mate Villeneuve.

Trulli's Toyota debut faded to eleventh place, like Villeneuve a lap down on the winner. Christian Klien, Nick Heidfeld, Olivier Panis, Timo Glock and Gimmi Bruni all also saw the chequered flag, although the second of the Jordan drivers did it the hard way with a couple of offs. Zsolt Baumgartner completed the list of retirees after an off on lap 41.

No-one had an answer to Hurricane Michael, however, the German displaying 'bouncebackability' as he recovered from his Shanghai surprise to dominate at Suzuka. The victory was his 13th of a record-breaking season, and his sixth in Japan, showing that no matter what the forecast, the winds of change do not blow through Formula One for long....