Since its inception way back in 1987, Suzuka has been a daunting summit that only the best in F1 have scaled. Picture Senna in that legendary McLaren MP4/4 in 1988, Michael Schumacher in not the most reliable Ferrari F 310 of 1997, and the original ‘Flying Finn’ Mika Hakkinen in his dominant McLaren MP4/3, a car he extracted the most from in clinching his maiden world title in 1998.
But in 2005, in one of the most iconic races that the 5.807 km track has seen, the world found another ‘Flying Finn’, someone that Hakkinen had tipped as a future F1 great.
In winning his maiden Japanese Grand Prix, and also his last race for McLaren-Mercedes in an enviably swift Adrian Newey creation (the MP4-20), the Kimi Raikkonen enigma was born.
Qualifying gives a topsy turvey grid
It was almost as if the groundwork for an epic battle on Sunday was laid by a sudden spurt of rain that completely changed the trajectory of Saturday’s qualifying session. Making the most of a wet qualifying session on Saturday was Toyota’s Ralf Schumacher, polesitter for Sunday, the German grabbing the last pole of his career in unconventional circumstances.
In engineering an impressive 1:46: 106, Ralf’s achievement pushed the usual frontrunners of the season, Fernando Alonso, although world champion that year in his Renault, and Kimi Raikkonen further down the grid. Also pushed further away from his comfort zone was Raikkonen’s McLaren teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya, down to P18 despite being amongst the quickest drivers on the grid all year.
First lap drama
Although the start of the race was all dry, chaos soon followed as local boy Takuma Sato, beginning fifth, and evidently under pressure to secure a fledgling career, made a desperate move and speared off the racing track; he would soon be followed by Rubens Barrichello, then ninth, in his Ferrari.
Meanwhile, right at the front, Ralf Schumacher took the lead off the line and pulled away from Giancarlo Fisichella, who looked all plum and quick in mounting his Suzuka challenge, having begun from a respectable third.
Further down the grid David Coulthard, then racing for Red Bull-Cosworth, started sixth but almost gave away an excellent start by nearly losing control in running wide at the mighty 130R, a testing corner for any driver contesting a race at Suzuka.
Montoya taken out
Having begun his Suzuka drive in a damp, almost vapid P17, Kimi took a look at Jacques Villeneuve at the chicane, both they both missed the corner, doing nothing better than going over the astroturf runoff. This nearly proved fatal for Montoya, who had to defend from both drivers as they rejoined in the Columbian’s path.
Montoya’s race would soon be over though, as there was contact with the Sauber of Villeneuve who, in a desperate bid to prevent Montoya attempting a move down the outside at the end of the pit straight, pushed the McLaren into the retaining wall. This would bring out the safety car
Safety car bunch-up provides opportunities
At the restart, the order shuffled a bit when Jenson Button, having begun second, found a steady Fisichella in the Renault pulling off a magnificent pass on him to follow Ralf Schumacher, who maintained a steady lead at the front of the grid.
But overtaking at the chicane at Suzuka could be likened to being asked to make steep climb uphill, carrying several buckets of water. In missing the corner, Alonso had to cede the position not once, but twice to Klien, and now found Raikkonen on his tail.
On lap 12, race leader Ralf Schumacher pitted. The reliability issues in that Toyota would turn woeful for the German, who suggested he may have started the with several laps less of fuel.
Raikkonen charges through the midfield
In mounting a serious challenge to the notoriously quick German, Kimi failed to get past Schumi at the challenging 130R, but the duo would pit together on lap 24, emerging in front of Alonso.
Meanwhile, at the front, Giancarlo Fisichella had taken control of proceedings and would be followed by Button, driving with a special Japan-exclusive engine provided by BAR Honda.
The duo would be trailed by the pace battery of Schumacher-Raikkonen-Alonso- the trio trying desperately to advance up the field with belting speed.
At around this time, Jarno Trulli in the other Toyota was taken out by Takuma Sato in an ill-conceived move, the Italian using some choice words for the Japanese driver afterwards.
As the second stint wore on, Schumacher, who was already struggling with traction and worn out tyres from desperately fending off Kimi’s attacking McLaren, could no longer contest the Iceman.
By lap 28, Kimi dived outside of Schumacher into turn one to make a scintillating move on the German. He would then notch some feisty laps to catch up to the Webber-Button duo that was then, with 25 laps to go, looking set to unfurl a titanic duel at the front. This race would soon turn on its head though with Webber and Button pitting on lap 41, putting Kimi back on a charge to undercut them.
Last lap drama
By lap 43, Alonso, charging ahead with marauding pace, would pass Button, as his teammate Fisichella would begin to appear weak in defending from Raikkonen who had expertly pitted to keep Webber and Button at bay.
Then with three laps to go, Fisichella buckled under pressure, panicking and making a small mistake when dealing with a backmarker, bringing Kimi closer to the fray.
Then at the start of the final lap, Raikkonen, who had begun his Suzuka drive from P17 and had now come within striking distance of the race leader, tucked in behind the Renault on the main straight, making a fiery move down the left to take the lead.
Missing Fisichella’s rear by a few millimetres, Raikkonen, cool and calculative as he could ever be, won an enthralling contest with hundreds of thousands at Suzuka holding their breath in what was an electrifying race right to the end,
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