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Michael Schumacher WC! Wins the Japanese GP (updated)

Things didn't look to be going Michael Schumacher's way at the start of the Japanese Grand Prix. "I got too much wheel-spin off the line. I moved over to try and defend my position, but Mika was already there and I had to let him go," explained Michael Schumacher, as he went from pole position to second place down to the first corner in Suzuka.

From that point on it was simply a two-horse race for the win and the 2000 World Championship title, as Schumacher followed closely his rival for the next 21 laps, the pair of them leaving their two teammates a distant third and fourth by the end of the race. Schumacher took the lead briefly as Hakkinen made the first of two fuel and tyre stops, but the order was back and unchanged after the Ferrari driver pitted two laps later.

It was a high-speed procession, which did not look like changing, until things got more exciting just after half distance, when the threatening leaden clouds started shedding their rain. It was not enough to send the cars rushing to the pits for wet weather tyres, but just enough to make the conditions very difficult, especially for the two lead drivers, still battling only a couple of seconds apart.

Hakkinen held his lead, but made his second scheduled stop on lap 37, as the pair came up to lap traffic. Schumacher opted to stay out, in a bid to make up enough time on his lighter fuel load to put him ahead of the McLaren when he made his own stop, three laps later.

"I knew it would be two crucial laps when Mika went into the pits. I had some traffic to pass, which wasn't easy, and then a Benetton spun in front of me at the chicane just as I was coming into the pits. I wasn't sure where he was going and had to slow up and as I came into the pits I didn't think I had enough to take the lead for the final run to the flag," said Michael.

Six seconds later his Ferrari was heading back down the pitlane for the final run to the flag. "Ross Brawn was on the radio saying, looking good, looking good, looking good, as he watched for Hakkinen. I was waiting for him to say looking bad, but as I went onto the track he said, looking bloody good, and I knew I had the lead. It was the most amazing moment of my racing career," recalled Schumacher.

At the end of the next lap, with the track now very slippery, he had a 4.5 seconds lead over Hakkinen and barring any mistakes or mechanical failures, appeared to have the race and 2000 title in the bag.

Hakkinen's chances of keeping his lead had died after his pit stop. "I knew it would be tight. After my stop I got caught up in traffic, but with a shiny new set of tyres and more rain I had no grip and the car was sliding all over the place. After Michael came out ahead all I could do was try and keep up. The last laps I was pushing really hard, over the limit. I got close, but not close enough," added Mika, who took the flag just 1.8 seconds behind.

David Coulthard and Rubens Barrichello took the next two places, the Scot seventy seconds away by the end of the race, with Barrichello a further 9 seconds away. The only other driver on the same lap as the leader was Jenson Button in the Williams-BMW. He recovered from a bad start to finish in the points, his teammate Ralf Schumacher making a great start to take an initial fourth place, only to throw it away with two off course excursions, the second a terminal one when he spun trying to overtake a Minardi.

A lap down, Jacques Villeneuve's BAR won a tough race with the Jaguars of Johnny Herbert and Eddie Irvine to take a vital final point, which moves Villeneuve back ahead of Frentzen in the drivers' championship and ahead of Jordan in the Constructors' Championship, which is currently being led by Ferrari, 13 points ahead of McLaren with one race to go.

Handling troubles saw the Jordan cars off the pace. Jarno Trulli finished the race in 13th place, after his car suffered bottoming problems. Heinz Harald Frentzen, who had started the race with his spare car due to a power steering failure on the race car, had an hydraulic pump failure which saw him lose all his gears and pull out on lap 29 while struggling in eleventh place.

After the disappointments of coming so close and not succeeding since taking his first two World Championship victories in 1994 and 1995, this third title was a very special one for the German, especially in a Ferrari, who have not crowned a World Champion since Jody Scheckter won the title in 1979.

"It's very special to do it for Ferrari - a team with so much history," said Michael. "It's difficult to find the words how it feels. It's similar to Monza, but don't expect me to cry. I felt an outbreak of emotion as I crossed the line. The conditions were very difficult today and the season has had its ups and downs. It was great to finish with a win after a fight all the way to the last corner, thanks to Mika. We have been working for this for five years and three times we got so close. It feels fantastic," concluded Schumacher.

PROVISIONAL RACE RESULTS The Japanese Grand Prix Suzuka, Japan; 53 laps, 310.596 kms; Weather: Dry, some rain. Classified: Pos Driver Team 1. M.Schumacher Ferrari 1H29:53.435 2. Hakkinen McLaren Mercedes + 1.837 3. Coulthard McLaren Mercedes + 1:09.914 4. Barrichello Ferrari + 1:19.190 5. Button Williams BMW + 1:25.694 6. Villeneuve BAR Honda 1 Lap 7. Herbert Jaguar Cosworth 1 Lap 8. Irvine Jaguar Cosworth 1 Lap 9. Zonta BAR Honda 1 Lap 10. Salo Sauber Petronas 1 Lap 11. Diniz Sauber Petronas 1 Lap 12. de la Rosa Arrows Supertec 1 Lap 13. Trulli Jordan Mugen-Honda 1 Lap 14. Fisichella Benetton Playlife 1 Lap 15. Mazzacane Minardi Fondmetal 2 Laps Fastest Lap: M.Hakkinen, 1:39.189 (212.830km/h), lap 26 Not Classified/Retirements: Driver Team On Lap Reason Gene Minardi Fondmetal 46 engine R.Schumacher Williams BMW 41 spun off Heidfeld Prost Peugeot 41 rear suspension Wurz Benetton Playlife 37 spun off Frentzen Jordan Mugen-Honda 29 hydraulics Alesi Prost Peugeot 19 engine Verstappen Arrows Supertec 9 gearbox World Championship Standing, Round 16: Drivers: Constructors: 1. M. Schumacher 98 WC 1. Ferrari 156 2. Hakkinen 86 2. McLaren 143 3. Coulthard 67 3. Williams-BMW 36 4. Barrichello 58 4. Benetton-Playlife 20 5. R.Schumacher 24 5. BAR-Honda 18 6. Fisichella 18 6. Jordan-Mugen Honda 17 7. Villeneuve 15 7. Arrows 7 8. Button 12 8. Sauber 6 9. Frentzen 11 9. Jaguar 3 10. Trulli 6 = Salo 6 12. Verstappen 5 13. Irvine 3 = Zonta 3 15. de la Rosa 2 = Wurz 2 All timing unofficial


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