Heading into the 2000 Japanese GP, Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher shared a fierce rivalry with each other. They both were fast, had the best cars and didn’t hesitate to push to the limit. While Hakkinen had won both the championships in 1998 and 1999, things were pretty close in the year 2000. Schumacher and his Ferrari were in top form winning the first three races, but a succession of retirements mid season, where the McLarens of Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard scored big helping them gain the points back and McLaren to close in on to Ferrari.
With just three rounds left, Hakkinen was two points ahead of Schumacher and McLaren led Ferrari by four points. At the United States Grand Prix, Ferrari had a 1-2 with Schumacher winning, which helped the German take an eight point lead over the Finn.
Now with a mere two races to go, twenty championship points were at stake. The penultimate round was the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka. A win here would guarantee Schumacher his third title and first for Ferrari.
Pole went to Schumacher and Hakkinen joined him on the front row. Only 9 thousandths of a second separated the two of them! The starting conditions were dry but overcast. At the start, both the front runners got a clear start. But Hakkinen had better acceleration and hence managed to take the first corner in the lead. The entire Ferrari garage exchanged nervous looks.
The two were pulling away from the rest of the field and were a class apart. Hakkinen managed to maintain a healthy gap to the German. Hakkinen pitted on lap 22 and Schumacher on lap 23. The order maintained after the first round of pitstops. On lap 28, a drizzle started to set in and things became a little tricky. Hakkinen lost a second of his lead due to traffic, while Schumacher had a small collision with a Zonta. By lap 31, Schumacher’s gap to the man ahead was a mere 0.7s.
On lap 37, Hakkinen took his second pit stop and emerged 25.8s behind Schumacher. But Schumacher had a clear run. Tweaks made during his first pit stop to his car gave him some additional pace. To achieve this, they compromised the overall additional stability required in the wet weather conditions.
It was lap 40 when Michael Schumacher took his second pit stop. Everyone held their nerves, especially the Ferrari garage, since one tiny mistake from them would have meant a huge disaster. While Schumacher was leaving the pits, Hakkinen was moving his way into the start finish straight! Schumacher was now ahead of Hakkinen by more than 4s.
He had the lead, he had the pace, all he needed was to make sure he made no mistake. The Finn behind him was slowly catching up, but that made no difference to Schumacher who went on to win the Japanese GP by a margin of 1.8s!
He had done it! He was the 2000 Formula One World Champion! His third championship and first for Ferrari. He also became the first Ferrari champion since Jody Scheckter in 1979! The German was elated and so were the Prancing Horse! It was the first of many and having gotten so close to the title for the past three years, it was an even bigger achievement for Schumi.
He might have won majority of his battles on the track, but he fights another battle at his home where he is kept under medical investigation and his situation still remains critical. #KeepFightingSchumacher
Are you a passionate Formula One enthusiast?
Then join the Facebook group, Formula One Fans for more interesting news and features!