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The 2001 F1 Season
After the win at Hungary and Belgium, Michael and the Ferrari team were in a relaxed mode as both the championships—drivers' and constructors'—were back home. However, it was a strange world out there. Even though he had defended his title, there were odd questions about Michael's abilities to continue in F1 for his finishes in Italy and the United States.
While these questions must have dampened the mood for Michael and the Ferrari paddock, the team set out to do what it did best all through the season—get winning. The challenges from the Williams team was much more prominent than the McLaren ones, so Ferrari would have to dig deep to counter Montoya and Ralf Schumacher.
The McLarens' challenge, though it had started strong, seemed to have fizzled out during the mid-season. David was the only visible name as a competitor in the points table in second place. Otherwise, the top two could well have been Ferrari cars. In fact, Ruben Barrichello was third overall.
But the Japanese GP could be seen as a race which had to end on a high to carry the momentum into the next year. So, expecting all the top team to fire would be an obvious assumption. In this situation, Michael would also be going for a win. Could he win the Japanese GP for the second time in a row?
Let's find out.
The 2001 Japanese GP Qualifying
For once in the 2001 season, the qualifying session was an all-Michael affair, though not an all-Ferrari affair, by the way. Every other car on the track challenged each other, but none challenged Michael. He was only testing and bettering his own time, which, for fans, was a treat to watch.
Take a look at Michael storming through the circuit during each of his outings:
See that? The first time, only, it was Michael beating Barrichello’s time, but after that, it was just Michael against Michael. Such was his pace and domination that he was the only driver to qualify sub 1:33 minutes and that too by a significant margin. He out-qualified the second-placed Montoya by seven-tenth of a second. I am guessing only Senna out-qualifying Prost in the 1989 Japanese GP by 1.7 seconds would have been a bigger margin.
So, that qualifying set up the race for Sunday, and by the looks of it, Michael would have an easy outing. Would he?
Let’s find out.
The 2001 Japanese GP – Race Day
The race started without much events in the front, and Michael, with his customary swerving to the right move in Japan, got away ahead of Montoya. The last year in the Japanese GP, that same move from Schumacher could not stop Mika from taking the lead. This year though, Michael was just too fast. How fast, you ask?
Michael was basically storming ahead on the first lap. At the end of the first lap, Michael was 3.6 seconds ahead of Montoya. Just in one lap! That’s how fast he was. Take a look at the first lap over here:
Down the order, Ruben Barrichello launched his own attack on the Williams cars between him and Michael. The first to be taken was Ralf Schumacher in a fantastic drive-past. After that, Barrichello took Montoya at the same spot where Prost and Senna collided in 1989. Barrichello did what his compatriot and legend, Ayrton Senna, did back in 1989. Only this time there was no collision.
Take a look at the two overtakes here:
Of course, Rubens’ overtake of Montoya did not stick and he took back the position at the first turn after the start-finish line. The battle with the Williams team continued again for the Brazilian after the pitstop taking over Ralf Schumacher. Barrichello did it and stayed ahead. He finished in fifth place.
The victory was Michael’s for the taking, with Montoya in second ahead of David Coulthard in third. The podium had one driver from each of the strong teams of 2001 – Ferrari, Williams and McLarens. The former double world champion, Mika Hakkinen, finished fourth for the last time this season. He would proceed for a one-year break, which many felt could be his permanent retirement from the sport. No one could ever forget Mika for the excellent 1998 and 1999 season, as much as that unforgettable duel with Michael at Spa in 2000.
Mika – the “Ice-Cool, Flying-Finn”!!
How Did the 2001 Season End?
The 2001 season saw Michael Schumacher taking yet another world title. He got his fourth title equalling Alain Prost’s four world championships. There was just Juan Manuel Fangio with five titles ahead of him. With Michael’s bull run, that title record seemed reachable. We will have to stay tuned to find out.
Michael’s back-to-back championships emulated his achievement in 1994 and 1995 season, as much as many other drivers before him. Alain Prost, Aryton Senna, Mika Hakkinen and many have had back-to-back titles. Ferrari team was stronger than before and definitely, would have some lead as compared to the other constructors.
The Williams team could also be expected to grow stronger the next season while McLarens would miss the services of Mika Hakkinen, their champion and workhorse since 1993. It would be interesting to see who would fill Mika’s place.
As for the 2001 season, Michael Schumacher was the champion, and the team would be partying hard for some time!
Back to the Pits
The 2001 season ended with a near-flawless performance from the Ferrari team. The way the 2001 season concluded for the Ferraris was quite different from the 2000 season. At the end of the 2000 season, Michael appeared to be within the title leaders’ grasp, but by the end of 2001, he was visibly in a league of his own. Would that mean a Ferrari domination in the 2002 season? Who knew, but all the challengers had to watch this space!
© 2020 S K