The Japanese Grand Prix is linked to many important moments in the history of the Scuderia. The first dates back to the inaugural race and is currently in the news, as the subject, albeit with a bit of cinematic license, of the film “Rush,” from Oscar winning director, Ron Howard. It was in the shadow of Mount Fuji that, in 1976, Niki Lauda lost the Drivers’ title, when he chose to pull out of the race, which was being run in atrociously wet conditions.
The following edition also made the headlines, but this time for tragic reasons: on lap 6, Gilles Villeneuve’s Ferrari, in only the Canadian’s second race for the Scuderia, flew over the barriers after colliding with Peterson’s Lotus, ending up on top of a group of spectators, who should not have been watching from that spot: two people, a marshal and a photographer, lost their lives and another dozen were injured. The race carried on, but the controversy surrounding the accident was such that the race was off the calendar for a decade.
In 1987, the Japanese Grand Prix was revived with a new setting; Suzuka. The first race held on the track, famous for its figure of eight layout was won by Gerhard Berger in a Ferrari, but a further decade would follow before seeing another Prancing Horse car cross the line first. In 1997, Michael Schumacher took the win, which promoted him into the lead of the Drivers’ classification, just one point ahead of another Villeneuve, the son Jacques, with just one race remaining. Everyone remembers how it ended at Jerez de la Frontera and there’s no need to open up an old wound that still hurts Ferrari fans to this day. However, we do have to record that it was here at Suzuka that over the next two years, first Michael and then his team-mate Irvine, saw the dream of bringing the Drivers’ title back to Maranello evaporate. On both occasions, the Japanese Grand Prix was the last race on the calendar and also on both occasions, it was Mika Hakkinen in the McLaren who came out on top. However, at the third attempt, the spell of Suzuka was broken. On 8th October 2000, not only did Michael win at Suzuka for the third time, but he also managed to complete a journey that had begun five years earlier, when he arrived in Maranello, to the great delight of hundreds of millions of Ferrari fans all over the world. From that day on, for the next four years, Suzuka became the Scuderia’s home turf. In 2000 and 2001, Schumacher arrived at what was one of his favourite tracks (six wins and eight pole positions,) already world champion and he won comfortably. The same happened in 2004. In between, there was a brief hiatus in 2003, which deserves a brief mention. After wins at Monza and Indianapolis, Schumacher needed just a single point to be certain of taking his sixth title, by putting Raikkonen out of the running. However, in qualifying, because of the rain, Michael was only fourteenth and, good for him, team-mate Barrichello took pole. The Brazilian went on to score one of his greatest wins in Red, in front of the aforementioned Raikkonen, who needed to win to still be in with a chance. Nevertheless, Michael managed to come home eighth, despite an unscheduled stop to change the nose in the early stages.
The chapter of bitter disappointments resumed in 2006. Michael came to Suzuka equal on points with Fernando Alonso, but ahead on the number of wins. On the back of wins in Monza and Shanghai it seemed the sensational fightback might deliver an eighth title, in his farewell season, but a valve on the Maranello V8 let go just when things looked most promising, as Michael was back on track in the lead after his second and final pit stop. We come to the last page of pain, written by Fernando last year: the 371 metres of the Japanese Grand Prix that he covered before getting a puncture, after colliding with his future team-mate, Raikkonen, will sit there like so many little stings in the story of the 2012 World Championship.
Finally, a brief statistical recap. The Scuderia has won here seven times, with nine pole positions and on five occasions, one of its drivers has set the fastest race lap. There are a total of 21 podium places. Alonso has won twice, in 2006 and 2008, with a further three podiums and a race fastest lap, while Massa has racked up two second places in 2006 and 2012 as his best results, along with one pole and one fastest race lap.