On 13th October 2002, Michael Schumacher won the Japanese Grand Prix. Suzuka was the apotheosis of a triumphant season, with Michael winning the Drivers’ title as early as Magny-Cours and the Constructors’ crown goingto the Scuderia in Hungary. From the Hungarian Grand Prix onwards, Ferrari constantly secured one-two finishes, with its drivers taking turns on the top step of the podium. In Suzuka, it was Michael who did it, getting ahead of team-mate Rubens Barrichello first in qualifying and then in the race.
At the start, Michael got away perfectly, thus comfortably keeping the lead. Starting from alongside him, Rubens Barrichello fought off Coulthard to be second going into the first corner. Michael immediately built up a few seconds lead over his team-mate (+3.890 on lap 5,) while the Brazilian was also able to pull away from his pursuers. On lap 15, Michael had a 5.778 advantage over Rubens and 21.266 on his brother Ralf in the BMW-Williams. Having planned for a two stop race, the two Ferrari men came in on laps 20 and 21, first Michael and then Rubens. The German kept the lead, while Rubens immediately found himself behind Raf, but was back in second spot when the number 5 car made its own pit stop.
In the second part of the race, the positions remained unchanged, with Michael ahead of Rubens (+9.620 on lap 35) and his brother (+30.515 on the same lap.) The second run of stops came on laps 37 and 38, this time with Rubens coming in ahead of Michael. After Ralf had also made his second stop, the first three were still in the same positions. In the final stint, the two Ferrari men comfortably controlled the situation, while behind them, Ralf had to stop, thus handing third place to Raikkonen. On the last lap, Michael slowed dramatically, allowing Rubens to close right up to him so that the two Ferraris crossed the line in line astern, much to the delight of the entire team, waiting form the on the pit wall and all the fans in the grandstands.
“It’s a dream finale to a dream season and we couldn’t have asked for more,” said Jean Todt after the race. “We have achieved a lot: fifteen victories, nine one-two finishes, Michael Schumacher world champion for the third consecutive time with Ferrari after eleven races, Ferrari Constructors’ champion for the fourth consecutive time after thirteen races. Rubens second in the Drivers’ classification with one race in hand, 221 points scored – more than all the other teams put together. It’s hard to imagine anything better. These numbers are the result of the work accomplished by a fantastic team, which has always had the support of its President Montezemolo and its shareholders, during the difficult times and this is the best way possible to thank them. All of it would not have been possible without a unique and professional team: together we have lived through some difficult moments, which have brought us closer together, but we always remained united. My thanks go to the entire Scuderia, from the drivers to the night watchmen who keep an eye on our facility in Maranello.”
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