Kimi Raikkonen wins thriller in Japan

Sun, 9 October 2005, 01:29

Kimi Räikkönen scored a spectacular victory in the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, the penultimate round of the 2005 Formula One world championship. From 17th on the grid – he was one of several leading drivers who suffered the consequences of a heavy rain shower during qualifying – the Finn survived a first-lap clash with team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya and fought his way through the field to emerge in second place after the final round of pit stops.

He then cut the gap to long-time leader Giancarlo Fisichella (Renault/Michelin) and – after a couple of failed overtaking attempts – managed to usurp his rival at the start of the 53rd and final lap. It was the Finn’s seventh victory of the campaign.

McLaren chairman Ron Dennis described the win as “probably Kimi’s best”. “It’s a fantastic reward for the team’s effort in what has been a challenging weekend. The strategy was executed in a professional and discipline manner and Michelin also performed to their usual high standard.” added Ron.

Räikkönen’s last -lap opportunism put the seal on the season’s most spectacular race – an event that featured a series of breathtaking passing manoeuvres.

Ralf Schumacher (Toyota) led initially from pole position, but the German was handicapped by a three-stop strategy that eventually dropped him to eighth, behind a clutch of rivals who refuelled only twice.

Fisichella passed front-row starter Jenson Button at the start and appeared to have the race under control once Schumacher stopped… but then Räikkönen appeared in his mirrors.

The race had been interrupted almost as soon as it started, because Montoya’s car was left in a dangerous place after he crashed in the closing stages of the opening lap. Drivers then had to follow the Safety Car for more than 10 minutes while the Colombian’s shattered McLaren was cleared.

World champion Fernando Alonso (16th on the grid) and Räikkönen both made swift progress through the field in the early stages, engaging in a memorable battle with Ferrari rival Michael Schumacher. At one stage, Alonso passed the German around the outside at 130R – one of the season’s most challenging corners.

Progress wasn’t all plain sailing for the Spaniard, however. Stewards ruled that he had unfairly gained a place on Christian Klien (Red Bull Racing), so he had to ease off for a few seconds and let the Austrian back through. Despite this and other delays – he was trapped behind slower cars after his first stop and ended up having to pass Michael Schumacher a second time – Alonso eventually made his way into third. He secured the position secure by passing Mark Webber on the run to the first turn, all but kissing the grass run-off in the process.

Webber’s Williams crew gained him positions during both scheduled stops – he vaulted past David Coulthard and Button respectively – and that was enough to earn him his second fourth place in the space of three grands prix. He finished ahead of Button and Coulthard, who completed a Michelin clean sweep of the top six.

Michael Schumacher took seventh, ahead of his brother. Klien – a career-best fourth on the grid – took ninth as best of the remaining Michelin finishers, ahead of Felipe Massa, Jacques Villeneuve, and Takuma Sato. Local hero Sato had a difficult afternoon. He ran wide at the first corner, necessitating an unscheduled pit stop, and later tangled with Jarno Trulli’s Toyota. The Italian – who chose to start from the pits after spinning off during qualifying and failing to set a time – was forced to retire on the spot. Webber’s team-mate Antonio Pizzonia also retired, after spinning into the gravel at Degner Curve.

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