After qualifying first and second for the Japanese Grand Prix, the penultimate round of the Formula One World Championship, Ferrari were widely expected to finish Sunday’s race in the same positions. Unfortunately things didn’t go quite to plan for the Italian team.
All started well, with pole man Felipe Massa retaining the lead at the start from Michael Schumacher. The Brazilian then dutifully let his team mate by on lap three, allowing the German to take control of the race—and supposedly the drivers’ championship. Schumacher entered the race tied at 116 points with Renault’s Fernando Alonso.
Things started to go wrong for Massa just ahead of his first stop, when he was forced to come in early due to a slow puncture in his right-rear Bridgestone tyre. That handed the advantage to Alonso, who after his first stop was able to get back out ahead of the Ferrari.
Even then, things were still looking pretty good in the red camp, Schumacher maintaining a comfortable ten-second-plus margin over Alonso. That was until lap 37 when smoke started to bellow from the rear of Schumacher’s 248 F1. It quickly proved terminal, forcing the seven-times champion to pull off the track and into retirement. It was the first Ferrari engine failure since the French Grand Prix in July 2000.
Alonso was clear to cruise to victory, untroubled by Massa, who came home 16 seconds behind the Spaniard. The result means Schumacher, who went into Sunday’s race as favorite for the championship, now needs a huge slice of luck at the final round in Brazil if he is to take an eighth title.
He must win, with Alonso failing to score, something Schumacher insists he is not even hoping for. “As for the drivers’ (title) it is lost,” said the German. “I don’t want to head off for a race, hoping that my rival has to retire. That is not the way in which I want to win the title.”
Ferrari have a slightly better chance of winning the constructors’ championship. Despite taking just eight points away from Suzuka to Renault’s 16, they could yet overhaul what is now a nine-point deficit to their French rivals.