It is an impossible task for us to say which race of Michael Schumacher would be the ‘greatest race of his career.’ But the legend himself regards this race to be the best one across his illustrious F1 career.
The race was the 2000 Japanese GP held at Suzuka, the title decider for the 2000 F1 Championship. Schumi clinched his first Championship title with Ferrari becoming the legend we all know him today as.
Heading into the final race of the 2022 season, Schumacher led the standings with 88 points, 8 ahead of Hakkinen. The Finn had managed to outclass the German in 1998 and 1999, but this season it will be Michael and his Ferrari that will be triumphant.
For Schumacher, the race meant a lot. It was a victory that he had been waiting for sin 1996, to be a champion with Ferrari. And would start the legacy of F1’s most dominant driver-team pairings.
How Mika Hakkinen pushed Michael Schumacher to the limits
Michael Schumacher had already prepared for an intense title battle with fellow rival Mika Hakkinen. Suzuka was a track known to be difficult to overtake. Thus, clinching the pole position is ideal in such a high-stakes race.
Schumacher would qualify with his eighth pole position of the season. But the German would be separated by 0,009 seconds from Hakkinen’s McLaren. The stage was set for the finale.
However, when the race started, Hakkinen immediately took the lead ahead of Schumacher. The two drivers put in a tremendous performance and were at each other’s neck
Hakkinen was called to pit at lap 22 and a lap later Schumacher drove in. But the Ferrari pitstop was much longer, increasing the difference between the two.
But Schumacher would be benefitted from the incoming rain which would cut the difference between the duo by 1 second. Hakkinen would also run into traffic and a long pitstop at lap 37, giving the advantage to Ferrari.
Ross Brawn, Ferrari’s Technical director would instruct Michael to pit at lap 41. And the lap was instrumental in Ferrari undercutting the lead from McLaren and would then go on to win the race. Schumacher claims this move to be instrumental to his win.
Schumacher narrated, “I will never forget that radio signal from Ross. I was driving down the pitlane after my second stop, and he said over the radio: ‘It’s looking good, it’s looking good.’ but suddenly he said: ‘It’s looking bloody good!’”
Brown’s excitement turned true as he saw the Ferrari emerging ahead of Mika’s Mclaren. He adds, “And then came Ross’s radio message – unbelievable. I realised immediately that I had emerged from the pitlane in the lead.”
Michael would lead for the remainder of the race despite the threat of the Finn’s McLaren. He would win the race and the 2000 Drivers’ Championship by a margin of 1.8 seconds ahead of rival Hakkinanen
Schumacher did not celebrate until he crossed the line
When he crossed the chequered flag, Michael Schumacher had just clinched his first title with Ferrari. Ferrari had won the Constructors championship and its first driver’s title since 1979.
But Michael himself did not celebrate until both he and his rival Mika Hakkinen crossed the line. He said, “I hadn’t dared feel any joy. Because I wanted to be sure and get that finishing line behind me
Michael himself describes the race as one of the best of his entire racing career. He added. “This race was something very special for me. Not only because it brought me the title, but also because it was such a high-class race.”
He described the battle with Hakkinen as “It was racing at its top level. For over 40 laps Mika Hakkinen and I did almost identical times. It was certainly one of the best races I have ever driven, if not the best.”
This would be just the start of Schumacher and Ferrari’s domination in F1. The pair would go on to make a legacy in the sport by winning titles for 4 more straight seasons.