Japanese Grand Prix 1999 – Race

The last race of the season and everyone has a point to prove. At the front of the grid it was make or break time for Hakkinen and Irvine, one would walk away World Champion. Meanwhile, further down the grid, there were others with things to prove too. Not least Alex Zanardi who had yet to score a point for his new team and needed to silence the doubters with a good race. Ralf Schumacher meanwhile had nothing left to prove – he is undoubtedly the star of 1999. Williams as a team would require something of a miracle to score enough point to overcome Stewart in the constructors championship.

Qualifying turned up no surprises with the Williams pair qualifying in roughly the same positions as the rest of the season. Schumacher was 9th and Zanardi back in 16th. If Zanardi thought that this was bad and that the weekend couldn’t get any worse – he was wrong!

While all eyes were on the two championship protagonists at the front Ralf Schumacher, unlike his brother, made a good start making up two places. Alex Zanardi though couldn’t even complete a single lap. His race was run when electrical problems sidelined him. The Italian has had a miserable season and this was a sad reflection on his 1999.

With Zanardi out this made the task of overhauling Stewart even more difficult. That wasn’t going to prevent Schumacher from giving it his best shot. The positions of the top seven, Hakkinen, Michael Schumacher, Panis, Irvine, Coulthard, Frentzen and Ralf Schumacher remained constant until the demise of the Prost driver.

Schumacher made his first stop on lap 20 completing the change of fuel and tyres in 7.6 seconds and rejoining in sixth position. Again the order remained constant until the second stops some 12 laps later. This time the stop push Schumacher further down the order to 8th.

Positions were made up when others made their fuel stops and was aided further when David Coulthard went off. All of which promoted Schumacher Jr to 4th place. Good, given the circumstances, but not good enough to rise above Stewart.

So another race where Schumacher has shone and Zanardi has continued to struggle. The question is how long will the management at Williams allow this situation to continue?

Ralf Schumacher
“First of all I want to congratulate Mika Hakkinen, because it has been no easy job for him to win the championship. With regards to my race today, I had a good start but after that I had to stay behind Heinz Harald and, although I was generally quicker, it was not possible to overtake him. A fifth place is fine even if, of course, I was hoping that I could achieve something better, mostly to help my team in the Constructors’ Championship. At the end, I want to thank the Winfield WilliamsF1 team for the good co-operation they gave me throughout the season. We now look forward to working next year together with BMW and I am quite sure that we will do a great job.”

Alex Zanardi
“In my first lap I experienced an electrical problem that put too early an end to my race. The pitlane speed limiter activated itself and when I tried to release it the engine went into neutral and shut off, so all I could do was park the car. It’s a pity because I was 9th at that moment, having gained five positions at the start and overtaken two more cars in the first half lap.”

Frank Williams
“A fine end to the championship – disappointing for Ferrari but I think that McLaren and Mika overall looked like champions for most of the year. Ralf again did an outstanding job for us but we’re very disappointed with Alex’s lack of opportunity to race. I would like to congratulate Mika and McLaren on an outstanding Drivers’ World Championship and the same to Ferrari for the Constructors’, which is equally important, in my opinion.”

Patrick Head, Technical Director
“Ralf drove a very good race and I think that we achieved the best result we could possibly expect considering the reliability of the cars in front of us. We are very sorry for Alex, who made a fantastic start but something electrical shut down right after and so he couldn’t even complete a lap and we are sorry that he didn’t have an opportunity to race. I am very pleased for Mika – I think he deserved the championship and perhaps the way it finished, with Ferrari winning the Constructors’ and McLaren winning the Drivers’, maybe there is some fairness. Anyway, it was a good result.”

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