| Champion Michael Schumacher on the podium in Suzuka Sunday. (AFP)
Suzuka: World champion Michael Schumacher led Ferrari to a one-two finish in the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday to wrap up the Formula One season in triumphant style. It was the German’s 64th career win.
Already the first driver ever to win 10 races in a championship, the five-times champion took his final tally to 11 as Ferrari equalled McLaren’s 1988 record of 15 victories in a year.
Brazilian Rubens Barrichello anchored Ferrari’s fifth successive one-two and ninth of the season, ahead of McLaren’s young Finn Kimi Raikkonen and the Williams of Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya.
Takuma Sato, the only Japanese driver in the race, received a winner’s ovation from a delirious home crowd after he finished fifth in a Jordan for the first points of his grand prix career.
Briton Jenson Button was sixth in his last race for Renault before joining British American Racing. Sato’s result allowed Honda-powered Jordan to finish sixth in the final standings, leapfrogging ahead of Jaguar and BAR on nine points.
He was the first Japanese driver to score points in Formula One since Shinji Nakano did so for Prost in 1997.
Schumacher made a great start from pole and never looked back as the Ferraris sped away from their rivals, lapping all but three cars by the finish
McLaren’s David Coulthard and Schumacher’s brother Ralf, both running high in the points, retired with mechanical problems. Barrichello was overall runner-up with 77 points and Montoya clinched third place with 50.
Schumacher has now finished on the podium in 19 successive races, scoring points in his last 22, both records in Formula One.
He has not retired from a race since July 2001 and Sunday’s win completed a hattrick in Japan after his wins in 2000 and 2001.
There was disappointment for Toyota’s British driver Allan McNish, who was ruled out before the start on medical grounds after a big crash in Saturday’s qualifying.
“I think I went out with style but this is not quite the way that we wanted,” the Scot said wryly after chief medical officer Sid Watkins told him not to race after Saturday’s accident. Toyota have not renewed McNish’s contract for 2003 after a debut season in which he has failed to score a point and he has no drive lined up for next year.