“A driving masterclass.”

Hey folks, Dre here again, with another edition of “Dre’s Classics”, where I look back at some of the classic races in Formula 1 and MotoGP from the 21st Century. In this episode, I head to Asia and the home of the Suzuka circuit for the 2005 Japanese Grand Prix, a race that really showed the immense level of skill these drivers really have, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen putting on an exhibition, Michael Schumacher defends like his life depended on it, all with some of the best passing you’ll ever see.


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The Backstory

The winds of change were blowing in Formula 1. After 5 years at the head of the field, the FIA had had enough of Michael Schumacher’s reign of terror, and decided to change the technical regulations, meaning that tyres had to last the entire grand prix. A rule that hurt Ferrari most, the only top team on the Bridgestone tyres, and helped out all their direct rivals on the Michelin rubber. It was a tough 2005 for Michael, only winning the SUPER-controversial Indianapolis 2005 race, and limping to 3rd in the Championship.

Meanwhile, all hail the new F1 superstar, Fernando Alonso. He had mastered a super fast Renault car, and in the previous round in Brazil, won his first World Championship, the youngest driver ever to ever do so at the tender age of 23, narrowly pipping Kimi Raikkonen (again). However, there was still a dogfight on for the Constructors Championship between Renault and McLaren, just two points separating them with 2 races to go.


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The Race

Suzuka Circuit – October 9th, 2005

After the carnage of a crazy qualifying sessions, Ralf Schumacher had scored his 6th (and final), pole position, Toyota’s last until 2009. A rare treat for the home fans. Alongside him was Jenson Button, so of course, James Allen went nuts over the chance of a British winner. Why, because ITV, that’s why.

Meanwhile, it was a wretched day for the top runners. Giancarlo Fisichella was okay in 3rd, but both McLaren’s were at the back, along with Michael Schumacher in 14th place and Fernando Alonso in 16th. You know you’ve had a bad day when Narain “Cucumber” Karthikeyan out-qualifies you.

So, to the start, and the great British hope was quickly extinguished when Jenson Button was passed by Fisichella into Turn 1, while the home fans had to deal with Takuma Sato’s race being cut short due to a collision with Ferrari’s Rubens Barrichello. Lap 1 had more drama though, as a Safety Car was deployed for Juan Pablo Montoya being shoved off the track by Jacques Villeneuve, the Canadian receiving a 25 second time penalty post-race, a hammer blow for McLaren and the constructors.

One of the more humorous parts of the early going was Fernando Alonso and his not-so-epic dog fight with Christian Klien. He passed Klien at the final chicane, but left the track, and came back out ahead, so he had to give it back, only to pass him immediately under slipstream into Turn 1. So Alonso had to give the place back AGAIN, only to pass Klien for a third time.

Fernando had lost time to Michael, but he quickly closed, and in one of the most spectacular passes in F1 history, Nando went round the OUTSIDE of the 130R before darting into the pits to stop. Utterly, utterly ridiculous.

As the surprise runners at the front started to fade, Giancarlo Fisichella had a 20 second lead, but Raikkonen had cleared folks like Button and Webber and was now going after Fisi at a rate of knots, racking up fastest lap after fastest lap, including a Lap Record 1:31.540 before boxing for a splash and dash, by now, the gap was 5 seconds.

Alonso had passed Webber for a podium spot, but with 3 laps to go, it was now Kimi vs Fisi for the win, Fisi defending superbly until the final lap, when Kimi went around the outside of the Italian into Turn 1 to seal an incredible, and unlikely victory!

Arguably, the greatest driver of the Finn’s career, his 9th and final victory for McLaren, with Giancarlo’s brave effort resulting in him finishing 2nd, with Fernando Alonso finishing on the podium in 3rd.


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The Aftermath

So the battle between Mercedes and Renault for the Constructors Championship went down to the final round in Shanghai, for the 2nd Chinese Grand Prix. And after Juan Montoya’s engine failed early on, Fernando Alonso would take a comfortable win over Kimi Raikkonen in 2nd, with Giancarlo Fisichella’s 4th being enough for Renault to take the Constructor’s title by nine points over McLaren, who had now gone seven years without winning the big one. Don’t worry McLaren fans, Kimi got fastest lap, his 10th of the season, equalling the all-time record.

Also, Christian Klien finished 5th for Red Bull. No, I don’t know how that happened, either.


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Dre’s Thoughts

I mentioned this before in my Top 5 video for RaceWorldTV, but to me, this was a very different kind of incredible race. Japan 2005 isn’t incredible for its soap-opera like drama, ala Canada 2011, or a Brazil 2003 I featured earlier in the series.

Japan 2005 is a classic because if anything else, it shows just how incredible these F1 drivers can be sometimes. This is the greatest example of driver skill I’ve ever seen in a race. Passing here was far from academic, the speeds insane, Alonso’s pass on Schumacher is one of the greatest ever, and Raikkonen and Alonso’s charges through the field were majestic, ending with arguably, the best race winning overtake of all time in the clutch. If you want to get any F1 fan into a race, it’s this one. This, for me, is what Formula 1’s all about. Happy 10th Birthday, Japan 2005. May we never forget you.

Dre’s Race Rating: 9.5 – Incredible