It was the last F1 race in Suzuka for some time to come. It was definitely the last race of Schumacher here. And everyone was out to see the Red Emperor score a big victory.
It was a race he was supposed to win with ease. And, till the 36th lap today, nothing happened to the contrary. Schumacher qualified second on the grid, just behind teammate Massa and 3 places ahead of fifth placed Alonso. He passed Massa on the third lap and after that remained comfortably at the top of the group.
Alonso, however, drove with a lot of passion and quickly overtook Jenson Button and Ralf Schumacher to come up to the third place and drove like there was no tomorrow. At no point of time did he let the two Ferraris out of his sight. He overtook Massa after the first round of pit stops and drove great laps in and out of the pits to exit just ahead of Massa. The difference in their stops being a mere 0.3 seconds.
Michael was the last of the top 3 to pit and that erased all doubts of a lightly fueled Ferrari for qualifying and the rumors about the tyres not being suited well enough for the circuit. He drove in his usual calm and composed manner, and looked all set to win. Disaster struck, however, on the second Degner Curve on the 37th lap and fumes came out of the red machine. The circuit looked on in stunned disbelief as the Ferrari of Schumacher retired for the first time since Spain 2005 without a crash. Schumacher, however, got out his car calmly, waved at the crowds and shook hands with all he passed, to show that he was the true Champion.
Alonso then drove a very calm race to take his Renault home, for a first victory since June. Massa came in second and Fisichella third. Button and Raikkonen completed the top 5.
Only a miracle can now see Schumacher win the championship. What is needed is a victory in Sao Paulo and Alonso finishing out of points. Will that happen? Well, with the fortunes changing as it has this season, I would definitely not bet against it but I agree that it is only a slim chance.
On another note, I have always been a critic of Alonso, not because of his driving skills, but because he does not have enough grace. That came to light again last week when a frustrated Alonso blamed his own crew and mate Fisichella of letting him down in the last race at Shanghai and even said that there were people in the Renault pits that did not want him to win. I hope Alonso has watched how Schumacher behaved after his blown engine in this race and has picked up a tip or two.