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Race Report

Japanese Grand Prix
International Racing Course, Suzuka

Qualifying - Race - Analysis

3.64 miles

Qualifying : Warm, sunny

JV on pole

1996 Pole: 1m 38.909s Jacques Villeneuve (Williams)

The Starting Grid

Jacques Villeneuve Williams-Renault 1m 36.071s
Michael Schumacher Ferrari 1m 36.133s
Eddie Irvine Ferrari 1m 36.466s
Mika Hakkinen McLaren-Mercedes 1m 36.469s
Gerhard Berger Benetton-Renault 1m 36.561s
Heinz-Harald Frentzen Williams-Renault 1m 36.628s
Jean Alesi Benetton-Renault 1m 36.682s
Johnny Herbert Sauber-Petronas 1m 36.906s
Gianni Fisichella Jordan-Peugeot 1m 36.917s
Olivier Panis Prost-Mugen 1m 37.073s
David Coulthard McLaren-Mercedes 1m 37.095s
Rubens Barrichello Stewart-Ford 1m 37.343s
Ralf Schumacher Jordan-Peugeot 1m 37.443s
Jan Magnussen Stewart-Ford 1m 37.480s
Shinji Nakano Prost-Mugen 1m 37.588s
Pedro Diniz TWR Arrows-Yamaha 1m 37.853s
Damon Hill TWR Arrows-Yamaha 1m 38.022s
Gianni Morbidelli Sauber-Petronas 1m 38.556s
Ukyo Katayama Minardi-Hart 1m 38.983s
Tarso Marques Minardi-Hart 1m 39.678s
Jos Verstappen Tyrrell-Ford 1m 40.259s
Mika Salo Tyrrell-Ford 1m 40.529s

107 % rule time: 1m 42.796s

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Distraught JV

Race : 53 laps
Warm and sunny

1996 Winner: Damon Hill (Williams) 1h 32m 33.791s

The Result

Michael Schumacher Ferrari 1h 29m 48.446s
Heinz-Harald Frentzen Williams-Renault 1h 29m 49.824s
Eddie Irvine Ferrari1h 30m 14.830s
Mika Hakkinen McLaren-Mercedes 1h 30m 15.575s
Jean Alesi Benetton-Renault 1h 30m 28.849s
Johnny Herbert Sauber-Petronas 1h 30m 30.076s

Gianni Fisichella Jordan-Peugeot 1h 30m 45.271s
Gerhard Berger Benetton-Renault 1h 30m 48.875s
Ralf Schumacher Jordan-Peugeot 1h 31m 10.482s
David Coulthard McLaren-Mercedes 1 lap down
Damon HillTWR Arrows-Yamaha 1 lap down
Pedro DinizTWR Arrows-Yamaha 1 lap down
Jos Verstappen Tyrrell-Ford 1 lap down
Mika SaloTyrrell-Ford 48 laps - engine
Tarso Marques Minardi-Hart 47 laps -
Olivier Panis Prost-Mugen 36 laps - engine failure
Shinji Nakano Prost-Mugen 22 laps - rear wheel bearing failure
Ukyo Katayama Minardi-Hart 8 laps -
Rubens Barrichello Stewart-Ford 6 laps -
Jan Magnussen Stewart-Ford 3 laps -
Jacques Villeneuve Williams-Renault 1h 30m 28.222s (disqualified from 5th place)

Fastest Lap

1997 : Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Williams) 1m 38.942s
Previous Lap Record: 1m 40.646s

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Eddie leads JV

Analysis :
In a dynamic display of team unity Micheal Schumacher was handed victory by Ferrari #2 Eddie Irvine, while Jacques Villeneuve was frustrated, penalized and finally disqualified as the FIA tried to do its' best to ruin the climax to the Drivers' Championship.

In the opening laps, Villeneuve was obviously holding up the Ferrari's, but Irvine had other things in mind with a perfectly executed maneuver, around the outside of the Canadian, entering the final chicane. After that he drove off into the distance, putting 12 seconds between himself and Jacques.

Meanwhile, a balky fuel hose during the first round of pit-stops meant that Michael was ahead of his Championship rival. With a definite sense of oneupmanship, Irvine slowed dramatically allowing Schumacher to pass, then speeded up and proceeded to pace Villeneuve while his German team-mate motored to an easy victory.

Villeneuve's drive was for nothing however, as the race stewards had disqualified him from the race for failing to slow down when a yellow flag was shown during qualification. Although he was allowed to compete on Sunday following an appeal, the Williams team subsequently withdrew their appeal (fearing a ban from the final GP in Jerez) and Jacques was stripped of his 5th place finish.

The only bright spot for Williams was Heinz-Harald Frentzen's second place (thanks to better pit work by the Didcot boys) which assured the team of the World Constructors crown once again.

Elsewhere, the Jordan's of Ralf Schumacher and Gianni Fisichella kept to themselves and quietly ran to the end. Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi were steady but unspectacular, while Johnny Herbert picked up a point for the hard working Sauber equipe. Mika Hakkinen, who once again ran well in qualifying, almost made it onto the podium, while fellow McLaren-Mercedes driver David Coulthard suffered an all to familiar engine failure on the very last lap.

It is a great shame that the Championship is to be decided by politicians and stewards, while great drivers like Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher are made to look like extras in an epic saga.

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Michael thanks Eddie

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Photo credits : AP / F1Picturenet