The Formula One Japanes Grand Prix is happening at Suzuka this weekend. While the Constructors Championship can be wrapped up, the circuit is known as a classic venue for the Drivers Championship to be decided. Here are the most exciting title deciders at Suzuka.
Max Verstappen may not be able to clinch the title until Qatar, but Red Bull Racing might wrap things up at Suzuka already. In previous years, the race usually took place towards the very end of the season. This means that it saw its fair share of title deciders.
1989: Ayrton Senna vs. Alain Prost
Likely one of the most famous (or infamous) title deciders at Suzuka and in F1 history, the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix saw McLaren teammates Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost collide going into the final chicane. While Prost retired on the spot, Senna got his car restarted, rejoined the race and even won after pitting for a new front wing. However, the Brazilian was later disqualified for cutting the chicane when rejoining, making Prost the champion. This promoted Benetton’s Alessandro Nannini to P1 – it was the Italian’s only F1 victory.
Prost would jump ship to Ferrari at the end of the season, with Senna staying put at McLaren. Their battle would continue, however…
1990: Ayrton Senna vs. Alain Prost, Round 2
…just a year later, the title would be decided between the Brazilian and the Frenchman again. The pair qualified 1-2, with Senna taking Pole Position. However, the first starting spot was on the dirty side of the track. Senna’s request to move it to the racing line was denied ahead of the race. With the Head of FISA (an autonomous committee within the FIA running F1’s sporting side at the time) being French in Jean-Marie Balestre, Senna sensed favoritism for Prost.
Tensions were high before the start, and once the lights went green, Senna stayed on the inside line, crashing into Prost. Incredibly, both men’s races had already ended in turn 1 on the first lap. As F1 commentary legend Murray Walker exclaimed “It’s happened immediately! This is amazing!” and both drivers emerged from their wrecked cars, it was Senna who took the tile this time around.
It was this crash that led to Senna’s famous “If you no longer go for a gap that exists, you’re no longer a racing driver” quote that seems to inspire many an open lobby in sim racing to this day. Unbelievably by today’s standards, neither driver received a penalty, so the result stood.
1998: Michael Schumacher vs. Mika Häkkinen
Going into the season finale in 1998, the excitement for the showdown between McLaren’s Mika Häkkinen and Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher was high. The Finn was within reach of his first title, while Schumacher tried to end Ferrari’s drought that went back to 1979.
Starting from P1, the German stalled and had to make is way back through the field subsequently. While Häkkinen led for most of the race, Schumacher made immense progress early on, running in seventh by lap four already.
However, the 1998 title race was indirectly decided by a collision between Esteban Tuero (Minardi) and Toranosuke Takagi (Tyrrell) at the final chicane. Schumacher ran over the debris and eventually suffered a race-ending puncture. Subsequently, this handed the title to race winner Häkkinen – a drama-filled event.
2000: Michael Schumacher vs. Mika Häkkinen – Round 2
The rematch between the two rivals had to wait for another year after Schumacher’s leg injury in 1999. But in 2000, both drivers were back to trade wins, leading to an exciting scenario for the final two races. This time, Suzuka was the penultimate round, followed by the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Schumacher held an eight-point advantage ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix. While this may not seem exciting on paper, Ferrari always coming up short from 1997 to 1999 put immense pressure on Schumacher. With the old points system of 10-6-4-3-2-1 still in place, he had to win to clinch the title in Japan already.
The Ferrari driver took pole by a mere .009 of a second, with Häkkinen lining up behind him. The Finn initially took the lead and stayed there until the second round of pit stops. There, Ferrari pulled off an ultra-quick service time, allowing Schumacher to leapfrog Häkkinen and take an emotional win. It was the first Drivers Championship since Jody Scheckter’s in 1979 and Schumacher’s third.
2003: Michael Schumacher vs. Kimi Räikkönen
Three years later: Another Ferrari/McLaren battle, another Finn facing Schumacher. However, it was Kimi Räikkönen this time around. What looked like a three-way battle for most of the season including Williams’ Juan Pablo Montoya had boiled down to a duel for the season finale.
However, Räkkönen only had an outsider’s chance, trailing Schumacher by nine points. The Finn had to win, and Schumacher had to simply finish in eigth and grab one point to secure the title. As much as the odds were in favor of Schumacher, a highly-exciting race lay ahead.
Both title candidates had poor qualifying sessions, meaning Räikkönen only started in eigth, and Schumacher even further down in 14th. The Finn did his best to make his way to the front, but could not get past Schumacher’s teammate Rubens Barrichello. Meanwhile, the German fought through the field, but had to hold on to the needed eighth position on worn tires. That was after almost colliding with his brother Ralf – and BAR’s Takuma Sato running over the Ferrari’s front wing, though. Sato was making his F1 debut at his home Japanese Grand Prix that year.
In the end, Schumacher held station, taking the single point he needed to become World Champion. It was his sixth – a record at the time. Of course, he would extend this a year later in the dominant Ferrari F2004.
Can You Recreate Them in AMS2?
Featuring unrivaled amounts of historic content, Automobilista 2 is likely the best choice to recreate some of these title battles using stock content. However, the sim lacks a vintage version of the circuit, so the track will not be 100 percent accurate in all cases. Suzuka’s modern version does come with the old chicane used until 2002, though.
Senna’s and Prost’s 1990 clash can be recreated using the F-Classic Gen 3 class. Their McLaren MP4/5B is part of the Brazilian Racing Legends DLC. Unfortunately, no 1990 skin pack is available yet. While not quite accurate, the car’s base version MP4/5 competed in 1989, making it an option for this as well.
Meanwhile, 1998 is not an option in AMS2. The Formula V10 Gen 2 is based off of a 2001 car and similar, but no 1998 skin pack is available. You can find one for the 2000 season, though. That means you can get right into Schumacher’s second battle with Häkkinen. Unfortunately, the lack of a 2003 skin pack rules out that season as well.
To find out all you need to know about the historic Formula One seasons in Automobilista 2, check out RaceDepartment’s handy guide! There, you will find all accurate tracks for the seasons as well as skin packs if they are available.
Have you read our previous AMS2 article about the F-Reiza cars? If not, you can do so here!
What is your favorite Suzuka title decider? Let us know on Twitter @OverTake_gg or in the comments below!