Formula 1
Formula 1
R
Emilia Romagna GP
18 Apr
Race in
47 days
09 May
Next event in
65 days
23 May
Race in
82 days
R
Azerbaijan GP
06 Jun
Race in
96 days
13 Jun
Race in
104 days
27 Jun
Race in
117 days
04 Jul
Next event in
121 days
18 Jul
Race in
138 days
R
Hungarian GP
01 Aug
Race in
152 days
29 Aug
Race in
180 days
05 Sep
Race in
187 days
12 Sep
Race in
194 days
26 Sep
Race in
208 days
R
Singapore GP
03 Oct
Next event in
212 days
10 Oct
Race in
222 days
R
United States GP
24 Oct
Race in
237 days
31 Oct
Race in
244 days
R
Australian GP
21 Nov
Race in
264 days
R
Saudi Arabia GP
05 Dec
Race in
279 days
R
Abu Dhabi GP
12 Dec
Race in
285 days

The race making a strong case for reversed grids

Formula 1's choice of the 2005 Japanese Grand Prix as its latest race to stream is apt given the recent down-voting of its plans to introduce reversed grids at double-header events this year. Short of using computer simulations, it's as close a case study for what it might look like in modern F1 as there is.

shares
comments
The race making a strong case for reversed grids

The push to implement some kind of reversed grid system in Formula 1 is refusing to go away, even if the latest renewed bid ended in failure.

With the revised 2020 calendar featuring multiple races at the same circuit, it was seen by most as the ideal opportunity to experiment with the format. However, the proposal for a reversed-grid sprint race - in lieu of qualifying - for the second events at Spielberg and Silverstone was ultimately shot down by Mercedes' Toto Wolff, who called the idea a "gimmick".

The case for reversed-grid racing in F1 has been clear for some time. It would add to the excitement and spectacle of a racing weekend, forcing drivers to push for overtakes and fight their way through the field. And there is one race more than any other that supports the argument for reversed grids in F1: the 2005 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.

While we have seen the occasional fight through the field in recent years, it is rare for the majority of the leading drivers to find themselves way down the grid together. But the nature of the 2005 qualifying rules created more potential for this kind of grouping.

Qualifying took place with the cars loading up on race fuel levels and each driver getting one shot on clear track to set a time. The cars went out to set their times in the reverse order of the last race. While the modern qualifying format ensures all drivers get to set times in similar conditions, this was not the case 15 years ago.

By the time Juan Pablo Montoya, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso - the top three in Brazil two weeks earlier - went out to qualify at Suzuka, an earlier shower had turned into torrential rain. It left new world champion Alonso 16th on the grid for Renault, with the McLarens of Raikkonen and Montoya behind in 17th and 18th respectively. Michael Schumacher, 14th on the grid for Ferrari, was sandwiched between the Minardis of Christijan Albers and Robert Doornbos.

The mixed-up grid had a light-fuelled Ralf Schumacher starting from pole - a one-off occurrence in three mostly disappointing seasons for Toyota - with Jenson Button's BAR second, Giancarlo Fisichella's Renault a promising third and Christian Klien a best-ever fourth for Red Bull.

While Alonso had sewn up his maiden title, Renault and McLaren remained embroiled in the fight for the constructors' championship with two races to go. McLaren's 1-2 finish in Brazil had put the team into a two-point lead heading to Japan, but with Fisichella well-placed, Renault fancied its chances of swinging momentum back in its favour.

Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren Mercedes MP4/20

Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren Mercedes MP4/20

Photo by: Sutton Images

A messy opening lap allowed both Alonso and Raikkonen - the two stand-out drivers of the season - to make up a number of positions. Takuma Sato and Rubens Barrichello's Ferrari both ran off at Turn 1, while an oblivious Jacques Villeneuve punted Montoya into the wall at the exit of the final corner. Montoya was able to walk away from the big shunt, but the safety car was called with Alonso already up to eighth and Raikkonen 12th.

Alonso struggled to continue his progress on the restart, getting stuck behind Klien. Raikkonen was able to latch onto the rear of his rival's Renault after three passes in three laps, picking off Felipe Massa's Sauber, the Williams of Antonio Pizzonia and Villeneuve's Sauber.

By the time Alonso dived into the pits to refuel on lap 22, he sat fourth. But after emerging in traffic with a heavy car, Alonso's pace dropped enough to allow the longer-running Ferrari of Schumacher and Raikkonen to get the overcut. The pair came into the pits together four laps after Alonso before rejoining ahead in fifth and sixth. Alonso picked up his pace towards the end of the first stint as he burned off fuel, culminating in a spectacular - and at the time, apparently era-defining - pass around the outside of Michael Schumacher at the fearsome 130R.

With Alonso out of the way, Raikkonen quickly set about disposing of Schumacher. A lock-up from the outgoing seven-times world champion at the Casio Triangle allowed Raikkonen to close before passing on the main straight. That became fourth after Ralf Schumacher - the first of the regular pitstoppers on lap 13 - returned to the pits for his second of three planned stops on lap 28.

While Raikkonen had Button and Mark Webber's Williams in sight, race leader Fisichella was 20 seconds clear as he neared the end of his second stint, making his second victory for Renault a likely prospect. The Italian pitted for the final time on lap 38 of 53, coming out fourth, as Raikkonen still sat close behind the duelling Button and Webber.

But McLaren had opted to run Raikkonen heavy following his first stop, allowing him to stretch out the stint seven laps longer than Fisichella. It was enough to ensure that, by the time he came in for a late splash-and-dash with eight laps to go, he had not only jumped Button and Webber but was now just five seconds back from the leader.

Giancarlo Fisichella, Renault R25, leads Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren Mercedes MP4-20

Giancarlo Fisichella, Renault R25, leads Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren Mercedes MP4-20

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Raikkonen's charge did not abate entering the closing stages, moving to within one second of Fisichella with three laps to go.

The Finn edged closer before tucking into the Renault's slipstream exiting Spoon on the penultimate lap, forcing Fisichella to cover the inside entering the Casio Triangle. It meant he had a compromised line through the chicane, unlike Raikkonen, who was now on the gearbox of the leader entering the final lap.

Fisichella moved right as they crossed the start-finish line, taking Raikkonen with him as the McLaren picked up the slipstream. A duke left from Fisichella again met a similar response from Raikkonen, who went side-by-side with the Renault before slinging his car around the outside into Turn 1. He was through, and there was no way for Fisichella to respond.

Raikkonen had simply been in a different league, allowing him to cross the line 1.6 seconds clear for his seventh win of the season and from 17th on the grid.

Only John Watson, who had started 22nd for the 1983 US GP West and Barrichello - whose first victory came from 18th at Hockenheim in 2000 - had won from lower. McLaren boss Ron Dennis hailed it as "one of the best team wins we've ever had".

"I think that was one of my best races ever with a lot of hard work, and I really enjoyed myself," Raikkonen said after the race.

"Considering all the problems we have had here to come away with a win is just fantastic.

"There was a lot happening on the first lap and both Juan Pablo and myself got involved, which is often inevitable when you are starting so far down. I was pushing as hard as I could and the car just got better and better.

"After the second stop I had gained enough on Fisichella to go for it, and I did. I got past him on the last lap coming into the first corner, and it was one of those opportunities you have to take."

"The team told me Kimi was close after the last stop, and he caught me up quite quickly - especially when I got chopped by a backmarker into 130R, which cost me a lot of time," said Fisichella.

"He was very fast in the final part of the lap, and I did my best to hold him off, but he held the line into the first corner, and that was that."

Podium: race winner Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren

Podium: race winner Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren

Photo by: Peter Spinney / Motorsport Images

Despite losing the race win, Renault came away from Suzuka back in the lead of the constructors' championship after Alonso battled his way through to third place, leaving McLaren to rue Montoya's early exit. 

The race underlined how exciting it could be to see drivers start down the order. Alonso made up eight places on the first lap before pulling off a further six overtakes for position in the race. Raikkonen only made five passes, aided by his better fuel strategy, but each one was crucial in his path to victory.

When making the case for reversed grids to be used in some form, Suzuka '05 is the strongest example there is. After all, moments such as Alonso's 130R pass on Schumacher or Raikkonen's last-lap move on Fisichella are what F1 thrives off.

But so long as there is opposition to the proposal, we look set to only enjoy such fights through the field when outside factors come into play - something the current rulebook and strong reliability does little to encourage.

Read Also:

My job in F1: The chief mechanic

Previous article

My job in F1: The chief mechanic

Next article

Wolff hoping for at least 12 F1 races in 2020

Wolff hoping for at least 12 F1 races in 2020
Load comments

About this article

Series Formula 1
Author Luke Smith
The big questions of F1 2021 - Karun Chandhok Prime

The big questions of F1 2021 - Karun Chandhok

After an unprecedented season last year, there are plenty of questions and storylines for the upcoming Formula 1 campaign. Sky Sports F1 pundit Karun Chandhok gives his verdict.

How McLaren F1’s new investors have already made an impact Prime

How McLaren F1’s new investors have already made an impact

The deal McLaren concluded with MSP Sports Capital last year which will help the cash-strapped Formula 1 team pay for much-needed infrastructure upgrades, also points toward the future for F1 itself, says GP Racing's Stuart Codling.

Formula 1
Feb 27, 2021
Why Verstappen isn't interested in the hype game Prime

Why Verstappen isn't interested in the hype game

In a pre-season where Red Bull has been unusually quiet, Max Verstappen has also been guarded about the team's fortunes in 2021. Even after trying the RB16B for the first time at Silverstone, the Dutchman was careful to manage expectations

Formula 1
Feb 26, 2021
The pros and cons of F1's 2021 rule changes Prime

The pros and cons of F1's 2021 rule changes

In the strategy for grand prix racing's future, 2021 represents a significant step towards the goal of closer racing and a more level playing field. That's the theory behind the latest raft of changes, but will they have the desired effect?

Formula 1
Feb 24, 2021
What Red Bull is trying to hide with its RB16B launch Prime

What Red Bull is trying to hide with its RB16B launch

Red Bull made no secret of the fact its 2021 F1 car is an evolution of its predecessor, but in keeping the same foundations while hiding some tightly-guarded updates with its RB16B, the team aims to avoid suffering the same pitfalls of previous years

Formula 1
Feb 23, 2021
How Albon plans to fight his way out of Red Bull limbo Prime

How Albon plans to fight his way out of Red Bull limbo

Alex Albon has faced the media for the first time since he lost his Red Bull drive at the end of 2020 and dropped out of a Formula 1 race seat altogether. He has a history of bouncing back from setbacks, so here's what he must do to rise again

Formula 1
Feb 23, 2021
Ranked! Carlin's greatest F1 graduates Prime

Ranked! Carlin's greatest F1 graduates

Carlin has helped guide enough drivers to Formula 1 to fill out an entire grid, plus a handful of reserves, to create a remarkable alumni list. With Yuki Tsunoda set to join that group, Motorsport.com has ranked its graduates to grace the grand prix scene...

Formula 1
Feb 22, 2021
Why Alfa's 2021 launch says more about its 2022 plans Prime

Why Alfa's 2021 launch says more about its 2022 plans

Alfa Romeo launched its C41 with a revised front nose, but there's little to suggest it will surge up the leaderboard in 2021. As the team frankly admits, it's putting its eggs in the basket labelled 2022 and hoping to hold the eighth place it earned last year

Formula 1
Feb 22, 2021