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Michael Schumacher’s first Ferrari drivers’ title win in 25 brilliant photos

On this day in 2000, Michael Schumacher scored an emphatic victory in the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka and, in turn, won his first drivers’ title with Ferrari. We’ve dived into the Girardo & Co. Archive and unearthed 25 rarely seen photos which capture the magic and emotion of what Schumacher cited as the greatest race of his career…

A staggering 151,000 fans descended on Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix in 2000, the penultimate round of that year’s Formula 1 World Championship and a race in which Michael Schumacher was hoping to finally clinch the drivers’ title for Ferrari – something the Scuderia had agonisingly not achieved since Jody Scheckter won in 1979.

Since joining Ferrari in 1996, Schumacher – then a double World Champion – had galvanized the historic team and, with the help of Jean Todt, Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne, turned its fortunes around. However, the heartache from losing out on the 1997, ’98 and ’99 titles in such dramatic circumstances was real for Schumacher.

You can only imagine the German’s focus and determination heading to Suzuka with an eight-point lead over championship rival Mika Häkkinen. If Schumacher won in Japan, the title was his.

The thousands of Japanese fans, who were swept up in the frenzied atmosphere and excitement, were treated to a showdown for the books. Schumacher snatched pole position from Häkkinen on Saturday by a mere nine thousandth of a second. And the race was every bit as close.

After losing the lead off the line, Schumacher put the fate of his race in the capable hands of his team, who in turn played a strategic blinder – amid intermittent drizzle and changeable surface conditions, Schumacher pitted for the second and final time on lap 40 and emerged 4.1sec ahead of the McLaren of Häkkinen.

Häkkinen kept Schumacher honest for the remainder of the race, crossing the finish line just 1.8sec behind after 53 laps. His eighth win of the season, Schumacher later described how Häkkinen had pushed him to the very limit. “For over 40 laps Mika and I did almost identical times, like a perpetual qualifying lap,” he recalled. “It was certainly one of the very best races I have ever driven, if not the best.”

Schumacher had done it. He was a champion in red. His hard work and self-sacrifice had paid off – he’d finally broken Ferrari’s 20-year spell without a drivers’ World Champion. There were scenes of utter jubilation and overwhelming emotion, not only in Suzuka but also back in Maranello, where thousands of people had pored into the streets near the factory to celebrate the momentous achievement. “On the dawn of a luminous autumn Sunday, Ferrari reconciled itself with history.” That’s how one Italian paper reported on the events.  

Today, 21 years after Schumacher earned perhaps the most critical victory of his career, we’re paying our very own tribute. We’ve delved into the Girardo & Co. Archive and unearthed 25 very rarely seen photos from that memorable weekend, taken both at the circuit before, during and after the race and back in Maranello, to share with you all in the gallery below. How’s that for Ferrari Friday?

The photos in this feature are from the Girardo & Co. Archive, which is our new treasure trove of three-million motorsport images from the 1970s to the present day, all of which are available to purchase directly from the website. CLICK HERE to search the archive and buy high-res photos online. 

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