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Ferrari first, Ferrari second, daylight third.
No surprises there and no surprises in the crushing performance of Michael Schumacher in getting his 50th pole. There were however lots of surprises behind them. An excellent effort from DC put him convincingly in 3rd with Kimi beside him in 4th, convincingly outpacing Ralf and Juan Pablo in the two Williams cars that rounded out the 6.
Honda must be very happy with having their cars take the next 3 spots, damn shame that Sato and Fisichella were driving the first two though. Having put all their eggs in the BAR basket I'm sure that they would have liked Jacques to come in before the Jordans. I had some real hopes for Sato at the start of this season, having performed very well in the nursery league in 2001. If I were Eddie Jordan I would be pretty upset that he waited for the final round to deliver. Today he did deliver in front of his home crowd.
The biggest surprise today for me was that nobody underperformed. Ralf and David were quicker on the day but neither Juan nor Kimi were disgraced. Sato pipped Fisichella, Eddie Irvine beat de la Rosa and Heidfeld was quicker than Massa. Even Alex Yoong managed to come last by a margin of only 0.3 seconds to Webber, his best performance to date. Alan McNish fortunately qualified before his meeting with the armco fencing that delayed the session for over an hour. He was very quick before his off and would have been much closer to Salo had it not happened. I hope he is as unscathed as he appeared to be and that he will be able to take his well deserved place on the grid tomorrow.
Honours were pretty even between Michelin and Bridgestone, with neither gaining any real advantage from the conditions. I hope that situation continues next season.
The Japanese GP 'Also Ran' and Qualifying Champion
The also ran award is there to reward underachievers and while it is tempting to simply pick a losing differential (Olivier Panis in this case) that is not its purpose. Panis was beaten by the teams number one driver and that's as it should be. It is far more tempting to award it to the Williams team for snatching defeat to McLaren from the jaws of victory. They started the season so dominantly in second place and lost the plot at the end.
No, for the final race of it's inaugural season there is no also ran award. David and Ralf have managed to capture enough through the season to satisfy even their egos and Eddie received his just rewards for his PR efforts.
All 3 though have once again failed to be world champion of anything and shown why they never will be. They have been convincingly beaten in the Most Best field by Michael and in the Least Best by Alex. Only huge amounts of money can support a talent as small as Alex's through most of a season (he didn't manage to make the whole season because Paul got sick of only having one Sunday driver.
It really doesn't require any justification, Mark Webber in his rookie year was our Qualifying Champion and Alex's woeful performance should not lessen the efforts of Mark in achieving that.
1. Mika Salo, 2. Jacques Villeneuve, 3. Michael Schumacher
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Charts to follow
1. Heinz Harald Frentzen replaced Felipe Massa at the US Grand Prix.
QualiPoints are awarded in the same way points are awarded to the top 6 drivers in a race. (i.e. 10, 6, 4, 3, 2,1)