20 years ago Michael wins his first title with Ferrari

20 years ago Michael wins his first title with Ferrari

Are there higher powers involved? On the weekend when Michael’s career takes another decisive turn, the earth is shaking in Japan. In Suzuka, the vibrations on the training day are still so strong that some drivers have the car set-up changed – there was no other way to explain the vibrations. Michael and his rival Mika Häkkinen, however, are so focused on the decisive race in the title fight that all they can feel are their good vibes. At the Japanese Grand Prix in 2000, the Millennium Champion is crowned.

The Suzuka International Circuit is a real driver’s track – fast, challenging and not without danger. Just like Spa. Made for champions. It is Michael’s fifth attempt at his first title, making up for the broken leg season of the last millennium. Eight points ahead, two races to go. Pole position in the World Championship duel and in Suzuka. But Häkkinen fights, wins the start, is in front after the first pit stop with the McLaren.

Then it starts to rain. Schumi weather. He drives like a gladiator, ignores contact with other cars, stays out two laps longer than planned before the decisive tire change. The tactics of Ross Brawn at the command post work out, after the stop Michael has a four-second lead with the F 2000. He will not give up this victory. It is his 43rd Grand Prix victory, and probably the most important one. Because he redeems Ferrari after 21 years without a title.

They don’t know what to do with their joy, as they slowly realize what they have achieved together – finally. The emotions explode. Ferrari team boss Jean Todt, the architect of the glorious Scuderia, runs towards the car still bearing the starting number three. The Frenchman kisses Michael’s helmet. The mechanics sing, Michael hugs each one of them. He throws chief mechanic Federico Bertazzo into the air with joy. On that celebratory evening in 2000, the relief dissolves into karaoke and sake. The huts in the amusement park around the track are party zones, no longer able to distinguish between friend and foe. At home in Maranello, Father Alberto Bernardoni rings the church bells in honor of Michael and Ferrari, three days in a row.

Only on the other side of the Ferris wheel is work still going on, the mechanics have to pack up quickly for the next race. While cleaning up in the garage, a Ferrari man injures his leg. At this late hour there is no doctor at hand, no one who speaks English at all. Michael is alarmed at the victory celebration. In the hullabaloo, he manages to order the Formula 1 chief physician Sid Watkins back to the pit lane, organizes transport to the hospital, finds an interpreter. A real team captain.

There is one more race to go to Suzuka, in Malaysia. Michael wins it in a world championship manner. On the podium he wears a red wig – like everyone else in the team. It is the prelude to a series of successes unparalleled in the history of Ferrari. Red rules the world.