Suzuka, October 14, 2001: a date and a circuit that, while not going down in history due to a particular sporting event that took place on the track, still mark a piece of the 90s of Formula 1 that lowers the shutter in one fell swoop. A world champion and another rider who has achieved too little compared to the talent he has repeatedly shown, also thanks to a resounding competitive misfortune, hang up their helmet at the end of a Japanese afternoon that marks, among other things, the end of the 2001 world championship. A farewell to the world of the Circus which also materializes for a team that, in the antechamber decade of the twenty-first century, has had the opportunity to enter the annals of this sport with two world constructors’ titles. The 2001 Japanese Grand Prix, dating back exactly twenty years ago, put the word “end” to the careers of Mika Hakkinen And Jean Alesi, as well as the experience of Benetton in the top car series.
For the former it is therefore the 161 ° and last race in Formula 1, in that category in which he distinguished himself with ben two world titles won in 1998 and 1999. The Finn, victim of a very serious accident during the tests in Adelaide in 1995 – which even caused him to go into a coma with the risk of losing his life – had the great merit not only of completely recovering from the impact , but also to bring the world championship back to success McLaren for the first time in almost ten years since Ayrton Senna’s triumphs. The appointment with the Japanese GP is therefore the final act of his experience in Formula 1, with a retirement already announced during the season to devote himself completely to the family and to his recently born son Hugo. A driver beloved by the public and also appreciated for his style off the slopes, Hakkinen amazes everyone with an altruistic gesture just a few laps from the end of the race: despite being the creator of a rather disappointing 2001, the Finn has the opportunity to close in the best way their career with a third place. Right at the most beautiful moment, the two-time world champion voluntarily slows down, giving up their position to teammate David Coulthard, as a sign of recognition and gratitude for the many seasons spent together in Woking. In this way, Hakkinen forgoes what would have been his 52nd podium by taking leave of the Circus with 20 wins and 26 pole positions in exactly ten years in Formula 1, from 1991 to 2001, almost all of which lived behind the wheel of McLaren.
Equally exciting is the conclusion of Jean’s parenthesis in the top flight Alesi, which arrives in Japan with the fresh milestone of 200 GP disputed, which in Suzuka become 201. Prost driver until the 2001 German Grand Prix (the same French team disputes its last race in Japan), from that appointment onwards the transalpine passes to Jordan, with whom he is about to end his career after a more unique than rare adventure: indicated as a promising young man at the end of the 80s, the son of Italian emigrants who moved to Avignon manages to amaze everyone with Tyrrell at the appointment inaugural of the 1990 season in Phoenix, putting Senna in serious trouble for the win. In the end, the Brazilian wins, but Alesi’s incredible performance in that GP and throughout the year convinces Ferrari to hire him for 1991. It seems the beginning of a dream, which instead will turn into an incredible succession of adversity. Between the unreliability of the vehicle and personal misfortune, with an impressive collection of retirements, the Frenchman will only be able to win the 1995 Canadian Grand Prix, in what will become the only success of his career. After touching other successes at the wheel of Benetton in the mid-90s, Alesi will begin a decline in results between Sauber, Prost and Jordan. Also beloved by the public, especially those of Ferrari faith, Alesi concludes his 201st and last start once again with a withdrawal, caused by an accident with another future promise like Kimi Raikkonen. The farewell to F1 thus materializes prematurely, with a touching greeting to the Japanese spectators from the trackside, without even seeing the checkered flag.
The same public that, in that appointment, sees the blue of the Benetton, come to his 260th and last participation in the Circus. Founded in 1986 by the Treviso entrepreneur Luciano Benetton, the team – based in England – became the first in the history of this category to present a brand not linked to the world of racing and motoring in general, being in fact a textile company. Heir to Toleman, the team experienced its heyday in the mid-90s: driven by the talent on the track of Michael Schumacher, and by a pit wall made up of team manager Flavio Briatore and technicians of the caliber of Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne, the Anglo-Italian team wins two drivers’ titles in 1994 and 1995, also establishing itself in world manufacturers this last season. Despite getting a few podiums and only one GP from 1996 onwards, Benetton began a slow and inexorable decline, which resulted in a total crisis, including an economic one, in 2001. While still racing with its own name in that championship, the team is taken over by Renault, which in fact returns to F1 with its own name since 2002. The farewell to F1 takes place with the good seventh place of a future world champion as Jenson Button – just outside the points area according to the system of the time – and with the 17th and last place of the Roman Giancarlo Fisichella. The team then takes leave with two world riders, one constructors and 27 GPs won.