MATTERS of MOMENT
NEWS, VIEWS AND COMMENT 4 . tit 11 ‘el •
HAKKINEN WINS TITLE WITH DRIVE WORTHY OF A CHAMPION
MIKA HAKKINEN HAS WON THE JAPAN’ SE GRAND PRIX TO BECOME ONLY THE seventh driver in the 50 seasons of the Formula One World Championship to claim two consecutive drivers’ titles. His mastery of the tricky Suzuka circuit combined with the inability of Ferrari’s Eddie Irvine to present any more than token opposition all weekend overturned a four-point deficit in the championship to give him the title by two clear points. Ferrari, in turn, captured the Constructors Championship, its first title in Fl since it claimed the same award in 1983.
The only person who looked capable of eclipsing Hakkinen was Michael Schumacher who ultimately proved unable to build upon his pole position, losing the lead to the Finn before the first corner and never looking likely to regain it. The German eventually crossed the line in a second position that was unchallenged after the retirement of Hakkinen’s team-mate, David Coulthard.
For Hakkinen, it was a straight-forward day at the office and, on such this season, he has won.
season, won. For everyone else, it was considerably less simple. Why Schumacher was unable to keep up with Hakkinen after comfortably beating him in practice will remain a subject of debate for some time. Almost all season the Ferrari has been quicker in race trim than during practice, yet only rarely did the German’s lap times approach those of the leader. Suggestions that he was doing his duty by ensuring Ferrari the constructor’s crown while denying Irvine Ferrari’s first driver’s title
for 20 years appear not to be too wide of the mark. Michael has made no secret of his desire to play that role and Irvine’s uncharitable remarks about Schumacher’s role in the team after his accident at Silverstone are unlikely to have endeared him to his team-mate.
In the event Irvine’s strategy appeared to be to sit tight and hope Hakkinen’s McLaren would either break or that Schumacher would win the race, either scenario being guaranteed to provide Irvine with the title.
McLaren’s grip on the constructor’s title was finally lost when David Coulthard proved unable to keep his car on the track, damaging the nose and causing its eventual retirement, though not before finding the time to delay Schumacher sufficiently to destroy any chance of his catching Hakkinen. Whether this was an acceptable tactical move or a grossly unfair attempt to deprive Ferrari of any chance of the drivers title remains a matter of some debate. Further down the field, Heinz-Harald Frentzen came home fourth to beat Coulthard to third place in the driver’s standings some achievement if you consider the equipment at the disposal of his rival and consolidating an extraordinary third place in the constructor’s championship for Jordan. Stewart, in its third and final season, came good at last, beating Williams to fourth. At the other end of the field, a mixture of bad luck and poor reliability made sure the new BAR team was alone in the field in failing to score a single point all season. AF MOTOR SPORT 160