Hakkinen Drives to First World Championship

2 November 1998

  Maybe the third time was the charm. Or maybe having former Formula One
Champion Keke Rosberg on your side or maybe McLaren's dominance of the early
90's in F1 is back. Regardless of the reason-Mika Hakkinen is the new World
Champion in Formula One.

  The anticipated titanic battle between Hakkinen and Schumacher at this
season-ending race in Japan was muted when Schumacher stalled his Ferrari on
the grid during the second re-start. With Schumacher relegated to the rear
of the grid for the third start the championship fight was not over but
Schumacher had created his own Mount Everest. 

  When the race finally did start, Hakkinen displayed the killer instinct
that so many pundits said was lacking in his repertoire. Utilizing a
brilliant start, Hakkinen took the first corner decisively and basically
never looked back. For Schumacher the attempt to climb to the top of the
mountain was going smoothly. He climbed from 21st to 8th place in four laps.
Just when it appeared that a fight for championship could re-appear
Schumacher came upon a crevasse named Damon Hill. The two nemesis dueled for
10 laps before Hill broke off the fight to pit on lap 14 of the 51 lap race.
The duel between Hill and Schumacher allowed Hakkinen to pull out to a 28
second lead over Schumacher. Schumacher pitted the next lap with an
outstanding 6.8 second stop. Obviously the Ferrari strategy was going to be
three stops with minimal amounts of fuel being inserted into the car.

  Meanwhile up front Hakkinen and Eddie Irvine were also putting on quite a
duel. Irvine fought to close the gap between them but could never draw
closer than 1.5 seconds. Irvine broke off the attack on Hakkinen to pit on
lap 15. A quick pit-stop was accomplished but was not quick enough to close
on Hakkinen who pitted on lap 18 with a 7.3 second stop and still maintained
first place by just over a second.

  Schumacher, meanwhile had pulled up to third place. Setting fastest laps
on laps 19 and 21 Schumacher was nibbling at Hakkinen's lead. Then the
beginning of the end appeared. Schumacher missed the chicane that leads on
to the front straight on lap 22. Locking up his right front tire the Ferrari
bounced over the curbing but appeared none the less to recover unscathed. On
the following lap at the same point Schumacher locked up all four tires.
Again, billows of scorched rubber emanated from Schumacher's car. Say what
you will, Schumacher was giving his all. At half-distance the top six
running order was Hakkinen, Irvine, Schumacher, Coulthard, Frentzen and Hill. 

  Schumacher's battle to catch Hakkinen was slowly working even with
blistered tires. Schumacher had reduced the 29 second lead down to 25.6
seconds. Then on lap 32 the championship fight was over. Schumacher's right
rear tire exploded going down the front straight. Reminiscent of Nigel
Mansell's 1986 championship plight of an exploding tire at the season-
ending race in Australia, Schumacher parked the wounded Ferrari and became a
spectator for Hakkinen championship processional.

  When the checkered flag waved, Hakkinen was understandably wrought with
emotions. Basically written off after his near-death shunt in Australia in
1996, Hakkinen upon his entrance into the impound area was greeted not only
by the McLaren Team but by Michael Schumacher as well. It was a good display
of sportsmanship. The one hour and 27 minute race was no doubt the only TV
show on in Finland early Sunday morning as they witnessed a truly
championship drive by one of their countrymen.

David Treffer -- The Auto Channel

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