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Feature: Malaysia: Penultimate Round Could Decide Formula One World Championship

16 October 1999

By David Treffer
Contributing Editor The Autochannel

pen-ul-ti-mate, adjective: next to the last (~syllable). It is doubtful that any of the four drivers involved in the Formula One World Championship fight are looking up the definition of the word. None the less, the next to last round of the Formula One season in Malaysia, could very well decide the championship. Four drivers have a mathematical chance of winning the crown. McLaren/Mercedes driver Mika Hakkinen (62 points) leads Ferrari driver Eddie Irvine (60 points) by a mere two points. Third place is held down by Jordan driver Heinz-Harald Frentzen with 50 points. The last driver with a chance to win the championship, David Coulthard, (48 points) would need something just short of a miracle to overcome the other three drivers. However, as the most recent race at the Nurburgring pointed out, anything is possible.

The first and easiest scenario has Hakkinen winning and Ferrari driver Eddie Irvine ending the race in a DNF (did not finish). If that happens the championship fight is over. However, if both Hakkinen and Irvine fall out and Frentzen wins, the championship picture becomes a triangular fight to be continued at the Japanese Grand Prix. McLaren driver David Coulthard would love to see all three drivers fall out. Just think about the following possibility. The top three drivers DNF. Coulthard wins. Coulthard pulls to within 4 points of the lead.

You can play what-if all day long which makes the Formula One season all the more interesting. It has been quite a few years since four drivers were involved in the Championship this late in the season.

One of the race-strategy scenarios that will be discussed within the Ferrari ranks. "Will Michael Schumacher will help Eddie Irvine?" Schumacher, regardless of the injury, is still the number one driver for Ferrari. Irvine, who is departing at seasons end, will put everything that he has in trying to win. Whether or not Ferrari wants to help him is another matter. The botched pit stop at the Nurburgring cost Irvine, at the very least, second place.

The other race-strategy concerns McLaren. Supposedly their are no team orders which specify Hakkinen as number one. Coulthard has shown that he can block with the best of them. Will he do it again? Not likely.

New track, multitude of scenarios and the possibility of extending the championship fight to the last race of the year. It does not get any better.

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