Motor Racing: Hakkinen Made a Hero by Ferrari Formula One: But for Schumacher's Extraordinary Ability, the 1998 Season Would Have Been a Foregone Conclusion
Allsop, Derick, The Independent (London, England)
FORMULA ONE is feeling good about itself again. The tainted cloak of last winter has been cast aside, replaced by the comforting afterglow of an absorbing and ultimately amicable world championship. Michael Schumacher remains the pre-eminent driver, but Mika Hakkinen is a worthy champion, which is not necessarily a contradiction in the context of this business. Hakkinen has capitalised on his superior equipment and withstood sustained pressure from Schumacher.
For the second successive season, however, Formula One is indebted to Schumacher and his Ferrari team for making a contest of it and taking the title to the wire at the Japanese Grand Prix. Twelve months ago the German's ambition and indignation got the better of him and he resorted to an ill-fated ram-raid on Jacques Villeneuve's Williams. This time he was undone from the moment he stalled on the grid at Suzuka and eventually he succumbed to a tyre blow-out. Had Schumacher been given a lengthy ban, as some demanded in the clamour that followed Jerez last year, who would have taken the fight to McLaren- Mercedes? There is frankly no one else out there who would have been capable of doing so. Even Schumacher could not, in the end, bridge the performance gap between McLaren and Ferrari. He, and his team, closed it sufficiently to create a spectacle that not only went the distance but also left the audience craving the opening of the next production, in the spring. McLaren emerged this past spring as dominant as many inside the sport feared. Their car, created by Adrian Newey, who defected from Williams, and powered by an engine long developed and refined by Ilmor, was simply a class above the rest. Hakkinen won in Australia, albeit with the compliance of his team-mate, David Coulthard, and won again in Brazil. It seemed the only hope for the show was that Coulthard might get his act together and give us a domestic squabble. Instead, Schumacher muscled him out of that row, quite literally, in Argentina, and although Coulthard won at Imola he soon became resigned to a bit part. Ferrari took a significant step forward in early summer, raising suspicions about the legality of their car. They were adamant an improvement in their tyres had contributed substantially to their progress. A combination of gremlins in the works at McLaren, Ferrari's remarkable reliability, and Schumacher's incomparable ability to exploit weaknesses and capricious weather conditions, changed the complexion of the championship. He won in Canada, France and Britain to hoist himself up to Hakkinen's shoulder. The challenge brought the best out of McLaren and Hakkinen, who countered with emphatic victories in Austria and Germany. Schumacher squandered the opportunity to lead the championship when he ran into the back of Coulthard at Spa, but drew level in Italy. It appeared the balance had shifted Schumacher's way, the more so as he claimed pole position at the Nurburgring for the penultimate race. To his dismay, Hakkinen produced perhaps the performance of his life and regained the initiative. That we were denied the final showdown by a rule that stipulates a driver who stalls on the grid must start at the back is the abiding disappointment of the season. The abiding memories are of the stirring, fluctuating duel, the bravado of Schumacher and the growing stature of Hakkinen. The Finn has moulded innate speed and courage into consistent racing potency. He has disproved the theories about a lack of cunning and nerve with a series of masterly, authoritative drives. Eight grand prix wins is testimony to his season's work. McLaren, despite their blips, have had a superb year, and are restored to the top of the pile for the first time since 1991, a tribute to the unflinching resolve of Ron Dennis and his charges. Ferrari salvaged credit and self-esteem from a season they promised would be theirs yet might have subjected them …
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Publication information: Article title: Motor Racing: Hakkinen Made a Hero by Ferrari Formula One: But for Schumacher's Extraordinary Ability, the 1998 Season Would Have Been a Foregone Conclusion. Contributors: Allsop, Derick - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: November 3, 1998. Page number: 22. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.