On This Day in #F1: 8th March

Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Carlo Carluccio

– 1998: Mika Hakkinen – The Perfect Storm for an over-rated champion

Formula One - Ayrton Senna and Mika HakkinenFollowing the 1993 Portugese Grand Prix Murray Walker repeated – ad nauseum – for several years how Mika Hakkinen was greater than Ayrton Senna. This corrupted view owed much to Hakkinen having beaten Senna in qualifying once – something that De Angelis, Prost and Berger also achieved but without the associated fanfare.

The point that’s often forgotten is for the first time in his life Senna was seriously demoralised.

Having failed to join Williams for free due to Prost’s cowardice and his initial high pressure race by race contract Senna spent the majority of the 1993 season watching the might of Renault powering his nemesis out of view whilst he laboured on with second generation Ford engines. Even three, exceptional, early season victories did little to lift the gloom.

Then again maybe we should be grateful for Hakkinen beating Senna – by a mere 4/100ths of a second in Portugal – because it galvanised the brilliant Brazilian to wins in Japan and Australia.


By 1998 people began to believe that Hakkinen deserved to be included in the pantheon of World Champions and yet I’d argue that if it wasn’t for the convergence of different factors – creating the perfect storm – he would have remained just a race winner until retirement.

1) With the FIA introducing grooved tyres to slow down the cars, Goodyear confirmed over the winter of 1997 that the 1998 season would be their final year of Formula One competition. Mclaren realised this declaration meant that Goodyear were effectively in breach of contract as the terms lasted for some additional years. Of the three lead teams they alone signed with the superior Japanese rubber; leaving Ferrari and Williams handicapped on the American products.

2) Adrian Newey had left Williams to join Mclaren in 1997 and designed the 1998 chassis – whilst on gardening leave – to the new narrower track regulations which made the most of this late switch to the superior grooved Bridgestone tyres.

3) Williams – the dominant reigning champions – had lost their star designer and perhaps more crucially Renault withdrew from the sport. The team had began the downward spiral from elite to also-runs.

4) Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne had joined Ferrari during 1997 and immediately began relocating the design offices back to Maranello – hardly the work of a moment. They had originally been situated in Surrey – under the command of John Barnard – but it was quickly established that this hampered the team merely to appease a designer who’s best years were definitely passed.

5) David Coulthard had been nullified by Mclaren in the last race of 1997 at Jerez by being ordered to gift Hakkinen his first victory.

Hakkinen had qualified four hundredths of a second faster than Coulthard and nearly a second ahead of Schumacher’s Ferrari. By the end of the race the Mclarens were over a lap ahead of the competition and Hakkinen had been gifted his second Grand Prix victory.

mika_hakkinen__1998__by_f1_history-d6icv1qFrom the start, the Mclarens had flown off the grid and when Scumacher’s Ferrari retired on lap 6; they were without competition. The race continued in monotonous fashion – until with all pitstops completed – Hakkinen dove into the pits on lap 36 after apparently “hearing” a call over the radio. He drove straight through the pitlane and rejoined behind DC.

Hakkinen raced after Coulthard and unleashed the full potential of the Mclaren for the first time that weekend and then followed closely for the remainder of the race. At least that is what the press, TV and public believed.

As they completed the 55th lap, DC – who’s encrypted radio was transmitting and receiving perfectly – slowed and allowed Hakkinen past into the lead because they had made a pre-race agreement that whoever led into the first corner would take the win… (Hadn’t Mclaren been here before?)

Criticism poured in from around the world and the FIA presented the matter to the World Motorsport Council after Ron Walker the Australian Grand Prix Corporation chairman lodged an official complaint. Their verdict would be that “any future act prejudicial to the interests of competition should be severely punished in accordance with article 151c of International Sporting Code.”

However nine years later, whilst responding to a question regarding team-orders between Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso – Ron Dennis stated: “We do not and have not manipulated grands prix, unless there were some exceptional circumstances, which occurred in Australia [1998], when someone had tapped into our radio and instructed Mika Häkkinen to enter the pits…”

As to my original summation that I don’t believe he was a deserving World Champion; Schumacher in an inferior Ferrari shod with tyres that were not equivalent to the best of Bridgestone was almost crowned World Driver Champion.

I do not believe it an exaggeration to suggest that if Coulthard had not stayed on the racing line in the extremely wet conditions of the Belgian Grand Prix – thereby causing a collision with Schumacher who was lapping him – the title would have had a very different outcome.

51 responses to “On This Day in #F1: 8th March

  1. The Belgium accident…Coulthard almost out of the track and slowing down. To me, Michael’s mistake.

    • “I’m not doing a Fernando-beating thing,” Coulthard said. “But I realised on reflection … when Michael ran into the back of me, his reaction was that I’d brake tested him or tried to kill him and all that sort of thing.

      “The stewards looked at the data and I hadn’t braked, so it was just all brushed under the carpet. The reality is that I lifted to let him pass me, but I lifted in heavy spray on the racing line. You should never do that. I would never do that now.

      “In 1998, I didn’t have the experience and the knowledge, and I had never had someone run into the back of me.

      “The minute I knew he was there, and I was told by the team that he was and was trying to allow him to pass me, I should have made a smarter decision.”

      • 😀

        Still thinking, that with his experience, Michael should avoid the crash.

        Coulthard’s statement is great ’cause he explains a lot.

        (And really, a McLaren never should go outside line to a Ferrari…)

        LOL, thank’s for clarification.

        • I’m surprised Coulthard made such a rookie mistake.. but Schumi only saw him at the last moment, else he would have totally rear-ended him… as it was, he could only turn away once he saw him appear out of the spray in front, and thus only just avoided his by then flying front-right tyre (which hit the air box and flew off into the spray) – I remember it vividly. No wonder Schumacher was incensed.. he could have been incapacitated there and then (think Senna’s crash and unlucky helmet/tyre contact). Much like Fangio’s close call in 1952, what would have happened if Schumi’s career was finished in 1998? Who would Ferrari have replaced him with? Who would’ve dominated in 2001, 2002 and 2004? Would Coulthard win in 2001 after taking out Schumacher in 1998?!

          On Hakkinen – I always thought his career was impacted by his close call in 1995. But, like Massa, he came back just as fast (if not prone to the odd error, e.g. Monza 1999). Lets see if Massa can have another golden period in 2014..

          • It wasn’t a rookie mistake.

            There is no other reason to explain why Couthard didn’t let Schumacher pass for almost a lap of 6km of Spa.

            Yes Coulthard blocked Schumacher lapping him several times despite blue flags.

            That is one of the titles that Mclaren robbed Ferrari.

          • In same vein i also wonder what excuse Couthard has for jumping the start of US GP 2 years later by more than a second.

      • I guess he thought it was too slippery to go off line to let a car by.. Also with Massa I mean can he be 1998 Hakkinen, or is he now at 2001 Hakkinen..

  2. Well, after much time lurking and reading superior comment and analysis @ tj13, I think I have encountered the worst of Senna apologists! Wake up on the wrong side of the bed, hmm? There’s a lot of contention backed up by not much , packed into one little rant. Still, entertaining enough, I suppose.

  3. With all due respect Carlo, but you shouldn’t have written an article while under the influence. Seriously, either you jaust want to stir the pot or you didn’t bother to check your facts. The man drove into the points six times in 1992 – in a bloody Lotus!
    Frankly, I choose to rely on the verdict of someone, who can give an educated opinion – Michael Schumacher:

    “Ich hatte ja einige – aber es bleibt unter dem Strich nur einer übrig. Es gibt keinen, vor dem ich so viel Respekt neben und auf der Strecke hatte wie Mika Häkkinen.”

    I had several [oppponents], but in the end there’s really only one. There is none other, who I respected more than Mikka Häkkinen, both on and off the track.”

    That comes from a man, who fought against Senna, Mansell, Prost and Alonso! Pardon me saying that, but you should not have written that one.

    • I know exactly what Carlo is doing here, try to see the bigger picture Danilo;)
      I’ll give you a few keywords,The perfect storm, The Tempest, mirror.
      Or am I reading too much into this? 😉

    • Fats, I could write Mika won the 1998 Aussie GP and a moment of controversy happened on lap 55 or I can jazz up what anybody could research themselves on the net.

      I’m offering a different way of looking at history rather than boring people with mere facts.

      I’ve written one for the Donington 1993 race and maybe that will surprise you – who knows – but I’m not about to claim it the greatest lap or race ever. It didn’t deserve that title and I hope I can get that across in a short account.
      The other thing, all my OTD’ are about 500 words in length, they are not historical essays which covers every nuance and historical build up to the event.

      As to the Schumi/ Hakkinen thing, they were part of each others career throughout their careers dating back to 1990 F3 races in Germany. Senna was one of the old boys by the time they were competing.
      Would you assume that Vettel or Hamilton regard the Schumacher of 2010-2012 as their main competition?
      Competition at that level means championship not merely race wins.

    • While I don’t consider Hakkinen as a great, or on the same level as other 2x champs (he did make pretty hard work of beating Irvine in ’99), he was far far from useless. Seems to me that you’re more perturbed with the lasting “F1 public’s” perception of Hakkinen, rather than his actual racing credentials.

      OT, some grammar niggles. Sub “who is” in for any “who’s”. If it still makes sense, keep it as is; if not, use “whose”. Same with “it’s” and “its”.

    • Like his “accident” in qualifying at Monaco, like his “accident” with hill, like his “accident” with Villenueve? You go right ahead and take his word for it, buddy.

  4. Carlo, I run a little F1 Blog that covers mainly McLaren. I’d love to post your texts there such as counterpoint to some of our internal discussions. The history of Ferrari x McLaren is what makes us great and you explore it in a brilliant way.

    • I try to come at it from a different direction – a different perspective. I enjoy provoking reactions from others and if it makes people think, whats wrong with that?

      I have learnt over the years to not accept everything the media tells us because they have their own reasons for supporting a team or driver.

      As a Mclaren fan you may enjoy the 7th April 😉

  5. While it is true that – as is the norm in f1 – several factors had to come together for mika to win the championship, i don’t think that this warrents calling him an overrated champion. Anybody who attributes a championship solely to factors such as a superior car, tyre, engine, designer etc. doesn’t really understand f1, the sport is essentially about the perfect storm and the driver is an important part of it.

    With that being said, I don’t belive hakkinnen was better than senna, but even the latter wonhis championships when everything fell into place and was rendered helpless when the perfect storm happened somewhere else. Does that make prost, mansell and schumacher undeserving champions?

    • I dont agree. In my eyes jenson button is (and always will be) an overrated champion. If it wasn’t for that honda that brawn used he would never have been a champion, nor would he still be in f1. And people who don’t see that are, as you say, people who do not understand f1… The only problem for him was, in 2009, that the other teams caught up mid season. And than it was over with the good results. As he was again a mediocre driver in a mediocre car. The only way he’ll become champion again is if mclaren made a superior car and Magnussen has to play no2.

    • I could add Hunt and Rosberg as undeserving champions who won solely because of circumstances that were beyond there control. Villeneuve and Hill only won because they were in cars miles ahead of everyone else. As did Hamilton. And that is why my support is for a team rather than an individual driver.

          • That’s why Ferrari won the WCC in 2008 then? Also check the fastest laps for that season. Ferrari messed up, let Hamilton sneak it.

          • I probably saw another series here in Brazil…

            The one I saw was splitted between 2 teams, at some point Ferrari was fastest then Mclaren striked back and Lewis got advantage.

            A season caracterized by fight head to head ’til the last 3 corners.

        • There’s no denying that 2007/8 was mainly between McLaren and Ferrari. BMW managed to get a minor look-in, but Kubica was also hustlin’ it pretty hard in 2008, much like in 2010 with Renault..

          People also forget how slow the 2007/8 Hondas were.. up till that point Jenson had had a good and developing career, especially in 2004. In 2008 Honda ‘did a 2013 Williams’ and abandoned their car early on to focus on the regulation changes 100%. Done by a certain Ross Brawn.. who has now masterminded a 2014 Mercedes into the same situation!

      • Will you add Mansell in your list of “undeserving champions” or u don’t wanna fight that war?

        All champions have their merits.

        To take Button as a minor champion and take Mansell as an outstanding is just nonsense.

        The same for people that think Vettel and Schumacher’s dominance was just for their equipments.

        A F1 title is a convergence of multiple factors. And if the driver does not capture the moment, he will not be champion.

        Everyone that got it, deserves respect. And I would say, reverence.

  6. I agree with Carlo. I find it amusing that the Vettel bashers don’t see Hakkinen in the same light. The arrival of Newey, Bridgestone and a new Ilmor (M-B) engine did create a very narrow window for Hakkinen and Mclaren to win. And they did in 1998. By 1999 Ferrari had caught up to them and had Schumacher not broken his leg at Silverstone would probably have won the WC. Hakkinen didn’t win with anyone other than McLaren and by 2001 saw the Ferrari writing on the wall and retired. In comparing him to other WC’s I would rank him at the bottom of multiple WC winners and more in the quality of Jacques Villeneuve or Damon Hill.

    • To be fair to Hill, he did almost win a race in an Arrows! And his development of the 1998 Jordan won them their first Grand prix. Ok the field had decimated by then but they were still at the head of that queue. His work carried over into 1999 when they were surprise contenders for wins. So I would suggest he was better than Hakkinen and Villeneuve. 😉

    • Scary isn’t it BJF!! Lol! I have a question for you in similar vein to someone asking about Button and his WDC.

      Where would Hakkinen have been on your Top 20 list if his accident in Australia in 1995 had finished his career. Not necessarily fatal but simply beyond being able to race anymore?

    • Thank god I haven’t been mistaken for a professional who aren’t allowed to express their opinion and can only write what the teams propoganda tells them to write 😉

  7. “I have learnt over the years to not accept everything the media tells us because they have their own reasons for supporting a team or driver.”

    Well said.

    An interesting article, Mika – a devastatingly quick driver, seemingly when he wanted to be, when motivation was high and when the car was right… i suppose in fairness like so many other drivers.

    Also prone to bizarre errors now and then, those are the moments i recall most about him, throwing his gloves after spinning out (was that Monza?) and crashing at Imola.

    Also, another driver who had a monumental crash which seemed to change them in a positive way.

    Others, such as Nelson Piquet, where never quite the same after a big shunt (imola, tamburello – did something to his vision if i recall correct).

    Conversely, Nigel Mansells high speed crash at Ricard in 85, seemed to bring out the best in him from then on.

    Why? Ive no idea, but its fascinating !

  8. Disappointing article.

    “I do not believe it an exaggeration to suggest that if Coulthard had not stayed on the racing line in the extremely wet conditions of the Belgian Grand Prix – thereby causing a collision with Schumacher who was lapping him – the title would have had a very different outcome.”

    Yes. It is in fact an exaggeration. Mika won the title by 14 points. This is a fact.

    Retirements happen in racing. Mika and Michael happened to have an equal amount in 98. Michael made more mistakes that year imo. while Mika had more reliability problems in a slightly faster car.

    I’m not a fan of discrediting champions. Even if a driver happens to walk into a dominant car, he still has to do the job to win the championship. Not all drivers in history have been capable of doing this. You only need to look at the list of team mates to world champions to confirm this.

    Michael Schumacher was an exceptional driver, but Mika Häkkinen was capable of beating him when he got the equipment that made it possible. Live with it.

    To conclude, I do not believe it an exaggeration to suggest that if you had placed any other driver of the 1998 season in Mika’s car, he would have failed to win the championship against Schumacher.

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