Hakkinen goes big in Japan to clinch 1998 title

Mika Hakkinen celebrates winning the 1998 world championship after victory in the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka.

© F1-photo.com / Cahier Archive

This day in 1998 saw McLaren's Mika Hakkinen take victory in the season finale at Suzuka - and thereby clinch the first of his two drivers world championships.

The Finn has been level in the standings with Michael Schumacher after the Italian Grand Prix in September, but then eked out a slender four point advantage by winning the following race in Spa.

Even so, that left the title situation too close to call and with everything to play for in the last event of the season, the Japanese Grand Prix. Schumacher had already claimed first blood by claiming pole in qualifying the previous day, and remained intent on securing a first championship with his new team Ferrari after two titles with Benetton in the mid-1990s.

But Schumacher suffered a devasting blow to his hopes when he stalled on the formation lap. It meant he was required to start not from pole but from the back of the grid. Even so, the German driver was determined to fight his way into contention once the race got underway.

After 28 laps Schumacher was back up to second place. But then Minardi's Esteban Tuero missed his braking point into the final corner and crashed into Tyrrell's Tora Takagi, leaving debris on the track that inflicted a slow puncture on Schumacher's right rear tyre. Three laps later it blew while the Ferrari was driving at 165mph - Schumacher miraculously managed to keep the car under control and bring it to a safe stop.

Even so, it was obviously the end of Schumacher's title hopes. Hakkinen went on to win the race by six and a half seconds from Eddie Irvine in the second Ferrari, having led from start to finish. Hakkinen's team mate David Coulthard joined them on the podium for the celebrations.

"This is a very special day for me," Hakkinen said afterwards. "It has taken a while for me to win the Formula 1 world championship, but now it has happened and I am very happy.

"Of course the fact that Michael started from the back relieved the pressure a little bit, but I knew he would be quick and that he would carve his way through the field.

"The team kept me informed all the time of what was going on, which was good and meant that I could concentrate on the car, keep my head and stay cool," he added after McLaren also sealed the constructors championship - for the last time to date.

"A great day for the whole team - thank you!" he said.

Michael Schumacher at the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka.

© F1-photo.com / Cahier Archive

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