Japanese GP race report

SUZUKA, Japan, Oct. 31, 1999 -- Mika Hakkinen knew he could clinch the FIA Formula One World Drivers Championship if he won the Japanese Grand Prix, and he did just that with dominating win in his West McLaren-Mercedes in Sunday's Formula One ...

SUZUKA, Japan, Oct. 31, 1999 -- Mika Hakkinen knew he could clinch the FIA Formula One World Drivers Championship if he won the Japanese Grand Prix, and he did just that with dominating win in his West McLaren-Mercedes in Sunday's Formula One season finale.

Eddie Irvine failed in his bid to become the first Ferrari driver to win the World Championship since Jody Scheckter in 1979, but Irvine's third place, combined with Michael Schumacher's second place, garnered Ferrari enough points to claim its first Constructors Championship since 1983. Hakkinen led the final drivers' standings with 76 points. Irvine was second with 74. Heinz-Harald Frentzen was a distant third at 54. Ferrari led the constructors' standings at 128, with McLaren second at 124 and Jordan third at 61.

"The first time is the first time, and yes, it is a different feeling (to have done it again)," Hakkinen said after winning his second consecutive championship.

"This has been a very difficult year," Hakkinen said, "all the way through from the start of the season when we weren't able to finish races and we lost a lot of points. Everyone knows those problems we had. "To have won the championship in the last Grand Prix is nerve-cracking. It's an experience that I can't recommend to anyone! I have now experienced it with Michael (Schumacher) last year and again with Eddie (Irvine) this year."

Ferrari's tactics were to get Schumacher out in front because, even if Hakkinen then finished second, Irvine could still win the championship by placing third. But Hakkinen, who qualified second, beat pole sitter Schumacher off the line.

"I knew that the start was the key," Hakkinen said after his fifth win of the season and the 15th of his career.

Schumacher agreed: "If I had won the start, it would have worked in our favor just as it worked in their favor. The start was a mess for me." Schumacher, who had handling problems, complained bitterly about Hakkinen's McLaren teammate, David Coulthard, who was a lap down after spinning and pitting for repairs. Coulthard, Schumacher said, unfairly blocked him. Irvine, who crashed heavily in qualifying, couldn't match the pace of Schumacher, and Schumacher never got close to Hakkinen, who was driving what he would call "one of my best races."

This was Hakkinen's first victory in five races. He averaged 126.813 mph (204.086 km/h) to complete the 53-lap, 192.995-mile (310.596-km) race in one hour, 31 minutes and 18.785 seconds. His margin of victory was 5.015 seconds.

RON DENNIS (Director Team McLaren): "An almost perfect weekend. Mika (Hakkinen) deserves this result -- it was one of his best races, if not his best."

MIKA HAKKINEN (West McLaren-Mercedes, winner, 1999 World Champion): "The start is always difficult here at Suzuka because it's downhill. I knew I could do well, and I was very confident. When the lights changed, I immediately realized I had an advantage over Michael (Schumacher), and at the moment when we shifted into second gear I was already one car's length in the lead. At that point I knew that all I had to do was to keep that position. All the way through the race I didn't have any particular problems, and I was able to build up the gap on Michael all the time, if I wanted to."

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER (Ferrari, second): "Mika is definitely a great champion. Today he won the championship by winning the race, and there is no reason why he should not celebrate that 100 percent. But his team should be asked why they expect the drivers to do things like they did today. It was a different thing (between me and Mika) in Malaysia, where I was actually racing for position and had not been lapped. (In that position) you can play tactics. But if you have been lapped, you should give space. David (Coulthard) had some kind of problem, but he was really driving zigzagging. I am very disappointed to see such a maneuver that nobody would expect such a guy to have done, because I was really challenging Mika. It would have been a very close race toward the end, but that situation cost me, I think, about 10 seconds."

EDDIE IRVINE (Ferrari, third): "Third place was a good result for me, given the problems I had in qualifying. I had a pretty boring race, just watching the TV screens to see if anything would happen to Mika (Hakkinen). But at least we have won the Constructors Championship, which is important. We didn't win the one that both Ferrari and I would have preferred, but at least we got the consolation prize."

DAVID COULTHARD (McLaren-Mercedes, retired lap 39): "He (Michael Schumacher) only lost two seconds, not 10. There is one set of rules for Michael, and there is one set for everyone else. He has a real problem admitting his mistakes. I am not denying I held him up, but it was not a deliberate attempt to ruin his race."

JACQUES VILLENEUVE (British American Racing-Supertec, ninth): "It's been a difficult year, and today was again hard. I was attacking during the whole race, but it wasn't enough -- the car was on the limit. Now we can look forward to next year without looking back."

ALEX ZANARDI (Winfield Williams-Supertec, retired lap 1): "I experienced an electrical problem that put an early end to my race. The pit-lane speed limiter activated itself, and when I tried to release it, the engine went into neutral and shut off. It's a pity because I was ninth, having gained five positions at the start and overtaken two more cars in the first half lap."

NEWS and NOTES:

Records: This was a record 11th time a McLaren driver has won the World Championship. Ferrari drivers have won nine Drivers Championships. Ferrari has now tied Williams' record of nine Constructors Championships.

Heavy freight: The Red Bull Sauber team brought three cars, a spare monocoque and enough spares to fill 87 huge packing cases to Japan. The total weight was 19.5 tons.

All the F1 teams will fly that much or more to next year's United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis on Sept. 24, 2000.

"Grand Prix" star at Grand Prix: Actor James Garner, involved in a championship showdown when he played an F1 driver in the 1966 film "Grand Prix," attended the Japanese Grand Prix.

Alex stays: Frank Williams has again denied rumors that Alex Zanardi, who failed to score a single point this season, will not be back with the team next year.

"None of those rumors have emanated in any way from Williams," Williams said. "It is correct to say he is not going to be replaced for next year. It is also correct to say that he has a contract (with Williams) for next year."

Another happy couple: Former Indianapolis 500 winner Jacques Villeneuve has become engaged to his girlfriend, Australian pop star Dannii Minogue.

Villeneuve looks forward: Jacques Villeneuve and British American Racing didn't score a single point in the team's first year in F1. Next year the BAR will be fitted with a Honda engine as that manufacturer makes its F1 comeback.

"The expectations are very high, and not just from the engine," Villeneuve said of next year. "The whole season has been so disastrous this year that anything we expect from next year can only be good, because it can't be as bad as this year. If this has been a hard season, it will pay off next year."

Arrows design: Arrows has appointed Dr John Davis to its design department, where he will work alongside technical director Mike Coughlan, Egbhal Hamidy and Dan Parry-Williams.

Davis, who spent the last three years as head of R&D at Jordan, also worked for Ligier and Lotus.

Source: IRL/IMS

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Eddie Irvine , Michael Schumacher , Heinz-Harald Frentzen , David Coulthard , Mika Hakkinen , Jacques Villeneuve , Alex Zanardi , John Davis , Frank Williams , Jody Scheckter
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Williams , British American Racing , Jordan