Mika Hakkinen, 1998 Australian Grand Prix.
This one was to be a battle royale, the ruthless German double world champion attempting to make up for the shameful way he lost at Jerez a season earlier, versus the stoic Flying Finn who had taken full advantage of superior equipment a season on from his maiden victory at said Jerez race.
Schumacher took victory in Ferrari’s homeland at Monza, but at the historic Nurburgring Hakkinen took victory and the lead in the title race by four points. Schumacher needed to win, and promptly took pole. Hakkinen was alongside in second. The stage was set.
Schumacher stalled. The championship was over. Or was it? He started from last and in typical Schumacher fashion he fought tooth and nail. Driver after driver were pushed aside as Hakkinen attemped to build up a lead with Schumacher’s team mate Irvine in chase. Schumacher had made it to third, only Irvine and his title rival in front. The stage was set again, Schumacher vs Hakkinen. The Flying Finn vs the Rain Master. Mika vs Michael.
Schumacher came through the chicane shortly after a Takagi-Tuerro clash and picked up a puncture on lap 28 and retired shortly after. Hakkinen put in a series of fastest laps, a lights to flag victory to secure his first title. Schumacher was the first to congratulate him after the Finn got out of the car.
Then there was me, eight years old, crying helplessly at Schumacher losing.
To celebrate 1000 posts, I’m going to do a “Top Ten Favourite Drivers” list. I would just like to point out this is “favourite” not “best”, because we all know who the best drivers are. In no particular order. Here goes, in no particular order:
Francois Cevert. The handsome Parisian with eyes you could fall into was talented and earmarked to be successor to triple world champ Sir Jackie Stewart but unfortunately lost his life at Watkins Glen at what was to be JYS’ last Grand Prix, retiring immediately and not taking part in the race on Sunday. Hands down the most handsome man to have driven a Formula One car.
Gerhard Berger. The last man to be signed personally by Enzo Ferrari, the first and last man to take victories for Benetton Grand Prix, the original prankster of the Formula One paddock, and owner of the most stylish mullet in Formula One history. Favourite moments tied between that 1-2 at Monza in 1988 and that last victory at Hockenheim in 1997.
Felipe Massa. I give him a lot of stick recently, but the flood of emotions seeing him on the podium again brought back a lot of very fond memories. For three straight years he OWNED the Brazilian Grand Prix, and although it is my most heart wrenching Formula Moment watching him win the race but lose the title in 2008, and it is one that will stick with me for a long. He is Ferrari’s new guy, even if he isn’t the fasted. Like Michele and Clay and Jean and Gilles, he captured the passion and love for racing that is Ferrari and being beaten by three of the best drivers of the post-Senna era is nothing to be ashamed of.
Clay Regazzoni. Longtime Ferrari driver of the 70’s, Clay and his moustache always stood out for me. Team mate for Niki Lauda during the Championship years, Clay was also the first winner in a long line of great drivers for the Williams team. He would have his career ended after hitting an abadoned car at the USGP West at Long Beach 1980. Only his F1 career, that is, as he would go on to continue racing after being paralysed from the waste down. He had a custom Ferrari Daytona made for him that he could operate without the use of feet and fought for his right for a racing license and the acceptance of disable racers.
Mika Hakkinen. Spa 2000, nuff said.
Nigel Mansell. Il Leone. Our Nige. I’ve written at length about him before I think, and we all know who he is. Perhaps not quite as quick or naturally talented as Prost and Senna, he made up for it and then some. He earned his drive with Lotus, fighting tooth and nail, and again for his drive with Williams, and deservedly won a title in 1992 after many years of struggled. Should have stayed away from McLaren in 1995 though. Plus, dat moustache. Oh, and the reason why I like him? The way he drove. Oh buddy.
Jean Alesi. French-Sicilian and drove for Ferrari with his heart on his sleeve. The way he drove, the way he would lean his head into the corner, the tears when he won his sole race at Montreal, the tears after his car gave way after walking on water and leading by a country mile at Monza a year later. Was cursed to be at Ferrari during one of their worst periods since the 1980 season, but he chose the seat with his heart and not his head, turning down Williams which opened the door for Nigel Mansell. Imagining Jean Alesi winning a title for Williams feel weird, because although Williams has all that history, it just feels wrong separating Jean from Ferrari. Like Gilles and Clay before him and Felipe after, he was Ferrari.
Fangio. As far as I’m concerned, the greatest driver to have ever driven in Formula One. The Pelé or Johnny Unitas of Formula One, he wasn’t the first but oh boy is he the most well remembered. What he did at Nurburgring to clinch his final title is the stuff of legends. To come back from near death in 1952 to be the only man that didn’t drive a Ferrari to win in 1953, he then dominated three straight German Grand Prix in a row, won four straight championships (only matched by one man), and did it all while nearly twice the age of some of his closest competitors. The first great of Formula One and the finest.
Michael. When I was a little kid playing in the sand pit, five or six years old, every single car that had a 1 on its side was Michael Schumacher. He was my idol. All my friends cared about video games and football or whatever it was, all I cared about was Michael Schumacher. I hated McLaren, and Mercedes, and Williams, and DC and Mika and JV and Damo, and anything that wasn’t Michael and Ferrari. I have vivid memories of all these races, the elation of Hungary 1998, the devastating emptiness of Silverstone 1999, the amazing feeling when it all finally happened at Suzuka in 2000. All these strong memories tied to Ferrari and Michael. That final victory at Monza, oh boy, that one will stick with me a long time.
Sir Jack Brabham. Australia’s greatest ever driver, a national living treasure, the only man to win a World Championship as a driver and constructor. A true gentleman, only the second driver to win more than two titles, only the third to win more than one, and in a select club with Niki Lauda, JYS, Ayrton Senna and Nelson Piquet of triple world champions (to be joined by Alonso soon -_O ). He is just one of the finest to have ever raced and as an Australian who is rarely ever patriotic, this is one of the proudest things I feel my country has done, creating this man and unleashing him onto motorsport, with two of his sons going on to win at Le Mans. Sir Jack, my favourite ever Formula One driver.
As always, photos courtesy of the Cahier Archive.
Damon Hill after winning the world championship, Suzuka 1996.
He is joined on the podium by then-two time champion Michael Schumacher, the mastermind behind the dominant Williams of the early 90’s Adrian Newey, and future World Champion Mika Hakkinen. There are eighteen World Championships present on this podium: eight constructor’s titles for Adrian, and seven driver’s for Michael, 2 for Mika and Damon’s one.
The Jerez podium, 1997, after Jacques Villeneuve clinched his driver’s title and Mika Hakkinen his first race victory.
Mika Hakkinen, Austria 2000.
Between his first victory at the end of 1997 until his form finally started to dip in 2001, he was inarguably the best driver in Formula One. I know, a very small sample size where he won two of the three titles on offer, but during that short period not even Michael Schumacher in a Ferrari could match him.
Oh, and if anyone wants to doubt his legacy, just go to youtube and remind yourself the way he overtook Schumacher at Spa in 2000. I’m sure Ricardo Zonta will never forget that!
Eddie Irvine making sure he is the first to congratulate Mika Hakkinen after his champion’s drive at Suzuka in 1999 to clinch his second championship. In the background you can see Michael talking to his brother Ralf. Michael would go on to win the next five driver’s titles, but the hardest fought would be his first against the still mightily strong Hakkinen-McLaren combination in 2000. Eddie Irvine would join the renamed Stewart side as Jaguar in 2000, driving for a couple of years and bagging a few podiums before eventually retiring from the sport. Ralf would continue with Williams until 2005, winning a handful of races before getting a lucrative deal with Toyota before retiring a few years later.