JAPANESE GRAND PRIX 1998
The expected West McLaren Mercedes team celebrated
a double victory at Japan's Suzuka circuit as it won the coveted Constructors'
Championship and driver Mika Hakkinen became the 1998 Formula One World
Champion. While both titles were secured in style as Mika won this final
Grand Prix of the season and team-mate David Coulthard finished on the
podium for the ninth time this year, the 'double' had been completed before
either Mika or David had reached the chequered flag when title rival Michael
Schumacher retired from the race on the 32nd lap of the 51 total.
The tension of this season finale had been evident
at the start of the Japanese Grand Prix, with the first two attempts to
get the grid underway aborted because of a stalled car. Jarno Trulli was
the guilty driver on the first occasion, but it was the perpetrator of
the second offence which stunned everybody. Polesitter Michael Schumacher
- who needed to finish ahead of Mika by five points or more to win the
Drivers' title - had stalled his engine, forcing the Ferrari driver to
the back of the grid. Mika remained focused on the third start despite
the distractions and made his customary lightning start to lead the field
away, though David was passed by Eddie Irvine and Heinz-Harald Frentzen
after getting bogged down with wheelspin. As Mika began to control the
race at the front, edging away >from Irvine, Schumacher was making his
way through a field which was wary of tripping up the world title challenger.
He only encountered stubborn resistance once he reached sixth-placed Damon
Hill, who was also fighting for an important points finish for his Jordan
After the first pit-stops, Schumacher managed
to get ahead of David who had been held up behind Frentzen. While his car
was clearly faster than the Williams, Suzuka confirmed its reputation as
a difficult track to overtake on. With the Ferraris running second and
third, David was also keen to keep his car in one piece for the purpose
of the Constructors' Championship in case Mika fell out of the race. Even
if the Ferraris finished one-two, the team only required one point for
the team title.
On lap 32, however, the destinies of the two
World Championships were decided. As Michael Schumacher raced down the
pit straight, his right-rear wheel exploded and as he steered his stricken
Ferrari on to the grass at Turn Two, Mika was World Champion and the team
had won its eighth Constructors' title. Debris from a collision between
two backmarkers was believed to be the likely cause for Schumacher's demise
and the team immediately brought Mika in to the pits for a precautionary
change of tyres. A jubilant Mika did well to restrain his emotions in the
cockpit as he and David brought their cars home first and third respectively.
'This is a very special day for me. It has taken
a while for me to win the Formula One World Championship, but now it has
happened and I am very happy. The team as a whole achieved a lot this season
and this is the perfect result for all of us.The two false starts meant
that I had to keep focused despite the disruptions and I have to say that
the team did a fantastic job to keep the car at its optimum. 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. A great day for the whole team - thank you!'
'I spun the wheels at the start which allowed Frentzen
to get ahead of me. I needed to finish the race in order to gain points
for the Constructors Championship and make sure that I was available to
support Mika so I didn't attack Frentzen as much as I would have normally.
However, the team kept me aware of where Michael was and I could measure
my pace. I am pleased that Mika is World Champion and I believe that I
have contributed to that result. I would just like to thank and congratulate
everyone at McLaren and Mercedes both those at the track and those back
at the factory.'
'A great day which has provided everyone both at
the track and back at the factory the satisfaction that comes from success.
The end of an arduous year which has seen the team maintain a calm approach.
My sincere thanks to our engine Partner Mercedes, our Principal Partner
West and Technology Partner Mobil. There are too many other contributors
to mention but I hope they will accept my sincere thanks and appreciation.'
'Everybody did a great job and many thanks to the
whole team. When we had a few technical problems in the middle of the season
nobody gave up or became disheartened, everyone pushed even harder and
I am particularly pleased for Mika, he could have won the title much earlier.
David did a great job finishing third in the championship having lost lots
of points due to three engine failures during the season. We try to make
sure that this will not happen again next year. Today we achieved a memorable
result in Mercedes-Benz Motorsport history.'
The West McLaren Mercedes team completed a highly
competitive qualifying session for the final race of the Formula One season.
Mika Hakkinen will make his twelfth front row start of the year in second
place, having posted a fastest lap of 1:36.47. Whilst David Coulthard put
in a quickest lap of 1:37.496 and will start from third.
JAPANESE GRAND PRIX 1998 - QUALIFYING
Mika Hakkinen: MP4 - 13 / 04
MH - Spare: MP4 - 13 / 07
David Coulthard: MP4 - 13 / 03
DC - Spare: MP4 - 13 / 05
'Naturally I am a little disappointed but being second
is not such a big problem. Of course I would prefer to be on pole but it
doesn't give me any more pressure not to be. My last lap was pretty quick
until I went wide and I am annoyed with myself, especially as the conditions
were ideal for the tyres and the car was handling really well.
'I am happy to be third on the grid because I have
continued to improve throughout the weekend and I am now significantly
quicker than Irvine. I am loosing some time through the first sector but
as I only managed one proper run in qualifying there is plenty of scope
'It is always nice to be on pole but we are very
comfortable with our grid position, particularly as our lap times show
we are well ahead of the opposition. This is probably the only race I have
ever come to where coming second is as important as coming first.'
'A strong performance by Michael Schumacher but we
are on target, with our cars on row one and two of the grid, ahead of Eddie
Irvine. With this we have a better basis for the race than we had at the
Nurburgring last month.'