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31st October 1999

Review of Japan 1999

Honours Even

by David Cunliffe

With a masterful lights to flag victory, Mika Hakkinen ran out the eventual winner at Suzuka, thus clinching his second consecutive World Championship and joining an exclusive club of only seven drivers to win back to back titles. The Ferraris of Schumacher and Irvine followed him home to take the Constructors' title for the Scuderia, their first F1 Championship since 1983.

Frentzen was fourth in the race, cementing a well-deserved third place for himself and Jordan in the two championships. Another excellent drive by Ralf Schumacher earned him fifth, but his two points were not enough to move Williams back up to fourth in the team title. That spot was retained by Stewart-Ford, even though Herbert and Barrichello finished just outside the points. What a magnificent achievement for a team in only its third season. It bodes well for the re-badged team in 2000, notwithstanding Irvine's failure to bring them the coveted No1 for the front of the first fully fledged Jaguar F1 car.

The race was a tense and nail-biting finale to one of the closest F1 seasons in recent memory. Michael Schumacher had a better start from pole than at Suzuka last year, when he stalled, but Mika was away quicker. He took the lead and never looked like being beaten at any stage over the next 53 laps. Schumacher Sr slotted in behind and, for much of the race, didn't seem inclined to put the Finn under a great deal of pressure.

Meanwhile, the other main title contender, Eddie Irvine, had a blinding start, passing both Coulthard and Frentzen. Unfortunately for him, Olivier Panis, in his last race for Prost, had an even better start and jumped up to an unfamiliar fourth place, immediately ahead of Irvine. The cynics immediately wondered whether Panis, the McLaren test driver in 2000, might try to earn a bonus from his new team by holding up the Ferrari. He wasn't quick, but neither was Irvine. The Northern Irishman certainly wasn't driving like a World Champion and, when you remember that he was gifted two race wins, and 8 points, by his team-mates this season, it was perhaps only fitting that he didn't become one.

The other No2, David Coulthard, wasn't able to influence proceedings in the first third of the race but came into play after the pitstops. Until then, he had sat on Irvine's tail, making no attempt to pass. When Schumacher pitted, the McLaren team quickly got DC's fresh tyres ready in a brilliantly thought out stratagem. DC screamed in, a lap before Irvine could, stopped for only 7.1s, and was back out, ready and waiting for a spoiling role. Irvine stopped on the next lap, for an identical time, but failed to beat the Scot's McLaren into turn 1 when he returned to the track. DC was then perfectly placed to replicate Schumacher's Malaysian strategy and duly held up Irvine for up to 3s a lap. What goes around comes around, as they say in F1 circles...

Later in the race, Coulthard spun ignominiously and had to pit for a new nose cone. Fortuitously for his team, DC pulled out just in front of Schumacher, allowing him to block the other Ferrari for a few corners. Given that he was about to be lapped, the Scot's tactics verged on the dubious. But DC moved out of the way after the regulation number of blue flags and his limited intervention made no difference to the final outcome of the race. That didn't stop a sour faced Schumacher bitterly criticising Coulthard in the post race press conference. The poor sport even had the gall to bring up Spa 1998 again. It seems that the Ferrari-McLaren war of words for 2000 is on already...

Suzuka has been a fine stamping ground for Damon Hill over the years. Few who saw it will forget his stunning 1994 drive there in the wet, when he comprehensively out-drove his nemesis, Michael Schumacher. Even sweeter to the popular Brit was clinching the World Championship in Japan two years later. Damon had therefore hoped to go out in style at Suzuka in 1999. But he had a poor end to a disappointing season, pulling into the pits to retire after a spin dropped him to the tail of the field. A sad end to a fine career. But Damon has many highlights and 22 wins, including Jordan's first, to look back on. May he have a long a happy retirement.

Damon's drive was a mere post script though. The main interest lay at the front, where there was a fascinating battle between the two men, barring an accident at Silverstone, who would have fought for the last Championship of the Millennium. For once in this up and down season, Hakkinen and McLaren seemed to have it all under control. Apart from a few stunning laps in the middle of the race, when he got a sniff of a possible victory, Michael Schumacher appeared content to settle for second place and just to play his part in winning the team title for Ferrari. Of course, that leaves the field clear for him next year to be the first Ferrari World Champion driver in over two decades. Ah yes, there's always "next year" for Ferrari...

After the furore following the previous race, at Sepang, this was perhaps the only satisfactory resolution to a rancorous season end. There was a whiff of poetic justice in the air...

Article is written by and copyright (c) 1999 David Cunliffe, Warrington, UK - all rights reserved.

David Cunliffe has been following F1 for over twenty years and is a fan of any skillful and sporting driver who's a true racer. He produces a number of F1 related websites.

Japanese Grand Prix Weekend

[ Friday 1 | Friday 2 | Saturday 1 | Saturday 2 | Qualifying | Race Warmup | Race ]

FIA Press Conferences
[ "Thursday" | "Friday" | Post-Qualifying (audio) | Post-Race (audio) ]

Team Press Releases
[ Previews | Friday Practice | Qualifying | Race Reports ]

Review: Honours Even - by David Cunliffe.
Article: Goodbye Damon! - Michael Bass bids farewell to Damon Hill.
Press Release: FIA Press Release - statement on tolerances.
Humour: Goodbye Mr Hill - Jeff Rose's tribute to the departing 1996 World Champion.
Press Release: Honda Press Release - news on the 2000 engine.
Preview: Fast Eddie guns for the title... - by Jo Howard

Interested in reading more by this author?

Articles by David Cunliffe
Review of Japan 1999 - Honours Even
Review of Malaysia 1999 - The Barge-board controversy
Review of Europe 1999 - Tears all round...
Review of Italy 1999 - Tears at Bedtime
Review of Hungary 1999 - McLaren back on top
Review of Germany 1999 - Eddie Assumes the Mantle
Review of Austria 1999 - Motormouth lives up to his own Publicity
Review of Britain 1999 - Triumph and Tragedy
Review of Canada 1999 - Dreams and Nightmares
Review of Spain 1999 - Swings and Roundabouts
Review of Monaco 1999 - Red Whitewash
Review of San Marino 1999 - Tifosi Heaven
Review of Brazil 1999 - The Championship Race is On...
Review of Melbourne 1999 - Eddie Breaks his Duck

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