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Monday, November 1, 1999 Published at 13:35 GMT

The best man won

Mika Hakkinen (right) joins an elite list of drivers

BBC motor racing correspondent, Jonathan Legard, says when push came to shove, McLaren's Mika Hakkinen proved himself the season's outstanding driver.

Eddie Irvine said it himself.

"When the pressure was on, Mika Hakkinen performed and deserved the championship. He won it in style."

Hakkinen took the most poles. He won the most races. And when he failed and allowed Irvine a chance (for example, in Austria and Germany) too often the mistakes were not of his own making.

Just ask David Coulthard about McLaren's record of reliability in 1999.

The Japanese Grand Prix summed up Coulthard's season - another retirement caused by a technical failure.

Senseless rhino

No matter, Hakkinen has now joined a select group of drivers who've won titles in successive seasons: Ascari, Fangio, Brabham, Prost, Senna and Michael Schumacher who yet again displayed his least attractive side by lashing out at Coulthard with all the grace of a senseless rhino.

[ image: Hakkinen comisserates Ferrari's Eddie Irvine on the podium]
Hakkinen comisserates Ferrari's Eddie Irvine on the podium
"I'm not at all happy with David. He was one lap down and held me up and that cost me around ten seconds," he complained afterwards.

"Without that the race could have been closer. I now look at the incident at Spa in a different light and think he did that deliberately."

"There is a place for holding tactics in a race like I did at Malaysia but that was when we were contesting a place, not when like here when he was a lap behind."

The truth is Schumacher probably needed to get angry to stop himself smiling.

Ferrari dream lives on

Ferrari won the Constructors Championship but the real prize, the Drivers title, didn't fall into Irvine's hands ahead of his.

Ferrari's lira-laden dream to have Schumacher lead them to that cherished trophy lives on.

But only Schumacher knows why he started so poorly, and why he failed to push on when Hakkinen made his first pitstop.

Coulthard rightly poured scorn on Schumacher's remarks and hit back with his own version of events which, in a private moment in the future, will probably find favour with Eddie Irvine.

"I'm very disappointed by Michael, especially the way he has questioned my integrity over the incident at Spa last year which I believe was dealt with at the time," Coulthard said.

"I have never tried to endanger any driver on the track and in fact fight within the Grand Prix Drivers Association for driver safety."

"The fact is that when Michael was behind me my car was suffering from a problem I don't want to go into. In any case he was delayed by two and a half second which is borne out by the official results."

"I can only believe that Michael is trying to deflect attention from the fact that Mika beat him fair and square and he was therefore unable to help Eddie win the championship."

Consolation prize

After Irvine's unflagging support in their four seasons together at Ferrari, Irvine deserved better.

"Third place was a good result for me given the problems I had in qualifying," Irvine admitted.

"At least Ferrari has got a consolation prize in the form of the Constructors Championship. But it is a nice leaving present to know I contributed 74 points to that."

[ image: A Finnish fan celebrates Hakinnen's success]
A Finnish fan celebrates Hakinnen's success
Irvine also knows that he may never get a better chance to become world champion.

The good fortune which has sustained him for so long since Schumacher's accident at Silverstone finally ran out.

His new team for 2000, Jaguar, did secure fourth place in the Constructors Championship in Stewart-Ford colours for the final time, but the Big Cat will surely be no match for the Prancing Horse in its first F1 season.

Suzuka also brought the curtain down on the career of the man whom Irvine would have succeeded as Britain's F1 world leader.

But it was a forlorn farewell for the 1996 champion, Damon Hill.

His retirement on lap 21 would not have been appreciated by the mechanics who'd worked so tirelessly on his car throughout the year, but Hill clearly felt his time was up.

"I retired because I decided I was so far down the field that there was little point in carrying on," he said.

"After my spin cost me so much time, I decided there was too little to gain and too much to lose in carrying on."

"I had wanted to do better but it did not work out that way. I am very sad to be leaving Formula One and I would have loved to have finished on a higher note."

"But I have to acknowledge that F1 for me is a thing of the past and that I've made the right decision to retire."

"Thank you everyone for my support."

Maybe a sunny swansong at Silverstone was the better bet after all.

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Irvine's $2m miss

Hakkinen crowned F1 champion

Finn toasts team success

1999 Championship standings

Ferrari dream in tatters

F1's emotional champion

Dreams shattered in Irvine's home village

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Mika's glory: Japanese GP in pictures

Top cat Eddie

The best man won

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