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Monday, December 7, 1998 Published at 16:11 GMT

A crooked smile with a hunger for glory

Picture of 98: Hakkinen narrowly leads Schumacher

By BBC Motor Racing Correspondent Jonathan Legard.

Rarely can a morning after the night before have felt so good for Mika Hakkinen.

When he emerged with his wife Erja at his side from the hotel at the Suzuka circuit, he was smiling his trade mark crooked smile as if the scale of his achievement was just beginning to dawn on him.

[ image: Jonathan Legard - our man at the track]
Jonathan Legard - our man at the track
"It's a great feeling, it's almost too much to realise. You have to think about it slowly, day by day. But I want to do it again," he said.

With those heartfelt words, Michael Schumacher and Ferrari have been given due warning that Hakkinen's aspirations in F1 have only just started to be fulfilled by Sunday's triumph.

Hakkinen has spent all his adult life striving for that moment.

The McLaren team, such regular winners at one time have suffered persistent frustration and failure since Ayrton Senna secured their last championship in 1991, also at Suzuka.

That period included 49 races without victory, the misfit and mismatch debacle with Nigel Mansell and Hakkinen's near death in Australia in 1995.

The new world champion fractured his skull from ear to ear in a 150mph crash during a qualifying lap on Friday 10 November.

Doctors had to perform a tracheotomy at the scene because the Finn had stopped breathing.

[ image: Ron Dennis: Bond forged by accident]
Ron Dennis: Bond forged by accident
The experience changed not only Hakinnen, it also forged a deeper bond between the McLaren chairman Ron Dennis and the man whom many saw as the team's "favoured son".

Dennis believes: "The accident matured Mika a bit. He's more professional than before."

Now, in November 1998, Hakinnen has moved on again, in more auspicious circumstances, to a higher level.

"It's difficult to put in order which is my best race," he said.

"Is it Monaco? Is it Jerez? Is it Suzuka? All have special moments, special meaning, special feelings.

"In Monaco people didn't expect me to win, here people more or less expected it.

"It was easy to concentrate after Michael Schumacher went out. I started pushing really hard, just having fun, putting the car sideways.

"I even let Eddie [Irvine] catch up - and then pulled away, like a cat and mouse story."

[ image: Hakkinen:
Hakkinen: "I want to do it again"
The star of 1998 had a happy ending but Hakkinen admitted he had his doubts:

"At the Nurburgring, we qualified poorly, third and fourth, I was worried," he said.

"But we changed the set-up and got the confidence back so there's not been a real concern about our performance compared to Ferrari."

Hakkinen also paid tribute to Keke Rosberg, previously Finland's only F1 world champion, who has been his manager for 11 years and was commentating for Finnish television at the weekend.

"He's been fantastic, he's been one of the people supporting me all the time," said Hakkinen.

And the feeling was mutual according to Rosberg: "It probably gave me more pleasure to see Mika's championship than my own.

"It's quite nice to take a step back and observe the whole thing and be happy about it.

"For me it's been an exceptional day - my son won the American carting championship last night."

[ image: Ferrari promise to be stronger next year]
Ferrari promise to be stronger next year
Ferrari admitted they lost the title to the better team.

As Schumacher said: "They performed better throughout the season and so they deserve the title.

"We didn't lose this championship in Suzuka but in the early stages of the season when we were too far behind."

The Italian team's technical director Ross Braun, however, believes the team will be stronger for the experience: "I know Ferrari go through these cycles, but we are in a re-building cycle.

[ image: Michael Schumacher:
Michael Schumacher: "Too far behind" at start of season
"It's the second year we've challenged for the championship and I'm confident that next year we'll be even stronger.

"We've got the same drivers, same engineers, same management so it's not a crushing blow because we know we can do it."

For sure, as Hakkinen would say, Schumacher will redouble his efforts to satisfy Ferrari's quest for the the title.

But the German should be aware that Hakinnen's hunger for further glory has revealed itself already:

"McLaren will be working hard, Mercedes know what they want to do with the car. That's our target," warned the champion.

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In this section

Toyota set to join F1

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

Grand Prix's favourite son

Mika's glory: Japanese GP in pictures

Top cat Eddie

The best man won

Damon Hill: An F1 career in pictures

Silverstone to stage F1 Easter parade