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Sunday, October 31, 1999 Published at 14:45 GMT

Hakkinen crowned F1 champion

Mika Hakkinen retained his F1 title in inimitable style at Suzuka

Mika Hakkinen has won the 1999 Formula One driver's world championship after a flawless performance at Suzuka.

Hakkinen and his team drove a magnificently strategic race, timing their two-stop strategy to perfection to thwart Ferrari hopeful Eddie Irvine, who led the Finn in the championship standings by four points at the start of the race.

Ferrari gained some consolation by taking the constructors title.

Hakkinen, who finished the season with 76 points, two ahead of third placed Irvine, was understandably exuberant after the race.

"Brilliant," he said. "Deciding a championship in the last Grand Prix is nerve-wracking and I really don't recommend it."

Irvine, in contrast, was downbeat. "We won the constructors' championship which is important," he said.

"We didn't win the one I would've liked or Ferrari would've liked but we did get a consolation prize."

German Heinz-Harald Frentzen finished fourth to secure third place in the driver's championship ahead of Hakkinen's McLaren team-mate David Coulthard, who spun off in the closing stages.

Williams' Ralf Schumacher was fifth and France's Jean Alesi was sixth for Sauber.

Former world champion Damon Hill's 115th and final race of his career came to a premature climax on lap 22, his Jordan having slid into a gravel trap six laps earlier.

Hill, who won his title at Suzuka three years ago, got back on the circuit after a long trip across the gravel but had to immediately pit for new tyres and returned in 18th spot.

It proved only a brief return to the track, however, with Hill's exit mirroring his hugely disappointing final campaign.

Dream start

Hakkinen made a dream start from the grid, surging past a sluggish Schumacher in pole to storm into the lead going into the crucial first bend.

The Finn then proceeded to put daylight between himself and the chasing pack, quickly opening up a useful 4.0 second gap by lap six.

Irvine also leapt up one place from the grid at the start, outstripping Coulthard to move from fifth to fourth at the opening bend.

With his lead from Schumacher at 8.2 seconds at the end of lap 18, Hakkinen went in for his first pitstop, coming out after a quick refuel and tyre change to trail his the German by 10.8 seconds in second place.

Finn regains the lead

But Hakkinen took control of the lead again on lap 22, when Schumacher made the first of his two stops. A blisteringly fast 6.6 second change saw Schumacher re-emerge 7.5 seconds behind Hakkinen.

Further down the field, Irvine also went in for a stop but crucially Coulthard had made his break one lap earlier and when Irvine emerged from the pit lane the Scot came flying past him to slam the door on third place.

Once ahead of Irvine, Coulthard frustrated him, appearing to be content to sit back and keep the world-title holder pegged back.

Irvine went in for his second stop on the 32nd lap, but came out from the pits in fifth place behind Britain's Johnny Herbert from the Stewart Ford team.

Irvine moved up through the field though when Coulthard spun off on lap 34, but Coulthard still had a significant part to play in the race, and held up Schumacher to give his team-mate Hakkinen some extra breathing space.

Schumacher came in for his second stop on lap 37 and Hakkinen, leading comfortably, followed soon afterwards and roared out of the pit lane with a healthy 11.747 second cushion to maintain first place.

Coulthard's race ended on lap 40, but not before Schumacher had vented his fury at him - waving a clenched hand as he passed him shortly before the McLaren driver's withdrawal from the fray.

With his two stops out of the way and a useful lead, Hakkinen was left hanging on and praying that his car would come through the final vital laps.

It did and he crossed the line in first some five seconds ahead of Schumacher to spark wild celebrations amongst the McLaren team.

Final result

1. Mika Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 1hr 31min 18.785sec (average speed 204.086kph)
2. Michael Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari at 5.015sec
3. Eddie Irvine (Gbr) Ferrari 1:35.688
4. Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Ger) Jordan-Mugen Honda 1:38.635
5. Ralf Schumacher (Ger) Williams-Supertec 1:39.494
6. Jean Alesi (Fra) Sauber-Petronas one lap
7. Johnny Herbert (Gbr) Stewart-Ford one lap
8. Rubens Barrichello (Bra) Stewart-Ford one lap
9. Jacques Villeneuve (Can) BAR-Supertec one lap
10. Alexander Wurz (Aut) Benetton one lap
11. Pedro Paolo Diniz (Bra) Sauber-Petronas one lap
12. Ricardo Zonta (Bra) BAR-Supertec one lap
13. Pedro de la Rosa (Spa) Arrows two laps
13. Pedro de la Rosa (Spa) Arrows two laps
14. Giancarlo Fisichella (Ita) Benetton six laps

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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