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Sunday, October 31, 1999 Published at 13:06 GMT

Finn toasts team success

Mika Hakkinen: "This has been such a difficult year"

Mika Hakkinen has saluted his McLaren team-mates, after securing his first back-to-back driver's world championship at Suzuka.

The Finn, who finished the season two points ahead of Ferrari rival, Eddie Irvine, clinched a five second victory over Michael Schumacher, with Irvine fishing third, in front of Germany's Heinz-Harald Frentzen.

"This has been such a difficult year because we have had problems all the way through from the start of the season," Hakinnen said.

"I got the advantage over Michael at the start of the race and knew I just had to keep that position."

Schumacher, who started on pole, but slipped immediately into second place, when Hakkinen raced away, said: "I don't know what happened at the start.

"I had a problem getting away from the grid and things were not working too normally. I had wheel-spin and caused a mess, and Mika made a great start."

But the German launched a furious verbal assault on Hakkinen's team-mate, David Coulthard, for his tactics in holding him up following the Scot's accident.

"Mika definitely is a great champion. He made the championship by winning the race, but the team should wonder why they asked a driver to do certain things," said Schumacher.

"If you are lapped, you should give space. Coulthard had a problem and was zig-zagging. I am very disappointed seeing a manoeuvre from a guy which nobody expected to see.

"I have to wonder whether what happened in Belgium was deliberate. I cannot believe what he did," the two-time former champion said, in reference to last year's rain-lashed Belgian Grand Prix when he crashed into the rear of Coulthard's McLaren.

"I was challenging Mika and started catching him. I was four seconds behind and it would have been a very close race because it cost me 10 seconds."

A furious Coulthard later hit back at the German, although he did retract earlier suggestions that he might take legal action over the comments.

"Michael cannot question my integrity and basically do harm to my reputation as a racing driver in such a public way," Coulthard said.

"He cannot go around saying what he likes about another driver because I certainly am going to defend myself.

"I understand he is disappointed. I cost him two-and-a-half seconds which the lap times confirm, not 10 seconds as he says, which just so happens is the same as he was behind Mika.

"I have every respect for him as a driver and for what he has achieved in the sport, but this sort of thing does him no good at all.

"This is just another blip in our relationship. We have spoken about it and agreed to have different views, but we have got to work together as part of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association."

Irvine, who had crashed in qualifying, said: "I had a bit of a sore neck from the accident and was feeling it towards the end.

"The race was pretty boring for me and I was just wondering whether anything would happen to Mika.

"We've constantly improved and won the constructors' title but it's not the one I or the team wanted. It's just a consolation prize."

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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

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