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Sunday, October 31, 1999 Published at 11:49 GMT

F1's emotional champion

A joyful Mika Hakkinen drenches his vanquished title rival Eddie Irvine

Mika Hakkinen's victory at the Japanese Grand Prix saw him take his place among motor racing's elite as a double world champion.

The Finn followed up his 1998 title success with triumph at the last stage of the '99 season.

[ image:  ]
But if last year's victory was a comparatively straightforward feat, with Hakkinen's superior McLaren managing to stay ahead of the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher, this year was a different prospect altogether.

Indeed, the whole season has been a gruelling saga for the 31-year-old, punctuated by emotional outbursts.

So impressive was his 1998 car, that many experts predicted something of a procession as he sought to retain the title.

But instead there were just as many troughs as there were peaks, as Hakkinen's seemingly inevitable hunt for glory began to stutter in the second half of the campaign.

[ image: A distraught Hakkinen is overcome with emotion at Monza]
A distraught Hakkinen is overcome with emotion at Monza
He was photographed sobbing at trackside at the Italian Grand Prix in September, after a gear-changing blunder resulted in him spinning off.

"This was one of those days that is a racing drivers' nightmare," Hakkinen said at the time, clearly fearing that the mistake could have cost him the title.

It was not the first time the fiercely competitive racer had shed tears in public.

In 1990, he had a memorable clash with Michael Schumacher at the Macau Grand Prix, a Formula Three event seen as one of the best springboards for young racers aspiring to the glamour of Formula One.

Hakkinen tried to overtake the German from the inside on the final lap. But Schumacher steered inside and he was knocked out of contention.

[ image:  ]
As Schumacher rejoiced in victory Hakkinen was seen crying uncontrollably.

But if at times the emotion of defeat has overcome him, Hakkinen is also more aware than most of his contemporaries that there are more important things in life than just winning and losing.

Four years ago he was involved in a near-fatal crash that brought home the relative triviality of sport.

It was November 1995 when he narrowly survived a 270kph (170mph) collision in qualifying at the Australian Grand Prix, which left him with a fractured skull and stopped him breathing.

Doctors performed a tracheotomy at the scene and he went on to make a miraculous recovery, returning to Europe only three weeks later. He finished in the points in his comeback race.

If anything, his brush with mortality renewed his will to win and his long-awaited first victory came in the controversial final race of the 1997 season at Jerez where Schumacher, the 1994 and 1995 world champion, collided with Jacques Villeneuve.

[ image: Hakkinen tussles with Schumacher at the controversial Malaysian GP]
Hakkinen tussles with Schumacher at the controversial Malaysian GP
That maiden victory was the prelude to his all-conquerring efforts last year, when nine pole positions and seven wins last year proved his talent and took him to the very top of the sport.

It had been a long climb. Hakkinen had his first taste of motorsport when he started kart racing at the age of ten, winning four Finnish titles before moving to Formula Three cars.

He then moved up to the Grand Prix circuit with Lotus in 1991, before switching two years later to McLaren.

The combination of one of the most skillful drivers with what was to become the fastest car proved irrestible.

But despite the awesome speed of the McLaren MP4/14, which landed Hakkinen in 11 pole positions this season, his title defence was dogged by mechanical problems and accidents.

When the pressure was on in Suzuka, though, Hakkinen showed his class, beating Schumacher into second spot in a nerveless display.

This time there were to be no tears.

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In this section

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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

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