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Sunday, 22 October, 2000, 13:42 GMT 14:42 UK
Harder than it looked for Schumacher
BBC Sport Online's Andrew Benson looks back at the Grand Prix campaign.
The record books will say that Michael Schumacher won more than twice as many Grands Prix as his closest rival in the 2000 Formula One season.
Historians of the sport may therefore be tempted to conclude that the German's third world championship title was easy. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Schumacher is unquestionably the greatest driver of his era and thoroughly deserved his triumph. But the challenge from Mika Hakkinen and McLaren-Mercedes was far stronger than the raw statistics suggest
In fact, until a crushing series of three straight victories by Schumacher at the crucial time, it was Hakkinen, not Schumacher, who emerged after two-thirds of the season as the favourite to win a third title.
Ferrari stepped up a gear at the end of the season, helped, it would seem, by a more powerful engine. But it is possible to say that McLaren lost the championship as much as Ferrari won it.
The silver car, designed under the leadership of McLaren's brilliant technical director Adrian Newey, was the fastest car in F1 for the third straight year. But crucial mistakes cost the team dear in more ways than one.
That is not to suggest that Ferrari backed into the title.
The design team assembled under technical director Ross Brawn and chief designer Rory Byrne, who joined the team from Benetton in the footsteps of Schumacher, produced its best car yet.
The F1-2000 was not quite a match for the McLaren-Mercedes MP4-15, but in Schumacher's hands it was close enough, and on occasions plainly faster.
Faced with a rival that strong, McLaren could ill afford to make mistakes - but it did so in each of the first three races.
Hakkinen did not even finish the first two events in Australia and Brazil, while Schumacher won both. Then McLaren made crucial errors in the third, the San Marino GP, and Schumacher had a daunting 24-point lead after three races.
Once McLaren hit its stride, that gap was not to get any bigger, proof that had it started the season with reliability, the title race would have been even closer than it was. But it took a worrying mid-season wobble by Ferrari to allow Hakkinen back into the chase.
Schumacher failed to score in three successive races, as first his engine exploded in France and then he crashed out at the start in Austria and Germany. When Hakkinen won next time out in Hungary, he took the lead of the championship for the first time.
It had been an astonishing recovery by the Finn. In France, Hakkinen was very much the second McLaren driver, finishing second behind David Coulthard after an uncharacteristically subdued race.
Until that point, Coulthard, who drove brilliantly at Magny-Cours to score his third win of the year, had been very much the lead McLaren driver and looked to be on the verge of mounting a serious championship challenge.
Hakkinen had been badly affected by McLaren's early season problems. Losing the first three races, all of which he had started from pole position, hit him hard, and he more or less gave up, concluding that there was no way he was going to overhaul Schumacher's advantage.
McLaren's team boss, Ron Dennis, who is very close to Hakkinen, had failed to notice the psychological effects of the early season on his friend.
"I was disappointed in my own performance for not having been able to recognise [the problem] sooner... [His] main problem was mental fatigue, which we induced," he said.
After France, Dennis gave Hakkinen 10 days off between races and the effect was dramatic. The world champion was revived - he finished first, second, first and first in the next four races.
That last win was achieved with a brilliant overtaking manoeuvre on Schumacher in the Belgian GP. It seemed a symbolic moment, especially as Schumacher had already admitted Ferrari was in trouble, saying he had "no chance" if his team did not improve.
But improve they did. Ferrari dominated the Italian GP; won in America, where Hakkinen might well have passed the German had his engine not exploded; and then took the title in Japan.
In that deciding race, it was again an outside factor that halted Hakkinen's challenge.
Hakkinen was leading narrowly after a tense battle from the start of the race. But when it started to drizzle around the time of the second pit stops, all Schumacher's wet-weather genius came to the fore, and Hakkinen could not match him.
It was appropriate timing. If a drivers' title this close was going to be decided, what better way than by the best in the world being given a chance to win it thanks to his sublime skills?
Ferrari and McLaren utterly dominated the season, winning all the races, with Schumacher's nine added to one by Barrichello - a popular and superb maiden win in Germany - making 10 for Ferrari, the constructors' champion for the second year in succession.
The rest were nowhere and have a lot to do if they are to challenge the duopoly at the top.
Williams, which had an impressive season in engine supplier BMW's first year back in F1, looks like being the favourite to progress.
Its season was also notable for the impressive debut of Jenson Button, who looks a certain star of the future.
Benetton, British American Racing and Jordan, which had a terribly disappointing year, were next up, and all will have works engines in 2001. That alone, though, is unlikely to be enough to make them regular contenders for victory.
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