Hakkinen is champion again
After all the confusion of Ferrari's exclusion from the Malaysian Grand Prix and the subsequent success of the Scuderia's appeal the last F1 championship of the millenium was decided in the right place - on the track.
Mika Hakkinen drove an utterly superb Japanese Grand Prix to take the drivers championship for the second year in succession. In effect Mika won the race with his lightening start. By the time he entered the first turn he was a full three car lengths clear of Michael Schumacher, after the Ferrari suffered a lot of wheelspin on the grid.
Hakkinen quickly built himself a cushion of six seconds over Michael Schumacher, a gap that the German was never really able to close. Such was the pace of Hakkinen and Schumacher that the rest of the field were effectively left standing loosing two seconds per lap and indeed three seconds later in the race.
In what looks to be his final race in the series Olivier Panis made an excellent start and stole third position from Coulthard, Irvine and the slow starting Frentzen. For Panis the inevitable mechanical breakdown occurred 19 laps later, but the Frenchman had made his point, holding a secure third place in the Peugeot powered car.
When Panis went out Coulthard got the place and managed to use all the track to slow the progress of Eddie Irvine. After his pitstop Coulthard pushed hard to close on the leaders but lost control and slammed into the barriers. He was lucky to escape injury, but was forced to re-pit for a new nose. He left the pitlane a full lap down and directly in front of Michael Schumacher, thus allowing him once again play a delaying that game that made Hakkinen look increasingly secure out front.
Following the race, Schumacher muttered that Coulthard's behaviour was unacceptable and darkly commented that Spa 1998 could have been deliberate after all, given the Scot's actions.
Mika Hakkinen crossed the line five seconds ahead of Michael Schumacher, while Eddie Irvine took a subdued third position from a disappointing Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Ralf Schumacher drove a solid race to finish fifth, while Jean Alesi doubled his season total to two points in his final race with Sauber.
Damon Hill parked his Jordan Mugen-Honda following an off and duly ended his career in Formula One. It was a sad way to go and Hill and Jordan must be regretting the decision not to call it quits in Magny Cours. Ferrari had the 'consolation prize' of securing their first constructors' championship since 1983, but for the thousands of Italian's grouped at Maranello, they will have to wait another year for another chance at the ultimate prize.