Mika Häkkinen's 1998 season was his eighth season competing in Formula One, as well as his sixth season competing for the McLaren team. At 30 years of age, Häkkinen for the first time in his career had a car capable of challenging for the World Championship. The McLaren MP4/13 was a vastly superior chassis in comparison to the field's other competitors, however the Ferrari F300 driven by Michael Schumacher provided a serious challenge to Häkkinen's aspirations.
Nonetheless Häkkinen proved strong enough to take the world title in the final race of the season in 1998, taking victory in Suzuka.
1997 saw for the first time in a number of years, McLaren having the capability to challenge for race wins. The McLaren MP4/12 chassis proved to be relatively fast chassis that regularly fought with the Ferrari and Williams cars for race wins. Its downfall, however was its reliability, three times in 1997 Häkkinen was leading a race only to be let down by mechanical failure. He did however take his first victory at the final race of the season in Jerez, following the championship deciding collision between Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve whilst battling for the lead. Häkkinen only finished sixth in the championship, whilst teammate David Coulthard finished the standings in third place. Coulthard also managing to collect to race wins during the season.
For 1998 both Häkkinen and Coulthard would be retained, the third year of their partnership within the team. The team had high hopes for 1998, their challenger the McLaren MP4/13 would be the first McLaren car designed by the renowned, Adrian Newey who had led the design on a number of championship winning Williams cars. Newey had joined McLaren from Williams in 1997, his impact had already been substantial, having provided a number of developments on the 1997 car that had brought McLaren back to the front of the field. As well as this McLaren had made the change from Goodyear tyres to Bridgestone tyres for 1998. Bridgestone had competed in their inaugral season in 1997 and the performance of their tyres had been much lauded, providing a stern rival to their Goodyear rivals.
Throughout pre-season testing McLaren appeared to be the most competitive, both Häkkinen and Coulthard appeared to have vastly superior pace than the rest of their rivals throughout the testing period.
Australian Grand PrixEdit
main article: 1998 Australian Grand Prix
The Friday practice session for the first race of the season in 1998 was wet. Whilst McLaren proved to be quick, it was Michael Schumacher who went fastest in the session. Häkkinen was right behind in second whilst Coulthard was in fifth position. In the Saturday morning practice session, Coulthard went quickest in the session whilst Häkkinen set the fifth fastest time. Whilst quick, the McLaren's were not demonstrating their testing dominance leaving many to believe that the McLaren's would not demonstrate their true potential until qualifying.
The fear of a McLaren dominance was realised during qualifying, both Häkkinen and Coulthard demonstrated vastly superior qualifying pace than their rivals. The McLaren duo were nearly a second faster than their nearest rival, Michael Schumacher, in third place. Qualifying proved to be a hard fought battle for pole position between the pair with Häkkinen and Coulthard trading fastest lap times for the provisional pole time. In the end it was Häkkinen that set the fastest time, only four hundredths of a second faster than teammate Coulthard.
Due to the McLaren's dominance, many within the field were questioning the legality of the components on the McLaren car particularly the use of a third brake pedal which was deemed by many of its rivals as being an illegal component on the car due to it having links to the banned device of traction control.
It was a predictable race start, with the two McLaren's leading away into the first corner with Häkkinen maintaining his lead. Häkkinen and Coulthard begin to pull a significant gap from the rest of their field, the only car able to keep pace was Michael Schumacher's Ferrari however he retired on the fifth lap with engine trouble. The McLaren's were left completely unchallenged throughout the race, lapping the entire field.
Häkkinen appeared to have the race in hand, however in the closing stages in the race a miscommunication between the team and Häkkinen over the team radio, left Häkkinen to incorrectly believed he needed to come in for another pit-stop. Häkkinen drove into the pits much to the surprise of his team who waved him through without making any changes to the car. This relinquished the lead to David Coulthard. Now in second Häkkinen began to push in order to catch up to Coulthard and reclaim his race lead. With two laps to go Häkkinen had caught up to the rear of Coulthard, however bizarrely Coulthard let Häkkinen through into the lead along the start finish straight without putting up a fight.
This left Häkkinen to take the race victory ahead of teammate Coulthard in second position. It was revealed in the post-race press conference that Coulthard had allowed Häkkinen to take the victory due to a pre-race agreement between the two, that whoever lead into the first corner first would take the race victory. Coulthard stated that letting Häkkinen through was keeping in agreement with that pact. Coulthard was applauded in his sportsmanship but McLaren was criticised for pre-mediating the outcome of the race between its two driver's. Nonetheless Häkkinen left Australia with a four point lead over Coulthard in the driver's championship.
Brazilian Grand PrixEdit
main article: 1998 Brazilian Grand Prix
It was announced by the race stewards shortly before the Friday practice session of the Brazilian Grand Prix that the third pedal within the McLaren's car would be deemed illegal. However the removal of the brake pedal did nothing to deter the pace of the McLaren's, Häkkinen and Coulthard continued to lap a full second faster than the rest of the field. Häkkinen going fastest in both the Friday and Saturday practice sessions with Coulthard at his heels.
Häkkinen dominated the Saturday qualifying session, even teammate David Coulthard could not match Häkkinen's pace, nearly a full second slower than his teammate. Häkkinen who had held superiority throughout practice was immediately on the pace in qualifying, with Coulthard unable to string together a competitive lap time to go only second fastest.
Häkkinen immediately pulled away at the start with Coulthard in tow behind him. The race would be fairly straightforward once again for the McLaren's, Häkkinen and Coulthard once again exerting their dominance over the rest of the field. The McLaren's held a one stop strategy for the race with Häkkinen pitting on lap 39, three laps after Coulthard. Häkkinen exited the pits keeping his lead ahead of Coulthard. Over the entire weekend, Häkkinen held the advantange over Coulthard however in the final laps Coulthard began closing the gap. However he could never get close enough to Häkkinen to mount a serious challenge, finishing a second adrift of Häkkinen who took the race win and notably his first grand chelem, taking the race win, pole position, the fastest lap and leading all the laps of the race.
Michael Schumacher in third place was over a minute behind the McLaren duo, McLaren's competitors still having no answer to their early season domination.
Argentine Grand PrixEdit
main article: 1998 Argentine Grand Prix
After their domination of the first two rounds of the championship, McLaren felt that they could afford a break in between Brazil and Argentina. Häkkinen went to holiday in Uruguay whilst Coulthard headed to Miami for vacation. Meanwhile McLaren's main rivals returned to Europe to continue testing in order to close the gap. The big news was that Goodyear would be supplying a new wider compound tyre for its teams in order to close the gap to Bridgestone shod runners such as McLaren. The superior Bridgestone compound attributing to a part of McLaren's domination.
Häkkinen had stated he had did not like the Argentine circuit and he was running evidently weaker than he had done in Australia and Brazil. Coulthard in contrast was a fan of the Argentine track and apppeared to be running a lot quicker than Häkkinen throughout practice. As well as this, the new Goodyear compound had allowed Ferrari to close the gap, with Michael Schumacher running at a consistently similar pace to Häkkinen and Coulthard for the first time in 1998.
Häkkinen's struggles continued over into qualifying, both Schumacher and Coulthard were running consistently faster than him throughout the session. Häkkinen never really challenged for pole and instead saw himself fighting off the second Ferrari of Eddie Irvine for third on the grid. Häkkinen managed to secure third but was notably slower than Coulthard and Schumacher ahead of him.
At the start, Häkkinen managed to overtake Schumacher for second holding station behind teammate Coulthard who took the lead. Coulthard immediately began pulling away whilst Häkkinen was unable to shake Schumacher behind him. On the second lap Schumacher overtook Häkkinen for second position where he proceeded to pull away from the Finn in chase of Coulthard. Two laps later Schumacher botched an overtake on Coulthard and the two collided, Schumacher continued to take the lead whilst Coulthard dropped out of competitive running for the race.
Häkkinen would then run in second but was unable to match the pace of Schumacher's Ferrari in the lead. However Häkkinen had one notable advantage over Schumacher, Häkkinen was geared for a one stop strategy whilst Schumacher would have to stop twice allowing Häkkinen the opportunity to take the lead in the pit-stop phase. Häkkinen pitted on lap 43 for his only stop, all he had to do was remain 25 seconds of Schumacher to take the lead once the Ferrari pitted.
However despite only being nineteen seconds behind Schumacher, Häkkinen ran into trouble when he hit the backmarkers of Heinz-Harald Frentzen's Williams who was proving to be difficult to pass and then later the two Tyrrell cars of Toranosuke Takagi and Ricardo Rosset. Losing a significant amount of time behind these cars, Schumacher was able to exit the pits ahead of Häkkinen keeping his race lead. Schumacher then proved to be too quick for Häkkinen to catch up to and so forced Häkkinen to be content with a second place finish.
Schumacher was now second in the championship, 12 points behind Häkkinen. Teammate Coulthard was third after only getting one point in Argentina, one point behind Schumacher.
San Marino Grand PrixEdit
main article: 1998 San Marino Grand Prix
McLaren appeared to have appeared to their pre-Argentina form in San Marino. Häkkinen and Coulthard were consistently fastest throughout the practice sessions, the two running very similar competitive lap times. Michael Schumacher who was consistently third was unable to match the pace of the McLaren's.
Once again it was Häkkinen and Coulthard being the only serious contenders for pole position, the two driver's trading fastest laps. Häkkinen however had to abort his first lap in order to avoid the stricken Benetton of Giancarlo Fisichella who had spun at the last corner. Coulthard then held authority throughout the session, Häkkinen on his final run failed to better Coulthard's time when he ran wide at the final corner and onto the grass, barely keeping control of his car. Häkkinen would therefore start second behind Coulthard who took his second consecutive pole position.
Coulthard held his lead at the start of the race with Häkkinen maintaining second position. The two McLaren's began to pull away from the two Ferrari cars of Schumacher and Irvine behind them. Häkkinen remained within striking distance of Coulthard, however he was robbed of his opportunity to fight for the lead when he suffered a gearbox failure on lap 17 forcing him to pull into the pits for McLaren's first retirement of the season.
This result dealt a large blow to Häkkinen's championship lead with Coulthard who took the race win closing to within three points whilst Schumacher who was second was now within six points.
Spanish Grand PrixEdit
main article: 1998 Spanish Grand Prix
Prior to the grand prix weekend, a week of testing occured at the Circuit de Catalunya before the grand prix. Häkkinen and Coulthard immediately demonstrated a superiority in pace over the rest of the field. Although losing a bit of momentum to teammate Coulthard in San Marino, it was evident from the conclusion of practice Häkkinen was the more dominant of the two McLaren's. Häkkinen dominated the Friday and Saturday practice sessions, whilst both McLaren's held a significant edge over the rest of the field, Häkkinen was consistently quicker than Coulthard by several tenths throughout the practice sessions.
With his pace in practice, Häkkinen held a significant psychological advantage over his teammate and the rest of the field heading into qualifying. From the start, Häkkinen stamped his authority and consistently went quickest. The only man that seemingly could beat him was himself. Coulthard, like in practice although quicker than the rest of the field was unable to match his teammate. Schumacher's Ferrari struggled to match the McLaren's, struggling for pace he was only able to just stay ahead of the Benetton cars in qualifying.
At the start Häkkinen immediately opened up a significant lead. Coulthard was second but could not match his teammate for pace, Häkkinen controlled the race from the front opening up a significant lead in the race. The only time he relinquished the lead was during the pit-stop phases when Coulthard temporarily held the lead before he pitted. Häkkinen took a dominant win, nine seconds ahead of Coulthard. Michael Schumacher was third but significantly off the McLaren's pace.
After the race, Häkkinen had to say on one of his most dominant wins in Formula One "With a lead like that, you might imagine it is easy, but it never is. You have to make sure you are concentrating hard, you have to be careful overtaking and although it is enjoyable passing other driver's it is demanding because the situation and timing is not always ideal."
Monaco Grand PrixEdit
main article: 1998 Monaco Grand Prix
Despite having only a poor track record at the Monaco circuit, Häkkinen remained the favourite for the win in 1998. His pace through Friday practice was strong, taking the fastest time of the day. On Saturday he clouted the barriers, damaging his car meaning he was only seventh fastest at the end of the session. Surprisingly it was neither Coulthard or Schumacher that appeared to be his biggest threat after practice. The Benetton car of Giancarlo Fisichella was showing supreme pace and looked strong for qualifying and the race.
Qualifying was once again a battle between the two McLaren's for pole position. Häkkinen set the early pace, however Coulthard took the provisional pole time twenty minutes into the session. Häkkinen quickly reclaimed pole before Coulthard snatched it from him once again. Häkkinen's final run proved quick enough to take the final pole time, Coulthard unable to respond on his final run. Despite taking pole position, Coulthard proved to be a significant threat to Häkkinen during qualifying.
The race saw Häkkinen immediately breaking away into the lead with Coulthard on his heels behind him. The rest of the field seemed to have no response to the pace of the McLaren's with Häkkinen and Coulthard pulling away into the distance. Of the two cars, Coulthard was the fastest setting fastest lap after fastest lap, putting Häkkinen under immense pressure. However the fans were robbed a battle between the two leaders when Coulthard's engine blew up on lap 17. This left Häkkinen unchallenged out front, 20 seconds ahead of Fisichella's Benetton in second position.
Häkkinen, pacing himself for the remainder of the race took a convincing victory ahead of Fisichella and Irvine. It proved to be a fruitful day for Häkkinen in the championship battle, extending his lead a further ten points as his main rivals, Coulthard and Schumacher failed to score in the race.
Canadian Grand PrixEdit
main article: 1998 Canadian Grand Prix
Practice saw Häkkinen once again lead the timesheets, taking the fastest times on both Friday and Saturday. Coulthard however proved to be a strong rival, setting an identical time to Häkkinen's fastest time on Saturday practice. Coulthard seemingly equally competitive heading into qualifying.
Qualifying proved tough for Häkkinen, although quick, Coulthard seemed to have an extra edge. Häkkinen's first flying lap had to be abandoned following being held up by championship rival Michael Schumacher. Although going quicker than Coulthard on his second run, his teammate reclaimed the pole spot on the third run. Häkkinen's final flying lap was aborted following a realisation he was not going quick enough to beat Coulthard's time. Häkkinen finished the session in second just ahead of the Ferrari of Schumacher.
Häkkinen made a poor start, dropping to third as Schumacher overtook him around the outside going into turn 1. However a major pile-up at the back of the field brought out the red flags and forced a restart allowing Häkkinen to reclaim his second place grid position. However his second start proved disastrous, heading into turn 1 his gearbox seized up bringing his car to a halt before turn 1. Häkkinen's slowing McLaren caused the mid-field to get out of shape going into turn 1, causing another pile-up. However unlike the first start, the race continued meaning Häkkinen was out of the race. Coulthard also retired from the race, however Michael Schumacher took the victory, allowing himself to close the gap on his McLaren rivals.