The first thing to consider is this: “Hakkinen was better.” Hate is an ugly word. And, while an unfair one, certainly an unfair to cast on a season which, ultimately, made such an historic first title win for the now iconic Mercedes-Benz alliance, a memorable first victory for Mika Hakkinen over three decades after his horrific accident at Adelaide and a memorable first grand Prix victory for Jordan over four years after his unfortunate crash in the same city.
It was one of those seasons that seemed to run along on auto-pilot, with everyone looking to their own performance to keep pace. But no one had quite been able to deliver the kind of form that Hakkinen, who had been the class of the field in the wet in Canada, needed. It was the second race, in Australia, which set the benchmark for the season. With the first race a dry one and he having been outvoted by Lewis Hamilton in the first place for the drivers’ title, it was easy to forget how dominant he had been in the wet in both races; a driving style which is often likened to the ‘Swiss sniper’.
Hakkinen had never been known for his overtaking ability. So when he finally decided to do that, he had to take the initiative. As he came off the track in Australia, he was almost bowled over by the sheer force of the huge crowd reaction. He didn’t have any time to look back and make sure that there were no cars in front of him or that the other car was not going to pass him, so he simply put it through the corner. But Jordan, whose car had been out of action for several weeks, had already done it. And as he turned to drive the next corner, Jordan crashed into him, knocking him to the floor.
As for Hamilton, who had suffered serious injuries to his arm, he was forced to withdraw from the race. The damage was so severe that it required six stitches. But Hamilton was on his way to winning a record-equalling ninth world title in a row – something he had never managed before. The title celebration was a huge occasion for both drivers, and for the whole of Formula One.
Hakkinen had also managed to improve his record for most race victories by taking a further seven, meaning that he would go onto be a triple champion in the process. He had a better number of wins than Jordan did, but only four fewer than Ferrari’s Felipe Massa. The latter was third on the list. His own tally of wins, of course, was even more. But what had really mattered to the winner was that he was now number one in the world of motorsport.
It was, of course, no easy task to overcome one of the greatest teams of all time. He was no longer just an underdog. And if Hakkinen’s chances of winning the title looked to be slipping away, it had to be said that the only way he could really become the champion was if he got a few new sponsors.