European GP History. Part 2 of 4: Nürburgring, Germany 1999

By Carlo Carluccio. 

Written in association with Missed Apex Podcast. Listen in the player below the article and please don't forget to comment.

For today’s homework I am going to suggest googling Mika Hakkinen.

I really, really cannot stand Hakkinen. If I were rating the F1 World Champions he would be amongst the lowest order. This antipathy towards the so called Flying Finn goes beyond his monosyllabic inanimate personality and it has little to do with his being a favoured driver of Ron Dennis and the Mclaren team.

As for being considered a great because he won titles in a Newey designed car… WTF!!! Why were Mansell, Prost, Hill, Villeneuve and Vettel never afforded the same privilege? Apparently they only succeeded because of the dominant design they had lucked into thanks to the balding design genius.

I can’t even claim to be solely disgusted by the fact that he had his first two victories handed to him on a plate because a ‘proud’ Scotsman submitted to Ron’s demands In Jerez 1997 and Melbourne 1998 or the fact that his contribution to music was so mundane – Grace Kelly anyone.

No, my intense dislike of Mika stretches all the way back to the late 80’s when I watched him competing in Formula Vauxhall/Lotus and Formula 3. I knew then that he was over-rated but, as often happens when all the stars align, the hype carried him a long way.

However for any fan of “racing” drivers as opposed to “fast” drivers it would be the 1999 European Grand Prix which confirmed my long-held beliefs in regards his so-called talents.

Before I start I wish to introduce a little background, OK?

The previous race had been held at Monza. Mika had retired from the race and blubbed behind some bushes whilst Heinz-Harald Frentzen, David Coulthard and Eddie Irvine all scored points to close the lead that the ‘mighty’ Mika had.

Leaving the Italian venue, Irvine had equalled the Finn’s score at 60 points whilst DC and HHF still had an outside chance at the title. Surely most observers would reason that a proud F1 driver would have little problem motivating himself for the challenge. Right?

I’m sorry. Haven’t my words, to this point, possibly unearthed clues as to what direction I’m about to follow?

Essentially back in 1999, on this particular day, Mika Hakkinen proved conclusively his heart for the battle. In the wet parts of the race he trundled round at speeds that today would cause gross embarrassment for Nico Rosberg!!

He had qualified 3rd behind HHF and DC with the other contender back in 9th place. After the start Frentzen was leading from Mika and DC when the heavens opened up and deposited a thimble of rain on the German circuit. Of course Hakkinen swept into the pits immediately to change to wet rubber whilst the rest of the performing monkeys stayed on their grooved slick tyres.

Now, Adrian Newey is renowned for his unique approach to F1 and his Red Bull team were shocking in their pit-stop procedure during the recent Monaco race. Yet even here, F1’s sage was merely refining a blueprint that Ferrari had displayed 17 years ago at this event.

Irvine entered the pits and had three tyres changed in a heartbeat. The remaining one seemed to be under discussion over a fine bottle of Italian Red and a quick Espresso. Those trivial 13 seconds that Ricciardo lost were nothing compared to the Italians pedestrian 45!!

Could you imagine what the tinfoil hat conspiracy brigade would have to say about Ferrari not wanting Irv the Swerve to win Schumacher’s title…

The Flying Finn, of course, had to change back to the dry tyres which left him looking for all the world like a disinterested observer – cruising round looking for a drive-thru restaurant whilst trying to tune in his car’s radio to a local oompah station.

Of course whilst he reflected on his life’s choices, the TV crew focused on his wife in the pits (another serious irritation of mine) and the rest continued racing through changeable conditions.

The race turned out to be one of the most unpredictable in memory as various retirements shaped the race outcome. Frentzen’s cars broke down, DC slid off a wet track whilst running on slicks, Fisichella spun out of the lead, Ralf Schumacher suffered a puncture and through it all little Johnny Herbert inherited the lead.

Of course with so much going on and incidents accounting for the front runners the Finn’s Mclaren sneaked back up the leaderboard.

Wikipedia claims “After cruising for much of the race, Hakkinen turned up the pressure”. This was because he had seen a Minardi ahead of him. A bloody Minardi. A team that in 1999 scored 1 point against the 124 of the Woking team (At a time when a victory counted for 10 points)

Luca Badoer had been lying fourth but his gearbox failed. Marc Gene was promoted to 6th which became 5th when Jacques Villeneuve’s car ground to a halt and thus Hakkinen passed a Minardi to claim 5th. Truly depressing.