On This Day: Mika Defends F1 Title

On this day in 1999 Mika Hakkinen won the Japanese Grand Prix and in doing so became only the seventh man to successfully defend his crown. Eddie Irvine, who left Ferrari for Jaguar over the winter and who missed out on the world title by two points. There was little solace in his third place or his team winning the constructors’ title. “We won one championship, but not the one I wanted,” he shrugged. “It is going to be hard over the winter, looking back at the races where I lost one point here or there, or at the Nurburgring when I let Mika through with five laps to go. If it had been 15 races instead of 16 I would have been champion, instead I am second.” Any flickering hope Irvine had after a wretched qualifying session left him fifth on the grid evaporated as Hakkinen’s team-mate David Coulthard held back the field. “I’m not comfortable from a racing point of view that I was holding Eddie up, trying to help Mika,” he said. “But Ferrari have said it was not dirty tactics. It is not something I liked to do, especially to Eddie because if he had won the world championship, I would not have begrudged him it. I was not doing anything that was outside the rules, but it did not make me feel very good that I was backing into a fellow Brit.”