Formula 1 | The 1999 season for Ferrari: an unfinished redemption

In 2021, Max Verstappen was crowned in the drivers’ classification, but it was Mercedes who won in the constructors’ classification. In the history of F1, it is only the 11th time that such a separation of winners, between drivers and constructors, has occurred, since the creation of the first constructors’ championship in 1958, won by Vanwall. If the drivers’ title is the most prestigious (according to Christian Horner), the constructors’ title is nevertheless the one that brings in the most money. Naturally, this very minority phenomenon (17% of championships) augurs well-contested seasons, where the titles are played for little – when they do not depend on improbable events or even dramas. Overview of a few seasons…

1999: Hakkinen titled, three Ferraris too

Eddie Irvine almost won the title before Michael Schumacher at Ferrari! The fate would have been very unfair for the Kaiser, who was of course the number 1 driver of the Scuderia since his arrival in 1996, while his teammate was a water carrier. And yet at the Japanese Grand Prix, Irvine was 4 points ahead of Mika Hakkinen’s McLaren for the last race. Ferrari had 4 on McLaren.

How did we get here? You have to go back to the 1999 British Grand Prix to understand it: Mick Schumacher’s Ferrari had then suffered a failure and pulled straight at Stowe. This crash at more than 200 km/h did not leave Michael Schumacher unscathed: his leg was broken.

Michael Schumacher then had to miss six Grands Prix, leaving his place to Mika Salo at Ferrari. Irvine therefore had an unexpected promotion, that of pilot number 1.

Immediately, Irvine did not disappoint: victory in Austria, victory in Germany, with even a double following the 2nd place of Salo. Michael Schumacher had to appreciate as much as jealous the performance of his teammate, thus revived in the fight for the title.

Mika Hakkinen, who had 5 races without a point in the season against 2 for Irvine, paid for his lack of regularity and soon, oh surprise, Irvine was in the running at the last Grand Prix to be crowned world champion.

However at Suzuka… however it was Mika Hakkinen who triumphed. Michael Schumacher ended up in his wheel, unable to catch him. As for Irvine, he clocked in at over a minute. Hakkinen had the advantage in the number of victories anyway and a team move would still have titled the McLaren driver.

For two small points therefore, Mika Hakkinen became world champion for the second time in a row.

But where Irvine lost the drivers’ title, Coulthard arguably lost the constructors’ title to McLaren. Or rather the reliability of his single-seater. Indeed in the second half of the race, the gearbox of the single-seater made in Newey let go. Without this insult, Coulthard, qualified 3rd, would undoubtedly have been able to secure the double title for McLaren.

A heralding success for Michael Schumacher

For the first time since 1994, a driver was titled without his team winning the constructors’ title.

Is this driver/manufacturer dissociation, however, due less to a tight performance of the two leading cars than to an unwelcome accident (unlike 2008 or 2021 for example)?

Because certainly, without Michael Schumacher’s injury, the German could have ensured the two world titles for his team, as the F399 appeared to be the single-seater to beat this year. If Irvine had nearly beaten Mika Hakkinen, what could Schumi have done? Much more than a place of vice-champion.

In any case, Ferrari had still had a successful year: the F399 was a champion single-seater, and Ferrari won its first title since 1983.

This 1999 season was thus at the same time a heartbreak, a relief and an omen for Ferrari: the domination, glimpsed in 1999, would materialize in a convincing manner in 2000, with the coronation of Michael Schumacher at… Suzuka. Redemption!

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