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The promise shown by McLaren-Mercedes in 1997 was confirmed by victory in 1998, when the team won its first World Championship in seven years. Ron Dennis hired Williams designer Adrian Newey and the resulting Bridgestone-shod MP4/13 was the class of the field. Drivers Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard lapped the field in Melbourne’s opening race, with the only problem occurring when Hakkinen mistakenly attempted a pitstop only to be waved through by his crew. However, Coulthard observed a pre-race agreement and let the Finn through to win.
It was in 1998 that Hakkinen emerged as a true star – eclipsing his team-mate on all but three occasions. His victory over Michael Schumacher at the Nurburgring proved decisive in his championship campaign, and it showed he could compete as an equal with F1’s most established star. Coulthard won at Imola but ultimately could not match the Finn’s pace now that the title was at stake.
Michael Schumacher won six times and again entered the last race with a chance of scoring his first title for Ferrari. When his Ferrari stalled on the Japanese Grand Prix grid, he sliced back through the field (climbing from 21st to third) before a puncture ended his race and confirmed Hakkinen as World Champion.
Erstwhile champions Williams endured a season without victory for the first time in a decade. Deprived of works Renault engines and now using private Mecachrome units, Jacques Villeneuve and Heinz-Harald Frentzen could only finish on the podium on three occasions.
Giancarlo Fisichella moved to Benetton and finished second in Monte Carlo and Montreal. He also qualified alongside Jean Alesi’s Sauber on the front row for the Austrian GP, but the two collided during the race.
The season began poorly for Jordan but Damon Hill and Ralf Schumacher took advantage of a car that suited the wet conditions in Belgium. Michael Schumacher crashed into the Coulthard’s McLaren when obscured by spray to leave the Jordan drivers to score a 1-2 finish in what would be Hill’s final victory. The race had started with 13 cars being involved in the biggest first-lap accident in 25 years, though thankfully without injury.
The Tyrrell team was sold to British American Tobacco and entered the championship for the last time before being renamed British American Racing for 1999. Teams introduced ugly “x-wings” in the search for increased downforce but these were banned on aesthetic grounds.