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Nobody seemed to want to win the 1999 World Championship. One by one, would-be champions came to the fore, only to be robbed or throw their title chances away. The year had looked like another straightforward battle between Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen as the field entered the first lap of the British GP. But Schumacher crashed heavily while attempting to pass team-mate Eddie Irvine, breaking his leg and ruling himself out for three months.
Irvine took up the challenge of trying to score Ferrari’s first driver’s title in two decades. He won four races and scored points on 10 other occasions to give him the championship lead going into the season’s last race in Japan.
Mika Hakkinen should have claimed a second successive world title long before the finale at Suzuka. His 11 pole positions were proof of his speed he appeared to have a clear run at the title once Schumacher was sidelined. But after victories in Brazil, Spain, and Canada, Hakkinen’s progress was halted by a string of setbacks. A wheel fell off at Silverstone and he was then spun out of the lead by team-mate David Coulthard a week later in Austria. The bad luck continued at Hockenheim, where a puncture-induced crash at 190-mph suddenly left him trailing Irvine in the points. But Hakkinen rallied to win in Hungary and, despite a costly spin at Monza, dominated the Japanese GP to retain the world title.
David Coulthard endured another year in Hakkinen’s shadow. Technical failures denied him deserved victories in France and Malaysia (where he forcefully passed Schumacher), but the Finn generally outperformed him again. Coulthard won twice (luckily at Silverstone and from the front at Spa-Francorchamps) and he was heading for a victory at the Nurburgring, which would have taken him to within three points of the series lead, before his shot at the championship came to a sudden end when he spun off the damp track.
Jordan’s Heinz-Harald Frentzen had briefly emerged as a challenger with wins at Magny-Cours and Monza. But an electrical failure while leading at the Nurburgring and an uncompetitive run in Malaysia ended his hopes. Still, third place in both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships represented a significant step forward for the team and re-established Frentzen as a leading contender.
Ralf Schumacher, who outperformed new Williams team-mate and reigning Champ Car Champion Alex Zanardi all year, would have won at the Nurburgring but for a puncture. This left Johnny Herbert to score the only win for the Stewart-Ford team with team-mate Rubens Barrichello third that day.
That was much more than Jacques Villeneuve and British American Racing achieved. The team arrived amid unprecedented hype but never finished in the points. However, they ended the year on a positive note by announcing a works Honda engine supply for 2000.