Defence of the realm - Part Two 04 Sep 2006
Can Fernando Alonso emulate Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher and retain his first drivers crown? After examining the successful title defences achieved by first-time champions Alberto Ascari, Jack Brabham and Alain Prost in Part One, we now look at how a flying Finn and his archrival accomplished the same feat
Michael Schumacher (1994-1995)
Schumacher should have wrapped up his first world title long before the 1994 season finale in Adelaide. From the 15 preceding rounds he had notched up eight wins. However, he had also been disqualified twice and banned for two races thanks to a technical infringement on the part of his Benetton team. Archrival Damon Hill took full advantage of Schumachers absence and arrived in Australia with 91 points to the Germans 92. Few thought Hill would be able to live with Schumachers pace around the challenging street circuit, but against expectations the two were all but inseparable over the opening 34 laps, until disaster struck. Hill saw a chance and dived for the inside line, only for Schumacher to cut sharply across his Williams nose. The pair collided, putting the Benetton into the barriers and leaving Hill to limp back to the pits and retirement. In contentious circumstances, Schumacher was champion.
Though the protagonists were the same the following year, the contest was more one-sided and, as with Brabham before him, Schumacher achieved his second title relatively easily. The German won nine of the 17 rounds and although he retired from five, he scored points in every other race he finished, with a fifth place in Canada his only non-podium result. Hill couldnt compete with such consistency. Despite four wins and a further five podiums, six retirements severely blunted his challenge and, having accumulated a 33-point lead, Schumacher became the sports youngest-ever double champion with two rounds of the season remaining.
Mika Hakkinen (1998-1999)
Three years on and Schumacher was again in the running for the championship in an ever-improving Ferrari, with McLarens Mika Hakkinen his new foe. After a season-long battle, they were evenly matched with just two races remaining. Both had won six times and they were tied on the score board with 80 points apiece. At the penultimate Luxembourg round, Hakkinen lost out to the German for pole, but recovered to narrowly beat him in the race, setting up a title showdown at Suzuka. Again Schumacher out-qualified the Finn, the pair lining up on the front row - that was until Schumacher stalled on the grid, forcing him to start from the back and all but assuring Hakkinen of his first drivers crown. It was confirmed just over 31 laps later when Schumacher retired with a puncture, leaving Hakkinen to take his eighth victory of the year, hence securing the title with a 14-point margin.
1999 was an even closer call. Going into the British Grand Prix mid season, Hakkinen had an eight-point lead over Schumacher and when the German broke his leg in a first-corner accident, McLarens latest star was suddenly firm favourite to retain his title. However, Schumachers team mate Eddie Irvine continued to accumulate points, helped by wins in Austria and Germany, and an untimely retirement for Hakkinen in Italy allowed the Ulsterman to draw level in the standings with three rounds to go. Hakkinen took just two points at the European Grand Prix, with Irvine failing to score, but then Ferrari played their joker - Schumacher returned at the penultimate race in Malaysia and as the chequered flag fell his car was conveniently placed between that of winner Irvine and third-placed Hakkinen. All that looked set to change when Ferrari were disqualified on a technicality, but the result was confirmed when the Italian team subsequently won their appeal. It meant Hakkinen arrived at the Japan finale trailing by four points. As in 98, he started second on the Suzuka grid alongside Schumacher and, as in 98, he won, putting in a stunning drive to beat his old rival. Irvine wasnt in the same class and came home a distant third, assuring Hakkinen of title number two.