The 1998 season ended in bitter disappointment for Michael Schumacher. A stalled engine before the start of the final race in Japan meant that he started from the back instead of the pole and his fightback was ended in the middle of the race with a puncture ensuring that Mika Hakkinen won the title. Michael was keen to make amends in 1999 and he came to the British Grand Prix (round 8/16) 8 points behind Hakkinen.
However, that was as far as his title challenge would go that year. He suffered a high-speed crash on the opening lap. Rear brake failure meant Michael went off track and crashed at the Stowe Corner breaking his leg in the process. He was out for 6 races effectively ending his Championship challenge. He was replaced by Mika Salo for the next 6 races. During his absence, Irvine held the baton for Ferrari competing with Hakkinen for the title.
When Michael returned for the penultimate race of the year Irvine was 2 points behind Mika. Many questioned Ferrari’s decision to bring back Michael before the new season. They felt that it would, for starters, divert the team’s attention from Irvine’s challenge and far more importantly the “ring rust” would ensure that Michael wouldn’t be able to do his bit to aid his team mate’s bid for the title by chipping off points from Hakkinen.
Like most of the times in Michael’s career, the critics were absolutely wrong. He secured pole over second placed Irvine by over 0.9 seconds relegating Mika to the second row. The achievement was phenomenal considering the fact that prior to that weekend he hadn’t been in competitive action for 3 months!
On Sunday he was even better, he stormed away at the start establishing a lead of over 1.5 seconds by the end of the first lap. He doubled the advantage by the end of lap two before giving up the lead to Irvine on lap 4. He slowed down at various stages of the lap ensuring that Irvine won the race with Mika in third behind Michael.
Unfortunately, just like the previous year, the season ended in disappointment for Ferrari despite securing the Constructors’ Championship in Japan. Michael qualified on pole but the Mercedes of Mika was too quick on the day and he won the track and along with it his second consecutive championship.