September 13, 1998, Monza.
Ferrari is the most popular team in the sport of F1. The history and traditions of victory of the team are matched by none. And when Ferrari are at home at Monza, nothing less than a win satisfies the Tifosi (supporters of Ferrari).
In 1998 heading into the third last race of the season, Mika Hakkinen in his Mclaren Mercedes had a 7 point advantage over Michael Schumacher in his Ferrari. Schumi needed to win the race and hope that Hakkinen was not on the podium with him to lessen the gap.
He did the job on Saturday securing pole ahead of the Williams of Villeneuve, the Mercedes of Hakkinen and Coulthard were 3rd and 4th. The second Ferrari of Irvine completed the top 5. Schumi had a terrible start and was down to 5th. Heikkinen, though, had a roaring start and was in the lead, he bumped off Villeneuve who found himself 4th and then 5th as Schumi went ahead before the end of the 1st lap. Michael made up another spot soon as he went past Ervine.
Mika was having issues with his brake and had to let David past him. David was 10 seconds clear when on Lap 17 his engine blew up. Unfortunately, this happened under the tree canopy which ensured that the smoke did not clear up immediately and this was impeding the vision of Mika and Michael as they went pass David. Both of them had to slow down and Mika went wide, he desperately tried to hold the lead but Schumacher was ahead on the straight.
Both of them had to slow down and Mika went wide, he desperately tried to hold the lead but Schumacher was ahead on the straight. In less than 400 metres the race lead had changed twice, first from Coulthard to Hakkinen, and then almost immediately to from Hakkinen to Michael.
The incident highlighted a couple of things; first the sheer ability and nerve of both the drivers to not only hold their cool when they could barely see but also to attempt (in Michael’s case) and resist (in Mika’s case) overtaking manoeuvres. This incident also reiterated one of Michael’s key strengths: to identify and more importantly seize an opportunity the moment it presented itself.
In true Schumi style, once in the lead he never looked back. To add on to Mika’s woes of his brake issues, he was overtaken by Irvine and the Honda of Ralf Schumacher (Michael’s brother) before the end of the race.
The Tifosi were going mad in the stands, as Ferrari had secured their first 1-2 at their home turn in a decade, and going into the last two races of the season, both Michael and Mika were equal on points.