Well, the end of another season has come upon us. Irvine narrowly missed out on what would have been a very surprising first world championship, leaving Hakkinen to do the double.
What follows is an Autocourse style top ten drivers of 1999.
1.Michael Schumacher: Is there any doubt whatsoever that this man would have been world champion had he not broken his legs at Silverstone. The Ferrari was a good, solid F1 car...the most reliable in the field, but there was no way it was as quick as the '99 McLaren, except perhaps at Sepang. Nonetheless Schumacher never gave up, and his win at Monaco was perhaps the high point of a season which should have seen him crowned world champion.
2. Mika Hakkinen: Never the equal of Schumacher for sure, but aside from beginners mistakes in Imola and Monza, he made few mistakes and deserved to run out Irvine for the championship this year. Achieved a similar leve of dominance over his team mate to that which Schumacher enjoeyed over Irvine. Displaced by Schumacher not only for being slower but also for making a few more mistakes under pressure. Only Schumacher *really* deserved this year's title but in his absence Hakkinen was a worthy winner.
3. Heinz Harald Frentzen: What a turn around for F1's other German race winner. Leaving a sinking Williams ship to join Jordan proved to be exactly the right move. Destroyed former champion Damon Hill to the point where he wanted to call it a day by France, and took two wins, finishing ahead of a Mclaren in each case. France was lucky, in that he ran a strategy that tied in well with the weather, but in Italy he was the clear winner, and Coulthard et al could do nothing about him. Still some doubt over his determination and racecraft...he let people through too easily in France; but none remains about his speed.
4. Ralf Schumacher: The Williams was not a good car this year. In fact by their standards it was an appalling car...their worst since the active-suspension nightmare machine of 1988. This never seemed to stop Ralf, who racked up 35 points where his team mate couldn't manage to score even one. Another man who destroyed his team mate comprehensively. Should have won in Nurburgring, but for a puncture, and seems to have tempered his wilder tendencies...Ralf still went off the road from time to time, but a lot less than he had done in the past.
5.Eddie Irvine: Never the fastest man on the track, but he made very few mistakes. Finishing 15 of the 16 races requires more than luck. He didn't go off the road, he must have had a fair degree of mechanical sympathy, and in the middle part of the year, he got a lot closer to Schumacher than any of his previous team mates. The best of his four wins was surely in Austria, where he out-psyched a clearly faster Coulthard into handing him the win. And were it not for that pitstop fiasco in Germany, he would probably have ended the year world champion.
6. Rubens Barrichello: It never quite came right for the Brazilian, but his performance at Brazil was a highlight of the season, where he led sundry McLarens and Ferraris for the opening laps. Should have won in France too, really. Season seemed to go on a downward slide after he announced his move to Ferrari, but when he comes up against Schumacher we will finally see whether he really is a potential champion.
7. Jacques Villeneuve: In terms of results 99 was a disaster. But had the BAR been a little more reliable, he might well have achieved more. Didn't record his first finish until well after the midway point in the season, but by then he'd already led Schumacher in Barcelona and put his BAR fifth on the grid at their third race in Imola. Neither of his two team mates ever got close.
8. Johnny Herbert: His career continued to be plagued by bad luck and he was initially vastly outpaced by his Stewart team mate, but the gods were looking the other way in Nurburgring where a race of attrition handed himn a surprise win. By this time he had already gained the upper hand over Barrichello, and followed it up with a fourth in Sepang, behind two rather illegal Ferraris, again outpacing his team mate. It'll be interesting to see how he compares to Irvine at Jaguar next year.
9. Giancarlo Fisichella: The Benetton was occasionally very fast, and more often horribly slow. Fisi never looked like giving up though, and given the chance, he was frequently the fastest of the Supertec engined runners. The supposedly highly rated Wurz rarely troubled him, though he'll regret throwing away a gift of a race at the Nurburgring.
10. David Couthard: I have my doubts about having him in my top ten, half Scottish as I may be. Nonetheless he outpaced the world champion in Spa, drove a calm collected race at Silverstone and played a good supporting role at Sepang. Seemed to suffer even more from the unreliability of the McLaren than Hakkinen though. Still to many mistakes and too few wins for a driver who had what was generally the fastest car in the field.
This list was originally posted to F1Chatlist@psi.pair.com on 1 November 1999.