The 1998 season ends with McLaren's world championship success, seven years after the last title won with Ayrton Senna, thus breaking the dominance of Benetton and Williams. Bringing the Woking team back to the top is Mika Hakkinen, the Finnish driver who only in the last round of 1997 obtained his first career victory, at Jerez de la Frontera, showing the world his excellent qualities at the wheel of an Formula 1 car.
The historic MP4 / 13 was designed by the genius Adrian Newey, coming from the Sir Frank Williams team. The year was marked by the historic rivalry between the Finnish McLaren driver Mika Hakkinen and the horse rider Michael Schumacher. In 1996 Newey designed the FW19, the last single-seater of the Sir Frank team in the 1997 vintage, but it was during the championship that Ron Dennis made official the passage of the British engineer to Woking.
The result? Already on the McLaren MP4/12 stand out some details signed Adrian Newey, including the nose, the same mounted on the FW19. A single-seater, the 1997 McLaren, capable of winning three races, including the inaugural one in Melbourne and the final one in Jerez. Ron Dennis, on the day of the presentation of the MP4/13, addressing Hakkinen and Coulthard, exclaims that the World Championship had not yet been won, alluding to the fact that the track had to confirm the expectations of the new car and not the chatter of the Paddock.
The McLaren MP4/13, the first with Kers technology
But the reality of the facts coincides with the rumours that were circulating in the pre-season: the 1998 McLaren is truly a missile, not only because it is fitted with the new grooved tires supplied by Bridgestone (regulatory novelty of 1998, together with the narrowing of the carriageways), but also because in addition to further lowering the nose and lengthening the wheelbase (2985 millimeters), Newey introduces a technical solution never seen before: the Kers.
The MP4/13 is the first single-seater to be equipped with a system for recovering the kinetic energy generated during braking, capable of storing it in batteries and generating an additional 30 to 40 horsepower during acceleration.
The Kers, in addition to providing a huge advantage to the English team, represents a real revolution, a technology revived in Formula 1 recently and used until 2013, to then become ERS with the advent of the hybrid era. Following this, there was obviously no lack of controversy in 1998, raised above all by direct rivals, first of all Ferrari, which accused McLaren of also using a system that allows the use of four-wheel steering.
The third pedal
In fact, the history of the third pedal is well known, a second brake, located on the left, which the drivers must press lightly during cornering. At the second GP, however, the use of the third pedal is forbidden, because the FIA, following a report, discovers that this has the function of guaranteeing a different braking effect with steering also of the rear wheels.
It should also be noted that this device had been deemed regular by the FIA five times, before this was deemed not to be in accordance with the law. Johnny Herbert, Sauber driver says:
"I was behind Hakkinen and I could even overtake him but as soon as you got to certain curves he left in an impressive way".
The first historic battle between Hakkinen and Schumacher
In Melbourne, the inaugural appointment in 1998, the McLarens scare and not a little, concluding the Grand Prix not only with a double, but even doubling all the opponents, with Schumacher out of the game after a few laps.
It seems to be the prelude to unchallenged dominance, but the MP4/13 proves to be as fast as it is fragile, alternating memorable victories with disastrous and far from unforgettable Grand Prix. Just to cite a few examples, at Hockenheim Mercedes introduces an engine with over 800 horsepower, allowing the two McLarens to take off and finish the German Grand Prix almost by walking.
In Monza, on the other hand, due to a problem with Coulthard's engine and Hakkinen's brakes, a memorable one-two for the Reds arrived, with Schumacher ahead of Irvine. The fight for the Drivers' title remains open until the last race, but in the end Mika Hakkinen prevails, who comes to Suzuka with the favours of the forecasts: Schumacher, in fact, to be crowned world champion, must win and hope that the Finnish does not close the race in second place. But a problem with the clutch forces the German to start from last place. Despite this Schumacher manages to climb back to third place, before a puncture forces the Kaiser to retire for good.
Hakkinen becomes world champion for the first time, and McLaren wins the Constructors' title, thus breaking a fast that had lasted since 1991. Furthermore, in addition to the McLaren-Ferrari duel that has officially renewed, the historic rivalry between Hakkinen and Schumacher has definitely come to life, giving fans pure emotions for another two years.
Simone Pietro Zazza