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F1 Rewind : The last time McLaren were World Champions

rehaan díaz
ANALYST
Feature
139   //    Timeless

McLaren's MP4-13 designed by Adrian Newey in Monaco
McLaren's MP4-13 designed by Adrian Newey in Monaco

There were a spate of rule changes for 1998 and McLaren, in their first car designed by Adrian Newey hit the sweet spot. They were back as serious title challengers since early 90s and in their fourth year of being supplied by Mercedes engines.

Ron Dennis's team got 12 pole positions from the 16 races. In a two-horse race, McLaren and Ferrari, on the back of a strong mid-season showing were locked in a tense battle with Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher as their lead drivers. Ultimately, the MP4-13 chassis won McLaren their eighth constructor's title in the season finale in Suzuka, Japan with 156 points as against Ferrari's 133 as Schumacher retired with a puncture and Hakkinen taking the chequered flag.

Defending constructor's champions Williams powered by re-badged Mecachrome engines were a pale shadow of themselves with defending driver's champion Jacques Villeneuve only managing two podiums the whole year. Formula 1 also introduced grooved tires for the year and with McLaren and Benetton switching to Bridgestone tires, the Japanese company was supplying to six of the 11 teams in just its second year of returning to the sport.

Ron Dennis and Mika Hakkinen hug in the paddock after the Suzuka win
Ron Dennis and Mika Hakkinen hug in the paddock after the Suzuka win

Hakkinen began the year strongly as he won eight races, while David Coulthard won one, Schumacher won 6 and 1996 champion Damon Hill triumphed with Jordan-Mugen Honda at Belgium in a chaotic race under pounding rain. Team-mate Coulthard also had nine podiums to finish third in the championship behind the Finn and German. McLaren were the class of the field car and no other team was able to be on pole until Giancarlo Fisichella snatched pole at the Austrian Grand Prix for Benetton.

Since 1998, McLaren-Mercedes have always been at the sharp end of the grid, right until the very end of their 20-year works deal with Mercedes, but they have failed to win the manufacturer's title, owing to different reasons each year. Lewis Hamilton remains their last world driver's champion - in 2008, a year they should have won both titles, but again, didn't.

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