An Austrian Grand Prix that ought to have confirmed the superiority of McLaren-Mercedes and propelled Hakkinen toward another World Championship had instead been turned into a bizarre and compelling spectacle which left Irvine just two points off the title lead. And all down to Coulthard.
The Scotsman ran into his McLaren team-mate, Hakkinen, at the second corner, spinning the Finn and consigning him to a long haul from the back of the field to third place. Coulthard should have assuaged his team to some extent by winning the race, but lost time in the middle laps and, not for the first time, Ferrari took advantage.
On this occasion it was Irvine, emulating familiar feats by the team's injured No 1, Michael Schumacher, who produced the critical series of fast laps and emerged from his pit-stop with the lead.
Coulthard, his heart now pierced a second time, attempted to salvage the Grand Prix with a late attack, forcing Irvine to break ever later in clouds of smoke, yet to no avail. The Ferrari crossed the line 0.313 seconds before the McLaren.
Hakkinen, having driven like a champion, ultimately settled for four points which keep him at the top of the Championship. His lead over Irvine, however, is distinctly vulnerable with seven rounds remaining.
The consistent Heinz-Harald Frentzen was fourth in a Jordan, while Alexander Wurz, the local driver, was fifth in a Benetton and Pedro Diniz claimed the final point for Sauber.
Coulthard's retreat from the post-race ceremony was a mercy. He acknowledged responsibility for putting his partner out of contention for the race and opening the door to McLaren's opposition in the Championship.
"I thought I could pass Mika inside but misjudged it," Coulthard said. "That was the nightmare scenario - disaster happened. My entire race was a nightmare because I was thinking of that. Not coming out in front of Eddie made it a terrible day."
Hakkinen, still grimly keeping most of his thoughts to himself, said: "I'm not happy with third. I've definitely lost six points. But now I have to speak to someone."
The pair were ushered to the McLaren motor home for an audience with, and guidance from the team principal, Ron Dennis. They came out to face further inquisition, Hakkinen now wrapping a consoling arm around the distraught Coulthard.
"I'm disappointed and Mika is disappointed and angry I'd run into him but he's big enough to know these things can happen. I've apologised and he accepts that.
"I'd like to think I've helped him in the past and I'm sure he appreciates that. I don't want aggravation. I'm embarrassed about what has happened."
Hakkinen said: "I was angry but David apologised and everybody makes mistakes. I was very upset but we talked about it and what happened, happened."
The incident and its consequences raise the issue of team orders, but Dennis is adamant he will not follow the example of Ferrari.
He said: "Team orders are not an issue for us. David made a mistake, publicly apologised and Mika was big enough to accept it. David believed that to stand a chance of winning the World Championship he had to win this race. He was a little anxious, got it wrong and that's it.
"We have climbed back from a difficult start to the season to be leading the Drivers' Championship and that is because of our strength as a team. We have two drivers who are allowed to race. Inevitably, these kind of problems occasionally happen but if it is the price to pay for being a true Grand Prix team and not a sham of one, we'll pay it. The incident is gone and forgotten."
Despite the helping hand from Coulthard, Irvine had no doubt this rated as not only the better of his two Grand Prix wins but the best victory of his entire career.
He had effectively been put on trial as Ferrari's championship challenger to a chorus of scepticism, but responded with a heroic drive from third place on the grid and fourth place at the first corner.
Even with Hakkinen gone, he had Coulthard and the obdurate Rubens Barrichello, in a Stewart Ford, ahead of him for the first half of the race.
The rush of pit-stops helped change the landscape but Irvine bulldozed his own way through with that succession of quick laps which helped to establish his lead.
He said: "Winning in Australia was fairly easy but this was hard work. We had the strategy but still had to make it work. It was my best win ever.
"I can now understand how it's been for Michael because everybody expects you to be quick all the time. Your are constantly under pressure. I didn't sleep on Friday night because there was so much going on in my mind and I was struggling again on Saturday night. But now I'm going to sleep like a baby.
"I had to push at the end to stay ahead of David and the smoke you saw probably came from my brain. I said before the race I had a chance of the Championship and these 10 points haven't done me any harm, but there are still seven races to go."
An engine failure ultimately frustrated Barrichello and his team-mate, luckless Johnny Herbert, had another wretched day, losing a rear wing in the confusion behind the McLaren shunt and eventually coming in four laps down. Damon Hill was eighth in a Jordan, four places behind his team mate, Frentzen.
1 E Irvine (GB)
Ferrari 1hr 28min 12.438sec
2 D Coulthard (GB)
3 M Hakkinen (Fin)
4 H-H Frentzen (Ger)
5 A Wurz (Aut)
6 P Diniz (Br)
7 J Trulli (It)
Prost-Peugeot +1 lap
8 D Hill (GB)
Jordan-Mugen-Honda +1 lap
9 M Salo (Fin)
Ferrari +1 lap
10 O Panis (Fr)
Prost-Peugeot +1 lap
11 M Gene (Sp)
Minardi-Ford +1 lap
12 G Fisichella (It)
Benetton-Playlife +3 laps
13 L Badoer (It)
Minardi-Ford +3 laps
14 J Herbert (GB)
Stewart-Ford +4 laps
15 R Zonta (Br)
British American Racing +8 laps
Did not finish: 16 R Barrichello (Br) Stewart-Ford 55 laps; 17 J Alesi (Fr) Sauber-Petronas 49 laps; 18 P de la Rosa (Sp) Arrows 38 laps; 19 S Zanardi (It) Williams-Supertec 35 laps; 20 J Villeneuve (Can) British American Racing 34 laps; 21 T Takagi (Japan) Arrows 25 laps; 22 R Schumacher (Ger) Williams-Supertec 8 laps.
Race distance: 306.649 kilometers (190.543 miles, 71 laps).
Fastest lap: Hakkinen 1:12.107 (lap 39).
Constructors' standings: 1 Ferrari 74pts; 2 McLaren-Mercedes 72; 3 Jordan 34; 4 Williams 19; 5 Benetton 16; 6 Stewart-Ford 12; 7 Sauber 4; 8 Prost- Peugeot 2; 9 Arrows 1.