Motor Racing: Hakkinen's first Monaco victory is a heartbreaker

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MIKA HAKKINEN picked his way slowly through the streets, like some ageing local lady, walking her poodle. But this was no moment for undue haste, it was a moment to savour and cherish for the rest of his life.

The Finn had won his first Monaco Grand Prix and opened a 17-point advantage over his McLaren-Mercedes team-mate, David Coulthard, in the world championship.

With 10 races remaining, the title contest may yet swing back in favour of the Scotsman, or even, to Michael Schumacher in the Ferrari. Late yesterday afternoon such options seemed distant, almost inconceivable.

"I wanted to enjoy the slowing down lap, look at the people and experience the feeling. I don't want ever to forget it. I also had some fun. The team was shouting things at me on the radio, Finnish words I have been teaching them. It was all very special."

Hakkinen has often said he is typical of his nation, unemotional. Here, in the afterglow of a victory turned almost into a formality by Coulthard's blown engine, he poured out his feelings like a Latin.

His fourth win of the season became a test of concentration once Coulthard had departed on the 18th lap. He survived one skirmish with a barrier but eventually emerged unscathed, 11 seconds clear of Giancarlo Fisichella's Benetton. Eddie Irvine, for the second successive year, was third in his Ferrari.

Coulthard, as promised, endeavoured to attack Hakkinen at the first corner but prudently backed off and instead took stock and built up his charge. He reeled off a succession of fastest laps, and Hakkinen responded. At last we had the prospect of a titanic struggle between two cars beyond the reach of the rest.

Alas, Coulthard's engine gave way exiting the tunnel and he rolled to a disconsolate halt. Hakkinen was able to adjust his pace and secure maximum points.

He said: "I'm sure other drivers have found it difficult to explain the feeling of winning here, just as I now find it difficult. Maybe tonight, tomorrow or the day after I will understand what it means to me.

"The pressure of the Monaco Grand Prix is incredible and I couldn't have done this without the support of the team and my friends. The grip level changes and to keep your concentration throughout the race without mistakes is incredibly difficult. Ayrton Senna made a mistake here some years ago when he was leading easily. Don't misunderstand, I'm not comparing myself to him, but it's so easy to make a mistake. You think you can slow down but these cars are not designed to drive slowly, so it becomes a nightmare.

"I hit a barrier with my rear tyre and wing and thought that's it. Something's broken. But I kept going, hoping it would be OK, and it was. The team did a great job making specially strong parts for here.

"There were no team orders and I was driving flat out at the start but you can't keep up qualifying laps in a race this long. To battle like that is not pleasant."

It was less pleasant still for Coulthard as he contemplated his deficit, and a soothing beer, proffered by a sympathetic British fan, was scant consolation. And yet the Scotsman still managed a mood of defiance.

He said: "I know 17 points might look too much but I can recover. It's a question of keeping your chin up and going on to the next one, in Canada, with all guns blazing and that's what I'll be doing. There's a long way to go yet.

"I feel disappointed and frustrated but it's my first engine failure and the first time I've not finished this year so I can't moan. At the end I just sat there for a moment, then someone threw me a chocolate and I stopped and shared a beer with a fan on the way back."

Fisichella and Irvine, at odds after colliding in Spain a fortnight ago, hugged in mutual respect this time. The former pleaded with Hakkinen to permit someone else a victory, but the Finn was promising nothing.

Irvine clashed this time with Williams' Heinz-Harald Frentzen and then sat back for what he described as a "long, boring, lonely race".

Schumacher had coveted second place after finding his way past Fisichella via his pit-stop, but damaged his car after a characteristically robust overtaking manoeuvre on Alexander Wurz's Benetton. He lost three laps in the pits and had another scrap, this time with Pedro Diniz, before finishing in 10th place.

Mika Salo, the other Finn, confirmed the promise of Arrows' excellent weekend with fourth place. Jacques Villeneuve salvaged fifth place for Williams and Diniz completed Arrows' satisfaction with sixth place.

Johnny Herbert was seventh in a Sauber and Damon Hill was eighth, two laps behind the leader, in his Jordan.

Monaco Grand Prix

Race distance: 78 laps (262.626km)

1 M Hakkinen (Fin) 10pts

McLaren-Mercedes 1hr 51min 23.596sec

(Ave speed: 141.458kph; 87.9mph)

2 G Fisichella (It) 6pts

Benetton-Playlife +11.4 sec

3 E Irvine (GB) 4pts

Ferrari +41.4 sec

4 M Salo (Fin) 3pts

Arrows +60.3 sec

5 J Villeneuve (Can) 2pts

Williams-Mechachrome + 1 lap

6 P Diniz (Bra) 1pt

Arrows + 1 lap

7 J Herbert (GB) Sauber-Petronas +1 lap; 8 D Hill (GB) Jordan-Mugen-Honda + 2 laps; 9 S Nakano (Japan) Minardi-Ford +2 laps; 10 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari +2 laps; 11 T Takagi (Japan) Tyrrell-Ford +2 laps; 12 J Alesi (Fr) Sauber-Petronas +6 laps.

Did not finish (not classified):13 J Trulli (It) Prost-Peugeot, 56 laps completed; 14 O Panis(Fr) Prost-Peugeot, 49; 15 R Schumacher (Ger), Jordan-Mugen-Honda, 44; 16 A Wurz, (Aut) Benetton-Playlife, 42; 17 J Magnussen (Den) Stewart-Ford, 30; 18 D Coulthard (GB) McLaren-Mercedes, 17; 19 R Barrichello (Bra) Stewart-Ford, 11; 20 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Williams- Mecachrome, 9; 21 E Tuero (Arg) Minardi-Ford, 0.

Fastest lap: Hakkinen 1:22.948 (146.130 kph)

Constructors' championship 1998

1 McLaren 75pts; 2 Ferrari 39; 3= Williams, Benetton 16; 5= Sauber, Arrows 4; 7 Stewart 2.