He said that he had come to win in what may be the penultimate grand prix of his illustrious career. And as he faces his sabbatical in 2002, Mika Hakkinen did just that, scoring a remarkable triumph that avenged an extraordinary judgement that had seen the stewards remove him from his front-row grid position to fourth place just prior to the start.
The drama and controversy that engulfed the McLaren driver unfolded long before the start. During the race morning warm-up, the former champion transgressed by leaving the pit lane against the red light. As a result, the stewards of the meeting disallowed his fastest qualifying time, which had earned him a place on the front row of the grid alongside Michael Schumacher, and his next fastest time left him only fourth in the line-up and altered the complexion of the race, with Ralf Schumacher joining his brother Michael at the front.
"That was definitely one of the highlights of this season for me," Hakkinen smiled. "Winning the British GP was something I always wanted to do, and Indianapolis was the other one. I'm still a bit confused, to be honest, at what has happened today, particularly because of the incident this morning when I crashed and then when I was pushed back on the grid. That was disappointing, and between all that frustration and now sitting here, well, I just don't have the words for it all!"
The Ferraris dominated from the start, Schumacher comfortably winning the drag race with his brother to the first corner; Ralf finding his team-mate, Juan Pablo Montoya, and the other Ferrari of Rubens Barrichello also thrusting past.
Ferrari had adopted different refuelling strategies for each driver and, with a lighter fuel load and two planned pit stops, Barrichello easily swept by Montoya for second place at the start of the third lap and passed his team leader two laps later. Behind them the Williams-BMWs and the McLaren-Mercedes faded into their own race for third, hounded by Nick Heidfeld, in the Sauber-Petronas.
Ralf Schumacher was the first to pit for fuel on the 24th lap, dropping to eighth place, then his brother began to slow down an increasingly aggressive Montoya so that Barrichello could make his first stop two laps later. Although he had built a lead of 12.5 seconds, the Brazilian nevertheless fell to fifth behind the two McLarens.
Montoya's remorseless pursuit of Schumacher's Ferrari brought the Williams-BMWs into the fight from the 30th lap, with Hakkinen third ahead of Coulthard and Barrichello but running a heavy fuel load. The Colombian's exuberance paid off as he and Schumacher came up to lap the Malaysian driver Alex Yoong's Minardi at the start of the 33rd lap.
Schumacher made his customary move to block a challenge as they headed for the first corner, but in the best move of the race Montoya yet again demonstrated that he is not a man to be intimidated as he edged confidently down the inside line and snatched the lead from the world champion.
Now the complexion of the race changed as Montoya opened a 2.3sec lead within one lap, cheered to the echo by the thousands of local fans who recalled him as an Indianapolis 500 winner a year ago. When the Colombian refuelled on the 36th lap he rejoined after standing still for only 13 seconds. But then the Williams-BMW challenge crumbled spectacularly. First, Ralf Schumacher spun out of the race on the 37th lap, after a pure driving error. Then Montoya cruised to a halt on the pit straight with hydraulic failure as he completed his 38th lap. It was the German GP all over again.
Hakkinen had taken over in first place from the 40th lap until his fuel stop finally came on lap 46, but the pendulum swung only briefly back in Ferrari's favour as Barrichello temporarily resumed the lead. Now McLaren's strategy unfolded for, crucially, Hakkinen was able to rejoin ahead of Michael Schumacher. Barrichello still had another stop to make and, when he did so on the 50th lap, the McLaren driver went back ahead as the Brazilian just squeaked out of the pits ahead of his team-mate.
With Schumacher seemingly on cruise control, the US GP distilled into a fight between Hakkinen and Barrichello. Steadily the gap came down from six seconds to three with 13 laps to go, but the demotion to fourth place on the grid had left Hakkinen in no mood to be overtaken.
Instead, it was the Ferrari's engine that succumbed to the pressure. It began smoking ominously with eight laps left, and when its oil had all gone it seized one lap from home. Hakkinen reeled off the final laps to score his second win of the season in style, followed home by Schumacher, Coulthard, Trulli, Irvine and Heidfeld.
Besides Hakkinen, who passed his bottle of champagne to his mechanics instead of spraying it, the happiest man in the speedway was Jo Ramirez, the team coordinator at McLaren. After 40 years in F1 this was his last race. "Mika could not have given me a better parting gift," he said tearfully.
The race was an affirmation of the American spirit, with everyone determined to do their best to restore some form of normality to national life. Even overseas visitors were given stars and stripes to wave during the pre-race dedication ceremony and the traditional rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.
1 M Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 1hr 32min 42.840sec
2 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari +11.046sec
3 D Coulthard (GB) McLaren-Merecedes +12.043
4 J Trulli (It) Jordan-Honda +57.423
5 E Irvine (GB) Jaguar +72.434
6 N Heidfeld (Ger) Sauber-Petronas +72.996
7 J Alesi (Fr) Jordan +1 lap; 8 G Fisichella (It) Benetton-Renault +1 lap; 9 J Button (GB) Benetton-Renault +1 lap; 10 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Prost-Acer +1 lap; 11 O Panis (Fr) BAR-Honda +1 lap; 12 P de la Rosa (Sp) Jaguar +1 lap; 13 E Bernoldi (Br) Arrows-Asiatech +1 lap; 14 T Enge (Cz Rep) Prost-Acer +1 lap; 15 R Barrichello (Br) Ferrari +2 laps.
Not classified: J Villeneuve (Can) BAR-Honda 45 laps completed; J Verstappen (Neth) Arrows-Asiatech 44 laps; J P Montoya (Col) Williams-BMW 38 laps; A Yoong (Malay) European Minardi 38 laps; R Schumacher (Ger) Williams-BMW 36 laps; F Alonso (Sp) European Minardi 36 laps; K Raikkonen (Fin) Sauber-Petronas 2 laps.
Fastest Lap: J P Montoya 1:14.448 (lap 35),
Constructors' Championship: 1 Ferrari 167pts; 2 McLaren-Mercedes 95; 3 Williams-BMW 73; 4 Sauber-Petronas 21; 5 Jordan-Honda 19; 6 BAR-Honda 17; 7 Benetton-Renault 10; 8 Jaguar 9; 9 Prost-Acer 4; 10 Arrows-Asiatech 1.Reuse content