Hill hails Hakkinen

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The Independent Online

Damon Hill led the tributes to double champion Mika Hakkinen after bringing his own grand prix career to a woeful end in Japan.

Damon Hill led the tributes to double champion Mika Hakkinen after bringing his own grand prix career to a woeful end in Japan.

The former drivers' king bowed out after 115 grands prix yesterday when he retired from a race for the second time this final season even though there was nothing wrong with his car.

Hill hailed Hakkinen's performance as the Finn successfully retained his title at Suzuka - the venue where the 39-year-old Brit had his own crowning glory three years ago.

"Mika is a worthy champion," said Hill. "He has been put under enormous pressure. The guy has fought for the championship two years on the trot now.

"He has had a tough year and through no fault of his own lost the advantage because of mechanical problems, but has still come out on top."

Hakkinen, whose challenge was hit by mechanical failures and a couple of individual mistakes, saved what was his best display of the season for when he needed it most.

The 31-year-old dominated his title decider with Eddie Irvine to overcome a four point deficit and triumph with the Ulsterman well-adrift in third behind Ferrari team-mate Michael Schumacher.

"To have won the championship in the last grand prix is nerve-wracking," said Hakkinen, who by two points became only the seventh driver to successfully defend the trophy in a half-century of championship history.

"It's an experience that I can't recommend to anyone. I have now experienced it with Michael last year and again with Eddie. I hope that is enough.

"This win won't sink in until I start cracking open the champagne. But I am not even thinking about next year and going for the hat-trick."

Hill's career ended when he retired his Jordan after 21 laps, having dropped to last place following an earlier excursion off the track that required a pit-stop.

The father-of-four admitted he did not want to take any more risks as his fine career, which included 22 wins, ended in such a disappointing way although it did sum up his final campaign that brought just seven points.

"I am not happy with the situation I had to take," said Hill. "I think by this point of my career the best thing to do was think about my family and my wife Georgie and what there was to gain by risking anything.

"It really was too little to gain and too much to lose. I decided that I was so far down the field there was little point in carrying on."

Hill, who also quit the race in Germany early, added: "The race finally settled in my mind without doubt that I never want to do another grand prix, so I am happy with the decision to retire.

"I am out of Formula One and I can look forward to doing things I want to do for the rest of my life."