Ten command performances- Motor Racing: Brilliance and Brawn combined provides a classic

Ten command performances that lit up 1998
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The Independent Online
A FORMULA ONE world championship that promised so little in its early stages blossomed into one of the more absorbing of recent seasons, with a duel between Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher which went to the final Grand Prix.

Hakkinen's ultimate success was reward for McLaren Mercedes' superiority over the year - and also in no small measure to the Finn's resilience, notably in the penultimate round, at the Nurburgring, where he stunned Schumacher with an emphatic victory after starting behind the Ferrari No 1 and his team-mate, Eddie Irvine.

Mostly, however, Hakkinen's wins were routine, disciplined displays, supported when necessary by David Coulthard. Schumacher, as usual, had to work harder for his successes, cajoling inferior machinery, outwitting McLaren with clever tactics and punishing them for any error.

He demonstrated familiar - some would say unacceptable - aggression to win in Argentina and Canada, but there were no dissenting voices, merely eulogies after his extraordinary triumph in Hungary.

It was the outstanding performance of the season, incorporating Schumacher's incomparable speed and car control, opportunism, ingenuity and team-work. Every member of the German's crew played a role, none more so than the Ferrari technical director, Ross Brawn.

Schumacher lined up third on the Budapest grid, behind Hakkinen and Coulthard, and the auguries were no better for the Italian camp when their man was held at bay in the first sector of the race. Worse still for Schumacher on a circuit which offers scant chance for overtaking, he emerged from his first pit-stop trailing Jacques Villeneuve.

The situation called for swift and imaginative action. Brawn now opted for a three-stop plan. Its success would depend on the element of surprise, a slick team operation, and the brilliance of the world's best driver.

Part one of the mission was accomplished as Schumacher dived into the pits again, to be followed by Coulthard in McLaren's misguided attempt to cover. The Ferrari returned to the track not only clear of Coulthard but also in front of Hakkinen, whose car had a problem.

This was an unexpected bonus, but still the most demanding part of Schumacher's task lay ahead if he was to retain his lead after a third stop. Brawn spelled out the requirement over the pit-to-car radio link: open up a 25-second gap in 19 laps. "Thank you very much," came Schumacher's sardonic response.

Schumacher set about the challenge like a man possessed, hurtling the Ferrari to the very edge of adhesion, and once beyond it. He recovered and resumed his seemingly demented charge, undaunted by the bumpy and potentially catastrophic excursion.

It all made sense, however, when he pulled into the pits for his third stop and shot back out again, still leading a demoralised Coulthard comfortably. One of his finest victories was assured.

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