The 1998 Belgian GP: Schumacher Crashes and Loses the World Championship
The 1998 F1 Season
Despite the turbulent end to the 1997 season, Schumacher was all guns blazing for the 1998 season. But Schumacher and Ferrari were not expecting a resurgent McLaren team, including one driver, Mika Hakkinen, who was furiously fast.
So the season started the season with Schumacher coming head-to-head with another rival. Mika was the only rival that Schumacher admired. The Ferrari was out of pace compared to the McLarens, and yet Michael was the only one who stood between the McLarens and the world championship.
1998 was an interesting F1 race year, with gems like the Hungarian GP of 1998, where strategy, team, and Michael came together to give Ferrari an incredible win. That win notwithstanding, the McLarens were very tough, and Mika Hakkinen even more so.
There were a few instances which made it appear that Michael might still pull through and become the world champion, but alas, it was not to be. The most critical race was the 1998 Belgian GP.
What happened there?
Let’s find out.
Did You Know?
Mika Hakkinen once partnered the late legend, Ayrton Senna, in the McLaren team. In 1993, Senna and Mika raced for the McLaren team until 1994 when Senna moved to the Williams team.
Thus only two drivers' championship winners, after 1994, raced and partnered Senna before his untimely demise: Mika Hakkinen (1998-99) and Damon Hill (1996).
The 1998 Belgian Grand Prix
The 1998 Belgian GP was an absolute disaster from the very beginning. After the very first corner, David Coulthard slid and smashed into the barrier only to ricochet back on to the track along with debris from his car. Thereafter, every car tried to avoid David’s McLaren, but they still smashed into each other. “Total carnage,” as Martin Brundle opined.
Take a look at the crash video.
The rains and visibility, or the lack of it, played a role in the crash. The race was stopped immediately and restarted after an hour.
The 1998 Belgian GP Restart and Michael’s Crash
The race started after an hour and the rains continued to lash the Spa circuit. At the restart, it was Mika's turn to spin out while going wheel-to-wheel with Michael. Aside from Mika’s McLaren, the start was much better than the previous one and the race was all-go.
Michael seized the moment and stormed into the lead. It appeared to be an easy win for Schumacher as no one could match pace with him. Had he won that race, the drivers’ championship would have been thrown wide open with Michael taking the lead.
Just when everything seemed fine, Michael arrived behind the McLaren of David Coulthard which was a lap down. And then—a collision.
Take a look at the video summary.
Michael was instantly out of the race and Damon Hill went on to win. Michael and his fans were quite furious at the incident and Michael expressed his displeasure in the most vocal way. Take a look at the furious Michael Schumacher.
Well, those were instances where one felt that had the race worked in Michael’s favor, he could have finished his career with more wins, and possibly, an additional world title. But then again, F1 was never about “ifs” and “buts” and it will never be.
So, that’s how it ended for Schumacher—winning ninety-one GPs and scoring seven world titles.
He was still a world-beater!
Did You Know?
Before 1998, the last McLaren driver to win the drivers’ championship was Senna in 1991. In 1993, Mika was a rookie partner of Senna with the McLarens.
Seven years later, Mika won the championship for the same McLarens team, ending the championship drought.
It appears that some of Senna’s championship aura rubbed off on Mika!
Back to the Garage
Races like these turned fortune away from Michael, and one would think, how different could the result have been had Michael won. That said, it could be argued the other way round too, for the instances when Michael won at the expense of Mika.
So, one can regret the incidents but one can't expect a different ending; for no matter how disheartened we feel, past is past and the results are now etched in stone!
© 2020 S K