|The Atlas F1 Top 10|
It's that time of the year, where the Atlas F1 team gets to vote on who was the best driver of the passing season. This year we've expanded our survey and included regular contributors of the journal. Fifteen voters participated. They each selected five drivers and three races, awarding the best driver five points, all the way down to one point for the driver in fifth place. The best race was awarded three points, all they way down to one point for the race in third place. Collecting together everyone's votes accumulated to a list of the Top 10 drivers of 1998, and the Top 10 races of the season. Here are the results, here are the voters' reasoning:
The Atlas F1 Top 10 Drivers of 1998
The Atlas F1 Top 10 races of the 1998 season
Max Galvin (MG):
Hakkinen is obvious if only because he was by far and away the most consistent driver all year. Super fast when required and pacing himself when it wasn't. Michael Schumacher is widely acknowledged as the best driver in F1 today but 1998 put paid to this. He may be the fastest when things are going for him, but when he is under pressure and unable to do anything to answer his rivals, cracks show. Ralf Schumacher started the year looking better than he had in '97 and carried on like that. Although he has a good measure of brotherly love (misplaced in F1) he has proved that he is capable of holding his own in F1 against a seasoned teammate. Tora Takagi was hailed as the best Japanese driver ever (who isn't though) when he arrived in F1 and has proved worthy of this by and large. The 1997 WC had an uphill task this year but managed to keep his chin up despite Williams suffering their worst year in recent memory. When the car was good, so was Jacques and even when his team mate floundered he was able to wring something out of it. Although Frentzen was more impressive in qualifying by and large, it's the races that score points and it was that that Jacques shone.
The Nurburgring was the point where the title was decided. After this race the steam escaped from Ferrari and Schumacher after being beaten soundly after it looked like they would walk the race. Melbourne is chosen as it was a stunning example of total dominance by a team. Many thought the whole thing was a joke but for me it showed what F1 should be, technical excellence at it's best. I've chosen Spa less for the outcome, more for the excitement. It was a movie script made real. Villains, heroes, underdogs winning. Excellent.
Marcel Schot (MS):
Mika Hakkinen, because he is a well deserved champion. Michael Schumacher has brought Ferrari back from a bad start to a great finish. Eddie Irvine again proved to be the best teammate, but also showed he can get on the podium by himself. Damon Hill made a good comeback in a car that seemed totally uncompetitive at first. Tora Takagi had a good rookie year and showed great promise in qualifying.
As far as races go: Suzuka. The race just had it all!
Ewan Tytler (ET):
Mika's victory at Luxembourg (Michael Schumacher's home track) was the epitome of grace under pressure. Michael Schumacher's "three-stop and every lap is a qualifying lap" strategy at Hungary allowed him to win a race he really shouldn't have. David Coulthard's last-to-second drive at Austria was outstanding. Damon Hill won at Spa-Francorchamps by keeping his head while everyone else was losing theirs. Jacques Villeneuve was the most reliable driver.
Luxembourg - Finally, some real Grand Prix racing. Canada - Most eventful GP of 1998. Japan - A nail-biting finish to the year.
Jan Nottmeier (JN):
Ferrari were behind in every aspect: tires, engine, design. All except on the driver. Michael Schumacher again proved to be the best driver in F1 nowadays. He made the season exciting for all F1 racing fans giving McLaren a serious challenge to the flag. As for Mika Hakkinen - I was impressed with how he handled himself under pressure, seldom making a mistake. I was amazed at Eddie Irvine's driving ability and the number of podium finishes he had this year - by far his best season. David Coulthard - a very good second driver, although I was somewhat disappointed with his results, never being able to quite match up with Hakkinen. Damon Hill is still a good racing driver as his result in Spa showed.
Canada was by far the most exciting Grand Prix, with two starts, two safety car instances, controversy and a great fight at the end to decide the winner.
Mike Wells (MW):
Michael Schumacher treated fans to a very close-fought season, that looked at first to be one of sheer boredom with Mclaren's dominance. Mika Hakkinen drove an almost flawless season, a great drive in all respects. Jacques Villeneuve drove a dog of a car to fifth in the standings. Eddie Irvine drove brilliantly in his hated role as second fiddle. Damon Hill's win in Spa, Jordan's first ever, very lucky yet a matter of being in the right place through consistent effort.
Spa was where the championship basically came down to horrid weather conditions and controversy, and what better track to do so. Silverstone, again, terrible rain and a track that brings out the best in drivers. A brilliant drive by Schumacher. Melbourne, because there's nothing like the first race of the season. It's also an excellent track layout and simply fun to watch.
Bob Pearson (BP):
Once again Schumacher mounted a challenge for the title in a car that at least started the season as inferior to the main competitors. The guy wins races on sheer guts. But he is able to keep his mind sharp enough to know (most of the time) exactly where the limit is. I excluded Coulthard from the top 5 because I think he failed to live up to his potential. He was not "forced" to take a back seat to Hakkinen... Irvine is great. He could win if he was not confined to number two status.
Canada wins for me because it is the one race a year I get to see in person. That is truly exciting! Austria was great and Japan was right up there because once again it all came down to the wire. It did not hurt that I am a fan of McLaren and they made big steps at the latter two I mentioned.
Paul Ryder (PR):
Hungary wins my top race of 1998 for the outstanding performance by Michael Schumacher.
Biranit Goren (BG):
Hakkinen and Schumacher Sr. are a rather obvious leading duo - they battled their own battle, head and shoulders above the rest of the field. However, I think Schumacher has still finished the year the better driver of the two if only because he had more challenges to face than Hakkinen, more risks to take and consequently more opportunities to prove he is great. I gave Jacques Villeneuve the third position because he was the most consistent driver this year, with more laps completed than any other driver. Considering the junk he was driving, he's impressed me more this year than the previous one. Irvine gets fourth - and Coulthard gets none - because Irvine made real progress this year and performed very solidly on most occasions, whereas Coulthard was a major disappointment. Ralf Schumacher gets last place as he out-qualified Damon Hill, an experienced WC, on ten occasions this year and out-performed him in at least four races that I can recall.
Schumacher's performance at Hungary made it a race to remember for years to come - it's not often you see a driver punch in one fast lap after another for over 30 laps! Spa comes second because it was absolutely a roller coaster event - biggest pile up at the start in the last couple of decades, controversy amongst the two leading teams and drivers and a maiden victory for Jordan... who could ask for more. And then there's Japan, which was a great down-to-the-wire season wrap-up.
Roger Horton (RH):
Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen pick themselves as the two dominant drivers of the season, and in that order. Coulthard is next as the best of the rest. As winning races is the point of the exercise, Hill just gets the nod ahead of Irvine.
Hungary was a classic "modern" Grand Prix, the issue being decided by the Ferrari team's superior pit-stop tactics, allied to Schumacher's superb driving. Spa stands out for its pure drama, all played out on a circuit that rewards bravery and judgement, especially in such appalling driving conditions. Luxembourg was the only race where the two leading contenders went head to head for the entire race.
Ville Kopu (VK):
a tough choice, besides the close fight for the #1. I wish I could fill those 3rd-5th places with half a dozen drivers. Okay, final standings are biased by my fandom and the machinery of the drivers.
As for the races - again, tough choice. I tried not to be too biased with my picks and tried to pick the best 'races'.
Mike Viveen (MV):
Mika may have had the best car this year, but the coolness of his drive and character have made him the champion he is. Michael - well, Ferrari gave him its best and they just fell a little. Eddie surprised me this year: the consistency and speed of the Ulsterman was very impressive. Damon - the lift he needed to stay in Formula One came at exactly the right moment and he seems well on the pace again. Ralf was never able to impress me, but this all changed midway through this season. He now really shows potential and is not the rookie who-slipped-up-just-too-many-times any more. He may be able to win a few races next season if the Williams car allows him to do so.
The Luxembourg GP was, in my perspective, the championship deciding race. Mika and Michael were very very close but because of great teamwork and great driving Mika could again extend his lead in the championship. With this gap he really put the pressure on Michael for the deciding race. Melbourne, well what can I say: McLaren, McLaren, McLaren... With the amount of testing they had before the season started, there were not many people who thought they could finish the first race. They hadn't even done a Grand Prix simulation over the winter! But then the surprise of Formula One comes around the corner: they lap the entire field... just amazing. And then there was another hectic race on a wet Spa-Francorchamps track. It was entertaining and sometimes bit funny; luckily no one got hurt!
Ian Burley (IB):
Argentina aside, where he was too cautious to fight Schumacher, Hakkinen was consistently competitive and was mainly let down by the car or the conditions rather than his own driving. A worthy and popular champion who comprehensively outclassed his teammate Coulthard. Schumacher, as usual, showed flashes of brilliance, but couldn't string it together. Still has some work to do on his PR. Irvine's best season - also has to work on his PR! You can't write Hill off just yet - a major factor in Jordan's turn-around in the second half of the season. Special mention goes to Alexander Wurz - a nice guy who has added a great deal to F1 this year, both on and off the track.
This year's Belgian Grand Prix had everything - Eau Rouge in torrential rain, crashes galore, THAT crash between Coulthard and Schumacher and Hill's and Jordan's popular win - excitement every lap. The Luxembourg Grand Prix at the Nurburgring was the defining moment of Hakkinen's championship. It was slipping away and this is where he stopped the rot. Monza was a titanic struggle between McLaren and Ferrari at a traditional 'power' circuit. Schumacher was at his best, but Hakkinen survived all sorts of woes to score a crucial point.
Rory Gordon (RG):
Hakkinen won the title and Michael Schumacher came second, both well ahead of the rest. Irvine was perfect as the back-up to Schumacher and picked up plenty of podiums along the way. Coulthard eventually settled into his role as back-up. Hill - and Jordan - broke their droughts.
Apart from being one the best circuits, Spa was an enthralling race. Luxembourg, to me, defined Hakkinen's will-to-win. Although we didn't know it at the time, Australia did set the tone for the rest of the year, with Hakkinen winning and Schumacher having major problems.
Alexander Law (AL):
Mika did the job in 1998 with a car that was well in front if it did not self destruct. While he showed signs of struggling in situations where the car was not strong, his early season form got him home. Schumacher has proven again that he is still the best overall driver in Formula 1, with brilliant driving when the Ferrari sometimes wasn't quite up there. However, he showed signs of breaking up and Belgium is a good example of that. Coulthard if anything did his job well. After conceding that it was Mika's year, David followed his teammate diligently home. Villeneuve is probably my surprise of the lot, but he showed rather well when the car was working fine. Hill is probably another surprise choice, but I have a soft spot for the Englishman, and after such a demoralising slump like Monaco, he bounced back as the team improved to take a good haul of points to give Jordan 4th in the championship.
After working on the Australian GP, I must keep my own vote for my GP, after all, it's rare you live in the same city (who can attest to that?!). It also keeps reminding me that the rest of the season was such a false dawn after the comments made by the media afterwards. Austria sticks in my memory as Hakkinen was able to keep his cool under pressure, and Japan gets my final vote for Schumacher's blazing drive (tyre blisters and all) until his anticlimactic tyre blowout.
Thomas O'keefe (TO):
Notwithstanding the fact that he obviously skipped Driver Ethics & Decorum 101 at Drivers School, Schumacher is a man of steely nerve and uncommon skill and daring. Villeneuve - a WC in a backmarker of a chassis with a stepchild of an engine, which gave Jacques little opportunity to show his True Grit. But oh when he did! Mika Hakkinen is a lucky man: lucky to be alive after Adelaide 1995, lucky he stayed with the firm of McLaren Mercedes Newey & Dennis. But beyond that, not as well endowed as Michael and Jacques with the ingredients that put them in the Master Class. Jean Alesi - Although his volatile artistic temperament continues to be his fatal flaw (as in his throwing it all away in his macho crash with Fisichella in Austria after qualifying the Sauber on the front row), in his races this year, he showed the kind of form and verve he originally displayed back in Phoenix in 1990, when he challenged Senna's McLaren-Honda in his Tyrrell-Ford and finished second. Fisichella - his ups and downs with Jordan and Benetton make it easy to surmise that he is a Flash in the Pan that won't live up to his original promise. But his pole in Austria and his consistency and unruffledness as a driver suggest that a first rate team and another year of experience will ultimately bring him to the front ranks of the F1 Generation Xers.
The Grand Prix of Hungary - because this race returned the World Championship to its see-saw footing, with Michael Schumacher's Ferrari finishing first, after snookering McLaren with a brilliant and unanticipated three-stop strategy. Spa - Damon Hill and Jordan's win in the wet, with Ralf Schumacher restraining himself in second. For sheer nerve-racking tension felt around the world by everyone who saw the carbon-fibre melee at La Source, the indelible images linger on. Monza - For the sheer pageantry, a Ferrari 1-2 on home ground, with Ralf Schumacher finishing third and Michael conducting the music during the playing of the National Anthems - this has to be about the purest moment of happiness in 1998 for Michael Schumacher and his fans.
Rob Paterson (RP):
Hakkinen would have been first outright had he locked up the championship early, but he fought back well when the pressure was at its highest at the A1Ring and Nurburgring. Schumacher winning unexpectedly at Monza was surprise enough, but the way he won in Hungary was possibly his best to date. Irvine once again proved the consummate backup driver, but he also brought in an impressive number of podiums. Though Coulthard had the machinery to contend, luck seemed to elude him, thus ending his championship charge early. Hill provided Jordan their first win and steadily improved after a disastrous first half season.
Hungary was a display of both fine tactics from Ross Brawn, and amazing 'to the limit' (and sometimes beyond) driving from Schumacher. Nurburgring was unique in that Hakkinen won in a Schumacher style, commanding the race with slick strategy and slicing through the backmarkers. Monza featured something rare nowadays - a pass for the lead. Had Hakkinen's challenge not fallen through it might have been the best race of the season.
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