Date: 12 September 1999
Place: Monza Circuit
Winner: Heinz-Harald Frentzen
In 1999, Formula One fans enjoyed a rollercoaster season which eventually saw Mika Häkkinen prevail in a turbulent title race.
The final Italian Grand Prix of the twentieth century would prove an emotional experience for all, especially Hakkinen. It was a race which, true to Monza form, proved an entertaining spectacle with an unlikely winner as Heinz-Harald Frentzen won for the final time in his career.
Despite attaining a podium finish in the preceding grand prix at Spa, Frentzen’s deficit to Häkkinen stretched to 20 points, leaving the German racer seemingly devoid of hope in the championship race – however, his will to win never died.
Häkkinen himself was high on nerves, as his lead over Eddie Irvine was just a single point away from drawing level in the championship table.
Qualification was dominated by the champion-elect Häkkinen, who once again took pride of place in pole position, with Frentzen starting from second after a strong performance. Meanwhile, Häkkinen’s nearest contender Eddie Irvine started in a disappointing eighth.
Monza’s reputation as an unforgiving circuit was honoured from the very start, with three retirements occurring inside the opening lap.
As expected, Häkkinen maintained a consistent lead over the chasing pack, frustrating race rival Frentzen at every turn. On lap number 30, Häkkinen would make a race-ending error that put his title challenge in serious jeopardy.
The hapless Finn selected first, rather than second, gear for a crucial corner and span off the track for a shock retirement. It was a virtual rerun of the mistake that had ended his interest in the Imola Grand Prix of San Marino several months earlier.
Having seen his race ended and his championship lead wiped out, Häkkinen could not hold back his emotions, bursting into tears at the side of the track.
Frentzen went almost unopposed for the remainder of the race, holding off the attentions of countryman Ralf Schumacher to win by a comfortable 3.27 seconds. Ironically, there was indeed a Finn on the podium, but it was Mika Salo who would enjoy a rare, champagne-soaked moment in the sun.
Eddie Irvine’s eighth place finish enabled him to draw level with Häkkinen in the championship standings, while Frentzen slashed his deficit in half, to just ten points behind Häkkinen with only three races remaining.
Despite losing his lead and his pride, Häkkinen was able to dry the tears with considerable haste and make a strong finish to the season. Irvine’s challenge would last until the final race of the season, at Suzuka Circuit, but victory for Mika Häkkinen in the Japanese Grand Prix ensured that he was able to successfully defend his F1 crown.
By Tamhas Woods
For live updates of the Italian Grand Prix, visit Motorsport24.com – race begins at 12pm UTC on Sunday, September 6.