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Hakkinen Wins Japanese GP

This time, there's no dispute Mika Hakkinen is the Formula One champion.

The Finn won the drivers' title for the second straight year Sunday by capturing the Japanese Grand Prix. Eddie Irvine needed to finish ahead of Hakkinen to win the title but came in third in the season-ending race.

Hakkinen thought he had won the series title two weeks ago at the Malaysian Grand Prix but a ruling by an appeals committee put his championship on hold.

The McLaren driver won this race in the first few seconds, sweeping by pole-sitter Michael Schumacher of Ferrari at the start and never trailing. Schumacher finished second.

Hakkinen is only the seventh driver to win consecutive season titles. He finished with 76 season points to 74 for Irvine and 54 for Jordan's Heinz-Harald Frentzen.

Irvine was bidding for his fifth victory for the season and his first world championship.

Hakkinen was timed 1 hour, 31 minutes, 18.785 second just more than five seconds ahead of Schumacher and 95 seconds ahead of Irvine.

Hakkinen won his first world title a year ago by winning this race when Schumacher blew a tire and dropped out.

"It's a different feeling," Hakkinen said. "This has been a very difficult year, all the way through from the start of the season when we weren't able to finish races and we lost a lot of points."

His victory triggered partying in Finland. Hundreds of euphoric fans crowded the Sports Academy, a BAR just across the Central Station in Helsinki. Fans slapped hands and couples embraced amid chants of "Mika Hakkinen! Mika Hakkinen!" The Sports Academy was one of 26 restaurants in Finland open all night by special permit.

Hakkinen thought he had the season title when Irvine and Schumacher were disqualified for their aerodynamic deflectors in a 1-2 finish in the Malaysian Grand Prix. The Finn was moved up from third to first, and with it came enough points for the season title.

But six days later an appeals panel by auto racing's governing body ruled the deflectors acceptable. That gave Irvine the victory and a four-point lead over Hakkinen entering the seasofinale.

"To have won the championship in the last GP is nerve-cracking. It's an experience that I can't recommend to anyone," Hakkinen said. "I have now experienced it with Michael last year and again with Eddie this year."

Ferrari remains without a drivers' title in 20 years, but it did win its first constructors' title since 1983. That provided some consolation for the sport's highest-spending team.

"We won one championship, but not the one I wanted," said Irvine, who moves next year to Jaguar, the new name of Stewart Ford.

Hakkinen's McLaren teammate, David Coulthard, managed to block Irvine before going out after just more than an hour. By that time, Irvine was too far behind.

"We knew they would play games today," Irvine said. "I knew David would make it difficult."

Coulthard almost apologized for blocking his fellow Briton.

"I am not comfortable from a racing point of view that I was holding Eddie up, trying to help Mika," he said.

Coulthard had a run-in with Schumacher after he slowed him early in the race. Schumacher criticized the Scot and then headed to the McLaren garage.

"Michael cannot question my integrity and basically do harm to my reputation as a racing driver in such a public way," Coulthard said.

Schumacher is the sport's highest-paid driver, and the two-time champion was brought in four years ago to end Ferrari's drought. He missed almost half the season after breaking his leg in July in the British Grand Prix.

"I think the two championships ended in a fair way today, with Ferrari winning the constructors' title and Mika the drivers' crown after he drove a fantastic race," Schumacher said.

The race was the finale for 1996 season champion Damon Hill. The 39-year-old driver pulled out on the 21st lap.

"I think at this point of my career the best thing to do was think about my family and my wife, Georgie, and what was to gain by risking anything," he said.

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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