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Hakkinen Wins Australian Grand Prix

March 9, 1998

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) _ The Australian Grand Prix took three seconds to decide _ the time it took Finland’s Mika Hakkinen to beat McLaren teammate David Coulthard to the first corner.

That’s because Hakkinen and Coulthard, whose McLaren’s were vastly superior to the other cars, had made a pre-race agreement that whoever got to that corner would be allowed to win. Coulthard honored the agreement even though he could have seized the lead when Hakkinen botched two pit stops.

They ended up lapping the field, racing with a new braking system that rivals couldn’t match. It gave Bridgestone tires a first Formula One victory in 109 races, snapping Goodyear’s dominance.

The deal made irrelevant the fierce rivalry between Germany’s Michael Schumacher and Canada’s Jacques Villeneuve.

Villeneuve finished fifth in his outclassed Williams. Schumacher withdrew after five laps, after starting third and trying to pass Coulthard, a Scotsman, on an early bend.

Soon after he drove his Ferrari off the course in a cloud of smoke.

``What happened today was the supremacy of the McLaren team _ it’s hard to accept,″ Villeneuve said. ``We have to react for the next races.″

For Hakkinen it was a similar to his first Grand Prix victory, the last race of last season when Coulthard was ordered to pull aside to let him through for the win.

Hakkinen had qualified fastest for Sunday’s season-opener and Coulthard, proposed that the first car through the first corner would be allowed to take the win some 58 laps later. That the drivers openly admitted their arrangement was galling to some observers, although it has been done several times before.

The drivers could not understand the fuss.

``I was pretty confident with the agreement as I thought I could get to the corner first, but unfortunately Mika got a good start,″ Coulthard said.

Hakkinen was in control until he thought he was called in for a stop on lap 36 but, after pulling in, roared off again when he realized it was a mistake.

In his next stop he was delayed by a misunderstanding with the crew.

``When the team told me about the pit stop I had had some time to think about it and decided to honor the agreement,″ Coulthard said.

Hakkinen, crying as he stood on the podium with his national anthem playing, was not about to concede that the win was a gift.

``It’s really difficult to say they were given to me,″ Hakkinen said. ``In one sense you can say that, but on the other hand you can not understand the whole background of what is going on. It is not exactly a given victory.

``Personally I don’t feel uncomfortable at all,″ Hakkinen said.

Still Hakkinen promised on Saturday that Sunday’s race would be a ``fair, proper contest with no games.″

Heinz-Harald Frentzen, who placed third in his Williams, never expected a contest after watching McLaren’s qualifying sessions.

Villeneuve angered Hakkinen by failing to let him through near the finish but Frentzen revealed they had a bet with the German predicting they would both be lapped.

``Jacques said `no way’,″ Frentzen said.

Hakkinen and Coulthard lapped the rest of the field.

``Everything was fine, it was easy, and then this happened.″

Only nine of the 22 cars managed to finish the 58 laps of the 3.274-mile Albert Park circuit.

Villeneuve held off Johnny Herbert, while Schumacher’s teammate Eddie Irvine placed fourth.

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