The 2000 Formula 1 season would always be remembered for three different reasons. First, Michael Schumacher winning his first-ever world title with Ferrari, a team he had always dreamt of winning at; a title triumph in red racing overalls that would eventually notch up his third-career title. Second, it would be remembered for Mika Hakkinen emerging a valiant second upon the completion of a season with no fewer than seventeen races; a year where the Finn emerged with eighty-nine points, nineteen adrift of title-winning German legend.
And third, for the epic duel that took place arguably at the most-famous and widely-celebrated racing venue, which we hail and love as Spa-Francorchamps, the home to the Belgian Grand Prix.
But truth be told, few sights in the Michael Schumacher versus Mika Hakkinen tussle were as intriguing as the fight displayed by the McLaren driver, competing against an icon of the sport, who was then, perhaps at the peak of his powers.
It’s one thing to compete with the great Michael Schumacher, but something quite another to curtail a driver who had, right from the start of the season, displayed ominous form for opponents- the German winning the opening three rounds with victories at Australia, Brazil, and San Marino.
But enter Spa-Francorchamps, and it would be advantage Mika Hakkinen, who was, as one would put it, aware of the great Schumacher’s vulnerabilities; the Ferrari driver entering Belgium GP at the back of a P2 at Hungary, and three consecutive race-retirements previously.
Meanwhile, Mika Hakkinen, on the other hand, had a spring of confidence in his step, having won the previous encounter at Hungary comprehensively.
But, as they say, in Formula 1, you are only as good as your last race. What you do now, in the present, is what matters. So a fresh battle was on the cards and the McLaren driver sensed a newfound opportunity to increase his lead over his arch-rival, Mika, entering Spa-Francorchamps with 64 points in the kitty, compared to Michael Schumacher’s 62.
Could he add to the two-points and increase the gap to the domineering German at the heart of the picturesque Ardennes?
In a sport that longs for great surprises and amazing overtakes, it could be said, that Mika Hakkinen’s pass on Michael Schumacher, was the big daddy of overtakes; a sensational move that cannot be taught and can only happen provided it is executed with utmost precision and boldness.
On Lap 37 of the race with only 7 more to go, the battle at the front of the grid was being dominated by the usual suspects: Schumacher’s Ferrari in the lead and Hakkinen’s McLaren trying best to breach past what were formidable German defenses.
The only advantage that remained with Hakkinen, though pole-sitter on Saturday, now having to tail Michael, was the brute strength of his car, particularly on the main straights.
For the following three successive laps, Hakkinen, now in full-attack mode, was taking as much as four-tenths out of a lap of Michael Schumacher, the German fully aware that his tyres weren’t going to last till the end.
Situations were so dire for the Ferrari driver that it wasn’t long ago that Michael deliberately went off the racing line to cool his tyres off by driving through on water.
Then, with just 4 to play, on lap 40, the race produced a near overtake for track position; as Mika Hakkinen went down the inside on the approach to Les Combes, but Michael cut the Finn off.
But the Finn was never going to back down. Sensing a chance and understanding that Michael was particularly weary of the degrading rears, Hakkinen tried again.
On Lap 41, as the duo found each other again within a splitting second of a possible tussle, there was a slight problem for the two of them. The Bar-Honda of Ricardo Zonta was right in midst of the straights, with Michael, already defending from a fast-catching Mika, requiring to first lap Zonta.
But sensing that Michael, as he’d so skillfully done before, would have simply blocked his move on the outside (had he attempted that in a desperate bid), the enigmatic Finn decided something outlandish albeit desperately bold.
The only issue was- Michael had no idea what was to follow.
Blasting behind the Ferrari with blistering speed up to 300 k/hr on the straights, Mika Hakkinen went on the inside (instead of the other way around), and in a space of executing one mighty move, ended up passing both the backmarker as the race-leader.
Not called the Flying Finn for nothing, Mika made the exceptional pass right before the approach a sharp-right hander.
Murray Walker, as one woud’ve desired, behind the mic, true to his exceptional style, cried out loud, “A superb, gritty, forceful move by Hakkinen takes the lead with 3 laps to go!”
That wouldn’t change until the finish. Hakkinen took the checkered flag and raced home to his third win that season.
And maybe it’s for the sheer unanticipated charisma in that move that one’s come to regard it two decades from the date of its execution.
There’ve been several overtakes henceforth at Spa-Francorchamps, Michael, in his latter years in the sport, finding his Mercedes less of a challenge in front of the dauntless Kimi Raikkonen, in 2012, in the approach to Eau Rouge. But still, no single move, in particular, seems as arduous as the one executed by the original Flying Finn.