Mika Hakkinen had taken pole for the first two races of the 2000 season but retired from both. Schumacher meanwhile had won both of them, and so heading into the third round at Imola a good result for Hakkinen was crucial.
A big part of his job could be achieved in qualifying, as Imola is a tricky track to pass on and getting out in front early could make all the difference.
For much of the session Hakkinen held the top spot, but a brilliant lap from Schumacher towards the end of the session put him on provisional pole. The McLaren driver still had a lap in hand however, and set off to reclaim the fastest time.
He was a almost a tenth down in the first sector. He matched Schumacher’s sector two time, but then ran far too wide on the exit of the tricky Variante Alta chicane. That was it, any chance of pole was gone, surely he’d give up on the lap. Right? Right?!
Wrong! Mika Hakkinen doesn’t give up easily and he carried on pushing though the final sector. He threw his McLaren MP4/15 into the double left at Rivazza, totally monstered the final chicane and…
Somehow, despite the errors, he snatched pole back by almost a tenth of a second. Quite how he made up so much time in so few corners driving the way he did I’ll never know, but then again, this is the guy that out-qualified Senna on his McLaren debut.
In the race he led much of the way but Schumacher managed to jump him at the final pit stops to win and extend his championship lead, but that qualifying lap was proper once-in-a-generation stuff.
Seeing him fishtail out of the last corner whilst the Finnish commentators scream profanity loud enough to drown out the Mercedes V10 gives me goosebumps every time. It’s no wonder Michael called Mika the toughest opponent he ever had.