The new MP4-15 was more an evolution than a new car, but with continual changes to the aerodynamics and a new power-steering set-up coming on stream during the season, testing and development were to move even higher up the list of priorities. Coulthard was quick to acknowledge Panis‘s important place in the team, referring to the great benefit it was having, "Somebody fulfilling this role whose judgement we could absolutely depend on and who was quick enough not to raise any doubts about the data he was inputting."
Adrian Newey’s third car for McLaren incorporated a number of refinements which had been developed during the off-season during consultations with the FIA. Because of this Martin Whitmarsh maintained that, while some rivals might attempt to complain to the governing body, he had no worries about their legality even though some, such as the distinctive exhaust set-up with its central exit, and the hot-air radiator outlet ‘chimneys’ atop the sidepods, were novel.
Talk at the launch was not restricted to the car's technical aspects, however. Prior to the event, Daimler took the opportunity to confirm that it was exercising its right to buy 40 per cent of the TAG McLaren Group. At the same time Whitmarsh reflected on the considerable challenges facing the hitherto unfortunate Coulthard during the coming year. “He is," he remarked, “intelligent enough to realise that we considered other drivers for this season.”
The team had no intention of repeating the poor start it had made in 1999, but this proved unavoidable. After taking the top two qualifying positions in Australia both cars retired when their new FO 110J Mercedes-Benz V10s suffered valve seal problems. Two weeks later Häkkinen’s engine blew up again at Interlagos while he was leading, and having finished second on the road Coulthard was then disqualified for a wing-height infringement. But on the positive side the new cars were very fast and better at responding to changes and more comfortable on the limit than the MP4-14 had been.
At Imola, Häkkinen held the lead for a long time, though once again Michael Schumacher‘s pace enabled him to win for Ferrari. It wasn't until Silverstone, courtesy of Coulthard, that the team had a victory to celebrate. Häkkinen made it a great day by finishing second, though he wasn’t happy with his car's set-up even after small changes during his pit stop.
He finished second again at the Nurburgring, This time behind the German Schumacher, before winning in Barcelona after driver experienced tyre problems. Coulthard posted an impressive second, despite having stepped out unharmed after the Learjet in which he’d been travelling crash-landed four days earlier.
At Monaco DC dominated as Häkkinen fell victim to a gearbox problem and Schumacher’s suspension broke. The Scot won again at Magny-Cours with Häkkinen second and still complaining about his car. In Austria, however, a refreshed Häkkinen stormed through to win and to declare: “We’ve solved our problems. I’m back to what I used to be and the Championship is not over yet.”
With Schumacher failing to score both there and in Germany two weeks later, and with Häkkinen winning in Hungary as well as at Spa, he was not just back in contention but actually leading the Championship. Ferrari fought back with wins at Monza and Indianapolis, leaving Häkkinen trailing
Schumacher by eight points with just two races left. He fought back hard at Suzuka but as the rain fell the advantage went to Schumacher. The German eventually won his first title with Ferrari, who also narrowly took the Constructors’ World Championship, but the season had seen a classic battle between the two top teams.
The team had once again scored seven wins, and overall reliability had been much better with Häkkinen in the points for every race but three and Coulthard for all but four.