Mika Hakkinen

Mika Hakkinen

28/9/1968

Finnish racing driver and two-time Formula One champion. He is considered by many to have been Michael Schumacher's greatest rival in Formula One and the German has admitted that Häkkinen is the rival he respects the most in his Formula One career.

Born in Vantaa, Finland, like most champion racing drivers he raced karts from the age of five, winning a succession of regional and national championships before transferring to full-sized machines. In the late 1980s, with helpful sponsorship from Marlboro, he starred in Formula Opel, winning the European title. In 1989 he competed in British Formula 3 racing for Dragon Motorsport. While very quick and displaying immense natural talent, Häkkinen didn't have a competitive package to constantly challenge at the front. In 1990, driving for West Surrey Racing, he stood out in British Formula 3, becoming champion after an excellent campaign. It was at the blue riband F3 Macao Grand Prix that year however, that he made more of a name for himself. The winner of heat one, he was lying second to Michael Schumacher during heat two. To take overall victory he needed only to stay close to the German. Häkkinen attempted to pass late-on but Schumacher swerved in front and they collided. Schumacher limped home to overall victory and Häkkinen was distraught.

Despite the setback at Macao, Häkkinen had done more than enough to earn a graduation to Formula One and in 1991 joined Lotus. The former champions were in decline, but Häkkinen impressed and was retained for 1992. More strong performances by the Finn saw him attract the attentions of Ron Dennis.

In 1993 Häkkinen joined McLaren as test driver with a view to being promoted to the race team. At Monaco he returned to racing with a guest drive in the Porsche Supercup race, an event he dominated. His hopes of stepping up to the race team were realised after Monza, when Michael Andretti left the sport. Häkkinen's McLaren race debut at Estoril was impressive. In his first outing for the squad he outqualified star driver Ayrton Senna, much to the Brazilian legend's annoyance. He was unable to beat Senna come Sunday, a spin ending his chances, but a message of intent had been delivered; he was clearly a talent worth watching.

With Senna departing to Williams for 1994, Häkkinen became McLaren team leader. Over the next two years, he drove well, but the team were going through a lean spell and Häkkinen could not better second place.

Then came the 1995 Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide. Häkkinen had a tyre failure during free practice at Friday, which sent him into the wall at high speed. He was saved only due to an emergency tracheotomy that was performed by the side of the track. This incident forged a strong bond between Häkkinen and Ron Dennis, and also sent forth a new movement for extra safety in the sport. Luckily, Häkkinen recovered almost fully and was fit to race again in 1996.

The 1996 season saw McLaren improve. Mercedes-Benz were in their second season of engine supply to the team and Häkkinen managed to return to the podium, although his first win still eluded him. That season saw David Coulthard join the team, the Scot staying until 2004. For 1997 McLaren were confident. With the distinctive red and white colours of Marlboro replaced by the silver and black, the team returned to their winning ways. Coulthard took the first win for McLaren in over three seasons at the Australian Grand Prix. Through the year the McLarens began to regularly challenge the frontrunners, but it was Coulthard who finished higher in the championship. Häkkinen came close to an elusive breakthrough victory a number of times in 1997, not least at Silverstone, A1-Ring and Nürburgring.

At the time Hakkinen used to have a lucky plastic turtle called Brian. However the McLaren mechanics realised that Brian was not working. He was unceremoniously kidnapped, taken out back and set on fire.

Shortly after this event at Jerez he finally managed to cross the line first, although Villeneuve had allegedly been asked to consider whether it was necessary to keep the Finn behind him at all costs in the closing stages of the race.

A winner at last, Häkkinen was confident of further success in 1998. With Adrian Newey, the renowned former Williams technical director, now on board at McLaren, Häkkinen found himself in the fastest car for early 1998 season. He did not waste the opportunity, going on to win eight races and a maiden world championship. His speed when under pressure was highly impressive, particularly at the final race in Japan, where he held his nerves and won the race. His title rival Michael Schumacher on the other hand, stalled on the grid, leaving himself too much to do to beat Häkkinen. His title defence in 1999 was tougher. With the McLaren not as reliable as the previous year, he lost out on a number of points early in the season, but by the time of Schumacher's leg-breaking crash at Silverstone, he had overtaken the German in the standings. Eddie Irvine now took on the mantle of Ferrari team leader and through good driving and mistakes from Häkkinen, took the title battle down to the last race, again in Japan. Häkkinen had made several major errors at Imola and Monza, both times crashing out whilst in a strong lead, and some questioned whether he could handle the pressure of a title decider once more. Come Japan however, he was back on top form and romped to a victory that secured him a second world championship.

As a double world champion, he had joined an elite group of drivers. For 2000 he was eager to score a hat-trick of crowns, but an improved Ferrari, combined with some inspired driving from Michael Schumacher, saw him finish runner-up to the German. At Spa however, he had taken his greatest victory, with a sensational pass on Michael Schumacher and Ricardo Zonta, both in the Kemmel straight. This was the last point in his career when he was both the reigning world champion and also leading the world championship of the current year, as in the next grand prix Schumacher took over the championship lead, which he was to ascertain in an epic duel with Mika at the 2000 Japanese Grand Prix. Schumacher went on to describe his championship fight with Mika as the most satisfying one in his career, an indication of the great respect between the two multiple champions.

In 2001 he took part in what would prove to be his last season of Formula One. The McLaren was not as competitive and it was Coulthard who carried the threat to Schumacher for much of the season. There were days however when Häkkinen reminded people of his skills. At Silverstone he dominated the race to take his first victory of the year, whilst at Indianapolis he put in a stirring drive to take his last Grand Prix win. At the end of the season he left racing, initially for a sabbatical, but by mid-2002 this had become full-time retirement. During 2004 he announced plans for a Grand Prix comeback and held talks with Williams for 2005, but a deal was not reached and so he instead made a race comeback in DTM, with Mercedes-Benz. It was a successful season, a win at Spa reminding people of his talents. For 2006 he is competing once again in the DTM. At the 2006 Goodwood Festival Of Speed, Häkkinen drove the 2005 McLaren-Mercedes MP4-20. Many said that it was great once again to see Häkkinen in a McLaren, as he was the last driver to win the World Championship in a McLaren.

Häkkinen is married to Erja (born Honkanen) and has a son, Hugo Ronan (b. December 11, 2000), and a daughter, Aina Julia (b. May 12, 2005). They currently reside in Monaco.

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