Rob Widdows

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MIKA’S NEW DRIVE

As he stepped out onto the Portico of Goodwood House there was spontaneous applause.
“Morning,” he said, with that laconic smile. “Nice to be here.” Flicking back the blonde hair he began his message.

This is the man who, were it not for the skill and speed of Professor Sid Watkins, might well have died on the afternoon of Friday November 10, 1995. When Watkins reached a wrecked McLaren at Brewery Bend in Adelaide the driver was barely breathing.

But today, at the launch of a new Goodwood season, double World Champion Mika Hakkinen is very much alive and well. The ‘global ambassador for responsible drinking’, a title bestowed on him by Johnnie Walker whisky, comes with a simple message. “Don’t drink and drive, take a taxi, take a bus, take control,” he says. “If you drink and drive you are not in control. You saw my moves with Michael Schumacher I know about being in control.” This is greeted, by the British contingent, with cheers and laughter.

He is not here just to talk, but to drive a fearsome vehicle known as a Caparo, named after the Anglo-Indian steel company that built it, with not a little help from engineers who worked on the McLaren F1. It is in this that Mika and I will tackle the Goodwood hill.

“So you’re my next victim,” he says, as we change into fireproof overalls. “It’s quite quick, about 600bhp. You’ll enjoy it.” We finish our green tea and strap in alongside each other. I’m beginning to wish I hadn’t just eaten two of Goodwood’s organic sausage rolls.

Mika gives me a thumbs-up, a nudge in the ribs, and suddenly we are rocketing between the lime trees in a crazy whirlwind of noise and tyre smoke. I would not, I admit, do this with someone I did not know. But Mika makes it all look so easy and for the next minute or so I sit back and revel in being thrown around by the man whom Michael Schumacher assured us he feared most.

“Like I said, stay in control,” he says. “You saw there are many trees around?” Yes, I did.

At the finish Mika chats to a marshal. “Who was your favourite World Champion?” he asks her. “I should say it’s you,” she responds, “but it’s Jenson Button.” Big lopsided smile from Mika, and a long pause. “Not Michael Schumacher, then?” he says.

Later we talk about life after Formula 1. “Very difficult. F1 is so intense and gives you such an enormous buzz. Your adrenalin is so high, and nothing in normal life gives you that feeling. It’s tough to settle down. I’ve never found anything that gives me the buzz that comes from racing cars OK, maybe ski jumping would do it, but you need to start as a young kid to do that. So you have to keep busy, keep motivated. I have great kids, a great girlfriend, that’s all good, but you always need something more when you’ve led such a highly charged life. Nothing else gives you the buzz of driving, and I prefer to drive, drive rather than chat, chat.”

His nemesis has returned to the fray. Has Mika been tempted? “Yes, yes, of course. But the most important thing is to enjoy it, and I decided it was not right to go back. In 1998 and ‘991 had a goal. I didn’t think about the pain. I was totally focused, and of course it was very stressful, but honestly now I think life is better. Michael took a very big challenge, and he is well aware of that.”

I ask him, if he closes his eyes, can he imagine Michael beating Veffel, Hamilton or Alonso in close combat? Long pause. “Hmmm. I see what you mean. I’m not sure.”

He has been impressed by Button and Hamilton at McLaren. “McLaren has managed them very well. There is harmony. Jenson and Lewis are clever guys, they’ve achieved their goals, they are relaxed, but there is more to come. It’s down to the management; there is confidence, and the team has enabled these two to function so well together.”

Cruising home in my much-loved Renault Megane GT I wish I spoke Finnish. In his own language, I suspect, there would be even more to enjoy about this thoughtful and interesting champion.

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