It has to be Mika Häkkinen, an opponent for seven years, with good times and bad. Good times when developing the McLaren, bad times when we ran at the front. He was very quick. Like all Scandinavian drivers, he’d been left-foot braking since way back in his career, whereas I was a bit late perfecting that.
The rivalry came to a head at the Belgian Grand Prix in 1999 when we were battling for the championship. We had the front row, we touched at the first corner, and I went on to win the race. Mika wouldn’t speak to me on the podium and afterwards his engineer Mark Slade said to me and my engineer Paul Monaghan, ‘Well, if we lose the championship it’s your fault.’
There are teams within teams and drivers are selfish. That can be disruptive and it was up to Ron Dennis to manage it. He’d sit us down away from the track, make it clear we were part of a team, and he expected us to race in the best interests of the team. Hey, we were pussycats compared to people like Prost, Senna and Lauda.
It got to the point where Mika and I would go to Nice airport, get on two separate planes, arrive wherever and get into two separate cars to the track. It was complete madness. On the drivers’ parade before the race we’d stand on the truck and not speak a word to each other. So yeah, it got very intense.
Team orders became a problem at Jerez [European Grand Prix] in ’97 when Ron agreed, if necessary, to help Williams get the title for Villeneuve, although it was never admitted. But as we know, Jacques and Michael [Schumacher] collided, the Williams was damaged, and on the last lap Mika and I both passed him. I’d already been asked to let Mika pass, which was never discussed, so I declined that invitation for a few laps. They told me I was compromising my place in the team –I took that to mean I’d be fired – so I moved over. That gave Mika his first victory, and Jacques won the title in third behind us. I was not happy.
Then, in Australia in ’98, Mika and I had the front row but the car was still a bit fragile. Ron said not to push each other, whoever gets to the first corner first stays there, and that was Mika. We lapped everyone up to third but then Mika made a pitstop – he’d been told to cool the brakes but he misheard the call and thought they’d told him to pit. So I was leading by quite a distance when the team told me to slow down and let Mika pass. So that was two victories that slipped away, when team orders weren’t legal and the fans didn’t understand what was going on.
Mika was fair, not a dirty racer, and a pretty uncomplicated guy. I admired the way he went about his racing.”
David Coulthard and Mika Häkkinen head-to-head
Figures taken as McLaren team-mates 1996-2001