Hakkinen on Senna's reaction to his F1 debut: ‘He went berserk!’


In our March 2023 issue, Mika Häkkinen reveals how illustrious team-mate Ayrton Senna reacted to the Finn's scintillating McLaren debut

Mika Hakkinen Ayrton Senna driving for the McLaren F1 team in 1993

Senna was less than amused by Häkkinen's debut quip

Getty Images

Mika Häkkinen is now rightly regarded as one of the all-time grand prix greats, but few expected his 1993 McLaren debut to quite so explosive – none more so than his team-mate F1 legend Ayrton Senna.

In this month’s magazine, the ‘Flying Finn’ reveals how the three-time champion couldn’t quite keep his cool at being outqualified for the Portuguese GP by the young hot shot, saying “He went beserk – I was shocked.”

The Finn was one of the brightest young talents in racing having been a regular points scorer for back-of-the-grid Lotus, but as a last-minute replacement for Michael Andretti, few expected him to stick the MP4/8 on third behind the Williams of Alain Prost and Damon Hill – and ahead of Senna.

Mika Hakkinen driving for the McLaren F1 team in 1993

Häkkinen stunned with searing Portuguese spread pace

Grand Prix Photo

“That was a mega result,” he told Rob Widdows.

“We had a very special braking system on the MP4/8, enabling us to adjust the braking right through the race. We had power brakes, power steering, active suspension, everything. I knew that car so well. I knew I could drive it on the absolute limit and I never believed anyone could go quicker.”

From the archive

The proof was on the timing screens, but Häkkinen says the Brazilian found it difficult to comprehend what was happening.

“Ayrton understood there were other fast drivers out there but when I came in and kicked his arse on my first race weekend he wanted to understand what I was doing.

“As a three-times world champion he was very mature, very confident, so he asked me, ‘Mika, what did you do?’ And I said, ‘Ayrton, it’s balls,’ and he went berserk, got really upset with me.

“I was shocked, tried to explain to him that it was a joke, and that of course I respected him for everything that he had achieved but also that we needed some humour.”

Senna had the last laugh as Häkkinen ultimately crashed out in Estoril, but it was clear a marker had been laid down. The former McLaren man explains how it clearly motivated his illustrious team-mate.

Mika Hakkinen driving for the McLaren F1 team in 1999

Early promise was converted into two world titles for Häkkinen

Getty Images

“For him it was a very traumatic moment,” he says. “People were asking him, ‘Who is this Finnish guy? What’s happened to Ayrton?’

“This was an interesting moment for him because he recognised that he now had a big threat within the team and if I started kicking his arse he would look ridiculous. After that, in Japan and Australia, he won both races but I was on the podium with him in Japan.

“His engineers had started working really hard – they knew I was a threat, they didn’t give a damn about me. They didn’t share or speak about anything.”

Under the guiding hand of Ron Dennis, though, Häkkinen would soon replace the departing Senna as the team’s defacto No1, eventually claiming two drivers’ titles in ’98 and ’99.

The journey into F1 legend was far from easy though, having gone through a life-threatening accident at Adelaide in 1995 before fighting back to reach the top of the F1 world.

Click here to read Häkkinen telling his story in full.