Mika Hakkinen

A double Formula 1 world champion, Mika Häkkinen earned his 'Flying Finn' nickname as he took on and beat Michael Schumacher

Mika Häkkinen was one of those drivers who created a buzz from the moment he started racing in the sport’s junior categories. He recovered from serious injuries to emerge as Michael Schumacher’s greatest rival of the late 1990s – a double World Champion with McLaren-Mercedes-Benz.

Multiple champion in the junior categories

Successful in karts in his homeland, he acquired JJ Lehto’s Reynard 86FF to graduate to Formula Ford 1600 in 1987 and immediately won the Finnish, Swedish and Scandinavian Championships. He showed further promise in a couple of appearances in that year’s FF1600 Euroseries but crashed out of the Brands Hatch Festival at the semi-final stage.

Häkkinen had already completed a successful FF2000 test for Marlboro by that time and the cigarette manufacturer backed his move to the new GM-Lotus category in 1988. Racing for the newly formed Dragon Motorsport team, Häkkinen won seven times and clinched the inaugural European title while team-mate Allan McNish was British Champion.

Rather than join an established team for the 1989 British Formula 3 Championship, Häkkinen drove Dragon’s singleton Reynard 893-Toyota as it also stepped up a level. Unfortunately, the car was no match for that year’s Ralt-Mugens and the Finn could only finish seventh overall after a frustrating campaign. He switched to West Surrey Racing’s Ralt RT33-Mugen for the non-championship Cellnet SuperPrix at Brands Hatch and promptly beat all the regular contenders.

He remained with WSR for the 1990 F3 season and beat childhood friend Mika Salo to the British title thanks to 10 race wins. In addition, Häkkinen travelled abroad to win rounds of the German and Italian F3 Championships and seemed on course for victory at Macau as well. Already winner of the first heat and in control of the overall result, he attempted to pass Michael Schumacher for the lead of heat two. Their cars collided with Häkkinen losing certain victory in the barriers.

Graduation to Formula 1 with Lotus

With Keke Rosberg guiding his career, Häkkinen was announced as driver of the restructured Lotus Grand Prix team – central to Peter Collins’ efforts to save the cash-strapped team. Häkkinen’s Lotus 102B-Judd was a lapped fifth at Imola as he scored points in just the third start of an impressive maiden F1 campaign.

Lotus secured Ford-power for 1992 and introduced the Chris Murphy-designed 107 from the Monaco GP. Both Häkkinen and team-mate Johnny Herbert showed promise and the Finn finished six GPs in the points (including coming fourth in France and Hungary) to secure eighth in the World Championship.

Making the most of his move to McLaren

However, rather than stay with Lotus for another year, Häkkinen joined McLaren as test and reserve driver in 1993 – giving up a guaranteed race seat to be included in one of F1’s top teams. That decision proved inspired when Michael Andretti failed to live up to expectations and was dropped after the Italian GP. Häkkinen was drafted in as his replacement from the Portuguese GP and promptly out-qualified team-mate Ayrton Senna. He crashed out of third position at Estoril but then finished in that position in the wet Japanese GP to record his first F1 podium.

Senna left for Williams-Renault at the end of the season and Häkkinen was now effectively McLaren’s lead driver. Unfortunately, the team started an ill-feted partnership with Peugeot in 1994 that would last just one season. Despite the disappointing V10 engine, Häkkinen finished third on five occasions and was promoted to second when Schumacher was disqualified in Belgium. Fourth in the final championship standings was a fine return considering the machinery at his disposal. However, there were moments when his frustration boiled over and he was banned for a race after causing an accident on the first lap at Hockenheim.

Mercedes-Benz replaced Peugeot as McLaren’s engine supplier in 1995 and Häkkinen responded with second place finishes at Monza and Suzuka – that Japanese GP result achieved having missed the previous race to have his appendix removed. However, the season ended with the worst accident of Häkkinen’s career that almost cost him his life. He suffered a puncture during qualifying for the Australian GP at Adelaide and crashed at approximately 125mph. Only saved by an emergency tracheotomy by the trackside and with severe head injuries, he made a surprisingly fast recovery and was back on the grid at the start of 1996.

There were steady signs of improvement for the Woking-based team during the next two seasons and Häkkinen developed into a regular points’ scorer during 1996. He finished third in the British, Belgian, Italian (storming through the field from 17th after an unscheduled stop to change his front wing) and Japanese GPs although a hoped-for breakthrough victory did not materialise.

McLaren sported a new silver livery at the start of 1997 with West joining as title sponsor. The team began that new era by finally winning again but it was team-mate David Coulthard who led a 1-3 for the team in Australia. Häkkinen’s summer was spent waiting for the cards to fall in his favour as engine failures at Silverstone, Spielberg and the Nürburgring (having qualified on pole position for the first time) denied certain victory. That success finally came after 96 attempts at the dramatic Jerez finale when title contenders Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve crashed into each other. With Schumacher out of the race and his rival keen to protect his damaged car, Coulthard slowed to allow Häkkinen to win for the first time.

World Champion

McLaren enticed Adrian Newey away from Williams during 1997 and his new McLaren MP4-13-Mercedes proved all-conquering during 1998. Häkkinen led a 1-2 on its debut in Australia after Coulthard respected a pre-race agreement and let the Finn, who had been delayed in the pits, take the lead. Less controversial victories followed in Brazil, Spain, Monaco, Austria, Germany, Luxembourg (a brilliant win at the Nürburgring) and Japan as Häkkinen beat Schumacher and Ferrari to the title at the final round.

On pole position for 11 of the 16 World Championship races showed that Häkkinen and McLaren-Mercedes remained the fastest combination of 1999. However, reliability issues and crashing out of the lead at both Imola and Monza put his title defence in question. That latter mistake prompted a very public display of emotion as the championship appeared to slip from his grasp. Schumacher missed six races after breaking his leg at Silverstone and it was Ferrari team-mate Eddie Irvine that challenged Häkkinen all season. Trailing the Irishman by four points, Häkkinen dominated the final race in Japan to score his fifth victory of the season and clinch a hard-won second world title.

No driver since Juan Manuel Fangio had won the championship for three years in a row and Häkkinen began 2000 by retiring from the lead of the Australian and Brazilian GPs. Victory in Spain apart, he appeared marginally outpaced by team-mate Coulthard at the start of the season before he returned from holiday to dominate the Austrian GP. Further victories in Hungary and Belgium gave him the points lead – Häkkinen winning at Spa-Francorchamps thanks to his audacious pass of Schumacher as they lapped Ricardo Zonta’s BAR-Honda. However, Schumacher won the Japanese GP to beat Häkkinen to the title, his first for Ferrari, with a race to spare.

Häkkinen won the British and United States GPs during 2001 but it was evident that his motivation was wavering. Married to television personality Erja Honkanen and a father for the first time, he decided to take a year off in 2002 to enjoy life with his young family. Rather than return after a year away, Häkkinen eventually announced that he was retiring from GP racing.

DTM with Mercedes-Benz

There were rumours of an F1 return but when he raced again it was in the 2005 German Touring Car Championship (DTM) with a works AMG Mercedes C-Klasse. He won his third race at Spa-Francorchamps as he finished fifth in the standings. Without a win during a frustrating second season in the category, he tested a McLaren MP4-21-Mercedes at Barcelona in November 2006 but was two seconds slower than the team’s new recruit Lewis Hamilton. Häkkinen then won the Lausitzring and Mugello rounds of the 2007 DTM Championship in what was an inconsistent final season as a professional racing driver.

Non Championship Races