"I wanted to jump around saying ‘I’ve got the best car!’" – Mika Hakkinen


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Mika Hakkinen, 2010

Mika Hakkinen started his final F1 season ten years ago.

The 1998 and 1999 world champion went on to race in the DTM and is now helping Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas on the way to an F1 seat.

Hakkinen talked exclusively to F1 Fanatic about his time in F1, his rivalry with Michael Schumacher – and what it’s like to discover your new car is a potential championship-winner.

F1 Fanatic: It’s ten years since your last F1 season – it seems to have gone very quickly. What have you been doing since then?

Mika Hakkinen: The time is really flying, that’s true. When I think about all these years it feels just like yesterday.

The time when you are in Formula 1, your life is so incredibly attached to the sport. Formula 1 takes from your life 24 hours a day. It’s not going into an office in the morning and leaving in the afternoon. It’s unbelievable, one hundred percent commitment to the job.

So in these ten years a lot of things have been happening. I’ve been experiencing a family life, I have three children in my life, so it’s been an amazing time. There have been bad moments, of course, and incredibly positive moments, but it’s just life.

In the racing world I experienced the DTM for three years with Mercedes. It brought me back years because I was racing with young guys and it was interesting to see their mentality and commitment for the sport -the girls as well, not only the boys.

F1F: You described how intense life is when you’re in Formula 1. When did you decide first to take a sabbatical from it, and then to leave it completely?

MH: It’s never so clear-cut to be honest. My career in Formula 1 was very complicated, let’s say it this way. Of course I had my accident in ’95 and [after that] I had to use much more effort to do my performance in Formula 1 compared to other racing drivers.

I was not able to go so far with my career in Formula 1 as other drivers – in terms of time, I don’t mean the results, I got the result that I was looking for.

I had to stop racing probably four or five years earlier than others because I was just finished. I felt that physically and mentally I was not doing the right stuff for myself and I was not doing the right stuff for the team and it was time to get new, young drivers to take my position and perform.

That was my decision. To be honest, it started after my accident. Not directly, you know, but something happened in my thinking and after ’95 I was still driven by the dream that I was going to be world champion, I was going to do everything for that and I was going to keep fighting.

As soon as I had that goal I thought "that’s it". I was slowly realising in my mind that life has given to me so much, my sport has given me so much, I don’t want to try to step on ice and see if it’s strong enough any more, because I know what it feels like when you fall through.

F1F: You talked about how much the sport has given you: what was the time you enjoyed most in your career?

MH: That’s a really good question. Every year there was something. Motor racing gave me a great education in what you cannot just learn from reading books and going to university – those things are great but Formula 1 gave me something to educate myself in everyday life and the business world.

If you particularly want a year that was something I think years like ’97, that was an extremely fantastic year.

F1F: A breakthrough year?

MH:A breakthrough, yeah, I would say so. ’97 was a great year. Then going back I would say ’94 was an incredible year.

But I have to be honest every year there was something amazing. Without doing much I could think [of something] in a year I learned that which gave me the step towards the experience of winning the world championship one day.

I always picked up a lot of things every year which I could together and then attack. You cannot just one year, look in the mirror and say "I’m ready to win everything". No, you have to continue working, year after year, collecting this knowledge in your head.

And then when you can put all these together and have a clear mind, you can do it. Bu, of course, you’ve got to be in the right team, you cannot do it alone, so I was grateful to be in a fantastic team with McLaren and we did it.

Valtteri Bottas, F3 Euroseries, 2010

F1F: Which drivers at the moment are gaining the benefit of your experience?

MH: I’m taking care of [Williams reserve driver] Valtteri Bottas with Didier Coton’s management team. He’s doing GP3 this year.

For me it’s unbelievably positive to talk about my experiences in the past, when I was in Formula 1. But I have learned in my career, I had great management team behind me – Didier Coton and Keke Rosberg and Keke’s sister.

But at the end of the day, yes you can help and advise the driver, you can do a lot of things in the background, but at the end of the day the driver has to learn for himself. He has to study the life study the sport and put everything on the correct way. That’s why it is always good to give.

The basics of the driver have to be right. The parents have to do the right work when the driver is a kid and doing go-karting, the parents have to do the right education so the young man or girl one day can take information in the right way. They can use it to suit their style in their life because everybody is individual and different.

F1F: Is the life you had in Formula 1 something you’d want for your children, if they wanted it?

MH: Oh, definitely. I think that being a Grand Prix driver is the best job in the world. It’s absolutely fantastic.

It’s hard work but, hey, it’s a great job!

F1F: You had a lot of testing opportunities with McLaren and Lotus when you came into F1. But there’s not as many chances for young drivers to do that today. Is this a problem F1 needs to sort out for drivers like Valtteri?

MH: I don’t say it’s a problem because every driver who is coming into Formula 1 is in the same situation.

So I’ll just tell you: I don’t think it is a problem. Because if there’s a problem somewhere there’s always ways to mange that problem and analyse that problem.

F1F: Turning to F1 today, what’s your view on the adjustable rear wings – a positive step for a F1 or a gimmick?

People have been thinking a lot about this wing. There has been a lot of thought, a lot of reasons why it is like that.

Personally I think, from the drivers’ point of view, it makes life more interesting. But we’ll find out how it works when the season starts.

Michael Schumacher, Mercedes, Suzuka, 2010

F1F: Fernando Alonso recently said "the most dangerous rival for me is always Michael [Schumacher]". Some people were surprised by that because Michael had a tough season last year. Do you understand what Fernando means when he says that?

MH: I understand that every driver has their opinions, their feelings, before the start of the season. The drivers are always being asked questions before the season starts. So that’s just one thing that’s been picked up from these comments.

In my opinion when you’re starting a season in Grand Prix racing you have to focus on working with your team at the highest level possible. And the first driver you have to beat is your team mate so he’s the biggest threat. That’s the reality. Then comes the rest.

And you can, of course, look at the drivers in the Grand Prix field in 2011 and look at the level of professionalism it is absolutely amazing what the level of performance Grand Prix drivers today are delivering. They’re doing a great job in terms of the physical side, marketing side, professionally with the team, the performance they do at the track, the technical knowledge they have – the list is long.

I would not pinpoint one driver out there and say "this is my threat for 2011". This is just my way of thinking. Michael is definitely a driver who I have experienced in the past, he’s an amazing individual who can work very hard and not give up even when thing are not going so well. He keeps going until he gets the result. And he has shown that in his career when he was racing in any category.

So when we are heading for the first Grand Prix of the season we will know who will perform and who will not. And it’s not only about the driver himself who will be doing the result, it’s also the team. Both sides have to deliver the maximum attack performance.

F1F: After your rivalry with Michael it’s amusing to see you now appearing in adverts together.

MH: I talked with Michael, we talked about last year and the future. It was good, I could see he has this incredible commitment now he has decided to go back to Formula 1.

It was funny doing the commercial with him together and overtaking him. We enjoyed doing it. There’s humour in it and it gives people the opportunity to laugh about the past.

Yes, when we were racing it was very tough and very serious. But at the end of the day it’s just a sport and when we did the commercials it was nice. I think you always have to put the humour in your life because otherwise you just don’t survive. You have to learn to laugh and have fun.

F1F: It looked a bit easier overtaking him in that advert than it was in Spa in 2000.

MH: Oh yeah! Much easier.

Mika Hakkinen, McLaren, Monza, 1998

F1F: Sebastian Vettel drove this incredible car last year, designed by Adrian Newey, who was also behind your world championship-winning cars. What is it that makes his cars different and special?

MH: How could I say it? What Adrian was able to do, in my opinion, was really think about everything. Every single part of the car has gone through a lot of thinking and he was able to create this car that could perform at the highest level and be better than any other.

I can’t really explain it. I’ve driven many cars in the past and I know there have been possibilities for people to design these cars however they want. But Adrian was able to find ultimate performance in every part of the car. Whatever it is, he was able to do that.

The cars he did for me, in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001, were just amazing. I was many times working with him, looking at the numbers and collaborating, looking at this and that and how much downforce it was developing. He understood the language when you communicated, what problems the driver was experiencing. He was able to understand what you need.

F1F: What’s it like when you drive a car like the [1998] MP4-13 for the first time – and realise that you’ve got a car that could win the world championship?

MH: Oh yeah it’s an unbelievable feeling. When I first drove that car, when I was driving out of the pit lane and I was steering the wheel and changing gear I thought "what is going on here? This is it!"

I didn’t even have to get to the first corner, I felt on the steering this was it. I went on the accelerator and felt the traction and the acceleration of the car and I thought, "hey, we’ve got something here".

You want to jump up and down in the pit lane and say "I’ve got it, I’ve got the best car here" – but you cannot do that! The team are keeping their feet on the ground and you know that even if you have a good car, the season is long and people will be catching and developing their car. So you just have to keep your emotions down and keep working, making it even better.

Adrian and the McLaren team, the engineers and mechanics, they gave me this great car and we had a meeting and said "that’s where we are, now we just have to get even better."

It was about creating the overall package and complete performance because it’s not just about the clock that says you are fast, you have to have so many elements right to win the world championship. The driver’s part in that moment is even more important because you really have to start working seriously hard.

When you have the chance to win the world championship that’s the only chance you get. It’s maybe never going to happen again in your life if you miss it once. You have to do everything you can to win it that year when you have the chance.

This interview was conducted thanks to Johnnie Walker, for whom Mika is a Responsible Drinking Ambassador.


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Images © Johnnie Walker, F3 Euroseries, Mercedes GP, Daimler

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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74 comments on “"I wanted to jump around saying ‘I’ve got the best car!’" – Mika Hakkinen”

  1. JamesC1991 (@)
    20th January 2011, 13:08

    superb interview
    great job Keith

    1. Total legend!

      1. Wow, Fantastic interview. Mika, you’re a great person and a legend!

  2. Fantastic! He actually spoke :)

    1. Duh! It’s Hakkinen, not Raikkonen.

        1. i love this video. Especially at the end. He’s right of course, the media do ask questions that they expect long answers to – which of course can be answered in a few simple words!

        2. What a legend! I love that video. Finns are like the Japanese of Europe: slightly bonkers, and everyone loves them for it

        3. It’s very difficult to speak a foreign language.

          He has to translate a quick complex question, and then come up with an answer in english that makes sense.

          Its not easy so thats why the answers are so short, Imagine answing questions in Finnish on live tv.

          1. This is so true and it often gets underestimated. When you spend a lot of time listening to non-native English speakers and transcribing what they say, in interviews like this, you really appreciate it.

            That and trying to learn a foreign language yourself, which I find very difficult.

      1. F1silverarrow
        20th January 2011, 19:50

        Pst Damon, vettel and Lewis pitted at the same time for inter’s on lap 66 at Brazil 08 before he overtook him on lap 69.

        Just incase you didn’t read the response.

        “dusts hands” case closed jack…

    2. Ubaid this really made me stitch over..LOL –get yourself a good GP book of drivers.LOL:))))

  3. Fantastic interview, really interesting to hear more about why he retired.

    I hope you get to see some of that Johnnie Walker too, you’ve earned it!

    1. Responsibly, of course.

      1. I think I might buy some Johnnie Walker when I go shopping later. So I can drink it, responsibly.

        Great interview Keith!

  4. Great interview. Congrats!

    Adelaide in ’95 is one of those memories etched in my mind. I was only young then but watching the medical activity around Mika’s car and the nervous hush of the commentators really scared the s**t out of me!

    From that point, he was my favourite driver. I didn’t even register Schuey’s achievements as I was only ever watching for Mika!

    I heard he was recuperating in a bed & breakfast nearby for some time before he was well enough to fly out again. For the next few years I kept a lookout down every street to see if I could see him. :)

    1. I don’t want to try to step on ice and see if it’s strong enough any more, because I know what it feels like when you fall through.

      I thought that was a really nice way of phrasing it.

  5. Awesome interview. Great champion, great personality. i miss his humour in the post race interviews.

    Well done Keith.

    1. Agreed. Cheers Keith, really good interview, much more interesting than the media trained drivers of today!

  6. Great interview with a great guy.

  7. I found his comment about standing on ice very touching:

    I don’t want to try to step on ice and see if it’s strong enough any more, because I know what it feels like when you fall through.

    It’s completely understandable – I suppose only those drivers who have come so close to the end can comment on whether or not it’s worth it anymore.

    A great interview Keith, thanks.

    1. To me it makes the achievement of going on to win multiple WDC even bigger, a bit like the drivers seeing guys dying but still going on to reach that goal.

      He seems like a genuinly likeable guy with great sense of humour.

      1. Absolutely! I think his acheivement is very underated – the guy, in my mind, is a legend.

        On the subject of his sense of humour I remember the Press Conference at the end of the 2000 Championship, the interviewer asked him along the lines of “How do you feel to have lost out on the title?” – his response, utterly sarcastic was “Soooo sad”… excellent – look it up! :-)

  8. Very good interview! Seems like a great guy and well done on landing the interview Keith.

  9. That 98 Mclaren is lovely isnt it. Nice to hear from Mikka, gonna go and check the advert out now :)

    1. An excellent car, I agree – I remember the DC and Mika ripping up the field in Oz ’98! Although… DC should’ve won after Mika’s error!

      The advert is brilliant! Enjoy!

  10. Fantastic interview! Thanks Mika and congratulations Keith.

  11. McLarenFanJamm
    20th January 2011, 13:40

    What an enthralling interview, Mika was my original hero in F1 and he seems to have gotten better with age.

    I’ve just rewatched footage of his Adelaide crash on youtube and it is incredible to see just how violently he was thrown around in the cockpit of the car. He is very lucky that the Medical staff at the circuit were so well trained and there so quickly that they could perform the emergency tracheotomy at the trackside.

    I genuinely believe he was equal to Schumacher in terms of ability.

  12. Great interview; someone actually asking Mika proper questions for a change, unlike those journalists in his infamous press conferences. Interesting stuff

  13. Awesome work. I want to ask the Fanatic here a question as Mika said that

    ” The time when you are in Formula 1, your life is so incredibly attached to the sport. Formula 1 takes from your life 24 hours a day. ”

    I do agree with him may be I am talking this because that I am a F1 fan & it means a lot to me in my life.Do you people have the same feeling what I am having?

    1. Just forgot to add that, that move on Schumacher in 2000 Spa was the second best in my life next to Barrichello on Schumacher in Hungary in 2010.

  14. Great, Keith.
    Mika was a great driver and still seems to be a great person. I imagine you also enjoyed yourself speaking to him.

    1. Absolutely, he was in a very good mood, he seemed really energised.

      1. Good stuff!

        If you need a companion for your next WDC interview… ;)

  15. Lovely interview. Way to go Mika :D!

  16. Great interview with my favourite ex-F1 driver. A true F1 legend.

  17. Man Mika’s interview skills have grown over the years! Remember the days when an interviewer would ask him a long winded and complicated question and Mika would just respond: “Yes”.

    What a guy…

  18. One of my all time favorite people on and off the track, thumbs up Mika :) And yeah, he actually had sentences with more than one word :) It was usually only “yes”. :)

  19. let’s not forget he is besides lauda the only one i know to become world champion after having a huge shunt. Most drivers are never the same again.
    If you know another case please let us know.

    1. MSC…big shunt in 99 (broken leg) and WDC in 2000.

      1. But that wasn’t life-threatening like Lauda and Mika’s crashes, was it?

    2. Does Webber’s spanish somersault count?

  20. Great interview. I’ve always loved Hakkinen.

  21. Great interview Keith, really enjoyed reading it :) Mika was my favourite when I was little, still love him, so it’s really great to hear him reflect on the past and talk about what he’s up to now.

  22. Great interview, thanks.

    Interesting to read that he “had” to quit a few years earlier than others. Seems to be a pattern with Finnish champions, they quit while they’re still on top.

  23. I think interviews are the part I prefer here on this website : they are so different than the other interviews where a driver can speak worthless things. I don’t know how you are doing, but the interviews here deliver really what a fan wants to know, and it really catches the feeling of a grand prix driver!

    I am looking forward to read more interviews here!

    1. That’s great to hear, thanks very much!

      I would say, though, don’t compare this to the kind of interview you see with current drivers after test or race sessions. Those are more like press conferences, where lots of different people are asking questions. This is two people talking one-on-one, it’s much easier to have a conversation, get a feel for the other person’s mood, and ask suitable questions.

      1. That is certainly true – he isn’t really under contract with anyone in that way anymore. It is a bit sad – it would be very interesting to hear any of the current drivers be so open.

        Thinking about it, I guess Schumacher is, in his own way, now a quite open too – he has proven his worth, and sure wants to prove he can still do it, but it is different than it was before. Maybe that is why he appears a lot more open and approachable now.

        Great interview Keith – Mika is a great guy, and it looks like your questions allowed him to show it, and give meaningful information to F1 fans.

        1. Did you see MSC on Top Gear the other year?

          He really endeared himself to me in that interview, so much so that I now rate him as one of my favoured drivers after never liking him during his Benetton/Ferrari years…

  24. Thank you Keith! You should feel pretty pleased with yourself because this is a fantastic interview and that’s something Hakkinen isn’t famous for giving :P

  25. paul sainsbury
    20th January 2011, 16:14

    Great interview, thanks Keith.

    I remember once Martin Brundle saying he thought Mika was the quickest driver of all over a flying-lap. I used to love those qualifying sessions when he would steal pole at the end, much like Senna used to.

  26. The way he communicates his emotion is always interesting. I wish all drivers gave interviews this insightful.

  27. Mika you are the best driver in the history of Formula One! We miss you and we love you!

  28. Brilliant interview. Great flow, great questions.

    For me, Hakkinen was one of the great drivers of my early fanhood, and also one of the most reserved and mysterious. So it is especially amazing to see him open up like this, especially his comments about one of more incredible stories of his era—his accident and recovery into a champion.

    It reminds me how we now get to ignore the grave danger from head injuries, of death or incapacity, in the sport except in rare occasions, which the drivers no doubt never forget. It also seems suggested that the effect was long-term and physiological as well as purely “mental,” a fact proven now in many other sports.

    I’ll note you didnt ask him about his 99 Monza emotional breakdown. But the interview here probably did more than enough to put that moment in context.

  29. Great interview Keith, thanks for your love to the sport

    We really appreciate your hard work

  30. Fantastic interview. Mika is a really great guy. He seemed to open up to you really well.

    Well done Keith.

  31. Fantastic interview! Mika is my all time favorite driver, so this is very nice to see! BTW it would have been funny if you asked him who he would vote for CofC :P

    Thanks for this interview

  32. One just has to love Mika :)

  33. I guess J Walker is owned by V Mallya? Small world..

    1. If it was I think their logos would be on the Force Indias instead of the McLarens! Johnnie Walker is owned by Diageo (whose logos were in their place at Abu Dhabi because of the restrictions on alcohol advertising there).

  34. Oh and Keith either I’m paranoid or certain comments have been pruned or lost? I guess there’s legal action around the issue but I’d hate to think you’re cleaning comments to protect your access rather than because some legal missive arrived.

    Or maybe I just forgot which story I posted the comment on :)

    1. Oh and Keith either I’m paranoid or certain comments have been pruned or lost?

      Not in this thread, no. I’ve certainly not had any “legal missives” recently!

  35. Nice one Keith I thoroughly enjoyed that. My favourite line;

    “I don’t want to try to step on ice and see if it’s strong enough any more, because I know what it feels like when you fall through.”

    If he’s a man of few words then his words are damn good.

  36. The interview questions and Mika’s answers have a classic feel to it. You get a feeling he is talking about. Though Mika is hardly one who you can describe as being emotional, but his words exhibit a twinge of emotion and nostalgia.

  37. Fascinating stuff about how a great car feels (while still in the pit lane!) – compare with Jenson Button’s reaction to his first go in the Brawn.

    And the quote about his comeback after the accident – “I had to use much more effort…” echoes what Stirling Moss says about his attempted return to racing. Speaks volumes about Mika that he did come back and win two titles. Does make me wonder about Massa too though.

  38. Mika & Schumi – two great rivals and good friends

  39. Wow what a great interview, Mika will always be my all time favorite, as talented & fast as Schumi, electrifying to watch AND a nice guy.

    Also, is it just me or is the MP4-13 one of the best looking cars ever!

  40. Thank you so much for this wonderful interview! Mika has always been my favorite, and it’s great to hear from him again. And your question really must have inspired him, judging by some of his unusually long answers :) Thanks again, really reading loved this!

  41. great interview Keith! enjoyed it a lot.

  42. Thanks Keith, great questions and great insightful answers from Mika. I particularly enjoyed:

    When you have the chance to win the world championship that’s the only chance you get. It’s maybe never going to happen again in your life if you miss it once. You have to do everything you can to win it that year when you have the chance.

    Read like that comment could have been directed squarely at Mark Webber. Or Felipe when he lost to Lewis.

  43. Mika Hakkinen you are a legend and in my opinion, still the best driver of the modern era

  44. Thanks Keith. I could read many more questions with him!

  45. @ f1 siver arrow. Hamilton and vettel pitted at the same time this year before Hamilton overtook him , like you said. Case closed

  46. Raikkonen_Biggest_Fan (@)
    25th January 2011, 23:41

    I miss people like this in f1 i so miss 3 characters 1st-kimi raikkonen and than montoya and mika,what a guys!

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