Mika Hakkinen is a former Formula 1 driver and one of the most popular and most successful racing drivers of his time. He won Formula One championship titles two times, in 1998 and 1999, driving for McLaren-Mercedes. He collected 20 F1 victories and 51 podiums in 161 starts between 1991 and 2001.
Start of the career was in karting
He was born September 28, 1968, in the town of Vantaa in Finland. As many drivers, 'The Flying Finn’ was involved in racing as a kid. He started to compete in karting, winning many regional and national competitions, but also was interested in ice hockey.
His driving talent was spotted and he quickly moved up through the ranks, making a debut in Formula One in 1991. He was described as an oversteering driver, and an interesting fact is that during his karting career, Mika developed the skill of using the brake pedal with his left foot and felt uncomfortable when he had to use the right foot.
Crashed right at the start
Mika’s parents rented a go-kart for him when he was five, and Mika’s first experience on the track wasn’t so good as he had an accident, but luckily escaped unhurt. He wasn’t afraid after the crash and continued racing. When he was seven years old, Hakkinen won his first karting race and continued to win more regional competitions throughout the years. Interesting fact from his childhood is that he drove the Volkswagen Beetle at frozen lakes in the neighborhood, but he wasn’t interested in becoming a rally driver, like many of his compatriots were.
In 1984, 1985 and 1986 the Finn won the 100cc Formula Nordic title, while in the Nordic Championship A-class he finished as a runner-up in 1985. Finally, he left karting in 1987 to enter Formula Ford Championships in the Scandinavian countries. He bought the Reynard Formula Ford 1600 from JJ Lehto, another well-known name in the world of racing, and success was imminent. In his first attempt, Hakkinen won the titles in the Finnish, Swedish and Nordic Formula Ford Championships, combining nine race victories.
Good results in British Formula 3
In the following season, Mika Hakkinen entered EFDA Formula GM Lotus Euroseries in which he was runner-up after scoring four wins, but in the Opel-Lotus Euroseries, he was crowned as the champion after superb driving. He was so dominant that his closest rival was 126 points behind at the end of the season. The year of 1989 wasn’t so good for ’The Flying Finn’. He made a debut in British Formula 3 Championship with Dragon team but scored only 18 points.
In 1990, the Finn proved he was good enough to enter Formula 1. He passed the ’Marlboro World Championship Team’ drivers academy which were the first step to entering the world’s most popular racing series. In the meantime, he became the British Formula 3 title winner as a driver of West Surrey Racing team, winning 10 of 17 races, leaving his compatriot Mika Salo well behind with a margin of 121 points.
A detour to the Formula 1
It looked like Mika would make a debut in Formula 1 with Benetton team in 1991, after being faster in tests than their regular driver Alessandro Nannini, but the Finn decided to accept the call from Lotus. His first Grand Prix was in the United States but had to retire due to engine failure. In the following race in Brazil, he scored first and only points in his rookie year, finishing ninth.
The following year with Lotus was slightly better for Hakkinen as he scored 11 points. During the season, later in 1992, he negotiated with Williams team to join them for the 1993 campaign, but that move collapsed after disputes between the teams. After somewhat confusing approaches and negotiations, he was allowed to join McLaren with which he spent eight years and won two championship titles.
Move to McLaren team and the horrible crash in 1995
However, the first year with McLaren didn’t go as it was expected. Hakkinen was downgraded to the position of a test pilot after the team had decided to bring in Michael Andretti. But, when the American left Formula 1 after Italian Grand Prix, Mika got his chance and scored his first podium finish in Japan where he was third. In 1994, Hakkinen was partnered with the experienced Martin Brundle. Despite ups and downs and suspensions due to racing accidents, he was established as a prominent driver that year, finishing fourth overall, with six podium finishes that year and with a second place in Belgium as a season highlight.
Video - Tribute to McLaren driver Mika Häkkinen
McLaren’s car in 1995 was far from perfect. Mika’s new team-mate Nigel Mansell complained the car was not wide enough to fit in. Results weren’t impressive and Hakkinen scored only 17 points to finish seventh overall. But, the year of 1995 will be remembered after a horrible accident that he had at the last round of the championship in Adelaide. During qualifying, his car went airborne after a tyre puncture. The Finn suffered a skull fracture, internal bleeding and a blockage of his airway. He was transported to the hospital in critical condition and luckily made it through.
Maiden F1 Grand Prix victory
Beating the critical situation made Hakkinen stronger. In 1996, he got a new role as he became one of McLaren’s drivers with more experience as his new partner became the British hot prospect, David Coulthard. The season started well for Mika who scored points on a regular basis, but still failed to win a race. With the new car, modified McLaren MP4/11B, Mika Hakkinen clinched his first podium finish of the season at British Grand Prix. After announcing his stay with McLaren for the following season, Hakkinen seemed to be relaxed and scored three consecutive third places to finish the season in fifth place in the Drivers’ championship. Finally, in 1997, the Finn won his first race with McLaren – European Grand Prix at Jerez. That year he also won his first pole position in the F1 career and had one fastest lap. All that, including three podium finishes, wasn’t enough to finish better than sixth at the end of the season.
1998 and 1999: Mika wins two titles in-a-row
Hakkinen and Coulthard again were the team-mates in 1998. The Finn was resolute to get into the title challenging battle. The start of the season was a bit controversial as Coulthard let his team-mate past to win the race in Australia. That was followed by a victory in Brazil and second place in Argentina, so, Hakkinen was rightly considered as the main title contender. Until the end of the year, Mika secured six more wins and two podium finishes, taking his first World champion title scoring 100 points, leaving Michael Schumacher in second place, 14 points behind.
"I've gained confidence and experience and am more relaxed. With this title I no longer have to tell myself every morning I can win, put pressure on myself," said The Flying Finn before the start of the new season. McLaren had a difficult 1999 pre-season and that was partly reflected on the results in the opening rounds of the season. Anyway, Hakkinen’s confidence and experience helped him to defend a title. He failed to finish two of three races at the start of the campaign, but then finished third in Monaco and won races in Spain and Canada, adding a second place in France. At mid-season, Hakkinen was ahead of his main rival Eddie Irvine, but the Briton looked better in the second season, so before the last round of the season in Japan, Irvine was four points in front of the Finn. But, Hakkinen won the race starting from second, while Irvine finished third what was enough to bring second and last Formula 1 World title to the Flying Finn.
Retirement from Formula 1
Hakkinen was close to winning his third title in-a-row in 2000 as he was leading for the most of the season, but Michael Schumacher had a perfect finish that year. The German in Ferrari won the last four races of the campaign and left Mika empty-handed. The season of 2001 was Hakkinen’s last in Formula 1. The start wasn’t good as he again had a crash in Australia, but this time, things weren’t so horrible like six years earlier. Before the Italian Grand Prix, two-time title winner announced that he would be taking a sabbatical, citing the reason of spending more time with his family. He finished that season in the fifth position, clinching two race wins.
Three seasons in DTM
After announcing his retirement from Formula 1 in 2002, Hakkinen worked as a television commentator, but also competed in the Finnish Rally Championship, driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. In 2005, Hakkinen entered DTM, joining Mercedes HWA team and spent three years in the German touring cars series. Despite being very ambitious and probably too optimistic, the results weren’t as good as he wanted. In three years, he won three races in total, with a fifth place as the best season finish in 2005. In 2007, Mika Hakkinen announced his retirement from motorsport but sporadically appeared in a couple of various races.
Nowadays, Mika Hakkinen works in driver management and is a brand ambassador for various companies. He lives in Monaco and has five children – two with former wife Erja Honkanen and three with his girlfriend Marketa Remesova.