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Mika Hakkinen – Schumacher's Rival in the Making
Well, Schumacher had many rivals, and Mika was not one of his firsts. His title competitors included Hill, Senna (in 1994. Remember?), Villeneuve, Alonso, and many others. Mika was a mute competitor who competed with Schumacher quite late in his career.
A bit of background shows that Schumacher started Formula 1 racing a couple of years before Mika, while he was also a double-world champion way before Mika won his first race. So, it was unlikely that Schumacher would see him as a competitor. But come 1998, the equation between Schumacher and Mika, who was just another racer until then, was set to change.
Mika won his first race in 1997 at Jerez, where Villeneuve allowed Mika and David Coulthard to pass him. Incidentally, this was also the race where Schumacher had intentionally hit Villeneuve and was later stripped-off his championship for the entire 1997 season.
Take a look at the video here:
Collision with Michael had damaged Villeneuve's car, and hence the car wasn't 100%. Besides, he just had to finish the race to get the title, and the last thing on his mind would have been to battle Mika. That is how Mika got his first win.
But then Mika transformed after that victory. A different Mika and McLaren came back in 1998.
The 1998 Season – Mika's Battle with Schumacher
Those that would have dismissed Mika's win in the last race of 1997 as a one-off victory were in for a rude shock in 1998. Mika and McLaren were a transformed team. The McLaren qualified one-two with Mika on the pole. That was the first instance of the arrival of a new challenger to Michael Schumacher. If there were any doubts left at all about Mika, they got cleared by the end of the race. Mika won a dominant race.
Suggestion: The video is in German and those readers unfamiliar with the language, please mute it and enjoy the video highlights. Schumacher had a blown engine in this race, and his challenge was muted quite early.
The rest of the season remained almost the same with Schumacher and Mika fighting it tooth-and-nail. Twice Schumacher came back from a massive points deficit with Mika to making it equals in the last but two races. The challenge was on. Take a look at the quick video of the 1998 season.
Of course, now we know that the last two races did not go Schumacher's way and Mika eventually won the 1998 world driver's championship.
The 1999 season was no different with the fight continuing until Schumacher had an accident and had to retire. Schumacher did come back to help Eddie Irvine in the other Ferrari to win his first championship against Mika. That did not happen, and Mika won the 1999 season as well.
But the 1999 season revealed things to come. Ferrari won the constructors championship after nearly two decades despite McLaren taking the driver's championship. Ferrari showed signs of being uber-competitive after a long time.
Ferrari's performance was a slight notch above the McLarens in 2000. That difference in performance notwithstanding, the battle continued. The 2000 season witnessed the best overtake that the world had ever seen.
Suggestion: The video is in a language other than English. Do have fun watching the pass.
The battle was quite intense and not something which was seen since the Senna-Prost rivalry. So, it was worth every penny for the fans and Formula 1.
That's Great but Where and Why was the Respect?
Let's admit one thing, Michael was a trier and doer, and many times the trying went past the assumed envelope. Going past the boundary was fine, but once-in-a-while it also went past the accepted norms of fair play. There were many instances of such transgressions from Michael with Jerez, 1997, taking the cake. What this did was give enough ammunition to many drivers and outsiders to talk and attack Michael. Now, that's something any human would hate. So, did Michael, I presume.
But this is where Mika was different. He too had nail-biting battles with Schumacher, but he never took to the media to express his displeasure about Michael's race behaviour. That was a definite point which must have ensured Michael's respect for Mika. All that happened at the track stayed at the track. Michael's personal life was spared when outside.
Here's Mika with his views about the rivalry with Michael.
We've got to admit that that would be the most civil and sane interpretation of the competition. Mika also gives credit to Schumacher for his behind the scenes work to improve driver safety since Ayrton Senna's accident. That is one part which the F1 fans wouldn't know but drivers like Mika know because they witnessed the proceedings.
So, the world hasn't taken into account this work of Schumacher while judging him as a driver. These are aspects which only the ones in F1 would know, and thanks to Mika, now others know it too.
So, we know Mika's views but what about Schumacher's? Here it is from the horse's mouth – Schumacher talking about his greatest rival. Go to 0:30 to hear Michael speak about Mika.
If we look at Schumacher's title rivals, it is evident that only Mika and probably Senna who never talked negatively about Schumacher in the media. In the case of Senna, though, Schumacher was a rookie, so it was hardly expected of Senna to express his views about a rookie. Barring these two, every single competitor of Michael had taken his ruthless driving habits outside the track to discuss with the media.
Maybe, Mika's personality to deal with a person like Schumacher would have made this contest fun for everyone, including the fans. After all, Mika was the ice-cool, flying Finn!
The rivalry between Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen continued until 2001 at which point Mika decided to retire from the sport. A great rivalry was lost, but that was not the end of it. Nobody would have guessed that Schumacher would one day work with the team that once powered his rival, Mika's car.
Yes, Schumacher joined Mercedes coming out of retirement and worked closely with Mika too. Here's a lighter version of their association – A Mercedes advertisement.
Well, a great association and most of all, an awesome rivalry!
© 2019 S K