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The Five Best Drives of Mika Hakkinen

1996 Japanese GP

Hakkinen suffered a near-fatal injury in the 1995 season finale. Despite his grave injuries he made a full recovery in 1996 and competed from the first race on. Hakkinen largely had the better of his new teammate David Coulthard and easily outperformed him during the qualifying sessions and the races.

The best performance of Hakkinen came at the season-ending Japanese GP. The Finn qualified fifth for the Japanese GP in an outstanding qualifying performance that saw him beat his teammate by over 8 tenths of a second.

Hakkinen had a decent start and moved up to fourth thanks to Villeneuve’s bad start. He moved up to third when Berger had to make a pit stop to replace his front wing. Hill was able to gap Schumacher who was running second, but Hakkinen was keeping the German under pressure. A rather surprising duel, seeing that Schumacher and Ferrari were quicker than Hakkinen in his McLaren all season long. Despite this, the Japanese GP was different. Hakkinen remained on the tail of Schumacher all race long. Ultimately he failed to pass his rival but ended the season with a sensational third place.

Quiz

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Mika Hakkinen ended his F1 career with two world titles.
    • True
    • False

Answer Key

  1. True

1997 Luxemburg GP

Hakkinen had a rather poor first half of 1997 when apart from the Brazilian GP, his teammate Coulthard had the measure of the Finn.

Things turned around in the British GP, and from this moment on, it was Hakkinen who generally was the faster of the two. He was unlucky to retire from the first place from both the British and the Austrian GP. He also lost third place in the Belgian GP when he was disqualified.

As the season progressed, the McLarens gained form and looked quicker and quicker. Coulthard won the Italian GP fair and square, while Hakkinen nearly took pole in the Austrian GP, and was leading when he was forced to retire after a car failure.

Hakkinen went one better on the grid at the Luxemburg GP when he edged Villeneuve in qualifying. Hakkinen had a decent start and maintained his first position, while Villeneuve was passed by the fast-starting David Coulthard.

After lap 1 the top 3 were Hakkinen, Coulthard and Villeneuve. Hakkinen was much faster than his rivals and easily pulled a 10+ second lead by the time of the first pit stops. After the drivers completed the first of the two scheduled pit stops, Hakkinen was leading with a comfortable margin from Coulthard and Villeueve. The Finn looked safe to cruise to his first win when disaster struck the McLaren team. Coulthard dropped out on lap 42 with an engine failure, and Hakkinen followed his teammate into retirement in the next lap.

It was rotten luck for the Finn, who did everything right all weekend through to win his first race.

Quiz

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Hakkinen joined McLaren in 1993.
    • False
    • True

Answer Key

  1. True

2000 Hungarian GP

McLaren had a couple of reliability problems at the beginning of the 2000 season, which saw them drop a long way behind Michael Schumacher in the standings.

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As generally happens in F1, as the season progressed things evened out, and a few technical problems and unfortunate incidents saw Schumacher’s lead evaporate. By the time the teams arrived in Hungary, Hakkinen was within striking distance to overtake the German in the driver’s standings.

Schumacher took pole position with a superb lap. He was followed on the grid by Coulthard and Hakkinen. Hakkinen looked a bit lost over the weekend, and his teammate seemed like a safer bet to challenge Schumacher.

It did not turn out like that at all. Hakkinen had a rocket start and went from third to first in an instant. By the end of lap 1, the Finn was leading Schumacher and his teammate Coulthard. After a couple of laps, Hakkinen started to pull away very quickly from his rivals. Such was his pace that the commentators theorized that he may be a lot lighter than his rivals. In fact, it was the exact opposite, Hakkinen was actually the heaviest of the leading three. As the strategies became clearer, it was obvious that the race was very much in Hakkinen’s favour, who during the second half of the race was content with only managing the gap to his rivals and cruising to a stunning victory.

Quiz

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Hakkinen made his F1 debut in 1991.
    • True
    • False

Answer Key

  1. True

1999 Austrian GP

Hakkinen was blisteringly fast in qualifying during the 1999 season and was racking up pole position after pole position. With Michael Schumacher out with broken legs, it seemed only a formality for Hakkinen to cruise to a comfortable second world championship title.

The Finn took pole position from his teammate at the Austrian GP and looked set to take an easy win on Sunday. He had a decent start and led away from the field, but an overoptimistic lunge from Coulthard caused a collision between the two which sent Hakkinen into a spin, and back to last place.

Still, the whole race was there to make up the lost ground and recover to some kind of point-scoring position. Overtaking was always very difficult in F1, and 1999 was no different. The A1 Ring was one of the easier tracks to overtake, and Hakkinen pulled off some stunning late-breaking moves to carve his way to the field from 22nd to 3rd. It was an incredible recovery drive from the Finn, which rightly earned him many plaudits. It was also clear that unlike his teammate, who was edged for the victory by Eddie Irvine, Hakkinen was getting the best out of the car, as he was the fastest man on the track by a country mile.

1999 Japanese GP

Despite being the fastest man of 1999 by a long way, bad luck with accidents and unreliability and some unforced errors at the two Italian GPs left Hakkinen in the trail of Ferrari man Eddie Irvine when the two arrived in Japan for the season finale.

Still, as Hakkinen was lightning fast around Suzuka and generally had the better of Irvine throughout the season, many considered him to be the favourite. Some Ferrari fans were banking on the returning Michael Schumacher playing the rearguard role like in the Malaysian GP for Irvine to win the title.

Schumacher took a superb pole position from Hakkinen, whose last attempt in the qualifying session was hindered by an accident. Hakkinen’s title rival Irvine only managed fifth place.

At the start, Hakkinen had a mega start and easily passed Schumacher. The Finn was slightly lighter than his German rival in the first stint and pulled a big lead over him, and the two of them left the rest of the field in the dust.

After the first round of pitstops, Schumacher started to close back on the Finn when David Coulthard damaged his car and decided to hold up Schumacher, who was trying to lap him. Coulthard broke the momentum of Schumacher, and from this moment on, the slight danger Schumacher posed to Hakkinen seized to exist, leaving Hakkinen to score a crucial win which clinched him the 1999 world championship title.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2022 Andrew Szekler

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