Mika Hakkinen

Born Sep 28, 1968
Nationality Finland Finland
Nickname Ice Man

Not one to talk too much, Hakkinen always let his driving do the talking for itself. The Flying Finn was rather laid-back in his personal life although once on the tracks, he was always flat out and at the front. He was well liked by almost everyone on the Formula One circuit and his success was truly deserved as he won points in over half the races he participated in. In their 11 years of intense and total rivalry, only Michael Schumacher managed to get more than Hakkinen and also gave Hakkinen the honour of being the most respected driver on his books.

Hakkinen was five when his parents hired a go-kart to try out at a track near their home. Mika crashed in his very first lap and his first memory of racing was the look of utter fear on his father’s face. Although he himself didn’t suffer any injury, the car was slightly damaged. Not born to well-to-do parents, Mika kept pestering them to buy him a Kart of his own and soon they gave in to his demands. Soon, Mika was getting good at it and was beginning to participate in local races. Mika always preferred physical learning more to bookish knowledge and even joined acrobat training in a circus school. He enrolled into a metal working course after elementary school but abandoned it to follow his true calling. By 1986, Mika was already a five-time Karting champion and the protege of the true Flying Finn, Keke Rosberg. Their first meeting in a sauna was converted into a manager-client relationship with Rosberg arranging sponsorship that took Mika through the junior categories of racing at flying speed.

With three Scandinavian Formula Ford Championships under his belt, an Opel Lotus Euroseries Championship and the 1990 British Formula Three title, the next obvious step for the finn was Formula One. Team Lotus promoted him and although they were themselves going down, Hakkinen was gaining prominence and soon was in great demand. McLaren took him in in 1993 to serve as an understudy to Ayrton Senna and Michael Andretti. Andretti left Formula One with three arces left in the 1993 season and that gave Mika the chance to partner the great Brazilian maestro. On his debut, Hakkinen out-qualified the three-time world champion. Senna made his fateful move to Williams in 1994 and an imperfect and young Mika Hakkinen would make McLaren his home. He was found guilty of causing a 10-car pileup on the first lap at Hockenheim and was banned for a race.

Hakkinen was to suffer the worst accident of his life and although it was due to no fault of his own, he nearly died as a result. Mika was having a wonderful 1995 season and with seven podium finishes, was flying high. Unfortunately, his season took a disastrous turn in Adelaide where during a practice session, some debris punctured his tyre and pitched him dangerously into the wall with incredible force. Mika was critically injured and was bleeding from his mouth while his face was turning blue due to lack of oxygen. An emergency tracheotomy, where an incision is made into the throat and a tube is inserted to enable breathing, was carried out by the FIA medical professor, Dr. Sid Watkins. His girlfriend, Erja, helped nurse him through the trying period and Mika was back in his Monaco apartment, coming back to fitness.

Hakkinen was unsure whether the fear of the crash would allow him to race again but he had a direct philosophy to face his fears and in 1996, arranged for a private test with McLaren. Mika was back in the car and as fast as he ever was. The Finn was back!

Hakkinen won the last race of the 1997 season at Jerez after David Coulthard stepped aside and let him go through to the chequered flag. In 1998, a pre-signed agreement with Coulthard stated that Hakkinen would take the chequered flag first if there was a direct contention between the two team mates and true to his word, DC was loyal and let Mika go through for the season opening win at Melbourne in 1998. Even Michael Schumacher in the ever-improving Ferrari tried his level best to stop the Finn but with 8 wins in 16 races, Hakkinen had done enough to become the 1998 World Formula One Drivers’ Champion.

In 1999, Hakkinen had the unenviable task of defending his title against a resurgent Michael Schumacher but a broken leg ruled Schumi out of the title race and Hakkinen just had to fend off Schumi’s Ferrari team mate Eddie Irvine. The season was, as usual, a runaway win except for one rare instant at Monza where he selected the wrong gear and spun the car out of the track. The otherwise calm and composed man got out of his car, jumped the fence, knelt down and wept in a rare display of emotion.

Mika kept on winning and won four times in 2000 and twice the next year but it was getting on to be time for retirement and once he became a father, he grew more cautious in the constant effort of maintaining the high speeds and at the end of 2001, his 9th season with McLaren, Mika announced that he would be taking a break from Formula One to be with his family. The most likeable man in Formula One who always drove flat out, was sorely missed on the circuits.

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