One On One With Mikka Hakkinen

Hailed as one of F1’s fastest drivers, Mika Häkkinen is truly amongst the most successful drivers in F1 history with 2 Championship titles and 20 Grand Prix Wins. He is also featured in the F1 top 10 all-time lists for pole positions and fastest laps. Such is his legacy, that even F1 racing legend Michael Schumacher considered him one of the toughest rival in his career as he was the very few to have beaten Schumacher in a straight fight. So obviously, during his short visit here in Nepal, there was no way we would miss the chance to interview a racing champion of Mika’s calibre. Thanks to the good folks at Johnnie Walker and the energetic local event management team of V-Chitra, we had the chance to extensively question him on possibly everything that crossed our mind, from his F1 racing career to his current involvement with Johnnie Walker. Here’s how our chat with the back-to-back F1 Champion went…

 

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AL: So how did you first get into racing?

MH: I started at a very young age go-karting, when my parents hired a go-kart for me at a nearby track. Even though I crashed on my first lap, I wanted to keep going. I found it so exciting and eventually persuaded my parents to buy me my own!

 

AL: Is there any specific event in racing that you clearly remember as the best time you ever got behind the wheels?

MH: Winning the season finale race at Suzuka during the 1998 Japanese Gran Prix to claim my first ever F1 World Driver’s Championship title is something that I can never forget.

 

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AL: Your unfortunate crash at Adelaide in the 1995 Australian Gran Prix qualifying was a life-threatening mishap. Did that incident ever make you re-think about your commitment to racing?

MH: Yes, but it was a mistake. I later learned from it and came back more aware of what it takes to stay in control.

 

AL: Beating all odds, you made a remarkable comeback to professional racing and went on to become consecutive F1 World Champion in 1998 and 1999. So how does it really feel to be a back-to-back champion and very few to have accomplished that?

MH: It felt amazing. It was a dream come true. It is what every race driver wants to achieve and to do it twice in a row was especially great.

 

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AL: How often have you gone terribly wrong while racing? Something that still makes you regret?

MH: Not really a regret, but at times during my racing career, I had made 3 pit-stops in a race when Michael Schumacher only made 2! It meant I had to push the car harder and faster, to its limit, and that caused me to be out of control at times.

 

AL: You are a two-time F1 world champion and undoubtedly one of the greatest drivers the sport has ever produced. But is there actually something else, unknown to most of us, which you can pull off better?

MH: No, driving is my sole passion. It is what I have always been best at.

 

AL: Finland has had 3 F1 World Champions, 7 WRC Champions and 2 Dakar Rally Champions, amongst other achievements. So what is it really about Finland and its ability to churn out excellent drivers?

MH: The weather conditions in Finland vary a great deal. There is lots of snow, ice and rain. So it creates a tough environment to drive in, making us all very competitive and wanting to win.

 

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AL: You have now retired from competitive motorsports. But can we soon expect to see you back in motorsports racing in any other possible role?

MH: Though I retired a long time ago, I am still very interested in the sport and the management of young drivers, along with promoting responsible drinking with Johnnie Walker.

 

AL: F1 has vastly changed over the years with improvised safety regulations, stricter calculated rules and various technical innovations. But many lament that, in this process of transformation, F1 has lost the true essence and sublime thrill of hardcore racing as in its yesteryears. So what’s your personal take on this? F1 now or back in the days?

MH: Back in the days; the racing was purer and it was more about the driver’s handling of the car.

 

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AL: The upcoming 2014 F1 season is looking unpredictable with a major engine overhaul in the form of V6 turbocharged engines. Which of these three engine manufacturers from Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault are you looking forward to come out on top this season?

MH: Mercedes

 

AL: What first comes to your mind when each of these names come up? Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel.

MH: Ayrton Senna: Race. Speed.

Michael Schumacher: Never gives up.

Sebastian Vettel: Young and enthusiastic.

 

AL: You sure must miss the good old adrenaline filled days. But how do you manage to kill time now living away from the fast lane?

MH: I now spend time with my family, enjoying watching my kids grow up. And being the Global Responsible Drinking Ambassador for Johnnie Walker, I do get busy encouraging people to drink responsibly.

 

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AL: What made you join hands with Johnnie Walker to spread global awareness regarding the dangers of drinking and driving? Any specific personal reasons?

MH: I wanted to use my profile in the sport to encourage drivers to stay in control. As a former professional racing driver, I know the dangers of getting behind the wheel. So I do not want people to put themselves and others at risk by driving under the influence.

 

AL: What do you think of Johnnie Walkers global initiative to encourage responsible drinking?

MH: This is an ongoing initiative by Johnnie Walker that we will continue to push. If the campaign can keep saving lives, it has to be worth it. It’s great we are pushing globally for one million further commitments and that Johnnie Walker is rewarding consumers across the globe with free rides home.

 

AL: How would you personally evaluate your progress as the ‘Global Responsible Drinking Ambassador’ for Johnnie Walker?

MH: The campaign has been amazing till date. I’ve been lucky enough to visit over 30 countries to spread the message. I have been able to meet so many different people and understand the challenges that cities face with drink driving. I am glad that we have been able to make a positive impact since the last 7 years.

 

AL: From the world’s fastest racing circuits to the land of the highest mountains. So how does it feel to arrive in Nepal to promote this social cause?

MH: It’s my first time here and Nepal is a beautiful country with fantastic mountains. The people here are so welcoming and I would definitely love to come back and maybe visit the Himalayas.

 

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AL: Finally, what does it really take to make it big in the world of motorsports? Your valuable advice for enthusiasts here in Nepal who would want to nurture the dream of making it big in motorsports.

MH: You need to start at a young age. It takes time and investment and it helps to have a good family to support you. But most of all you need to be totally single minded and dedicated to achieving your goals. With a thinking like that anything is possible.

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