The Flying Man :Mika Hakkinen

Very few racers in the world have managed to battle life threatening injuries in racing and return to the circuit to claim back-to-back world championship titles. It takes a lot of dedication and courage to take reign over the haunting experience of a fatal crash. Never the one to have preferred to be in the limelight managing the global media, Mika Häkkinen is one such less spoken of Formula One legend, who let his flat out driving speak for itself.

 

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Born on September 28, 1968, in Vantaa, Finland, Mika started his racing career from Karting at the age of 5 when his parents hired a go-kart for him to try. Though he met with an accident on his very first lap, he was undeterred by his passion for racing. By 1986, he went on to become a five-time Karting champion and caught the attention of Keke Rosberg, the 1982 F1 World Champion. Rosberg became Mika’s manager and prompted him to progress through the junior categories of single-seater racing.

 

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After his move into single-seater racing, he won three Scandinavian Formula Ford Championships, the Opel Lotus Euroseries Championship and the 1990 British Formula Three title. The latter title got him promoted to Formula One racing by Team Lotus. He started his F1 Championship career in 1991 with Lotus-Judd team in car number 11. The US Grand Prix of 1991 was Mika’s debut in the Formula 1 Championship, but he had to retire from his very first race due to engine failure.

 

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However, the faltering Lotus team propelled his move to the powerful McLaren brand team in 1993 under Team Principal Ron Dennis. He was employed as a test driver for Ayrton Senna and Michael Andretti who were the race drivers. But after Michael was dismissed by the team, Mika was appointed the team mate for Senna. Mika then went on to out-qualify the superstar Senna on his debut, making himself a driver in demand. The following year Senna moved to Williams, and Mika was established as the number one driver at McLaren.

Then came the horrific accident at 1995 when he encountered a life-threatening mishap at the Adelaide circuit. During practice, some debris punctured his left-rear tire and sent his race car smashing into the barriers. He suffered a serious head injury in the impact and an emergency tracheotomy was performed in site while he was still in the cockpit, before transporting him to the hospital where his life hung in the balance for some time. If it wasn’t for the skills of FIA medical delegates led by Professor Sid Watkins, , Mika would have joined the likes of Ayrton Senna, Roland Ratzenberger and Karl Wendlinger who all lost their lives to horrific crashes in F1 racing. Not the one to give up, the determined Finn came back from adversity and duly recovered in time for the 1996 season to finish fifth in the Drivers’ Championship.

 

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By the end of 1997, McLaren had a competitive car because of an engine partnership with Mercedes-Benz. Then a season later, in 1998, he finished ahead of Michael Schumacher to clinch his first world title after an incredible head-to-head with Schumacher at Suzuka circuit. In 1999, he retained his title by finishing ahead of Eddie Irvine, who was Ferrari’s number two after Schumacher broke his leg at Silverstone. Häkkinen had become just the seventh driver to achieve back-to-back titles.

At the end of the 2001 season, during his ninth year with McLaren, Häkkinen decided to take a year break from racing and announced a sabbatical. He was replaced by his young compatriot Kimi Raikkonen. In fact, he never came back to Formula One racing. In 2002, he called it an end to F1 by announcing his full retirement. However, he made a comeback in 2005 in the German Touring Cars DTM Series, a competitive motorsport with Mercedes- Benz. It was a successful stint with three race wins from 2005-2007. But he again announced his retirement from competitive motorsport and that was last we saw of him in a competitive racing season.

 

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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. Mika Häkkinen had provided him a nerve-jangling competition at the 2000 Belgian Grand Prix and won the race thanks to one of the most brilliant overtaking manoeuvres ever seen in Formula 1. Mika’s simultaneous pass of Michael Schumacher and Ricardo Zonta at the Spa’s Kemmel straight is hailed as the greatest overtake in modern F1. The history of Formula One from 1995 to 2001 was also defined by the rivalry between Mika Häkkinen and Michael Schumacher. Rivalries apart, both of them are now the brand ambassadors for Mercedes-Benz.

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