Mika Hakkinen full interview: F1 legend on his toughest rival, 2017 season and future plans

Formula 1 double champion Mika Hakkinen was in India to promote a social cause — "Don't Drink and Drive" as a part of Johnny Walker's #JoinThePact campaign. The Finn has been associated with this movement since the last 10 years.

Firstpost caught up with the Flying Finn in Mumbai for a free-flowing chat on the 2017 Formula 1 season, his own career and why he is committed to the cause of responsible driving.

What brings you to India? Tell us about the #JoinThePact campaign.

I have been a brand ambassador for Johnny Walker for many, many years. “Never drink and drive” is our campaign. I raced for so many years for Formula 1 and different categories, it’s important to talk about the safety. It’s great to be in control with your car and enjoy driving. But if you drink and drive, you are not in control, and you are in massive danger.

Mika Hakkinen during an interview with Firstpost in Mumbai. Image courtesy: Apoorva Gupte

Mika Hakkinen during an interview with Firstpost in Mumbai. Image courtesy: Apoorva Gupte

What do you think of the 2017 Formula 1 season?

It’s been a great year. We had two teams really fighting closely for the championship. The season started in a very competitive way, with Sebastian (Vettel) and (Lewis) Hamilton competing so closely. But then after the break this year, Mercedes came back really strong.

It was interesting to see how strong Valtteri Bottas was, how strong Lewis was and what happened to Sebastian. Yes, they had a few mechanical failures, which was strange to see, but end of the day, Lewis did the best job this year.

Bottas was close to Hamilton at the start of the season, but Lewis was able to put that extra boost and he did a good job.

How would you rate Hamilton’s season and the way he won his fourth World Championship?

Four times World Champion — it’s not just luck, you need a little bit extra there. He put up a great, great performance. It needs lot of physical power, it needs lot of psychological power, it needs a great team effort. And to achieve that kind of result, it shows that the driver is becoming more and more complete. And that’s how I see it. I have a lot of respect that he’s won it four times.

What’s your view on McLaren’s performance this year?

Honda has been making great engines for McLaren in the past. But back then, when Honda was with McLaren, they had unlimited testing for what they can do. They were testing the car every week on the race track, and in real action. Now the regulations that Formula 1 has, you are not allowed to test except at the start of the season. They are not testing the engines in real life. So the improvements that engine manufactures can make are very tiny during the season. So, if it (the season) starts in a wrong way, it’s difficult to change it.

McLaren has been struggling because they have been having failures. But they still keep pushing all the time, and they started to get better and better results. Next year, they will have a different engine. I expect them to get great results.

Your views on Fernando Alonso’s talent, his decisions and the team chocies he has made?

He is a great driver, no doubt about that. But to become the best racing driver in the world, it means a lot of things. What is the best driver in the world? In my days when I was racing, it meant being a great test driver, good team player, good race driver, good qualifier and good to work with the media, take care of your fitness and be mentally strong.

But today, you have to best in all those areas but you also have social media. You also have to be best there. You need to have a great story. You need to give the fans the right content, educate them as much as you can. That’s one area where stars today can be better.

Speaking of stars, one story that had emerged in recent times is the tale of Max Verstappen. What do you make of his young career?

He’s a great talent. He’s young and has a lot of energy. He’s ready to take risks. He’s definitely a driver who we should see how he will develop. Like I said earlier, it’s not enough that you’re fast. This journey which you go through towards the World Championships brings lot of amazing experiences — things you have to cope with. One year, you may have a car that’s not so good. So how are you going to tell your team that ‘you’re a terrible team’ or ‘I don’t want to work with you anymore’. So you have to find diplomatic compromises and see the big picture and see the future.

Do you think Daniel Ricciardo will have to settle for playing second fiddle to either Hamilton in Mercedes or Vettel in Ferrari or Verstappen in Red Bull?

I can see a very good future for him. He’s a fantastic driver and has a great personality. But he is up against Verstappen, who is extremely fast. So he has to keep his psychological power. If he starts cracking now then it is going to be catastrophic. So he has to work very hard on his mental strength.

Two drivers who you have really supported and they come from Finland — Valtteri and Kimi Raikkonen. A quick work on how the second half of the season has been for them? Where do you think they will be in the next couple of years?

Valtteri keep developing each time. We have seen that his performance this year has been great. But we have to understand that the car that Lewis and Valtteri are driving have been developed around Lewis, who has stuck for many years. It’s tailor-made for him. Valtteri sometimes has difficulty in getting the car exactly as he wants it to be cause he has barely been there one year. It takes time to get things right. I can see his future is going to be really bright.

And Kimi, he’s going to close to 40 years old. He’s not a young guy anymore. He’ll be racing against guys who are 18 or 20 years old. When you are getting older, you wake up in the morning and your knees are hurting, it’s tough. If Kimi is enjoying his career and his driving, that’s fantastic. He doesn’t have to listen to what other people are saying. He can just enjoy what he’s doing.

Who would you rate as your most challenging rival?

I raced against many tough drivers in my career. If I start at the beginning, when I was probably 10 or 11, and I was racing go karts, it was a girl. She drove a great line and was an amazing talent. But something happened and she went into motorbike racing and fell down a couple of times and had to end her career. What a shame! David Coulthard was a really tough competitor. But the toughest was Michael Schumacher. He was the toughest one.

In 2017, you re-signed with McLaren. Given how the team management structure is playing out, did you ever consider getting into team management?

No. At the moment I say no, because it requires massive commitment from your life. It really requires me not to live in Monaco. I would have to move and live in England. I have five children, the youngest one is going to be four years old. So it would need a massive sacrifice from your private life. It’s great to work but I am not ready for that yet.

Published Date: Nov 11, 2017 19:48 PM | Updated Date: Nov 11, 2017 20:21 PM

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