MIKA ON MICHAEL

For more than a decade, from F3 through to F1, Mika and ‘The Michael’ (as Häkki­nen al­ways re­ferred to Schumi) were coau­thors of a clas­sic mo­tor­sport ri­valry. It reached its peak in the late 1990s, when Mika was at McLaren, Michael at Fer­rari. Here – ex­clu

F1 Racing - - CONTENTS -

Häkki­nen and Schu­macher were two halves of a clas­sic F1 ri­valry. Here, Mika looks back at a late-’90s golden era

The race with Michael that sticks in my mind al­ways is Spa 2000, which was just an amaz­ing For­mula 1 bat­tle. Two guys at the very top of their game, two evenly matched cars – it can’t get any bet­ter than that.

But for a long time the bat­tle was – how would I say it – in­vis­i­ble on TV. Me and Michael, we had many rac­ing sit­u­a­tions, heavy bat­tles, but the over­tak­ing that year at Spa was an on­go­ing process. It did not hap­pen in the way of ‘follow somebody, over­take, and you con­tinue’. No, it was not like that, be­cause in the early stages of the race I spun when the cir­cuit was still a lit­tle bit wet.

Luck­ily I was able to keep the en­gine run­ning and, of course, Michael ‘neeeeeeyyyyy­oooooowwwwwww’, takes the lead and I’m think­ing: ‘wow’.

But the name of our game is al­ways to nd pos­i­tives. That’s part of suc­cess, be­ing able to take pos­i­tives; stay­ing re­al­is­tic and pos­i­tive. So at the mo­ment when I spun, I knew I still had a good car, and that I could con­tinue, so I said: ‘that’s it, I’m go­ing to go at-out and I’m go­ing to catch him’. But it took a long time, you know? It took a re­ally long time, many laps.

Spa of course is quite an amaz­ing race track – I don’t think there’s any rac­ing driver who doesn’t like it. It’s just beau­ti­ful to drive. So I was en­joy­ing my­self, and the mo­ment that I started catch­ing Michael, I had the full rac­ing driver men­tal­ity – full con­cen­tra­tion: how will I pass him? Th­ese are his strengths, th­ese are his weak­nesses… And he starts to do the same… push­ing hard and re­spond­ing to my pres­sure, be­cause he knew that I wasn’t in a po­si­tion to at­tack straight away.

But I was catch­ing him com­fort­ably, slowly. So, okay: the brak­ing was slow, the ac­cel­er­a­tion was good, I was look­ing at dif­fer­ent parts of the track where he was strong and where he was weak. And Michael, of course, was clever – he was al­ways putting his ul­ti­mate con­cen­tra­tion in those ar­eas where he was a bit weak. Do­ing the best job in places where he was weak, and re­ally fo­cused on where he was quick. So he was bal­anc­ing, you know?

But I re­ally re­alised that in the last chi­cane be­fore the pits [the old ‘Bus Stop’] that his brak­ing here was not so good. Once I de­tected that, I started to brake late there to max­imise the ad­van­tage. I was tak­ing risks, be­cause I knew that the only place where I could re­ally make a dif­fer­ence was there, and I knew my straight­line speed was bet­ter, too.

The wet/dry con­di­tions had made a dif­fer­ence as well. It was not fully dry for the race, so the setup of the car was a lit­tle bit com­pro­mised. But I felt that McLaren had done a bet­ter job – we had a bet­ter com­pro­mised setup, which en­abled us to per­form bet­ter.

As I say, it took a long time to be in a po­si­tion to try to over­take Michael and when I did get close to him, after Eau Rouge, he was al­ways clos­ing the door – al­ways!

I was amazed re­ally, be­cause he saw me in the mir­rors need­ing to come so fast, but ev­ery sin­gle time he closed the door. And I was like: ‘Ah, ex­cuse me, this is not any more like I ‘close the door’, this was more like he was slam­ming a door.’

So I said to my­self: ‘Okay, there are still laps to go, let’s cook him a lit­tle bit, let’s re­ally wait un­til the right mo­ment.’ And all the time I was push­ing more and more, get­ting to Eau Rouge faster and faster – and re­ally that way I could show him the sort of speed I had, so that he should un­der­stand not to close the door. But he did, all the time.

Then one lap there was a backmarker [Ricardo Zonta], who ap­peared there like a gift, and he was go­ing pretty slowly. I saw him after Eau Rouge in the dis­tance and I thought: ‘Hmm, this could be a chance.’ Michael made his move to pass him, and it was a log­i­cal move for him be­cause the rac­ing line for the brak­ing was com­pletely dry, and it was on the left. The inside line [into Les Combes] was still a bit hu­mid – it was not fully dry. So he thought ‘right, he can­not brake as late as I can brake.’ But ob­vi­ously I got the tow from Michael, then I got the dou­ble tow from Zonta. It meant my speed was so high he had to give up. I got the

“For some rea­son, Michael was al­ways the man to catch”

im­pres­sion it was a nice move for the spec­ta­tors and com­men­ta­tors to watch: a great bat­tle. When you were rac­ing Michael – and I raced against a lot of great driv­ers in my ca­reer – you al­ways knew about his car con­trol and his con­cen­tra­tion in a rac­ing sit­u­a­tion. He was al­ways able to just keep that go­ing. With some other driv­ers you could never know what they were go­ing to do, but it wasn’t like that with Michael, which is why it was nice to race against him. Yes, of course Michael was ag­gres­sive, but when you sat side by side, he knew when it was time to give up. He never gave up eas­ily, he was a tough guy to race against, but he did know when it was time to stop the bat­tle.

That was a very, very in­ter­est­ing thing. I think be­cause he had won the world ti­tle quite early in his ca­reer, it builds up a cer­tain ap­proach and dis­ci­pline level. For ex­am­ple, when you’re think­ing of mak­ing a move, you give your­self a lit­tle bit more time. I think that’s why, side by side, he’d know to wait for a few laps.

I would say that he cer­tainly gave me the most ex­cit­ing mo­ments in terms of him fol­low­ing me. When he was be­hind me I re­ally had to put in a lit­tle bit ex­tra ef­fort. If there were some other driv­ers be­hind me, it gave me maybe a lit­tle bit of a ner­vous feel­ing be­cause you didn’t know what they were re­ally go­ing to do. But with Michael I knew he would be more log­i­cal. I think it was be­cause I’d known him like that for such a long time, since we were kids rac­ing. So I knew his men­tal ap­proach.

I had mo­ments of real learn­ing up against Michael, like in our great For­mula 3 race in Ma­cau, in 1990.

In the rst heat, I won and Michael was one-and-a-half or two seconds be­hind me. Of course, there were two heats, and the win­ner would be the one with the best time cal­cu­lated from both. This was the rst time I’d done two heats, two starts, so somebody should have given me a shake be­fore the sec­ond race, ‘Do you un­der­stand – it’s the time that mat­ters, not win­ning it!’ But I was a young guy and this is life, this is how I was learn­ing, by mak­ing mis­takes.

For the sec­ond heat I started on pole, then I think I made a mis­take on the start. Michael got the lead, and I was fol­low­ing him. I was sur­prised at the per­for­mance of this car: it was quick. I was push­ing hard to cap­ture all the time – one sec­ond, two seconds, then sud­denly – click – I for­got the time and just con­cen­trated on stay­ing close to Michael. It is a nat­u­ral rac­ing driver feel­ing to want to win, and the pres­sure was high and I knew the im­por­tance of the race.

On the sec­ond till last lap, ev­ery­thing was ne, I was fol­low­ing Michael, push­ing all the time. We were both in fth gear and our top speed was 155mph, and we were tak­ing the last cor­ner at. But it was only at if you got it right, and Michael made a mis­take on that cor­ner. Then, when the last lap started, he made a mis­take; he missed the apex. I sup­pose he was ner­vous. I was be­hind and he ex­pected me to make a move. His mis­take wasn’t de­lib­er­ate. It was a hu­man er­ror, be­cause the race was so de­mand­ing. He made a mis­take at 150mph, I thought I would go past, then just as I started to over­take he changed the line.

I crashed into the back of his tyres, ew into the air and the game was over. It was like think­ing you have won the lot­tery, and then you go the shop and you nd, ah, you missed it. So with Michael there were mo­ments like this where the emo­tions were so high you didn’t know how to han­dle them. That’s quite nor­mal when you think about the ef­fort from the team, the prepa­ra­tion and the wait­ing to come to that race – ev­ery­thing was fan­tas­tic and then ev­ery­thing was gone: ev­ery­thing was de­stroyed.

Now, after two cham­pi­onships, I don’t have to think about th­ese things any more, but at the time, well… rac­ing is a hard game and peo­ple don’t for­get. Sooner or later you can give it back. And I be­lieve that with­out that mo­ment in Ma­cau, I don’t think I would have been twice world cham­pion. It gave me more of an edge to un­der­stand ‘Okay, let’s con­tinue this ght’. Ev­ery­thing has a mean­ing and rea­son.

By the end of the 1990s, now in For­mula 1 with McLaren and Fer­rari, we again found our­selves ght­ing wheel to wheel. It was an amaz­ing time be­cause while McLaren had the ad­van­tage in 1998, Fer­rari were catch­ing us all the time, they had a good mo­men­tum go­ing. When you are win­ning, the next place is los­ing, so to keep win­ning is very pres­suris­ing to every­body: the de­sign­ers, the me­chan­ics, ev­ery­one. Ev­ery mis­take feels like it is too big. So those three years were tough. We were rac­ing, but ev­ery mis­take I made as a driver felt like lit­tle ies to an ele­phant, which is not good. Monza in 1999, when I spun at the chi­cane… th­ese things are not good, but we are all hu­man, we all make mis­takes. Fer­rari were catch­ing all the time, and I felt that, I saw that, and they had luck! They had luck. That was not nor­mal – they had such a re­li­able car. Ev­ery time we had a fail­ure, whether it was me or a team fail­ure, or a car fail­ure, they were there col­lect­ing points, and all the time get­ting closer. Then, in 2000, it hap­pened. They were there and we were still los­ing points. It took right un­til the end of the sea­son for Michael and Fer­rari to take the ti­tle, so – wow – an amaz­ing time. When I think about rac­ing, I can re­mem­ber many great team-mates: Alain Prost test­ing with me and David Coulthard at McLaren; Nigel Mansell, Johnny Her­bert, Martin Brun­dle, Mark Blun­dell – the list is long. There were many great driv­ers and it was great to learn from them. But all the time in my con­scious­ness, in my think­ing, there was Michael. I had to beat the other driv­ers on track of course, but for some rea­son, Michael was al­ways the man to catch.

Mika Häkki­nen was talk­ing ex­clu­sively to An­thony Rowl­in­son

For Mika and Michael it all be­gan in F3 in Ma­cau 1990, when the two col­lided as Mika tried to pass. Michael won; Mika re­tired: “With­out that mo­ment, I don’t think I would have been twice world cham­pion. It gave me more of an edge”

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