THE HAKKI­NEN EF­FECT

FOR­MULA ONE LEG­END MIKA HAKKI­NEN TEACHES US HOW TO WIN WITH GRACE AND HU­MIL­ITY.

Men's Health (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

For­mula One leg­end Mika Hakki­nen gives us a les­son in

great­ness and hu­mil­ity.

Our meet­ing with Mika Hakki­nen – dou­ble For­mula One cham­pion and for­mer Mercedes DTM driver – is tinged with a mythic qual­ity. Michael Schu­macher says his tough­est and most re­spected ad­ver­sary was Mika in their 11 years as rac­ing ri­vals, which is quite a com­pli­ment from a man who also raced against Ayr­ton Senna and Alain Prost, and later be locked in bat­tles with Fer­nando Alonso. But though the bad blood be­tween Mika and Schuey was well doc­u­mented, Mika says he en­joyed their rivalry. “It’s a pos­i­tive thing,” re­calls the 45-year-old Finn with a stern face, be­fore crack­ing a smile and adding: “We had a great past.

“I’ve al­ways be­lieved that when we’re on the race track, we’ll fight. But out­side, we re­spect each other. Scream­ing your head off and say­ing stupid things is not the way to man­age your life.”

Such sen­si­bil­ity was wit­nessed world­wide on the Spa-Fran­cor­champs cir­cuit dur­ing the 2000 Bel­gian Grand Prix. Four laps be­fore the end of the race, Mika tried to over­take Michael, but the Ger­man re­sponded with his no­to­ri­ous “lean” – driv­ing across at Mika’s McLaren un­til the Finn was left with the choice to ei­ther back off or take to the grass at 300km/h. Mika chose the for­mer, but his front wing touched the Ger­man’s rear wheel and he wasn't amused.

Af­ter the two men pulled up at the pad­dock, Mika got out of his car and walked over to his ri­val. A dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter would have ranted at the Ger­man. In­stead, Mika calmly went over the in­ci­dent with Schuey us­ing hand ges­tures. His ri­val merely nod­ded, chas­tened. The mes­sage was clear: That was out of line; don’t try it with me again.

Mika ul­ti­mately won that race thanks to his fa­mous sec­ond over­take at­tempt on Michael’s Fer­rari, one of the finest ma­noeu­vres ever seen in F1. Dur­ing the post-race press con­fer­ence, jour­nal­ists tried get­ting him to crit­i­cise the Ger­man leg­end’s be­hav­iour. Mika didn't bite.

THE FEEL­ING OF GREAT­NESS

Mika’s in­tel­li­gence and pen­chant for un­der­state­ment have given him a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing frosty with the press. But not to­day. He’s chat­ting away like an old friend, re­gal­ing tales of his rac­ing ca­reer with glee.

“For­mula One is a fab­u­lous sport,” he says, lean­ing back. “And when you’re win­ning, it’s par­adise. Stand­ing on the podium as the win­ner is a great feel­ing.”

Mika started go-kart­ing at a young age back home in Fin­land. He moved to the UK in the late 1980s, raced with Lo­tus in 1991 be­fore join­ing McLaren in 1993, where his team­mate was Ayr­ton, whom he out-qual­i­fied in Por­tu­gal on his de­but the same year.

Even bet­ter than do­ing this to the late, great Brazil­ian, how­ever, was beat­ing Michael to take con­sec­u­tive F1 ti­tles in 1998 and 1999.

“It was truly a great pe­riod for me,” Mika says. He’s laugh­ing now.

A HERO IS HUM­BLE

No­body be­grudges the suc­cess of this brave man, who was nearly killed be­fore achiev­ing it.

In the Fri­day af­ter­noon prac­tice ses­sion of the 1995 Aus­tralian GP, Mika’s McLaren Mercedes suf­fered a punc­ture on the high-speed en­trance into a cor­ner and hur­tled into a bar­rier with sick­en­ing force. He sus­tained a frac­tured skull and his life hung in the bal­ance for some time.

Thank­fully, he re­gained con­scious­ness and started on the road to re­cov­ery. But it was one of his most dif­fi­cult pe­ri­ods. He leans in and low­ers his tone. “Af­ter a bad ac­ci­dent, what you need most is time, which I didn’t have be­cause the next sea­son was start­ing soon. In F1, it’s all or noth­ing,” he says.

He re­sumed his rac­ing life all right, and proved in 1996 to be as quick as ever in a pri­vate test ar­ranged by McLaren. His skill, brav­ery and sin­gle­minded ded­i­ca­tion are al­most preter­nat­u­ral.

In 2000, Mika very nearly made it three ti­tles in a row, but los­ing that year’s cham­pi­onship to Michael was the be­gin­ning of the end. A heavy crash in the open­ing race of 2001 drove the Finn away from the F1 cir­cus and into DTM, the tour­ing car race se­ries in Europe.

At the end of 2007, Mika an­nounced his de­par­ture from com­pet­i­tive mo­tor­sport. Far more sen­si­ble, he rea­sons, to

“IM­AGE IS IM­POR­TANT BE­CAUSE I’M IN THE PUB­LIC EYE ALL THE TIME. NO ONE WANTS TO DO BUSI­NESS WITH A RAC­ING TEAM THAT’S MESSY AND DIS­OR­GAN­ISED.”

in­vest his time in man­ag­ing young mo­tor-rac­ing tal­ents, and his cor­po­rate side­lines, in­clud­ing dis­charg­ing du­ties as am­bas­sador for part­ner com­pa­nies of his beloved McLaren Mercedes. “One of the things I miss about F1 is work­ing with th­ese very in­tel­li­gent and ta­lented peo­ple as a team,” he says.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

The talk turns to Gil­lette, one of the spon­sors for whom Mika was re­cently made brand am­bas­sador. “I’m very im­pressed with how or­gan­ised the com­pany is,” he says, “just like a For­mula One team.”

The ro­man­tic era of F1 driv­ers is long gone. Rac­ers to­day are ad­mired as su­perbly fit, grimly se­ri­ous pro­fes­sional ath­letes. It’s hard to imag­ine any of them wear­ing a patch on their rac­ing over­alls declar­ing “sex – break­fast of cham­pi­ons” or re­fus­ing to wear suits to spon­sor events, as the leg­endary 70s Bri­tish driver James Hunt did.

“Im­age is im­por­tant,” says Mika, “be­cause I’m in the pub­lic eye all the time. No one wants to do busi­ness with a rac­ing team that’s messy and dis­or­gan­ised.”

None­the­less, we aren’t the only ones miss­ing the charm­ing James, who died young. “I used to call him to talk about rac­ing,” Mika says.

“He al­ways said to me: ‘Mika, when you’re rac­ing out there, have fun.’ But he wasn’t re­fer­ring to the par­ty­ing. He meant driv­ing and work­ing with peo­ple. I think peo­ple have a mis­un­der­stand­ing of what he stood for, be­ing a play­boy and what not. Hey, come on, that was when he was young. But when he raced, he was se­ri­ous. Def­i­nitely a great man.”

To quote Wil­liam Shakespeare, a known au­thor­ity on em­i­nence: “Great­ness knows it­self.”

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