MIKA HÄKKINEN IS GRILLED BY HIS PEERS
Formula 1’s former most taciturn Finn and a two-time title winner talks travels with his ‘turtus’, playing mind games with ‘The David’ and the joys of a bucketful of ice cubes in the cockpit…
Two-time world champions are a rare breed. Over the F1 decades only six have emerged: Alberto Ascari, Graham Hill, Jim Clark, Emerson Fittipaldi, Mika Häkkinen and (unless his luck changes) Fernando Alonso. They exist in a plane above the ‘singleton’ champs – Hulme, Hunt, Scheckter, the Rosbergs et al
– and as that roll-call attests, they’re a pretty special bunch. Three have passed, Alonso races on, Fittipaldi seems from a distant era.
But Häkkinen? Well, as the most successful Finn among many flying fellows, his presence still looms large. Michael Schumacher’s defining rival; in his 1998-99 pomp, maybe the quickest of all. And, happily, very much still with us.
Today, Mika welcomes F1 Racing onto a yacht chartered especially for the Monaco Grand Prix and moored just inside Tabac. As is customary when boarding such elegant conveyances, first we must de-shoe and deposit our footwear in a quayside box; F1 Racing notes that photographer Steven Tee, with practised elegance, is wearing appropriately plain low-rise socks. “Of course,” he sniffs, shooting a withering glance at the less suitable knitwear worn by the words side of the equation.
Up one more deck via a ladder, while maintaining three points of contact at all times, we observe the crowning glory of the yacht Ava: mounted proudly on its deck is the 1998 Mclaren MP4-13 in which Mika won that year’s Monaco Grand Prix (his “greatest” win, he reckons). It’s an entirely fitting backdrop for a conversation with a living legend during the course of which, as we are about to discover, he’ll share revelations about a life-that-nearly-was as a circus performer, his fondness for tortoises, and how it felt to come back from a near-fatal crash and find his capacity for driving astonishingly fast happily undiminished.
These gems and more await in a chat framed by questions garnered from the great and good of the Formula 1 paddock – questions that are notable, incidentally, both for their range and for demonstrating the underlying affection in which Häkkinen is held. Monosyballic in his day, except to those he truly trusted, modern Mika is an altogether more unbuttoned character. Hard to recall, now, that Häkkinen was once an interview regarded with trepidation by all but a select handful of hacks. These days his wit and loquacity are unbound. On which topic…