Mika Hakkinen’s best F1 moments

To mark Mika Hakkinen’s 50th birthday, we look at some of the best moments of the double world champion’s F1 career, illustrated with brilliant Motorsport Images photography

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The man who Michael Schumacher most respected

Formula 1 world champion Mika Häkkinen has just turned 50 years old. Winning an F1 championship is something that few achieve – going on to do it again is rarer still. Häkkinen did exactly that, claiming back-to-back titles in 1998 and ‘99.

And for all that Häkkinen in his peak years could be somewhat non-forthcoming in public, his raw speed was certainly on display for all to see – the sort that we’d associate readily with the likes of Ronnie Peterson and Gilles Villeneuve. The decorated Michael Schumacher, appropriately, respected Häkkinen like no other rival. Many of the pair’s battles were as intense and gripping as they were high class. And Häkkinen claimed his fair share of victories against the great champion.

With stunning photography from Motorsport Images AutoClassics has looked back at some of Häkkinen's best moments in his F1 career.

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1992 Hungarian Grand Prix

The 1992 season wasn’t known for its competiveness. That year only the Williams, McLarens and Benettons, along with Jean Alesi’s occasionally heroic Ferrari, finished on the podium. And only once did an interloper get close; in Hungary Lotus’s youthful Mika Häkkinen, in his second year in F1, put in an extraordinary tour de force.

Starting in 16th, Häkkinen rose rapidly through the field to 6th place by quarter distance, running with the establishment drivers queued behind Ayrton Senna’s McLaren. He then spent the rest of the way battling with them, running ahead of Martin Brundle’s Benetton for a time before grabbing fourth place definitively with a fine move around the outside of turn one late on.

Häkkinen then oh-so-nearly broke the year’s podium mould as, on the final lap, he sought to scalp third-placed Gerhard Berger, boxing him in behind a backmarker. However, his rear brakes locked and he spun out. Fortunately for him Brundle had to take a detour in avoidance, so Häkkinen kept his hard-earned fourth place.

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1993 Portuguese Grand Prix

For 1993, Häkkinen gambled by signing up with McLaren as Senna prevaricated about whether he was taking a sabbatical. Initially, his gamble appeared to backfire, as Senna decided to race at the 11th hour on a race-by-race basis. Häkkinen thus was left in the lurch as a test driver. But the short-term pain became long-term gain when the disappointing Michael Andretti was dropped late in the year, and Häkkinen stepped in.

Häkkinen then beat Senna in qualifying a his first go, pipping him for third on the Portuguese race’s grid despite Senna trying his formidable best to usurp him. ‘I haven’t seen Senna being made to work as hard as that since Alain Prost was here,’ noted a McLaren team member, yet having been beaten Senna warmly congratulated his new team-mate. Häkkinen, typically modest, noted his extensive mileage and therefore familiarity with the car – ‘I reversed more than he [Senna] went forward!,’ he said. But not many outqualify the one-lap master with the same machinery.

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1995 Japanese Grand Prix

McLaren entered a slump post-1993, with 1995 a particularly disjointed season for Häkkinen in the rather evil MP4/10. But at Suzuka, the ultimate drivers’ circuit, he showed his class. He qualified third, ahead of both Williams – piloted by Damon Hill and David Coulthard – then ran among them in the race. It was a stark contrast to only two rounds earlier in similar tricky wet-to-dry conditions, in which the McLaren pair had tooled around at the back of the pack at the Nurburgring.

Häkkinen finished second after a flawless run, which stood in sharp contrast to those of the Williams drivers around him, who in turn rather notoriously removed themselves from the race, having been caught out by the changeable surface. Häkkinen also reached the flag just 20 seconds off the dominant victor Michael Schumacher, and no one else was within a minute of the McLaren.

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1997 British Grand Prix

McLaren made major strides in 1997, though it was Häkkinen's team-mate David Coulthard who took the initiative at first. Coulthard ended the team’s win drought in the Melbourne season-opener and remained the lead McLaren for most of the season's first half. Silverstone was the turning point. Häkkinen looked a genuine pole favourite, though traffic on his best run meant he started third shy of the Williams pair. Then his modest start meant he spent the race’s opening part in fourth, held up by his struggling team-mate.

A wide moment for Coulthard released Häkkinen and his change of fortunes continued when a Jacques Villeneuve pitstop, then a Michael Schumacher retirement, got him into the lead, albeit with Villeneuve on his tail and looking keen to deny him his maiden F1 win. With seven laps left the drama ended early as Häkkinen’s Mercedes engine failed. But there was not a bit of stropping. Häkkinen waved his arms to accept the crowd’s plaudits and Mansell-style tossed his gloves their way. This was a man who knew his time had come.

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1998 Luxembourg Grand Prix

Häkkinen secured his first championship during the 1998 season finale at Suzuka. But the major leg-up was the race before, the oddly-titled “Luxembourg Grand Prix” at the Nürburgring. Ferrari and Michael Schumacher had all the momentum, drawing level with Häkkinen in the table in the previous round at Monza, aided by a run of McLaren unreliability. It didn’t look like it would improve for Häkkinen in the penultimate round as the Ferrari pair locked out the front row and led one-two early on, Eddie Irvine dutifully bottling Häkkinen up as Schumacher made his escape – building what appeared a decisive 8.5 second advantage.

Häkkinen got by Irvine after a time, then put in an astonishing blitz of low-fuel laptimes that we more readily associated with his rival. He ate up the deficit and re-emerged from his first stop ahead of the earlier-pitting Schumacher by a length. The Ferrari’s body language, darting back and forth, betrayed the sheer confusion of just how on earth Häkkinen had managed it. It set him up for a vital victory.

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1999 Japanese Grand Prix

The 1999 title should have been a slam dunk for Häkkinen once Michael Schumacher broke his leg at Silverstone, but subsequently he took his eye off the ball which gave the other Ferrari of Eddie Irvine an unlikely championship chance. But when the pressure was at its highest, Häkkinen tended to be flawless. Come Suzuka, he likely needed victory to secure his second championship. There also was residual bitterness after the Ferraris were reinstated to their one-two from the previous race, after an initial technical disqualification.

Schumacher had returned as the world’s fastest number two driver and took pole, but Häkkinen's start from alongside was a peach and he led by yards at turn one. From then on he and Schumacher entered into one of their classic full-pelt tete-a-tetes, but throughout the Finn kept the Ferrari at arm’s length – sometimes more – without putting a wheel out of place, and won by 5s. Again, he had executed a flawless performance when it mattered most.

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2000 Belgian Grand Prix

It appeared Häkkinen would have Spa-Francorchamps all to himself in 1999, taking a comfortable pole with Schumacher fourth. But typical Spa rain before the race changed everything; Schumacher hunted him down on the damp track then Häkkinen gave him the lead with a half-spin.

Schumacher built a handy lead, but with the track dried and his McLaren tweaked during his sole stop, Häkkinen re-discovered his pace of the previous days, homing in on Schumacher with a few laps left. Häkkinen first sought to pass in the long run to Les Combes but was on the receiving end of a rude Schumacher chop. Next time around he got the deed done at the same spot – and spectacularly. Ricardo Zonta’s BAR was the next backmarket to be lapped; Schumacher went left and Häkkinen, through the most minimal of gaps, went right. The lead was his. It showed sheer racer’s flourish that Häkkinen always possessed but didn’t always have the circumstances to demonstrate.

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2001 US Grand Prix

Häkkinen’s final F1 year wasn’t as strong as previous seasons. Seemingly exhausted, his mind wandered towards his imminent retirement (though at the time all insisted it was a sabbatical). But there were flashes of his more representative brilliance in there – not least in his final F1 win in his penultimate race, at Indianapolis.

Perhaps it was because he was angry. He’d qualified second for this one, but for the trifling offense of joining the track a few seconds early for the race morning warm-up – the lights weren’t especially easy to see in the low sun – the stewards somehow concluded that they should take his best qualifying time off him from the previous day, meaning he started fourth instead. Häkkinen though got down to it in the race by putting a long one-stop strategy to good effect, emerging from his sole halt ahead of Michael Schumacher and everyone else. From there he stroked it home for the last time. There was not a dry eye in the house.

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Images courtesy of Motorsport Images

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