Mika Hakkinen has no intention of returning to Formula One racing like his once fierce rival Michael Schumacher. Hakkinen is done.
The 42-year-old former racer, who won the World Championship in 1998 and 1999, took a sabbatical in 2001 from F1, and retired formally in 2007. Seven-time world champion Schumacher retired in 2007, only to return to the sport two years later. Ask Hakkinen if he feels he has unfinished business and whether Schumacher’s return will inspire him, and the answer is firm.
“No. You can always look back and say I could have been different; in business and life you always have that kind of feeling,” says Hakkinen, who is on a two-day visit to Mumbai. “But I see that I learnt what is important and good. I went to the racing world when I was a child and I wanted to win. When I got older, I wanted to be in F1. Then I said why not the World Championship. So the job is done.”
End of an era: Mika Hakkinen at Stars and Cars 2007 after announcing his retirement. James Lipman
“I finished my career quite young, early. I had an accident in 1995 and it was most difficult to come back to racing. It took energy—psychological and physical. As soon as I won the World Championship, I said let’s not push the luck further because I understood, health and life is so important. You can never get it back if you lose it,” he says at the Taj Lands End hotel.
“I can do it but it would not be a pleasure,” he adds about returning to the sport. “You have to enjoy the things you do. I would be racing against guys who are 20 years old and I am 42. I know I cannot take the time back and be young again. You have to be realistic. These guys are a different generation. Their mind is developed differently. I don’t want to lose what I have got.”
In 1995, during practice at the Australian Grand Prix (GP), a tyre deflated at high speed and Hakkinen crashed, suffering head injuries and going into a coma. He recovered, resumed racing and won his first GP in 1997. He went on to win the World Championship twice before taking a sabbatical.
“The transition (from F1) is not easy,” says Hakkinen. “F1 is a demanding sport, your life is just about that. Nothing else, it’s all about the racing. You wake up in the morning and say how can I be better at racing. Suddenly, you don’t have it. Then you have to look at different things in life: what motivates and activates you,” says the Monte Carlo-based Hakkinen, who is in Mumbai as the Responsible Drinking ambassador of liquor brand Johnnie Walker.
The father of three also endorses Mercedes-Benz, works with a logistics company and manages young drivers. “It activates life,” he says, laughing.
“Of course, racing is the ultimate kick but unfortunately, you cannot have everything in life, you need sacrifices.”
The modern-day Flying Finn (the sobriquet was famously first given to athlete Paavo Nurmi in the 1920s) is aware of the paradox that comes with a race driver endorsing a liquor brand. But Hakkinen has thought this through. “Because I have a lot of fans globally, luckily I can give the message never to drink and drive. I have been racing since I was six years old, and I know what it takes to control a racing car. I know the racing car is dangerous if not in control. So I was happy to spread the message.”
He is enthused by the spread of the sport—India is to host its first F1 race in Delhi—but says the sport needs to get more spectator-friendly. “The people who are organizing the GP have to do it in such a way that fans get good access to cars and racers. That is the challenge. I don’t know how that will be possible but that would be the dream idea.”