Mika Häkkinen holds a special place in my memories of Formula 1. When he was dueling with Michael Schumacher for the 2000 championship, I had a bet with a friend that Häkkinen would end up victorious. No such luck! It was a great year for F1 though, a season-long battle between two great racers and two good cars.
I recall Häkkinen racing for Lotus in 1992, often pushing his car higher up the field than it perhaps should have been. He would challenge and harass the McLarens and Benettons, even though the car wasn’t especially great. He certainly put down markers.
(Though McLaren would be where Häkkinen would win races, he cut his teeth at Lotus, doing surprisingly well)
Such was his impressive performances that McLaren snapped up the young Finn for the 1993 season as a test driver, and he was eventually promoted to the race team after Michael Andretti (son of former F1 champion and Indycar star Mario Andretti) was sacked after a string of poor performances. He would score his first podium finish in Japan of that year.
In 1994 Häkkinen went on to claim more podiums but McLaren didn’t have a car capable of rivaling the Williams and the Benetton, so a title challenge was out of the question. In 1995 the car was still behind the front-runners in terms of raw performances, but this did not stop Häkkinen from getting more podium finishes. 95 is perhaps best remembered (though not fondly remembered!) for Häkkinen’s life-threatening injuries he sustained in a heavy crash at the Australian Grand Prix – he suffered a skull fracture, internal bleeding and swallowed his tongue, but was saved by quick thinking from F1’s chief doctor, Sid Watkins. Remarkably, he had recovered enough to start the 1996 season, and in 1997 he took his first F1 win at the season-ending European Grand Prix.
My biggest memory of Häkkinen is undoubtedly his famous passing move against Michael Schumacher in the 2000 Belgian Grand Prix.
A spectacular move by a great driver!