Hakkinen Homeward Bound
January 16, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
After all, when you amass 20 wins, 51 podium appearances, 26 poles and two world championships in just 11 years, that desire to race tends to linger. Hakkinen, 33, said he doesn’t know how he’ll feel when he sees the cars on the grid for the March 3 Grand Prix of Australia.
“It is impossible to say what I am going to feel, impossible,” he said. “We will see what happens. Maybe I am going to stay at home three or four months and then feel that I want to race like crazy, and I will be at the races and tests saying I want to drive. It can happen.
“But it could be vice-versa. Maybe I won't want to race. But I will have all the doors open in 2003, so I feel confident and comfortable with the situation.”
However he may feel when the fun and sun gets old in midsummer, Hakkinen knows how he feels now and he knows how he felt after his accident at last season’s Australia race. Tired. Preoccupied. Scared. The season that followed was one of his worst since the early days of his career. Seven DNFs, 37 points, fifth in the standings, two wins, one third-place finish. Not bad by many driver’s standards, but practically embarrassing by the Flying Finn’s.
“The first time I raised the subject was in Monaco with Ron (Dennis),” Hakkinen said. “At the start of the year, what happened in Melbourne in the first grand prix did not help. That grand prix was going really well for us. We were catching (leader) Michael (Schumacher) and were very competitive, and the tactics were going good. And then I had a big shunt.
”So I think after that I started to think that I had to do something about this feeling, because it was not good for the team, and it was not good for myself. So I have to understand within myself what I want to do in the future. And to take one year off was the best possible idea.”
Any given year a major accident would not necessarily be enough to make the man question his own mortality. But if you consider that at the time of the accident Hakkinen was the proud papa of a 4-month-old boy named Hugo, and it’s no wonder his mind began racing faster than his Mercedes.
“It certainly has affected the way I see racing,” he said. “People always have priorities in their lives. Obviously, before the family, my life was dedicated a big way to F-1. Everything was F-1. Then when we had our son, things changed - you try to dedicate your life to both sides. I don't think that affected my speed on the race track, but certainly makes me think about other things than F-1.
“As everybody knows, this is a dangerous sport. And once you have something in your life that is so special, that you don't want to lose, you start thinking about it - what do you really want to do with your life? When you get older, when you are crossing the street, you tend to look left and right twice. When you were younger you only looked left and right once. So things change.”
Things change, indeed. Enter Kimi Raikkonen to carry on the legacy of a Finnish-born driver in the seat of a McLaren.
“Kimi has the best possible chance to go with a team that gives him the opportunity to build the confidence and have the maximum support,” Hakkinen said. “It is very important that he is with a team that will build his confidence. That way he can win.”
With one last smile in the first, and possibly last phase of his career, Hakkinen delivered one last quip for the books:
“If you wanna win, get a Finn.”
It's certainly worked before.