Mika Hakkinen and his laps in the McLaren F1 GTR at Laguna


Jim Fonseca was at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion and in our first post we look at Mika Hakkinen and his laps in the McLaren F1 GTR…

It has been an incredible 20 years since Mika Hakkinen won his first Formula 1 World Championship. The Finn driving Adrian Newey’s beautifully tidy silver McLaren MP4-13 has become one of grand prix racing’s most evocative partnerships. With its swirling, airbrushed paint-job and neatly crafted silhouette, it remains one of the best-looking racing cars ever built.

For the second successive year, Hakkinen was at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion to meet with guests, sign autographs and drive exhibition laps. Last year, he was demonstrating McLaren’s first-ever world championship car, the legendary M23 that took Emerson Fittipaldi to the 1974 drivers’ title.

This year he was behind the wheel of the F1 GTR, McLaren’s groundbreaking 1993 foray into the road car market and, like its driver, looking no worse for wear after nearly three decades’ hard service.

Laconic and dry, some think of Mika as bland; he isn’t. His one-liners are delivered laced with sarcasm, and his sense of humor finely sharpened. For an age that needs instant gratification and validation through social media, Hakkinen appeals to those prepared to wait a little more patiently for the punchline.

In a way, that’s a reflection of his own Formula 1 career.

It took him six years, and an incredible 96 grands prix before he took his first Formula 1 victory. In an era where most drivers, bands or performers need to prove themselves instantly, Hakkinen’s lengthy induction was a throwback to a different time but also a testament to the skill he’d always displayed – if left wanting for a car to truly demonstrate it.

It was the patience and vision of McLaren boss Ron Dennis that enabled Hakkinen to bloom. A McLaren driver since 1993, he had endured a prolonged spell of uncompetitiveness but had never lost faith in the team. Dennis was stirred by that commitment and duly rewarded it.

Dennis’ faith wasn’t even tested by Hakkinen’s terrible shunt in the 1995 Australian Grand Prix. When a tire punctured and threw the Finn’s car into the tire-wall, he required an emergency trackside tracheotomy and a spell in hospital to aid his recovery. His return to F1 was by no means a given, but Dennis gave him time to recuperate, the opportunity to ease himself back into the cockpit, and the assurance that his drive for the following season remained.

Still, it wasn’t until the final race of 1997 that Hakkinen finally won his first grand prix, an achievement that, as for many other drivers, opened the door for more.

A fortuitous change in the F1 regulations for the ’98 season – where the car’s track was narrowed and grooved tires introduced – not only gave the team the opportunity to create a dominant car, but also gave Hakkinen the platform he needed to finally return on the investment given him by the team.

It was as if a switch had been flicked.

Hakkinen won eight grands prix aboard the MP4-13 as he stormed to his first world title. The car proved so dominant that a legal second brake pedal – ingeniously introduced by McLaren to allow the drivers to ‘steer’ the car’s torque under acceleration – was outlawed after just one race. It was to have no effect: After winning in Australia, Hakkinen went on to win again in Brazil, Spain, Monaco, Austria, Germany (twice), and at the high-stakes season finale in Suzuka, Japan.

The RacerViews info

Photos from Jim Fonseca, words via PR, video from Racer YouTube – August 2018

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