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‘I thought I wasn’t good enough’

Two-time Formula One world champ Mika Hakkinen on his six-year struggle to win first Grand Prix, promotes safe driving across world.

entertainment Updated: Apr 08, 2011 15:01 IST
Shweta Mehta

Mika Hakkinen is the original ‘Ice Man’ of Formula One. The nickname is now synonymous with another Finnish driver, Kimi Raikkonen, but even a decade after his last race, it’s easy to see why he’d earned the moniker in the first place.

Incredibly at ease for a newcomer to Mumbai's heat, we’re asked to sit close to him, as his hearing was weakened after a near-fatal crash in the 1995 Australian Grand Prix. But Mika can hear us just fine.

“It seemed alright on the surface, but I knew that it wasn't,” says Mika, on returning to the track after the aforementioned injury. “Walking, talking, everything was difficult. I had to lift myself up and start all over again, but life is like that.”

The flying Finn is no stranger to motivation. He made his debut in 1991, but only won his first race six years later, in 1997. “I thought I wasn’t good enough,” he admits candidly, “If you keep fighting without victory, you tend to go home, look in the mirror and ask yourself, ‘Is it my mistake?’”

But eventually, “the summer came” for Mika. After two tough seasons with Lotus, a switch to McLaren, numerous team orders, budgeting woes and engine changes later, the dream came true. “It took very long to become consistent, but then we won, thank you very much,” he grins.

Post retirement, Mika has a career in driver management. He is in Mumbai as a Responsible Drinking Ambassador for Johnnie Walker and is also part of their Step Inside the Jet Black Circuit campaign, which offers an insight into the Formula One lifestyle.

The Indian Grand Prix, set to debut on the racing calendar this year, has Mika excited. He’s following the progress of the Force India team too. “For a small group of people running the show, they’ve opened the door, walked in and started communicating and building by themselves. Also, they have a great engine,” he laughs, adding, “They’ve done a fantastic job so far, but they have to push the limits. That will get them good results.”

The recent introductions of KERS and DRS to Formula One represent a stark departure from the sport when Mika was part of it. “It just means there are more things to do in the car, thereby making your life more complicated. For fans, though, it would make things interesting because there are more overtaking opportunities now,” he says.

What does he miss the most about Formula One? “Winning! It’s a great feeling because I wanted to race since I was ‘ye’ high,” he says, lowering his hand to his hip.