Finnish driver Mika Hakkinen showed immense courage to come back from a crash in 1995 in which he nearly lost his life to win back-to-back Formula One World Championships in 1998 and 1999 in the all-conquering Mercedes-Benz powered McLaren. At the start of 2001, Hakkinen had another big accident at the Australian Grand Prix which had a major effect on his thinking. He decided that he would take a year’s sabbatical in 2002, but he never came back, retiring from Formula One at the relatively early age of 33.
From his very first Formula One drive in an uncompetitive Lotus in Phoenix in March 1991, it was clear that Hakkinen possessed the talent to reach the top. The blond Finn with the cherubic face, who was a graduate of karting and the Opel Lotus Euroseries, had won the British F3 Championship in 1990.
At the end of 1992, Hakkinen was signed as test driver for the 1993 season by McLaren, whose front line drivers were Ayrton Senna and Michael Andretti. When Andretti returned to the United States in September, Hakkinen took his seat and celebrated by out-qualifying the great Senna in Portugal.
Hakkinen’s performance was an indication of his real potential. He spent 1994 and 1995 developing his skills, taking over as team leader when Senna left for Williams, and the arrival of Mercedes-Benz power gave him a car in which he could show his competitive instincts.
He won his first Grand Prix at Jerez in 1997 and from that historic moment he never looked back, collecting his first World Championship in style in 1998, winning eight of the 16 races. But though 1999 was a far tougher year, in which he twice made mistakes which cost him race wins, he came back strongly when it mattered to retain his crown in the final race. The man who came back from the dead had established himself as the only man capable of challenging Michael Schumacher.
In 2000, however, Ferrrari produced a very strong car and although Hakkinen won in Spain, France, Austria, Hungary and Belgium, the World Championship went to Schumacher, the first of his five successive titles for Ferrari.
After his retirement from Formula One, Hakkinen did not race at all in 2003 and 2004, but in 2005 he returned to compete for Mercedes-Benz in the DTM, German Touring Car Championship.