Laureus Academy Member and two-time World Champion Mika Hakkinen believes 2020 could prove to be one of the most exciting Formula One seasons ever, because of the new challenges that drivers and teams will face.
To those who question the credibility of an abbreviated season, in an interview with Laureus.com
, Hakkinen says: “I think it's going to be a really, really good season. And the guy who is going to win the Championship this year, will have high, high respect.”
While the focus of the sports world will be on whether Lewis Hamilton can win his seventh world title and tie Michael Schumacher’s record total, Hakkinen believes that the conditions are going to make it a unique championship with an uncertain outcome.
“They're hoping to have 15 Grand Prix this year, so it's going to be very exciting. If there's going to be 15, the driver who will become world champion, will need to have great talent, great concentration, be physically fit and adapt to different kinds of situations.”
Hakkinen is very impressed with the chances of his fellow Finn, Valtterri Bottas, team-mate of joint Laureus World Sportsman of the Year Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team.
“Valtteri is definitely in a super condition, he's prepared himself to a very high physical and psychological level to start the season. He showed great performances in testing a few months ago, so he's in very good shape and I'm confident that he will be showing incredible results.
“Lewis will continue his great driving for sure. But when Valtteri has raised his goal higher and he's better than ever, has Lewis done the same, because you need to improve all the time? You need to constantly be better. And it's very tiring for the mind, very tiring physically, and it requires a lot of discipline. So Valtteri is ready, is Lewis ready?
“I certainly believe that Max Verstappen, for sure, with the Red Bull flat out, is going to go for it. Max normally will attack. He will take lots of risks. So the drivers who are out there, having such a long break from driving, are they ready to react to all the moves that Max is going to do?
“The best performance earlier this year in testing was Mercedes and Red Bull. They were really cool, really quick. So those teams will be there. Is Ferrari going to be there, strong? I'm sure it's going to be there too, but is it going to be the same level as Red Bull and Mercedes? I don't think so.”
But Hakkinen, who won his world titles in 1998 and 1999, emphasises that all the great drivers of Formula One are going to face a challenge they have never had before. With a reduced season, this is not going to be the time to get anything wrong, warns Hakkinen.
“If your car, engine, gearbox, aerodynamics don't work straight away for the first Grand Prix, it's very difficult to come back from there for sure. The package has to be right, from the beginning. And if the team's having any kind of issues, technical problems with the materials or the cars, it's going to be a nightmare.
“It’s going to be a very busy season. For the racing drivers, it’s how to do the Grand Prix, how to recover quickly, do all the analysis and improve your personal performance and your team's performance for the next event. I expect the number of mistakes to be higher, not only from the drivers, but also from the teams.
“The mechanics have had a huge break from having the confidence to change tyres quickly in three seconds. They're practising all the time at the factory, but that’s a different story. It's not the same as when the cars are running flat-out towards the mechanics and stopping in the exact place. So the mistakes will be there.
“The drivers have been having minimum chance to practise driving a Formula One car, so they have been doing go-karting and driving different kinds of rally cars and old racing cars to keep the muscles active and they've been using physical training programmes in a gym, but nothing matches the power of a Formula One car when it accelerates out of the corners to achieve forces where the body weight is five, six times higher than normal. So it will take a while for the drivers to get used to it again.”
Some Formula One fans have asked whether the truncated 2020 season will in the future be regarded differently to others. If Lewis Hamilton wins and ties Schumacher’s record, will people question its validity?
Hakkinen totally rejects that view. “I haven't thought about it that way. If there's going to be 15 races, it will be tough but the best will win. When I was racing and conditions suddenly changed, you need to add up these things very quickly. And the drivers who can do that, very fast, will be the winners. It’s going to be a good one.”
Mika and his wife and four of his five children are currently in lockdown in Monaco, but he is still doing what he can to support the work of Laureus, which this year celebrates the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s speech at the first Laureus Sports Awards when he said ‘Sport has the power to change the world’, which effectively sparked the creation of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation.
Hakkinen said: “Like President Mandela said, it is 100 per cent true. Sport can bring people together and keep you on the right track. When I was racing, when I was a young boy, there were a lot of other teenagers hanging around, kicking lamp posts and doing all kinds of things, which I didn’t think was right. But because I wanted to be racing driver, because I had a goal, it helped me a lot.
“Laureus has been going already 20 years and it's been great to meet a lot of great athletes around the world. The way they are thinking how they are approaching the world, and their lives and how much they keep committed to Laureus. It's been a great, great journey with them and I hope it's going to be going for another 20 years, because the world needs this. It’s a really good thing.”
Over the last 20 years, Laureus Sport for Good has raised more than €150m for the Sport for Development sector, reaching and helping change the lives of almost six million children and young people. Laureus Sport for Good currently supports more than 200 programmes in over 40 countries that use the power of sport to transform lives.