Interview with Mika Häkkinen

Interview with Mika Häkkinen

Here is my first ever interview with the double Formula 1 world champion Mika Häkkinen:

Mika: Have you (Michael from BMF1.dk and me) been to any GP’s before?
Lea: Yes. I’ve only been to two, but Michael has been to many.
Michael: I’ve been to many. Two of them were grand prix where you ran.

Michael (from BMF1.dk) shows the Flying Finn two old Formula 1 programs and asks if he will sign them. Meanwhile I ask him the next question:

Lea: I can’t remember when it was, but you once said that Formula 1 is like a “mind game”. What do you mean by that?
Mika: Mind game, yes … wait a minute … A man can’t do two things at once … Mind game yes, I was using that sentence a long time ago. In Formula 1 is not just about how fit you are, or how talented you are. It’s little bit for a mind game, because you are experiencing very high pressure all the time, from the team, from the media and from the public. And also, you are very critical about yourselves. So it’s a mind game. You know, you really have to learn to focus in the right moment, and you have to teach yourself all the time to understand yourself better.
Lea: So it’s not just on the track, it’s also outside the track?
Mika: Exactly, but it is quite exciting.

Lea: Many of the Formula 1 drivers have appeared in various commercials and other sponserrelaterede activities. Just like this for example. What is the strangest thing a sponsor has asked you to do?
Mika: Hmm, that’s a good question, I have never thought about that. I was once asked to take of my shirt. I was doing a promotion in Mallorca. We were playing volleyball and they said that I had to take my shirt off.
Johnnie Walker spokesperson: But you had been to the gym that day, so it was fine.
Mika: Yes exactly. I had my six pack, hehe.
Johnnie Walker spokesperson: 3 or 4 years ago we (Johnny Walker and Mika Hakkinen ed.) did a Johnny Walker “Responsibly drinking” tour, which is quite unusual. I think we were in 6 or 7 different countries back to back, flying around different parts of South America.
Mika: That was tough I tell you.
Johnnie Walker spokesperson: All those cities they were closing up the streets. That was an exhausting couple of weeks for Mika, but it was quite an unusual thing for someone to come to South America and do 8 different countries in 8 days, to spread out the message of responsibly drinking.
Mika: Yes, it was quite strange what Johnnie Walker asked me to do. They asked me to drive this sportscar where they do the samba carnival in Rio de Janeiro. It was quite strange to drive up and down that street. But it was quite special.
Lea: But you didn’t drive at the same time as the carnival?
Mika: No, luckily not at the same time. Otherwise there would have been some damages I think.

Lea: What is the single most awesome car you’ve ever driven?
Mika: I have driven many cars in my life. A lot of different sports cars. But when you, like me, have driven a Formula 1 car, which is such a fantastic car, then a road racer always seems slow. It takes compromises because the law is that way – you have safety this and safety that – so the road cars are never performing in their maximum level. But I think that one exiting moment was when I was driving the McLaren road car I 1994 in Italy. We were testing the top speed, and I was doing 380 km / h – in a road car, so that was quite a special experience. And then I once drove Fangios old Mercedes. That one was a real racing car, so that was quite an incredible experience. You had to have your legs wide open, because there was a huge mechanical part down by the legs, so it was a very interesting experience.

Lea: Do you feel that with the likes of KERS and DRS that overtaking is too artificial compared with when you were racing?
Mika: I think it’s great. I think that it creates the show in Formula 1, that there is overtaking a lot. But yes, there was a discussion, was it early last year? There is overtaking because you have this wing system and this and that. And I wonder, are the people ever pleased? One day the isn’t enough overtaking and now there is to much. So where is the balance? In my opinion, if I would be racing in Formula 1 today I think it would be quite exiting to have extra speed on the straight lines. Because it puts everything on the limit when the car reaches such incredible speeds. So everything is on the limit and that is fascinating in my opinion.

Lea: As for the new season: who do you think will be the most competitive team this year?
Mika: They have only done one teat, but from that test it is very difficult to say who is going to be in the best position. But Adrian Newey is a great designer, so I think he will produce again a fantastic car. McLaren will be very strong, and Lotus showed good results in the test, but again it is only a test. They are running with a lot of fuel, you know. What compound tires are they using, when was the time set on the track? A lot of things have meaning, so it is difficult to read exactly. So I don’t know.
Lea: We don’t know either.

Lea: But do you think that Hamilton can lead Mercedes to victory this year?
Mika: Mercedes is a big company first of all. When they are doing something, they are really targeting for the quality and succes. Mercedes is not in Formula 1 fighting for second or third positions. They are there to win. They have been having a few difficult years, and in my opinion they have to get the succes, but is it coming this year? But when the testing started in Jerez it was not so fantastic, you know. I think that Nicos car caught fire, but it is okay that it happens during a test, as long as it doesn’t happen during a race weekend. It was a big wake up call for the team in my opinion, and I’m sure they can manage to fix the problems. Lewis is a good driver, and Nico has evolved enormously over the years, so I think they are a good pair of drivers. And I’m sure that they will achieve good race results.

Michael: I’m a little bit “oldfashion” when it comes to Formula 1. I like the good old days. You are also from a time before Hermann Tilke took over the design work of the tracks and modified them. Was racing more “pure” back then? You’re one of the few drivers who have driven on the old Hockenheim track.
Mika: oh yes, the old Hockenheim. That was really amazing, and it was actually a really difficult track because the straights were so long. You shift to the highest gear, you reach the maximum speed – approximately 340-350 km / h – and then you just sit there with your foot down, and you know that everything is on the limit. The car sounds like it’s about to explode, and you can just see how enormously long the straight is. You know, you work all the time with yourself to create focus-driving. Because when the braking point comes in that speed, you really have to brake in the right place. If you brake a little bit too late, you really have a problem. It is very challenging, and you really have to constantly stay focused, so I find the Hockenheim track very difficult. It was not easy. People would think that it was just a long straight and that you wouldn’t have to do nothing but keep his foot down, but that’s not true. Because also when you do really high speed for a long time, you don’t understand speed anymore. Your mind suddenly begins to tell you “this is not so quick” even though you are doing 350 km / h . You get used to it. So you have to stay focused all the time.

Michael: Which track is your all time favorite track? You’ve driven on a lot different tracks.
Mika: I think that Brands Hatch in England is definitely a fantastic track.
Michael: But you have never driven on that track in a Formula 1 car.
Mika: No, not in a Formula 1 car, luckily not. I think it is too dangerous for that. But Brands Hatch is beautiful. Monaco is also a fabulous circuit. When you have a good car it is really great fun, because you can really get close to the barriers. But with a bad car it is more challenging. Then you are really worried about the corners.

Michael: You gave us each two high-speed laps out on the track just before, and you showed us how difficult it is to drive in slippery conditions. We could also see that you were significantly faster at the end of the session.
Mika: really? You were checking?
Michael: Well, of course we were. What is your advice driving in such conditions?
Mika: Safety comes first. There is no point in going out there and try to do the quickest lap on a track. So always keep an eye on how fast you drive. You have to drive with your own feeling. Don’t try go over your own abilities in a car. And the roads are not race tracks anyway. So respect the speed limits and keep the distance to the other cars. Under those conditions (when it is snowing) if you would be driving while you were under influence of alcohol it would be catastrophic. And thank you guys for writing about this, because it is the right thing: Never drink and drive!

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