Mika Hakkinen, McLaren MP4-13, Silverstone, 2013

Hakkinen explains why his 2006 test didn’t lead to a comeback

F1 historyPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Mika Hakkinen has spoken about how his 2006 test for McLaren persuaded him not to return to Formula One after his 2001 departure.

The two-times world champion announced he was taking a sabbatical at the end of 2001 but never returned to the sport. He tested for McLaren at the end of 2006 but said in a recent interview with Unibet that although he felt ready to return he decided not to.

“It was close,” said Hakkinen when asked whether he might have returned to racing.

“I retired in 2001, the next one was the sabbatical. But a few years after that I started to have a certain feeling. I felt mentally and physically ready to return to F1.”

“I trained an awful lot. I flew to England to use McLaren’s simulator. I spent days in the simulator. It was probably 2004 or 2005. I was completely ready to return to F1. And as a double world champion I knew quite well how to be fit for action, I’d be better than ever.”

Mika Hakkinen, David Coulthard, McLaren, 1999
Hakkinen won his second title in 1999
Hakkinen drove for McLaren between 1993 and 2001 but he initially explored the possibility of returning with another team.

“I negotiated with Williams but it didn’t work out,” he said. “It was largely because he negotiations went up and down. I didn’t like it.”

“Finns are very black and white. If you do something, you do it. You go straight to the point. And although I understand these are complicated matters, but they couldn’t get a better driver than a double world champion.”

“There were other issues at play. And it wasn’t about a crazy amount of money that was out of the question for them. There were other issues that affected the decision.”

Nearing the end of 2006 McLaren needed replacements for Ferrari-bound Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya, who had quit F1. Fernando Alonso was already contracted to join the team in 2007 and then-GP2 champion Lewis Hamilton was being considered for a seat.

Hakkinen said “McLaren and Ron Dennis told me at the start of the sabbatical that I can return at any time” and he had begun preparing for a possible return.

“I started to train, used the simulator and tested at Barcelona,” said Hakkinen. Everything was ready for me to return.”

Hakkinen drove the team’s MP4-21 in a test at the Circuit de Catalunya after the championship had ended. But his day in the car was spoiled by a technical problem.

“I’ll never forget that testing session,” he said. “I know the track inside out, lots of mechanics I knew.”

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Jerez, 2006
Lewis Hamilton ended up driving for McLaren in 2007
“The day before I went to see Lewis test and how things had changed. At the end of the day one of his computer systems broke down. It controlled the MCU system in the engine. If I remember correctly it controls the gearbox, engine and carburettor flip, meaning that when you shift down the computer tells the engine to give throttle so that the rear wheels won’t lock up when the gear is smaller.”

“After the system broke I had to use an old one. It didn’t work with the new engine. The package wasn’t synchronised. Every time I braked the wheels were locking up. It was impossible. I said ‘come on guys, fix everything for tomorrow, let’s start the test session as agreed’. It didn’t work out. I couldn’t give the perfect performance because the wheels kept locking up.”

“I tested and drove all day long, lots of laps after all those years, everything went well. We analysed everything. I was aware of the problem. We couldn’t help it. We couldn’t fix it because we didn’t have a new part.”

Hakkinen said he was “relieved” afterwards to have realised he wasn’t ready to come back.

“This is Formula One. It’s constant problem solving, it’s nothing but suffering. Do I want to return to that?”

“There was a reason for me leaving. If I go back, the same problems are there waiting. Luckily the test didn’t work out.”

I entered F1 in 1991. It took me seven years to win a race. The same thing could ave happened. I’m not going to lose for seven years again. After winning two championships it worked out well.”

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60 comments on “Hakkinen explains why his 2006 test didn’t lead to a comeback”

  1. “This is Formula One. It’s constant problem solving, it’s nothing but suffering. Do I want to return to that?”

    “There was a reason for me leaving. If I go back, the same problems are there waiting. Luckily the test didn’t work out.”

    I entered F1 in 1991. It took me seven years to win a race. The same thing could ave happened. I’m not going to lose for seven years again. After winning two championships it worked out well.”

    Taking heed, Nando?

    1. So you want to scold Alonso for having granit strong resilience for the uphill battle he’s been in?

      I will always have less respect for Hakkinen for not having the guts to come back in less than perfect circumstances, unlike Schumacher in his comeback and guys like Alonso persisting in pathetic cars.

      1. Well, if he wasn’t going to enjoy it, then I don’t see why he should come back, and don’t see why that would lose him any respect. He stopped enjoying the sport, so he stopped racing. He thought about coming back, but realised it was still effectively the same so didn’t.

      2. To me actually is the opposite feeling between Schumacher comeback and Hakkinen choice not to again in F1. I think you need more guts to end when you are at the top of the game then to do a revival.
        For Alonso its just a sad waste of talent, but his had to blame himself (and his manager)

      3. @damon

        I will always have less respect for Hakkinen for not having the guts to come back in less than perfect circumstances

        I am not sure if it’s about guts and about perfect circumstances. It’s about having the perseverance to go through things you have been before. The whole test was apparently a deja vu of all the things that made him quit in the first place.

        I’m with @hugh11 on this one.

      4. “I will always have less respect for Hakkinen for not having the guts to come back in less than perfect circumstances, unlike Schumacher in his comeback and guys like Alonso persisting in pathetic cars.”

        When Schumacher chose to return to the sport at the end of 2009, the Brawn car just won the championships, I think Schumacher to some extent, expected the 2010 Mercedes car to be fully competitive (“perfect circumstance” in your words) and it didn’t work out.

        And Hakkinen persisted for seven years before winning his first race, does that not count? he also nearly lost his life in his 1995 accident (not simply a broken leg) and had the bravery/courage to come back to win two championships, is that not “guts”? how many drivers have done that?

      5. @damon Totally agree with you here on Alonso. Fernando is one the most resilient drivers in recent F1 history. Almost no top driver has had so much bad luck coming his way, yet still continued to push as hard as he has done.

        I don’t agree with you on Hakkinen however. For the same reason I respect Rosberg’s decision, I think we should all respect Hakkinen’s decision as well. Do we hate Montoya for leaving F1? No, because he wasn’t a very likeable character to begin with (although he was my favourite driver back in the day). Everybody makes their own choices and Hakkinen has always fought hard in the time that he spent in F1, it’s not like he doesn’t want the battle, but like he said: “Finns are very black and white. If you do something, you do it.” And you don’t do it to give your 70-80%.

  2. What a guy. Love him to bits.

    1. As a Ferrari tifoso, i hated him in 98 and 99, but after some time, i started to respect him, and now i even like a the guy now! He was a bit like Kimi: blinding fast when he’s on it, totally absent when he’s not. Un lagunero, en términos futboleros.

      1. @matiascasali

        And I as a very, very young Häkkinen fan back in ’98-’00 ‘hated’ Schumi (just wanting him to lose, not end up in some freak accidents like in Silverstone ’99, when he broke his leg), yet I didn’t have any clue back then that even though they were rivals, their rivalry was based on mutual respect against each other. This rivalry between Mika and Michael is the very reason I respect my opponents.

  3. Really interesting to read. I was a big Mika fan when I first started to understand Formula One around 1996. His battles with Coulthard (internally at McLaren in 1996 and 1997) and then Schumacher (1998 – 2000) were my first real experiences of F1. They were the classic years for me with characters like Mika, Johnny Herbert, Jacques Villeneuve and Gerhard Berger and real personalities not strung up by PR. I think after a few dry years we’re starting to see the soul of Formula One return with Ricciardo, Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton all showing their own different personalities.

    1. Ricciardo, Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton all showing their own different personalities.

      That’s true. Don’t forget Kimi though!

      The sad realization is that they’re mostly old dogs now (which has to be partly why the perception).
      Kimi – 37yo – debuted in 2001 – 2 years max left
      Alonso – 36yo – debuted in 2001 – could be gone any time soon, 4 years max left, unless he stretches it in IndyCar
      Hamilton – 32yo – debuted in 2007 – 5 years left?
      Vettel – 30yo – debuted in 2007
      Ricciardo – 28yo – debuted in 2011

      1. Nah, Hamilton has another 18 years left. He’ll retire with 248 pole positions, 202 wins and 19 world driving championships.

      2. @damon Haha, I would hardly call Vettel, Ricciardo and Hamilton old! In F1 terms they are in or reaching their prime years :)

  4. Shows how spoilt some drivers can get once being in a winning car….. they would rather not compete then come 2nd. You see it in hamiltons face when he is not winning… complete sour grapes. Some of these guys need to realise how lucky they other to have the opportunity they have in f1, they need a lesdon in humility. Dissapointing to hear this interview with hakkinen, he only wanted a comeback if he can be garunteed winning, that is not a competitors attitude.

    1. I think you need to look up the definition of sour grapes

    2. I don’t think this was the case for Hakkinen at all, reflecting on his test drive let him recheck his motivation. As someone who achieved success at the very highest pinnacle he was clearly very self-aware and able to deeply search himself and understand whether he felt capable of re-entering F1, clearly he didn’t.

      To your other point, any sports person who excels and wins should feel deeply upset when they are not winning this manifests through how expressive people’s characters are, sometimes it’s visible, sometimes not, but sure as hell that pain will be internalised and used to motivate future performances.

      Personally, as someone who is expressive in character, I can empathise with and like to see that pain and frustration at losing manifest, whether it’s Alonso lashing out on the radio, Vettel getting tetchy and entitled with back markers, or Hamilton with a visible sulk.

    3. In fact, that is a champion attitude, wich I respect. Otherwise you would end up with a field of competitors, with winners year to year, but no champions. Think about it.

  5. Probably my all-time favourite F1-driver (both as a driver and as a person), but I’m glad he didn’t return in 2007. There is no way that he would have done better than Alonso and Hamilton in 2007. And let’s be fair, it was a legendary year.

    1. @matthijs Can’t help but wonder whether the Spygate affair would have worked out differently had Hakkinen been driving for the team.

      1. @keithcollantine Can you tell me what you mean exactly? I don’t think I know in detail how Hamilton and Alonso affected Spygate.

        1. @matthijs For example Alonso knew about the information Coughlan had got from Ferrari and discussed its use, so would Hakkinen have done the same?

          http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2007/09/14/alonso-de-la-rosas-emails-led-to-mclarens-punishment/

          1. @keithcollantine – my understanding of this is that if Hakkinen had wanted to return then the line up would have been Alonso/Hakkinen rather than Hakkinen/Hamilton?

            Surely Alonso’s actions would have been very similar, unless Hakkinen wasn’t a threat in any way?

          2. Hakkinen knows how to keep things under wraps. The 3rd pedal in the McLaren was a good secret. If he were in the situation, I don’t think he would have handled things as Alonso did.
            Some of my favorite racing was between Hakkinen and Schumacher. Great days….

          3. Hard to say of course but one difference would have been that Mika would have been on a return to Mac, back to that ‘family’ if you will. Mika seems such a nice guy and given his history with the team I wonder if he would have just gone right to RD had he started receiving emails. Or perhaps because of his history and his niceness he would not have been sent them to begin with.

            If it was MH/LH, would LH have blocked Mika from a final hot quali attempt, or would he have had more respect toward him as a Mac family member with 2 WDC’s with them? If LH had done that to Mika would RD have come to Mika’s defence rather than doing nothing and making Mika think he was being treated as second rate?

            If it was MH/FA I doubt either of them would have stopped the other from a quali run. In general I think Mika would have been more uncomfortable having damning emails than FA was.

          4. @robbie

            If it was MH/LH, would LH have blocked Mika from a final hot quali attempt

            No because there wouldn’t have been the accumulation of incidents, basically centering on FA demanding and expecting number one status, that lead to the Hungary flare-up.

          5. Thing is Alonso was already signed. So the mystery is what lead Alonso to blow the whistle? And how would Hakkinen influence that from never happening? Not trying to be faster than Alonso?

          6. @david-br I think you better check reality. FA only ever expected equal treatment on the team, and obviously something drove him to believe that wasn’t the case.

  6. This sums up perfectly, in my opinion, why Schumacher should have not returned, and why Rosberg shouldn’t return in a few years (you never know). The sport moves on without you and after a few years out of racing you aren’t winning anything, and you have nothing more to prove. That’s a smart decision by Mika not to return in my opinion

    1. I think drivers can get away with a year off. I think Mansell did this and Prost. But any more than this then the sport and technology has just moved on. If you have been WDC already then you have nothing to prove really. If you have come very close then you might give it one more go if you will be in a top team. Otherwise don’t bother.

      1. Sundar Srinivas Harish
        8th September 2017, 15:23

        Mansell didn’t take a year off from racing per se. CART was equally competitive, and would’ve required him to maintain his mental and physical fitness. Prost on the other hand truly had a sabbatical year.

    2. @strontium @phil-f1-21 I think it’s a matter of grit. Are you willing enough to do whatever it takes to be succesful (again)? There is a reason a driver quits the sport and it’s often to do with motivation. In that case, don’t return.

    3. I can’t help but wonder, did Schumacher and Rosberg’s input into the development of the Mercedes help lead the team to greener pastures? If so, Schumacher’s comeback may have helped the team be what it is.

      1. I seem to remember Mercedes going backwards to accomodate Schumacher when he was being beaten regularly by Rosberg at the outset. Rosberg, on the other hand, clearly did contribute a lot, which explains some of the loyalty the team showed him at various points in his title fights against Hamilton.

        1. That’s a very fair point about Rosberg. In itself I never thought he really deserved his WDC. It all felt a bit contrived, and was never justified on raw talent. But, in hindsight, and given what you said there….. It makes more sense to me that that season was definitely massaged in his favour, knowing it would be his last, in return for his loyalty and hard work over the years. And you know what? Fair enough. I mean, it’s only a step up from when loyal No2 drivers in the past got handed a few wins.

    4. @strontium Didn’t Lauda take a few years off to run his airline, and then come back and win another WDC? If so, then it can be done, but rarely.

    5. @strontium

      why Rosberg shouldn’t return in a few years

      Raikkonen took time away from F1 (albeit still raced in other categories) and came back successfully with Lotus and Ferrari.
      But by your logic, should Kubica forget about fulfilling his dream of a return, due to his time away? I couldn’t begrudge him trying.
      In any case, people are motivated differently: I never thought the likeable Hakkinen was the voraciously competitive beast that Schumacher was, nor Kubica or Raikkonen for that matter, so I think it’s different for different people. The overriding need to compete and will to win, bound with unshakeable confidence in your ability to make it happen, sometimes against all odds and logic, is what drives such people to do what they do.

  7. Compare hakkinen to kubica. Hakkinen, world champion and yet too scared for a challenge in a top 2 car in 2007.. Kubica, a guy who had 20+ operations on his body, doing everything he can just to get back into f1 after 7 years and not expecting instant wins. If kubica comes back to f1 next year and under performs, i will still rate him better as a sportsman than hakkinen.

    1. You have to wonder whether Kubica would be so driven to return had he won 2 F1 WDC’s though. It’s hardly a fair comparison.

    2. The difference here is Hakkinen had already reached the pinnacle of F1 achievement (twice). I think this is honest answer from Mika, very human and self aware. I think seeing this as somehow diminishing Hakkinen and his achievement is the wrong way to look at it!

    3. Totally different circumstances! Kubica has something important to prove, Hakkinen did not and I do not believe that “scared” and “double F1 WDC” fit in the same sentence. I am sorry, but that is not a mature response.

    4. @kpcart

      That is a seriously disrespectful post. We are talking about a guy here who had his throat cut open by the side of the track by medics to save his life and he came back from that to be twice WDC and you call him ‘too scared’.

      Seriously?

      1. @baron @paulguitar Completely agree with your comments.

      2. @paulguitar thank you for posting this… I never knew about this… (f1 fanatic since 2011).

        Can’t help but gain more respect for hakkinen the more I learn about the man…

        1. @cm-cm

          Yeah, Mika is a great man, truly. He was amongst the very fastest to ever have been in F1, he out qualified Senna in equal cars in his first GP for McLaren… Also, scrupulously fair on and off the track, and a fun guy with a dry sense of humour.

    5. world champion and yet too scared for a challenge in a top 2 car in 2007

      Why didn’t you say too dumb to be able to magically predict that McLaren would be in the top 2 in 2007? (the reigning WDC, after all, won it with team Enstone)

      that and how inaccurate can arcmchair psychologists possibly be? :p

      1. @davidnotcoulthard Saw your post after I posted mine. Agree with you too.

  8. I think the main problem for F1 coming back from 2010 is that drivers could not test as much as they want as before because of new the rules. Without intensive testing it could be very difficult for any driver to come back and be successful in F1 after few years staying out of it no matter how much talent you have.

    1. Hakinnen was coming back in 2006/07 hamilton did about 20,000 km testing before his first race in f1, and in a top 2 car. No rookie will ever get that priviledge again.

  9. Pretty frickin ridiculous that McLaren would offer up a broken car to temp a two time champ back into the seat. Although we may not know the whole story its still utter nonsense to provide a chassis with the described issues. Shame on McLaren as Mika deserved better. But thats Formula One.

  10. Well done, Mika. You are a great champion!

  11. Well done Mikka you are a really funny guy. Great driver with a great dry sense of humour always makes me feel good every time I see him.

  12. Mika is my favorite commentator of all time. He didn’t say a lot, but what he said was always worth listening to.

  13. What a fascinating read this one was. Thank you @keithcollantine!
    Mika is absolute legend. Back in the day Häkkinen and the hype around him was the reason why I started following F1. True Champion of Champions.
    Would love to see Häkkinen doing some commentating in F1. Pretty sure he’d do amazing job.

  14. This was very interesting to read, thanks!

  15. Know that feeling … there is another world outside our job full of constant problem and find solution again.. again .. again and again. Time to enjoy life Mika .. agree with You

  16. Mika nearly died in 1995, had it not been for the efforts of Sid Watkins, he would have. People must realize, the sport was different then. Senna and Ratzenberger had been killed only the year before, Wendlinger had been badly injured. The safety levels were nowhere near like they are now. The sport was in a flux, nobody knew how to rectify the problem concerning safety. It would take the sport years in which to do so.
    Most people would have retired in Hakkinen’s position, they would have walked away. To get back in the car was one thing, to come back three years later and win a championship was quite amazing. This was why his relationship with Ron Dennis was always rock solid, Ron knew how close he had come to losing a driver that day in Adelaide. Winning the 1998 and 1999 titles was redemption, a reward for all that work. Mika had to regain even his taste senses, had head aches for months. He really suffered.
    For some to suggest that he ‘lacked guts’ for retiring in 2001 is pathetic and degrading. It’s easy to sit at home and judge someone, anyone, when you are not risking anything. Fernando Alonso is not Mika Hakkinen, they both have their reasons for what they do, and how they do it.
    When Fernando realizes that he has had enough of F1, I am sure that his decision will be as swift and as decisive as Mika’s was.

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