I remember when he was coming up through F3000 as it was then (I think), West (the McLaren sponsors of the time) funded an F3000 team which Nick was in and he did pretty well. Factor in that he was a McLaren tester for a few years too, he looked pretty set to be a McLaren driver in the future, not unlike Hamilton. However when his chance came when Hakkinen went on a “sabbatical”, it was his younger team-mate who only just got a super-licence in the first place who landed the plum seat!
N.B. A lot of this is partially my opinion of events which did happen.