F1 motor racing: Hakkinen's street car of desire

"WHAT I have to do this year is just have a very clean race," Mika Hakkinen said, and the cynics smiled knowingly.

When it comes to Monaco that may be easier said than done. He has only once been classified as a finisher in his six races here, with sixth place in 1995. In 1994 he tangled with Damon Hill at the start; in 1996 he wrote off a new McLaren while trying too hard in pre-race wet weather acclimatisation; last year he was again a first-lap casualty.

But that was then, and this is now. The Finn leads the world championship in his West McLaren Mercedes, and expectations are high. But there is much more than corporate glory at stake here. Monaco is Michael Schumacher's playground, and the two of them have a history together on street circuits which dates back to 1990 and the Formula Three Macau GP. That season Hakkinen was the favourite and only the cognoscenti had heard of Schumacher. Yet the German not only won, but forced Hakkinen into a humbling mistake.

Some years back, when McLaren was plumbing the depths, Hakkinen struggled for words to describe his feelings. "I'm not the guy to get pissed off unless it's a really bad situation like..." He searched momentarily for the right example. Like Macau 1990, perhaps? His eyes flickered briefly, but he was able to laugh. "Yeah. Exactly."

It still rankles. Beating Schumacher here in a straight fight would be icing on what is already a tasty cake for Hakkinen. He hated being gifted his first two races - Jerez last year, Melbourne this - espousing the view that if you haven't won from the front you haven't really won at all. But while his victories in Brazil and Spain were textbook domination stuff, there is still a point to prove. He has borne adversity with honour, and is ready now to reap the whirlwind. If you beat Schumacher in Monaco, there is nothing else to say.

Yet it goes deeper even than that. Ron Dennis recently admitted his interest in Schumacher when he said: "If you have the best car, you obviously want the best driver." Hakkinen knows that the German might be after his McLaren drive next year, and is probably aware of the rumour that the first tentative steps towards such a deal have already been taken.

Neither driver has had an easy time thus far this weekend. Schumacher crashed his Ferrari at Casino Square on Thursday afternoon. And while he fretted at the side of the track yesterday morning, the victim of driveshaft failure, Hakkinen clobbered the barrier by the swimming pool section only moments before his team-mate David Coulthard did a more comprehensive job.

Monaco rarely forgives driving errors. You push as hard as you can until you either go very fast, or hit something. It's like leaning as far as you can out of a high window; the art is in avoiding the fall.

Ultimately, Hakkinen leaned out farther in qualifying, rising to the impressive challenge of Giancarlo Fisichella's Benetton and Coulthard. The Scot set the pace before the Italian recorded the fastest time. Hakkinen's initial response was thwarted right at the end of the lap by a slower car, then Coulthard retrieved McLaren honour. But it was Hakkinen who had the last word as he became the only driver to dip below 1min 20sec. Against the Bridgestone trio, Schumacher had to be content with fourth fastest time after wringing every ounce of speed from the Ferrari.

What makes Hakkinen's display the more impressive is the resolute manner in which he has shaken off the trauma of his near-fatal accident on the streets of Adelaide in 1995 when only an emergency tracheotomy, performed by the side of the track, saved him. To return to the cockpit and outwardly remain unaffected by such an experience is nothing short of remarkable. Time and again he has proved he has lost none of his speed.

"The accident made driving, and life, a bit more difficult because it hurts your confidence enormously. You cannot help it, it just does. Even though it was not my fault. Automatically, still in your mind, many times you just think..." He pauses reflectively, before continuing:"Yeah, it hurts your confidence. But your confidence comes back more and more every day."

Not three months after the accident, he drove a McLaren again. People at the Paul Ricard circuit said he looked just like the old Mika, full of brio, locking wheels and throwing the car at corners. "I didn't try to overdrive the first time. I didn't really get too excited. I told myself it was just a car. But when I drove it for the first couple of laps, it was fantastic again and I liked it. But it wasn't very easy, to be honest. After a long break like that, it was difficult to come back."

Since that fateful race in Macau, Schumacher and Hakkinen have enjoyed varying fortunes. But now the Finn's career is back on track. "I'm not naturally patient, but I am waiting very patiently," he said in the dark days. "And when I've got the car, I'm ready to win."

He may well do so again this afternoon, unless Coulthard makes one of his demon starts. But Schumacher, as ever, will be the bogeyman. Adverse odds have never bothered him before in Monte Carlo.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital