Mika Hakkinen is an endearing character; a calm and collected Finn taking on the much-feared Michael Schumacher in the most competitive season of his career and winning the World Championship. The story of Hakkinen’s comeback reads very much like a Hollywood movie, with the Finnish driver fighting back from a major life-threatening injury and then claiming his first two World Championship titles.
With so much riding on the shoulders of his star driver, the new team’s progress through the year and their own individual ambitions, the World Championship was always going to be difficult. In fact, there was a feeling that the season would not go to plan and that Hakkinen’s hopes of a third title would be dashed by a combination of poor starting performances, bad luck and poor management. The first part of the year was a disaster and Hakkinen seemed content to just ride out the storm, looking to ride out the storm as he took the pressure off Schumi.
Yet, despite the team’s good shape, the start was never really up to scratch. Despite a strong effort from Hakkinen, the team found it hard to match Schumi’s speed and pace and, even when they did, the team was never able to really challenge the dominant Ferrari. This left Hakkinen with the task of trying to fend off Schumi and Ferrari’s dominance with the same old approach, but without the advantage of being at the front.
And with the added factor of the new car developments, this proved to be harder than ever before. Despite the efforts to keep up with Schumi, Hakkinen found that the team’s limited understanding of what works and what does not work against them and it became increasingly difficult to keep the car competitive. When, after another poor start, Hakkinen made a big mistake and ended up running wide on the first lap of the season, it was no surprise to anyone that the team were struggling more than ever.
This led to the team being forced to make some key decisions, although this time they chose to make the mistakes themselves rather than having to rely on the team’s failure to catch them. One of those decisions was to give up and sell the team, to try and find sponsors and investors to help them stay in the sport. However, with a lack of sponsors, there were few chances of finding new ideas and new drivers, and there were fewer chances for the team to improve and to learn.
After that, things just got worse, with Hakkinen struggling to keep up with his team’s progress and becoming frustrated with the lack of progress that they were making. After the team sold the team, Hakkinen decided to throw in the towel and retire, but there is a sense that he was able to push the team into a better position and to try and change the perception of the whole team. It was this desire that got him back on track and to win the World Championship.