Former Michael Schumacher rival, Mika Hakkinen, has once again added his two cents to the ongoing argument as to whether or not Schumi (a) made a huge mistake in attempting a comeback, and (b) should hang up his driving gloves and call it a day. Hakkinen has come down firmly in the yes camp on both counts.
Mika Hakkinen, it will be remembered, was Schumacher’s main rival during McLaren’s glory years when Adrian Newey was their technical director. The Flying Finn took the title in 1998 and 1999, and came within a shout of it in 2000, the first year that Schumi grabbed all the laurels with Ferrari. Hakkinen seemed to lose some of his luster after the pressure of his two title-winning years, and he retired from F1 after the 2001 season.
It’s worth noting that, while Hakkinen and Schumacher are within a year of each other in age, Schumacher, in the first phase of his career, went on to drive five more seasons after Hakkinen’s retirement, winning titles in three of those years. While Hakkinen might have lost some of his fire, the German ace hadn’t. It’s also interesting to note that Schumacher has previously commented that Hakkinen was the driver he most respected during Schumi Phase 1.
One wonders if the respect was returned, however, or if Hakkinen is now exhibiting sour grapes. Whatever his motivation, Hakkinen recently told Munich newspaper TZ, “Personally, we were never close friends because he always came across, to me anyway, a little bit too arrogant.”
Nor did the Finn stop there. He went on to offer a damning critique of Schumi Phase 2. “Michael is for me now a tragic ex-hero,” Hakkinen said. “I ask myself why on earth he got back into the cockpit. There is the most successful man in motor sport driving down in the pack and making a ridiculous mistake in Abu Dhabi that almost cost him his life.”
Hakkinen was, of course, referring to Schumacher’s collision with Force India’s Tonio Liuzzi in the season’s final race. “What a tragedy this would have been for the Germans – and on the day of Vettel’s triumph,” the Finn said. “What has the man who has won more than anyone else still to prove? In my view, he is dismantling his own legacy bit by bit. And I see it making no difference whether it is for technical reasons or because he can no longer keep up with the boys.”
Hakkinen summed up with, “You can neither stop the wheel of time, nor turn it back.” Hakkinen himself returned to motorsport in 2005 in the German DTM series, winning a total of three races from 2005 through 2007. At the end of 2007, he announced his complete retirement from competitive racing.
Hakkinen has since launched a career in driver management, following the path of his own former manager, Keke Rosberg. As an F1 driver, Rosberg won the world title for Williams in 1982. He later turned to managing drivers, steering the careers of such F1 drivers as Hakkinen, J.J. Lehto and, until 2008, his own son, Nico Rosberg, also formerly a Williams driver, and now, of course, the team mate of Herr Schumacher, at Mercedes.