MONTEREY, Calif. — Two decades after winning his first Formula 1 world championship, Mika Hakkinen will return to the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion for the second-straight year.
Hakkinen will meet with guests, sign autographs and drive exhibition laps during the annual festival that is one of the cornerstones of Monterey Classic Car Week.
Last year, he was demonstrating McLaren’s first-ever world championship car, the legendary M23 that took Emerson Fittipaldi to the 1974 drivers’ title. This year he will be behind the wheel of the F1 GTR, McLaren’s groundbreaking 1993 foray into the road car market.
Hakkinen’s first drive in the F1 GTR will be on Friday, Aug. 24 at 12:50 p.m. Almost immediately afterward, at 1:15, he’ll jump out, remove his helmet and race to the paddock stage to be interviewed and engage with the audience. He returns to the track at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday for another 15-minute on-track session.
Some think of Hakkinen as dry, but he isn’t. His one-liners are delivered laced with sarcasm and his sense of humor is finely sharpened. In an age that prefers instant gratification and validation through social media, Hakkinen appeals to those prepared to wait a little more patiently for the punchline.
In a way, that’s a reflection of his own Formula 1 career.
It took Hakkinen six years and 96 grands prix before he took his first Formula 1 victory. In an era where most drivers, bands or performers need to prove themselves instantly, Hakkinen’s lengthy induction was a throwback to a different time, but also a testament to the skill he’d always displayed – he just needed a car to truly demonstrate it.
It was the patience and vision of McLaren boss Ron Dennis that enabled Hakkinen to bloom. A McLaren driver since 1993, Hakkinen had endured a prolonged spell of uncompetitiveness, but had never lost faith in the team. Dennis was stirred by that commitment and duly rewarded it.
Dennis’ faith wasn’t even tested by Hakkinen’s terrible shunt in the 1995 Australian Grand Prix. When a tire punctured and threw the Finn’s car into the tire-wall, Hakkinen required an emergency trackside tracheotomy and a spell in the hospital to aid his recovery.
His return to F1 was by no means a given, but Dennis gave him time to recuperate, the opportunity to ease himself back into the cockpit, and the assurance that his drive for the following season remained.
Still, it wasn’t until the final race of 1997 that Hakkinen finally won his first grand prix, an achievement that, like many other drivers, opened the door for more.
A fortuitous change in the F1 regulations for the 1998 season – where the car’s track was narrowed and grooved tires introduced – not only gave the team the opportunity to create a dominant car, but also gave Hakkinen the platform he needed to finally return on the investment given him by the team.
It was as if a switch had been flicked.
Hakkinen won eight grands prix aboard the MP4-13 as he stormed to his first world title. The car proved so dominant that a legal second brake pedal – ingeniously introduced by McLaren to allow the drivers to ‘steer’ the car’s torque under acceleration – was outlawed after just one race.
The ban had no effect. After winning in Australia, Hakkinen went on to win again in Brazil, Spain, Monaco, Austria, Germany (twice) and at the season finale in Suzuka, Japan.