Last Thursday, at the Goodwood Festival of Speed press day, Badger was given the opportunity to chat with double world champion Mika Häkkinen. You don’t say no to the chance to interview a driver of Mika’s calibre, and we’re very grateful to the good people at Johnnie Walker for inviting Badger along. Here’s how our chat with a true F1 great went.
Actually, it’s worth mentioning that before the interview Mika took me for a ride in the Caparo T1, an insane machine that can be pretty well described as a road-going Formula One car. Being blasted between the trees on Goodwood’s narrow lanes, my bones shaken by the vibrations, was quite an experience (and one we’ll have video footage of on Badger later this week) so I kick-off by asking Mika about this.
“Well that car is a very powerful machine; even as an ex-grand prix driver – and even though I won the world championship a few times – if you don’t drive a car like that a few times a week…” he trails off, his eyes widening as if to say that the Caparo is a handful even for him.
“The last time I drove it was maybe six months ago,” he continues, “so to suddenly jump in a car that has 600 horsepower and weighs 600 kilos and then drive in a forest isn’t easy! You have to keep it at fifty percent all the time and not push it at all, you just want to keep it under control.
“And that’s what Johnnie Walker’s campaign is all about – staying under control,” Mika says, referring to the whiskey brand’s anti-drink driving push for which he is an ambassador. “When you’re driving something like that it’d be stupid to go flat out, but you can push it a certain amount and enjoy it.”
Speaking of whiskey, how does this semi-retired man of leisure like his? “Well, it depends on the situation, you know, but I think…” Mika is interrupted by a member of staff who has brought over a glass of fizzy brown liquid. Whiskey and Coke at four in the afternoon, Mika? He laughs. “No, this is not whiskey,” he reassures me.
I believe him, and it’s time to pose the question I’ve always wanted to ask – namely, what he remembers of that move on Michael Schumacher at the Belgian Grand Prix of 2000. There is a long, thoughtful pause before he begins speaking, and when the words do come they’re considered and deliberate.
“When I came up the hill through Eau Rouge and I saw the BAR going slowly I said: ‘this is my chance.'”
“That was a very special moment. Michael attacked quite aggressively during the laps I was behind him and at that moment I needed to change my tactics a little. Because I tried to overtake him in a very difficult situation – my wheels were on the grass, which is no good at 170 mph! So it was a great overtake. It just worked out absolutely perfectly.
“It wasn’t planned that way,” he continues, “it wasn’t planned that Zonta would be there. When I came up the hill through Eau Rouge and I saw the BAR going slowly I said ‘this is my chance, so let’s see what Michael does,’ and it worked out fantastically. It was a great feeling.” Listening to Mika recall this move you can tell that, over a decade on, it is still very special to him. Check out the video below and re-live this legendary pass.
From the sublime to the ever-so-slightly ridiculous, I put Badger’s now-standard question to Mr. Häkkinen: what does he have for breakfast? In fact, scratch that – what did he have for breakfast when he was winning world titles? He looks puzzled and I get the feeling he’s never been asked this question before – another first for Badger!
“It’s a very strange question,” he finally replies, “because if you ask me exactly what I had that Sunday morning in Suzuka in 1998…” he shrugs his shoulders before breaking in to a laugh. Whilst he may remember that move on Schumacher like it was yesterday Mika clearly hasn’t preserved his breakfast memories with quite such care.
“These days it depends where I am,” he offers by way of an answer. “When you travel a lot you can’t have the same thing everyday. Here at Goodwood, I was honoured to stay at Lord March’s house last night and they organised a beautiful breakfast. There was an English breakfast – sausages, bacon and all that stuff – and then there was muesli and fruit. I tend to concentrate more on the muesli I’m not your age anymore so I have to look after myself!”
Okay, so he’s not in his twenties, but does he have any more racing lined-up? “I’ve not got anything planned. I’m very happy with what I’m doing now – with Johnnie Walker, with Mercedes-Benz and with the logistics company in Germany.”
“I hope that, whatever happens in my son’s racing career, it will become his hobby.”
So it falls to the next generation of Häkkinen to continue the family’s proud racing legacy. His son, Hugo, has recently begun the path to F1 in kart racing – how involved will Mika be with his lad’s career?
“I’m going to be there and I will support him flat-out – maximum support! I want to keep it a fun sport for him as much as possible. It’s really difficult for me not to get too in to it because I know exactly what’s going on – I understand the mistakes and this and that. I just want my boy to have fun and drive, get mileage and learn from his own mistakes and see what happens. But I will support him. I hope that whatever happens in my son’s racing career that it will become his hobby. Even if it doesn’t become his job I hope it becomes his hobby because it’s a great fun.”
And then, as our conversation ends, my journalistic reserve breaks down and I say what I’ve been thinking throughout the whole interview. “Thanks so much Mika – it’s an honour,” I beam. It really was. The man is a true gent and a bona fide legend of our sport.
For more information on Johnnie Walker’s Step Inside the Circuit Campaign and to win a trip to Monaco see their Facebook page here