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  Monday, 29 July, 2002, 07:34 GMT 08:34 UK
Hakkinen will be missed
Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen
Schumacher and Hakkinen had mutual respect
Jonathan Legard

If Mika Hakkinen stayed in to watch the German Grand Prix at his holiday retreat near Helsinki, he could only have congratulated himself on his decision to turn his back on Formula One.

Michael Schumacher's first victory in red at Hockenheim suited the huge home crowd but to the world at large, it was no contest.

Hakkinen's old friends and colleagues at McLaren were never in the race after Kimi Raikkonen lost out to Juan Pablo Montoya in their early, feisty seven-corner skirmish.


I want to spend more time with my family and watch them grow
Mika Hakkinen

McLaren's decline from front runners to hangers-on was confirmed in full view of the plush, new Mercedes grandstand when David Coulthard was lapped by Germany's favourite sporting son.

That so easily could have been Hakkinen's fate if he had laboured on, a shadow of the double world champion who grew so accustomed to champagne and championships in two consecutive seasons of dizzying success.

Of all Schumacher's rivals down the years - Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve, Hakkinen and Coulthard - the Flying Finn is the one who has most gained his respect and admiration.

Fast, fair and fearless, Hakkinen proved himself Schumacher's equal regularly in 1998, 1999 and 2000. On many occasions he was also much better.

Who will ever forget that 200mph charge up the hill from Eau Rouge to pull off one of the most breathtaking overtaking movesFormula One has ever seen?

Certainly not Ricardo Zonta, who was sandwiched in between Schumacher and Hakkinen.

Mika Hakkinen
Hakkinen won 20 F1 Grands Prix

Probably not Schumacher, whom Hakkinen reprimanded afterwards for blocking a similar move a couple of laps earlier.

And who would disagree with Ron Dennis, Hakkinen's boss at McLaren, that his finest performance came in the 1998 Japanese Grand Prix where he scorched to victory to rout Schumacher and claim his first world title?

His qualifying lap to close out his key rival at Monaco in 1999 was equally impressive.

And so many times he played Schumacher at his own game, with a series of startling laps before diving into the pits en route to one of his 20 victories.

Schumacher also met his match when trying to score points in their psychological battles.

The Finn never rose to the bait, either feigning an inability to understand the question or flat-batting inquiries with a quizzical shrug and a nondescript answer.

Maddening for the media keen to play up any conflict but perfect to baffle and frustrate the German.

Schumacher probably misses him. Hakkinen was serious competition in a seriously effective car.

When Hakkinen was on his mettle - for example at Silverstone and Indianapolis last year when it was the champion combination of old - he was unstoppable.

Kimi Raikkonen replaced Mika Hakkinen at McLaren
Raikkonen replaced Hakkinen at McLaren

But the catalogue of McLaren cock-ups and failures in 2001 drove him into retirement as much as his sense of self preservation.

"I don't want to hurt myself any more," he revealed in his touching video message confirming his F1 farewell last Friday.

"I've enjoyed so much in my life, it's not worth pushing my luck further.

"I want to spend more time with my family and watch them grow."

How many Grand Prix drivers, let alone champions, have admitted that?

After the horror of his crash in Adelaide which almost killed him in 1995, Hakkinen was more aware than most of the risks he took each time he lowered himself into the cockpit.

But for an ill-timed Mercedes engine failure at the US Grand Prix in 2000, Hakkinen, not Schumacher, could have been Formula One's hat-trick hero.

Instead, history shows that Hakkinen failed and Schumacher never looked back.

Unlike many of his champion predecessors, Hakkinen knew when to stop. He has earned his place in the sun.

F1 now waits for Montoya, Ralf Schumacher, Coulthard or even Raikkonen to be given the same quality equipment Hakkinen enjoyed to take the fight to Michael Schumacher once more.

In-depth guide to the 2002 Formula One season

On-track action

News and analysis

Jonathan Legard

F1 2002
Links to more Formula One stories are at the foot of the page.


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