top of page

Mika Häkkinen: The Route to Monaco

Written by Nia Nieminen , Edited by Sharifah Zaqreeztrina

Mika Häkkinen with his teammate Ayrton Senna back in the days. Source: Patrick Behar/Corbis

Mika Häkkinen is a former Formula 1 driver, who till this day has been the only Finn to win The World Drivers’ Championship twice.

Even though the Finn has retired for over a decade ago, he’s been an extremely remarkable role model to younger drivers and people remember him as the Finnish McLaren driver, given the fact that’s where he sealed his two Drivers’ Championship victories.

As Häkkinen might not be widely known to newer fans, let’s talk about his successful career in Formula 1 and what he’s done post-retirement.

Route to Formula 1

Like any other racing driver, Mika Häkkinen started karting at the age of five. He won his first karting race in 1975 and then his first major karting title six years later. He also took home the Formula Nordic 100cc title three times in 1984, 85 & 86 and from there moved to the EFDA Formula GM Lotus Euroseries where he ended up second.

Before his debut in Formula 1, Häkkinen took part in the British Formula 3 Championship and Formula 3 SuperPrix. He also drove in the tenth round of the French Formula 3 Championship. In 1990, Häkkinen decided to apply to the Marlboro World Championship Team which was a racing driver academy back then.

Eventually, he was invited to their testing and performed well which led up to him getting a sponsorship from Marlboro.

Formula 1 Debut

Häkkinen drove his first Formula 1 test with Benetton in 1991, but signed a contract with Lotus for the 1991 season not believing that Benetton would offer him a seat after having difficulties with the car. He scored two championship points during his first season, placing sixteenth in the Drivers’ Championship.

Mika Häkkinen in the 1991 US Grand Prix. Source: David Madison

Adelaide 1995

It was a normal Friday qualifying session for Häkkinen until he suffered from a tyre puncture that sent him towards the brewery corner. He lost control of the car causing him to end up in the barrier. Häkkinen then fractured his skull and lost consciousness after hitting his head on his steering wheel which led to him being taken to the hospital and subsequently did not race. Häkkinen however, healed in time for the 1996 season and resumed racing.

First Formula 1 win

Häkkinen won his first Formula 1 race in the European Grand Prix in 1997. The European Grand Prix closed the 1997 season and by winning the race, Häkkinen ended up in sixth place in the Drivers’ Championship. Häkkinen still to this day remains as the last winner of the European Grand Prix since the Circuito de Jerez has not been used in the Formula 1 series after that season.

First Formula 1 Championship

1998 was the year when Mika Häkkinen achieved his first Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship. The whole season had been amazing for the Finn. With 8 wins and a total of 11 podiums under his belt, he won the championship after scoring 100 points in the season beating Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher who came in second.

The 1998 Japanese Grand Prix podium where Mika Häkkinen was crowned world champion. Source: Tobias Heyer/Bongarts

Second, and last Formula 1 Championship

Unfortunately, Häkkinen had a really rocky season in 1999. He was fighting against Schumacher for the title once again until the latter was injured. Häkkinen still managed to place on podiums and win races and was even already declared as the title winner in the Malaysian Grand Prix after Ferrari’s double win was discarded. Häkkinen didn’t become the champion in Malaysia since the results were changed back and Ferrari’s Eddie Irvine was back on top.

Nevertheless, Häkkinen might have had the chance to take the title if he won the last race held in the Japanese Grand Prix. The Finnish driver saw the opportunity and took home his second Formula 1 Championship with 76 points.

Last Formula 1 win

Häkkinen scored his last Formula 1 career win in the 2001 US Grand Prix. Häkkinen had his lap time deleted in qualifying, sending him to fourth place in the starting grid for the race. Due to his long one-stop refueling strategy he was able to lead from lap 39 to 45. He then overtook Rubens Barrichello after pitting for new tyres on lap 50 and regained his lead which led to him winning the Grand Prix.

Last Formula 1 race

Since Häkkinen had decided early in the season in Monaco that the 2001 season would be his last for a while. His last race was the 2001 Japanese Grand Prix where he ended up fourth which placed him sixth in the Drivers’ Championship with 37 championship points. He then left on sabbatical from the motorsport series.

Mika’s life after Formula 1

Häkkinen made an announcement in July 2002 that he would be retiring from Formula 1. It was then revealed that Häkkinen’s decision to retire was during the previous year’s Monaco Grand Prix. Towards the end of 2002, Häkkinen was reported to be participating in the Finnish Rally Championship driving a Mitsubishi Lancer. Häkkinen had stated that he wouldn’t move into rallying full-time.

Rumours swirled around the Formula 1 community in 2004 on the possibility of Häkkinen making a comeback after retirement. He then proclaimed in 2005 that he had no intentions on coming back.

Häkkinen also drove in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) series until 2008 when he decided to retire from competitive racing.

Mika Häkkinen with Formula One group CEO Stefano Domenicali in 2022. Source: Dan Mullan- Formula 1

Nowadays, Häkkinen is involved in driving management and has joined forces with Formula 1 driver and fellow Finn Valtteri Bottas in the 2023 Race of Champions. He’s also a brand ambassador for various brands and still visits the Formula 1 paddock frequently as a Formula 1 analyst for Viaplay Finland.

Fun facts: According to Viaplay Finland’s documentary about him, Häkkinen owns his last Formula 1 car from 2001 and he stores it in his garage. Häkkinen also mentioned to Viaplay that he went to prison for driving in the wrong lane in Silverstone in 1992.


bottom of page