We won’t need to explain why Mika Hakkinen driving a McLaren at Suzuka is big news. The 50-year-old Finn is to make a return to competitive motorsport for the first time since 2011 at the place he secured his two Formula 1 World Championship wins, competing in a 720S GT3 in a 10-hour endurance race this August.
After retiring from F1 in 2001, Hakkinen competed in DTM, only hanging up his helmet after racing in the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup eight years ago. He has plenty of tin-top experience to call upon for the 2019 race, then, and this being Hakkinen, he has proclaimed that he’ll be going for the win while looking to “kick some butt”. How we miss him in F1.
Let’s look back to a time when it was the rear of a certain Michael Schumacher that felt the wrath of a Finnish foot, thanks to an excellent getaway for Hakkinen at the 1999 Japanese Grand Prix. In his Mercedes-V10-powered McLaren MP4/14, the then one-time champ beat his German archrival off the line and into the first turn, putting him on course to a second title.
Onboard cameras back then were far simpler than today’s ultra HD stuff, but there’s something more intimate about this raw, unedited footage that helps every bump, steering input and squeeze of the throttle pour off the film. You can hear the satisfying build of revs as those grooved Bridgestones dig into the asphalt below with just the right amount of slip, surging the McLaren past the red car to the left.
He’ll be 20 years older when the McLaren 720S GT3 lines up on the grid for August’s endurance race, but something tells us memories of that phenomenal and pivotal launch will still be vivid in Hakkinen’s mind.