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Mika Häkkinen: 2017 review - "The driving talent in Formula One today is probably among the best it has ever been"


Mika Häkkinen: 2017 review - "The driving talent in Formula One today is probably among the best it has ever been"

Double world champion and Unibet ambassador Mika Häkkinen reviews an exciting year in Formula One, and looks ahead to 2018

LOOKING back at the Formula One season, it is easy to think that it was another straightforward success for Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton, but this is definitely not the case. They had to work hard for it, and you only have to look at the early part of the season to see why. In the first nine races, we had four different race winners, with Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton winning three Grands Prix each, Valtteri Bottas taking two victories and Daniel Ricciardo a win for Red Bull Racing.

Having dominated Formula One since the hybrid regulations started, Mercedes had some problems with this year’s car; I think they described it as a ‘diva’ because you were never quite sure what to expect. Sometimes it was very quick, other times the rear stability was not there and the setup of the car was on a knife-edge. It made life difficult for Lewis, even though he had a lot of experience with the previous Mercedes cars, while for Valtteri it meant that his first experience of driving for the team was not easy. He was always going to face a big learning curve, and the issues with the car made that an even greater challenge.

Some people think the turning point in Lewis’ season came after the summer break, when he won three Grands Prix in a row at Spa, Monza and Singapore, but for me his dominant win at home in Silverstone was the trigger. Behind him the Mercedes team had been working very hard to understand this year’s car, and the best way to get the most from the new regulations. When I visited pre-season testing in Barcelona I could see the new cars were very quick - physically larger with bigger tyres and a lot more downforce. Definitely more demanding to drive.

Mercedes worked hard to get the most of their ‘diva’, and this is where the teamwork became so important. There are a massive number of people involved in a competitive Formula One team and you need everyone at the factory to keep on pushing to the maximum level, making the changes that will solve problems, make the car go faster. You could even see the level of team work at Mercedes between their drivers; in Hungary, Valtteri handed his race position over to Lewis, and when Lewis was not able to do anything about Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari in second place, he handed it back to Valtteri again. That showed great maturity and professionalism from the drivers and the team management.

Lewis’ achievement in winning four World Championship titles is impressive, and you can see that he has kept the hunger alive. That is critical. When I won both my World Championships in 1998 and 1999 I went into 2000 absolutely determined to win a third title, but it was not to be. After that year, when I felt my energy levels drop a little, it was not long before I retired. Some drivers are happy with one title, others need to keep going. Michael Schumacher was able to push himself year after year, but there are not many who can sustain that level of motivation.

I was really delighted to see Valtteri win two Grands Prix. He is a strong, balanced guy, and the wins in Russia and Austria showed he is fully capable. He had some tough times in the middle part of the season, but I know how hard he has worked to get to where he is, and you can be sure he will use the off-season to build on everything he has learned. Both Ferrari and Red Bull Racing were strong this year, and for the first half of the season it looked like Ferrari might be able to challenge Mercedes for the title. In Spa and Monza we knew that Mercedes were really quick, so Singapore was the big opportunity for Ferrari to come back and win again.

The start-line accident between Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen not only ended that weekend’s race, but really stopped any chance of Ferrari sustaining a challenge in the World Championship. When they also had some reliability problems, that showed me the extent to which Ferrari was under pressure, maybe having to push too hard in its fight to stay with Mercedes. This is why Formula One is such a tough business.

Red Bull Racing was not as consistently competitive but they added a lot this season. As I have said before, Max Verstappen was the standout driver of the season because he is so exciting to watch. The two wins in Malaysia and Mexico showed that both he and the team have been getting stronger, and with Daniel Ricciardo winning in Baku, it means Ferrari and Mercedes could never relax.

Behind the top three teams, there was a lot of interest, particularly with the new generation of drivers coming through. Stoffel Vandoorne, Esteban Ocon and Carlos Sainz are exciting to watch, and when you consider that their teammates Fernando Alonso, Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg are very quick, the driving talent in Formula One today is probably among the best it has ever been.

Two negative points about Formula One in 2017 were the continuing problems concerning track limits and the ridiculous number of grid penalties awarded to drivers as a result of powertrain problems. I have made my view on track limits very clear; the lines are there for a good reason and the current drivers should respect them. The alternative is the old, high, kerbs which were very dangerous and could launch a car into the air.

As for the engine penalties, I know the FIA has simplified the system for 2018, but with the number of permitted engines being reduced from 4 to 3, I can see more problems during the course of a long and very competitive season. On a more positive note, Formula One in 2018 promises to be even more competitive. I am sure Mercedes will again be the team to beat, but Ferrari will build on what they learned this year and Red Bull Racing will be joined by McLaren in having a supply of Renault engines.

I know just how excited everyone at McLaren is to start a new chapter in its history, and there is huge determination to win again after a difficult few seasons. Zak Brown is one of the most ambitious guys in the F1 paddock, and everyone in the McLaren organisation is working hard to make sure that much better times lie ahead. With the Renault team also likely to make progress, Honda trying hard to rebuild its reputation with Toro and Alfa Romeo supporting Sauber, there are plenty of reasons to look forward to Formula One in 2018.

 

 

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Mika Häkkinen
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