Born on 28 September 1968 in the Helsinki metropolitan area of Vantaa, Finland, Mika Pauli Häkkinen started his auto racing career behind the wheel of a go-kart at the age of five. Having crashed on his very first lap, it appeared that his brief encounter with auto racing had come to an abrupt end. However, the racing bug had bitten, and Häkkinen managed to persuade his parents to give him a second chance, leading to him winning five karting championships by the end of 1986. Dubbed as the ‘Flying Finn’, Mika Häkkinen made quite an impression on the racing world, eventually leading him to become a Formula One driver for Team Lotus in 1991.
Having qualified thirteenth for his Grand Prix debut race held in Phoenix, he held his position until his car gave engine trouble preventing him from completing the race. Undeterred, Häkkinen went on to score his first Grand Prix points in the race at the Imola race track in Italy, by fighting his way from 25th on the grid to finish fifth – a mere three laps behind Ayrton Senna who took the checkered flag. The year 1992 proved to be a good one for Häkkinen as he finished the season in eighth place in the Driver’s Championship with a six-fold improvement in his points score over the previous year.
Häkkinen joined McLaren as a test driver in 1993, being called upon to fill the gap left by Michael Andretti when he left the F1 team following dismal results. Häkkinen made his McLaren race debut at Estoril in 1993, where he qualified above the team’s leading driver Ayrton Senna. However, a mishap during the race took him out of the running for points. It was at Suzuka on the following weekend that Häkkinen earned his first career podium by finishing fifteen seconds behind his tea-mate.
1995 presented some challenges for the Flying Finn as, following second place positions in both Italy and Japan, he missed the Pacific Grand Prix for health reasons. Back behind the wheel for the Australian Grand Prix, Häkkinen was critically injured during practice, with quick thinking by rescuers and an emergency tracheotomy saving his life. Amazingly he was back on track for the 1996 season, claiming his spot on the winners’ podium, although not yet in first place. He finished the season at fifth in the Driver’s Championship with a total score of 31 points.
The elusive first place was claimed by Häkkinen at Jerez in 1997 for the McLaren F1 Team. 1998 saw Häkkinen vying with Michael Schumacher for championship points right up to the third last race of the season. Häkkinen went on to beat Schumacher at the Luxembourg Grand Prix, claiming first place at the last race of the season in Japan. Despite facing a number of challenges in 1999, and making some serious errors of judgment, Häkkinen claimed his second world championship at the end of the season. Michael Schumacher took the F1 victory in the year 2000, reportedly describing his rivalry with Häkkinen as the most satisfying of his career.
At the end of the 2001 season, which proved to be somewhat bitter-sweet for Häkkinen, he retired from Formula One racing, initially stating he would be taking a twelve-month sabbatical, but in mid-2002 making it an official retirement. Between 2005 and 2007 Häkkinen joined forces with Mercedes-Benz for the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM), claiming a number of victories.
Although rumors persisted that Mika Häkkinen would be returning to F1 racing, in 2007 he announced his retirement from competitive motor sport, and in 2008 he revealed that he would be pursuing a new career in driver management. No doubt this Formula One champion’s vast experience on the track will prove valuable in his chosen new career.