INTERVIEW

Mika Hakkinen

Mika Hakkinen put his McLaren third on the grid in Estoril, ahead of Ayrton Senna. It was a remarkable performance for a man who has spent the year testing. But if he had been flying in qualifying. he really took off in the race. The problem was that it was not the right kind of take-off. On lap 33 he came through the final corner too fast and went off, launching the McLaren into the air and across the track - where a solid barrier awaited.

"I was too close to Jean Alesi," he explained later. "I had to push like hell in the corners because I didn't have the power on the straight. The Ford is not a bad engine but it is lacking power and I couldn't stay with the Ferrari. I was in sixth gear, just coming up to the rev limiter at the exit of the last corner when the car went wide. When it was on top of the kerb I knew it wasn't coming back if I turned the wheel so I decided to steer it on to the grass and then try to come back onto the track. I kept my foot down. Unfortunately, there was a massive dip on the grass and that threw the front end into the air and the left

rear into the wall. I went across the track and the right front hit the other side.

"It was a big crash. The only thing that worried me was when I was going sideways down the track, I could see the front wheel bouncing straight towards me with wishbones sticking out. That was scary. Luckily, it stopped 10metres before it reached me.

"I'm really disappointed. It was purely my mistake and when you make a mistake like that it makes you angry. It shouldn't happen. That is how I felt as I was walking back. But I have had an excellent weekend. I've really enjoyed working with the whole team, with my engineer Steve Hallam, with Ayrton and his engineer Giorgio Ascanelli and with Ron Dennis. It's been really brilliant. I love it and I want to do more.

"When I was a kid - I still am really - I used to love driving so much that I cried when my dad said I had to stop. I've never had that feeling since, but I feel that now with McLaren. I want to drive and do better.

"It has felt strange this weekend. I've been coming to all the races this year, even if I haven't been driving. Here I am suddenly racing. I have a lot of friends in F1 and I know a lot of people. They are still the same, but suddenly

I seem to have more a lot more friends."

There have been times this year when Mika has needed friends. The decision to become a McLaren third was a risky move. When Senna decided to race Mika was left on the sidelines.

"I had Ron's word that I would race this year," said Mika, "and I felt comfortable about that. I felt straight away that I belonged to this team. The people were very good with me and supported me all the time, giving me hope and

helping me to do good work as a test driver.

"Sitting around watching races was not easy. Many times I watched GPs on the TV and I was standing up and shouting. "Why are you doing that?" to the McLaren drivers. I know them, I know they are good guys, but I saw them make mistakes

and couldn't believe it. When you look in from the outside. It looks easy. When you play yourself it is not. The thing was that I am a racing driver and it was a bit different. I knew how to do it and it made me angry.

"I've done a lot of testing this years. Thousands of miles, going faster and faster all the time. I have learned so much It is difficult to put into words how much. I don't think I could have learned it in any other situation because I had the time to look and think. If I had been racing I would not have had the time because there are so many distractions. I was able to sit down and study different drivers and different cars and analyse everything. I still have to improve myself in a few areas. It isn't easy to learn to work with people like Steve (Hallam), Giorgio (Ascanelli) and Ayrton. They all have so much more experience than I do, so I have to listen a lot to what they say. But I will also give my own ideas."

Mika doesn;t seem at all surprised that he was right up with Senna.

"I'm not surprised," he said. "I am a racing driver. Ayrton would say the same. I'm not in awe of him, but I love being his team mate.

"We had a good fight in qualifying and I was sweating a little afterwards, but Finnish sweat is very dry."

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