Hakkinen's special bond with McLaren-Merc team

IT is now almost six years since McLaren team principal Ron Dennis rushed into Adelaide's Victoria Hospital to be told by F1 medical delegate Dr Sid Watkins that he could not predict whether or not Mika Hakkinen would survive following a horrifying 120mph accident in practice for the 1995 Australian grand prix.

In the days and weeks that followed, the deep personal bond was forged which has defined the relationship between the two men ever since. It is something which transcends the customary employer-employee relationship in this high octane sport and has inevitably given rise to speculation that Hakkinen is Dennis's favourite driver.

"There is a perception that I have a close relationship with Mika than with David (Coulthard)," he said. "There is that emotional value (between us), but you've got to understand where it comes from.

"Walking into that Adelaide hospital, being sucked into the trauma of the whole thing. Seeing the guy going through the (medical) stages which were predicted by the specialists.

"I am a guy who, if he ends up in a situation in which he doesn't want to be, then I've got to be able to look back and ask whether I did everything in my power. I got involved mentally in the milestones of his recovery through to the point where he was up and running again.

"You're not human if that doesn't affect you, but it doesn't mean diddly-squat when I have to take decisions about the outcome of a grand prix and who's going to win. I'm consumed by winning. I don't give a damn who wins, I really don't."

For his part, Coulthard is too astute to make play on Hakkinen's special relationship with McLaren, because it is conducted purely on a personal level and never impinges on the professional and technical operation of the team.

"David is intelligent enough not to press the point," said one well-placed McLaren team insider. "He has known the situation for a long time and works round it. Yet he has a good, sensible working relationship with Mika."

Yet Dennis is more specific in allaying either driver's fears that the other might be gaining some sort of preferential edge.

"The moment you start the formal process of trying to win races, all the emotion goes out of it," he said. "I can comfortably say that I am totally committed to either of the drivers winning. I don't care who wins."

For Hakkinen's part, he has now been a McLaren driver for almost nine years. So what about that reservoir of motivation on which he has been drawing relentlessly since the start of his formula one career in 1991? Are there any signs of it yet running dry?

"If we're talking about my first championship in 1998, maybe I had maximum motivation," he said. "Maybe today I feel a little less. Retiring is not yet in my mind. There's going to be some time when I'll have to start thinking about it. But not yet."

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