Will Hakkinen come back?

THE announcement on Friday morning that Mika Hakkinen is to stand down from the West McLaren Mercedes team was not the announcement of a retirement - or at least not on the surface. Hakkinen says he does not want to retire but he does want to have a break from the sport after 11 seasons. The problem for McLaren is that while they have snapped up Kimi Raikkonen and already have David Coulthard under contract, so that in a year from now the team will have too many drivers under contract. Coulthard is only two years younger than Hakkinen and nine years older than Raikkonen so it is possible that David might be dumped at the end of next year to open the space for Hakkinen once again but the idea that there will be two Finns in the team in the future is pretty hard to imagine.

It is also difficult to imagine that Hakkinen will go to another team. Hakkinen himself admits that the move is a risk but feels that it is essential to take a break and get renewed enthusiasm for the sport. It worked for Alain Prost back in 1992 (although the decision to sit out a year was not made from choice) and Prost was driving a car which was far ahead of the opposition. Even so he had difficulty beating Damon Hill by the end of the year.

In Formula 1 circles the announcement is being treated by many as Hakkinen's retirement.

The fact that Alexander Wurz has been passed over for the drive is a very obvious slap in the face for the Austrian although he remains the team's third driver because there is not much else for him to do at the moment.

The recruitment of Raikkonen is a logical step but we have yet to see what the pay-off will be for Peter Sauber. The Swiss team owner does not need money and it might have taken rather more to convince him that he should let Raikkonen go. It may be that there is some kind of deal that he will get Mercedes-Benz engines in 2003 and it is quite possible that he might also find himself being offered Hakkinen as well.

That will all emerge in the fullness of time...

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