The future of Mika Hakkinen

MIKA HAKKINEN, taking a year's "sabbatical" from Grand Prix racing is waiting for the Australian Grand Prix to see how he feels when he is not at a Grand Prix track for the first time in years. Hakkinen says he does not know how he will react and the reaction will be important as he tries to decide what to do in the future. Hakkinen is unlikely to be able to get a drive back at McLaren as both David Coulthard and Kimi Raikkonen are on long-term contracts and if both perform well there is no reason for McLaren to change the duo. Hakkinen will have to convince Ron Dennis that he is completely motivated and then a way would have to be found to make space for him in the team.

It is possible that Hakkinen could drive for another team and the obvious target would be British American Racing which will probably be looking for a replacement for either Jacques Villeneuve or Olivier Panis. Many in F1 find it hard to believe that Hakkinen could work outside McLaren, where he was protected to a large extent from many of the pressures which affect other F1 racers.

The most important issue, however, is not where he might go but whether he actually wants to return to racing. Hakkinen has made a considerable amount of money over the years and does not need to race. He has also come close to death in an F1 accident and he knows that the risks are always there and with a young family he may conclude once and for all that it is best for him to stop.

Hakkinen admits that a suspension failure in Melbourne last year started him thinking about a sabbatical and that is not the kind of thought-process that will convince F1 team bosses that he is a man with a future in the sport.

Perhaps Hakkinen will go the same way as Jean Alesi and decide that he will race for fun in the German Touring Car , where Mercedes-Benz would welcome him with open arms.

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