Steady As You Go
In Montreal, a patient Mika Hakkinen showed why he's world champ
For a journalist, the problem with having Mika Hakkinen as reigning Formula One champ (and as points leader this season after his victory in Sunday's Canadian Grand Prix) is that he does his job too quietly, with too much focus and too little flamboyance. Complains a British motor sports writer, "We've got a bloody world champion with that"—he raps a wooden desktop—"for a personality."
Hakkinen, 30, would have it no other way. Having nearly died after a crash in the 1995 Australian Grand Prix, a wreck that left him in a coma for a day and hospitalized for three weeks, the Flying Finn has learned "to walk a little bit slower," as he puts it, describing his approach to racing, which is to say, his life. "I learned that you don't have to rush," he said last Thursday. "People tend to forget that in their lives. They keep panicking, panicking, until one day they realize: Finished. Enough. I'm not going to do this anymore."
Never was Hakkinen's patience more evident than on Sunday, when Michael Schumacher, the most aggressive F/1 driver of this or any era, started on the pole in his Ferrari and immediately began turning blistering laps in the 1:21 range around the 2.75-mile circuit. Hakkinen said after the race that his McLaren Mercedes "was stable enough to go as quick," but he chose not to challenge Schumacher right away. "I knew that there would be a time when something would happen, either to Michael or to me. Going at the speed Michael went at the start of the race, either of us could have gone off."
Schumacher finally did go off, on Lap 30 of the 69-lap race, when he ran over the curbing on Turn 13 and slammed hard into the retaining wall. "After that I just concentrated on maintaining the right pace to win," said Hakkinen, who prevailed for the first time in eight tries at the Canadian Grand Prix and for the second week in a row. Said his boss, McLaren general manager Ron Dennis, "Of all the top drivers, including Schumacher, Mika makes the fewest mistakes." That may not make for scintillating stories, but it wins world championships.
F/1 Drivers' Lament
Grooved Tires Curtail Passing
Few observers will deny that Formula One races have become grand processions—single-file promenades with a dearth of passing. Through six events this year there have been no competitive passes on the course for the lead.
A growing chorus of drivers, among them former world champions Damon Hill, Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve, offers a solution: Get rid of grooved tires, mandated two years ago as a safety innovation to slow cornering speeds, and return to treadless slicks, which, contrary to what their name implies, provide better traction. Grooved tires (like the ones on Hakkinen's car at left) make cornering on pavement about as easy as Rollerblading on ice. It's hard for a driver to pass when he's struggling to control his car. "All we want is a small chance of managing an overtaking maneuver," says Villeneuve. "That has become nearly impossible."
To date, those complaints have fallen upon deaf ears. Max Mosley, president of F/1's governing body, the F�d�ration Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), canceled a meeting to discuss the tire issue with team owners on June 2 and men told The Times of London, in essence, that the drivers should stop complaining, be content to collect their enormous salaries of as much as $41 million a year and just drive. "Because they're paid so much, they are not entitled to like or dislike [the rules]," he told the newspaper.
Meanwhile, the world's most popular form of motor racing continues to lose pizzazz.