Mika Häkkinen: My thoughts on Bottas’ big move and what’s in store for the 2017 Formula 1 season


As everyone knows Formula One in 2017 is all about change; and that’s good news because when I visited pre-season testing in Barcelona I really thought the new cars not only looked quick, they also looked spectacular. They look how an F1 car should, which is great because I think the sport lost some of its direction in recent times.

When I arrived in F1 in 1991 the cars had simple aerodynamics. Performance was down to combining large amounts of horsepower with wide tyres and massive grip. Then a lot of things began to change; we went from having V12 engines to V10 and finally V8. We also started to develop the aerodynamics to the point where the cars became very sensitive; tiny changes became critical. In recent years the aerodynamics have not only become extremely sophisticated, but with high degradation tyres you could only push hard for a single lap. It was all about tyre conservation, and that’s not racing.

With the new regs, fat tyres and more downforce, you can go flat out, and it will be helpful if you have some balls too. It may even be possible to attack for the whole race, which is what proper drivers like doing.

I have heard a lot about the physical side of driving the new cars, but being fit is nothing new, even if the forces will be greater this year. The key thing is that the new cars will demand new levels of concentration. Drivers have not had to work very hard in recent years, but the bigger aero and much wider, more durable tyres will put an end to that.

All the drivers will have to be on the limit and know how to sustain it. An error will cause a spin or a collision with another car and I can imagine that at circuits such as Monaco and Singapore we are going to see a lot of mistakes due to mental tiredness.

Racing on the edge for a whole Grand Prix requires huge focus, and in terms of mental preparation different things work for different people. Some drivers will need to take more time out, go and lie on the beach, and get away from the pressure between races. The hyperactive types will need to find a way to calm down.

If I was in a position to train a driver I would really focus on making them calm, collected and mentally ready to do the job. When you are pushing the limits, one of the most important things you can do is to work out who you are and what you want to achieve. Do you want to be famous, a superstar, or to race the car as fast as possible and win races? Is this all about making money? It’s really important to know what you want out of Formula One because, when you finally work that out, you move forward.

People often ask me why so many Finnish drivers are quick. A lot has to do with having a Finnish mentality. We like to be close to nature, avoid distractions and give time to ourselves. Drivers from big cities and bigger countries can appear restless, even distracted. I think our culture really helps us to focus on what is in front of us. My late friend Dr Aki Hintsa was a fantastic guy to work with because he really believed in finding peace inside yourself in order to work out your goal and make the most of your talent.

Talking of quick Finns, Valtteri Bottas now has the chance to make the most of his talent following Nico Rosberg’s retirement. He is joining the best team in the world, and working alongside Lewis Hamilton is just perfect. It won’t be a comfortable experience, but that’s fine because racing drivers should never be comfortable. When you feel under threat, under pressure, it gives you the opportunity to develop a positive pressure and get the most out of yourself. A little bit of anger can be very useful too.

I watched and worked with a number of great talents including Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell. I learned from watching each of them. All three had a huge amount of energy and commitment, working with the team in order to constantly improve. Great drivers work hard, they realise that talent isn’t enough. To watch Ayrton work with the engineers, focus on the data, avoid distractions throughout the weekend and communicate with the team was incredible. You learn from that, and that’s the opportunity for Valtteri now that he is beside a guy who has won three World Championships and over 50 races. It’s the perfect place to be uncomfortable.

Finally to McLaren; last week I rejoined them as Partner Ambassador. I am hugely motivated to work with them and put my energies into helping Zak Brown achieve the success he wants for the team. During my career. I had an unbelievable time with McLaren; as a Formula One driver I experienced everything you could wish for with them, and to be honest it feels like only yesterday that I was driving there. 

Times have changed, the technologies have moved on, but the people remain passionate about what they do, and it is people and their motivation that make a team. For that reason alone I am certain that McLaren has plenty to look forward to, and I am really happy to be part of it once again.