During the late-90s and early-2000s, there was often very little to separate Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher.
Between 1998 and 2000, the pair were embroiled in one of the fiercest on-track rivalries that the sport had ever seen. And here is how it unfolded…
However, unlike other battles, they respected each other, and that often made for memorable edge-of-the-seat entertainment. Their three-year duel does spark an interesting discussion; is their rivalry the best in Formula One history? Well, let’s look into the matter.
A Duel Built on Respect
Hakkinen and Schumacher’s rivalry didn’t descend into one entrenched with bitterness and discontent. Instead, and as The Guardian suggests, the pair were a match made in heaven.
Naturally, they didn’t shy away from pushing the sport’s legalities to the limit, but that speaks volumes about their respective characters. Despite their desire to win, neither racer adopted a dangerous style to defeat the other.
While Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost’s rivalry will live long in the memory, their battles often crossed a line. As such, the Frenchman believes that F1 will never see another fight quite like his with the three-time Drivers’ World Champion.
On reflection, there’s a widespread belief that Hakkinen was the driver that Schumacher feared the most. Interestingly, the Finnish racer’s current perceptions on F1 give an insight as to why.
After Max Verstappen collided with Carlos Sainz at the 2019 Bahrain Grand Prix, the 52-year-old declared that “racing hard does not mean damaging the other guy”. This mindset shows how he twice beat Schumacher to the title in 1998 and 1999.
Things Could Have Gone Differently for Hakkinen
Ever since making his debut in 1991, Hakkinen established himself as a fan favourite. However, his early performances for Lotus suggested that he wasn’t a future Drivers’ World Champion.
Insight in a post from Betway Wetten states that Hakkinen finished 16th in the standings during his debut season, two places behind his German rival.
In the Lotus 102B, the Finnish racer only once finished in a points-scoring position and ended the year with two points to his name. At the wheel of the 619-brake-horsepower car, Hakkinen failed to hit the heights.
Even in 1992, Hakkinen spent a lot of time watching on enviously as Nigel Mansell claimed the title. However, his performances did open the door to a move to McLaren in 1993.
After a lacklustre start, Hakkinen credits Ron Dennis for his two Drivers’ World Championship honours. The 51-year-old stated that he wouldn’t have reached the sport’s pinnacle without the former director’s tough approach.
Despite racing in an era in which Schumacher single-handedly led Ferrari to unprecedented glory, Hakkinen ensured that the all-action sport retained a sense of excitement and unpredictability. For that, he deserves great credit.
A Fan-Friendly Rivalry
While Prost and Senna probably hold the title for the fiercest rivalry, the duels between Hakkinen and Schumacher will live long in the memory.
Unlike other battles, the pair raced fairly out of respect for each other. Ultimately, without premeditated crashes or moments of controversy, both drivers entertained fans without crossing the line.