Friday September 14th, 2001
By Alan Baldwin
McLaren's Mika Hakkinen will take a break from Formula One next season and be replaced by fellow-Finn Kimi Raikkonen, the team said on Friday.
Hakkinen, World Champion with the team in 1998 and 1999, said he wanted the break to "recharge his batteries" and spend more time with his family. But he insisted he was not retiring.
The signing of Raikkonen, the subject of much speculation in recent weeks, represents a meteoric rise for a 21-year-old who came into Formula One this season after just 23 single seater car races. He scored in his first race in Australia and is currently ninth-equal with nine points.
It also ends the longest partnership in the history of the sport, with Hakkinen and Briton David Coulthard teammates for a record six years. Raikkonen, ice-cool and in many ways similar to the blisteringly quick Hakkinen who arrived at McLaren 11 years ago, has had a highly impressive debut season at Ferrari-powered Sauber.
"After 11 years in Formula One and two Formula One World Championships, Mika Hakkinen will take a break following the end of the current season to allow him to dedicate more time to family life," McLaren said.
Coulthard will stay for a seventh successive season, becoming the team's senior driver, with Austrian Alex Wurz remaining as test driver.
Hakkinen's poor form this season has been one of the year's enduring subjects of paddock gossip, with the Finn scoring just four points from the first seven races while Coulthard challenged for the lead. The Finn came good at Silverstone, winning the British race in July, but more frequently he has looked lacking in motivation as well as luck.
In July he admitted that he often thought of retirement but did not know what he would do if he stopped racing. The 32-year-old - he turns 33 this month - has been seen as something of a "favourite son" of McLaren boss Ron Dennis and he made clear that taking a step back had not been easy.
"Formula One has been virtually my whole life since I started karting in 1974," he said. "The intensity of my career has become increasingly difficult for those around me. Whilst this year has been difficult for me and the team, these experiences have not guided the decision to take this break.
"I asked the team for a break which would be a good way to recharge my batteries and enjoy more time with my wife Erja and my son Hugo. I'm pleased to welcome a fellow Finn to the team and I wish Kimi all the best."
Hakkinen said he would be racing "flat out" for the remaining three races.
"Of course it might have been easier to retire, but that just isn't a decision I feel ready to take," he added in the team statement. I know that I will have to work hard to return after my break but I know that I want to return with McLaren," he added.
Dennis paid tribute to the Finn, who will be starting his 160th Grand Prix this weekend and has notched up 19 wins with McLaren.
"Mika has always done an incredible job for us and now is not the time to be bidding him farewell," he said.
He said Raikkonen's arrival had been facilitated by the good relations between Peter Sauber and Mercedes, McLaren's partners.
"We are pleased to continue our relationship with David, who has shown that he can win races and is obviously a strong Championship contender."
Coulthard said he had agreed his deal months ago and he understood Hakkinen' reasons for stepping back. "Thanks to Mika, I have gained valuable insight into fast Finns, which I'm sure will be useful next year."
Published at 08:16:37 GMT