|1993 and Hakkinen - What Really Happened?|
|Alex Graham, Australia|
1993 was the year Mika Hakkinen spent almost an entire season as a supernumerary driver at McLaren, racing in only the last three races after Michael Andretti abruptly disappeared from the F1 scene. The unusual state of affairs which existed at McLaren that year came about after a series of complex contract negotiations in which Keke Rosberg overcame numerous behind-the-scenes obstacles in order to secure Mika a drive at all. The race for a contract for the '93 season is a story which could have ended sadly, but fortunately had a happy ending. This is the story.
At the end of 1992 it seemed a foregone conclusion that Mika would go to Williams, and a contract to that effect had already been drawn up, but machinations from Peter Collins at Lotus (the team Mika was leaving) started a battle that not only lost Mika to Williams but to Lotus too. It then seemed that Mika might sign for Ligier but Rosberg eventually negotiated for the McLaren seat instead.
Mika got his first chance to drive in F1 through Lotus but it soon became clear that Peter Collins was putting his money on Johnny Herbert, and in a small team that meant Mika would possibly be left out in the cold. According to Keke Rosberg, the situation at Lotus had reached a point where it was time for the Finn to make a career change if he was to advance in F1. Once the rumours began that Mika would be going to Williams, Lotus began a concerted effort to negate Mika's worth by pointing out his weaknesses to other teams. Later Collins admitted to Rosberg that this was merely a negotiating tactic as he tried to retain Mika at Lotus, not his true opinion of Hakkinen. Collins then claimed Hakkinen already had a contract with Lotus, although later it was ruled that rather than a contract, there was in effect an agreement that an agreement would be made. Everything was looking promising with the contract for Williams ready to be ratified and Mika set to drive alongside Alain Prost.
Then the bombshell dropped. Williams was late in registering the team's entry for the 1993 season, and was about to be left out of the running. The only way for Williams to be permitted to participate was by special agreement, which needed the consent of every team in the competition. Peter Collins, seeing a golden opportunity, refused his consent if Williams persisted in signing Hakkinen. Frank Williams was prepared to negotiate for the Finn but Collins announced that Mika was not for sale. Willams cancelled the contract.
Rosberg, as Mika's manager, decided that a legal battle at this point would do more harm than good to Mika's career; instead he approached Ron Dennis. At the same time Ligier were making the right noises, wanting Mika to partner Mark Blundell but just as Hakkinen was about to sign with the French team, a paragraph was changed in the document which manager Rosberg would not accept and the deal fell through. Mika was still without a drive and by now it was December. Rosberg again made contact with Ron Dennis (who was vacationing in the French alps) and filled him in on the failed Ligier negotiations. An arrangement was made for Dennis to meet Mika and start negotiations for a McLaren contract. At this stage Senna was still refusing to commit himself to McLaren and Dennis needed another driver in the eventuality that Senna did not return in time for the first race of the season. Hurried talks were held at Courchevel airport, the result of which was a new contract - this time with McLaren. The legal challenge from Peter Collins at Lotus over contactual issues meant the case had to be heard by a Swiss tribunal in Geneva, but two days of deliberation later the McLaren contract was in Mika's hands. Peter Collins had lost his one man war.
As a footnote, it is now history that Senna did return to McLaren to partner Michael Andretti and suddenly the team had three drivers and only two cars. Mika was destined to play a waiting game, relegated to test driver and waiting for his chance to drive in a race. His chance came in Portugal, where incidentally the Finn outqualified the master himself - Senna - when Andretti left F1 behind, returning to the USA and leaving Hakkinen the last three races of the season. Some critics believed Rosberg and Hakkinen had made a mistake in taking the McLaren seat, but Rosberg defended the decision: "Mika and I have all the time known what we were doing...I really don't think we have made a mistake and you'll see that too. I believe that Mika will be seen on the podium in this season." Rosberg's prediction proved to be correct - Mika finished 3rd in Japan. "Mika's goal is to be world champion. Now he is in the team in which he can achieve it...Mika will go on at a step at a time: first one is to win one GP and after that to win a world championship." Mika is now well on the road to achieving that goal, but one wonders what might have happened had Mika driven for Williams in 1993.