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Mika Häkkinen: Closer racing, more overtaking - F1 should be lots of fun in 2020

Mika Häkkinen: Closer racing, more overtaking - F1 should be lots of fun in 2020

Double F1 champion Häkkinen reflects on the US Grand Prix and looks ahead to 2020.

I remember meeting Lewis Hamilton for the first time in 1996 at the Autosport Awards in London. He was 11-years-old and already a kart champion, and I was asked by the organisers to present him with a trophy and pose for some photographs. 

He was young, ambitious and clearly talented, to the extent that McLaren’s boss, Ron Dennis, later decided to make Lewis part of the team’s driver academy and bring him the whole way to Formula 1.

Twenty three years later it is a huge achievement for him to have won a sixth Formula 1 World Championship for Drivers, and I was happy to be in Austin at the weekend to witness his success. I know how hard it was to win two World Championships, but six shows what an incredible talent he has, and also the consistency of Mercedes in providing him with a truly competitive car every season.  It is an outstanding combination, and Lewis has made the most of it. 

I have always said that team work is an essential part of Mercedes’ formula for success, and on a weekend when Lewis clinched the World Championship it was great to see such a strong and impressive performance from Valtteri Bottas. 

He really owned this year’s United States Grand Prix, taking a very good pole position on Saturday and driving a perfect race on Sunday to optimise the team’s strategy and secure the victory. Valtteri has now won four Grands Prix in 2019, and taken second place in the World Championship - his strongest season so far, and a great indication of the progress he has continued to make.

It was also good to see how happy team boss Toto Wolff was to have Valtteri winning the race and Lewis securing the Championship. Toto knows that he has the strongest driver combination in Formula 1 at the moment, and the team can now start to focus on continuing that success in 2020. I am sure Mercedes will again be the team to beat.

Ferrari had a very strange weekend. Competitive in qualifying but nowhere in the race after both Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc appeared to struggle with a lack of grip at the start Sebastian’s suspension failure was a bad outcome for him, but clearly the kerbs at Circuit of the Americas were causing some problems and Ferrari then warned Charles to avoid them at Turn 8.

It’s never good to have one of your team’s cars suffer a suspension failure because, as a driver, you need to have total confidence in your car so that you can push as hard as possible. I am not sure this made a significant difference to Charles’ race because his Ferrari was simply not quick enough, and there are suggestions that an FIA clarification of the fuel flow regulations requested by Red Bull Racing may have led Ferrari to run reduced power.  

The reality is that no one knows why Ferrari was uncompetitive in the race, but whatever the reason it will be a focus for improvement for the team as they head into the final races of the season and start to prepare for next year.

Talking about the future, the new Formula 1 regulations for 2021 were announced before the weekend, and it looks like the FIA, Formula 1 and the teams have come up with something quite special. The objective of making the cars easier to overtake by making them easier to follow is a good one, and if the figures are accurate then we should see much closer racing.

It is sometimes hard for fans imagine how difficult it is to follow another Formula 1 car due to the turbulence created by its airflow. In my time in racing the aerodynamics were already quite sensitive, and you could really feel the loss of downforce when the air in front of you was disturbed. 

These days the aerodynamics are even more sophisticated and sensitive, so running close to the car in front causes a drop in aero performance which means you also generate more tyre wear.  At a time when tyre wear can be so critical, this is not a good situation.

If Formula 1 has solved that problem with its futuristic design, simpler front wing, and body profile designed to enabling much more efficient slipstreaming, we should see much closer racing and more changes of position. The new cars will feature very low profile tyres mounted on much taller wheels, and this should help the smaller teams because the complexity of the current tyres, and how they work under load, is a major area of development.

There is also a budget cap of USD$175m per team, which means the very biggest teams will have to spend less.  The smaller teams already struggle to reach that level of expenditure, so we will have to wait to see how well this works at making the racing more equal.  I fully expect the larger teams will continue to win the races and World Championships, but perhaps we will see three or four teams winning more regularly which will be a good step forward for the sport.

Mercedes’ domination of Formula 1 has made the sport more predictable in recent years, but this season we have seen two other teams win, and plenty of close, interesting racing over the summer.  For now we should enjoy the success they have achieved, and look forward to even closer competition in the years ahead.

Meanwhile we have the Brazilian Grand Prix next week, with the Interlagos track often providing great racing and unpredictable weather.  I would not like to predict the outcome because, with the pressure now off them, I expect Lewis and Valtteri to be relaxed and very quick and Max right there too.  Will we see Ferrari return to a competitive performance or not?  That will be one of the interesting questions following a difficult race in the USA.






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Mika Häkkinen
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