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Mika Häkkinen: If Imola taught us anything it is that we have a fantastic season ahead


Mika Häkkinen: If Imola taught us anything it is that we have a fantastic season ahead

Mika Häkkinen with his thoughts on the first race of the season and what to expect in the future.

SUNDAY's Grand Prix in Imola produced a lot of excitement and drama. My takeaway from the weekend is that while Red Bull has the quickest car in F1, the Mercedes is not far behind in qualifying trim and right with them in the race. These teams are really going head-to-head.

Both the Red Bulls lost some time on their quickest qualifying laps, but they still managed to quality 2nd and 3rd within a tenth of Lewis Hamilton.  With perfect laps Sergio Perez or Max Verstappen could have taken pole and locked out the front row, but against Lewis you cannot afford to make a mistake or lose a little time. 

It was quite funny to hear Lewis and his engineer sounding so shocked to get pole position! They knew that Red Bull had the edge, so it was just a question of putting together a perfect lap. We are talking about really fine margins.

In the race it was no surprise to see Max take the win after making such a perfect start and winning the wheel-to-wheel fight with Lewis at the first corner. That was very tight. They could so easily have collided, but they judged it well, despite a small touch.  Lewis was fortunate to only suffer minor damage, but these two guys are already fighting really hard - and we are only at race 2! I am not surprised people are comparing this to me and Michael Schumacher. Two closely matched cars, and two drivers who are only interested in winning.

Max can sound a little anxious on the radio, so the psychological side of the battle between him and Lewis is going to fascinating. No question that they both want to win, but staying calm is going to be really important. Max drove well, and with each victory he will develop the winning  rhythm which is so important if you want to win the World Championship.

I thought Sergio Perez did a fantastic job in qualifying, and this has the potential to create an interesting dynamic at Red Bull. Normally Max has not had a team mate outperform him and although Sergio had a bad race, he is definitely starting to get on top of the car.

The weather conditions gave everyone a big headache on Sunday. Mixed wet and dry conditions are the most demanding and as a driver you have to be so careful how you position the car and judge the grip levels as they evolve each lap.

It’s really important to recognise that when the track is drying out there is really only one, narrow, dry line. You cannot afford to go off a dry line when on slicks, because the moment you are on the damp or wet part of the track the grip levels fall away. It is so easy to make a mistake.

This had a big effect on both the Mercedes.

Lewis admitted that he was a little too anxious to overtake the slower cars on lap 31 and, when he moved off the dry line to overtake George Russell’s Williams at Tosa corner, you could see track was pretty wet. It looked like his race was over, but he did well to reverse out of the gravel and make it back to the pits.

The enormous accident between Valtteri Bottas and George Russell was very serious, a really high speed shunt. We should be very grateful these cars are so strong, and both drivers were fine. 

You cannot race side-by-side on a wet-dry track, because the car on the wet side is going to have far less grip, as Russell discovered. It was clear that the Williams got a really good run at Valtteri’s Mercedes, and you cannot blame a young driver for going for it, but he was never going to be able to go around the outside.  Also Valtteri was never going to give up the dry, racing line.  

It was a really unfortunate accident caused by split-second decisions. But it is a reminder that, when you make the wrong call, the consequences can be disastrous.   

Lewis’s comeback drive after the restart was very strong. Yes, he was lucky that the Red Flag meant his car could be repaired, but on a drying track he was really quick. The fact that took the fastest lap is a point that Red Bull will remember.

I am so delighted for my former McLaren team, 3rd and 6th giving them another strong result, and especially given the performance of Lando Norris over the weekend. The car is clearly a quick package, and Lando very nearly caused a major upset in qualifying before making a small mistake towards the end of his final run. The speed is there, and he knows it.

Lando’s race was very strong, and the team’s decision to put both him and Daniel Ricciardo on soft compound tyres at the restart shows that they have courage, confidence and determination. Those tyres definitely helped Lando jump ahead of Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari, and with good tyre management he was able to grab the podium.   

With Red Bull and Mercedes battling for the wins, McLaren and Ferrari seemed to be locked in a battle behind. It’s fantastic to see, and reminds me of some great battles in the past. 

We have much to look forward to!

 

 

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Mika Häkkinen
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