Mika Hakkinen: He Did it His Way

Mika Hakkinen made his retirement from Formula One much in the same way he did everything else during his stay in the sport: with style.

Mika Hakkinen: He Did it His Way

Mika Hakkinen made his retirement from Formula One much in the same way he did everything else during his stay in the sport: with style.

The two-times former World Champion, looking tanned and relaxed, took the seat on a raft at the water edge of his summer home in Finland, looked straight into the camera and said: "It's time to stop." The McLaren communications centre, where this unique videotape was aired for the dozens of journalists and photographers who crammed the room, stayed silent for a long moment, before bursting into applause.

The Finn explained he didn't want to sit in a press conference saying he is happy, but rather "I wanted you to see it for yourself, to see what it's like." He chose to let the TV crew film him driving a tractor with a very happy-looking Hugo, wearing swimming trunks, running behind. With a proud looking Erja walking around with the laundry. He chose to let the media see him as he is now - a happy family man.

He already decided to retire in Monaco 2001, but McLaren team chief Ron Dennis asked him to take his time, to make sure it's the right decision. After that, Hakkinen says, everything conjured to convince him he is right.

"I wanted to win Silverstone and Indianapolis," Hakkinen - who won 20 Grands Prix on almost every possible track - said, "I went to those Grands Prix with maximum confidence and won both, I can't explain why. But it just happened, and those two Grands Prix made me even more comfortable in my decision."

He wants to see Hugo run, talk, play, grow up. "Those are years that won't come back later," he explained.

Eventually, when he made a star appearance at this year's Monaco Grand Prix, "I was finally sure that this is the right thing to do, and I told Ron I don't want to come back. I was grateful he gave me the opportunity to think it over but now it is time for me to stop.

"I want to spend more time with my family, my wife, and also I didn't want to hurt myself. I have been through so much, especially 1995 (when he almost lost his life after a crash in Australia), and I did not want to push my luck any further."

Dennis, who saw the tape before it was aired, said the decision was "emotional."

"Contrary to what people think," Dennis said, "we're not a cold team - we're like a family and we care. Mika decided to do it his way and we can only respect that, even if it's a very emotional decision for us."

"Retirement is a harsh word," Erja adds on the video tape - with Mika seen in the background running in the water, his trousers folded up, chasing Hugo on a water wheel. "How can you say about a 34-year-old man that he's retiring?" But whatever the word is, she says, this is the right move for her: "I want our family to grow," she says, "that is my wish right now."

And as for the future? Mika smiles. "I want the future to go one hour at a time. My future plan is to go to the sauna in one hour with my wife. That is my current future."

You couldn't wish a man like Hakkinen anything other than happiness. And, if to judge by his farewell message, that wish has already come true.

"There are many memories, and there are many people I owe a lot to," Hakkinen said, shortly before walking into the sunset, "so I just want to say, to all of you - thank you."

Mika Hakkinen will be missed, no doubt.

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