Raikkonen replaces Hakkinen for 2002

Kimi Raikkonen will replace Mika Hakkinen in the McLaren-Mercedes squad for 2002. The 21-year-old Finnish rookie will line up alongside David Coulthard, who stays with the team for a seventh consecutive season. But McLaren and Hakkinen insist that the double world champion is only taking a sabbatical from Formula 1, not retiring

Raikkonen replaces Hakkinen for 2002

Hakkinen has endured a torrid 2001 season, winning only one Grand Prix so far and languishing in fifth in the points, but he says this has nothing to do with his decision to exit GP racing after 11 seasons.

"Formula 1 has been virtually my whole life since I started karting in 1974," he said in a prepared statement. "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," he added. "However, let's not forget that there are three races left for me this year, and I have every intention of going flat out.

"Of course it might have been easier to retire, but that just isn't a decision I feel ready to take. I know that I will have to work hard to return after my break, but I know that I want to return with West McLaren Mercedes."

Ron Dennis said that ChryslerDaimler board member Jurgen Hubbert had been instrumental in securing the release of rookie Raikkonen from the Sauber team. Mercedes was a former engine-supplier and partner to the Sauber team in F1 and Group C sportscar racing.

Interestingly, neither of the prepared statements from Dennis and Mercedes sports boss Norbert Haug stated that Hakkinen had a guaranteed berth at McLaren in the future.

"Mika has been a part of the team for nine years and after 159 races, 26 pole positions and 19 race wins, he decided that he wanted a break," said Dennis. "Mika has always done an incredible job for us and now is not the time to be bidding him farewell.

"While we have had a range of interesting options for 2002, we are very pleased to announce our driver line-up with David, Kimi and Alex. Kimi's outstanding performances in what is only his first year in Formula 1 have obviously resulted in a lot of attention, although from the initial discussions we made it clear that we would only be interested if a solution could be reached with Red Bull Sauber Petronas."

Haug added: "Today is a day with mixed emotions. Mercedes-Benz has a great relationship with Mika and he is a valued member of the family, and not only because he has won two world championships with West McLaren Mercedes. We would like to welcome Kimi to the team, who in his first F1 season impressed all of us very much, and we are looking forward to working with him."

Raikkonen, who will finish the season with Sauber, said: "I really want to thank Peter (Sauber) for helping me to take the opportunity to drive for West McLaren Mercedes next year. Until then, I will do everything I can to help Sauber retain fourth place in the constructors' championship."

Raikkonen had started just 23 car races before being snapped up by Sauber for the 2001 F1 season. He has scored nine points so far for the Swiss-based team in his rookie campaign.

Raikkonen will begin testing in January 2002, at the cessation of the winter testing ban. No details have been released so far on the length of his contract with McLaren.

Alex Wurz has been retained as the team's test driver.

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