Häkkinen: “I may not take it easy”
He is the most prominent of this year’s DTM newcomers. Mika Häkkinen. Three and a half years after having retired from Formula One, the 36-year old Finn makes his motor racing comeback in another top-class series. In this interview, the Finn describes the impressions he gained on the eve of the 2005 season.
Now that there’s only a very short time to go until you will contest your maiden DTM race, are you still completely relaxed or do you start to feel slightly nervous, at the end of the day?
‘I can say that I’m still relaxed. But I know that I may not take it easy if I want to be successful and to win races – even if I don’t want to do so in the very first round but in the course of the season. It doesn’t work this way. You may be confident, but only slightly. Success is the result of hard work – always.
Particularly if you’re competing in a competitive series such as DTM, with many top-class drivers on its grid and minimum gaps between the cars…
I’m convinced that it will be a major challenge and really difficult. There are so many gifted and some extremely experienced drivers on the grid.
Last year, your former Formula One rival Heinz-Harald Frentzen had to endure a very difficult season. Do you fear that you might experience a similar situation?
Not really. To race for Mercedes represents a promising basic position. It’s a great and very experienced team that has won the championship many times. I’m not worried because I know that I will be provided with a great package. But I know that the field is extremely competitive. Being two, three or four tenths of a second slower than the pole-sitter can mean tenth or eleventh grid position; a true disaster although the gap is that tiny. Therefore, I’m trying to maximise my performance. Yet I don’t start to put myself under huge pressure, I’m feeling fine.”
Did you have to adapt your style of driving to DTM? And were are the major differences?
Yes, I have changed my style of driving. In a DTM car, you’re sitting close to the rear axle. That’s completely different than driving a Formula One car. It feels different when the car slides into a corner, and the braking is also different. You just have to adapt to this handling. In Formula One, the weight of the car doesn’t matter while cornering as everything is extremely light. In DTM, however, you have to use the weight of your car. In Formula One it can happen that you have to drive extremely aggressive to make the tyres or other components work. But if you do so in DTM you will lose. You lose the balance or overheat the tyres. You may not opt for a too aggressive style of driving, but being too conservative also won’t work. It’s truly difficult to find the perfect area.
Who will be your toughest DTM rivals, from your point of view?
Norbert Haug! (he laughs) But let’s be serious: I don’t know yet. But I think it will be quite a bunch of drivers, not just one or two.
To talk about some names: How do you assess reigning champion Mattias Ekström?
He is extremely gifted. Once again he will turn out to be difficult to defeat.
Your team-mates, Bernd Schneider and Gary Paffett?
They all have gained experience when it comes to DTM cars. Bernd Schneider has been contesting DTM for a long time, he knows all the tricks and is truly quick. Regarding Gary Paffett I have to say that I know him as a person but I don’t know much about the driver Gary Paffett. I have to admit that he’s anything but a good golfer, but he’s a great chap.
Have you been provided with support by your team-mates? Have they let you in on some of the DTM secrets
There are no problems between us, they tell me everything I want to know. There is no off-track competition going on, our battle is limited to the track. We don’t have any secrets whatsoever.