Driving advice with two-time F1 world champion Mika Hakkinen

Inga Stracke –

Formula One world champion Mika Hakkinen says years after his victories as the famous “flying Finn” he now enjoys the challenge of tackling icy, snowy roads. It’s all about the timing, he says.
Mika, before we get into the details of your driving advice, do the skills of a racing driver actually help you in everyday driving?
Absolutely yes! The skills definitely help you in everyday driving, I would also use a different word, talent. It is a lot about timing. That means — when you are in traffic on the road — you can already see and assess much more in advance what’s going to happen, what will happen on left, right, front and from behind. This way you can already put your car in the traffic in a position that you are not going to have an accident.

What are the essential top three points of advice that you can give to everyday drivers?

First, if I know I have a long journey, I will make sure I plan my journey extremely well so there are no surprises. Second, the car condition is important — it must be good, so you don’t get in trouble. What I mean with this are tyres, fuel, oil, the technical parts in the car need to be all checked and okay, and you need to have plenty of water in the car. And third, my opinion is that you need to rest well before you start your journey.

Now of course at this time of the year, the challenges are the ever-changing winter conditions. Do you as a Finn actually like driving in the snow?

I personally do like it. It makes driving more challenging. All that I mentioned earlier, the timing and taking care of the surroundings when you are in traffic becomes even more important. I find driving in snow fun, so I love it. But stick to the speed limits, don’t drive too fast in the snow, or it might get slippery.

Lets go into details. What is the most important thing any driver should know when driving in winter, rain, snow, ice or dry conditions?

When driving in winter we are talking about drivers really needing to understand the condition of the tyres. Because they are your life insurance, basically. And always, whatever condition, whenever driving, wear a seatbelt!
When you are driving in rain, speed is important. When you are driving in the rain, don’t speed up, rain is really tricky. If the car starts aquaplaning, you are a passenger. No matter how good of a driver you are, you will be loose if you get aquaplaning, don’t go too fast.
In the snow? (laughing) Make sure the heating is on in the car, because it will be very cold. To be serious — in snow it is the same story — make sure your tyres are in good condition and reduce your speed!
Ice? Same here: ice and snow tyres are a very important part of your safety, so focus on them. If you are driving on ice don’t make any sudden movements, drive smooth, that reduces the risk of an accident.
When dry, it’s easier, but still: Pay attention of the distances how close you drive to other cars.

What if I lose control of the car in the snow and start sliding… what should I do?

Very difficult question! If I have just gotten my driving licence, and have not much experience of driving on snow, I would go to a diving school. That way you learn to control the car. Especially driving in those extreme conditions, you really need special techniques to control the car on snow, icy and slippery conditions.

How can I practice to be prepared for snowy and icy conditions?

I would really go to a driving or racing school where you can also discuss how to use the steering, the brakes, the accelerators, under different conditions and talk to them about it. But every condition is different, even on show it’s never consistent. One thing is very sure, if you are not confident, not ready, then reduce your speed and take your time.

Last but not least, what are you doing these days, you have retired from F1 and DTM but seem still very active?

I am the ambassador for many companies and that is definitely taking my time every day to activate these businesses. In October I was in Japan for the Grand Prix where I drove some laps celebrating the 30-year anniversary of the racetrack. At the same time we were celebrating 20 years since my first Formula One World Championship title.
In addition, we launched a special photo in a limited edition print for a charity, celebrating 25 years of the “Flying Finn”. In the picture by Mark Sutton of Motorsport Images, I am flying with all four wheels of my
McLaren up in the air in Adelaide 1993. The picture gave me my nickname “Flying Finn”.
— dpa