Multi-time F1 champ explains why all current drivers better than him at peak

Thomas Maher
1998 and 1999 F1 World Champion Mika Hakkinen, pictured in 2023 at the Miami Grand Prix.

Mika Hakkinen, 1998 and 1999 F1 World Champion, pictured in Miami.

Mika Hakkinen believes every F1 driver on the grid in 2023 is stronger than he was at his peak, thanks to how the sport has progressed.

The Finn may have been a generational talent when he burst onto the grid 30 years ago, particularly when he switched to McLaren and upset Ayrton Senna almost immediately, but Mika Hakkinen believes advancements in driver preparation and refinement mean that the current grid is stronger than he ever was.

Hakkinen went on to win two world titles, both coming as a McLaren driver in 1998 and ’99, before retiring two years later as his motivation slipped away.

Mika Hakkinen: The current generation are better drivers than me

While many of the current F1 grid haven’t even won a race, let alone a World Championship, their pedigree in lower categories proves that there are very few ‘duds’ who now climb the ladder all the way into F1.

And, thanks to technology and advancements in sports science, even those of lower accomplishments are brimming with talent, according to Hakkinen.

“When I look back over my career and see the next generations that have come into F1, they are better drivers than me,” the Finn told the French subsidiary of Motorsport.com.

“They have much better knowledge. I’d say the talent is probably the same, but there’s everything that surrounds the drivers who arrive in Formula 1: they work better, they’re more prepared, they’re more professional. There’s more science to help them become better.”

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While the teams always deny this, citing a desire to create the fastest car possible rather than worrying about the individual foibles of a driver, Hakkinen reckons the teams do evolve their cars to suit a particular driver on their line-up.

Asked who might be able to beat reigning World Champion Max Verstappen at the wheel of a Red Bull RB19, Hakkinen said it’s impossible to hazard a guess.

“It’s very difficult to answer that question, simply because when I was racing, people wondered what would have happened if I was in the same team as Michael Schumacher, for example,” he said.

“These Formula 1 cars are made for one driver. For Max, it’s a car made to measure for him. The way he turns the wheel, almost everything is made for him. So if you put a driver in the same team, driving the same car, he’ll have a different driving style. Maybe it won’t work. That driver needs to be in another team, where he can develop the car for him so that it suits him.”

“There are so many great drivers… Lewis is obviously a great World Champion, who has done a fantastic job over the years. George Russell is undoubtedly an incredible, hard-working young driver.

“Lando Norris, [Oscar] Piastri… I’d say Piastri and Lando are really interesting at the moment because they’re fighting each other, they’re on the edge. It can be a very interesting combination. But to answer your question directly, I’d say I don’t know!”

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