Mika Hakkinen’s ‘highlight’ of the year that’s ‘not only good on the outside’

Michelle Foster
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.

Dispelling the myth that it’s impossible to make massive in-season gains under a budget cap, Mika Hakkinen says McLaren’s 2023 progress is “not only good on the outside”, it’s also evident internally.

McLaren made a woeful start to this year’s championship as Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri scored a mere 17 points in the first eight Grands Prix.

Admitting they missed the mark with their winter targets, technical director James Key was given his marching orders after two races with McLaren restructuring the technical department under the new technical director of aerodynamics, Peter Prodromou.

McLaren’s progress is Mika Hakkinen’s ‘highlight of the year’

Under Prodromou’s leadership, McLaren put a B-spec MCL60 on the track at the Austrian Grand Prix and followed that up with another big upgrade in Singapore.

They scored 285 points in the upgraded car, their tally including nine podiums and a Sprint race victory for Piastri.

Leapfrogging Aston Martin for fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship late in the season, Hakkinen believes McLaren’s progress is not only evident to those looking in from the outside, but it’s had a notable impact on the internal workings within the team.

“Overall, when I look back and talk about the McLaren team, where they started this season and where they finished in Abu Dhabi, the development they have made with the car and with their strong drivers is for me the highlight of the year,” he said at the recent Autosport Awards.

“It’s not only good on the outside, but it’s also good internally. You see the team spirit and how they managed to focus from the position they were in.”

The Finn, who won back-to-back titles with McLaren in 1998 and 1999, added: “They have always had an eye for developing the car. They have done something very good.”

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This is not the first time Hakkinen has talked up McLaren’s progress as he applauded their mid-season gains back in July.

He was so impressed that the 55-year-old predicted the Woking team could overhaul Red Bull in the latter part of the season.

“I think they’re going to surprise us massively,” he said. “The only surprise I think we will see is the possible progress of McLaren.

“Just in terms of the speed of the car, they’ll probably give Red Bull a run for their money.”

But while Oscar Piastri did beat Max Verstappen to a Sprint win in Qatar, McLaren’s wait for a Grand Prix victory continues.

Team boss Andrea Stella pinpointed the reason for the team’s progress, singling out the revamped aero department.

Calling it a “fundamental enabler,” he added to Motorsport.com: “The restructuring itself includes people that actually haven’t started yet.

“If we talk about the new technical configuration, which includes three technical directors, two of them haven’t started yet. It was Peter Prodromou in charge of aero, David Sanchez in charge of performance and concepts, Rob Marshall in charge of engineering and design.

“Effectively, this structure has given clarity on the responsibilities and has allowed also – and it was essential in the short term – to restructure the aerodynamic department, putting Peter Prodromou in charge, supporting Giuseppe Pesce, these guys have been absolutely instrumental in setting the new direction for the design of the car from an aerodynamic point of view.”

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