Motorsport.com - McLaren and Mika Hakkinen made the decision about Hakkinen's sabbatical year already shortly after the British Grand Prix this summer; the only question for the team was the identity of the driver who would take the Finn's place...
Motorsport.com - McLaren and Mika Hakkinen made the decision about Hakkinen's sabbatical year already shortly after the British Grand Prix this summer; the only question for the team was the identity of the driver who would take the Finn's place -- which, in the end, turned out to be Kimi Raikkonen.
Based on the investigation by Turun Sanomat, a leading Finnish daily, Hakkinen made the decision after claiming his sole victory of the year, deciding that while he still had the speed, he really needed to take time away from racing.
Word of Hakkinen's decision leaked to the paddock, and team was contacted by, and had discussions with, Jacques Villeneuve, Giancarlo Fisichella and Jarno Trulli, but eventually rejected all three driver candidates.
Things looked good for the team's test driver, Alexander Wurz, to get the seat, until team principal Ron Dennis contacted Sauber only about a week before the German Grand Prix weekend.
Meanwhile, rumors intensified about Raikkonen, driving his first Formula One season for Sauber, being locked up by Ferrari, Sauber's engine supplier, on a long term contract. Mercedes boss Norbert Haug, still bitter about losing Mercedes junior driver Michael Schumacher to the Maranello team, did not want a repeat incident.
"One of my hobbies is recording the drivers' sector times, and speeds at various turns on the track," explained Haug. "In my view, Raikkonen has incredible promise. I have recorded so many brilliant times, that I don't believe any other driver to have had that level of consistency at Kimi's age."
"We believe in Kimi Raikkonen," Haug continued, "and that some day -- sooner or later -- he will drive to a Championship with McLaren-Mercedes."
And that, Dennis and Haug believe, justifies the millions that McLaren paid to Sauber for Raikkonen's contract.