Mika Hakkinen rested, ready for run at three-peat

INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, Feb. 29, 2000 -- Relaxed, motivated, rested, fit and tanned after his long vacation, reigning Formula One World Champion Mika Hakkinen is back in action and ready to try to accomplish something that only one other Formula...

INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, Feb. 29, 2000 -- Relaxed, motivated, rested, fit and tanned after his long vacation, reigning Formula One World Champion Mika Hakkinen is back in action and ready to try to accomplish something that only one other Formula One driver has done - win three consecutive World Championships. Since the modern Formula One World Championship began in 1950, five drivers have won the title three times: Jack Brabham, Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna and Jackie Stewart. Alain Prost won the championship four times and Juan Manuel Fangio earned the crown a record five times. Of all these drivers, however, only Fangio won more than two World Championships in succession. The legendary driver won four consecutive titles between 1954 and 1957. Finland's Hakkinen, 31, who won the World Championship in 1998 and 1999 driving for West McLaren-Mercedes, knows it will not be easy to make history by winning a third consecutive title this year. "It's difficult to know 100 percent who will be fighting with us," Hakkinen said. "Probably it will be the almost the same teams and drivers fighting for victory. But we had a lot of different winners last year. It will probably be the same again this year." Last year, Hakkinen, David Coulthard, Eddie Irvine, Michael Schumacher, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Johnny Herbert all made it to the top step on the podium. Hakkinen has said last year's championship duel with Irvine, which went down to the final race, was extremely stressful and that he needed a vacation to prepare for this year's 17-race season. "With all the promotions and testing and racing, Formula One is a very stressful environment," Hakkinen said. "So to have time off is always useful. Whatever you do in your life, it is great to have a break. And every holiday seems too short. Of course, if you have a long break, you get back a lot of energy, you're impatient and hungry to drive again." While Hakkinen was away, the McLaren design team, led by Adrian Newey and Neil Oatley, put the finishing touches on the F1 car Hakkinen and his teammate David Coulthard will drive this season. Hakkinen hopes the 2000 McLaren-Mercedes MP4-15 is as fast as last year's MP4-14 but more driveable and more reliable. "We had a good car last year," Hakkinen said. "It was extremely fast. Not so easy to drive, to be honest, but very fast. This car probably needs to be a little bit easier to drive, and more reliable. With that help we can already achieve fantastic results. But until we know what our competitors are doing we can't really say what we expect to achieve." Many F1 observers believe that Hakkinen's strongest challenge will come from Michael Schumacher, who will try to win the Drivers Championship for Ferrari, which hasn't won that title since 1979. Another contender for the title is Hakkinen's teammate, Coulthard. It's always been the policy at McLaren-Mercedes to give both its drivers equal equipment and an equal chance at winning until the point when one driver is out of contention for the championship. Last year, Coulthard and Hakkinen had several on-track clashes that led to tension between the two. In Austria, Coulthard clipped Hakkinen and spun him on the first lap of the race. In Belgium, Hakkinen believed that Coulthard had chopped him off while they contested the lead in the first corner. Both drivers have put the incidents behind them. "That's a long time ago, and it's finished," Hakkinen said. "Let's not talk about that again." Hakkinen and Coulthard have help this year from Frenchman Olivier Panis, the team's new test and reserve driver. With 90 Grand Prix starts and a win in the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix, Panis has been a valuable asset to McLaren-Mercedes. "I don't ever want you to imagine that I have a better relationship with Olivier than I have with David," Hakkinen said. "All three drivers will be working together and maximizing information all the time. There will be no secrets whatsoever." This year's 17-race F1 schedule is relentless with a Grand Prix every two weeks between the season opener March 12 in Australia and the season finale Oct. 22 in Malaysia. Hakkinen said that Panis' testing duties will help relieve the strain. "That's why it is so great to have Olivier on the team," Hakkinen said. "He can test the car and help to develop it. He has experience of working with engineers, and he knows what to tell them to improve the car. "It is going to be a very hard and hectic season, so we have to plan things differently. The drivers will need more freedom to be able to maximize their concentration at each Grand Prix. That's very much what we are planning." This year's schedule includes the inaugural United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis on Sept. 24. It marks the first time the U.S. has played host to a round of the Formula One World Championship since 1991. "I am looking forward to going there," Hakkinen said of Indianapolis. "For me, the most important thing will be to see what kind of a welcome F1 gets when it goes there." Scoring points and victories in all the races will be crucial for Hakkinen's bid to win the World Championship. He is ready to race. "I'm motivated, and I'm hungry," Hakkinen said. "I am looking forward to the new season and, having won two World Championships, it's my ambition to fight for a third."

-IRL/IMS-

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Series Formula 1
Drivers Eddie Irvine , Johnny Herbert , Michael Schumacher , Heinz-Harald Frentzen , David Coulthard , Mika Hakkinen , Jackie Stewart , Niki Lauda , Alain Prost , Ayrton Senna , Nelson Piquet , Juan Manuel Fangio , Jack Brabham
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , McLaren