Personal Memories of Melbourne

I have some very good memories of racing in Melbourne, but also had some difficult moments.

Incredibly it is 25 years since I won that race, the first round of the 1998 World Championship – the season in which I won my first title. A technically challenging circuit, I liked putting a lap together there. I put my McLaren on pole position three years in a row, from 1998-2000.

Having won in 1998 I then suffered big disappointments in 1999 and 2000 when my car suffered technical failures while leading.  Incredible disappointments, but not unusual in F1 back then.

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Melbourne was also the circuit which led to me making the decision to retire from Formula 1, a story which I have previously shared on my {Unibet} podcast ‘Flat Out with Mika Hakkinen’.  I was running in second place behind Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari in 2001 when my car suffered a suspension failure, sending me into the wall.

I’d had a big accident before in Australia, in Adelaide in 1995 due to a tyre failure, and that put me in hospital with some serious injuries.  The Melbourne accident in 2001 made me start to rethink my career. It was in Monaco, two months later, that I told McLaren boss Ron Dennis that I was planning to stop at the end of the season.

Championship Form

We are only two races into the season and everyone can see Red Bull Racing is on a different level.  At least for the moment.  Max Verstappen’s win in Bahrain was very dominant, but to come from 15th on the grid and finish 2nd in Jeddah showed just how quick he is in that car.  It was great to see ‘Checo’ Perez take the pole and win.  He has been a big team player at Red Bull and at the moment he is the only one who can really challenge Max.

Whether Checo is able to sustain the pressure on Max is one question.  Another is the extent to which the team will favour Max with team orders, but for the moment I think they will be allowed to race each other.  That might change later in the season.  In Melbourne Max and Checo will be going for Red Bull’s first ever ‘triple’ 1-2 finish but the team has often had poor luck there.

I fully expect Fernando Alonso to continue to be a threat in his Aston Martin. After finishing on the podium in the first two races he knows his car is not as quick as a Red Bull, but if they hit trouble he will be going for 2nd or the win.  It’s not impossible – he won in Melbourne in 2006.

After a difficult start to the season Ferrari is lying in 4th place in the teams’ championship. A big recovery is needed in Melbourne and I expect Charles Leclerc will be pushing himself and the team as hard as possible to get into the podium.  They really need a strong weekend.

The same is true of Mercedes.  George Russell has never raced a dominant car in F1, so he seems to be dealing with the W14 a little better than Lewis Hamilton.  Team boss Toto Wolff is pushing everyone to find a step-by-step improvement, but finding the speed and consistency to get on regular podiums will take a lot of hard work.

Finally, local hero Oscar Piastri is making his Australian Grand Prix debut for my former team McLaren. He did a brilliant job to qualify P8 in Jeddah, so a similar performance at home will really give the team a boost.  The management changes, announced last week, show just how motivated Zak Brown and the team are to find a way to return to competitiveness.

Mika’s Tip

Red Bull Racing has not won in Australia since 2011, so I think that run of bad luck will end this weekend. We have to expect a victory for Max Verstappen, but I think Ferrari and Mercedes will start to make progress. Watch out for Charles Leclerc or George Russell getting on the podium.

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Australian Grand Prix