Formula One

Double world champ recognises double world champ, as Verstappen rounds off 2022 with a record 15th win

dominant verstappen can “absolutely” improve - mika hakkinen

Despite dominating the 2022 season and winning a record 15 races on his way to a second world title, Max Verstappen is yet to reach the peak of his powers, according to F1 legend Mika Hakkinen. Gulp.

The Flying Finn – who knows a thing or two about being a double world champion, having won in ’98 and ’99 – reckons the confidence that comes with winning will “absolutely” push the Red Bull driver on to greater things.

“Winning the world championship [for the] first time gives you a great experience,” Hakkinen told TG shortly before qualifying at this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. “Winning [a] second time, it gives you even more confidence to perform out there.

“You tend to make more risks, more calculated risks, you know that when you have achieved this championship you can do manoeuvres out there that you haven’t done before.”

Verstappen of course is still only 25, and given how well the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso are driving in their late 30s and early 40s, he’s surely only going to get quicker and quicker.

“I think it’s a natural procedure,” the Finn explained, “that when we all wake up in the morning, we never feel like ‘Today I’m gonna be worse than yesterday’. And we learn from our mistakes. We want to improve, whatever it is.

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“When you are in Formula 1, your steps improve… they’re very tiny. And you can then look very carefully and say ‘There!’ You can be better’. And that’s where you have to focus. Constantly. You can be better every day if you want.

“Sometimes you tend to put 10 things on paper and try to improve yourself, and I think that’s not good, because you’re putting yourself under pressure. The small things are better, finer things, every day. Because this life is quite a long journey anyway.

“Those little things matter long-term, and racing drivers? Same thing. You need to find solutions, and improve those little things. It’s good fun. But it’s very often when you’re a world champion, you tend to look like ‘I’m perfect. I don’t [need to] improve’. But it’s not true. You need to continuously [be] looking how you can improve, and I’m sure that Max is doing that.”

Quite a long answer for someone famous for, er, the exact opposite of that. And what does Mika make of Verstappen’s racecraft? The Finn famously rebuked Michael Schumacher for his defence of the race lead at Spa in 2000, and Verstappen’s approach to racing is similar in that he never backs down wheel-to-wheel. As showcased by his collision with Hamilton in Brazil recently.

Is that a risky strategy? “It’s a possibility,” says Hakkinen, before a trademark long pause. “Very often you have to prove [to] your competitors, what is your attitude to driving? And once you back off, they know you always back off.

“You back off sometimes and sometimes you don’t, that’s not good either because then you’re becoming a driver where other competitors never know what you do. You have to have consistency in your business. Either you do that way, or that way. But there’s no between.”

Mika Hakkinen is an ambassador for McLaren, which has partnered with Vuse to deliver the Driven By Change initiative.

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