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Hakkinen: 2020 champion will deserve ‘high, high respect’

Former F1 world champion Mika Hakkinen has dismissed suggestions that whoever wins this year’s title, their achievement will be tarnished by the unprecedented impact of coronavirus.

The pandemic means that currently only eight rounds in this year’s delayed championship have been confirmed, F1 bosses are hoping to add more in the near future, but the original target of a 22-event season is unattainable due to a four month delay to the start of the campaign.

“They’re hoping to have 15 Grand Prix this year so it’s going to be very exciting,” Hakkinen said in an interview with Laureus.com marking the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s speech at the first Laureus Sports Awards.

“It will be tough but the best will win. When I was racing and conditions suddenly changed, you need to add up these things very quickly. And the drivers who can do that, very fast, will be the winners.

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“If there’s going to be 15, the driver who will become world champion will need to have great talent, great concentration, be physically fit and adapt to different kinds of situations.

“It’s going to be a very busy season. For the racing drivers, it’s how to do the Grand Prix, how to recover quickly, do all the analysis and improve your personal performance and your team’s performance for the next event.

“If your car, engine, gearbox, aerodynamics don’t work straight away for the first Grand Prix, it’s very difficult to come back from there for sure.

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“The package has to be right, from the beginning. And if the team’s having any kind of issues, technical problems with the materials or the cars, it’s going to be a nightmare.

“I expect the number of mistakes to be higher, not only from the drivers, but also from the teams,” he added.

“The drivers have been having minimum chance to practise driving a F1 car, so they have been doing go-karting and driving different kinds of rally cars and old racing cars to keep the muscles active.

“They’ve been using physical training programmes in a gym, but nothing matches the power of a Formula One car when it accelerates out of the corners,” Hakkinen commented. “It will take a while for the drivers to get used to it again.

“I think it’s going to be a really, really good season. And the guy who is going to win the championship this year, will have high, high respect.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly given his involvement in co-managing Valtteri Bottas’ career, Hakkinen said that his fellow Finn might finally have the edge over Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton this season.

“Valtteri is definitely in a super condition, he’s prepared himself to a very high physical and psychological level to start the season,” he explained.

“He showed great performances in testing a few months ago, so he’s in very good shape and I’m confident that he will be showing incredible results.

“Lewis will continue his great driving for sure. But when Valtteri has raised his goal higher and he’s better than ever, has Lewis done the same? Because you need to improve all the time.

“It’s very tiring for the mind, very tiring physically, and it requires a lot of discipline. Valtteri is ready – is Lewis ready?”

And Hakkinen also thought that Red Bull’s Max Verstappen would be a potent threat this season.

“[He] is going to go for it. Max normally will attack, he will take lots of risks. So the drivers who are out there, having such a long break from driving, are they ready to react to all the moves that Max is going to do?”

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