Kiwi motorsport stalwart and distinguished team owner Dick Bennetts recalls the time he gave two-time Formula 1 world champion Mika Hakkinen a ‘bollocking’ after the Finn threw away victory in the 1990 Macau Grand Prix.
Heralded as the single-most-important Formula 3 race on the calendar, Hakkinen was within earshot of a famous Macau victory under the stewardship of Bennett’s West Surrey Racing team before crashing out after an ill-advised move on Michael Schumacher.
The start/finish line in 1990 was after the Reservoir bend, unlike today where it is before the fast, near flat-out kink. The race was also split into two heats with the overall victor to be determined on aggregate.
Hakkinen had sauntered to a dominating victory in the weekend’s first heat after Schumacher slumped from the front row to fourth on the opening tour.
While Schumacher eventually muscled himself back behind Hakkinen, the Finn still finished a mammoth 2.6s clear of his rival. Though Bennett’s says he was left frustrated with his star driver who, to everyone’s surprise, eased off the pace on the final lap which allowed Schumacher to slim his advantage further.
“I said, ‘Mika, what did I say? Win by the safest, biggest margin you can and have something up your sleeve for race two in case you have a problem’,” Bennetts told Autosport.
“So of course, in race two Michael slipstreams past him and… I’d explained to Mika, because we didn’t have radios in the cars, only the old-fashioned Peltor plug-ins when you’re stationary, ‘If Michael does get past you, as long as you stay within one second, you’ve won the Macau Grand Prix’.”
The second heat of the weekend would crown that year’s grand prix champion, and Schumacher led Hakkinen across the start/finish line to commence the 15th and final lap.
Well ensconced within the necessary two-second buffer to win the grand prix, Hakkinen, blinded by the haze of glory and blighted by a passion for winning on all accounts, would attempt a daring move on Schumacher for the lead.
However, Schumacher reacted to the move and blocked Hakkinen’s passage. The subsequent impact careened the Finn into the Armco barrier.
“They went out of sight at ‘Mandarin’,” said Bennetts.
“There was a sudden, huge cheer from the crowd. I thought, ‘Something’s going on, he’s got back past Michael’, and suddenly I ran upstairs – we didn’t have a TV on the pitwall – and here’s our Marlboro car in the Armco…”
Schumacher, now rear wing-less and carrying an array of suspension damage, ambled his wounded WTS Racing machine home to steal the victory. Hakkinen, meanwhile, was spied throwing his fists in anger as the realisation of missed opportunity dawned on him.
“I think he was crazy,” Schumacher. “Nobody takes anybody on the last lap, not without a fight.
“I spent the whole race thinking he would win, so I’m even more delighted now.”
Bennetts was equally unimpressed. Though he would later learn of the motivation behind Hakkinen’s daring move.
“When he came back he was in tears, poor bloke, and I gave him a bollocking,” explained Bennetts. “He just chucked it away.
“There was a big argument afterwards. But I told him ‘back to principles, Mika – you didn’t have to pass him’.
“I gave him a real hard time because a) he’d written off the chassis and b) he’d lost that year’s special prize.
“That £20,000 was massive for F3. And it wasn’t until we checked in to the hotel in Fuji that I learnt Mika had a telex, and I said I’d take it to his room. So, I had a nosey and it was from the Lotus F1 team. Then suddenly, the penny dropped.
“He was trying to impress at Macau by winning both races and beating Schumacher, because he was in dialogue with Lotus F1.”
A year later Hakkinen would make his F1 test debut with Benetton at the Silverstone circuit. He would then opt to sign for Lotus that same year where he finished 13th on his debut at the United States Grand Prix.