Exclusive interview with Mark Slade: Mika Häkkinen could pull out “astonishing” qualifying laps

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Race engineer Mark Slade has had the opportunity to work with four Formula One World Champions: Mila Häkkinen, Kimi Räikkönen, Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher.

Slade initially worked as a performance engineer at McLaren, before stepping up to the position of race engineer. He worked with Mika Häkkinen as the Finn won two consecutive Drivers’ Championships in 1998 and 1999.

The British engineer gave two examples of sensational qualifying laps from Häkkinen at the Monaco Grand Prix to give an idea just how good the two-time World Champion was.

“Mika was just so fast. He was unbelievably fast. And he could pull laps out where you had no idea where they came from,” said Slade.

“His reflexes, his balance were just unbelievable. It was almost shocking sometimes.

“One that stood out was Monaco in 1994. I was a performance engineer then.

“He put in a lap, I think he was 2nd on the grid. He was literally riding the barriers around the lap, and it was just extraordinary where the lap came from.

“And again in Monaco in 1999, it looked like Michael [Schumacher] had pole position wrapped up. Then Mika went out for his last lap, and he just produced a lap that no one knew was possible and stuck it on pole. Things like that were astonishing.

“And I think Michael respected Mika for his pace probably more than any other driver certainly at that time. You just always got the impression that Michael knew Mika was the difficult one to beat. I think that says something.”

Häkkinen departed F1 at the conclusion of the 2001 season. His fellow Finn Kimi Räikkönen took his seat at McLaren.

Slade would be Räikkönen’s engineer from 2002 to 2006. He believes there is one clear area where Räikkönen was stronger than Häkkinen.

“In the races, I would say Mika was a bit less consistent than let’s say Kimi,” Slade stated.

“If he was in front or had a good chance of being in front, then he was absolutely superb.

“If things weren’t going quite so well, Mika tended to sort of – you weren’t always 100% sure that it was 100% on the table.

“His character, he needed the motivation. And certainly when you put him in the right position, he was so fast.”