Former two-time world champion Mika Hakkinen believes Mercedes, the once-dominant Formula 1 team, is at a “crossroads.”.
The 55-year-old Finn acknowledges that Red Bull and Max Verstappen are the clear favourites to win the championship for a fourth time in a row going into the next season, but he also expressed “hope.”
When asked what gives him optimism that 2024 would really be a lot tighter race than this year, when Red Bull won every grand prix except one, Hakkinen said, “The history of Formula 1,” to the Bild newspaper.
“How often have there been teams and drivers who were considered certain world champions even before the first lap of testing was completed and then it didn’t happen?” stated the former driver for McLaren-Mercedes.
He acknowledges, though, that Verstappen, who is only 26 years old and has already won three world championships, is “well on the way” to tying the record of seven driver’s titles held by Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher.
“He still needs the right team boss, the right car, pit crew, and management—everything has to be right,” Hakkinen said. “With Lewis and Michael, it was the situation. They were able to influence a period because of this.”
While some believe Ferrari will be Red Bull’s strongest rival this year, Hakkinen has high expectations for his own old squad.
From McLaren, “I expect a lot,” he said. “Last season, they had a terrible start, but they improved greatly and, most importantly, steadily.
“With Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri, they probably have the strongest driver pairing next to Ferrari.”
The legendary Hakkinen-David Coulthard combination is “not yet” superior to Norris and Piastri as a McLaren lineup, according to Hakkinen, but both of Woking’s current duo “have the potential to become world champions.”
“Piastri is putting pressure on Norris, and Verstappen will also feel that this year,” he said.
Regarding Mercedes, Hakkinen believes the team, which is still driven by 39-year-old Lewis Hamilton and was overseen by Toto Wolff from 2014 to 2020, is “at a crossroads” at this point.
“After a decade of success, the past two seasons have left their mark on the people in charge and the employees,” he said. “There has not been a question mark over the team for a long time.”
“And that’s good,” Hakkinen claims. “They must get enraged right now and cultivate an unwavering will to triumph once again. The group has to regain the previous level of blind understanding that is presently lacking.”
Furthermore, he believes that George Russell, Hamilton’s teammate, is under greater pressure than the seven-time world champion himself.
“It is clear that it is still Lewis’ team, even though George is entering his third season with Mercedes,” Hakkinen said.
That’s in spite of the fact that Russell defeated Hamilton in 2022 during his first season with Mercedes.
That’s true; Mika corrected her, but Russell only placed seventh and Hamilton third the previous season. I wasn’t surprised by it.
“While George was and still is under a great deal of strain, Lewis simultaneously wanted to prove to everyone that he still has it.
“Everyone is looking at you when you’re a seven-time world champion’s partner. If your colleague prevails, it makes no difference where you are placed on the podium.
“It’s the same with all teams, but different for George as he is racing against a record champion.”