17 years ago, Finnish double world champion Mika Hakkinen executed, what many call the ‘Overtake of the Century’ on arch-rival Michael Schumacher. Hakkinen was catching the German at a very rapid pace towards the end of the race, on the Kemmel Straight Schumacher attempted to place a backmarker between himself and Hakkinen and give himself some breathing space. What happened next was the stuff of legends, Michael swerved to the outside, Hakkinen dived down the inside to take the lead. While all this was happening, poor Ricardo Zonta in the lapped car could only look on helpless as the two leaders passed him.
Hakkinen would later go up to the German and talk about the move.
“It was natural that I went to talk to him after the race,” said Hakkinen in an interview. “I said: ‘You can’t push someone to the grass at 300kph. This is a life and death situation, use some common sense.’ He tilted his head and looked at me. ‘What did I do wrong?’ He didn’t say ‘sorry, I was too aggressive’. It was simply his driving style.”
Hakkinen was furious about the fact that a lap earlier, Schumacher had forced him onto the grass at the Kemmel Straight.
Although Schumacher did not praise Mika for the pass, he did acknowledge that the battle was fierce and they both finished the race without a scratch. “I’m sure that if it had been someone else against Michael front wings would have flown.” he said, indicating that the mutual respect between them was such that they knew that no matter how hard they raced each other, neither of them were put in any danger of colliding.
“Michael handles the car extremely well,” said Hakkinen. “He gives his everything to the technical aspects and team work. There were many elements that I hugely respected.”
“He was adamant. He never gave up, no matter what. He knew that the game is over with the chequered flag, not before it. I really respected that. He always drove on the limit. Always flat out, brake discs burning bright red.”
“When it comes to the fights on the track Michael sometimes used extreme defensive moves on the track. During the last laps he did extreme defensive moves. But halfway through the race he did leave a small gap between tyres. With a few laps to go, a little contact didn’t matter to him.”