MIKA Häkkinen was McLaren Mercedes's last Formula 1 World Champion when he won the title back-to-back in 1998 and 1999. Yesterday, the former part-time taxi driver, told the Bulletin that British driver Lewis Hamilton is going to prove crucial in defending World Champion Fernando Alonso's push to win McLaren its first World Championship title since The Flying Finn Häkkinen.

Häkkinen, who very nearly lost his life when he crashed heavily in the Australian GP in 1995, finally retired from FI racing in 2002, his last race was in Japan.

In 2004, plans for a Grand Prix comeback were announced but talks with Williams broke down and Häkkinen moved to the Mercedes DTM street racing team, the reigning world champions, and he is about the start this third season in the series next month.

Over the winter, rumours started to circulate again that Häkkinen would take McLaren's second seat, but he says they were way off the mark.
Häkkinen and his Mercedes DTM team-mates are currently on a one-week training camp at Pula Golf and yesterday the former World Champion spoke exclusively to the Bulletin.

DAILY BULLETIN: You are here on training camp for the new season, how are you doing, are you in good shape?
MIKA HÄKKINEN:I'm feeling good, I'm in good shape.
DBWere you tempted to return to Formula 1?
MHNo. The DTM series is a great challenge for me, I find it very competitive and it's also something new for me. So to answer your question, no because returning to Formula One would not have been anything new for me and I achieved everything which I wanted to achieve in the World Championship, so there was no point in me going back. I am with a great team, Mercedes Benz, it's a great challenge. Life is good.

DBWhat do you think of the new McLaren team with Alonso. Do you think he will win his third title?
MHBecause McLaren have embarked on a long-term project they will be successful, they will win races and they will win world championships. Are they going to do the world championship this year? I think the possibility is very high. They are in very good shape at the moment, they have a very good team spirit, from what I have understood, they have a very strong engine, a good fibre slider and the chassis package is better than ever so they have great potential and may be they will do it (win the championship) as early as this year.

DBWho do you consider to be the main threat this season, Ferrari?
MHI have no doubt that Ferrari is going to be the leading team in the first few Grand Prix, they're going to be the number one in terms of raw speed.
But, in terms of tactics, consistency of team work, consistency of race configuration, I'm also talking about the drivers, can they keep their minds together, keep their minds focused these are all questions which are going to be asked during the course of a year and, depending on the answers, can make the difference and change the season. I think McLaren have got all the right answers and are therefore going to push all the way, but I think Ferrari are going to win the first few races.

DB How do you rate Alonso as a driver, is he really this good?
MHI think he has proved his point. He is a talented and intelligent driver. He is mentally well-balanced but, obviously after two world championship victories, it is difficult to continue at the same level to be number one because, quite simply, winning doesn't make life easier and Ferrari, being the quickest at the moment, is only going to make his life even more difficult.

The pressure is on.
But, if he can stay focused all the way (to the end of the season) he's got no problem and what is extremely positive and very important for him is that he has got Lewis Hamilton pushing him to the limit all the time.

Alonso's not going to fly away from Lewis, he's going to have him on his tail.
DBA lot of people were surprised by Hamilton's appointment..
MHI wasn't, he's a very young and fast driver, hungry for victories and he's a very selfish guy. He doesn't want to take any prisoners, as we say.
BDWhat about De La Rosa (McLaren's Spanish test driver) would you like to see him get a drive this year?
MH He's a great guy, I like him enormously, his whole family. He and his wife make a great team together, but for some reason I don't think he has been able to show his maximum speed, what everybody has been expecting, and when it comes to making a decision about a driver's future, it makes it difficult if you are not kicking your team-mate's arse all the time.

But, like I said, he's a fast driver, has a wonderful personality and, what is extremely important, is a great team player and that's good for McLaren.
DBWhat makes a World Championship driver? You've mentioned, selfish, kicking arse, hungry, well balanced, focused, is that the kind of guy you are?
MHYou have to believe in yourself 100 percent. You have to know you are going to be the best, you can't even think twice when you look in the mirror. You have to know that you are the best and noone is going to beat you - ever.

You have to find an inner strength so that, even when you lose, you can be honest with yourself and figure out the reasons why you lost.
If you start complaining that the machine is not good enough, this and that, then you have to go back to the mirror and start again.
You have to be so strong inside that no body is going to beat you. No chance.
DBSo you never thought about returning to driving a taxi?
MKDTM is an extremely challenging motor sport. People are very serious. Technically, the cars are fantastically well balanced, the C Class is a beautiful car to drive and this is not marketing talk. I've driven so many racing cars in my life but the Mercedes C is absolutely superb.

It's enjoyable, every time I go to test the car I love it. I think it's fantastic to still be working with Mercedes, it's a great team, very professional, very focused. We're pushing ourselves to the maximum all the time. 110 percent and that's why we are winning.

It feels really good.....” Lets see if Hamilton and Alonso can say the same after this Sunday's opening Gran Prix in Australia.