November 1 marks 20 years since Mika Hakkinen clinched his first Formula 1 world championship with victory for McLaren at the Japanese Grand Prix, cementing his place in the sport’s history books.

Hakkinen arrived at Suzuka holding a slender lead of just four points over Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher, but was sat P2 on the grid behind his title rival, who had edged clear in a tense qualifying session that saw the duo pull a second clear of the rest of the field.

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But the pressure was lifted from Hakkinen’s shoulders at the start when Schumacher stalled, causing him to be sent to the back of the grid. While the McLaren driver came under pressure from Schumacher’s teammate, Eddie Irvine, at the start, Hakkinen managed to keep the Ferrari at bay throughout the race, crossing the line to clinch his maiden world title.

Hakkinen’s title victory was the first major moment in his famed rivalry with Schumacher, who said the Finn was the driver he gained the most satisfaction of racing through his racing career. The pair were the two outstanding drivers in F1 at the turn of the millennium, racing some of the most exciting and exhilarating cars to have graced the grid.

Hakkinen’s was behind the wheel of the McLaren MP4/13 that day at Suzuka, and while it is the most significant car from his F1 career, it took almost 20 years for him to be reunited with it at a proper racetrack.

To celebrate the anniversary, McLaren brought the MP4/13 out of retirement at Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix last month, with Hakkinen getting the chance to drive the car around the track on four days as part of a classic car show run.

Even for a Finn who was known for his ice-cool demeanour through his F1 career, Hakkinen was brimming with happiness after stepping out of the car on Sunday.

“When I’m driving my old racing car and winning car here, of course it’s like an incredible feeling. It’s been a great weekend, really, really good, and also meeting a lot of fans, it’s been really good,” Hakkinen said.

“But it’s not really an emotional situation. I think some of the people think: ‘Ah, 20 years since you won the world championship, how do you feel? It’s an emotional thing.’ But it’s emotional in terms of happiness. It’s great!

“It was great to do the achievement, winning the championship here twice, so there’s only happy, good memories.”

The car itself left Hakkinen overflowing with compliments, bringing back memories of Adrian Newey’s first full design at McLaren.

“What the McLaren designers, mechanics, and engineers created was just a mega, mega job. I was in Formula 1 for 10 years, and I did experience a lot of different cars - but this car is just something unique,” Hakkinen said.

“It has an amazing front end when you go in the corner. It just had a beautiful balance all the way, through the corner. Brilliant traction. So it’s just great, the car on the edge, to really have fun. Of course the engine, I think it adds up to something like 800 horsepower, and the balance-to-weight ratio is just brilliant. So a lot of positive words about it.”

While Hakkinen hadn’t driven the MP4/13 at Suzuka since he day he was crowned champion for the first time, the intense level of preparation he put in ahead of the showdown with Schumacher meant it was easy to get back into the groove, even 20 years later.

“To be honest, this track for me, there are such strong memories: every braking, corner, everything,” Hakkinen said.

“When I came here, it was really fighting against Michael Schumacher or fighting against Eddie Irvine. The concentration and preparation was so powerful. But coming here now after 20 years like this, it’s easy-peasy, not too difficult!”

Hakkinen followed his 1998 title with a second championship win in 1999 - also clinched at Suzuka - but would take a sabbatical just two years later which would ultimately prove permanent. Despite flirting with a return to F1, Hakkinen spent three years racing in DTM between 2005 and 2007, and made a one-off appearance in a GT race at Zhuhai in 2011, but has otherwise shied away from competitive action.

So is there a desire to scratch that racing itch once again? At 50, Hakkinen is far from being ‘past it’, with many going much longer in their careers.

“I thought about it quite often actually if I would do some type of racing,” Hakkinen conceded. “To be a brand ambassador for McLaren, I think it would be exciting to do something.

“But honestly, it takes time. It’s a commitment. It takes time from your life, the preparation. I have to admit I’m quite busy with my brand ambassador work, what I’m doing with the company at the moment. Five kids at home, that’s not a holiday either!

“I think it could be quite possible for me quite easily. I’ve done driving for so many years. I’m also a brand ambassador for Hintsa Performance, so I think they would help me a lot because they’re taking care of many, many grand prix drivers in the field. All that kind of aspects are in the right place, so it would not be too difficult.

“But of course when you go out there, you want to win. You’re not going to go there for second or third place. You want to win and kick some butt!”

Even if he does not make a full return to racing in the future, to see Hakkinen reunited with the car that was his kingmaker back two decades ago stirred a real feeling of nostalgia in the F1 paddock.

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