No, says the new father, who insists he still has the desire to win

MIKA Hakkinen must be wondering what he must do to win a race in this season's Formula One.

As the circuit heads to Austria for the next leg this Sunday, the two-time world champion is at a loss over his predicament.

The man they call the Flying Finn has hardly gotten off the ground.

Expected to be contending for the world title and be the main challenger to reigning champion Michael Schumacher, Hakkinen now finds himself trailing 32 points after five races. He has not won a race since last August's Belgian Grand Prix, a streak that spans nine races.

The German champion on the other hand, has 36 points after five races this season and is sitting pretty at the table's pole position.

At the same time last season, Hakkinen had amassed 22 points and was lying second.

What was certain to be his first win in Barcelona a fortnight ago literally ended up in smoke when metres before the chequered flag, his car stalled because of clutch trouble.

At that time, he was leading by more than 42 seconds but, entering the last lap, there was a loud bang on his Mercedes-powered car and he started slowing. Cars passed him and smoke started coming out of his McLaren. 

How bad is Hakkinen's start to the season?

Even team-mate David Coulthard, never as well-respected as the Finn, has won a race, stopping Schumacher's six-win streak. 

There are now rumours that Hakkinen will retire at the end of the year, speculation that was quashed quickly by Mercedes Sports Director, Norbert Haug, on the F1-Live website.

Said Haug: "It's pure fantasy. I can 100 per cent guarantee that there is nothing truthful about these rumours."

Hakkinen's contract, like that of Scotland's Coulthard, is due to finish at the end of the season.

So far, no information has been released by McLaren regarding the renewal of their current drivers' alliance with the Woking team.

To say Hakkinen was disappointed and frustrated after the Barcelona GP must be an understatement.

"It would have been great to have a punching bag in the motorhome because I need to hit it to relax. I am super disappointed about it," he said.

So what is the matter with Hakkinen?

Has the 31-year-old, who became a father to Hugo last year, gone "soft"?

He had called the baby "the biggest change" in his life just before Hugo was born last November. But aside from that remark, the intensely-private Finn has not talked about his family, which includes his wife Erja, six years his senior.

So has the former world champion lost his motivation?

Before the Spanish GP, which he had won the past three years, he said on Formula One Online:

"It's funny you know, I was asked this last year and the year before and I wonder why they ask. I have been in F1 for 10 years now and for all these years, every year has been interesting and I have learnt something.

"Motivation is always there. You can find it in different elements. If you learn to understand your weaknesses and your strengths, then that is a fantastic thing.

"I fully understand my own level and that gives me the strength to motivate myself and gives me the knowledge that I can win grands prix and be faster than other drivers. That helps me to motivate my team in order to win.

"Let's see what happens for the rest of the season. Motivation is definitely there. Once you are committed to this job, you have to do it."

He even managed to remain optimistic after the Barcelona debacle, fully aware that there are 12 more races to go.

"I'm not losing my belief that I can still win the title. I just have to count the points," he said.

 "And when it comes that I don't have a mathematical possibility to win, then we will have to change to different targets for this year."But until that moment, I have to push and fight as hard as I can."

F1: Current standings

* Drivers: 1 Michael Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 36 points 2 David Coulthard (Gbr) McLaren 28 3 Rubens Barrichello (Bra) Ferrari 14 4 Ralf Schumacher (Ger) Williams 12 5 Nick Heidfeld (Ger) Sauber 8 6 Jarno Trulli (Ita) Jordan 7 7 Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Ger) Jordan/Juan Pablo Montoya (Col) Williams 6 9 Mika Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren/Jacques Villeneuve (Can) BAR 4 11 Olivier Panis (Fra) BAR 3 12 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Sauber 1 12 Giancarlo Fisichella (Ita) Benetton 1.



* Note: At the same time last year, Hakkinen was lying in second spot on 22 points while Schumacher had 36.