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Mika Hakkinen returns to McLaren F1 in partner ambassador role

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McLaren has announced that two-time Formula 1 world champion Mika Hakkinen has rejoined the team in the role of partner ambassador.

Hakkinen spent the bulk of his F1 career with McLaren, racing for the team between 1993 and 2001 in a period that included drivers’ championship victories in 1998 and 1999.

Hakkinen retired from F1 at the end of the 2001 season at the age of 33, but has remained a keen observer of the sport and regularly appears in the paddock.

The Finn will now be returning to McLaren in an official capacity, with the team announcing on Thursday that he would be its new partner ambassador, working with recently-appointed executive director Zak Brown and his marketing team.

“I’ve always considered McLaren to be my home in Formula 1, and I still have an enormous place in my heart for everyone in the team,” Hakkinen said.

“Of course, the past few years for McLaren haven’t been easy, but I’ve always believed that it’s only a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ McLaren will come good again – and I want to play my part in helping that happen.

“Returning to McLaren was an easy decision for me – I’ve never really lost contact, and I still know a lot of the hard-working men and women there from my eight-and-a-bit seasons with the team.

“I’m also really looking forward to working with Zak, who owns one of my race-winning McLarens from 2001. We’ve spoken about how we can work together, and I can see that he’s putting in place the building blocks needed to help McLaren get back to the front. I’ll be collaborating closely with him during the exciting years ahead.”

Brown added: “Mika is one of my all-time racing heroes, and a driver who remains one of the bravest, greatest and most iconic champions in Formula 1 history. His success with McLaren, and his battles with Michael, have become the stuff of Formula 1 legend, and underline Mika’s place among the pantheon of grand prix greats.

“Just as important, Mika is a hugely impressive individual away from the cockpit – sharp, intelligent, wise, calm, witty and still a huge fan of the sport. He’ll be an incredible asset to McLaren as we look to build on our partner portfolio and return to full competitiveness.

“It’s our intention to provide our partners with the best possible business and social experience, and having Mika as Partner Ambassador will certainly establish our presence at the pinnacle of Formula 1 team marketing and hospitality.”

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).