Born in Vantaa, Finland, like most champion racing drivers he raced karts from the age of 5, winning a succession of regional and national championships before transferring to full-sized machines. Gaining the attention of managers with a win in the British Formula 3 championship in 1990, he joined the Lotus F1 team in 1991.
Shifting to McLaren in 1993, he had a succession of mediocre (by McLaren's standards) mid-field championship results through the 1990s until the car was finally perfected and he won the championship in 1998 and 1999.
Assessing Häkkinen's true talent against Schumacher's benchmark is, like any such comparison, quite difficult. Whilst contemporaries in racing terms, they never competed against each other in any category other than F1, and the differences between the different cars more often than not dwarfs the difference in driver ability at this rarefied level. Whilst most judges rate Schumacher the superior driver, Häkkinen was certainly good enough to beat his highly-regarded teammate David Coulthard to win the championship when McLaren had the best car on the grid.
Häkkinen is married with wife Erja and has one son.