The very first Finnish driver to compete in Formula One was Leo Kinnunen. He entered six Grand Prix during 1974 but was only successful in qualifying for the Swedish Grand Prix. But even in that qualifier, Kinnunen managed to come 25th out of 24 competing cars! Only 24 cars were qualified to start, but Kinnunen’s good relations with people in the Swedish motorsports industry meant he was allowed to start the race anyway. However, after eight laps, a spark plug problem forced him to retire from the competition.
It may sound as though rather than being one of the greatest Formula One drivers from Finland, Kinnunen was actually one of the worst. But he gets a mention not only because of his historical legacy in Formula One but also because he was a champion in other notable tournaments. He won the 1969 Nordic Challenge Cup and the Interserie from 1971 to 1973. Kinnunen was also the last driver to compete in a Formula One competition wearing an open-face helmet and goggles.
Mike Salo competed in Formula One from 1994 to 2002. The Finn achieved his best ranking in the 1999 world championship, where he ranked 10th. He was standing in for Michael Schumacher, who had been injured. Salo was in such good form that he could have potentially won the race. But Salo was given team orders to allow teammate Eddie Irvine through and take victory instead. Salo also won the GT2 Class in 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2008 and 2009.
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In 1982, with his maiden outing with Williams, Keke Rosberg had one of his most successful years. He consistently scored points, and he earned his first victory at the Swiss Grand Prix before going on to win the Drivers’ title. Rosberg also won the Formula One World Championship.
A survey by Autosport placed the Finn at number 25 in its list of 40 Greatest Formula One Drivers in History. Keke Rosberg is also well-known for being the father of Nico Rosberg, who won the Formula One World Championship in 2016.
JJ Lehto was a protégé of Keke Rosberg. In fact, it was Rosberg who suggested that Jyrki Juhani Järvilehto should abbreviate his name to make it more manageable, such as Rosberg had done himself when he abbreviated his own name of Keijo to Keke.
JJ Lehto won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1995 and 2005, and he also competed in Formula One. He joined Formula One with Onyx in 1989. However, he only started two races in his first season and five in his second. His career-best was third place.
Without a doubt, “The Flying Finn” Mika Häkkinen is the greatest Finnish Formula One driver of all time. In 1998 and 1999, he was crowned the Formula One World Champion, driving for McLaren. He is not only the best Finnish driver; many fans and pundits consider him one of the greatest Formula One drivers of all time, period.
Häkkinen came to prominence when he moved from Lotus to McLaren in 1992. Initially, he was a test driver and the reserve for Michael Andretti and Ayrton Senna. It was not long before Häkkinen out-qualified three-time world champion Senna to receive a permanent seat with the McLaren team. He stayed with McLaren for the rest of his career, completing ten seasons with them.