BOTTAS GRABS HIS OPPORTUNITY
The original “Flying Finn”? That would be
Paavo Nurmi, a spectacularly successful
long-distance runner in the two decades
following World War I, who earned the
epithet during a 1925 tour of the U.S.
Since then, ski-jumpers, speed skaters
and even the occasional hockey player
have been called it. But it’s in motorsports
where “Flying Finn” truly took hold – firstly
through Finland’s domination of rallying in
the 1960s and beyond, and latterly from a
steady trickle of Formula 1 talent wholly
out of proportion to its population of just
5. 5 million (comparable to Minnesota).
With much of Finland’s road network
(then and now) made of flowing, groomed
dirt, any kid with a sense of adventure
quickly masters loose-surface driving. So as
rallying became more about performance
and less about socializing, factories
would go for the latest hot-shot from the
“Land of the Thousand Lakes.” They
were ridiculously fast, but cool, calm and
controlled with it – typical Scandinavians.
Rauno Aaltonen and Timo Makinen were
the ’60s vanguard, joined by the likes of
“IF YOU WANT TO WIN, HIRE A FINN...”
Hannu Mikkola and Markku Alen in the ’70s.
“If you want to win, hire a Finn...” wasn’t
just a slogan, it was the modus operandi.
In the early 1980s, Henri Toivonen
redefined Finnish rallying. Charismatic and
stupendously fast – ultimately fatally –
in a parallel universe, he’d have been the
country’s first Formula 1 World Champion. In
reality, that was Keke Rosberg (as in, Nico’s
dad). Rosberg’s flamboyant driving and, yes,
sisu earned him the ’ 82 title in a naturally-aspirated Williams that couldn’t get near the
turbos on power, but refused to believe it...
The next generation of Finns had a choice
of heroes – the guys going sideways between
the trees, or the one averaging 160mph at
Silverstone – and it’s been the case ever
since. In F1, Mika Hakkinen and Kimi
Raikkonen added to the country’s title tally,
and Valtteri Bottas is just the latest Finn to
win GPs. Over in rallying, Juha Kankkunen,
Tommi Makinen and Marcus Gronholm kept
the flame into the Noughties, and it still
burns today, with incumbent ace Jari-Matti
Latvala joined by a new wave of WRC talent
that’s faster – and younger – than ever.
Finns have been at the forefront of rallying for more than 50 years, and their Formula 1 legacy is growing, too.
(MAIN) Timo Makinen, a star in rallying’s first wave
of “Flying Finns,” guns his factory Mini Cooper to a
short-lived win on the 1966 Monte Carlo Rally.
Post-event, he was excluded for running illegal
auxiliary lights – a dubious call that conveniently
handed victory to the French Citroen team...
Mika Hakkinen earned Formula 1 titles
with McLaren in 1998 (ABOVE) and ’ 99.
Esapekka Lappi’s 2017 Rally Finland win
was affirmation of a new wave of talent.