Dr. Aki Hintsa - gone but never forgotten

On November 15 the Formula 1 world was hit by tragic news of the passing of Dr. Aki Hintsa, who had lost his long and courageous battle with cancer at the age of 58. Hintsa was a specialist in orthopaedic and trauma surgery, whose pre-F1 medical career included working as a missionary doctor in Ethiopia in the 1980s and 90s. Hintsa, who came from Finland with an Olympic background, brought a level of science and psychological training to the role of driver coach and physio, taking the role to the next level. He joined McLaren in 1998, becoming physician and chief medical officer during an 11-year spell at the team. He quit his job at the end of the 2013 season. He ran a unique clinic in Geneva, the aim of which is to improve the client’s physical and non-physical performance and quality of life in a comprehensive, individually tailored approach. However, Hintsa is best known for his unforgettable work in F1. In spite of working as McLaren team doctor, the colour of the team shirt didn’t matter, as Dr. Hintsa was ready and willing to help anyone in need! 

The book "The core", which came out in 2015, tells the story of this truly exceptional man -the man behind F1 champions. The work contains never-before-published information from behind the facades of F1 as well as Hintsa’s comprehensive model for personal success. The journey towards success begins with three fundamental questions:

  • Who are you? 
  • What do you want?
  • Are you in control of your life?

Hintsa’s holistic approach to human well-being and health has been one of the key factors behind eight Formula 1 world championships and the success of many top-level business executives. Hintsa’s practices have played a crucial role helping F1 drivers manage extreme stress due to the physical and mental demand of the races. Aki Hintsa was the man who had helped turn drivers into champions. He had been the key figure behind such F1 champions as Mika Häkkinen, Kimi Räikkönen, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. The book is written by Oskari Saari, a Finnish journalist, producer and nonfiction author. Saari is known throughout Finland as the commentator on the F1 races. 

Dr. Aki Hintsa was a truly great man, whose impact in this world will be bigger than we even know today. Hintsa’s life-long mission to help people reach better life will now continue by his beloved colleagues. Hintsa was a man of quiet wisdom, and he will be deeply missed by his family, friends, colleagues, clients and numerous people around the world whose lives he has touched during the years. I am one of them, although I never got a chance to meet this unique and remarkable man. 

The biography of Dr. Hintsa made a huge impression on me. The story was so compelling that it was very difficult to put the book down in the evening. Although I’ve been following Formula 1 since 1994, I actually knew very little about Dr. Hintsa before reading the book. I’ve been a passionate fan of both Kimi and Sebastian for quite a while, but I didn’t know that Dr. Hintsa was such a key figure behind their success. It’s no coincidence that the summer cottage Sebastian has in Finland has been bought from Dr. Hintsa himself! 

One of the grand prix I remember the best in terms of Sebastian’s F1 career is definitely the Turkish GP in 2010. In this very race the Red Bull teammates Vettel and Webber had a double lead, until they ended up colliding with each other. Sebastian’s race was over and the German was so furious that he showed all kinds of inappropriate hand gestures referring to teammate Webber. I still remember my emotions so well; I had a feeling that it was a turning point in terms of Sebastian’s hopes to become world champion. Either he would become a stronger racing driver and learn from the dramatic episode, or it would destroy his hopes in winning the championship. I can only imagine what kind of a role Dr. Hintsa played during these difficult times. Sebastian turned the hardest time of his career into success and won his very first world championship that year. The rest is history; there were three more championships to come in the following years. This means that Dr. Aki Hintsa had the psychological knowledge that only a very few have. 

Dr. Hintsa was also one of the very few people, who understood that Kimi - during his time at McLaren - had to be given the personal space he needed. There was absolutely no way Kimi could have been forced to do things he hated - huge amount of PR work and being in the lime light all the time. Demanding these things from Kimi would have meant deteriorated performance from Kimi in the races. Luckily, Hintsa managed to make McLaren Team Principal Ron Dennis convinced of this aspect. This is another proof of Dr. Hintsa’s psychological intelligence. 

One of the best things about Dr. Hintsa’s model of human well-being and personal success is the fact that it is for anyone to apply - not only for top athletes or business executives! Ordinary people like myself can aim for an improvement, too, in the quality of life by learning from Hintsa’s model. I definitely started to pore over my life after reading the book. Would I personally be able to answer those three fundamental questions? They look simple, but are quite the opposite, actually. I love those deep thoughts they make me go through. 

After reading the book I wanted to write to Dr. Hintsa about my feelings and thoughts. And since I love writing, I wrote him a long, "old-fashioned" letter. A few weeks later, when I came home from work, there was mail from Switzerland in my mailbox. Dr. Hintsa had sent me a copy of the book "The Core" with his autograph and a letter written on the opening page. I can’t even describe, how much this book means to me. 

According to the news I read last summer, Dr. Hintsa was feeling well and seemed to have conquered his cancer. The news about his passing came as a huge shock to me! He was taken much too early; he would have had so much more to give to the world! I was absolutely shaken due to the news - even though I didn’t know the man personally. There’s a certain thing that I remember very well from the book. When helping busy business executives, who felt they had no time to exercise, Dr. Hintsa suggested, that when going to work, they would leave their car a couple of kilometres away from their work place and walk to work. I do exercise a lot, but I’ve started to do the same in some mornings; I leave my car downtown and walk two kilometres to my work place. On those mornings, I always tend to think about Dr. Aki Hintsa and his legacy. Some mornings, when passing by local cemetery, I light up a candle for Hintsa’s memory. 

Dr. Hintsa is gone but never forgotten. Hintsa Performance currently supplies a full-time performance coach to 8 F1 drivers, and supports a further 4 affiliated trainers in various ways - in total more than half a grid. Hintsa and his teams are also involved in mentoring the junior driver programs for Red Bull, Mercedes and McLaren. In his final days before his death, Dr. Hintsa had asked Oskari Saari to finish his story - so there’s a second book on the way. 

My deepest condolences to Dr. Aki Hintsa’s family, friends, colleagues and everyone touched by this sad news.

With passion for racing red, 
Iina Huhmarniemi

Dec 07, 2016