Beyond the chequered flag: Mika Salo

Beyond the chequered flag: Mika Salo

29 March 2013 – In a new feature series running throughout the 2013 season, GPUpdate.net sits down for a conversation with a variety of ex-Formula 1 stars to delve into their Grand Prix past and discuss life after the sport. In the first instalment, Finnish driver Mika Salo takes us through a career in motorsport’s top echelon that spanned almost a decade and saw him race for seven outfits, including world-beaters Ferrari.

Born as the eldest of two sons to parents Seppo and Tarja in Helsinki on 30 November 1966, Salo’s first Karting experience came at the Keimola circuit aged five. With father Seppo holding an interest in racing, competitive outings saw him quickly step up to Formula Ford, where subsequent success earned a graduation to the prestigious British Formula 3 championship in 1989. During his second campaign, he notched up six race victories and finished runner-up to compatriot Mika Häkkinen, before heading to the Far East to take on the Formula Nippon series. It was in Japan 1994 that he received an unexpected telephone call from the Team Lotus camp.

Salo makes his debut at the 1994 Japanese Grand Prix
"It was a little bit different for me because it all happened so quickly," Salo explained. "I got a phone call when I wasn’t even thinking about Formula 1 and then suddenly I was driving at the Japanese Grand Prix. I didn’t have time to think about it. Everything happened and was arranged within one week.

"When I knew it was going to happen they told me there would be no testing before and I would have to go straight to the first free practice session and then straight to qualifying. But I didn’t really care, I just thought it would be nice to have a go and I didn’t think of it more than that. All went well and I was there for nine years."

A respectable tenth place finish was the reward for Salo’s efforts at Suzuka, with his performance turning a number heads in the pit lane. Ken Tyrrell acquired his services in 1995, marking the start of an encouraging three-year relationship. Having scored a handful of points finishes for the team, a promotion to Arrows was duly earned in 1998, but despite a promising campaign which featured a top four result on the streets of Monte-Carlo, he was left without a contract for the following season.

The hurdle turned into an opportunity, however, with BAR driver Ricardo Zonta injuring his left foot during practice for the 1999 Brazilian Grand Prix. Salo delivered a trio of solid races as a substitute, ensuring that Ferrari knew who to call when Michael Schumacher suffered a broken leg at Silverstone just a couple of months later.

"It was a nice experience," Salo said of his time at the Maranello-based outfit, which included a podium finish in front of the adoring Tifosi at Monza. "I know how the best team in the world works. It was a great time and I will definitely never forget that."

Hockenheim 1999:
Although it was a dream come true to don red overalls and race for the Scuderia, Salo’s primary aim was to aid the title bid of team-mate Eddie Irvine. The 1999 German Grand Prix at Hockenheim served as the prime example of this when, in the closing stages of the race, he was forced to give up a near-certain maiden triumph in favour of the Irishman.

"It was my job at the time," explained Salo, who was later handed the winner’s trophy by Irvine. "I knew if this kind of situation came along that I had to do it. I was hoping it wouldn’t come along, but it did. I didn’t think much of it then. It was just my job, so I did my job."

This no-nonsense, what you see is what you get attitude can be largely attributed to Salo’s nationality, with the 46-year-old stating that Finnish drivers simply discard their emotions in the quest for glory. And this unwavering focus has evidently worked, with a country equivalent in size to the American state of Montana yielding three World Champions and enough Grand Prix victories to sit fifth in the all-time standings.

"It might be something to do with mentality," he commented, pausing in assessment. "Our mentality just suits Formula 1 and racing in general. It is about never giving up and just doing your work. You do your job every time you get a chance without any complaints. I guess that’s it. There are no emotions at all – it’s just 100 percent work."

Salo at Le Mans
After his short spell at Ferrari, Salo completed two more interspersed seasons, racing for Sauber and Toyota respectively. With his time in Formula 1 suitably coming to an end at Suzuka in 2002, he went on to try his hand at the Champ Car series before etching a successful sportscar career, which yielded GT2 class victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, 24 Hours of Spa, 12 Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans.

"After Formula 1 I have been doing a lot," explained Salo, who now resides in Monaco with his wife and two children. "I did some Champ Cars then GT racing in America and in Europe. One of my biggest highlights was when I got chosen for an American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters (AARWBA) award. It was for the best racing driver in North America in 2007.

"In the last few years I’ve just tried to pick some nice fun races because I like driving, but as a result of my other commitments, such as with MTV3 (Finnish Formula 1 broadcaster) and all this kind of stuff, it doesn’t allow me to do a full championship anywhere. I’m also an FIA driver steward for some Formula 1 races, so I’m busy!"

Salo may not be officially remembered as a visitor to the top step of the Formula 1 podium, but in the views of many, he is fully deserving of a place on the winners’ list.

Mike Seymour
Twitter: @MikeSeymourF1

related

Comments

Latest News
Full
Compact

  1. Thursday 5 May 2016

  2. Verstappen describes 'amazing opportunity' 09:03

    Verstappen describes 'amazing opportunity'

    Max Verstappen has expressed his excitement at the "amazing opportunity" to step up to Red Bull from the Spanish Grand Prix…

    F1
  3. Verstappen replaces Kvyat at Red Bull 08:40

    Verstappen replaces Kvyat at Red Bull

    Max Verstappen will replace Daniil Kvyat at Red Bull from the Spanish Grand Prix onwards, with the Russian driver returning to…

    F1
  4. Video of the Day: Rosberg vs Lauda 05:26

    Video of the Day: Rosberg vs Lauda

    Nico Rosberg takes on Niki Lauda in a game of table tennis. Watch on to see who comes out on top...

    F1
  5. Wednesday 4 May 2016

  6. 16:32

    Book F1 tickets and join the action live!

    F1
  7. Rossi: Le Mans usually suits Yamaha 15:14

    Rossi: Le Mans usually suits Yamaha

    Yamaha rider Valentino Rossi is hopeful of claiming back-to-back MotoGP victories at this weekend's French Grand Prix, given the…

    MotoGP
  8. Sauber admits to 'really difficult time' 13:39

    Sauber admits to 'really difficult time'

    Sauber has admitted that it is going through a "really difficult time", as it attempts to keep up with the costs involved in…

    F1
  9. Mercedes writes open letter to fans 11:55

    Mercedes writes open letter to fans

    Mercedes has written a lengthy open letter to its fans in an attempt to silence recent conspiracy theories regarding the 2016…

    F1
  10. Video: Repsol Honda previews Le Mans 11:12

    Video: Repsol Honda previews Le Mans

    Repsol Honda engineers Ramón Aurín and Santi Hernández preview the French Grand Prix at Le Mans.

    MotoGP
  11. Michelin eager to impress on home soil 10:32

    Michelin eager to impress on home soil

    MotoGP tyre supplier Michelin says it is "very important" that this weekend's French Grand Prix goes smoothly for the brand…

    MotoGP
  12. Mark Sutton: Story Behind the Shot - Russia 09:46

    Mark Sutton: Story Behind the Shot - Russia

    Especially for lovers of motorsport photography, GPUpdate.net's race-by-race series, Story Behind the Shot, continues throughout…

    F1
  13. Turvey in for Berlin, no debut for Hanley 09:27

    Turvey in for Berlin, no debut for Hanley

    Oliver Turvey will race for NEXTEV TCR at the next round of the Formula E season in Berlin. Turvey was set to miss the May 21…

    FE
  14. Video of the Day: Prost on e.dams Renault 05:16

    Video of the Day: Prost on e.dams Renault

    Having had its advantage slashed by rivals Audi Sport Abt, e.dams Renault chief Alain Prost explains its recent struggles.

    FE
  15. Tuesday 3 May 2016

  16. Sauber to skip post-race Barcelona test 17:04

    Sauber to skip post-race Barcelona test

    Sauber has confirmed that it will not participate during the in-season group test sessions which take place during the week…

    F1
  17. Force India encouraged by VJM09 pace 14:44

    Force India encouraged by VJM09 pace

    Force India Chief Operating Officer Otmar Szafnauer says the outfit can draw encouragement from the pace of the VJM09 despite…

    F1
  18. STR: Russia a 'huge opportunity missed' 13:38

    STR: Russia a 'huge opportunity missed'

    Toro Rosso Technical Director James Key says that the outfit's failure to register a point at the Russian Grand Prix was a "huge…

    F1
  19. Pirelli begins 2017 tyre testing at Fiorano 13:02

    Pirelli begins 2017 tyre testing at Fiorano

    Pirelli has commenced its 2017 tyre testing programme with Ferrari's Jean-Éric Vergne behind the wheel of the F14-T, the…

    F1
  20. Márquez hoping to confirm Honda gains 12:42

    Márquez hoping to confirm Honda gains

    MotoGP championship leader Marc Márquez is eager to confirm the gains Repsol Honda has made with its RC213V across recent…

    MotoGP
  21. Arrivabene adamant Ferrari will keep fighting 11:26

    Arrivabene adamant Ferrari will keep fighting

    Ferrari Team Principal Maurizio Arrivabene maintains that the outfit is still in the hunt for the World Championship, despite…

    F1
  22. Pirelli reveals Spanish GP tyre selections 10:59

    Pirelli reveals Spanish GP tyre selections

    Formula 1 tyre supplier Pirelli has revealed the tyre compound selections which drivers have made for next weekend's Spanish…

    F1
  23. McLaren: Points finish reflects progress 10:40

    McLaren: Points finish reflects progress

    McLaren Racing Director Eric Boullier is confident that the outfit has "turned the corner" after Fernando Alonso and Jenson…

    F1
  24. Sauber pair positive despite more struggles 09:48

    Sauber pair positive despite more struggles

    Sauber drivers Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr were left content following the Russian Grand Prix, despite the team failing to…

    F1
  25. Renault to hold Silverstone filming day 09:02

    Renault to hold Silverstone filming day

    Renault will hold a Formula 1 filming day at Silverstone this Friday, with free admission for spectators. Race drivers Kevin…

    F1
  26. Video of the Day: IndyCar Space Camp 05:16

    Video of the Day: IndyCar Space Camp

    Conor Daly and Alexander Rossi recently attended the US Space & Rocket Center's Space Camp.

    Indy
  27. Monday 2 May 2016

  28. Winners and Losers: Russian Grand Prix 16:42

    Winners and Losers: Russian Grand Prix

    Nico Rosberg extended his championship lead with a seventh straight victory while Lewis Hamilton completed a Mercedes 1-2.…

    F1
  29. Mann back with Coyne for Indy 500 14:57

    Mann back with Coyne for Indy 500

    Pippa Mann will take part in the Indianapolis 500 with Dale Coyne Racing for the fourth consecutive season as part of the team's…

    Indy
  30. Haryanto says he had 'nowhere to go' 14:18

    Haryanto says he had 'nowhere to go'

    Manor driver Rio Haryanto says that he was left with "nowhere to go" as he became the third retiree of the first-lap drama in…

    F1
  31. Manufacturer 'reluctance' delays 24th entry 13:44

    Manufacturer 'reluctance' delays 24th entry

    MotoGP's field will not increase to 24 bikes in 2017 due to what the championship has described as a "reluctance" from…

    MotoGP
  32. Button: Sochi complex needs changes 13:36

    Button: Sochi complex needs changes

    Jenson Button reckons officials need to look at revising the Turn 2/3 complex at Sochi Autodrom after another dramatic start to…

    F1
  33. Pérez left wanting more after puncture 12:03

    Pérez left wanting more after puncture

    Sergio Pérez was left wanting more from the Russian Grand Prix, despite scoring his first points of the campaign, after early…

    F1
  34. Video: Nico Rosberg's post-race blog 11:12

    Video: Nico Rosberg's post-race blog

    Join Nico Rosberg as he boards a plane home with fellow drivers after winning the Russian Grand Prix.

    F1
  35. Toro Rosso duo lament 'unfortunate' race 10:22

    Toro Rosso duo lament 'unfortunate' race

    Toro Rosso drivers Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. were left to rue what might have been after points finishes slipped away…

    F1
  36. Grosjean: Still 'many things' to improve 09:32

    Grosjean: Still 'many things' to improve

    Haas' Romain Grosjean expressed his satisfaction at returning to the points at the Russian Grand Prix, though says there are…

    F1
  37. Wolff: Mercedes feared double retirement 08:48

    Wolff: Mercedes feared double retirement

    Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has revealed that the manufacturer briefly feared that neither Nico Rosberg nor Lewis Hamilton would…

    F1
  38. Video of the Day: Kvyat learns bobsleigh 05:28

    Video of the Day: Kvyat learns bobsleigh

    Red Bull driver Daniil Kvyat met up with the Russian National bobsleigh team ahead of his home race.

    F1
  39. Sunday 1 May 2016

  40. Ricciardo: I expect apology from Kvyat 17:50

    Ricciardo: I expect apology from Kvyat

    Daniel Ricciardo believes Red Bull team-mate Daniil Kvyat owes him an apology after triggering a first lap collision at the…

    F1
  41. Williams pair positive despite missing podium 17:29

    Williams pair positive despite missing podium

    Williams drivers Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa described the team's Russian Grand Prix as "positive" despite missing out on…

    F1
  42. Magnussen pleased to end points drought 16:44

    Magnussen pleased to end points drought

    Renault driver Kevin Magnussen ended his and the manufacturer's points drought with a spirited drive to seventh place at the…

    F1
  43. 16:32

    Latest Formula 1 photos: Sunday in Sochi

    F1
  44. Ocon to get FP1 outing at Spanish GP 16:29

    Ocon to get FP1 outing at Spanish GP

    Renault test and reserve driver Esteban Ocon will take part in free practice for the Spanish Grand Prix later this month, the…

    F1
  45. Räikkönen admits Ferrari 'not fast enough' 16:15

    Räikkönen admits Ferrari 'not fast enough'

    Kimi Räikkönen admitted that Ferrari had no answer to Mercedes' pace as he settled for a podium finish in the Russian Grand…

    F1
more news