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. Saturday 20 September 2014

  2. Massa encouraged by Williams improvements 18:32

    Massa encouraged by Williams improvements

    Felipe Massa says he is encouraged by the progress which Williams has made since Friday's practice sessions after qualifying...

    F1
  3. 17:25

    Latest F1 photos: Saturday in Singapore

    F1
  4. Magnussen seeks help from Safety Car 17:24

    Magnussen seeks help from Safety Car

    Kevin Magnussen says he is hoping to see the Safety Car called into action during Sunday evening's Singapore Grand...

    F1
  5. Alonso hopeful of fighting for victory 17:09

    Alonso hopeful of fighting for victory

    Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso is hopeful that he will be able to challenge for victory during Sunday's Singapore Grand...

    F1
  6. Vettel reckons pole position was possible 16:42

    Vettel reckons pole position was possible

    Sebastian Vettel feels he could have had a shot at claiming pole position in Singapore with a cleaner final qualifying...

    F1
  7. Rosberg ruing late change of brakes 16:16

    Rosberg ruing late change of brakes

    Nico Rosberg was left to rue a change of brakes after Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton beat him to pole position in...

    F1
  8. Hamilton pleased to recover from early error 15:57

    Hamilton pleased to recover from early error

    Lewis Hamilton says he was pleased with his recovery after an early error threatened to ruin his final qualifying attempt in...

    F1
  9. 15:08

    Singapore GP: Qualifying results in full

    F1
  10. Hamilton pips Rosberg to Singapore pole 15:07

    Hamilton pips Rosberg to Singapore pole

    Lewis Hamilton beat Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg to pole position during a tight qualifying session in Singapore, with...

    F1
  11. 13:52

    Follow qualifying for the Singapore GP!

    F1
  12. 12:16

    Singapore GP: Full Free Practice 3 results

    F1
  13. Alonso back on top in final Singapore practice 12:03

    Alonso back on top in final Singapore practice

    Fernando Alonso returned to the head of the field during final practice for the Singapore Grand Prix, putting his Ferrari...

    F1
  14. 10:55

    Follow final practice for the Singapore GP!

    F1
  15. Full radio ban delayed to ensure 'fairness' 10:31

    Full radio ban delayed to ensure 'fairness'

    The FIA backtracked on its plans to introduce a full radio clampdown in Singapore to ensure "fairness". After announcing...

    F1
  16. Video: Maldonado crashes out of practice 09:56

    Video: Maldonado crashes out of practice

    Lotus driver Pastor Maldonado suffered this heavy crash during Friday evening's second practice session in Singapore. The...

    F1
  17. Maldonado gets new chassis after crash 09:49

    Maldonado gets new chassis after crash

    Pastor Maldonado has been forced to switch to a new chassis for the remainder of the Singapore Grand Prix weekend, after...

    F1
  18. 07:06

    Photos: Historic F1 action in Singapore

    F1
  19. Ravetto: Caterham already working on 2015 06:01

    Ravetto: Caterham already working on 2015

    Newly-appointed Caterham Team Principal Manfredi Ravetto insists that there are long-term plans in place at the outfit,...

    F1
  20. Video of the Day: Wind tunnel guide - Part 8 05:00

    Video of the Day: Wind tunnel guide - Part 8

    Sauber's Head of Aerodynamics, Willem Toet, concludes his talk on the science of F1 wind tunnel design.

    F1
  21. Friday 19 September 2014

  22. Ferrari reasonably competitive, says Alonso 19:49

    Ferrari reasonably competitive, says Alonso

    Fernando Alonso reckons that Ferrari put in a "reasonably competitive" performance during Friday's free practice sessions...

    F1
  23. Button sure of 'decent opportunity' for McLaren 18:39

    Button sure of 'decent opportunity' for McLaren

    Jenson Button believes that this weekend's Singapore Grand Prix presents a "decent opportunity" for McLaren as the team bids...

    F1
  24. Pirelli admits tyre gap bigger than expected 18:17

    Pirelli admits tyre gap bigger than expected

    F1 tyre supplier Pirelli admits that the time difference between its supplied compounds in Singapore has been larger than it...

    F1
  25. Vettel praises mechanics for 'massive job' 18:02

    Vettel praises mechanics for 'massive job'

    Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel has praised his mechanics for the work they completed between practice sessions in...

    F1
  26. Rosberg positive despite ruined attempt 17:37

    Rosberg positive despite ruined attempt

    Nico Rosberg was in a positive frame of mind after the opening day of practice for the Singapore Grand Prix, despite failing...

    F1
  27. Hamilton still not happy with car balance 17:15

    Hamilton still not happy with car balance

    Lewis Hamilton says he is still not comfortable with the handling of his car, despite topping Friday's combined timesheets...

    F1
  28. 16:48

    Latest F1 photos: Friday in Singapore

    F1
  29. Verstappen could get Suzuka practice outing 16:44

    Verstappen could get Suzuka practice outing

    Max Verstappen could take part in his first official Formula 1 session at the Japanese Grand Prix. The 16-year-old Dutch...

    F1
  30. 16:13

    Singapore GP: Full Free Practice 2 results

    F1
  31. Hamilton moves ahead in second practice 16:03

    Hamilton moves ahead in second practice

    Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton moved to the top of the times during Friday's second practice session for the Singapore Grand...

    F1
  32. 14:16

    Follow second practice for the Singapore GP!

    F1
  33. Ferrari paying tribute to Botín in Singapore 13:46

    Ferrari paying tribute to Botín in Singapore

    Ferrari is paying tribute to Emilio Botín in Singapore, following the death of the Santander Chairman. Botín, who passed a...

    F1
  34. Ecclestone wants third cars from 2015 13:22

    Ecclestone wants third cars from 2015

    Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone feels the sport should adopt three-car teams for 2015. With certain teams struggling...

    F1
  35. 12:50

    Singapore GP: Full Free Practice 1 results

    F1
  36. Alonso edges Mercedes duo in first practice 12:32

    Alonso edges Mercedes duo in first practice

    Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso set the pace during Friday evening's first free practice session for the Singapore Grand...

    F1
  37. 10:46

    Follow first practice for the Singapore GP!

    F1
  38. Radio ban revised to driver performance only 08:44

    Radio ban revised to driver performance only

    Formula 1's governing body, the FIA, has revised its proposed clampdown on pit-to-car radio and pit board messages after...

    F1
  39. Video of the Day: Hamilton's Singapore guide 05:06

    Video of the Day: Hamilton's Singapore guide

    Join Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton for a lap of the Marina Bay Street Circuit.

    F1
  40. Vettel says he is learning from 'tough' year 01:05

    Vettel says he is learning from 'tough' year

    Sebastian Vettel says one positive from 2014 is that he has been able to learn lessons in defeat. Vettel, winner of the...

    F1
  41. Thursday 18 September 2014

  42. Video: 24 hours after a Formula 1 race 17:00

    Video: 24 hours after a Formula 1 race

    Ever wondered what happens at the factory when a team returns from a race? Red Bull reveals all.

    F1
  43. Ricciardo: Podium to keep title hopes alive 15:35

    Ricciardo: Podium to keep title hopes alive

    Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo believes that a podium finish at the Singapore Grand Prix will be the minimum requirement...

    F1
more news