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 19 August 2017

  2. 20:45

    Latest IndyCar photos: Saturday at Pocono

    Indy
  3. 20:44

    Follow us on Instagram for the best photos!

    F1
  4. Video: Castroneves crashes during qualifying 20:42

    Video: Castroneves crashes during qualifying

    Penske's Hélio Castroneves escapes unharmed following a hard hit during IndyCar qualifying at Pocono Raceway.

    Indy
  5. Sato beats Pagenaud to pole at Pocono 20:36

    Sato beats Pagenaud to pole at Pocono

    Andretti Autosport's Takuma Sato ran last in an eventful Saturday qualifying order for the ABC Supply 500, edging out Penske…

    Indy
  6. Hamilton: Mercedes in 'good place' with tyres 16:33

    Hamilton: Mercedes in 'good place' with tyres

    Lewis Hamilton believes Mercedes is in a "good place" with its understanding of Pirelli's tyres, after problems during the early…

    F1
  7. Video: Top overtakes from FE's third season 12:42

    Video: Top overtakes from FE's third season

    Take a look at the 20 best overtakes from the 2016/17 Formula E championship, as chosen by series officials.

    FE
  8. Steiner: Minardi-style team could aid youth 10:08

    Steiner: Minardi-style team could aid youth

    Haas Team Principal Guenther Steiner believes Formula 1 would benefit from the existence of a Minardi-style outfit, in order to…

    F1
  9. Video: Day in the life of an F1 show car team 05:36

    Video: Day in the life of an F1 show car team

    Mercedes highlights what it takes to put on a spectacular F1 show at the world's best motorsport events.

    F1
  10. Friday 18 August 2017

  11. Video: IndyCar's 2018 speedway aero kit 17:12

    Video: IndyCar's 2018 speedway aero kit

    IndyCar technical guru Jon Beekhuis runs through the features on the series' 2018 speedway kit.

    Indy
  12. Social media: Who's winning off the track? 16:02

    Social media: Who's winning off the track?

    Social media is an increasingly important tool for drivers and teams to share key moments and communicate with their fans, but…

    F1
  13. Overview: Formula 1 silly season rumbles on 13:42

    Overview: Formula 1 silly season rumbles on

    While the Formula 1 community has recharged its batteries over the summer break, the silly season has rumbled on in the…

    F1
  14. F1 considering options for second US race 12:59

    F1 considering options for second US race

    New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Las Vegas have all shown interest in hosting a second Grand Prix in the United States…

    F1
  15. Video: What happens during the shutdown? 11:16

    Video: What happens during the shutdown?

    What goes on at an F1 factory during the summer break? Mercedes 'reveals all' in this light-hearted video.

    F1
  16. Alonso: 'Unfinished business' with McLaren 09:54

    Alonso: 'Unfinished business' with McLaren

    Fernando Alonso says he is open to sticking with McLaren for 2018, highlighting "unfinished business together", but needs…

    F1
  17. Mid-season review: Sauber still at the back 08:52

    Mid-season review: Sauber still at the back

    GPUpdate.net concludes its mid-season review series with Sauber, which has remained at the rear of the Formula 1 field as it…

    F1
  18. Video: Keke vs Nico - Williams memories 05:32

    Video: Keke vs Nico - Williams memories

    F1 champion father and son Keke and Nico Rosberg share their favourite memories of Williams.

    F1
  19. Thursday 17 August 2017

  20. Video: How to master IndyCar oval tracks 17:02

    Video: How to master IndyCar oval tracks

    A selection of IndyCar drivers talk about the challenges of racing on ovals, and how to master them.

    Indy
  21. Williams 'very disappointed' with first half 16:27

    Williams 'very disappointed' with first half

    Williams technical chief Paddy Lowe says the team was left feeling "very disappointed" with its results over the opening half of…

    F1
  22. Overview: Alternative stats from season so far 14:58

    Overview: Alternative stats from season so far

    Formula 1 championship standings, race wins and pole positions all get covered, but what are the lesser-known statistics of the…

    F1
  23. Marko backs Vettel to claim 2017 crown 12:34

    Marko backs Vettel to claim 2017 crown

    Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko has tipped Sebastian Vettel to come back "even stronger" following the summer break and clinch…

    F1
  24. Video: Sébastien Loeb returns to action 11:27

    Video: Sébastien Loeb returns to action

    Watch as nine-time WRC champion Sébastien Loeb returns to action at the wheel of the Citroën C3.

    WRC
  25. Makino to make F3 return at Zandvoort 10:40

    Makino to make F3 return at Zandvoort

    Honda-affiliated Tadasuke Makino will return to the European Formula 3 grid at this weekend's Zandvoort round, after recovering…

    F3
  26. Ferrari hopeful of avoiding turbo penalties 10:08

    Ferrari hopeful of avoiding turbo penalties

    Ferrari is hopeful of avoiding power unit-related penalties over the second half of the season, despite both its drivers being…

    F1
  27. Mid-season review: McLaren-Honda's woes 08:42

    Mid-season review: McLaren-Honda's woes

    GPUpdate.net continues its mid-season review series with McLaren-Honda, which has lacked reliability and performance…

    F1
  28. Video: IndyCar 'Photo Finish' with Dixon 05:43

    Video: IndyCar 'Photo Finish' with Dixon

    Scott Dixon is the first guest on IndyCar's 'Photo Finish' series as he looks back on his career.

    Indy
  29. Wednesday 16 August 2017

  30. Saavedra gets SPM seat for next two rounds 17:17

    Saavedra gets SPM seat for next two rounds

    Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM) has announced that Sebastián Saavedra will pilot the No. 7 Honda for the next two rounds of…

    Indy
  31. Iannone urges patience for Suzuki gains 16:12

    Iannone urges patience for Suzuki gains

    Andrea Iannone says Suzuki "learned so much" across back-to-back events in the Czech Republic and Austria, but has urged the…

    MotoGP
  32. Video: F1 2017 game 'Born to Be Wild' trailer 14:24

    Video: F1 2017 game 'Born to Be Wild' trailer

    Watch the latest trailer for Codemasters' new video game, F1 2017, to be released on August 25.

    F1
  33. Vandoorne making 'big steps' at every race 12:19

    Vandoorne making 'big steps' at every race

    Stoffel Vandoorne feels that he is making "big steps" forward at every Grand Prix following a difficult start to his first…

    F1
  34. Video: Mansell's Williams FW14B on track 11:02

    Video: Mansell's Williams FW14B on track

    25 years ago today, Nigel Mansell claimed the 1992 world title with the revolutionary Williams FW14B. Karun Chandhok recently…

    F1
  35. Rabat's title-winning Moto2 bike stolen 10:28

    Rabat's title-winning Moto2 bike stolen

    Tito Rabat's title-winning Moto2 bike was stolen from Marc VDS' base in Belgium on Wednesday, the team has revealed, as it seeks…

    MotoGP
  36. Montoya gets sports car deal with Penske 10:05

    Montoya gets sports car deal with Penske

    Juan Pablo Montoya will return to full-time competition in 2018, after signing a deal to race for Penske in the IMSA WeatherTech…

    Misc
  37. Bourdais given 'all clear' for IndyCar return 09:41

    Bourdais given 'all clear' for IndyCar return

    Sébastien Bourdais has been given the "all clear" to return to IndyCar action following a final check-up with medical chiefs in…

    Indy
  38. Mid-season review: Renault's steady progress 09:02

    Mid-season review: Renault's steady progress

    GPUpdate.net continues its mid-season review by reflecting on Renault's slow and steady progress since its full-time return…

    F1
  39. Video: Sounds of Williams' 40 years in F1 05:42

    Video: Sounds of Williams' 40 years in F1

    Williams has released a spine-tingling film of the various sounds from its 40 years in Formula 1.

    F1
  40. Tuesday 15 August 2017

  41. Video: McLaren's Woking Grand Prix 'plan' 16:22

    Video: McLaren's Woking Grand Prix 'plan'

    McLaren presents a tongue-in-cheek plan to add a Woking Grand Prix to the Formula 1 calendar.

    F1
  42. In photos: Formula 1 drivers' summer breaks 15:02

    In photos: Formula 1 drivers' summer breaks

    Formula 1 broke up for summer earlier this month, following an intense first half of the season, but what has the grid been up…

    F1
  43. Video: Formula 1 fans go behind-the-scenes 14:12

    Video: Formula 1 fans go behind-the-scenes

    Watch as Mercedes competition winners get a behind-the-scenes experience at this year's British GP.

    F1
  44. Kallio: Top 10 finish 'like a victory' for KTM 12:54

    Kallio: Top 10 finish 'like a victory' for KTM

    KTM test rider Mika Kallio labelled his top 10 finish as "like a victory" for the manufacturer as he displayed encouraging pace…

    MotoGP
  45. Stroll expected 'adversity' in rookie season 11:40

    Stroll expected 'adversity' in rookie season

    Williams rookie Lance Stroll says he braced himself for moments of "adversity" when he stepped up to Formula 1 and is pleased…

    F1
more news