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. Friday 30 September 2016

  2. 14:02

    Book F1 tickets and join the action live!

    F1
  3. 13:30

    Latest Formula 1 photos: Friday at Sepang

    F1
  4. Palou excluded from GP3 qualifying 13:29

    Palou excluded from GP3 qualifying

    Campos driver Álex Palou has been excluded from the results of GP3 qualifying at Sepang after his car was found to be in breach…

    GP3
  5. Alonso boosted by McLaren improvements 13:15

    Alonso boosted by McLaren improvements

    Fernando Alonso was left boosted by McLaren's progress after an encouraging pair of practice sessions for the Malaysian Grand…

    F1
  6. Renault: Valve problem led to Magnussen fire 12:12

    Renault: Valve problem led to Magnussen fire

    Renault Technical Director Nick Chester has confirmed that a problem with the valve on a fuel breather pipe triggered Kevin…

    F1
  7. Force India 'very confident' Pérez will stay 10:53

    Force India 'very confident' Pérez will stay

    Force India Deputy Team Principal Bob Fernley has reiterated that the outfit is "very confident" over Sergio Pérez remaining…

    F1
  8. 10:36

    Latest GP3 photos: Friday at Sepang

    GP3
  9. Leclerc leads ART 1-2-3 in Sepang qualifying 10:35

    Leclerc leads ART 1-2-3 in Sepang qualifying

    Ferrari protégé Charles Leclerc extended his GP3 Series title advantage to 28 points after taking his fourth pole position of…

    GP3
  10. Verstappen optimistic over long run pace 09:50

    Verstappen optimistic over long run pace

    Max Verstappen feels that Red Bull is looking "very strong" on its long run pace after the first day of practice for the…

    F1
  11. 09:42

    Latest GP2 photos: Friday at Sepang

    GP2
  12. Gasly beats title rival Giovinazzi to pole 09:41

    Gasly beats title rival Giovinazzi to pole

    Pierre Gasly extended his GP2 Series advantage to 14 points after beating Prema team-mate and title rival Antonio Giovinazzi to…

    GP2
  13. Hamilton: First day a 'good building block' 09:28

    Hamilton: First day a 'good building block'

    Lewis Hamilton has called his first day of practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix a "good building block", after struggling in…

    F1
  14. Vettel urges Ferrari to take any chances 09:10

    Vettel urges Ferrari to take any chances

    Sebastian Vettel has urged Ferrari to take any opportunities that come its way over the final six races of the season, starting…

    F1
  15. 08:35

    Malaysian Grand Prix: Full Practice 2 results

    F1
  16. Hamilton moves ahead in second practice 08:33

    Hamilton moves ahead in second practice

    Lewis Hamilton moved to the top of the times during Friday afternoon's second free practice session for the Malaysian Grand…

    F1
  17. 06:51

    Follow second practice for the Malaysian GP!

    F1
  18. Renault hopes to run Magnussen in FP2 04:59

    Renault hopes to run Magnussen in FP2

    Renault is hopeful of fielding Kevin Magnussen during Friday afternoon's second practice session for the Malaysian Grand Prix…

    F1
  19. 04:36

    Malaysian Grand Prix: Full Practice 1 results

    F1
  20. Rosberg comfortably tops FP1 at Sepang 04:35

    Rosberg comfortably tops FP1 at Sepang

    Nico Rosberg comfortably topped the timesheets during Friday morning's opening free practice session for the Malaysian Grand…

    F1
  21. First practice red flagged after Magnussen fire 03:38

    First practice red flagged after Magnussen fire

    Friday's first practice session for the Malaysian Grand Prix was red flagged after Kevin Magnussen's car caught fire in the pit…

    F1
  22. 02:52

    Follow first practice for the Malaysian GP!

    F1
  23. Magnussen: Team-mate Palmer underrated 02:24

    Magnussen: Team-mate Palmer underrated

    Kevin Magnussen believes his reputation has been hindered by having a rookie team-mate, commenting that Jolyon Palmer is…

    F1
  24. Video of the Day: Bottas' 'My Path' - #1 01:00

    Video of the Day: Bottas' 'My Path' - #1

    Valtteri Bottas begins his 'My Path' series which tells his story of becoming a Formula 1 driver with Williams.

    F1
  25. Thursday 29 September 2016

  26. Video: Daniel Ricciardo on season so far 16:02

    Video: Daniel Ricciardo on season so far

    Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo discusses his season so far and racing alongside with Max Verstappen.

    F1
  27. Mercedes set for first 2016 title chance 15:32

    Mercedes set for first 2016 title chance

    For the third successive season Mercedes has an opportunity to clinch the Constructors' championship at the 16th round of the…

    F1
  28. Ed Carpenter Racing confirms Newgarden exit 15:04

    Ed Carpenter Racing confirms Newgarden exit

    Ed Carpenter Racing has confirmed that Josef Newgarden will not return to the team for the 2017 IndyCar season. Newgarden has…

    Indy
  29. Canada chiefs confident over 2017 F1 race 14:40

    Canada chiefs confident over 2017 F1 race

    Organisers of the Canadian Grand Prix say they remain "confident" that an agreement will be reached between local officials and…

    F1
  30. 12:04

    Latest F1 photos: Thursday at Sepang

    F1
  31. Massa has no regrets over retirement call 12:02

    Massa has no regrets over retirement call

    Felipe Massa says he has no regrets over his decision to retire from Formula 1 at the end of the season, and insists his…

    F1
  32. Drivers offer views on new track surface 10:36

    Drivers offer views on new track surface

    Formula 1 drivers have offered their views on the resurfacing and reprofiling work at Sepang, with Jenson Button suggesting that…

    F1
  33. Video: Vettel previews Malaysian GP 10:22

    Video: Vettel previews Malaysian GP

    Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel looks ahead to the Malaysia Grand Prix as he goes in search of back-to-back victories.

    F1
  34. Steiner rules out Leclerc for 2017 seat 09:05

    Steiner rules out Leclerc for 2017 seat

    Haas team boss Guenther Steiner has ruled out giving a race seat to Ferrari youngster Charles Leclerc for 2017, stating that a…

    F1
  35. Alonso to trial upgraded Honda engine 08:28

    Alonso to trial upgraded Honda engine

    Fernando Alonso will test an updated engine during practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix, as Honda works through its final…

    F1
  36. Sainz Jr. says Renault interest an 'honour' 07:15

    Sainz Jr. says Renault interest an 'honour'

    Carlos Sainz Jr. has admitted that Renault's interest in acquiring his services is an "honour", though insists his current…

    F1
  37. Brazil organisers surprised by 'TBC' status 07:13

    Brazil organisers surprised by 'TBC' status

    Organisers of the Brazilian Grand Prix have expressed surprise that their race has been given provisional status on next year's…

    F1
  38. Pérez: Next week 'crucial' for F1 future 06:41

    Pérez: Next week 'crucial' for F1 future

    Sergio Pérez says that the next week will be "crucial" for his Formula 1 future as he looks to finally confirm where he will be…

    F1
  39. Comtec in line for V8 3.5 return at Jerez 05:02

    Comtec in line for V8 3.5 return at Jerez

    Comtec will make a return to the Formula V8 3.5 championship at Jerez next month with Australian youngster Thomas…

    FV8 3.5
  40. Video of the Day: Life in the pit lane - #4 04:04

    Video of the Day: Life in the pit lane - #4

    Andy McMillan discusses his 'wheel off' duties in the next part of Williams' 'Life in the pit lane' series.

    F1
  41. Wednesday 28 September 2016

  42. 18:44

    Latest F1 photos: Wednesday at Sepang

    F1
  43. Formula E 2016/17 calendar confirmed 18:43

    Formula E 2016/17 calendar confirmed

    Formula E's 2016/17 calendar has been formally confirmed, ahead of next weekend's season-opening round in Hong Kong. The…

    FE
more news