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 25 February 2017

  2. Márquez dislocates shoulder in test crash 19:20

    Márquez dislocates shoulder in test crash

    MotoGP World Champion Marc Márquez dislocated his shoulder in a crash during Repsol Honda's private test at the Circuito de…

    MotoGP
  3. Haas runs VF17 for first time in filming day 19:07

    Haas runs VF17 for first time in filming day

    Haas has run its new Formula 1 car, the VF17, for the first time during a filming day in Barcelona. Haas is one of only three…

    F1
  4. McLaren wary 2017 too soon for success 16:52

    McLaren wary 2017 too soon for success

    McLaren Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Neale is confident that the team will continue to make gains in 2017, but is conscious…

    F1
  5. Video: Vettel drives SF70-H at Fiorano 14:40

    Video: Vettel drives SF70-H at Fiorano

    Sebastian Vettel receives his first taste of Ferrari's SF70-H at Fiorano, after Kimi Räikkönen's run.

    F1
  6. FIA and FIM approve Barcelona changes 12:02

    FIA and FIM approve Barcelona changes

    Representatives from the FIA and the FIM have approved changes undertaken at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, which hosts…

    F1
  7. Wolff: Mercedes to develop intra-team rules 10:12

    Wolff: Mercedes to develop intra-team rules

    Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says the reigning World Champion team will develop its internal driver directive over the course of the…

    F1
  8. McLaren confirms driver line-up for testing 09:53

    McLaren confirms driver line-up for testing

    McLaren has confirmed its driver schedule for next week's opening pre-season test at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Home…

    F1
  9. Renault RS17 makes track debut in Spain 09:12

    Renault RS17 makes track debut in Spain

    Renault's RS17 has made its track debut at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, two days before the start of pre-season…

    F1
  10. Overview: Mercedes begins new chapter 08:46

    Overview: Mercedes begins new chapter

    Mercedes presented the W08 at Silverstone earlier this week, a car tasked with adding to three successive 'double' title-winning…

    F1
  11. In photos: Formula 1 designs of 2017 08:42

    In photos: Formula 1 designs of 2017

    Formula 1's 2017 cars are gradually being presented through 'launch week', in the build up to pre-season testing in Barcelona.…

    F1
  12. Williams formally presents 2017 F1 car 08:10

    Williams formally presents 2017 F1 car

    Williams has formally presented its 2017 Formula 1 car, the FW40, in an online launch, a week after publishing renders of its…

    F1
  13. Video of the Day: Up close with MCL32 05:32

    Video of the Day: Up close with MCL32

    Take a closer look at the McLaren-Honda MCL32, which was launched by the team on Friday.

    F1
  14. Friday 24 February 2017

  15. 18:22

    New: Follow GPUpdate on Instagram!

    F1
  16. Ferrari confirms line-up for opening test 18:15

    Ferrari confirms line-up for opening test

    Ferrari has communicated its planned driver line-up for the opening pre-season test session at the Circuit de…

    F1
  17. Video: Räikkönen drives SF70-H at Fiorano 16:36

    Video: Räikkönen drives SF70-H at Fiorano

    Kimi Räikkönen gives his initial reaction after driving the SF70-H for the first time at Fiorano.

    F1
  18. Sauber confirms Giovinazzi for first test 15:58

    Sauber confirms Giovinazzi for first test

    Sauber has confirmed that Ferrari reserve Antonio Giovinazzi will drive in place of the injured Pascal Wehrlein during next…

    F1
  19. Ricciardo set to debut Red Bull RB13 15:05

    Ricciardo set to debut Red Bull RB13

    Red Bull has confirmed its driver schedule for next week's opening pre-season test at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, with…

    F1
  20. Video: Introducing the McLaren MCL32 14:02

    Video: Introducing the McLaren MCL32

    McLaren-Honda presents its car for the 2017 season, the MCL32, featuring an orange and black livery.

    F1
  21. Video: Hamilton 360° onboard in W08 12:36

    Video: Hamilton 360° onboard in W08

    Lewis Hamilton commentates on a shortened 360° lap of Silverstone in Mercedes' new W08.

    F1
  22. Alonso wants 'respectable' 2017 display 12:29

    Alonso wants 'respectable' 2017 display

    Fernando Alonso has played down expectations of a sudden jump in performance from McLaren-Honda in 2017, stating that the aim is…

    F1
  23. Räikkönen racks up first laps in SF70-H 11:43

    Räikkönen racks up first laps in SF70-H

    Kimi Räikkönen has completed the first laps in Ferrari's new Formula 1 car, the SF70-H, after its formal launch on Friday…

    F1
  24. Video: Ferrari's SF70-H presentation 11:40

    Video: Ferrari's SF70-H presentation

    Watch the full presentation of the Ferrari SF70-H, the team's challenger for the 2017 Formula 1 season.

    F1
  25. Boullier: McLaren can 'turn the corner' 11:32

    Boullier: McLaren can 'turn the corner'

    McLaren-Honda Racing Director Eric Boullier is optimistic that the partnership can "turn the corner" in 2017, after it unveiled…

    F1
  26. McLaren goes orange with new MCL32 11:07

    McLaren goes orange with new MCL32

    McLaren-Honda has unveiled its new MCL32, which sports a striking orange and black colour scheme, after weeks of speculation…

    F1
  27. 10:55

    Follow McLaren's 2017 car launch live!

    F1
  28. Video: Ferrari adds stickers to new car 09:32

    Video: Ferrari adds stickers to new car

    Watch as sponsor logos and decals are applied to Ferrari's new Formula 1 car, the SF70-H.

    F1
  29. 08:54

    Photos: Ferrari presents 2017 challenger

    F1
  30. Ferrari reveals 2017 car, named SF70-H 08:50

    Ferrari reveals 2017 car, named SF70-H

    Ferrari has taken the wraps off its 2017 Formula 1 challenger, called the SF70-H, during an online launch at Fiorano, where it…

    F1
  31. 08:45

    Follow Ferrari's 2017 car launch live!

    F1
  32. Bottas thrilled by first Mercedes outing 08:14

    Bottas thrilled by first Mercedes outing

    Valtteri Bottas labelled an "amazing" first experience with Mercedes after he took to the track as part of a filming day at…

    F1
  33. Register for GPUpdate Manager 2017! 08:02

    Register for GPUpdate Manager 2017!

    Have you ever dreamed of owning a Formula 1 team with your ideal driver pairing and engine? GPUpdate.net readers can now sign up…

    F1
  34. Pirelli gets title sponsorship for three races 07:42

    Pirelli gets title sponsorship for three races

    Formula 1 tyre supplier Pirelli is to act as the title sponsor for three Grands Prix in 2017. Pirelli joined the sport in…

    F1
  35. Video of the Day: Mercedes W08 tech 05:38

    Video of the Day: Mercedes W08 tech

    Aldo Costa (Engineering chief) and Andy Cowell (Engine chief) talk about Mercedes' new W08.

    F1
  36. Thursday 23 February 2017

  37. Hinchcliffe and Wickens set for test swap 18:45

    Hinchcliffe and Wickens set for test swap

    Long-time friends James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens will sample each other's race machinery as part of a car swap across the…

    Indy
  38. Toro Rosso's STR12 runs at Misano 18:01

    Toro Rosso's STR12 runs at Misano

    Toro Rosso's STR12 has completed its first laps after the team carried out a filming day at Misano in Italy. Toro Rosso joins…

    F1
  39. Hamilton in 'positive place' with Mercedes 15:30

    Hamilton in 'positive place' with Mercedes

    Lewis Hamilton says he feels in a positive place with Mercedes off the back of a winter of reflection, which came after a tense…

    F1
  40. Mercedes confident amid suspension row 14:31

    Mercedes confident amid suspension row

    Toto Wolff says that Mercedes is "very confident and comfortable" over the legality of its suspension system, amid a row which…

    F1
  41. Pirelli to bring backup tyres to F1 testing 14:29

    Pirelli to bring backup tyres to F1 testing

    Pirelli's backup tyres will be available to teams and drivers during pre-season testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya…

    F1
  42. Bottas completes first laps with Mercedes 14:14

    Bottas completes first laps with Mercedes

    New Mercedes recruit Valtteri Bottas has completed his first laps with the team as he sampled the W08 EQ Power+ during a filming…

    F1
  43. Video: Mercedes formally presents W08 13:32

    Video: Mercedes formally presents W08

    Mercedes unveils the W08, featuring comments from Toto Wolff, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

    F1
more news