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 27 November 2014

  2. Vettel: Ferrari success will take time 16:47

    Vettel: Ferrari success will take time

    Sebastian Vettel says he is under no illusions about the challenge he faces at Ferrari, admitting that it "will take some...

    F1
  3. Hülkenberg to race at Le Mans with Porsche 15:32

    Hülkenberg to race at Le Mans with Porsche

    Nico Hülkenberg will compete in the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans with Porsche next year alongside his ongoing Force India...

    F1
  4. Räikkönen: Arrivabene is the perfect team boss 14:05

    Räikkönen: Arrivabene is the perfect team boss

    Kimi Räikkönen reckons new Ferrari team boss Maurizio Arrivabene will propel the Italian marque towards the front of the F...

    F1
  5. Video: Räikkönen joins the logistics race 12:07

    Video: Räikkönen joins the logistics race

    Ferrari logistics partner UPS takes Kimi Räikkönen behind the scenes at its WorldPort facility.

    F1
  6. Kubica heads Monza Rally entry list 11:43

    Kubica heads Monza Rally entry list

    Ex-Formula 1 driver Robert Kubica, MotoGP star Valentino Rossi and NASCAR's Kurt Busch are the major names on the entry list...

    Misc
  7. Toro Rosso to name second driver on Monday 10:13

    Toro Rosso to name second driver on Monday

    The driver joining Max Verstappen at Toro Rosso for the 2015 season will be revealed on Monday, Red Bull advisor Helmut...

    F1
  8. Nasr thanks Williams for 2014 opportunities 09:27

    Nasr thanks Williams for 2014 opportunities

    Felipe Nasr has thanked Williams for the opportunities he was given as the team's test and reserve driver during the 2014...

    F1
  9. Pirelli pleased with reaction to 2015 tyres 06:14

    Pirelli pleased with reaction to 2015 tyres

    Pirelli says it is "very pleased" with the feedback it has received from drivers over the new 2015 tyres it brought to this...

    F1
  10. Video of the Day: 2014 Formula 1 highlights 05:02

    Video of the Day: 2014 Formula 1 highlights

    Relive highlights from the 2014 F1 season, in which Lewis Hamilton claimed his second world title.

    F1
  11. Wednesday 26 November 2014

  12. 16:49

    F1 photos: Abu Dhabi testing - Day 2

    F1
  13. Lynn delighted with maiden Formula 1 test 16:48

    Lynn delighted with maiden Formula 1 test

    Newly-crowned GP3 champion Alex Lynn described his first experience of F1 machinery as "fantastic", after testing for Lotus...

    F1
  14. Marciello: Impossible not to think of Bianchi 16:28

    Marciello: Impossible not to think of Bianchi

    Raffaele Marciello says fellow Ferrari academy driver Jules Bianchi was at the forefront of his mind as he made his Formula...

    F1
  15. 14:38

    Post-Abu Dhabi Grand Prix test: Day 2 results

    F1
  16. Wehrlein fastest as Abu Dhabi test concludes 14:37

    Wehrlein fastest as Abu Dhabi test concludes

    Mercedes reserve driver Pascal Wehrlein topped the timesheets on the final day of testing at Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina Circuit,...

    F1
  17. Vergne announces Toro Rosso exit 14:26

    Vergne announces Toro Rosso exit

    Jean-Éric Vergne has announced that he will not be racing for Toro Rosso in Formula 1 next season, with Red Bull bosses...

    F1
  18. Marko: Vettel's Ferrari visit breached contract 12:12

    Marko: Vettel's Ferrari visit breached contract

    Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko has claimed that Sebastian Vettel breached his contract by making an early appearance with new...

    F1
  19. Force India trials 'Info Wing' display system 10:04

    Force India trials 'Info Wing' display system

    A revolutionary LED display system, designed by Lewis Hamilton's father Anthony, was tested by Force India in Abu Dhabi on...

    F1
  20. Video: Lewis Hamilton surprises karter 09:06

    Video: Lewis Hamilton surprises karter

    Lewis Hamilton surprises nine-year-old karting champion Harley Haughton on BBC Radio 5 live, just hours after he was crowned...

    F1
  21. Ecclestone says Qatar 'ready' for F1 race 08:45

    Ecclestone says Qatar 'ready' for F1 race

    Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone says Qatar is planning to host a Grand Prix in the near future. If negotiations lead...

    F1
  22. Bottas: New Pirelli tyres more consistent 07:42

    Bottas: New Pirelli tyres more consistent

    Valtteri Bottas says he experienced "more consistent" tyre degradation on Pirelli's development 2015 rubber at this week's...

    F1
  23. Video: Stewart on Hamilton's title win 05:04

    Video: Stewart on Hamilton's title win

    Sir Jackie Stewart offers his views on Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton's title-winning 2014 campaign.

    F1
  24. Tuesday 25 November 2014

  25. Leal remains with Carlin for 2015 18:36

    Leal remains with Carlin for 2015

    Carlin has confirmed that Colombian racer Julián Leal will remain with the team for the 2015 GP2 season. Leal, 24, has...

    GP2
  26. 17:28

    F1 photos: Abu Dhabi testing - Day 1

    F1
  27. Honda says rivals faced same early issues 17:27

    Honda says rivals faced same early issues

    Honda says the teething problems it is facing at this week's Abu Dhabi test are no different to those endured by rival...

    F1
  28. GP2 champion Palmer eyes Force India role 16:11

    GP2 champion Palmer eyes Force India role

    GP2 champion Jolyon Palmer says he would like to occupy a role in Formula 1 with Force India, after testing for the team in...

    F1
  29. 14:23

    Post-Abu Dhabi Grand Prix test: Day 1 results

    F1
  30. Bottas tops first day of Abu Dhabi test 14:22

    Bottas tops first day of Abu Dhabi test

    Williams driver Valtteri Bottas set the standard on the opening day of the post-Abu Dhabi Grand Prix test at the Yas Marina...

    F1
  31. McLaren-Honda targets immediate success 12:52

    McLaren-Honda targets immediate success

    McLaren Racing Director Eric Boullier says the team will be targeting success from the very first race of its new engine...

    F1
  32. Lynn to make F1 test debut with Lotus 12:08

    Lynn to make F1 test debut with Lotus

    GP3 champion Alex Lynn is set to make his Formula 1 test debut with Lotus on the second day of this week's post-season...

    F1
  33. Winners and Losers at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 12:06

    Winners and Losers at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

    The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix rounded out the 2014 Formula 1 Season and Lewis Hamilton's 11th victory of the campaign secured him...

    F1
  34. Video: New era for McLaren-Honda 09:24

    Video: New era for McLaren-Honda

    The McLaren-Honda partnership returns to life in 2015, with the two giants of motorsport hoping to emulate the success they...

    F1
  35. Hamilton to keep 44 as car number 08:47

    Hamilton to keep 44 as car number

    Lewis Hamilton has revealed that he will retain #44 as his car number next season, despite earning the right to compete with...

    F1
  36. Hamilton on Sports Personality shortlist 07:53

    Hamilton on Sports Personality shortlist

    Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton has been named on the 10-person shortlist for this year's BBC Sports Personality of...

    F1
  37. Video: Button on 15 years in Formula 1 07:48

    Video: Button on 15 years in Formula 1

    Amid ongoing uncertainty over his future, Jenson Button looks back at 15 years in Formula 1.

    F1
  38. Lewis Hamilton's path to the 2014 title 06:57

    Lewis Hamilton's path to the 2014 title

    Lewis Hamilton clinched his second world title with victory in Sunday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, becoming the 16th driver in...

    F1
  39. Video of the Day: Putrajaya ePrix highlights 05:04

    Video of the Day: Putrajaya ePrix highlights

    Enjoy highlights of the second Formula E race in Malaysia, won by Virgin Racing's Sam Bird.

    Formula E
  40. Monday 24 November 2014

  41. Post-Abu Dhabi Grand Prix test: The line-up 21:09

    Post-Abu Dhabi Grand Prix test: The line-up

    Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina Circuit plays host to final test of the year this week. Ahead of the two-day gathering, GPUpdate.net...

    F1
  42. Glimpse of the future at Abu Dhabi test 21:01

    Glimpse of the future at Abu Dhabi test

    Less than 48 hours after the conclusion of the 2014 season, Formula 1 teams will be back in action to push ahead with...

    F1
  43. Lauda: Rosberg will fight back next year 17:28

    Lauda: Rosberg will fight back next year

    Niki Lauda reckons Nico Rosberg will "fight back" next season after being beaten to the 2014 title by Mercedes team-mate...

    F1
  44. Dennis: Right person won championship 16:05

    Dennis: Right person won championship

    McLaren boss Ron Dennis believes the "right person" won the 2014 championship after his former driver Lewis Hamilton...

    F1
more news