- 1 1995
- 2 1996
- 3 1997
- 4 1998
- 5 1999
- 5.1 Evolution. The Revolution Is Done
- 5.2 Salo Likes It Fast, Rosset Likes It Steady
- 5.3 Rosset Takes The Headlines
- 5.4 Upgrades Do Their Job
- 5.5 'Saloman' Triumphs, Rosset The Next Senna?
- 5.6 Rosset Gains The Upper Hand
- 5.7 The Pendulum Swings Back In Salo's Favour
- 5.8 Glory, Glory Team Minardi!
- 5.9 Another Win Goes Begging
- 5.10 A Solid End, To A Fantastic Year
Before New Labour, There Was New Minardi
It's all revolution at Minardi for 1995. Easily boasting the most exciting design of 1995, along with Mugen-Honda engines, the steps needed to take the team to the highest levels of the sport seem within reach. 1992 Formula 3000 champion Luca Badoer and team stalwart Pierluigi Martini are hired to do the task. The team has endured nearly a total restructure, with the team nearly entirely Italian, with all the top positions being filled by men from the boot-shaped nation (Aldo Costa - Technical Director), (Mauro Gennari -Chief Designer), (Mariano Alperin - Head Aerodynamicist), (Gabriele Tredozi - Chief Engineer). Giancarlo Minardi publicly states that his aim is to put Italy back on the map, not necessarily by winning, but by displaying the skill and talent of Italians, no matter the budget. Minardi seems like a good place to achieve this aim. With a budget just over a quarter of what Ferrari spend, it seems like an ambitious aim.
First Half Goes Well
Still, as the cavalcade arrives in Brazil, Badoer and Martini get to work. Badoer qualifies a startling seventh with Martini in an equally impressive tenth. The race, however, doesn't go so well. Martini doesn't get any further than the Senna 'S', before his gearbox fails, and Badoer's engine gives up over 30 laps from the end. With Minardi having given up a lot of testing time in favour of development time, perhaps it comes as no surprise. In Argentina, Badoer shocks the world by qualifying fifth, ahead of both Ferraris of Alesi and Berger. Martini, however, doesn't do very well, and qualifies back in 18th. Unfortunately, the race doesn't go well once more, and for Badoer, he doesn't even begin the race to start with! The young Italian writes off his chassis in the warmup session, and with no spare car, and no spare time, the poor lad has to sit out what would have been a wonderful race. Martini manages to drag his way up to 7th, but he spins off with under 10 laps to go. Still, the team manage to regroup in time for the first of the Italian races at the 'new' Imola, a shadow of its once daunting self. Badoer puts the car in sixth, with Martini in 12th. In the race, the M195's finally withstand the stress of race distance, and Badoer finishes in 5th place, be it a lap down. Martini finishes a solid 9th. In Spain, Badoer keeps his grid position in the top 10, qualifying 9th, with Martini in 15th. However, it is Martini who gets the last laugh, as he finishes sixth, while Badoer retires with a fuel system problem. On the fabled streets of Monaco, where aerodynamics plays a key role, Badoer slots in 6th position on the grid. Martini qualifies 12th, but had been set for a top 10 position before he spun at the Swimming Pool turn. Thankfully, he did not damage the car. Sadly, another double-DNF is on the cards, with Martini spinning off and stalling with 14 laps to go, while Badoer's suspension collapses with 10 to go whilst running in a magnificent 4th place. Canada goes no better for the team, with Badoer qualifying 7th and Martini in 11th. Reliability issues again in the race itself. This time, the Minardi gearbox fails both cars. The gearbox fails the team once more in France, although this time, only for Martini. Badoer fails himself by sending the car spinning violently whilst running in 4th. He manages to keep the car going, but a pitstop for repairs means he finishes seventh and a lap down, out of the points. In Britain, Badoer qualified 8th with Martini 13th. However, it would prove to be a lucky 13 for Martini, who finished in a strong 4th place, while Badoer retired with electrical problems.
In Germany, where raw speed counts, Badoer lines up 10th, with Martini in 12th. Both cars would retire with engine issues. With the halfway mark through, Minardi are surpassing most people's expectations. However, the financial situation of the team is in dire straits, and Martini is forced to leave the team to make way for Portuguese pay-driver, Pedro Lamy, who isn't a slouch behind the wheel by all means. In Hungary, Badoer puts the car in a terrific 5th place on the grid, with Lamy in 10th, the first time in a long time that Badoer's teammate has qualified in the top 10. Badoer gets a good jump at the start, but his engine dies in dramatic fashion after just 3 laps, the first retirement of the race. Lamy keeps the car on the road, staying focussed, and it pays off with a 6th place finish in his first start since 1994. In Belgium, Badoer puts in a fantastic qualifying performance, putting the car in 3rd, just behind the two Ferraris of Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi. However, the relatively inexperienced Italian, oversteps it, and after just a single lap, bins it at Malmedy while trying to pass Alesi. The two cars touch, and Alesi's suspension fails 3 laps later. Alesi becomes livid, but decides against confronting Badoer. Lamy keeps it steady, and finishes 9th in the wet conditions. The Italian Grand Prix at Monza becomes a truly heartbreaking experience for the team. Badoer qualifies 7th, but in a spectacular race, charges up to 2nd place and looks set to score Minardi's first ever podium and 6 points, when his gearbox seizes with 13 laps to go. The heartbroken Badoer climbs from his car, and begins shedding tears. Lamy on the other hand qualifies 13th, but spins after 23 laps in his first retirement of the season. For the first time in the whole season, Badoer not only gets outqualified by his teammate, but he qualifies outside the top 10 as well, qualifying 13th (oh noes!). Lamy qualifies 11th in front of his home crowd. Engine failures for both cars occur before half distance. At the Nurburgring, Badoer qualifies 9th with Lamy in 14th. It is clear by now that Minardi have overstepped their budget, and Giancarlo Minardi admits that the team has overspent.
KOOL! A Rescue!
However, just before the race, KOOL Cigarettes comes to the rescue. The team sport a brilliant new green and white livery [think of the Team KOOL Green cars of CART], though that didn't seem to improve the two drivers' fortunes during the race weekend. Lamy spins off on lap 14, while Badoer runs in 3rd position before ditching it in the gravel. In Aida for the Pacific Grand Prix, Minardi announce Pedro Diniz for the 1996 season, bringing along his millions of dollars from Parmalat and Arisco. This puts the team in excellent financial condition, but the focus is now on who will join Diniz for 1996. Badoer qualifies 10th, but manages to push for the final point, and finishes sixth. Lamy is quick, but can't find a way past Heinz-Harald Frentzen, and therefore finishes 8th. At Suzuka, it all comes together. Badoer is quick all weekend, and after completing a daring pass on Jean Alesi at 130R on lap 3, pressures Schumacher for the entire race, eventually finishing in 2nd place. The Minardi team go wild, celebrating as if they had just won the championship, and the party goes on way into the night. Lamy adds to the celebration by finishing 5th, meaning Minardi earn 8 points from the race. Just under a week before the season finale in Adelaide, Lamy sprains his ankle, and he is declared not 'race-worthy'. Minardi quickly call up Martini, who has been hanging around the Faenza factory for some time anyway, and the Italian happily accepts the call. Badoer qualifies 10th, but stalls the car on the grid. The marshalls try to get him back running, but the car just wont start up, and he doesn't race. Martini qualifies 13th, but in the insane race of attrition, he finishes 2nd! And all this despite his engine detonating 2 laps from the end. He crosses the line at snails pace, and the car stops just a few inches after taking the flag. The team end the season with 22 points, good enough for 5th in the championship. It's all rejoice in Faenza, and 1996 looks extremely bright.
Luca Stays, Pedro Leaves But Joins
At the end of the season, Badoer is eventually resigned for another year, despite an offer to join Benetton. Badoer says that he is, 'extremely happy and comfortable' at Minardi, and that he is 'delighted to be part of the effort to bring the team to the top'. Pedro Diniz says that his aim is simply to score a lot of points, and despite the press saying that Diniz is there for his money and nothing else, Giancarlo Minardi announces that, 'the team is not favouring one driver, and it will stay that way'. As previously mentioned, Minardi had gone totally cashless in late 1995. KOOL's arrival changed that, having paid all the debt off. Minardi decide that it is pointless in designing a new car from scratch, with so little time remaining, so Gennari and Costa decide to upgrade the M195. With the newly gained cash, Minardi rent Dallara's facilities, and upgrade and refine their aerodynamics as much as they can. Once again, they decide to abandon all testing and concentrate on development. The gearbox, a major weak point in 1995, is strengthened by Tredozi and his team, and Mugen-Honda come up with a better version of their 3 litre V10. The car's safety is also improved to comply with new FIA regulations. When the M195B is unveiled at Faenza, the car looks rather different from the M195, with the only thing visually the same the radical front wing, which still has some bits and bobs added to it. Giancarlo Minardi says that the aim is to now consistently score points, and Badoer says that a win is possible in the right circumstances. When you come to think of it, the chances are much higher than you think...
Pedro Diniz - Catching Attention For All The Wrong Reasons, Mk I
In Australia, Badoer qualifies 5th, with Diniz the last of the qualifiers, with the two Fortis not qualifying. Diniz's engine lets go after 27 laps, but Badoer's car stays in one piece, and he finishes where he started; fifth. In Brazil, Diniz isn't able to qualify when he bins the car, with Minardi still going ahead with the cash-cutting measure of having only 3 cars. 2 at the Grand Prix, 1 back in Italy. The stewards allow Diniz to race due to this 'special circumstance'. Badoer qualifies seventh and finishes fourth. Argentina was a rather uneventful weekend, save for one thing. In the race, Diniz made a pit stop, only to retire when he came back onto the circuit and his Minardi burst into flames, because a safety-valve in the fuel tank had jammed open. The Sun newspaper used the memorable headline "Diniz In The Oven" for their report on this incident. Badoer was the first retirement with a sticking throttle. In Germany for the European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, Diniz upped his qualifying pace considerably, qualifying in 11th place, just 2 places behind Badoer in 9th. Once again, Badoer fails himself by spinning the car 9 laps from the end. Diniz avoids any crazy stunts, and finishes 6th, capturing a single point. In San Marino, for the first time in 2 years, Minardi don't have a car in the top 10 for qualifying. Both Badoer and Diniz suffer major issues with the car's handling, qualifying 11th and 12th respectively. In the race, Diniz spins off after 33 laps, while Badoer pushes up to 5th spot before his Mugen-Honda motor gives up the chase. In the wild weekend that was Monaco, Diniz struggled with the car, and qualified 17th. Badoer was further up in 8th, but as the rain came, there was a seemingly mutual feeling that awful things were about to happen. Diniz did not last long, his gearbox failed after just 5 laps. Badoer on the other hand was in it for the entire race, well, nearly the entire race. On lap 70, whilst dicing with Mika Salo for fifth, Salo lost it, and Badoer with nowhere to go, speared into the Finn. In the end, Olivier Panis in the Ligier would come victorious, with David Coulthard classified in 2nd and Johnny Herbert in 3rd. But these were the only finishers in the whole race! Still, 4th-6th points were still handed out, with Heinz-Harald Frentzen in 4th, Salo in fifth and Badoer in sixth. Spain was once again a race thwarted by monsoon-ish weather. Once again, attrition played a huge part in the race, and Badoer (5th) and Diniz (6th) were the last finishers in the race. The pairing of Badoer and Diniz would repeat this result in Canada, where both drivers took a top 10 qualifying result.
Pedro Diniz - Catching Attention For All The Wrong Reasons, Mk II
In France, Badoer had an anonymous race, starting and finishing fifth. Diniz, however, had one of the more eventful ones. Qualifying 10th, he lost out big time at the start, made up 3 places, spun off, rejoined in last, banged wheels with the two Fortis (his old team, ironically), made up two places, and finally collided with Eddie Irvine's Ferrari. All this action probably did not appeal to many drivers, but it was good entertainment value nonetheless. The British Grand Prix would be a good race for Minardi. Badoer qualifies fifth, and after the retirements of Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher, inherits third place. Diniz has a good race as well, starting 11th and charging his way up to 6th. At Hockenheim, Badoer's gearbox fails after 13 laps, but Diniz saves the day somewhat by finishing 6th. In Hungary, both cars struggle in qualifying, once again unable to break the top 10. Badoer qualifies in 14th and Diniz 16th, but the race turns out to be much better. Ingenious strategy from Giancarlo Minardi's team, along with superb driving elevate Badoer to 4th and Diniz to 6th by the time the checkered flag waves. The start of the Belgian race was catastrophic for Sauber, with both Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Johnny Herbert eliminated immediately after a collision at the first corner while trying to avoid hitting Olivier Panis, who was attempting to rejoin the track having spun off at the same corner in a separate incident when he ran into Diniz. Panis was also forced to retire on the spot; Diniz was able to continue, although he had to pit to repair his suspension, putting him two laps behind; however, this proved all to no avail as his suspension collapsed completely on lap 29, forcing him out of the race altogether. Badoer's fortunes were far better, finishing 3rd some 15 seconds behind eventual winner Michael Schumacher in the Ferrari. Italy was good for both drivers, Badoer finishing 3rd in his and the team's home race, with Diniz in 5th. With McLaren just 2 points ahead in 4th place in the Constructors Championship, Giancarlo rallies his troops, but it all goes haywire when both his drivers collide in the race whilst battling for 6th spot and the final points scoring position. Diniz held the inside line going into turn 1, but slid onto the grass, forcing the car into a spin that collected the hapless Badoer. Things get sour within the team, as Diniz refuses to apologize for the incident. Badoer is infuriated, and stops talking to the Brazilian. However, a good performance from both drivers in Japan (3rd for Badoer, 5th for Diniz) mean Minardi edge out McLaren for 4th in the WCC, 38 points to 37. That was too close...
All Change At Minardi
1997 will be the last of the Atmo Engine + Slick tyres era. From 1998 onwards, it will be the Atmo Engine + Grooved tyres era. In late 1996, it is announced that Aldo Costa will be leaving Minardi to join Ferrari as an assistant to Rory Byrne and Ross Brawn. Costa oversees the final development of the M195C, the ultimate evolution of the M195, before handing over his role as Technical Director to Mauro Gennari. Gabriele Tredozi is promoted to Chief Designer while Mariano Alperin is replaced as Head Aerodynamicist by Dino Toso, a young engineer from Jordan, who had previously worked with BMW in its GT programme, and prior to that, the aerospace industry. Tino Belli, another young face, is hired as the new Chief Engineer. The new M195C features radically different sidepods and barge boards, new rear wings, a different engine cover, and a reprofiled front wing. Internally, Mugen-Honda has supplied a more compact version of its engine, and Minardi engineers further strengthen the gearbox, in a possibly vain attempt to increase reliability. On the driver front, Badoer is retained for a 3rd straight year, while replacing Diniz in the second car is fellow Brazilian pay-driver, Ricardo Rosset, the runner-up in the 1995 Formula 3000 Championship, and 1996 Arrows driver. The team also switch to Bridgestone tyres, hoping to gain from different rubber. All in all, the team looks poised for an even stronger year. Can Minardi go anywhere but down?
Badoer World Champion?
The team start the season in good shape. Badoer qualifies sixth, and after an exciting race, which included Jacques Villeneuve getting punted off at turn 1, and Heinz-Harald Frentzen's brakes failing in dramatic fashion, the Italian brings home the M195C in 3rd position, behind David Coulthard and Michael Schumacher. Rosset started 12th, but his gearbox seized after just a single lap. So much for strengthened gearboxes. Badoer does exactly the same thing in Brazil, qualifying 6th and finishing 3rd. Rosset duels with Jean Alesi in the Benetton for much of the race, before his car succumbs to electrical problems. In Argentina, the Minardis are spectacularly strong, with Badoer qualifying 3rd and Rosset 7th. In the race, Badoer suffers from gear selection problems towards the end of the race, and falls down to 5th place. Rosset, however, benefits from a fantastic pit stop and some excellent driving, and finishes in 3rd place. Badoer is now tied in 2nd place on 10 points in the Drivers Championship. San Marino doesn't go very well. Both cars qualify in the top 10 with ease (Badoer - 4th, Rosset - 6th), but the team finds itself without any race pace, and Rosset drops down to 10th by the first stop, eventually retiring with transmission problems, while Badoer drops to 6th by the end of the race. At Monaco, the team introduces its 'Dino Wings', or commonly known as 'X-Wings', the brainchild of Dino Toso, the new head aero man. Tyrrell would employ the same wings later on in the year. Its effects are almost immediate. Badoer qualifies 4th with Rosset right behind him. In the torrential rain, Badoer immediately jumps into 2nd, and challenges Michael Schumacher for much of the race before spinning the car at the Loews Hairpin. The Italian struggles to bump start the car, and when he finally gets going, he's passed by Rubens Barrichello in the extremely fragile Stewart for 2nd. The Italian charges quickly, but in a half-hearted attempt to pass Barrichello, messes up his braking point and spins again, this time at the Nouvelle Chicane. Badoer damages his front wing, and after his stop, comes out behind Eddie Irvine. Irvine manages to prevent Badoer from passing, but a frustrated Badoer accuses him of blocking. Still, the FIA take no action. Rosset took 3rd at the start, but his car lost drive after 4 laps. Spain is just as eventful. Badoer qualifies 10th, with Rosset a spot ahead in 9th. The first start is aborted as Rosset takes the wrong grid position. The second start is aborted when Rosset overshoots his grid position. This is enough to prompt the FIA to send him to the back of the pack. An annoyed Ricardo accepts his penalty, and lets the cars pass. Badoer however, quickly shoots up the field. The Bridgestone tyres are obviously superior to the Goodyears, and after the final stops, Badoer begins closing in on leader Jacques Villeneuve nearly a second per lap. However, Eddie Irvine puts all the effort to waste, blocking Badoer as he tries to put a lap on him. Badoer gets by with 3 to go, but the gap of 7 seconds can only be closed down to 3 when the flag waves. Badoer slams Irvine as 'dangerous and stupid', and calls for his Super Licence to be revoked. The FIA decide on a 10,000 pound fine for Irvine, and a 5 place grid penalty for Canada. Rosset eventually charges up to 5th, but his engine blows with 14 laps to go.
In Canada, however, it all goes wrong. Rosset manages to qualify an excellent 7th, with Badoer in 10th. Rosset charges up to 4th before whacking the wall on lap 17. Badoer eventually climbs up to 3rd, but then on lap 58, his brakes fail and he's sent flying at the Virage du Casino in an extremely violent accident. The post-mortem reveals that Badoer's legs have been severely damaged, and that he will be out for the entire season. Minardi lie in 3rd place with 24 points at this time. With the team's new favourite son out for the year, the team is left in a dire situation.
Who You Gonna Call? Jarno!
With no test driver to call upon, Giancarlo Minardi has just under 2 weeks to find a replacement. Behold, Jarno Trulli. The young Italian, the 1996 German Formula Three champion, is called up from Formula 3000, where he is competing against the likes of Ricardo Zonta and Juan Pablo Montoya for the championship.
A Good Debut
Trulli repays Giancarlo's faith by qualifying a strong 6th on his debut in France. Rosset puts in a startling effort and qualifies 3rd. Both cars would be nowhere in the race, however. Rosset's race is hampered by brake problems, eventually finishing 6th, while Trulli's engine blows after 10 laps. Britain is another race where reliability issues hamper the two Minardis. Rosset qualifies 5th, and finishes there, but a much better race was in store had it not been for a gearbox selection problem, which, although not serious, proved to be enough of an issue to prevent the Brazilian from going any faster. Trulli qualifies 10th, but suffers the same problem as his teammate. He finishes 7th thanks to the attrition. Germany was an eventful race for the Minardi team, at least for their driver Jarno Trulli. Rosset qualified 7th, with Trulli in 12th. However, the Italian had been set to take a front row position, before getting a tyre on the gravel at Sachs, losing control, and binning it. In the race, Rosset got a good getaway, gaining a place, but Trulli did better, taking 3 spots by the first corner to jump into 9th place. Jacques Villeneuve, championship contender, had a terrible qualifying, and he was next on Trulli's scope. The two diced for 4 laps, before Villeneuve's rear went loose, allowing Trulli by.
Exciting Times For A Rookie
Instead of pulling away from Villeneuve, Trulli brought Villeneuve with him! The two cars started passing cars left and right, and after the last pitstop, the two cars lay in 4th and 5th, with Rosset in 6th after suffering a nightmarish pitstop when the rear-right tyre failed to latch on. On lap 33, with 12 laps to go, Villeneuve took the inside going into Clark Chicane, but braked way too late, sending him flying over the kurb and onto the gravel. Initially he got the car going, but then he stalled the engine, with his FW19 stationary in the middle of the road. This brought out the safety car. In the end, the top 6 would be Berger, Schumacher, Hakkinen, Trulli, Rosset, Alesi. Hungary would become remembered for Damon Hill's performance in the Arrows, but it was also a terrible race for Minardi. At a track where Bridgestone had superior rubber, the two green cars failed to break the top 10 in any of the sessions, be it practice 1, 2, 3, 4 or qualifying. Trulli qualified 13th, with Rosset in 14th. The team blame handling issues, remarkable for a team which has been praised by its drivers as the 'sweetest handling car ever'. Attrition in the race helps the Minardi cause, with Rosset outdriving the car to finish 5th out of 13 finishers. Trulli, however, struggles all day, and barely edges Gerhard Berger for 7th place. The Belgian race started behind the safety car for the first time in F1 history. Rosset started from the pit lane. He was sent out to take his place on the grid on dry tyres, but spun and crashed on his way to the grid. He later said that 'risks had to be taken'. His teammate Trulli had a far better race. Qualifying 4th, he was easily the best of the rest in a race dominated by Michael Schumacher, eventually beating Heinz-Harald Frentzen to 2nd place. Trulli keeps the momentum going for his and the team's home race at Monza. Qualifying 3rd, a sluggish pitstop costs him 3rd place and the final podium position. Rosset qualified 8th, and pushed up to 4th, before Jacques Villeneuve nudged the Brazilian of the track as they went side by side at Parabolica. By now, it was clear that Trulli was easily getting the better of Rosset. At the next race in Austria, Trulli repeated his Italian qualifying effort, while Rosset languished in 11th. Trulli diced with Villeneuve and Hakkinen during the first lap, and took the lead at the last corner on lap 1, taking the lead for Minardi! It had been years since Minardi had last led a race with Pierluigi Martini, and the Faenza boys were certainly relishing it. Sadly, it lasted only a lap before Villeneuve retook the lead. Trulli's engine later blew up after just 15 laps.
Rosset And His Mini-Senna-esque Performance
Rosset recovered from his qualifying position to finish 4th, passing the brothers Michael and Ralf in the process! The two passes had sent Murray Walker wild and Martin Brundle into disbelief.
Badoer Comes And Goes
The next race would be at the Nurburgring for the, erm, Luxembourg Grand Prix! And Badoer would be back! Trulli, however, had earned Giancarlo Minardi's trust, and he remained with the team as test driver, not that the team did much testing anyway, despite the new budget. Rosset outqualified Badoer by 3 spaces (8-11), but his race was over by the first corner when his M195C rammed into the back of a slow-starting Michael Schumacher in an extremely scary accident. Thankfully, both men only suffered minor injuries. Badoer was evidently rusty, and despite finishing 6th, decided against finishing the season. Indeed, only 10 cars finished the race. And so, Jarno was 'Back in Japan'. It would be an anonymous race for both cars, however, with Rosset qualifying 13th and Trulli in 9th. Both cars finished where they started. The finale in Jerez was even worse. Both cars qualified in the rear-end of the field, with Rosset in 16th and Trulli in 19th. The team had been used to this before, but this wasn't the past. The two drivers languished as backmarkers for the entire race, with Rosset retiring with water pump problems. The no-score costs the team 4th place in the championship to McLaren, who finish 1-2 for the first time in a long time.
Thanks Luca, Hello Mika!
Ah, it's 1998. What does that mean? It means it's all change in the sport! It's time for grooved-tyre shod cars. Whether their ugly or beautiful is entirely up to you. At Minardi, it's pretty much static on the management and development front, but on the driver front, it is announced in late 1997 that Luca Badoer will be retiring from the race seat, citing that his injuries have taken too much out of him. He does, however, join Ferrari as test driver, a role that he will fulfill for many years to come. Despite rumours that Ricardo Rosset would also be on the way out, his contract is renewed at the end of the year. With Badoer's departure complete, nearly the entire F1 community speculate that Jarno Trulli will be his replacement. But in shocking news, it is announced that Trulli will be driving for the Prost-Peugeot team, who have a promising season in store (or, maybe not, as it would turn out). Rumours start flying around the room, with the main candidates being Stéphane Sarrazin, Prost's test driver, Nick Heidfeld and Mika Salo. Heidfeld is soon ruled out when he confirms his seat with the West Competition team in Formula 3000. Just a month before the season opener, it is announced that Salo has been signed on a two-year contract.
New Colours For Minardi
A new livery is also unveiled on the M198 during the presentation in Faenza, with the car now boasting the KOOL Mild colours, a dark blue livery. Giancarlo Minardi says that this is due to 'Mika Salo's helmet not boding well with the normal KOOL colours [green]'. Hrmph, what fashion conscious people. The Tredozi-penned chassis is an extreme design. The nose is once again a stand out when compared to other teams. This time, it is a high nose, designed to create downward pressure. The car is elongated to the maximum allowed length, to make the air flow as stable as possible when it reaches each section of the vehicle. The sidepods are also awkwardly shaped, and feature the 'Dino Wings', used to maximize downforce. The rear is tightly packaged to create maximum stable airflow to the diffuser of the car, so tight that there is a secondary air intake to aid cooling of the gearbox and hydraulics on the upper fin. The team use a pullrod suspension system, a rarity nowadays, to keep everything as compact as possible. Internally, Mugen-Honda with a brand new engine, rumoured to be one of the most powerful engines of the year. The design team also give up on the gearbox it has been using for the last 3 years, and take a gamble and design a brand new one, making it as small as possible to compliment the tight rear end. In testing, both Rosset and Salo compliment the car's handling, and call the car 'easy to drive', 'easy to setup' and 'quick'. However, secretly, the team have a major, major problem...
Look At It, And It'll Break
In Australia, the two Minardis fail to venture out of the pitlane on Friday for the two practice sessions. On Saturday, Rosset ventures out for a single lap and then immediately returns into the pit. Inquiries by the ITV pit team gain no information, with the team being as secretive as possible. However, it is widely assumed that the team is still putting the cars together, which wouldn't be surprising. The presentation car, per Minardi tradition since 1995, is always left in Italy for testing duty, while 2 other cars will be built for race duty. Minardi were the last team to unveil their 1998 challenger, just under 3 weeks from the opener, and the tight rear end of the M198 would do no favours for the engineers if they tried to put the parts together. As the last practice session begins, both Minardis exit the pitlane, and put in a fair amount of laps, before promptly breaking. Rosset manages 16 laps before his gearbox breaks, and Salo complains of bad vibrations before bringing in the car. In qualifying, the two cars don't turn up until the last 10 minutes of qualifying, with the engineers working frantically to repair and make improvements to the two chassis. Despite the extremely limited running, Rosset qualifies 9th and Salo in 10th, but race expectations are extremely low, and rightly so. Rosset is the first of the Minardis out, after just 2 laps, when his gearbox breaks. Salo soldiers on for 23 laps before his rear wing collapses, sending him flying into the wall, writing off the chassis immediately, and all the effort of the mechanics. In Brazil, Rosset qualifies 8th with Salo in 11th, but once again reliability problems strike. Salo goes out first with an engine blow up after 18 laps, while Rosset goes a 'mammoth' 26 laps before his gearbox seizes. In Argentina, Rosset puts the Minardi M198 on the 2nd row in 4th place, with Salo further back in 9th, not that it really matters anyway, because after 18 and 13 laps respectively, their gearboxes fail. In San Marino, Salo outqualifies Rosset, taking 7th position while Rosset manages 9th. This time, their retirements have nothing to do with their gearboxes. Rosset does 19 laps before his engine explodes, while Salo does 11 more before his hydraulics fail. Spain was even more embarrassing with simultaneous engine failures for both Salo and Rosset on lap 21. They were running 7th and 8th at the time. If there needed to be any proof that the M198's aerodynamics were in a class of their own, in Monaco, Rosset and Salo fill the second row, coming within hundredths of Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard. They could have easily gone faster, but management have resorted to sending their cars on do or die laps, to try and save some life time. It doesn't work. Rosset completes a lap before his suspension begins rattling violently. He enters the pits and retires the car. Salo battles with countryman Hakkinen until his engine blows up.
Minardi In Panic Mode?
6 races, 12 straight DNF's for the team. It's getting mightily ridiculous, and Giancarlo Minardi publicly admits that the team has a lot of work to do. In the two week break between Monaco and Canada, the factory is occupied 24-7 as the team attempt to cure the shortcomings in their car, namely, reliability. Emphasis is placed on the tiny gearbox, with the Faenza team intent on ridding the terrible image Minardi has earned regarding their gearboxes. In Canada, Rosset qualifies in 5th with Salo in 10th. Unfortunately, Rosset is eliminated in the first-corner incident involving Jean Alesi and, perhaps ironically, Jarno Trulli. Salo however survives over half-distance without any problems, running in 4th and challenging Eddie Irvine in the Ferrari before hydraulics problems strike. In France, the hydraulics kill both cars before even hitting 20 laps, Rosset down after 14 and Salo after 16.
Guys Guys! We Finished! Way-Hay!
At a wet Silverstone, however, Minardi's hard work finally pays off. Salo qualifies in 5th but spins off after 15 laps, but the success story is Rosset, who charges from dead last on the grid up to 6th, benefiting from attrition and hard work. He's no Senna in the rain, but he's quite good. The Minardi team rejoice as though they had won the race. They have finally finished a race, and finally scored a point. In Austria, Rosset adds another 2 points after a solid race from 9th on the grid, after a very wet qualifying. Mika Salo collides with Pedro Diniz's Arrows, ending his race after 2 laps. In Germany, Rosset qualifies 4th and Salo in 6th, but the race ends with the tables turned. Still, it's 4 points, and that's all that matters. In Hungary, Salo qualifies and finishes in 4th position. Rosset has an engine failure while running 7th.
The Stuff Of Dreams; Becomes Reality
In Belgium however, the impossible happens. Salo puts the car in 3rd place on the grid, with Rosset in 8th. The race is a classic. The two cars manage to dodge the insane first lap crash, in Rosset's case very narrowly, after nearly getting collected by Alexander Wurz's wheelless Benetton. However, when the race is firmly under way, Salo takes the lead from Schumacher and Coulthard. The Finn pulls away slightly, and maintains his lead for 6 laps, before Schumacher starts reeling in. Further back, Rosset starts passing cars left right and centre, and before you know it, he's in 4th place and charging towards David Coulthard's position. On lap 16, Salo succumbs to Schumacher's pressure, and relinquishes the lead. Rosset doesn't need to pass Coulthard, who spins off the track, but then rejoins a lap down. The two Minardis run 2-3, with Schumacher running away to a seemingly sure victory. Rosset meanwhile starts to close the gap on his teammate. Giancarlo Minardi stays silent on the radio. Then, on lap 26, madness! Schumacher is out of the race! The German has collided with Coulthard whilst trying to lap the Scotsman. A livid Michael then tries to confront Coulthard in the pitlane, but he's removed from the scene quickly. This puts the two Minardis 1 and 2! With just under 20 laps remaining, the little Italian team looks set for the best thing possible other than a championship, a 1-2 finish! Giancarlo does nothing to stop the two from racing, and both of their race engineers egg their men on. With 5 laps to go, Rosset seemingly makes a pass stick, but overdoes it, does a 360, but then keeps it going! By the time the checkered flag waves, he's closed the gap to 0.9 seconds, but it's too late. Rosset is visibly frustrated, but he's happy for the team. Salo goes wild celebrating his first victory, while the team goes wild celebrating something that was a rather distant dream once upon a time. 16 points in the bag, and a whole load of confidence. It is also almost certainly, the most popular victory since Jean Alesi in Canada, 3 years back.
Salo The Saviour
In Italy, Rosset qualifies 6th, and finishes 3rd, benefitting from some retirements up front. Salo on the other hand charges up to 6th from 21st on the grid in a spectacular display of driver skill. The run ends in Germany for the Luxembourg Grand Prix, with Rosset hit by hydraulics problems and Salo with a seizing gearbox, the first gearbox-related issue in a long time. The finale in Japan would be important for Minardi in order to secure a possible 4th or 3rd place in the championship. Williams had 35 points, Benetton 33 and Minardi 31. Rosset and Salo shared row 4, in 7th and 8th respectively. Rosset's day was over after 13 laps with engine failure, right in front of Mugen's home crowd. However, Salo was the hero of the day, as he overtook Heinz-Harald Frentzen at the final turn on the final lap for 4th. This move secured 4th place in the WCC for Minardi. After a chaotic and embarrassing start to the year, it all ends in the best possible fashion...
Evolution. The Revolution Is Done
With the Mauro Gennari-led design team having come up with almost certainly the most radical chassis of its time, there was no need to add anything extreme to its natural successor, the M199. An evolution of the M198, the most obvious difference is the absence of the 'Dino Wings', banned by the FIA for safety reasons. Other than this, the car looks virtually unchanged. However, Gennari announces at the team presentation that the winter has been spent working on reliability day after day, and has been testing at the Piero Taruffi circuit weekend after weekend with Rosset and Salo at the wheel. Gennari says that the team's aim is to find reliability first, and then more speed in a departure from Minardi policy for the last 4 years. Salo says that he aims to finish what he started in late 1998, while Rosset says that his aim is to score as many points as possible. Minardi suddenly look like very serious championship contenders...
Salo Likes It Fast, Rosset Likes It Steady
Minardi kickstart the season off steadily. Salo puts the M199 in 5th spot on the grid, with Rosset further down in 8th. In the wild race of attrition where only 8 cars finish, Salo narrowly misses out on the win, and finishes 2nd, with Rosset 3 seconds further down the road in 3rd. 10 points, and the joint Championship lead with Ferrari. Impressive. In Brazil, Salo manages a solid 6th spot on the grid, with Rosset down in 11th. However, the Brazilian had been on course to take 6th from his teammate, but lost the car at Juncao on his last flying lap. He makes up for it in the race, however, and charges up to 4th, with Salo eventually classified in 3rd despite running out of fuel! The Finn had been duelling with Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher throughout the race, when his car ground to a half shortly after the Senna S. He was classified ahead of Rosset as his teammate was a lap down. San Marino was less successful for Minardi, with both cars not doing as well as they would have liked in qualifying (Salo 10th, Rosset 12th) and then suffering problems in the race, Salo getting slammed with electrical problems, while Rosset spun off. Monaco is slightly better with Salo qualifying 6th and finishing 4th, but this result was attributed to attrition. Indeed, two cars that had qualified ahead of him, Coulthard and Barrichello, retired late in the race. Rosset had an awful time in the Principality, qualifying 16th, getting stuck in traffic, and then crashing after 21 laps while in 14th. With the team seemingly struggling, Gennari announces an upgrade-package for the car in Canada to compliment the low-downforce package.
Rosset Takes The Headlines
But before Canada is Spain. Salo qualifies 8th, but his driveshaft breaks just before half-distance. Rosset is 10th on the grid, but climbs up to 5th after 4 retirements and 1 pass. Interestingly, Rosset's pass on Jarno Trulli for 5th was the only recorded pass in the entire race. Fascinating..
Upgrades Do Their Job
Despite a rather unspectacular qualifying session in Canada, both Salo (qualified 6th) and Rosset (qualified 13th) show their true colours in the race. Rosset, who kissed the now infamous "Wall of Champions" in practice, managed to avoid it in the race, although he came close on lap 11 whilst trying to pass Alexander Wurz. However, despite a massive charge up to 5th place, his pace faded at the end of the race. Mika Salo had jumped up to 2nd, and had been pressuring Mika Hakkinen and holding off Giancarlo Fisichella in the Benetton when his brakes failed in a repeat of Heinz-Harald Frentzen's 1997 Australian GP failure with 4 laps to go. This promotes Rosset up to 4th, and caused this contest to be the first ever F1 race to finish behind the safety car. Still, Salo complains of no major injury, and says he looks forward to the French GP in 2 weeks time.
'Saloman' Triumphs, Rosset The Next Senna?
The entire French Grand Prix weekend was disrupted by rain and the grid was most unusual with Rubens Barrichello on pole for Stewart and local hero Jean Alesi second in his Sauber. To add to the interest for the locals Olivier Panis qualified third in his Prost-Peugeot. Mika Salo put his M199 in 5th spot, with Rosset down in 16th after being sent out when the storm was at its worst. The race was a topsy-turvy affair with Barrichello leading until Coulthard caught and passed him. David then broke down. Barrichello was back in the lead but then Schumacher passed him. The Ferrari then had an electrical problem that required a steering wheel replacement, which lost him a lot of time and so Barrichello took the lead for a third time only to be overtaken by Hakkinen, who had driven a blinding race from the midfield, spun and then done it all over again. In the closing laps both Hakkinen and Barrichello needed to pit for extra fuel again and everyone expected Salo to do the same, but he had saved enough fuel behind the Safety Car to get to the flag without a second stop, the team having risked giving him a full tank when he pitted. Rosset however had most of the attention, charging through the field as though it was nobody's business, going as far as passing the two Ferraris of Irvine and Schumacher with 2 laps to go to take 4th! The Minardi team were absolutely ecstatic, and Rosset, just as happy for his teammate, raised a flag marked 'Saloman' whilst the national anthem played. Both Murray Walker and Martin Brundle praised the Minardi team, while Galvao Bueno of Globo TV called Rosset the next hope for Brazil! High praise indeed...
Rosset Gains The Upper Hand
Although Salo had just won Minardi's 2nd race, the momentum was firmly with Rosset. With three points finishes and two headline-catching races, Rosset was destined to go even better in the UK. Salo kept his grip in the qualifying battle, qualifying 6th to Rosset's 9th, but in the race best remembered for Michael Schumacher's season-ending crash, Rosset took advantage of two retirements ahead of him (Schumacher, Hakkinen), and put in an aggressive drive reminiscent of the late Senna's charges to pass 3 cars (Diniz, Frentzen and Salo) in the space of 5 laps, and then use the remaining 10 laps to eat away at the gap between himself and Irvine. Sadly, there was too little time, but the fact that 25 seconds became 6 seconds by the end of the race says a lot. In Austria, Rosset is once again beaten by Salo in qualifying, qualifying 8th to the Finn's 4th. In 7 laps he charges up to 2nd, and duels with Irvine for the lead, before Rubens Barrichello in an attempt that was never going to work, speared his countryman into the gravel trap at Gosser on lap 8. The two would later have a short talk in their native tongue, with Rosset visibly upset. Salo had been on course for a podium spot, but his race was compromised after a disastrous pit stop by the Minardi crew, when the fuel refused to enter the car.
The Pendulum Swings Back In Salo's Favour
In Germany, Mika Salo took his turn to take the headlines, when he qualified his Minardi on the front row, for only the 2nd time after Pierluigi Martini's effort at the 1990 United States Grand Prix. It was a Finnish battle up front, as the two Mikas took shots at each other lap after lap. Rosset had his own race going on after qualifying a rather disastrous 11th spot. By half distance, Hakkinen and Salo had pulled a gap to 3rd placed Eddie Irvine of over 40 seconds, but on lap 25, Salo put a tyre wrong, and spun off, damaging his nose in the process. A lap later, Hakkinen's tyre exploded in dramatic fashion, taking the two Finns out of the race lead. Salo managed to complete his pit stop in just under 30 seconds, but his crawl to the pitlane was what cost him, having spun at the Clark Chicane. Ralf Schumacher, driving for Ferrari in his brother's place, took the lead, but team orders forced him to relinquish it in favour of Eddie Irvine. Salo would finish a distant 3rd, while Rosset eventually ended up in 4th, hounding his teammate in the last 3 laps. Hungary was an anonymous race for Minardi. Salo started and finished a lonely 4th place, 20 seconds adrift of 3rd placed Irvine and 12 seconds ahead of 5th placed Barrichello. Rosset qualified way back in 16th after gearbox issues hampered his qualifying day. It would eventually end his race day as well, something which wasn't a surprise not too long ago, but was now a rarity.
Glory, Glory Team Minardi!
Belgium was a solid race for Minardi, with the two cars finishing where they started (Salo 3rd, Rosset 5th). The next race in Italy, their home race, however, would be extremely emotional, both for the team itself, and the other participants. Salo once again put it on the front row, with Rosset in 5th. During the race, Rosset jumped up into 2nd, but Salo retook the place on the next lap. Seemingly nothing could stop the other Mika, Hakkinen, from running away with victory, when he spun off with over 20 laps remaining. In a rare show of emotion from the Finn, burst into tears at the side of the road. However, this left the two Minardis running 1-2! Surely not! Not in front of their home crowd, which, although admittedly predominantly Ferrari supporters, were still supporting the little Faenza team with fierce patriotism. With 10 laps remaining, Rosset attempted a move at Parabolica. He made it past, but then got a wheel on the gravel, allowing Salo back through. In a repeat of the Belgian situation the previous year, Giancarlo Minardi gave no team orders. Then, as the cars passed the start/finish line for the penultimate time, Rosset took the lead going into turn 1. It would seem as though they would end this way, but then coming into Parabolica for the final time, Rosset locked up, allowing Salo to gain a chunk of time. The Finn used his momentum to get into Rosset's slipstream, and edged ahead of his teammate as they crossed the line... by 5 hundredths of a second. Once upon a time, anytime a Minardi scored a point or two was call for celebration. Another 1-2 is a sign that the sky is falling. The crowd went wild. They may no longer be the team with a tiny budget doing impossible things, but they were still the most likeable team, with a budget still incomparable to Ferrari and McLaren, doing crazy things. The aftermath of this result, was pure insanity, in the good sense of course.
Another Win Goes Begging
Minardi kept the momentum going as the cavalcade moved on to Germany for the European GP in Nurburg. Mika Salo had an outside chance of winning the world championship, and those chances became slightly bigger as he put the Minardi car on pole position for the very first time. One need not describe the reaction throughout the paddock (okay, fine, they gave everybody a cup of their famous coffee, resulting in great happiness and caffeine levels). Rosset went one better than his Belgian qualifying effort, qualifying 4th. At the start Salo led Hakkinen and Coulthard but there was a nasty crash in the midfield when Alexander Wurz swerved and tipped Pedro Diniz's Sauber into a roll which tore the rollbar off the Sauber. The Safety Car had to come out to slow the cars down while the debris was removed from the track. After it was withdrawn Irvine made some progress through the field but then it began to rain. Some drivers pitted and others did not. Amid the confusion Irvine was left sitting in the Ferrari pit with only three wheels on his car. Hakkinen stopped and rejoined with wet tires. The star in the damp conditions was Rosset who overtook Coulthard and challenged Salo for the lead. The rain stopped and so Hakkinen had to pit again and then, during the mid-race pit stop sequence, Salo's Minardi cut out as he went into the first corner after his stop, ending all hopes of a championship. This left Coulthard in the lead but it rained again and David made a mistake and slid off. Rosset took over but soon afterwards suffered a puncture. That left Giancarlo Fisichella in the lead in his Benetton but he too made a mistake and spun out, leaving Johnny Herbert to come home for a most unexpected victory in his Stewart. Rosset eventually finished 4th, understandably disappointed. The team was almost certainly the most disappointed, with another possible 1-2 thrown out of the window.
A Solid End, To A Fantastic Year
The last two races would hold nothing spectacular for the Team KOOL Minardi outfit. Both cars had disastrous qualifying outings in the inaugural Malaysian Grand Prix, with Salo way back in 16th, and Rosset in 21st after getting involved in all sorts of excursions during qualifying. Rosset would get punted off by Tora Takagi, hitting things as always, after just 7 laps. Salo's race was better, eventually managing a 6th place finish, and the final championship point. It was a satisfying race, all in all, after a frustrating Saturday. Japan would have contrasting results. Salo qualified 4th, but found himself unable to go faster in the race, finishing 4th in frustration. Rosset on the other hand had one of his brilliant burn from the stern races, and finished 5th, right behind his teammate. 89 points and 3rd in the World Constructors Championship. It feels just as though both championships had just been won...
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