Four current or former drivers celebrate their birthdays today: Tom Belsø turns 68; Derek Warwick turns 56; Gerhard Berger turns 51 and Mark Webber turns 34!
Born in Denmark, Belsø started in touring cars before graduating to Formula 2 in 1972 and Formula 5000 in 1973. His first F1 outing came with Frank Williams’ Iso Marlboro team at the 1973 Swedish Grand Prix, but he was unable to start when his sponsorship money didn’t arrive in time.
He returned with the team for a further four outings in 1974: his car failing on the opening lap in South Africa and failing to qualify at the next round in Spain. His best finish of eighth place came at the Swedish Grand Prix (pictured), before he registered another DNQ at the British Grand Prix.
Warwick’s F1 career was certainly more successful, and he arrived in F1 in 1981 being considered as a hotter British prospect than Nigel Mansell. While Mansell would go on to win over 30 Grands Prix during his illustrious career, Warwick failed to win any, largely by dint of never being able to gain drives with front-running teams. Warwick is considered by many to be among the best F1 drivers never to have won a race, on top of his uncanny knack for surviving two of the biggest accidents in F1 history.
Debuting with the awful Toleman in 1981, Warwick struggled for three seasons before joining Renault, where he achieved two second place finishes at Belgium and Britain in 1984. The turning point of his career came in 1985 when he rejected an offer to join Williams (a role that went to Mansell).
He joined Brabham in mid-1986, and then moved to Arrows for three years,, followed by Lotus and then a three-year gap before a final swansong with Footwork where his career petered out. Warwick went on to win the World Sportscar Championship and the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1992, and has appeared twice on this year’s FIA Stewards’ panel.
Gerhard Berger began his motorsport career racing Alfasuds before graduating to Formula 3. He made his F1 debut with the ATS team in 1984, graduating to a full-time role with Arrows in 1985. His career took off with Benetton the following year, where he exploited the BMW engine’s exceptional turbo power and Pirelli tyres to take a surprise win at that year’s Mexican Grand Prix. Berger joined Ferrari for 1987, but it took the team an age to get the car sorted, and he only came on strong in the second-half of the season, winning the final two races of the year.
The team had high hopes for 1988, but it was a barren year as rivals McLaren stole the march with 15 wins in the 16-race season, with Berger heading a Ferrari 1-2 at Monza after Ayrton Senna lost the race lead in a collision. The following year saw Gerhard struggle with the awful reliability of Ferrari’s revolutionary semiautomatic gearbox, and he won just once at Portugal on top of surviving a fiery accident at San Marino.
Moving to McLaren for 1990, Berger’s cause was not helped by trying to embed himself in a team clearly operating around Senna, failing to win a race while Senna took the title. He played a subservient role into 1991, only winning the Japanese Grand Prix when Senna slowed to let him through on the final lap, with the Brazilian having done enough to take back-to-back titles.
He finished just one point behind Senna in their final season together in 1992, winning in Canada and taking the spoils at the season-ending Australian Grand Prix after a great battle with Riccardo Patrese.
Taking a massive pay rise to join Ferrari, Berger was set with the task of rebuilding the team, which had lurched from embarrassment to embarrassment, and hadn’t won a race since 1990. It took until the 1994 German Grand Prix before a race win would finally come, and Gerhard dominated the event in the supremely powerful car.
He moved back to Benetton in 1996, but the team was a shadow of its former self in the wake of Michael Schumacher’s departure to Ferrari, and the team struggled for outright competitiveness, with Berger winning just one race in 1997, again at Hockenheim. Realising that his best years were behind him, he retired at the end of the season.
Famous for his sense of humour and ability to play practical jokes, Berger went on to become BMW’s motorsport ambassador and was one of the key figures in the marque’s return to F1 in 2000 with Williams. He then went on to head up the Scuderia Toro Rosso team, acquiring a 50% stake in the team in 2006 that went on to win the 2008 Italian Grand Prix with Sebastian Vettel at the wheel. He sold his shares back to the Red Bull group at the end of the year.