Tomáš Enge – to-date, the Czech Republic’s only F1 driver past or present – is celebrating his 35th birthday today!
The son of one of his country’s top professional drivers, Enge enjoyed a few outings with the desperately cash-strapped Prost team in 2001, although what sponsorship he brought with him was often invested in sourcing spare parts due to several significant accidents he had behind the wheel!
Despite his father’s background in touring cars, Tomáš was more interested in ski-jumping during his teenage years.
The lifting of the Iron Curtain suddenly opened up new horizons for the Enge family, and so Tomáš ventured into karting at the age of fourteen. Finding that he was particularly quick, he switched to racing Ford Fiestas for a few years before moving to open-wheeled competition.
Backing was sourced with support from the Charouz family (the country’s other main motorsport dynasty), and Tomáš joined Eifelland Racing in the German Formula Ford championship, partnering Nick Heidfeld. Heidfeld would go on to win the title, while Enge had several crashes, finishing third overall.
After staying on for another season to win the title, he moved into Formula 3 – again as Heidfeld’s team-mate – staying there for 18 months before switching in mid-1998 to Formula 3000, scoring his first championship points in just his fifth race.
His first full-time season in F3000 netted few results until a podium finish at the French Grand Prix support race. Backing from Czech brewery Pilsner Urquell (a sponsor of the Jordan F1 team) earned him a test with the Silverstone squad, and he was named as a test driver for the team in 2000, while dovetailing his efforts with another season in F3000, this time with McLaren’s junior squad, MySAP.com.
Despite winning at Hockenheim, it was largely unsuccessful, and so Tomáš stayed in F3000 for yet another season, this time joining the Coca-Cola Nordic squad where he was finally a frontrunner, claiming wins at Barcelona and the Nurburgring.
Coca-Cola sponsorship saw him earn a test berth with Prost, and after Luciano Burti’s season-ending crash at Belgium, Enge finally found himself in a race seat, making his F1 debut just days before his birthday.
His career was brief, punctuated by several huge accidents, and it was little surprise that he was not retained for 2002 – the team would collapse during the off-season anyway.
So it was back to Formula 3000 once again, this time with the Arden team where he again proved his pace. A contender for the title, he lost out when he failed a FIA drugs test, with marijuana having been found in his system.
He struggled to revive his career thereafter, competing in more F3000 events before moving on to a brief stint in IndyCars, later moving into endurance racing events.
[Image via LAT]