A hugely impressive driver in the junior categories – including an excellent championship win in the German F3 series, beating the likes of Ralf Schumacher, Jarno Trulli and Alexander Wurz – big things were expected of Argentine Norberto Fontana, who turns 37 today.
A test driver for the Sauber team as early as 1994, Fontana headed east to compete in Formula Nippon before he was called up to replace the injured Gianni Morbidelli at Sauber in mid-1997.
With limited mileage in the car, he was always going to struggle and his four races with the team got him nowhere, and he quickly cemented his reputation as an uncompromising driver with some forceful defensive driving techniques.
He also gained the attention of conspiracy theorists who speculated that he had deliberately held up Jacques Villeneuve in the Canadian’s chase of Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari at the controversial European Grand Prix. The conspiracy theory? Sauber was running Ferrari engines and team boss Peter Sauber had been given some pretty definitive instructions to help out his engine supplier…
Either way, it was enough to earn Norberto a place on our ‘Top Ten Mobile Chicanes’ feature on the RichardsF1.com website (click below to access).
After F1, Fontana disappeared to the home of the late-1990s F1 exile: CART – where he lasted just half a season with the Della Penna outfit, finishing only two of the nine races he started.
Fontana now competes in the South American touring car scene.