Former Grand Prix driver Karl Wendlinger is celebrating his 43rd birthday today!
Born in the Austrian town of Kufstein, Karl was the second of the ‘Mercedes duo’, alongside Michael Schumacher, who was placed into Formula 1 after serving a stint in Peter Sauber’s famous works World Sportscar team.
And while Schumacher would be placed at Jordan and quickly transferred to Benetton, Wendlinger’s first F1 outings would be with the Leyton House March squad for the final two rounds of the season, where the Austrian’s backing helped to keep the beleaguered team afloat into the 1992 season when the team’s major backers had been arrested for questionable financial transactions.
Wendlinger made headlines with a splendid drive to fourth at the Canadian Grand Prix, a sensational result for the near-sponsor-less team, which was able to stagger through to the end of the season before it inevitably closed its doors.
And with Peter Sauber’s F1 team making its debut with Mercedes power in 1993, it was logical that Karl should reunite with his former employer, and he achieved four points-scoring finishes that season, matching his career-best result with another fourth at Monza. He finished ahead of team-mate JJ Lehto in the championship, and impressed with his qualifying performances, regularly putting the C12 in the top-eight on the grid.
The 1994 season saw a strong start with him paired alongside the debutant Heinz-Harald Frentzen, peaking with another fourth place at the ill-fated San Marino Grand Prix, before the sport’s safety concerns were further heightened when Karl had a huge accident in practice for the Monaco Grand Prix.
Approaching the Harbourfront Chicane, Karl braked too late and slammed sideways into the barriers at the end of the braking zone.
The accident put Karl in a serious coma with serious head injuries, and before the year was out, he was incredibly touring the paddock and proclaiming himself fit to drive.
He returned with Sauber for 1995, but his form was very patchy and he was dropped after four rounds in favour of Jean-Christophe Boullion, who was loaned out by Williams. To be fair, Boullion proved little better, and Karl was invited back for the final two rounds, but it was clear that he was a shadow of his former self in an F1 cockpit.
After F1, Wendlinger was able to prove he’d lost none of his touch – despite seemingly not being able to find it in the top flight – and achieved success in touring cars and sports cars. Partnered with Olivier Beretta, he won the 1999 FIA GT Championship and took class wins at the 1999 and 2000 24 Hours of Le Mans. He has remained an active figure on the FIA GT circuit for the last decade.
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