Former Grand Prix and Champ Car driver – and all-round ‘Mr Nice Guy’ – Roberto Moreno will be celebrating his 53rd birthday today.
A close childhood friend of fellow Grand Prix star Nelson Piquet, Roberto competed against the eventual three-time World Champion in karting, before following in his compatriots footsteps to carve out the next phase of his racing career in Europe.
Starting out in the British Formula Ford championship in 1979, he quickly made waves, and won the 1600cc title in his second year with fifteen wins in a Van Diemen.
His reward was a testing contract with Lotus, which was a crucial lifeline to help fund the next step in his career: the British Formula 3 championship. His highlight that year was winning the non-championship Australian Grand Prix, a race he would win on two further occasions.
But a one-off chance to kickstart his Grand Prix career – standing in at Lotus for the injured Nigel Mansell at the Dutch Grand Prix – proved disastrous; he failed to qualify for the race.
This setback proved to be an obstacle for some years, but undaunted, Roberto tried his hand at Formula 2 (finishing runner-up to Mike Thackwell in 1984) and then switched to IndyCar racing, where he impressed many despite the limitations of the Rick Galles-run car.
He returned to Europe in 1987 and into Formula 3000, where he consistently looked on course for wins until his Ralt inevitably broke down. A single win was scant reward, but it was enough to earn him a late-season call-up at the little AGS Formula 1 team for the final two rounds of the year. He promptly gave the team its first-ever championship point with sixth place at the season-ending Australian Grand Prix.
Unable to raise the funds to stay with the team for the following season, Roberto dropped back to F3000 once again, but stormed to the title with four wins in his barely-sponsored Reynard.
Awarded a test contract with Ferrari, Roberto’s desperation to get back onto the Grand Prix stage saw him throw his lot in with the tiny Coloni F1 team for the 1989 season. Despite the team’s lack of funding, he delivered some impressive performances.
The same results would follow in the next season – this time spent with the hopeless EuroBrun concern until the team collapsed after a string of non-qualifications.
And just when it all seemed lost, his fortunes finally took a turn for the better with a call-up (at the behest of his good mate Piquet) to the Benetton team for the last two races of the year. Admittedly, his promotion came under appalling circumstances, for Piquet’s team-mate Alessandro Nannini was left clinging to life after amputating his arm in a freak helicopter crash.
With a contract for the 1991 season in his pocket, hopes of improving on his results went downhill as the Benetton B191 found itself battling among the ‘best of the rest’ gaggle behind the leading McLaren and Williams entries.
Points’ finishes were few, and it was ironic that he found himself fired straight after the very race where he finally got the car sorted, earning fourth place and fastest lap at Spa-Francorchamps. The reason: the team had snatched a certain German called Michael Schumacher after his own impressive debut for Jordan at the same race.
Despite his vain attempts at court action and injunctions, Moreno saw out the season with Jordan and Minardi. It was certainly less than he deserved.
But if it couldn’t get worse, it surely did, for Roberto then signed with the Andrea Moda team for the 1992 season. The year was a complete disaster, but he incredibly managed to get the car onto the grid at Monaco for the one and only race it ever started.
When the team was thrown out of the championship, he found solace in tin-top racing, but made a surprise comeback for the 1995 season with the equally lamentable Forti-Corse concern. Despite designer Sergio Rinland on board, the cars were massively overweight and miles off the pace: Moreno and team-mate Pedro Diniz were only in the cameras eyes when they were being lapped or if they found unusual ways to retire.
With no more F1 opportunities in the pipeline, Roberto headed Stateside and carved himself quite the career in the domestic open-wheeler scene. It is no doubt ironic that he struggled to cement a full-time role in all of the years he raced there until his eventual retirement in 2008; his nickname of ‘SuperSub’ was certainly apt, but far less than his undoubted talents deserved.