Former Grand Prix driver Alexander Wurz – a driver famous for wearing odd-coloured racing boots and hand-painting each of his racing helmets himself – is celebrating his 38th birthday today!
The Austrian contested a total of 69 Grands Prix one and off between 1997 and 2007, claiming three third-placed finishes.
A former BMX champion, Wurz’s interest in motorsport was sparked by his father, and by 1994 Wurz had finished runner-up in the German F3 series, beating the likes of Ralf Schumacher and Norberto Fontana, and in 1995 he became the youngest-ever winner at the Le Mans 24 Hours.
With support from Austria’s telco giant, A1, Wurz graduated to Formula 1 mid-season in 1997 as a substitute for the unwell Gerhard Berger, peaking with a podium finish in his final outing before Berger returned to his seat.
A full-time contract came his way for 1998, and Wurz impressed with five fourth-placed finishes, and earned huge praise for some stalwart defence against Michael Schumacher at the Monaco race. Contact between the two would lead to a high-speed accident at the Harbourfront Chicane for Wurz, and many have argued that his form never hit the same heights thereafter.
However, McLaren came knocking with a test driver contract and there Alex stayed until 2005, finishing third in a one-off outing for the team at San Marino when Juan Pablo Montoya was injured.
His form proved enough for Williams, and he switched to their test team for 2006, before being rewarded with a swansong season in the race team in 2007. Often struggling in qualifying, Alex qualified too far down to earn major results, often relying on luck and tactics to pick up points’ finishes, as he managed at Canada to earn his final podium result.
He joined the Honda team as its test driver for 2008, and made a return to the Le Mans victory circle, winning in the works Peugeot at the 2009 race, partnering Marc Gené and David Brabham.
More recently, Alex has acted as a member of the FIA Stewards’ panel at selected Grand Prix, and this year he will front Toyota’s return to endurance racing action in the newly-renamed FIA World Endurance Championship.