Today we wish Michael Bartels – the brilliant GT racer, rather forgotten F1 driver, and one-time squeeze to tennis legend Steffi Graf – a happy 44th birthday!
The 1985 German karting champion, Bartels made his open-wheeler debut the following year and promptly won the German Formula Ford title. Formula 3 was next, and he won back-to-back crowns in 1988 and 1989 before graduating to Formula 3000 in 1990.
Bartels’ F3000 record wasn’t really that much to write home about, and so he was something of a surprise choice when drafted into substitute for Johnny Herbert over four rounds in the latter half of the 1991 Formula 1 season. While Bartel’s performances certainly didn’t set the world alight, the presence of then-girlfriend, tennis ace Steffi Graf, attracted plenty of attention!
Making his F1 debut on home soil at Hockenheim, Bartels finished 28th-fastest in qualifying, missing the qualifying cut by just two-tenths of a second, and less than a second off team-mate Mika Häkkinen’s pace. He was again around a second off the Finn’s pace at the next round in Hungary, although this time he was 30th-fastest to Häkkinen’s 26th-best effort.
Another DNQ came his way at Monza, and his final appearance came at Barcelona, where he was a mammoth 2.7 seconds slower than Häkkinen.
He returned to Formula 3000 in 1992 – finishing fourth overall – before moving to the DTM in 1994, where he stayed until the series wound down in 1996, and he moved to the Super Tourenwagen series until DTM was kick-started again in 2000, the same year he won the 24 Hours Nürburgring.
Bartels won the endurance classic the following year as well, while he dovetailed in the DTM until the end of 2002 before he moved into GT racing, where he has found his niche, winning the FIA GT title in 2006, 2008 and 2009 with Maserati, as well as winning the Spa 24 Hours in 2005, 2006 and 2008.
Bartels was the inaugural champion in the FIA GT1 Championship in 2010, taking five wins among his eight podium finishes. He has since stepped back and taken on a management role in his own team.
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