Grand Prix winner, former team owner and one of the paddock’s serial practical jokers, Gerhard Berger, turns 53 years old today!
Gerhard Berger began his motorsport career racing Alfasuds before graduating to Formula 3. He made his F1 debut with the ATS team in 1984, graduating to a full-time role with Arrows in 1985.
Berger joined Ferrari for 1987, but it took the team an age to get the car sorted, and he only came on strong in the second-half of the season, winning the final two races of the year.
The team had high hopes for 1988, but it was a barren year as rivals McLaren stole the march with 15 wins in the 16-race season, with Berger heading a Ferrari 1-2 at Monza after Ayrton Senna lost the race lead in a collision. The following year saw Gerhard struggle with the awful reliability of Ferrari’s revolutionary semiautomatic gearbox, and he won just once at Portugal on top of surviving a fiery accident at San Marino.
Moving to McLaren for 1990, Berger’s cause was not helped by trying to embed himself in a team clearly operating around Senna, failing to win a race while Senna took the title. He played a subservient role into 1991, only winning the Japanese Grand Prix when Senna slowed to let him through on the final lap, with the Brazilian having done enough to take back-to-back titles.
He finished just one point behind Senna in their final season together in 1992, winning in Canada and taking the spoils at the season-ending Australian Grand Prix after a great battle with Riccardo Patrese.
It took until the 1994 German Grand Prix before a race win would finally come, and Gerhard dominated the event in the supremely powerful car.
He moved back to Benetton in 1996, but the team was a shadow of its former self in the wake of Michael Schumacher’s departure to Ferrari, and the team struggled for outright competitiveness, with Berger winning just one race in 1997, again at Hockenheim. Realising that his best years were behind him, he retired at the end of the season.
Famous for his sense of humour and ability to play practical jokes, Berger went on to become BMW’s motorsport ambassador and was one of the key figures in the marque’s return to F1 in 2000 with Williams.
He then went on to head up the Scuderia Toro Rosso team, acquiring a 50% stake in the team in 2006 that went on to win the 2008 Italian Grand Prix with Sebastian Vettel at the wheel. He sold his shares back to the Red Bull group at the end of the year.
[Images via Corbis Images, LAT, The Cahier Archive]