|Formula One World Championship career|
|Active years||1984 - 1997|
|Teams||ATS, Arrows, Benetton, Ferrari, McLaren|
|First race||1984 Austrian Grand Prix|
|First win||1986 Mexican Grand Prix|
|Last win||1997 German Grand Prix|
|Last race||1997 European Grand Prix|
Gerhard Berger, (born August 27, 1959 in Wörgl) is an Austrian, former Formula One racing driver, who used to own 50% of the Scuderia Toro Rosso Formula One team until he sold his share back to energy drink owner Dietrich Mateschitz.
Berger competed in Formula One for 14 seasons, twice finishing 3rd overall in the championship. During this time he won ten Grands Prix, achieved 48 podiums, 12 poles and 21 fastest laps (two more than his former team-mate, rival and friend Ayrton Senna). With 210 starts he is amongst F1's most experienced drivers of all time. Berger also has the unique distinction of taking Benetton's first and last victories, with eleven years separating them. He is renowned for his sense of humour and aggressive driving style.
Berger, a multiple race winner in European Formula Three, moved up to Formula One in 1984 driving for the ATS team. He was fortunate to be alive after a serious road accident shortly after entering Formula One. A full season for Arrows followed in 1985, but it was not until joining Benetton-BMW in 1986 that his F1 career took off. Exploiting the exceptional power of the BMW turbo engine coupled with a clever Pirelli tire strategy, Berger won his first Grand Prix in Mexico using the Benetton B186. Berger was also on course for an easy victory at his home race, the 1986 Austrian Grand Prix before being forced into the pits from a comfortable lead with mechanical problems. Berger out-qualified team-mate Teo Fabi 12-4 in 1986.
For the 1987 season, Berger signed for Ferrari, partnering the late Italian Michele Alboreto and replacing Stefan Johansson. After mechanical failures robbed him of the chance to perform, Berger came on strongly in the latter half of 1987, winning the final two rounds of the season. The 1987 Ferrari F1/87, arguably the best looking car of the season benefited from the work of ex-McLaren designer John Barnard although the car was designed by Austrian Gustav Brunner. Ferrari were back competing for race honours for the first time since mid-1985 from the 1987 Hungarian Grand Prix onwards. Berger was running a close second to Nigel Mansell at the Hungaroring before he was forced to retire. At Estoril for the 1987 Portuguese Grand Prix Berger dominated the race from pole position before spinning in the latter stages to finish second after pressure from Alain Prost. The Austrian then looked to be heading for a second consecutive victory at the Hermanoz Rodrigeuz circuit for the 1987 Mexican Grand Prix as he once again dominated the race but mechanical problems forced him to retire when leading. Fortunately for Berger and Ferrari, success at both Suzuka and Adelaide for the 1987 Japanese Grand Prix and 1987 Australian Grand Prix including pole positions in both events ensured Ferrari went into the winter season with boosted confidence and both, team and driver were tipped as favourites for the 1988 Championship. Berger out-qualified team-mate Alboreto 12-4 in 1987.
Sadly for Berger, the 1988 McLaren team of Prost and Senna dominated the season, winning 15 of the 16 rounds. The Honda V6 turbo engine in the McLaren and Lotus had superior fuel efficiency. Berger was the only driver to break the McLaren stranglehold, winning the 1988 Italian Grand Prix after Senna tangled with Jean-Louis Schlesser in the Williams who was replacing Mansell. Alboreto made it a Ferrari 1-2. This was a particularly poignant victory for the team, as it came just weeks after the death of Enzo Ferrari. The Ferrari F1/87/88C proved troublesome for both Berger and team-mate Alboreto especially in terms of fuel consumption from the 1.5 litre turbo engine. At the 1988 British Grand Prix for instance, Berger led the opening laps from Senna having already attained pole position, consequently building a large cushion over the rest of the field before having to slow to the extent where he finished outside of the points in 9th position. Berger was leading the final race of the season at Adelaide ahead of Prost and Senna before he clashed with former number 28 Ferrari driver René Arnoux in the Ligier while trying to lap the Frenchman. Berger out-qualified Alboreto in all 16 events for the 1988 Formula One calendar spelling the end for the Italian at the Maranello outfit.
For 1989, Berger was joined at Ferrari by Nigel Mansell. The Ferrari F1 640 was fast but fragile, thanks in part to its revolutionary semi-automatic gearbox design. At the 1989 Brazilian Grand Prix, Berger tangled with Senna at the very first corner as the Brazilian found himself in a Williams and Ferrari sandwich with Patrese to Senna's left. Gerhard Berger was lucky to escape alive from a fiery crash during the 1989 San Marino Grand Prix at Imola's notorious Tamburello corner, it took 16 seconds for a rescue crew to reach the blazing Ferrari and put the fire out. Suffering remarkably few injuries, notably burns to his hands. Berger was able to make it back to the cockpit after missing just one race, mainly due to the fact that Ferrari was using exclusively at this time the semi-automatic paddle shift gearbox, Berger admitted his return would have been delayed if Ferrari still used the traditional gear stick transmission used in all the other F1 cars in 1989. Berger was back into the action from mid-season, proving a popular winner of the eventful 1989 Portuguese Grand Prix which was overshadowed by the accident involving Mansell and Senna. His only other finishes that year were two second places at the 1989 Italian Grand Prix and 1989 Spanish Grand Prix. Despite improving form from Ferrari, soon after Alain Prost announced his intention to leave McLaren at the end of the season, Berger decided to sign for the Woking based team after suffering from very poor reliability at Ferrari in 1989. During the 1989 season, Berger out qualified Mansell 8-7. Berger missed the 1989 Monaco Grand Prix due to his injuries sustained from Imola with Mansell missing the 1989 Spanish Grand Prix due to a one race ban.
From 1990 to 1992 Berger joined Ayrton Senna at McLaren. His arrival was met with great anticipation as he had proven great form for Benetton and Ferrari. A McLaren-Honda seemed to offer Berger a genuine chance at the world championship for the first time. However, although generally quicker than his predecessor Alain Prost in relation to Senna in qualifying, he was rarely able to match the brilliant Brazilian's pace during races. He took three wins in these three seasons, gifted the 1991 Japanese Grand Prix by Senna; as well as victories in Canada and Australia in 1992. During his three years at McLaren, Berger also obtained four pole positions and out-qualified Senna 8 times.
His debut at McLaren ruffled feathers, as he outqualified Senna for the 1990 United States Grand Prix obtaining pole position. Initially, Berger complained of a lack of space in the McLaren MP4/5B for the 1990 season. Perhaps Berger's best drive of 1990 was at the wet and damp 1990 Canadian Grand Prix where he finished first, around 45 seconds ahead of the eventual winner Senna, but was penalized by one minute for creeping at the start before the green lights. Berger also started from pole position at the 1990 Mexican Grand Prix. Over all, 1990 was a disappointing season for Berger who failed to win a race for his new team, while team mate Senna won the driver's championship for the second time.
Towards the end of 1991, Berger found his form in the McLaren MP4/6, out-qualifying teammate Senna at the Portuguese, Spanish and the title deciding Japanese Grands Prix (claiming pole position in the latter two events).
In 1992, Berger finished a single point behind Senna in the Drivers' Championship using the McLaren MP4/7A. Berger deservedly won the 1992 Canadian Grand Prix having overtaken Riccardo Patrese's Williams and attacking teammate Senna before the Brazilian retired. During the 1992 Portuguese Grand Prix, Berger was involved in terrifying incident with the Williams of Patrese. Patrese not realizing that Berger was heading towards the pitlane touched the McLaren's rear wheel and somersaulted 360 degrees before coming to a halt in front of the armco of the pitlane. Berger then went on to win the Australian Grand Prix for the second time after an exciting battle with Patrese. Berger therefore won his last race for McLaren and McLaren's last race with Honda engines. A lucrative offer from Ferrari proved too tempting for the Austrian who announced before the 1992 Belgian Grand Prix that he would be returning to the struggling Italian outfit.
Return to Ferrari
Niki Lauda persuaded Ferrari to bring Berger back to the Italian team in 1993 as Lauda felt Berger brought valuable experience with him from his partnership with Senna. It was widely reported that Berger earned more than any other driver for the 1993 season. Berger was instrumental in bringing Jean Todt to the team as Team Manager, laying the foundations for the team's future successes. Todt attended his first event in his new role at the 1993 French Grand Prix. The active ride suspension made the car unpredictable to drive and the Ferrari F93A failed to record a single victory and spent the majority of the season competing for the lower points. Berger's best result was third position at the 1993 Hungarian Grand Prix. Berger had a number of spectacular incidents during the season including a clash with rookie Michael Andretti at the start of the 1993 Brazilian Grand Prix and a dramatic impact with the armco at the 1993 Portuguese Grand Prix having just exited the pits. The 1993 Monaco Grand Prix was perhaps where Berger displayed his fighting qualities best of all, obtaining second fastest lap before he attempted an opportunistic move on Damon Hill's Williams at Lowes hairpin while challenging for second position. The Austrian was forced to retire.
In 1994, Berger recovered from the deaths of close friend Senna and countryman Roland Ratzenberger at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, to score an emotional win at Hockenheim for the 1994 German Grand Prix in the Ferrari 412T, the first win for Ferrari since the 1990 Spanish Grand Prix. Berger also scored two pole positions in 1994, the first at Hockenheim and then at Estoril for the 1994 Portuguese Grand Prix where he retired from while leading.
A final season with the team in 1995 saw Berger score a number of podiums. Berger was in a race winning position at the 1995 San Marino Grand Prix having qualified second before stalling in the pits. Fastest lap was a mere consolation. A particularly audacious pass on Damon Hill in Canada was just one example of his strong racecraft. Berger produced another aggressive drive for third having received a 10 second stop-go penalty for a jump start and then climbing up through the field from 14th position at the 1995 German Grand Prix, making a number of over takings on the way. At Monza having been in contention for the win, an on-board camera on team-mate Jean Alesi's Ferrari fell into the path of Berger and smashed the Austrian's front suspension. Berger out-qualified team-mate Alesi 12-5 in 1995. The departure of Alesi and Berger from Ferrari to Benetton also spelt the end of the number 27 and 28 era for Ferrari that stretched back to 1981 with Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi only interrupted by the signing of 1989 world champion Alain Prost for the 1990 season.
Final years with Benetton
With the arrival of Michael Schumacher at Ferrari in 1996, Berger moved back to Benetton, who became a shadow of their former selves. He could have remained at Maranello, but felt that the new Ferrari V10 engine would take too much time to develop. Berger spent his final two years in the sport at the team he drove for in 1986 while also sporting a revised helmet design, with the Austrian flag being rotated horizontally. 1996 proved to be a disappointing season for the Austrian, the handling characteristics of the Benetton B196 not being to his taste. Berger came within whisker of winning the German Grand Prix for the second time in his career before his Renault V10 engine blew up handing victory to Damon Hill in the Williams. Berger's main problem for the early part of 1996 was his driving position that prevented a smooth airflow into the airbox. Consequently, Berger was significantly slower down the straights than team mate Jean Alesi.
The Benetton B197 had a lacklustre opening to the 1997 season at Melbourne but the team and Berger bounced back at the 1997 Brazilian Grand Prix, with Berger finishing a strong second having overtaken Mika Häkkinen and Michael Schumacher. Berger then scored Benetton's final Grand Prix victory at the age of 37, again at Hockenheim, coming back after a 3 race layoff following illness and the death of his father. As well as the victory, Berger also claimed pole position and fastest lap during the 1997 German Grand Prix. He announced his decision to leave Benetton at the end of the season during the same weekend. He eventually retired at the end of the season, his final race seeing him finish a very close fourth in Jerez only seconds behind the victor Mika Häkkinen. In his final season as a Formula One driver, Berger and Alesi out-qualified each other 7 times each with the Austrian missing three races due to illness. Rumours of a Ferrari return for 1998 were false. Sauber offered Berger a drive for 1998, but the Austrian turned down the offer for a number of reasons, not least because of the new regulations for grooved tyres which the Austrian did not find inspiring.
Berger and Senna
It was during the McLaren years that Gerhard Berger became most famous for his humorous side. Popular accounts tell of many ingenious practical jokes thought up by the Austrian to break through the serious, focused and unyielding Ayrton Senna. Senna, accepting the challenge, quickly submitted, and spurred on by team manager Ron Dennis the practical joking escalated.
Accounts tell of an incident at Monza where in a joint helicopter ride Senna had been showing off his new tailor made briefcase. Having been made of carbon fibre composite, Senna argued that it should be virtually indestructible. Berger, without much hesitation and much to Senna's disbelief, opened the door of the helicopter and threw the briefcase out, to test the hypothesis.
"It fell somewhere near the course but we found it again," Berger recalled with a cheeky grin.
"Actually they weren't frogs, they were bigger, more like toads. In Australia they have this kind of stuff. I thought he liked animals but clearly not," Berger explained. It was an incident that prompted retaliation by Senna, who then proceeded to put a strong smelling French cheese in the air conditioning unit of Berger's room.
On another occasion, Senna and Brazilian compatriot Maurício Gugelmin decided to fill Berger's shoes with shaving foam on a fast train ride to a dinner in Japan. Having been forced to attend the dinner wearing a tuxedo with sneakers, Berger vowed for retribution. It was at the Japanese Grand Prix a few days later that Gugelmin (driving for Leyton-House) was approached by Joseph Leberer, the McLaren team nutritionist, offering fresh orange juice. Ever vigilant, Maurício declined the suspicious offer. He would later expand:
"One hour before the race starts he crushed four sleeping pills into that juice and sent it to me. I would pass out at the start of the race in which the world title would be decided. The cars roaring by at the track and I snoring in the cabin, can you imagine it?"
Best known is probably an incident in which Berger replaced Senna's passport photo with what Ron Dennis described as "an equivalent-sized piece of male genitalia". Senna's fame meant he rarely had his passport checked, but on a later trip to Argentina Berger's prank resulted in officials holding the Brazilian for 24 hours. As a response to this gag, Senna superglued all of Berger's credit cards together.
Another incident occurred years later at Ferrari, when Gerhard Berger and fellow F1 driver Jean Alesi were taking a ride with team director Jean Todt's new special made Lancia roadcar at the very first testing day of the 1995 F1 Season. Arriving at the test track, Jean Alesi lost control of the car after Berger unexpectedly pulled the handbrake. Having flipped the car, skidded upside down to a halt in front of the entrance and Alesi having been sent to Hospital, Berger admitted to Todt who wanted to know what happened to his car that they had put "slight curb marks on the roof".
The strong connection between Senna and Berger has extended beyond the Brazilian's death in 1994, Berger now acting as an advisor to Bruno Senna, Ayrton's nephew, as he tries to become a Formula One driver.
After retirement from racing
A hugely popular figure in Formula One, Berger was up until 2003 regularly seen in the pitlane in his new capacity as Competitions Director at BMW, overseeing their successful return to Formula One in 2000.
Berger was the first to drive a F1 car on the new Shanghai Grand Prix circuit when he demonstrated a 2003 Ferrari F2003-GA.
On April 25th, 2004; 10 years after Senna's death, Berger drove the JPS Lotus Renault 97T which Ayrton used in the 1985 championship for 3 laps, at Imola before the start of the 2004 San Marino Grand Prix.
In February 2006, he acquired 50% of Scuderia Toro Rosso in a business deal which saw Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz purchase half of Berger Logistik, a road haulage company founded by Berger's father Johann in 1961. His Toro Rosso team won their first Grand Prix with Sebastian Vettel taking the win. He sold his share back to Mateschitz in November 2008.
Complete Formula One results
(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position; races in italics indicate fastest lap)
* Berger was driving his team's "second entry", and as the team had only entered one car for the entire championship, the second entry was ineligible to score points
- Zapelloni, Umberto. Formula Ferrari. Hodder & Stoughton. pp. 18. ISBN 0-340-83471-4. "Partnering Alesi this time was Austrian Gerhard Berger, another Prancing Horse returnee. He had been put forward by Niki Lauda because Lauda felt Berger could bring valuable experience from his three years spent alongside Senna at McLaren."
|SHORT DESCRIPTION||Austrian racing driver|
|DATE OF BIRTH||August 27, 1959|
|PLACE OF BIRTH||Wörgl, Austria|
|DATE OF DEATH|
|PLACE OF DEATH|