Gerhard Berger

With 210 Grand Prixs, 10 wins, 48 podiums, 12 pole positions and 21 fastest laps the big tall Austrian has always been one of my favourite drivers. He had 2 spells at Benneton, 2 spells at Ferrari and a stint at Mclaren at was at the top of the sport for 12 years. In that time he never became a world champion but was it because he lacked the talent or lacked the luck?

Berger kicked off his career with a couple of races for ATS before driving a season for Arrows. In typical Berger fashion he didn't bring home the bacon for Arrows until right at the end of the season finishing the 85 season with a 5th and a 6th place. Not only his first points scoring positions but enough to land him a drive at a fledgling Benneton team for 1986. 86 was the year he really caught the eye scoring a podium at San Marino and his first GP victory at Mexico in a race he completely dominated. No one was too surprised when he announced at Ferrari for 1987.

Its fair to say Berger's first stint with Ferrari featured a great deal of misfourtune - or to be precious bad engineering. It wasn't that Ferrari couldn't build a fast car just that they couldn't build a fast car that could finish Grand Prixs. Out of his 46 races for Ferrari in his first stint there Gerhard sufferd 26 retirements. when he did finish he always finished well - in fact he had 19 points scoring finishes for them in the same stint(that being top 6 in those days). Those of you quick at Maths will have realised that means he had only one GP finish out of the points and that was the British Grand Prix of 1988 where he ran out of fuel at the last corner and dropped from 5th to 9th as he coasted across the line. Berger's first victory for Ferrari came in his first season in Japan - he then followed it up with a win in Australia meaning he won the last 2 races of the season. This combined with the improvment of the Ferrari in 1987 meant that at the start of the 1988 season Gerhard Berger was odds on favourite for the world championship. As we know now it wasn't to happen that way as the season was dominated by the Prost/Senna combination at Mclaren. This is not to say Berger wasn't on form - he finished a respectable 3rd in the championship and was one of the few drivers to dice with the Mclaren front pair in fact it was Berger who denied Mclaren their perfect season when he came home first at Monza that year. 1989 Was a crappy year for Berger all round - firstly due to be lucky to escape with only a few burns and his life after a horrible 180mph crash at Tamburrelo corner during the San Marino Grand Prix and secondly as his car only made race distance 3 times in 15 races! His results in those 3 races? 2 second places and a win! He had been replaced in the hearts of the Ferrari fans by his new team-mate for that year, Nigel Mansell, who's never say die driving style had won him the nickname Il Leone and had finished above Berger in the standings.

1990 saw Gerhard do a direct swap with Alain Prost and move to Mclaren in hindsight this move looks as though Berger is excepting a number 2 status behind Senna but at the time it wasn't like that. Mclaren were the top team at the time and having just seen both their drivers duel it out for the title in the last 2 years Berger had no reason to think he wouldn't get equal status in the team. He did form a good lasting friendship with Senna but despite that Ayrton made sure Berger was very much number 2 at Mclaren. He did ruffle a few feathers in his first GP for Mclaren though by out qualifying Senna - in fact when you look at his qualifying record compared to Senna it stands up much better than Prosts did. 1990 was actually Berger's worst season since 1985, he was too tall for the Mclaren chassie and had to adapt it around him. He still finished 4th in the championship though despite scoring no wins. Having said that he dominated the Candian Grand Prix that year with a pole position and finishing the race 45 seconds in front of the rest of the field, however due to 'creeping' on the line at the start 60 seconds were added to his time which pushed him down to 4th. 1991 went a bit better even though he scored the exact same amount of points - he was gifted his first win in Japan that year when Senna had already secured the title. The Brazilian made sure the whole world knew what he was doing though. 1992 didn't give Berger much oppotunity title wise due to the dominant Willaims but it can be viewed as his best season for Mclaren. 2 victories in Canada and Australia and he only finished a point behind Senna in the title. It was also his last season for Mclaren leaving at the same time as the Honda engines did.

Berger went back for his second stint at Ferrari after Niki Lauda insisted that his experience would be a bit help for the team. Originally he was probably expected to play back-up to Jean Alesi but as it proved for the next 5 seasons Berger did more than enough to keep them on a par. After a terrible 1993 season Berger set about starting the Ferrari comeback in 1994. 1994 though nearly brought the end of Berger's career all together after the tragic death of his friend Senna no one would have blamed him from walking away from F1 all together but in the end he decided not too and it was to the delight of everyone (especially Ferrari) when Berger brough home his red number 28 car for victory in the German Grand Prix of that year - yes the field was fairly dissemated but a Hakkenien lunatic start but it was good for the sport. Berger backed up that performance with a couple of other 2nd places and finished 3rd in the title race being the only other driver who could really keep the pace of Schumacher and Hill. The German Grand Prix proved to be his last victory for Ferrari as his 95 season proved not to be as good as his 94, although 6 podiums is nothing to be sniffed at either. At the end of 1995 Berger was offered a contract to stay on at Ferrari partnering the in-coming Michael Schumacher but the idea of devloping a new engine from scratch didn't appeal to Gerhard and an offer from Benneton who had secured the championship for the 2 years running was too good to refuse.

Berger arrived for his second stint at Benneton with them being the team at the top and you could probably forgive him for thinking this could be his chance to end his career on a high but once again it wasn't to work out like that. The Benneton was not a good a car as the previous season and with the ever dominant Williams heading the pack and Ferrari and Mclaren pushing back up the front again Berger finished a distant 6th in the championship having for once been got the better of by team-mate Alesi. 1997 was to prove Berger's last season in F1 and he took everyone by surprise by starting it strongly - a brillaint second place in Brazil was followed up by scoring the fastest lap in Argentina. However after a little bit of a dip in form Beger was to fall ill and this combined with death of his father led to him missing 3 Grand Prixs. During these 3 Grand Prixs he was replaced by fellow Austrian Alexander Wurz who did a fairly good job leading to speculation that Berger wouldn't return at all However he did and what a return. He got back in the car for the German Grand Prix of that year and procedured to score the pole position, the fastest lap and the race victory. It was the last of his career and a brilliant one at that. It was the last time he stood on the podium and after a couple more points finishes he finished the season and despite an offer from Sauber to drive for 1998 announced his retirement.

I've never come across anyone who has too much to say about old Crashard Banger - not about his driving career anyway. There is a mixture of opinion though between those who think he was an exceptionally good number 2 driver and those that think he was unlucky never to get the glory himself. Its undeniable that Berger's career was hampered by mechanical failure - out of 210 races he had 95 retirements - but I also think he was hampered not only by a stong pool of drivers during his career but also the shift in paradigms between teams. The Ferrari really was a strong car between 87 and 89 but due to the fact that it was developing such technological advances such as the semi-automatic gearbox the cars were never reliable. The same could be said of his second stint at Ferrari - he came in when the team was in dire straits and nursed them back to health even being the main person behind bringing Jean Todt to the team but before the job was completed he left and Schumacher took the battern the rest of the way. Even the decision to leave Ferrari looked like a good one - how could he have predicted Benneton's lousy car of 96 after 2 years like 94 and 95? As for his Mclaren stint he was unlucky to get to the team just after the Prost/Senna era when Senna had made it his own team and Mclaren were not keen on inter team rivaly after what had happened before.

I always look at Berger as one of those drivers where things just never fell in place for him and I'd certainly rank him above quite a few world champions as a driver. What do you guys think? Ultimate Berger or soggy sandwich?
He was really a number one-and-a-half: too good to play second fiddle (to anyone bar Senna) but not quite good enough to lead a title challenge from the front.

He was perhaps unlucky to drive at the same time as Prost, Senna, Piquet and Mansell, but then again that should give his achievements rather more gloss than, say, those of Jacques Villeneuve.

He was very lucky at Tamburello though. Possibly, along with Kubica, the worst non-fatal accident I've seen.
Gerhard was great... sometimes.
There were times when if he was on it - REALLY on it - he would produce displays of blinding speed.
But not consistently so. Consistency wasn't his forte. Shame.
I think his accident made him lose speed, he mentioned it himself that he wasn't on the limit as much after the accident compared to before, it was in a recent interview.

He was really a number one-and-a-half: too good to play second fiddle (to anyone bar Senna) but not quite good enough to lead a title challenge from the front.

He was perhaps unlucky to drive at the same time as Prost, Senna, Piquet and Mansell, but then again that should give his achievements rather more gloss than, say, those of Jacques Villeneuve.

He was very lucky at Tamburello though. Possibly, along with Kubica, the worst non-fatal accident I've seen.

I think Galahad's post sums it up, but without that accident, who knows?

Wasn't watching F1 when he was around, but from watching old races, I always liked this fella. :)
Both would be banned for life.

Hard one to decide really, at first I thought it was Berger's fault, second time looking at it, looks as if Alesi turned into him.
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