Name: Heinz-Harald Frentzen
Date of birth: May 18, 1967 - Moenchengladbach, Germany
Within F1 there can be few tags worse than the one which has dogged Heinz-Harald Frentzen. He is, the pundits say, the man who is quicker than Schumacher.
The accolade had its roots in their days as rivals in the German F3 series in 1989, and together as members of Mercedes-Benz's 'Junior Team' in the World Sportscar Championship in 1990. Former karter Frentzen had proved himself after three seasons in German Formula Ford 2000, and victory in the 1988 German Opel Lotus Challenge and successes in the GM Lotus Euroseries. Now, in the Mercedes-powered Sauber sportscar team, he again demonstrated his ability to challenge the man who would go on to be the next F1 yardstick.
Frentzen did not believe that he could afford to wait for Mercedes' eventual graduation to F1, however, and for 1991 he turned his back on sportscars to drive full-time for Eddie Jordan in F3000. It proved to be a disastrous decision that left only Japanese F3000 open to him for 1992. To make matters worse, Schumacher had made his sensational debut with Jordan in F1 at Spa in 1991, and was now racing for Benetton. It is a measure of Frentzen's candor that he blamed no-one but himself for the downturn in his fortunes.
Salvation came in the form of Peter Sauber, who signed him to race his F1 car in 1994 after JJ Lehto had left to join Benetton. The Swiss team was still finding its feet, but Frentzen showed all his flair and speed on several occasions, culminating in third place at Monza in 1995 and fourths at Monaco and Barcelona the following year. By then Williams had its eye on the quiet young German, and amid controversy he replaced World Champion Damon Hill in the British team. But what should have been the move of his career soon turned to disaster. Though he was as fast as teammate Jacques Villeneuve, who would go on to win the World Championship in 1997, Frentzen did not get on with technical director Patrick Head. Soon he felt isolated, and that in turn led to demoralization. He won the San Marino GP in 1997, and finished second in France and Japan and third in Belgium, Italy, Austria and Luxembourg, but something was missing. After an unhappy 1998 he was preparing to return to Sauber, his chance at a top drive apparently over, when Jordan stepped in with a timely offer.
It would prove precisely what the sensitive Frentzen needed. Backed by a team that he felt believed in him, he rebuilt his career and his morale with a series of drives that left Hill in the position he himself had been in the previous year. Only a blocked air filter prevented him winning the Australian GP, but he went on to take a well-judged win in France and another in Italy to silence his critics. A string of other good results left him third in the World Championship behind Hakkinen and Irvine, and a strong contender for the 2000 title.