McLaren ’50 in 50′: Gerhard Berger

Austrian driver Gerhard Berger came from a background of racing for ATS, Arrows, Benetton and most notably Ferrari before he joined McLaren. He was already a multiple race winner when he joined McLaren in 1990, replacing a departing Alain Prost and partnering Ayrton Senna.

Berger raced in F3 and touring cars before making his Formula One debut in 1984 at his home grand prix, driving for German team ATS. He finished sixth in Italy which should have been his first points in F1 but he did not receive it due to not being officially registered. The following year he moved to Arrows scoring points at the last two races of the season. In 1986 it was another team for Berger, this time piloting the Benetton to seventh in the championship. He picked up his first podium in San Marino, where he finished third. Later that year he won the Mexican Grand Prix, making good use of his Pirelli tyres meaning to beat Alain Prost by 25 seconds.

Berger was signed up by Ferrari in a three year deal starting in 1987. He partnered Michele Alboreto in 1987 and 1988 and was joined by Nigel Mansell in 1989. During his time with Ferrari, Berger took four wins and seven further podiums. In 1988 he was the only non-McLaren driver to win a race, a popular win at the Italian squad’s home race. Consistent scoring and podium finishes saw him finish third in the championship although with less than half the points of Prost in second. It was a disappointing season in 1989 with reliability problems and accidents led to him finishing only three races. All three were podium positions including a win in Portugal.

Following Prost’s departure, Berger was signed up to McLaren for 1990. His first race weekend started well after securing pole position for the US Grand Prix. It didn’t end successfully, however, after he crashed and then later retired with clutch problems. The next handful of races yielded four podiums from five races. He ended the year in fourth place in the championship, tied on points with Nelson Piquet. Berger’s team-mate Senna won the championship. He replicated the result in 1991 – fourth in the championship with 43 points. Again Senna won the championship. In 1992 he scored more points – 49 to be precise – but dropped to fifth in the championship. In total, over the course of three years, Berger accumulated 18 podiums and three wins. He announced before the end of the 1992 season that he would be leaving the team to return to Ferrari.

Berger is known for his friendship with Senna, which developed during their time as team-mates. The pair were known for playing practical jokes on each other. Following his retirement from Formula One in 1997, he still remained in the sport. He was the first driver to drive on the Shanghai International Circuit in 2003, behind the wheel of a Ferrari. He also owned a 50% stake of Toro Rosso between 2006 and 2008 before selling his share back to Dietrich Mateschitz. He is currently President of the FIA Single Seat Commission.

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