Mika Salo


Record updated

Mika Salo
Salo could so easily have become the forgotten one of the two Mikas following a hard-fought British Formula 3 championship in 1990 when the Finn from Helsinki pushed his rival Hakkinen all the way in a two-horse battle for the title. The champion was snapped up by Lotus, while Salo, despite six wins to his credit, was left without sufficient backing even to scrape up a ride in European F3000. It must have been a choker for the uninhibited Salo, who had an almost unbroken list of successes in karts and FF1600 behind him in Scandinavia, but at least he had the lifeline of employment in Japan testing and racing on behalf of Yokohama. Running on these tyres in the All-Japan F3000 championship failed to produce the most spectacular of results, but in his four-year stay in the Far East Mika built up a massive amount of experience. He was therefore ideally placed to step into a vacant seat at Lotus for the 1994 Japanese GP and took his big chance to shine in a poor car, finishing tenth in the appalling race conditions without once making an error. From forgotten man he was suddenly in demand, and when it was clear that Lotus had finally closed its doors Salo joined Tyrrell for the 1995 season. A sensational debut in Brazil could have yielded points but for his suffering cramp, and he spent the rest of the season generally overshadowing his team-mate Katayama. There were plenty of rough edges, and his driving tactics were sometimes a little questionable, but Mika plugged away in a disappointing car to take three points-scoring finishes in the last six races. The maturing Finn undoubtedly had the speed to go much further up the Grand Prix ladder, but after a bright start to the 1996 season he found himself wondering if he could even finish a race, let alone challenge for a worthwhile result, given the fragility of the Yamaha engine. Locked into a three-year deal with Tyrrell, Salo was joined in 1997 by the equally hungry Jos Verstappen and the young lions had customer Ford power, which increased reliability but at the price of straightline speed. When circumstances presented him with a chance to score points with the Tyrrell at Monaco, Mika drove a brilliant non-stop race to take fifth place and emphasise that a talent was largely being wasted. It was something of a sideways move for Salo when he switched to Arrows for 1998 to replace Damon Hill. For the Finn it was much the same scenario as at Tyrrell: tidy but none-too-quick machinery with questionable reliability. A fourth place was achieved at Monaco in the black car but no other top-six finishes were forthcoming. When Pedro Diniz defected to Sauber at season's end, he took his massive sponsorship package with him, and this had far-reaching consequences for Salo, who found himself pushed out by Pedro de la Rosa and Toranosuke Takagi, who both came with substantial backing. This was to be a blessing in disguise if the Finn but knew it, for he was free to take over from Ricardo Zonta at BAR after the Brazilian had sustained a foot injury. Mika at least managed to bring the car to the finish in one of his three races before stepping down, and was then rapidly called back into action, this time with Ferrari. This was Salo's big chance, and he certainly made an impression in the German Grand Prix when he had total control of the race before moving aside to let team-mate Eddie Irvine take the ten points in his championship quest. His selflessness no doubt played a big part in the Finn's being offered a seat at Sauber for 2000.

(c) 'Who is Who' by Steve Small, 2000