Teams Heinz-Harald Frentzen
174Heinz-Harald Frentzen: The Much Heralded FlickerBy Jeremy McMullen
By the time Heinz-Harald Frentzen would get his great opportunity with Williams-Renault, Michael Schumacher was already a double World Champion. Formula One fans and writers drooled at the possibilities. Frentzen had been dubbed the 'man who is quicker than Schumacher'. Everything seemed in place for Frentzen to become a double World Champion on the trot just like his fellow countryman. It would be terrible pressure that would squeeze the life, the flame out of the young man. There would be more than a few flickers of brilliance, but his career would never be allowed enough room to breathe to fully ignite.
The reputation would come as a result of some tremendous battles with Schumacher in the German F3 series. Throughout 1989 these two would go toe-to-toe battling it out. Ultimately, Frentzen would beat out Schumacher but would finish the series in 2nd place behind Karl Wendlinger. Throughout the season the battle between the two Germans had been hard-fought and controversial. This competitiveness and drive earned Heinz-Harald a lot of supporters.
Frentzen would earn a number of supporters throughout his racing career, particularly his early years. Frentzen had an interest in motor racing from a young age but didn't necessarily have a means by which to exercise his interest. However, his father would help with his son's pursuit by balking at buying a new car for the family. Instead, he would buy his son a racing kart.
Soon afterward, Frentzen would begin racing karts. This would be the first time in which the names Frentzen and Schumacher would be locked in duels on the race track. Heinz-Harald would be serious about his intent and would not only fight with everything he had on the track, even his dad would go so far as to smuggle special tires from Italy into the country just to help his son get a ‘leg-up' on the competition.
The passion and determination would pay off and Frentzen would soon step up to Formula Ford and Formula Opel Lotus Challenge racing. The boy from Moenchengladbach continued to impress as he would come away with two victories and five more podium finishes during the 1987 Formula Ford Championship. He would finish the championship in 2nd place that year and would earn him a spot on Jochen Mass' Formula Opel Lotus team the following year.
The 1988 season would be even more successful for Frentzen as he would enjoy no less than seven victories en route to the championship. This would set the stage for him to join the Schuebel team in Formula 3 in 1989. The famous duels were just about to commence.
There was some added motivation to the intriguing battles between Frentzen and Schumacher. At stake was a test in Formula One. Furthermore, it would be at this point that Frentzen had to decide within himself whether or not motorsport was his passion. The increase in costs and the necessity to provide the results each and every time in order to gain support from sponsors meant there was a whole new level of seriousness. Heinz-Harald wouldn't just accept this. He would seem to flourish finishing just one point behind Wendlinger in the championship and in a tie with Schumacher. It was a truly remarkable season and the name of Heinz-Harald Frentzen certainly seemed to belong among those to watch for the future.
At the same time he would be locked in tremendous fights with Wendlinger and Schumacher, Frentzen would be selected, along with the other two German young guns, to become the ‘junior team' for Mercedes-Benz in the Sportscar World Championship. Suddenly, Frentzen would go from Formula 3 cars producing around 170hp to Silver Arrow prototypes producing around 900hp!
Nothing would come about with Mercedes-Benz's sportscar program in 1989 so Frentzen would fill the remainder of his time by competing in Formula 3000. Frentzen would join Eddie Jordan's team and would be a teammate to Eddie Irvine. Jordan's team had provided Jean Alesi the championship the year before, and so, the future looked bright for the German.
In 1990, Frentzen would focus on two different series. He would continue to take part in Formula 3000 with Eddie Jordan's team, and, he would also get the opportunity to take part in some sportscar races behind the wheel of the Mercedes-Benz C11. Frentzen's first performance with the team wouldn't come until September of that year when he partnered with Jochen Mass to race in the Shell Donington Trophy race, which was a round of the World Sports Prototype Championship. Starting 2nd on the grid, Frentzen would be impressive as he and Mass would partner together to finish the race in 2nd place behind the number one C11 driven by Mauro Baldi and Jean-Louis Schlesser.
A 2nd place in his first drive in a prototype sportscar would have seemed to be the beginning of a great and promising career, but it would actually be nothing more than bone thrown Frentzen's way. Wendlinger had already earned a victory in the C11 by that point and the pairing of Wendlinger and Schumacher appeared to be the future of Mercedes-Benz in sportscar racing. The door had been left for Heinz-Harald but he would be swayed to leave behind sportscars believing the drive with Eddie Jordan would pay bigger dividends.
Unfortunately, Frentzen would find his dividends were few in number. Eddie Jordan was already in process of making his own way to Formula One. This meant his Formula 3000 team took up less of his time and efforts. Frentzen had joined a team that was becoming a shell of its former self, as far as Formula 3000 was concerned. Frentzen wouldn't help his cause much though either. Poor performances would cause many to think this young man, that at one time had been faster than Schumacher, had reached his limits, though he had never had the opportunity to find out just what his limits really were.
Bernie Ecclestone had been making a push for a German to be a part of the Formula One World Championship. And, in 1991, after a certain Belgian Grand Prix, Ecclestone and everyone else believed they had found who they had been looking for. Sadly, Frentzen was not it. Interestingly, it would be Eddie Jordan's new Formula One team that would leave Frentzen hanging in Formula 3000 and that would propel Michael Schumacher to Formula One stardom. Frentzen may have been faster than Michael on the track at times, but Schumacher had gotten the jump on him here. Throughout 1990 and 1991 Heinz-Harald's promising career was heading in a steep downward decline until the German had absolutely no contracts for any form of racing in 1992.
Frentzen seemed without hope. Then, sadly, Volker Weidler would suffer a terrible accident in a Formula 3000 race. The accident would be terrible and would force Weidler to have to retire from racing, but not before he got to name his successor.
Weidler's greatest day in motor racing came on the 22nd and 23rd of June in 1991 when he helped Mazda become the first Japanese manufacturer to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Weidler's reputation in Japan was strong, this victory practically made him a hero, and whoever he named as his successor was going to be given an open door. And, though he barely knew Frentzen, Weidler would choose his fellow countryman. Just like that, the flame of Frentzen's career, which had been smoldering at the start of 1992, would reignite.
Frentzen would be on his way to Japan to race in Formula 3000 there. He would also take part in sportscar races there in the country and would suddenly have a testing job for Bridgestone driving a Tyrrell-Mugen Honda Formula One car. All of a sudden, the man that had no options at the start of the year was already being considered for a Formula One seat in the very near future.
But before that jump to Formula One, Frentzen would drive in the 24 Hours of Le Mans finishing a very respectable 13th for the Euro Racing team in a Lola T92. He would end up on the podium a couple of times while driving the Lola prototype sportscar in 1992 proving to many that he was stronger than ever having faced the stark reality of having his racing career come to a very early end.
Though he would find himself with a renewed hope, Frentzen's career would remain relatively hidden away in Japan. He would continue to enjoy a certain amount of success. However, on a more global stage, Heinz-Harald would make really just a single appearance when he took part in the 1000 Kilometers of Suzuka in a Nissan R93CK. In that race he would start from pole-position and would end up finishing in 2nd place. This performance, and his results in Japan, would help his next steps coming to fruition.
Thankfully for Heinz-Harald he would get something of a second chance, but in the series he had always been gunning for in the first place. When Frentzen had the opportunity to drive for Mercedes-Benz, the team was operated by Peter Sauber and was known as Team Sauber Mercedes. And, just when it seemed his career had stalled-out, Peter Sauber would make his own move into Formula One just as Eddie Jordan had done. Sauber would have Mercedes support and have tremendous potential. Sauber already had his drivers, but J.J. Lehto would leave the team in 1994 to drive for Benetton. The team was still new but showing its potential. It was very similar to Frentzen who had shown his skills at certain points, but was still relatively young as well. Whatever the reasons, Sauber would contact Frentzen and would offer him his chance at Formula One.
Not wanting to make the same mistake again by turning his back on Sauber, Frentzen would take the offer to drive for the Sauber team in 1994. Finally, his time had come. Wanting to demonstrate his worth immediately, Frentzen would qualify 5th for his very first race, the Brazilian Grand Prix. However, his real potential at the wheel of a Formula One car would come to the fore at the next round of the championship, the race at Aida.
The race in Aida, Japan would be forever remembered as the race in which Aryton Senna would be punted off the circuit by Larini in the Ferrari. However, Frentzen would quietly get on with his job and would come away with two points finishing in 5th place. Then came the dark weekend at Imola.
Frentzen had finally made it into Formula One. He was now on the same grid as his good friend Roland Ratzenberger and his hero Aryton Senna. But then, in one dark and gut-wrenching weekend, his world would be thrown upside down. Then, just like that, opportunities, which before had seemed non-existent, suddenly began to be thrown the German's way.
The deaths of Ratzenberger and Senna would deeply impact Frentzen. Then there would be the terrible accident of his Sauber teammate, Karl Wendlinger, at Monaco. Subsequent races would cast a very dark shadow over Formula One and it would have many drivers asking whether or not it was even worth the danger. However, at the same time others would be questioning themselves, Frentzen would be getting offers from people, like Frank Williams, to come and race for them. Having made the mistake to abandon Sauber too soon before, Heinz-Harald would choose to stay with the team that had believed in him and that had made his Formula One dream a reality.
Sadly, remaining with the team would be a difficult one by the end of the season. Mercedes would leave Sauber to join forces with McLaren. Now with a Ford engine, Sauber's effort needed to regroup and try to find its way forward. Frentzen would demonstrate his abilities during this time and would cast him, once again, as a driver to watch when he came through it all to finish the Italian Grand Prix in 3rd place. There he was, standing on the podium for the first time. It was just his second season in Formula One and, as of just a couple of years earlier, couldn't have been any further away from such a reality.
The 1996 season would see Frentzen and Sauber struggle. The German would demonstrate his speed more than a few times. However, car reliability would prevent him from truly showing his potential. But Heinz-Harald would do all the hard work necessary. By the end of the 1996 season Frentzen would no longer be a driver without a hope. He would be approaching the 1997 preparing to not just join the reigning constructors' world champions. He was going to be taking over a race seat that had been occupied by a world champion.
A falling-out between Damon Hill and Williams meant the new World Champion would leave Williams-Renault to drive for Arrows. The man to replace Hill was a man that had been considered without an option just a few years earlier. Frank Williams had wanted Frentzen to take over the race seat left unoccupied when the triple world champion Aryton Senna died at Imola. Now, just three years later, Frentzen was not only going to be occupying the seat of a World Champion but one of Formula One's royal families.
Frentzen was joining a totally different team when he made the switch from Sauber to Williams. Sauber had much more of a family atmosphere whereas Williams was all business. This would be difficult for Heinz-Harald. Only a few years removed from having no options at all and needing people to believe in his abilities. He was now at a team that expected him to get on with what they knew he was capable of doing.
At the start of the 1997 season he would do just that. Teamed alongside another of Formula One royalty the son of the beloved Gilles Villeneuve, Jacques, Frentzen would show little signs of being bowled-over with awe as he would take the lead in his very first race with the team and would remain there until his first pitstop.
The first two races would result in top ten finishes, but these were not the results expected of a team that had won the constructors' championship for three-straight seasons. Returning to Imola for the San Marino Grand Prix, Frentzen would finally show his worth.
Though Villeneuve would end up on pole, Heinz-Harald would actually make him work for it showing everybody that criticized him that there was some fight in him. And, despite losing out at the start of the race, Frentzen would get ahead of Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve and would show incredible determination, despite some changing weather conditions and a deteriorating car, to come home to his first Formula One victory! Just five years after he was without a drive and without a hope the German had achieved something many only dream of. His career was certainly on the rise once again.
The middle part of the 1997 campaign would be filled with difficulty. He would find working with Patrick Head to be rather difficult and this would be accentuated by a car he could never really get comfortable with. Then, in the last third of the season he would come on strong scoring four 3rd place finishes in a row and a 2nd at the Japanese Grand Prix. Compared to his teammate, Frentzen did not show what he could really do. However, as a result of Schumacher's disqualification from the championship results he would finish the season 2nd in the championship standings behind his teammate.
Frentzen had come to Williams believing to have found his opportunity for Formula One glory, to show that he truly was faster than Michael Schumacher. However, at the end of the '97 season he would find a lot would change at Williams. Renault would pull out of Formula One and Adrian Newey would be gone from the team in favor of McLaren. Suddenly, Williams would be left with rebranded everything. The engine would be a Mecachrome, which was just a rebranded, and older, Renault. Then there was the FW20 the team unveiled. Wearing a red livery for new sponsors Winfield, the 1998 season would be a red light season for Frentzen.
Heinz-Harald's relationship with people within the team, particularly Patrick Head, would become even more frosty. The whole Williams episode had turned sad and rather depressing with the team not on the sharp-edge with Ferrari and McLaren. In the case of Frentzen, there would be a sense of isolation within the team, around him. Just when the move to Williams seemed to offer the greatest amount of hope a lone 3rd place at the Australian Grand Prix at the start of the season signaled it was time to leave the team.
The question was where to go. Sauber always seemed to be there right when Frentzen needed him. However, there would be another former team manager that would come calling. Eddie Jordan had seemed to be Frentzen's best option for getting to Formula One when he decided to race for the Irishman's Formula 3000 outfit starting in the late 1980s. Then, of course, things would turn badly. However, in 1999, Jordan would come back into the picture and it would provide the chance Frentzen had believed would happen nearly a decade earlier.
Jordan Grand Prix had just earned its first victory in Formula One the year before with its famous one-two finish in the Belgian Grand Prix. It was the team's first year using Mugen-Honda engines and the engines appeared to get stronger as the season progressed. There was some concern heading into the 1999 season as Gary Anderson would depart the team leaving Mike Gascoyne to design and build a new car for the upcoming season. Coming to Jordan, Frentzen would join the man he had replaced at Williams. Combining the talents of Damon Hill and Heinz-Harald Frentzen, many believed Jordan had one of the strongest driver lineups in the paddock. The question was whether or not the car would be good enough to enable the two men to take advantage of the situation.
As the season would demonstrate, Hill would struggle, but the Jordan 199 would absolutely fit Frentzen perfectly. Despite having a customer engine powering the car, the 199, in the hands of Frentzen, would come through the season beautifully scoring two victories and four more podium finishes for the German. Considering the situation, the 1999 season would be the best of Frentzen's career as he would finish the season 3rd in the championship and running his personal tallies of race victories up to three.
Once again, Frentzen appeared to join yet another team when it was on the rise. There were strong rumors Honda was coming back to Formula One and they were going to choose who got to use their engines based upon performances on the track. Using the Mugen-Honda engine, Jordan was one of the teams in the hunt for the factory backing. The 2000 season would be the season in which the team would need to either match or better its results from the year before. Instead, the situation only got worse. Throughout the whole of the season a Jordan driver would end up on the podium just two times in totality. Both times it would be Frentzen. But the 6th place in the Constructors' Championship said Jordan, like so many others Frentzen had driven for in the past, was heading in the wrong direction.
Jordan would secure Honda engines for the 2001 season but the relationship between Frentzen, Jordan and the rest of the team had already run its course. The beginning of the season would start out well enough. However, troubles within the team, injury and disagreements would leave the situation at Jordan very tenuous for Frentzen. Jordan would determine he had had enough of the trouble and would decide to drop Frentzen past the halfway point in the season.
Jordan had felt Frentzen was no longer competitive and would hire Jean Alesi, Frentzen would take legal action against the action of Jordan but would drive, in the meantime, for the Prost Team. Heinz-Harald would use his frustration for motivation and would actually qualify 4th for the Belgian Grand Prix. However, he would again be out of drive at the end of the season when Prost collapsed.
Prost out of the picture, Frentzen would find an opportunity and would sign to drive for Arrows in 2002. There would be a number of times in which the German would demonstrate he still had what it took to be competitive. His performance around the streets of Monaco would be just one example. However, Arrows was yet another team in which the financial situation was more than precarious. As a result, the team would disappear before the end of the season and Frentzen would be looking to an old friend to give him another chance.
At the United States Grand Prix in 2002, Frentzen would be seen back at the wheel of a Sauber. The following year, he would be back with his old mate full-time. Driving the C22, the 2003 season would start out well with a 6th place in the Australian Grand Prix followed by a 5th place at Brazil. However, the remainder of the season would be void of any bright spots. But then, at the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis; a place he had always gone well. The German provided one last highlight.
Frentzen would be replaced at Sauber following the Japanese Grand Prix. However, at Indianapolis he would overcome some dramatic wet conditions to stand on the podium one last time. The first time the race had been held at Indianapolis, back in 2000, he stood on the 3rd step of the podium. Now, in what would be his last time at the circuit, he would be right there on that third step again.
Frentzen had shown some promising drives, but ultimately, was not consistently competitive enough for Sauber to keep behind the wheel. Heinz-Harald had reached the pinnacle of motorsport and had stood on the top step some three times. He had done it; but now it was over.
He had to look for a drive somewhere else. Heading into 2004, he would find a drive with OPC Team Holzer in the German DTM series. DTM would be on the rise and Frentzen would get the chance to drive an Opel Vectra. Making the switch would prove to be difficult initially and the best result he would score over the course of the season would be a 6th place at the Brno Circuit at the end of the year.
The following season, however, he would find his legs and would end up on the podium a couple of time before finishing the season 8th in the standings. Driving for Abt Sportsline in 2006, Frentzen would take advantage of the Audi A4 to secure a couple of 3rd place finishes and finish the season 7th in the standings.
Frentzen would step away from the racing scene following the 2006 season. He would take part in some events here and there. Then, in 2008, Heinz-Harald would partner with one of his old Mercedes-Benz junior team members, Karl Wendlinger, behind the wheel of an Aston Martin DBR9. Along with Andrea Piccini, they would take part in that year's 24 Hours of Le Mans in the GT1 class. The trio would come through to finish the race 4th in class and 16th overall.
At the same time he would be gearing up for Le Mans, Frentzen would be making strides with his HHF Hybrid Concept Car he entered in the 24 Hours of the Nurburgring. Utilizing an Apollo Gumpert with a 3.3-liter V8 twin-turbo with 520hp engine, Frentzen would include an electric motor good for another 136hp.
The race would be long and difficult and would result in the Gumpert undergoing two gearbox failures. Though he would finish the race with the car, he would end up not classified in the results.
Following the experiment with the Gumpert around the Nurburgring, Frentzen would depart the racing scene only taking part in a Race of Champions event here and there and not much else.
The man many once considered to be faster than Michael Schumacher would retire into relative obscurity having never achieved the fame and glory many predicted. Always trying to reignite his career amidst a sudden gust of wind, Frentzen's flame would finally be extinguished and left smoldering never to be reignited ever again.Sources:
'Profile', (http://www.frentzen.de/2006/e/index.html). HHF Online: Heinz-Harald Frentzen. http://www.frentzen.de/2006/e/index.html. Retrieved 5 May 2014.
'Drivers: Heinz-Harald Frentzen', (http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/drv-frehei.html). GrandPrix.com. http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/drv-frehei.html. Retrieved 5 May 2014.
'Complete Archive of Heinz-Harald Frentzen', (http://www.racingsportscars.com/driver/archive/Heinz_Harald-Frentzen-D.html). Racing Sports Cars. http://www.racingsportscars.com/driver/archive/Heinz_Harald-Frentzen-D.html. Retrieved 5 May 2014.
'Constructors: Jordan Grand Prix', (http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/con-jorda.html). GrandPrix.com. http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/con-jorda.html. Retrieved 5 May 2014.
'Grand Prix Results: San Marino Gp, 1997). GrandPrix.com. http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr601.html. Retrieved 5 May 2014.
'United States GP—Sunday—Race Report', (http://www.grandprix.com/race/r712racereport.html). GrandPrix.com. http://www.grandprix.com/race/r712racereport.html. Retrieved 5 May 2014.
Wikipedia contributors, 'Heinz-Harald Frentzen', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 12 February 2014, 09:41 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Heinz-Harald_Frentzen&oldid=595118520 accessed 5 May 2014