Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bit-Berger


Sorry ‘bout ‘dat, just couldn’t resist… As some of Y’all may think I’ve been consumin’ der BitBurger beer a bit too much while in Der Fatherland… But I’ll tell uze, there’s NOTHING like a freshly poured domestic BitBurger in the Home country! But I digress…

Like most current and former F1 piloto’s Gerhard Berger cut his racing teeth in go karts, before graduating to Alfa SUD’s and Formula 3, where he won multiple races before graduating to the big leagues of Formula 1.

Gerhard started his F1 career with the minnow-esce ATS team, while it’s reported that the Austrian contested his debut Grand Prix (Austria, 1984) with a severely “tweaked” neck, courtesy of a road accident in which he’d almost perished…

For 1985, Berger contested his first full season in F1 for the Arrows team, before moving onto the blossoming Benetton team, where Gerhard would score his and the team’s maiden Grand Prix victory at Mexico City in 1986, helped in large part by tyre strategy, as the Pirelli’s were able to endure the entire race distance without changing.

Impressed by his ever growing form, Enzo Ferrari snapped up the Austrian as Michele Alboreto’s teammate at the Scuderia for 1987, where he replaced “Stevie Johnson.” (Stefan Johansson) Although the Prancing Horse got off to a slow start, the team would be in the hunt for victory from nid-season onwards and Berger would finish out his debut season with the Scuderia by winning the final two races, the Japanese and Australian GP’s from pole.

Obviously the 1988 Formula 1 season was immensely frustrating for the entire paddock, excluding the all conquering McLaren Honda duo of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. Yet, it would be Berger, followed across the stripe by Alboreto, chalking up a memorable 1-2 victory at Monza just weeks after Enzo’s death… As this would be the race that Senna tripped over back marker Jean Louis Schlesser and later went off to give “IRV THE SWERVE” a celebratory punch…

For 1989, Nigel Mansell joined Berger at Ferrari, where BLOODY NIGE’ would earn the respect of the Tiafosi and become known as Il Lione… As Berger would suffer a horrifying shunt at Tamberello corner during that year’s San Marino GP, with his Ferrari 641 engulfing him in flames for 16 seconds before fire marshals could dose the flames! Berger scored his fourth GP victory at the Portuguese Grand Prix, which was overshadowed by Mansell-Senna’s collision…

For 1990, Berger and Prost effectively swapped team seats, after “The Professor” had announced he was leaving the Woking based squad to get away from his bitter arch nemesis Senna… While Gerhard ruffled a few feathers by out qualifying the Brazilian in his very first race at McLaren, starting from pole at the USGP. Berger would net a further three victories and three poles during his three year tenure alongside Senna.

For 1993, Berger was wooed back to Maranello to instill some stability into the floundering Scuderia organization which was in a massive state of flux. Of course a huge retainer didn’t hurt either, reportedly the highest of all drivers that season! But the active ride F93A was a disaster and Ferrari went winless once again.

In 1994, upon recovering from Black Sunday, with countryman Roland Ratzenberger and close friend Ayrton Senna having lost their life’s, Berger bounced back by scoring an emotional victory from pole in the 412T at the Hockenheimring, Ferrari’s first GP victory since 1990... During Berger’s final season at Ferrari, he was enroute to victory once again at Monza when teammate Alesi’s onboard camera fell off and shattered Berger’s front suspension! At the end of 1995, it was announced that Michael Schumacher would be moving to Ferrari, which triggered one of Flavour Flav’s (Flavio Briatore) most infamous statements in regards to the double World Champion’s exit us; It’s NOT the Driver, but OUR Car that WON the World Championship!”

Thus, with Berger and Alesi switching to Benetton for the 1996 season, the No.’s 27 and 28 era, which had spanned back to 1981 with Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi (interrupted only by Prost’s bringing his No. 1 plate to Maranello in 1990) came to an end. And while Benetton would go without victory in 1996, Berger who’d missed three races due to injury along with the death of his father, scored his and Benetton’s final victory in the 1997 German Grand Prix, completing the trifecta at the Hockenheimring, where he’d also scored pole position and fastest lap before announcing his impending retirement at the end of the season…

Berger has since gone on to become co-owner of Scuderia Toro Rosso, with a 50% controlling interest, along with overseeing the career development of Bruno Senna, Ayrton’s nephew…

"He taught me a lot about our sport; I taught him to laugh." Those words were Gerhard Berger's valediction to his friend, Ayrton Senna.
Those who came to know the lanky Austrian well knew that his sense of humor, at times somewhat macabre, has passed into Formula One legend. Who else could throw Senna's briefcase from a hovering helicopter, claim to have filled his room with snakes and frogs, or alter his passport photograph to resemble parts of the human anatomy that were not his face? Who else could douse a public relations girl's computer with water, ruining months of work, and believe it a joke? Or deliberately provoke Senna, under the influence of a few unfamiliar Schnapps, to confront a mouthy Eddie Irvine at Suzuka in 1993…
(Source: Grandprix.com)

It was during Berger’s tenure at McLaren that his reputation as a practical joker gained phenomenal adulation, as long as you weren’t on the receiving end, as the Austrian sought to break thru the overly serious, focused and devoted Ayrton Senna’s demeanor.. Yet, Senna rised to the Austrian’s challenge, in part spurred on by team boss Ron Dennis, as the aforementioned helicopter briefcase toss stems from an incident in Monza, where Senna had boasted to Berger during a helicopter flight that his new custom made carbon fibre briefcase was nearly indestructible… To which a shocked Ayrton watched Gerhard proceed to open the helicopter’s door and toss the briefcase!

"It fell somewhere near the course but we found it again," Berger recalled with a cheeky grin.
These pranks continued to escalate when Berger filled Senna’s bed with animals in an Australian hotel, to which a furious Senna told Berger;

"I've spent the last hour catching 12 frogs in my room," to which Berger replied, "Did you find the snake?"

Actually they were larger, like toads Berger explained and Senna retaliated by placing a very strong smelling (Limburger?) French cheese in Berger’s air conditioning unit…

On another occasion, Senna and fellow countryman Mauricio Gugelmin decided to fill Berger’s dress shoes with shaving foam on a Japanese Bullet train as they were headed for an important dinner and Berger was forced to attend the event wearing tennis shoes with his tuxedo…

Yet, Berger vowed revenge and apparently was successful, when a glass of orange juice delivered to Gugelmin one hour prior to the start of the Japanese GP spiked with sleeping pills, saw the Brazilian fast asleep and snoring thru the roar of the Formula 1 racing cars in the motor home…

Yet, Berger’s most famous caper, was the switching of Senna’s passport photo with said image of male genital… Although Senna’s passport was rarely checked, when inspected in Argentina, officials held Senna for 24 hours. To which Senna retaliated by later super gluing all of Berger’s credit cards together…

Several years later, at Ferrari, Berger played another practical joke on teammate Jean Alesi, who was chaffering Berger aboard team boss Jean Todt’s newly delivered personal Lancia around Fiorono, when Gerhard decided to unexpectedly pull the hand brake which caused Alesi to lose control, flip the car onto its roof and send the Frenchman to the hospital,

When Jean Todt asked later what had happened? Berger coolly replied that they’d put a few kerb marks on it!

SHEISA!!! Guess you DON’T wanna ever be on the receiving end of ‘Ol Blockhead’s humour, eh?

Quick Stats:
First race: 1984 Austrian GP
Last Race: 1997 European GP
Career starts: 210
Wins: 10
Poles: 12
Fastest laps: 21 (Two more than Ayrton Senna)

1986: Benetton; Berger out qualifies teammate Teo Fabi; 12-4
1987 Ferrari; Berger out qualifies teammate Michele Alboreto; 12-4
1988 Ferrari; Berger out qualifies teammate Michele Alboreto; 16-0
1989 Ferrari; Berger out qualifies teammate Nigel Mansell; 8-7
1995 Ferrari; Berger out qualifies teammate Jean Alesi; 12-5

2 comments:

  1. This is a great post, very informative lots of insight into Gerhard Berger career.
    Thanks
    www.motodanica.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanxs once again... As I had fun scribbling 'bout BLOCKHEAD Berger's countless exploits during his F1 years with his friend and rival Ayrton...

    ReplyDelete