DRIVERS: GERHARD BERGER

Name: Gerhard Berger
Nationality: Austria
Date of birth: August 27, 1959 - Worgl, Austria

"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?

If you could avoid being on the receiving end of Berger's jokes, it was not hard to see why he was so tremendously popular within the paddock in his driving days. He had started out racing AlfaSuds before jumping via a few Formula Ford races into the German and European F3 Championships. By 1984 he was a leading contender, and his performances earned him a chance with the ATS F1 team in his home GP. He had hurt his neck in an accident, but he said nothing and dragged himself to a test at Zandvoort. In four races, he proved himself erratic but fast, and soon switched to Arrows and its BMW-powered team the following year. With Benetton in 1986 he made full use of the turbocharged four cylinder BMW's prodigious power, and won his first GP, in Mexico, after a canny performance on Pirelli's tires.

His spells with Ferrari and McLaren earned him another eight victories and the reputation as a fast and safe driver who, while perhaps not quite in the Senna/Prost/Mansell mold, was quite capable of fighting at the front in the right machine.

After the fire at Imola in 1989, when he crashed his Ferrari at the same Tamburello corner that would later claim Senna, he was back racing within weeks. The depth and honesty of the emotions he explained in the aftermath of the deaths of Ratzenberger and Senna were indications of a pure heart. When he was in the cockpit a dedicated professional took over, and Benetton had good cause to appreciate that in a difficult 1996 season. One year on, as he was suffering from debilitating illness and his father was killed in a flying accident, Berger returned to the cockpit at Hockenheim and annihilated his opposition. It was his final victory, and at the end of the season he retired. Berger went on to to become the manager of BMW's competition program in F1 with Williams but in 2004 he left that role. At the start of 2006 it was announced that he had become a 50% shareholder in Red Bull's Scuderia Toro Rosso.

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