Stephane Sarrazin: Minardi Magic and Then The F1 Outcast

matt hillCorrespondent IOctober 10, 2010


F1 is littered with people that in different circumstances there careers and lives could of been very different. Mike Thackwell for example. At the time the youngest (now second youngest) driver ever to start (controversial due to incident with yellow flags) a grand prix. He ended up never scoring a point and only started another one race and apparently refuses to have anything to do with motorsport anymore. F1 is a very cut throat business and one mistake and all your hard work can mean very little. Even if that mistake doesn't happen on the track it can heavily damage your career.

One of the most tragic examples of this has to be Stephane Sarrazin. Sarrazin only competed in one race and didnt finish but just in that one race he did enough to prove by a million miles that he was worthy of a place in F1. Yet the 1999 Brazilian Grand Prix will remain his one and only start.

Sarrazin had proven in the junior formulae to be a quick driver. In 1999 Prost hired him as their test driver and he helped the team make significant strides in improving that years car. However, it was at Minardi where he got a chance. Luca Badoer injured himself and someone was needed to take his place. Minardi gave Prost a call and Prost allowed Sarrazin the chance to compete.

The 1999 Minardi, like most Minardis, was not exactly the best car in the field. It's engine was old and down on power but to Minardis credit everything else was ok. Not brilliant but respectable. Now for those of you who don't know Interlargos is a pretty uneven track with big bumps. So this was the challenge presented to Sarrazin. A car that wasn't overly good, that he had never driven as well as a physically demanding track. Three rounds with Mike Tyson would of probably been an easier propersition.

Just to make his job a little harder the car was still set up for Badoer who is much shorter meaning Sarrazin wasn't exactly comfortable. In his first practice he managed 20th but neither Villeneuve or Hill set a lap. To his credit though he was incredibly close to his team mate Marc Gene in the other Minardi. The next day a new seat was delivered and the pedals moved and Sarrazin showed what he could do. He beat not only his team mate but both the Arrows cars and managed to break the 80 second lap barrier

To say that is impressive is an understatment. In the practice session Zonta crashed and injured himself so at worst Sarrazin could be was 21st. Then Villeneuve has disqualified due to illegal fuel making 20th now the worst case scenario. Sarrazin qualified 17th once (18th to some sources but most say 17th) again beating his team mate and both Arrows albeit just unable this time to make it under the 80 second barrier. He was one spot (albeit seventh tenths of a second slower) than Zanardi.

In the race he was doing well fighting Villeneuve very hard before eventually being beaten by the much quicker BAR. With people dropping out due to various issues, Sarrazin climbed to a very respectable 11th. On lap 31 the dream ended. The Minardis front wing failed and sent Stephane Sarrazin spearing in the wall between Juncao and the start and finish line. His car hit the wall and span numerous times before coming to a rest. Stephane was unhurt amazingly.

At the end of the race, despite only doing 31 laps Stephane had the 17th fastest lap time beating Zanardi in the process. Also at the time of his crash he was ahead of Wurz in the Bennetton and Takagi's Arrows. They finished 7th and 8th. Sarrazin could of had any outside shot of a point the way he was going and with a bit of luck.

For the next race Badoer was back and Sarrazin was sent back to Prost. In the end money was a crippling problem for Sarrazin. Others had a lot of it and he didn't. Drivers such as Mazzacane, Enge and Burti took the seat at Prost when in terms of talent they were no where near as good as Stephane. This injustice demoralized Stephane and his F3000 performances became worse with Sarrazin probably releasing the futality of it all. By 2000 he quit single seaters.

In 18 months Stephane Sarrazin went from incredible to forgotten in single seater racing. However, it hasnt spelt the end for Stephane with motorsport altogether. He has since gone on and become a successful rally and Le Mans driver finishing as high as second in Le Mans driving for Peugeot. He has had massive success in the other motorsports disciplines and I remain sure to this day that given a proper chance in F1 that he could of been successful in that to.

Despite all of his success outside of F1 it's still a huge shame that his talent wasn't picked up on in the motorsports grandest arena. Sadly in F1 money often speaks louder than talent and this continues to this day. F1 bosses sadly have to look at wallets rather than results. Many consider the late 80's too mid 90's to be the pay driver era and with the likes of Deletraz, Lavaggi and Inoue there were some whose wallet size was vastly more impressive than their talent. However, the curse of the pay driver still remains and I suspect will never leave us.

Yes, I do mean you Sakon.