Whatever happened to… Heinz-Harald Frentzen?
When Heinz-Harald Frentzen burst onto the Formula One stage in 1994 the young German would have no idea where his career would lead. As a talented F3000 driver Frentzen was plucked from obscurity by Sauber for the 1994 season and a chance to prove himself.
It would lead to a Formula One career that lasted nine years and showcased one of the sports most gifted drivers. Although he was never the quickest or most flamboyant driver to grace a Formula One car he still had exceptional talent as a driver.
In the early stages of the 1994 season Frentzen came close to a Williams drive after the untimely death of Ayrton Senna at Imola. However the German turned down the move to stay with Sauber as team-mate to Karl Wendlinger. It would be a decision that shaped the German’s career in the sport, suggesting a sense of early team loyalty from the youngster.
Throughout his career the German was often left with cars which were severely uncompetitive, but his determination and enthusiasm to produce results set Frentzen apart from his rivals during the 1990’s.
After his mixed spell with Sauber from 1994-1996 Frentzen moved to Williams in 1997 as team-mate to Jacques Villeneuve, it would be an impressive season as the German scored the second highest points tally in his career.
When considering the greatest drivers never to win the Formula One World championship there will always be an argument for Heinz-Harald Frentzen to be considered in the top three. His performance for Williams in1997 and for Jordan in 1999 elevated the German’s profile in arguably his greatest season’s as a racing driver.
The second place finish in the 1997 championship would be the highlight of an altogether frustrating career in Formula One, with Frentzen finishing on 42 points with his first of three career wins under his belt. The remaining wins would come with an impressive Jordan drive in 1999 as Frentzen notched up 54 points and a third place finish.
The start of a new Millenium beckoned a return to obscurity for Frentzen and frustrating campaigns for Prost in 2001, Arrows in 2002 and Sauber in 2002 and 2003 signalled the beginning of the end for Frentzen’s Formula One journey.
The 2003 season would prove to be Frentzen’s swansong and by the end of the year the writing was on the wall for the German. Despite a return to Sauber and a strong finish to the campaign the German’s Formula One career was all but over.
Like so many other drivers to grace the Formula One spotlight, Touring Cars would later beckon for Frentzen with the German DTM championship providing a revival to the German’s career in 2004. Over the next three years Frentzen would experience mixed fortunes driving for Opel and Audi with often inconsistent results. Despite being frustrated in his native championship the German did manage to show some of the potential that made him a household name in Formula One.
His DTM career would come to an end in 2006 after a difficult year with the Audi factory team and despite a brief foray into Le Mans in 2008 Frentzen would never reach the heights of his Formula One career. In 2010 Frentzen still races at the tender age of 43 with his determination as a driver still being apparant in the Speedcar championship, while he won’t reach Formula One a return to Touring cars isn’t out of the question for Frentzen.
Just three race wins in nine years belittle the talent that Frentzen portrayed in Formula One, despite his raw potential the German was always in the shadow of those around him. While Schumacher, Hill, Villeneuve and Hakkinen were all markedly more successful there was no other driver during Frentzen’s era who fought more for success, in relatively uncompetitive machinery.
While most people note Michael Schumacher as the most memorable German driver, Heinz-Harald Frentzen can take some consolation from coming second and at least he wasn’t Ralf!