And this guy was a F3000 champion...
- Mattijs Diepraam
- 8W February 1999 issue
- Allen Berg - Found his feet in Mexico, by Mattijs Diepraam
- Thierry Boutsen - Solid character, solid results, by Mattijs Diepraam/Mo Caraher
1986 Mexican GP
For a series touted as F1's breeding ground F3000 doesn't have a particularly good record. Of its 14 champions to date only two of them have managed a GP win each (Alesi and Panis) while only Capelli, Moreno and Modena have scored an occasional podium. The problem is: apart from Juan Pablo Montoya, who has already outdone both Alesi and Panis, it hasn't got any better in recent years - and that's understating it quite a lot.
Until 1993 an F3000 title was a guaranteed ticket into F1 but in 1994 'Jules' Boullion set a worrying trend by being signed as Williams test driver. Since then, Vincenzo Sospiri has done the same for Benetton and became consigned to the ISRS after getting involved in the disastrous Lola effort of 1997. Jörg Müller is also a sportscar stalwart and has followed in Boullion's footsteps as the epitomy of the well-respected test driver. For a time, the hopes of the category were set on 1997 champion Ricardo Zonta, who initially was signed on as - yes, boring theme - McLaren-Mercedes test driver before being consummately outshone by BAR's former World Champion, while only in 1999 F1 saw a surprise return by the 1992 champion, signing for Minardi after a season of - no surprise there - testing duties for Ferrari (for which he of course remains the appointed test and reserve driver, incidentally). As a reward for his dominating performance, the 2001 champion Justin Wilson was consequently signed by... no-one. If it wasn't for Montoya, the series would have lost its credibility a long time ago.
Christian Danner, winner of the inaugural championship for Bob Sparshott's team, is definitely the cast model for the F3000 champion failing to get that much-needed lucky break in F1. Having said that, much of it was of his own doing. Signing for the home effort by Zakspeed at the end of his title-winning season wasn't an inspired move, just as moving to Osella for the start of 1986 wasn't, while returning to Erich Zakowski's team the following season was probably guided by despair rather than hope - a glimmer of which must have been present when he returned to the F1 grids in 1989, after that other unsuccessful German team Rial had shown some spirited performances in its debut season.
Only after deserting Osella after the 1986 Canadian GP to drive for the BMW-powered Arrows outfit, the tall German had a reasonable chance of reaching the top six, although Jackie Oliver's crew were clearly the second-string BMW team. Danner did so just once, getting a 6th in Austria. It was more than Arrows regular Thierry Boutsen could manage in the year-old car, but Boutsen - never one to set qualifying alight by a storming lap - did outqualify his German team mate six to four. Thus the verdict on the then reigning F3000 champion was still open. However, his apparent inability to get crap cars to work made team owners lose interest fairly soon.
In his F1 after-life Danner continued the theme, only shining on few occasions, mostly in DTM Alfa Romeo muscle cars, before setting up his own Indycar team in conjuction with his countryman Andreas Leberle. But as with everything Danner has touched since 1985, Project Indy has been CART's ugly duck from day one. The 1999 effort petered out early as untalented sometime F1 driver Mimmo Schiattarella was scheduled to drive the worst prepared Champ Car of the season but never got to do his job.
Reader's Why by Geza Sury
Formula One drivers are not competing anywhere else these days, but in the mid-eighties it was somewhat different. Arrows-BMW driver Marc Surer started in the European Rally Championship in a Ford. But an accident almost cost his life. So he had to be replaced. The driver who got his seat was Christian Danner. That was the year of 1986. Danner scored the team's only point in Austria that year. Team-mate Thierry Boutsen wasn't able to score a single point! Danner signed for his native Zakspeed team the following year, later drove for Rial. He was never a force to be reckoned with. Tried his hand in IndyCar racing - it wasn't a success story either.