1999 Brazilian at Interlagos
How did you hear about the Minardi drive at Interlagos?
I was at Barcelona testing for Prost. Alain Prost called to tell me that Luca Badoer was injured and that Minardi wanted me. I didn’t get a chance to test before Brazil. Prost said, ‘Don’t worry, as the Minardi is slow you’ll be at the back. There’s no pressure, just try to learn.’
How did things go when you arrived?
I didn’t know the car or the circuit. Immediately in the wet first practice I think I was 14th and quite fast compared with my team-mate Marc Gené. I’m not tall, but it was a small car and I wasn’t very comfortable. Before the first session the mechanics didn’t move much, but after it they changed everything for me!
You had quite a spectacular race. What do you remember?
My start from 17th was very good and on the second lap I passed Alex Zanardi in the Williams, but went straight on. After that I passed a few people, including Gené. Later I was just behind Jacques Villeneuve in the BAR and I was faster than him. Then after the last slow left-hander my front wing collapsed and at the fast corner before the pits I went straight on. Inside the car it was okay, but on TV it looked bad! I was 11th at the time, Prost’s Olivier Panis was 12th or 13th — he finished sixth.
What happened afterwards?
The team was very happy with my race. (Team owner) Gabriele Rumi asked me to continue, but it wasn’t possible because Prost didn’t want it; I was test driver for him and raced in his F3000 junior team. Alain said, ‘Continue with that and next year you will race with me.’
And that didn’t happen…
That’s life — F1 is like that. In 1999 I was second in F3000 behind Nick Heidfeld until Spa, but in the last two races I dropped to fourth. In 2000 I tested for Prost and raced in F3000 with McLaren, but it was a difficult year. I tested for Prost again in 2001, then left to become a test driver for Toyota.
Did you ever come close to another racing opportunity?
No. Nothing really happened and a lot of drivers arrived in F1 with a lot of money, so it was quite difficult.
And now you’re in the WRC…
It was not a difficult choice — it was my dream to drive in rallies. I didn’t hesitate when Subaru and the French federation made the offer.
How hard is it to make the change?
It’s quite hard, like starting again. You need to work with the co-driver and it’s a different style of driving. F1 is incredible, very fast and exciting. But rallying changes all the time; narrow, bumpy, slow, then fast, grip and then no grip. You have to concentrate at every corner. — AC