The revelation of the first two races, Mika Salo was still sore when he boarded the return flight from Argentina. And it had nothing to do with the severe cramp which hampered him in Brazil.
Such is the 27 year-old Finn’s assurance that he was unhappy with himself for spinning his Tyrrell out of third in Sao Paulo, and angrier still with Aguri Suzuki for the tangle which sidelined him while again running in the points in Buenos Aires.
“I really needed those points,” he lamented even while he ascended the aircraft steps a full 24 hours after the race. “I’m really not impressed. Outside of the top 10 the standards are really bad. I guess it is the same in any racing where people have dollars in their eyes!
“The first two races weren’t bad, but I’m sure I could have done better had I known I’d got the drive earlier. Spending the winter sweating, and being told one week before the first race that you are in, is no way to prepare.”
Perhaps not since Michael Schumacher has a driver entered Formula One with so much speed, and so little respect for his rivals’ reputations. But how good is the Finn?
Dr Harvey Postlethwaite, Tyrrell’s Managing Director, Technical, tells all:
“I think that his route of entry to Formula One, Japanese F3000, is perhaps the best one currently available. The cars have very high levels of grip, which is good preparation for F1, and the people who have come from the category recently have acquitted themselves very well.”
“I can see that people will say he has sprung to prominence rather as Jean [Alesi] did, but in truth the two men couldn’t be further apart. Jean is a constant bag of nerves; that’s his make-up when he takes off his helmet. Mika is exceptionally cool. Boy, he is ice cool!
“He can be arrogant at times, but I think maybe there is a streak of that in most of the really good drivers, people who really know their ability.
“Above all, perhaps, he’s hungry. There were times last season when, okay, reliability let us down. But there were others when I felt we should have been qualifying better, should have been pushing the car that bit harder.
“When we looked around for a driver this season, there were obviously some commercial demands, but we also wanted someone who could take our performance to another level. Any of the established guys were already taken. Sure, there were plenty of other people available, but we wanted someone who would come in and push Ukyo [Katayama], push the car. There are a lot of guys you could take where you know their relative position on the grid. We were looking for more than that, which is why we cast our eyes outside of Formula One.
“Mika is clearly exceptionally talented and, whilst we mustn’t get too carried away, he seems to have adjusted to it all very calmly. He very rarely makes mistakes, and he has natural speed.
“His potential is clear. Many drivers come into Formula One and make a big impact immediately. Perhaps the true guide to their talent is how they cope with the slump that inevitably follows. There will always be a period when the honeymoon is over. The exceptional people will come through the other side of that slump; many others will never progress further. It will be interesting to see how Mika copes with that, but I think the signs are good.” MS