That form in the junior categories is no guarantee of Formula 1 success is amply illustrated by the case of Norberto Fontana. A star of Formula 3 in 1995 that beat the likes of Ralf Schumacher, Jarno Trulli and Alex Wurz, he made four hugely disappointing Grand Prix starts for Sauber two years later.
Formula 3 and Japanese career
His European debut was in 1994 when sixth in the German F3 Championship with a KMS Dallara F394-Opel. He remained with the team for 1995 and dominated by winning the Marlboro Masters at Zandvoort as well as 10 championship races to secure the German title with Schumacher et al in his wake.
Formula Nippon was his focus for 1996 although he did crash out of a one-off Formula 3000 race at Estoril. He was more successful in Japan and finished fifth that year for Nova Engineering. A switch to Team Le Mans for 1997 was rewarded with a distant third in the standings.
Formula 1 and controversy
Fontana also made his F1 debut in the 1997 French GP when replacing injured Sauber-Petronas driver Gianni Morbidelli. Ninth at Silverstone and Hockenheim were his best results from four unimpressive races for the team. In 2006, he provoked controversy by claiming that he had been asked to help engine supplier Ferrari in the final race by blocking Michael Schumacher’s title rival Jacques Villeneuve. It was a claim denied by all concerned.
Subsequent racing career
Fontana attempted to reignite his career in Formula Nippon (a race winner again in 1998), FIA F3000 (scoring points for Fortec in 1999) and Champ Cars (starting eight frustrating races during 2000 for Della Penna Motorsports). He also tested for Minardi at the end of 1999 but F1 had passed him by.
He made another three F3000 outings with the Prost Junior Team in 2001 before returning to Argentina for the TC2000 saloon car series. Champion in 2002 driving a TTA Toyota Corolla, he narrowly repeated that success in 2010 when driving a Ford Focus. He was also 2006 Turismo Carretera Champion with a Dodge Polara RT Coupé.
His Mercedes AMG GT R SP-X retired from the 2018 Dubai 24 Hours on Fontana’s most recent international appearance.