The 35-year-old German driver Heinz-Harald Frentzen made an emotional return to his Formula One racing roots at Hinwil today, for his first official engagement as a Team Sauber Petronas driver for the 2003 season since his recent signing for the team.
Heinz was meeting the Press and the team at their Swiss headquarters, renewing old acquaintances with team members with whom he started his Formula One career in 1994, having previously driven for the Sauber-Mercedes World Championship winning sports car team in 1990.
During his three years with the fledgling Sauber Formula One team from 1994-1996, Heinz scored 29 World Championship points for the team, an individual total that has still to be beaten by any other driver.
Frentzen is looking forward to adding to that total in 2003. After driving for Williams, Jordan, Prost and Arrows in the interim, Heinz is delighted to be returning to the team that launched his Formula One career.
"Ever since I left Sauber to go to Williams in 1997 Peter has been trying to get me to return to the team. Even when I left, I said to them that I will be coming back one day. Now the timing is right. It did not take me very long after we talked to make up my mind that Sauber was where I wanted to be for the coming season."
"They have done a great job over the past few years and are now one of the most respected teams in the paddock. They have shown they have what it takes to take on the top teams and with the experience we have both gained over the past six years, I am sure we can make our "old team" even more effective in 2003 than it was when I last drove for the them."
Peter Sauber is equally content to have Heinz back in the Sauber family. "He is not only one of the fastest drivers in Formula One, he also knows how to move a team forward. Furthermore, he has proven the past year that he is still highly motivated. His performance this season impressed us deeply," commented Team principal Peter Sauber.
During his visit to Hinwil, Peter Sauber gave him a tour of the team's impressive facility including the new 100 percent scale wind tunnel that is being built alongside the main factory.
"Things have certainly changed a lot since I was last at Hinwil. As well as my passion for driving the cars I love developing them as well, so I cannot wait for the new wind tunnel to be finished as I have lots of ideas for them to try out," smiled Heinz , who gained a reputation for his interest in aerodynamics when he was with the team before.
Heinz was officially presented to all the members of the Sauber-Petronas team, many of whom needed no introduction having worked with him in the past. "Normally it takes a while before you feel at home in a new team, but coming to Sauber is like coming home for me and I cannot wait to start working on next year's car," commented Heinz, who did not have long to wait.
After the formalities of the morning, Heinz's afternoon was already taken up with long talks with Technical Director Willy Rampf, along with other members of the design staff, as they discussed the various design features of next year's car. Willy, who worked closely with Heinz in the past, is looking forward to working with him in the future. "We expect that he will bring a lot of experience to help us, especially in the set-up of the car."
Meanwhile, HHF is expected to test the current Sauber-Petronas soon after the end of the season to familiarize himself with the various control systems that form a major part of modern grand prix cars. "The team will have to make considerable modifications to one of their cars to get me to fit, as I am quite a bit taller than the current drivers, so I will probably not drive before December," he explained.
When it happens, it will be a moment that many team members as well as Team Sauber fans have been waiting for a long time. Six years, exactly.