Imola, Saturday, May 1, 1999 -- Mika Salo may "only just" have qualified 19th today for Sunday's San Marino Grand Prix, but the complete team effort that got him and the 555 World Racing Team there was a victory in its own right. Team...
Imola, Saturday, May 1, 1999 -- Mika Salo may "only just" have qualified 19th today for Sunday's San Marino Grand Prix, but the complete team effort that got him and the 555 World Racing Team there was a victory in its own right.
Team mechanics and engineers were under the gun when British American Racing's No. 23 car, usually that of Brazilian Ricardo Zonta, went down with hydraulic problems during the morning's free practice session that preceded the official qualifying period.
The Flying Finn, taking over from Zonta after the latter injured a foot prior to the Brazilian Grand Prix two weeks ago, was without a ride until the team decided to move him to the spare car with just 20 minutes remaining in the hour-long qualifying session. That decision was made possible by a stellar performance from Jacques Villeneuve who would qualify fifth for Sunday's race.
The Finnish driver watched as his 555 World Racing Team crew adjusted the set-up of the spare car, which had been prepared for his British American Racing team-mate whose different style of driving requires the car to be set up to his preferences. Changes in settings for aerodynamics, suspension and pedal, as well as seat positioning, were just some of the many tasks that needed to be carried out under a ticking clock. It took just 15 minutes to complete all the complex adjustments necessary for the 555 driver to take to the track, leaving a window of only five minutes in qualifying for Salo to turn in a competitive time and reserve his grid position for the race.
Showing true determination, the 555 driver sped around the track during the closing five minutes of the session, surrounded by world-class drivers who had already established stellar Q-times on several lap passes. With no time to adapt to the spare car, Salo showed his mettle, clocking 1:29.451 for 19th overall on Sunday's grid.
Salo's sense of purpose for Sunday's race was not shaken by his close call. "We had a really good car all weekend, but after the first run we had a hydraulic pressure problem and I had to get in the spare car which was set up for Villeneuve, who has a very different driving style to mine. But I am used to fighting from the back of the grid so I hope to have a good race and try for a good result," remarked the Finn.
The San Marino Grand Prix gets under way at 1400 hrs local time.