Karl Wendlinger in focus

by Alfredo Parga*
Buenos Aires (AR), 31 Dec 1997

A beautiful story became a cracked crystal. There was an artificially-induced coma. Then, a promise. Then, another crack. Who cares?

The terrible collision at Monaco on 12 May 1994 11:27 - three minutes before the Thursday session to go - was already past.

The Karl Wendlinger's story seemed to be a cinematographic one. The German driver, who was born by mistake in Kufstein (Austria) on 20 December 1968, suffered first from a strong accident and then was in a coma for two weeks.

'I lost control of the car (Sauber Mercedes C13 W10) at the end of the Tunnel. I don't remember anything else...,' he said.

The witnesses explained that the driver braked the car too late. They saw the black vehicle to touch the internal Armco prior to end up crashing into the last wall which separates the escape area from the 'track' itself.

There were seven months and a hard struggle. The Karl's muscular and neurological recuperation turned out to be fantastic. He only admitted at that time the presence of his girlfriend Sophie, whilst his father was thanking God because of the boy's step-by-step recovery.

Peter Sauber, his team-manager, stressed at that time: 'We have every confidence in Karl. We do know he will be the driver we discovered in 1987, the Austrian F3 champion who won the 1989 German F3 Championship to Michael Schumacher himself.'

Karl would resume racing in the 1995 Brazilian GP. Then he had to face up with a complicated, unbalanced car which was wrongly set up in matter of aerodynamics and technical, as many pundits said.

His behaviour started to suffer from cracks, same as his own car. Electrical problems caused him to retire at Interlagos. His team-mate Frentzen would retire for the same reason, but the team members did not seem to care a lot about it.

Wendlinger, who would be a goldsmith in matter of car set-up, was not providing the Sauber engineers with the exact, categorical reports after every experience, as he did provide them with in the past.

He starred in at the start accident in Argentina, together with Badoer, Gachot among others. Frentzen finished fifth... Wendlinger retired at Imola because of a tyre blocking; Frentzen arrived sixth. Karl was 15th in Spain, two laps away Schumacher; Frentzen managed himself to place eighth.

Many people from the Sauber staff seemed to forget the Monaco accident. The 'every confidence' in the young driver suddenly disappeared from those minds. 'I've got to let you know Karl,' Mr Peter Sauber stammered at that time, 'that Elf and Ford are putting pressure on me. They don't let me get my breath away. They say you are not in conditions to race in F1. They suggest me Jean-Christophe Boullion to replace you from Monaco on. Do you understand me? Forgive me.'

Does it matter the fact that Boullion would only score three points in that season? Does it matter the fact that Boullion would be replaced with Johnny Herbert from 1996 onwards? Does anyone remember the Monaco accident?

* translated by Maximiliano Catania/FUNO