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Mika Salo

Full Name:
Mika Juhani Salo
30th November 1966 (Age 53)
Helsinki, Uusimaa
Most recent race (in database):

Michael Schumacher broke his leg during the 1999 British Grand Prix and that provided Mika Salo with an opportunity to remind the world of a forgotten talent. He stood in for the German superstar for six races and only team orders prevented him from winning a GP.

Early racing career

Salo arrived in Britain in 1989 as the reigning Scandinavian and European Formula Ford 1600 Champion, having beaten Schumacher to that latter title. His first Formula 3 season was hampered by his unfashionable Reynard 893-Alfa Romeo and a succession of poor starts.

However, 1990 was the year of the Mikas. Häkkinen won the British title and graduated straight into Formula 1 but his compatriot challenged all year after winning six times with Alan Docking’s Ralt RT34-Mugen to finish as runner-up.

While his erstwhile rival started his successful F1 career, Salo signed a late deal to race in the 1991 Japanese Formula 3000 Championship and he remained in that country for almost four years before he finally earned an F1 opportunity.

Formula 1 with Lotus and Tyrrell

He made his GP debut for Lotus in the final two races of 1994 before the once great outfit disappeared from the sport. Despite the team’s demise, Salo had made a positive impression and he signed for Tyrrell-Yamaha for a first full F1 campaign in 1995. He ran as high as third in Brazil on his debut for the team but it was a generally disappointing season. Fifth in the Italian and Australian GPs that year, he remained with Tyrrell for the next two seasons without finishing any higher.

Frustrating season with Arrows and F1 substitute

Fifth again in the 1997 Monaco GP, after running without a pitstop, was Salo’s only score of an increasingly difficult campaign. He agreed to drive Tom Walkinshaw’s Arrows A19 in 1998 and excelled on the streets of Monte Carlo once more when fourth.

However, he ended the year without a ride although that unemployment provided Salo’s biggest career break. He substituted for the injured Ricardo Zonta and Michael Schumacher at BAR and Ferrari respectively during 1999. He did little to impress with the former or on his debut for Ferrari. However, he fully deserved victory for the Italian team in the German GP at Hockenheim and only gave up the lead to team-mate Eddie Irvine when asked to by his team. A career-best second seemed scant reward.

Sauber and Toyota team leader

Third at Monza and 10th in the final championship, he was rewarded with a fulltime Sauber-Petronas drive for 2000 – the Swiss team powered by re-badged Ferrari engines. Another consistent season again netted 10th in the points before Salo decided to join the new and well-funded Toyota team as it prepared for its F1 debut in 2002.

After a year of private testing, Salo finished sixth on the team’s debut in Australia and again in Brazil. Despite those welcome early fillips, driver and team grew apart during a difficult season as his F1 career drew to a close.

Subsequent career in Champ Cars and GTs

Four races for PKV Racing in the 2003 Champ Car World Series included third in Miami and fifth in Australia. However, he decided his future was best served in endurance racing. He narrowly missed victory in the 2004 Spa 24 Hours with a GPC Squadra Corse Ferrari 575GTC and then signed for Maserati.

AF Corse’s new Maserati MC12 was a controversial but fast racing car. However, Salo and Andrea Bertolini won at Oschersleben and Zhuhai before the end of 2004 and the Finn then finished third in the 2006 FIA GT Championship with a Risi Competizione Ferrari 430 GT2. He was a dominant GT2 class title winner in the 2007 American Le Mans Series for the team with co-driver Jaime Melo Jr – repeating that success in the Le Mans 24 Hours as well in 2008 and 2009.

He raced in the V8 Supercar meeting at Surfers Paradise for three years from 2010 – sharing a Ford Performance Racing Falcon with Will Davison in 2012. On the front row for race one, Salo led throughout his stint but Davison crashed as soon as he had taken over. They made amends by winning the second race. Victory in the 2014 Bathurst 12 Hours was Salo’s final success before retiring. He currently works in driver management and as a commentator and analyst on Finnish television.