F1 » Pedro de la Rosa
Pedro de la Rosa seems to have been on the fringes of the big time for several years, without ever looking likely to break through, but even he would not have predicted a full-time return to racing after establishing himself as a dependable test and reserve driver at McLaren.
Forsaking karting success - despite starting at the age of six - to move into cars, Pedro began racing in Formula Fiat Uno at the age of 18. He was not slow to show his potential, however, taking the Spanish national series in his first season, and landing backing from the Spanish Motor Racing Federation as a result.
Moving into single seaters with the British Minister outfit, de la Rosa repaid the Federation by taking the national Formula Ford title with eight wins in ten races. His performance was enough for the governing body to back a move to Britain, where he contested a handful of Formula Renault events in 1992.
Combining part series in both Britain and Spain left Pedro without a title for the first time since moving into cars, but provided enough knowledge for him to regain his winning ways the following year. Fending off the challenge of compatriot Ivan Arias, de la Rosa wrapped up the British FRenault series (3 wins) before repeating the feat in the European championship (2 wins).
A British F3 campaign with the renowned West Surrey Racing followed, but Pedro found things hard in his maiden season. Sixth overall at his first attempt should have been enough to set the Spaniard up for a concerted championship challenge in 1994 but, one pole position aside, he never got a look in as Paul Stewart Racing's Jan Magnussen rewrote the record books.
Frustrated in his attempts to find a competitive ride in Britain by a noticeable lack of sponsorship, de la Rosa moved to Japan to try his luck in the national F3 series. Running with the ultra-successful TOM'S works team, Pedro racked up eight pole positions and a similar number of wins en route to the title. Third place at the season-ending Macau GP only served to emphasise his potential.
The success continued in 1996, as de la Rosa stayed in Japan to progress to the Formula Nippon series. A strong first season in what was effectively the national F3000 championship saw Pedro wind up second overall, and leaving him well placed to dominate the series twelve months later. Ten successive podium positions cemented a second single seater championship in three years and, complemented by similar success in the Japanese GT series, left the Spaniard on the verge of Formula One.
The call to race at the highest level never materialised, however, leaving Pedro to cool his heels with a testing role at Jordan. His feedback impressed the team and led to his name being mentioned in connection with more than one vacancy for both 1998 and 1999.
Although nothing came his way in '98, de la Rosa began testing for Arrows at the end of the year, and turned in sufficiently impressive performances to warrant further attention from the team. Backing from Spanish fuel company Repsol, which arrived as a result of his success in Japan, provided the vital ingredient in securing the Spaniard his coveted F1 drive and, although he knew that the 1999 season wouldn't be easy, he made the most of the opportunity, scoring a solitary point on his first outing in Australia.
That was to be his lot for the season, but Pedro's promise saw him retained at Arrows for 2000. The new A21 had been flying in testing but, despite phenomenal straight-line speed in certain races, flattered to deceive on more than one occasion. Sixth place finishes at the European and German GPs left de la Rosa languishing in 15th place overall at the end of the year, but both he and similarly afflicted team-mate Jos Verstappen were expected to be retained for another season.
It came as something of a shock to de la Rosa, therefore, when he was released in favour of Brazilian rookie Enrique Bernoldi, who had barely tested with the team before being given a contract. Different sides of the story naturally followed before Pedro appeared to join Prost as development driver with an eye on a race seat for 2002 - or as replacement for the monied Gaston Mazzacane should the Argentine not perform to expectation in 2001.
This rumour was then proved to be untrue, as de la Rosa skipped Prost for Jaguar, where he lined up as an unexpected test driver alongside the inexperienced Tomas Scheckter, and as team-mate to Eddie Irvine and Luciano Burti. After the first four grands prix it was announced that Burti would be leaving Jaguar to race for Prost and, as such, de la Rosa found himself promoted to a race drive effective from the Spanish GP onwards.
A recalcitrant R2 was not the car to have, however, and the Spaniard managed just two top six finishes in the 13 races he contested. This led to three points and 16th spot in the standings - but was enough to see him retained alongside Irvine for 2002.
His second year with Jaguar though was another difficult period and the R3 was a disaster - at the start of the year, there was even talk of reverting to the R2. de la Rosa struggled throughout the season and more often than not was showed up by his older team-mate, Irvine. Throughout the year, the Spaniard failed to score a single solitary point and his best finish came in Australia, when he came home eighth, after half the field had been obliterated following a massive pile-up at the start.
On November 1, then Jaguar boss Niki Lauda announced that neither Irvine nor de la Rosa would remain with the Cat in 2003. While the Spaniard had a contract, Lauda's decision to axe him, was of little surprise, especially considering his performance during 2002.
The Spaniard thus looked to be in the F1 wilderness for 2003, until McLaren-Mercedes swooped in April signing him as a test driver following two prior tests with the outfit at Jerez and Barcelona. de la Rosa thus became McLaren's 'fourth driver', testing alongside Alex Wurz and race drivers, David Coulthard and Kimi Raikkonen.
The Spaniard remained at Ron Dennis' squad in 2004, performing the same role, a position he kept for 2005 as well. 2005 also brought a rare race opportunity and de la Rosa got the chance to compete at the Bahrain GP, following Juan Montoya's 'tennis injury'. Although the Spaniard was entertaining and finished in the points - in fifth place - some of his overtaking manoeuvres were rather clumsy and no further race opportunities presented themselves.
In 2006 he again served as a test driver with McLaren, working alongside new tester, Gary Paffett, following Alex Wurz's move to Williams.
He also ended up doing a fair few races too, after Juan Pablo Montoya was dropped following the USGP. de la Rosa was therefore drafted in from the French GP onwards and he finished in the points in five of his eight outings, his best result coming at the rain-affected Hungarian GP, when he finished second and took his first ever F1 podium finish. In total, Pedro notched up 19 points and, while his performances were hardly spectacular, they were quite consistent and very solid.
They weren't enough to guarantee a return to racing and, for 2007, he remained at McLaren, reverting to the dual role of reserve and third driver. That position continued through 2008, despite claims that he had been implicated in the furore that surrounded the team's role in the 'spygate' scandal, and 2009, as he racked up seven years at Woking.
The lure of racing, however, proved too strong for de la Rosa when 2010 came around and, with the team having split from BMW (despite bizarrely retaining the famous initials in its name), Sauber made an offer that he couldn't refuse. Backing from sponsors no doubt sweetened the deal, but de la Rosa's renowned development ability was of more value as Peter Sauber attempted to rebuild his squad around the Spaniard and promising rookie Kamui Kobayashi. Whether 2010 proves to be rebirth or swansong, however, remained to be seen and, sadly for de la Rosa, it may well have been the latter.
Sauber's testing 'form' proved to be a mirage and the team struggled through the first third of the season before taking tenth and eleventh places in Turkey. Thereafter, things picked up, but de la Rosa still not break into the points until round twelve in Hungary - and two races later the axe fell on his comeback, with his seat going to Sauber favourite Nick Heidfeld from the Singapore GP.
The two drivers effectively swapped roles, with de la Rosa taking on Heidfeld's development duties with tyre company Pirelli, but the Spaniard insisted that he intended to return to the grid in 2011.
With HRT - his only real option - looking for backers, however, the door again appeared to be closing on de la Rosa as a race
driver in the top flight and, instead, he seemed more likely to remain with Pirelli in 2011. As it happened, he returned to McLaren to reclaim the test and reserve role he held with aplomb prior to his move to Sauber, although opportunities remained limited under the tight testing restrictions.
Ironically, de la Rosa did get a race outing in 2011 - but with Sauber rather than McLaren after rookie Sergio Perez failed to recover from the effects of his Monaco qualifying shunt before the Canadian race came around. Despite taking over from the unwell Mexican after Friday morning practice in Montreal, the Spanish veteran acquitted himself well, finishing twelfth after narrowly making it through to Q2 on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. With Perez fit to resume in Valencia, however, that was it for de la Rosa in 2011.
The competitive flame still burned, however, and, with HRT attempting to remodel itself as 'Spain's team', he could not resist the chance to pick up the threads of his previously unconsummated relationship with the squad, inking a two-year deal to cover 2012-13. Sadly, Spain's interest didn’t extend to sponsorship and, as HRT’s resources dwindled, so did its ability to challenge Marussia at the back of the field. de la Rosa managed a best of 17th place on four occasions, but it wasn’t enough to lift him off the bottom of the drivers’ table, or probably convince other teams that he is worth a punt for 2013 now that HRT has folded.