Another legendary name who celebrated his 50th birthday on May 18th, so before we go any further, Happy Birthday HHF.
Heinz was born on 18 May 1967 in the West German city of Mönchengladbach. His father, a German undertaker raced in the 1950’s and that is where the motorsport connection is established.
Frentzen began karting at the age of twelve, after his father bought him his first kart, and made an extraordinarily successful start. In 1981, aged fourteen, Frentzen won the German Junior Kart Championship. Two years later, Frentzen entered the CIK Asia Pacific Championships in Australia driving a Dino and in 1984, he finished runner-up in the 100cc class. He was funded and supported by his father who also acted as both team boss and head mechanic.
In 1986, Frentzen moved into car racing by entering the German Formula Ford 2000 series. After two seasons in Formula Ford he was runner-up in the 1987 series, despite not participating in all races. Frentzen progressed to German Formula Opel Lotus in 1988 in the Junior Team of former Formula One driver Jochen Mass, who had been impressed by Frentzen’s performances in Formula Ford. Frentzen was champion of the German series in his first year and his team-mate Marco Werner finished third in the championship. He also participated in the Formula Opel Lotus Euroseries, where he finished 6th in the championship, scoring 56 points.
The next step was the German Formula 3 Championship in 1989, where Frentzen competed against many future stars including Michael Schumacher and Karl Wendlinger. At the time, there was a big push by Bernie Ecclestone to have a German driver in the Formula One World Championship, so the ONS (the German National Motorsports committee) decided to support both Frentzen and Schumacher. The ONS put up the reward of a Formula One test to the driver who first would take a victory in a Formula 3 race. This ultimately ended up being Schumacher, in a controversial race at Zeltweg, Austria in which Frentzen claimed Schumacher had forced him off the track. However, Schumacher did not get the Formula One test drive anyway; Karl Wendlinger won the German Formula 3 Championship and Frentzen became joint runner-up with Schumacher (the two finishing on identical points totals).
In 1990, he entered the International Formula 3000 series driving for Eddie Jordan Racing and was partnered by Eddie Irvine. Frentzen finished the season 16th in the championship, scoring 3 points. In the same year, he also participated in the World Sports Prototype Championship driving a Mercedes-Benz C11 scoring one podium and six points. In 1991, Frentzen continued to drive in International Formula 3000 moving to Vortex Motorsport and scored five points.
His first Formula One drive came in 1994 by Peter Sauber in a Mercedes powered car, as team mate to Wendlinger. So impressive was he that Frank Williams asked him to replace Ayrton Senna at Williams after the Brazilian’s death, but Frentzen chose to remain with Sauber and his performances helped to maintain the team’s momentum after Karl Wendlinger was seriously injured at Monaco. The following year in the now Ford-powered Sauber he got his first podium finish at the Italian Grand Prix and ended the year 9th in the Drivers Championship. However, the 1996 Sauber was unreliable, with many races ending in retirements and Frentzen dropping down the order, though he was one of only four drivers running at the end of that year’s chaotic, rain-soaked Monaco Grand Prix. The race was won by Olivier Panis.
For the 1997 season, Frentzen replaced Damon Hill at the Williams-Renault team that had won the drivers’ championship three times since 1992. At the first race of the season, the Australian Grand Prix, Frentzen went into the lead at the first corner and remained there until his first pit stop. He was running third late in the race when a brake disc exploded, throwing him off the circuit and into retirement. He came back strongly in round four to take his first win at San Marino but the season was disappointing; after the family-atmosphere at Sauber Frentzen found life at Williams difficult, in particular having a troubled relationship with Patrick Head. Despite qualifying for many races on the front row he had a tendency to drift back in the race, usually finishing well behind team mate Jacques Villeneuve. However, because of Michael Schumacher’s disqualification from the driver’s championship Frentzen ended up second in the championship with 42 points to team mate Villeneuve’s 81 having scored just a single win to Villeneuve’s seven.
The next year Williams lost the Renault engine instead using a rebranded version called Mecachrome, they also lost Adrian Newey to McLaren and found themselves on the back foot. Nevertheless Frentzen started well finishing third in the opening race. However the might of McLaren and Ferrari shone through and it was obvious that Williams would struggle to keep pace.
The Australian Grand Prix was the highlight of Frentzen’s year as the Williams lost pace. He ended up with just 17 points for his efforts, his team mate on just four more. Frentzen and Villeneuve were replaced by Alex Zanardi and Ralf Schumacher for 1999.
In 1999 Frentzen moved to Jordan in a straight swap with Ralf Schumacher and enjoyed probably the best season of his career in the Mugen-Honda powered car, with two race wins including a memorable French Grand Prix and scoring points in the majority of races. Frentzen finished third in the Driver Championship and was regarded by many as the driver of the year.
2000 and 2001 were critical years as Honda also began to supply the BAR team, resulting in a race between the teams as to who would secure the regular engine supply. In 2000 Frentzen managed two podiums, which were the best results for the team, but Jordan still finished down the grid and, crucially, behind BAR. After some low points finishes, injury, disagreements about the technical direction of the team (Frentzen reportedly offered to pay for the changes to fix the car, out of his own pocket) and then a string of retirements half way through the 2001 season, Jordan sacked Frentzen and replaced him with Jean Alesi. Frentzen took Alesi’s place at the struggling Prost team, and managed to qualify a brilliant fourth at Spa, before the outfit collapsed financially at the end of the season.
2002 saw Frentzen drive for the Arrows team. He put in some impressive performances, scoring points on two occasions and outpacing both the Jaguars who ran the same engine. But the team went bankrupt in August and Frentzen was released from his contract. Back with Sauber for 2003, after a one-off drive replacing Felipe Massa at the 2002 United States Grand Prix, he managed a mini-renaissance, proving himself more than a match for his highly rated team mate Nick Heidfeld and even scoring a podium finish in the penultimate race of the year in the United States.
After that he took part in DTM with Opel and also took drives in Speedcar Series (2008/2009) as well as driving for Aston Martin in Le Mans 24 hour.
Interesting enough in 2008 he built the HHF Hybrid Concept Car which he entered in the 24 Hours Nürburgring with his own Team. The chassis was a bought Gumpert Apollo road car with a 3.3 litre V8 bi-turbo with 520 hp and an electric motor with approximately 136 hp. Although they completed the race, the results were not classified due to mechanical issues.
He has won the 2011 Race of Champions and also continues to race with ADAC GT Masters.
Video tribute here.
At Monaco here.
HHF with Schumacher and Wendlinger at Jerez testing here.
More featured drivers here.
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