Although often unspectacular, Heinz-Harald Frentzen developed a knack for being one of the most underrated drivers in the field in his 10 seasons in Formula 1 driving for Sauber, Williams, Jordan, Prost and Arrows before hanging up his gloves in 2003.
After getting a good set of results in karting, German Formula 3, F3000 and the World Sports Car Prototype Championship with Mercedes (alongside a certain Michael Schumacher), Peter Sauber gave Frentzen his Formula 1 début in 1994, putting him alongside Karl Wendlinger. After the death of Senna in the 3rd round of the championship, Frank Williams was so impressed with the German, that he wanted to make him Senna’s replacement, Frentzen declined the offer, and held the team together after Wendlinger’s horrendous crash in Practice at Monaco just one race afterwards. He even gave them their first podium finish at the 1995 Italian Grand Prix.
After 3 years at Sauber where he learnt the ropes of F1, Frentzen did end up at Williams for 1997, taking the departing Damon Hill’s spot next to Jacques Villeneuve. It was in this season he got his first of 3 F1 wins, this time at Imola. But he often couldn’t translate his qualifying form into race pace, but ended up 2nd in the championship, due to Schumacher’s infamous exclusion. For 1998, Williams lost Renault engines, the Mecachrome was unreliable and slow, and Frentzen accumulated just 17 points, and left for Jordan at the end of the year.
1999 was arguably Frentzen’s greatest season in the sport. With his Mugen-Honda powered Jordan, Frentzen took 2 wins, none more so spectacular than at Magny-Cours in the wet. At the season end, he stood in 3rd position, behind Irvine and World Champion Häkkinen.
Unfortunately for the German, the following 2 years were not quite as fruitful. In both 2000 and 2001 the Jordan was slower and unreliable and lost the Honda works engine to BAR. This culminated in Eddie Jordan and Frentzen clashing, leading to his sacking. So, he went to cash-strapped Prost in exchange for Jean Alesi, where he couldn’t achieve much. Just a 4th place in qualifying at Belgium, which was snatched away from him due a stall at the race start.
In January 2002, Prost folded, and he was left without a drive, but after Jos Verstappen took a year out of the sport, Arrows needed a driver to partner Enrique Bernoldi. But Arrows folded after just 10 rounds of the 2002 season, again leaving Frentzen without a drive for the 3rd time in 2 years.
For his last season, Frentzen went back to Sauber, and even scored a podium at the 2003 US Grand Prix, a year after his one-off drive for them at the same track.
Formula One results
Years competed: 1994-2003
Teams: Sauber, Williams, Jordan, Prost, Arrows
Best Result: 1st (x3)
Highest Standing: 2nd (1997)