“As for Tuero, it would have been scary. I don’t like to see these guys out there with so little experience. Imagine it: even if he didn’t qualify, he’d be getting in the way during qualifying. And if he did qualify, then he’d definitely be lapped plenty. He’d have really needed to have his wits about him. To be honest, it annoys me, people like that, with zilch credibility.” – Martin Brundle, 1998
If, like myself, you were born in the late nineties or at least started watching F1 around that time period, you might recognise some of the following names: Tarso Marques, Pedro Diniz, Ricardo Rosset and moving onto the 21st century, Gaston Mazzacane, Tomas Enge, Alex Yoong and even a young Fernando Alonso. All these drivers have varying levels of talent it’s fair to say but all have one thing in common; starting off F1 life as a ‘pay driver’. There’s no shame in it, as the likes of Alonso and even Michael Schumacher will show you – but it doesn’t exactly bring you into the sport in a good way.
Pundits and fans are rather thinking “how long will his cheque run for” rather than wondering if you could actually be quite adept behind the wheel.
A name missing from the above list though is Esteban Tuero, a (once) young man from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Tuero didn’t always have an interest in motorsport, that was rather forced upon him by his family, so he tried his hand at it, racing in karts until the age of 14.
He worked his way up the ladder, through Formulas Renault and Honda, then onto F2000 and to the F3 championship, where he decided halfway through 1996 that he’d prefer to be in F3000, the more popular feeder series to F1 at the time.
During this spell, there were plenty of eyes on Tuero. Benetton were supposedly interested in his services, but instead the Argentinian opted to join perennial minnows Minardi, as a test driver at the age of just 18.
Unfortunately, his time in F3000 and Formula Nippon over in Japan were disastrous, but allowed him to earn the golden ticket for Formula 1; a Super Licence (well sort of) .
And so, he was thrown in at the deep end to partner Prost reject Shinji Nakano for Minardi in 1998 at 19; making him the then third youngest driver (now sixth) ever to compete in the sport, behind fellow South American Ricardo Rodriguez and New Zealander Mike Thackwell.
His start to F1 wasn’t bad, qualifying a respectable (given his machinery) 17th on debut, ahead of Nakano and he even managed to finish in the top 10 at Imola that year. Somewhere in between those two events came his home Grand Prix, right in his own back yard, Buenos Aires – the last Argentine Grand Prix held.
His race there rather developed into a bit of a calamity, Minardi getting his tyres muddled and the fuel hose refusing to lock in during his pit stop, costing him 42 seconds – around 5 times longer than a normal fuel stop at the time…
To top it off, he lost the car under braking for Turn 1, slamming into the wall. And that’s when the Argentinian media started to jump on his back – berating his poor results throughout the year – not taking into account that he was in the slowest car (when it was working, that is) and not the most experienced.
In fact Tuero finished just a quarter of his races in 1998 – his best result being eighth, not high enough to score points back then. Additionally, if the police hadn’t woken him in his hotel room, he’d have missed Qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix.
At the final round in Japan, he ended his year with a bang – launching over the top of a fuming Tora Takagi under braking for the Casio Chicane. In this crash he suffered vertebrae damage (actually losing some height as a result), which would have made it hard to drive a Formula 1 car anyway.
After spending a winter being vilified by the Argentine press, Tuero had had enough. With Giancarlo Minardi ready and waiting to sigh Tuero on for another year to partner Marc Gene, the 20 year-old stormed into his office and refused to sign, reportedly saying “Don’t call me. Thank you, but I’m not coming back.”
Tuero retired from single seaters immediately afterwards and after a few fruitless years in the Argentine Touring Car 2000 series, earned a spot in Ferrari’s 2008 GT squad alongside fellow Argentine, now WTCC champion Jose Maria Lopez.
Now, his whereabouts are relatively unknown. Esteban mate, if you’re out there…
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