Schooled in the same cut-and-thrust Formula Nippon environment as his European contemporaries Eddie Irvine and Ralf Schumacher, Barcelona-born Pedro Martinez de la Rosa emerged as a Formula 1 contender after winning the illustrious Japanese single-seater championship in 1997.
As with many grand prix rookies, the start of his Formula 1 career was beset by the sorts of problems that afflict many small teams. Stints at Arrows and Jaguar yielded but a handful of hard-won points, but began to reveal a driver with the intelligence and capacity to pull more from a car than perhaps it truly deserved.
These abilities didn’t go unnoticed by McLaren, who offered the Spaniard a role as a test driver at the start of the 2003 season. Pedro would work alongside Austrian Alex Wurz, beginning a long and fruitful partnership as the pair worked tirelessly, racking up thousands of test-miles together.
Pedro proved excellent in the role, heading McLaren’s mid-2000s resurgence as it developed the stillborn MP4-18 into the uncompetitive ’19 and, finally, the MP4-20, which would narrowly miss out on the 2005 world championship. When Wurz left for a race seat elsewhere, Pedro assumed greater responsibility, working at both the test track and in the simulator to create truly integrated, race-winning cars.
With his easy charm and relaxed smile, Pedro’s was always a warm presence at the races, and he proved instrumental in assisting Lewis Hamilton through both his rookie and title-winning seasons with McLaren.
However, with testing becoming increasingly restricted by new regulations, Pedro’s seat-time grew smaller and smaller, and he jumped ship to Sauber for 2010. A brief return to McLaren, and an unsuccessful year with the short-lived Spanish HRT team preceded a stint as test and development driver for Ferrari.
As a racer, a tester, and now as a TV pundit, de la Rosa continues to live and breathe Formula 1, and remains a much-loved and respected friend of everybody at McLaren.