There was always an outward effervescence about Gerhard Berger when he was away from the intense business of the F1 pit lane and sometimes this concealed the sheer steel and determination which lurked close to the surface of this intensely competitive Austrian’s chacracter.
Blooded in the high pressure political environment which was the Ferrari team of the mid-1980s, he then faced the unenviable task of succeeding Alain Prost in the McLaren-Honda squad as team-mate to the legendary Ayrton Senna at the start of 1990.
With F3 and touring car experience under his belt, this son of an Austrian haulage contractor breezed into F1 at the wheel of an ATS-BMW in the summer of 1984. He failed to finish on his debut outing in front of his home crowd at Osterreichring, but followed that up with a fine sixth at Monza although he did not collect the championship point which normally went with it as he was not an officially registered title contender.
In 1985 he drove for the Arrows-BMW squad then switched to the emergent Benetton-BMW team in 1986, winning the Mexican Grand Prix and netting a three year Ferrari contract on the strength of that and a number of consistently good performances. In ’87 he won the Japanese GP at Suzuka and the Australian GP at Adelaide, then in 1988 he was the only non-McLaren driver to win a race with a lucky victory at Monza ahead of team-mate Michele Alboreto.
This was followed by a rotten year in 1989 – now partnered by Nigel Mansell – before he joined McLaren where he would spend three years trying to come to terms with Ayrton Senna as his team-mate. Berger became one of Ayrton’s closest friends, always telling the Brazilian his opinion in candid, take-it-or-leave it style. Being paired with a genius like Senna was never going to be easy, but Berger made the best of it.
After leaving McLaren he returned to Ferrari for another three year stint followed by two more years at the wheel of a Benetton-Renault, scoring his last F1 victory at Hockenheim ’97, poignantly only a few days after his father was killed in a light aircraft accident.