Karl Wendlinger is a racing driver from Austria who has competed in the various categories of motorsport between 1987 and 2016. Early in a career he was Austrian and German Formula 3 championship but his greatest success is a victory in the 1999 FIA GT Championship when he was driving a Chrysler Viper GTS-R for Team Oreca. He participated nine times at 24 Hours of Le Mans, scoring two GTS class victories in 1999 and 2000.
Wendlinger also recorded 41 starts in Formula One World Championship with four different teams between 1991 and 1995. He missed F1 podiums in several occasions finishing in the fourth place.
From karting to Formula 3
Karl Wendlinger was born on December 20, 1968 in Kufstein, Tyrol, and as many of the drivers he made his first steps in racing driving a karting.
His best results in karting were the first place in the German POP-Kart Championship in 1984, and second place in the Austrian Kart Championship in 1986.
In 1987 Karl switched to Formula Ford 1600 and won the national championship in the first attempt while in the German championship he was sixth overall. In the following year, Wendlinger started to compete in Formula 3 and again won the Austrian championship while in the Germany he was 11th in the standings. Finally, in 1989 the Austrian focused solely on the German championship what proved to be a good decision as he won the title.
DTM debut with Mercedes in 1989
After that success, Wendlinger became Mercedes Junior Team driver and also debuted in DTM series, driving for the team ran by Helmut Marko. In 1990, Karl combined his duties in DTM with driving in International Formula 3000 but the results weren’t notable at all. He also competed in the FIA World Sportscar Championship in which he was paired with Jochen Mass. The two won the race at Spa before finishing 5th in the final classification.
Le Mans and Formula 1 debuts
Wendlinger continued to race in Formula 3000 in the following year and slightly improved, taking 12th position in the Drivers’ Championship. However, the most important moments for the Austrian driver in 1991 were debuts at Le Mans and in Formula 1. Driving for Team Sauber Mercedes alongside Michael Schumacher and Fritz Kreutzpointner, the team took 5th place at Circuit de la Sarthe while in the Formula 1 he got an opportunity to drive in the last two races of the season. The debut in Japan ended ingloriously after Wendlinger was involved in a big crash while in Australian Grand Prix he was 20th, two laps behind the winner Ayrton Senna.
The Austrian driver remained in Formula 1 in 1992, driving for the same team which was renamed to March F1. The team struggled financially, so Wendlinger and Paul Belmondo were driving a slightly modified car from the previous year. Considering that, the 4th place won in the Canadian Grand Prix was a huge achievement for Karl who was 12th at the end of the season.
Heavy crash in Monaco slowed Karl's career
In 1993 Wendlinger joined newly formed Sauber F1 team and had a relatively good season. The start was disappointing after Karl retired from the opening five races but later in the season scored points on four occasions with 4th place at Monza as the highlight of the year.
He stayed with the team for 1994 and the start was really good as he won points in two of three opening races, including famous San Marino Grand Prix at Imola during which were killed Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna. The following race was in Monaco and Wendlinger was full of confidence. Unfortunately, he had a huge crash during practice. His Sauber hit the wall and Wendlinger had bad head and neck injuries. He was in a coma for several weeks and missed the rest of the season.
Departure from F1
The Austrian driver managed to recover before the start of 1995 season but Sauber decided to replace him before Monaco Grand Prix due to poor form. Wendlinger was given another chance in the last two races of the year but he hasn’t met the expectations and that was the end of his Formula 1 career.
Probably a bit disappointed after a failure in the most prominent competition, Wendlinger continued his career in other racing categories. In 1996, Karl’s best achievement was 3rd place overall and 2nd in the GT1 class in 24 Hours of Le Mans, driving for Porsche factory team alongside Yannick Dalmas and Scott Goodyear.
Class wins at Le Mans and Daytona were the peak of Wendlinger's career
In the following two years, he failed to finish the race at Le Mans but had pretty good results in the Italian Super Touring Car Championship and FIA GT Championship. In 1999, Wendlinger won Le Mans in GTS class, driving for Viper Team Oreca alongside Dominique Dupuy and Olivier Beretta. The trio repeated that success in 2000 and that was the peak of Wendlinger’s career. His last success in the most prestigious race in the world was in 2001 when he finished 3rd in LMP900 class as a driver of Oreca team with Pedro Lamy and Beretta.
In a meantime, the Austrian spent a couple of good seasons racing in the US. In 2000 he scored a class win in 24 Hours of Daytona. In 2002, Karl returned to DTM, behind the wheel of Abt Sportsline’s Audi, but again failed to impress, scoring points in only 2 out of 20 races.
FIA GT Championship runner-up in 2007
Over the years, Wendlinger has appeared in various competitions and best results had in FIA GT Championship. In 2007, driving Jetalliance Racing’s Aston Martin DBR9, he finished the season as a runner-up, winning 3 out of 10 races alongside Ryan Sharp. In the following year, he made his last appearance at Le Mans with Aston Martin Racing and finished 4th in GT1 class, driving alongside Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Andrea Piccini.
Wendlinger scored good results in various championships
Already a veteran, Wendlinger hasn’t lost his passion to racing and continued his career driving at times in various competitions like Le Mans Series, Blancpain GT Series, 24h Series and ADAC GT Masters.
Wendlinger lives in Thiersee in Tyrol with his wife Sophie and their two kids. Karl’s hobbies are winter sports like skiing and ice hockey, and he also likes to read books written by John Irving.