- May 18, 1967
- Not Active
Heinz-Harald Frentzen is a former racing driver from Germany who had competed in various competitions but is best known for his achievements in Formula 1. He recorded 156 F1 starts between 1994 and 2003, winning eight times and finishing best as a vice-champion in 1997.
He was the offspring of a generation of talented German drivers led by Michael Schumacher. Frentzen always was a valuable team driver with an ability to make excellent car setup by himself. Unfortunately, he never was able to express his talent to the full extent and the answer to the question why it was so is still unanswered.
Karting and Formula Ford days
Heinz-Harald Frentzen was born in May 1967, in Monchengladbach, and his childhood was connected with motorsports through his father who was a racer, becoming a great enthusiast and a big support to his son who passed through all karting racing categories until 1985. When he was 18, Frentzen moved to single seaters and entered the German Formula Ford 2000 series. After two seasons in the series and the runner-up rank in 1987, he was ready for further progress.
Jochen Mass spotted Frentzen's talent
In 1988, Frentzen debuted in German Formula Opel Lotus, driving for the team run by the former Formula 1 driver Jochen Mass who spotted Frentzen’s talent earlier. After winning the title in his first attempt, Frentzen continued to move up through the ranks. In 1989, he was ready to face the biggest challenge in his career thus far – the German Formula 3. Heinz-Harald competed against many future stars of the world’s racing, at the first place against Michael Schumacher. Both drivers were lucky enough to get support of the German National Motorsports Committee in their push for a place in Formula 1.
Battles with Schumacher and a year in Japan
Interestingly, Frentzen and Schumacher both finished as vice-champions that year, losing the battle against the Austrian Karl Wendlinger. Frentzen had to be patient in his chase for a place in Formula 1, so in 1990, he had competed in the International Formula 3000 Series but earned only three points, while in the following year, as the Vortex Motorsport driver, the German scored five points.
In 1992, Frentzen made a debut in 24 Hours of Le Mans, driving Euro Racing's Lola-Judd C1 class prototype and taking sixth place. Later that year, he left Europe to compete in the Japanese Formula 3000. Driving for Nova Team, Frentzen had some decent results and was ready to fulfill his dream – to drive in Formula 1 after Sauber gave him a chance in 1994.
Formula 1 debut with Sauber in 1994
Interestingly, Frentzen became a teammate of his old acquaintance Karl Wendlinger. Despite many retirements, Heinz-Harald left a lasting impression in his rookie year. In some races, he was so impressive that Frank Williams called him to immediately replace Ayrton Senna who was killed that year in the crash at Imola. However, Frentzen opted to stay with Sauber, not only in 1994, but for another two years, marked by many ups and downs.
Impressive results with Williams
Williams welcomed Frentzen in 1997 with a wish to attack the championship title and the German almost did it. Well, better to say he finished as a runner-up but was too far from the champion Jacques Villeneuve. Anyway, Frentzen had an impressive season. He scored his first F1 victory at Imola and another six podium finishes, surpassing the ones like David Coulthard, Gerhard Berger, Mika Hakkinen and Jean Alesi.
The following year wasn’t nearly as good as the previous one. His relation with the team owner Frank Williams deteriorated which reflected on the results. Frentzen had only one podium finish and was 7th at the end of the year, his last with the Williams team.
Move to the Jordan team
In 1999, the German racer had moved to the Jordan team as part of the exchange of the two sides, with Ralf Schumacher going the opposite way. His first year with the new team was one of the best seasons in the career of the Monchengladbach-born racer. That year, Frentzen triumphed at the Grand Prix races in France and Italy, had four more podiums and earned points on a regular basis to finish 3rd in the Drivers’ championship which was an excellent result and promotion for the ambitious Irish team. Unfortunately, the triumph in Italy was his last win in Formula 1.
However, Frentzen couldn’t repeat those results in 2000. Only two podiums, third places in Brazil and in the US were enough only for the 9th place at the end of he season. The things worsened in 2001 when the team suffered a lot, mainly because of inappropriate Honda engines. Frentzen tried to help his team, offering even his own money for technical improvements of the cars, but he was sacked and replaced with the veteran Jean Alesi. In the last five races that year, Heinz-Harald drove for the struggling Prost team to finish 13th in the championship.
Video : Tribute to Frentzen's F1 career
Three seasons with Opel in DTM
That wasn’t the end of Frentzen’s Formula 1 career, but how things have turned out, maybe it should have been the end. He spent another two seasons in F1, driving for Arrows and Sauber. He had a couple of decent results, including 3rd place in the US Grand Prix in 2003, his final year in the series.
Farewell to Formula 1 has not been the end of Frentzen’s career. He returned to Germany and entered the popular DTM series, driving for the Opel team. Unfortunately, Opel Vectra wasn’t competitive enough and struggled against more powerful cars of the other German manufacturers. Frentzen finished 14th in 2004 but improved in the following year when he was 8th in the standings, having two podium finishes. His last year in DTM Frentzen spent with Abt Sportsline team, driving an Audi and finishing 7th, again claiming two podium finishes. He left the team at the end of the season, claiming he hasn't proper support.
Setting up his own hybrid car
Frentzen sat out the season of 2007 while in 2008 he surprised many, driving an HHF Hybrid Concept Car made by himself and based on Apollo road car at 24 Hours of Nurburgring. That year, he also competed for Aston Martin Racing in 24 Hours of Le Mans, driving alongside Wendlinger and finishing 4th in class and 16th overall. Later, in 2011, Frentzen took victory in a special one-off ‘Race Of Champions Legends’ race against Hans-Joachim Stuck, Marc Duez, and Stig Blomqvist. Over the years, he remained close with Formula 1, acting as a steward at some races.
In 2012 and 2014, he also appeared in the ADAC GT Masters driving for Callaway Competition, but this episode hasn’t been successful.
Heinz-Harald Frentzen lives in Monaco with his wife Tanja and their three daughters.
Photos: adac-motorsport.de, frentzen.de, f1-facts.com, tenamp.com.