Ricardo Zonta is a Brazilian racing driver, who competed in 36 Formula One races between 1999 and 2005. Before racing in Formula One, Zonta achieved titles in Formula 3, Formula 3000 and FIA GT championship. In his post-F1 career, he focused to GT and sports cars, but mostly raced in the Brazilian Stock Car championship.
Racing debut at the age of 11
Ricardo Luiz Zonta was born on March 23rd, 1976, in Curitiba, Brazil. Zonta began racing with go-karts in 1987. In 1988, he was the runner-up in the Curitiba Karting Championship and in 1991, he finally won the title. He continued karting until 1992, before progressing to the Formula Chevrolet in 1993, in which he took 6th place in the final standings.
The next step was the Brazilian Formula 3 in 1994. In debuting F3 season, Ricardo finished 5th, driving Honda-powered Dallara F394 of Cesario Formula team. Next year he won both the Brazilian and South American Formula 3 Championships, still driving for Cesario Formula.
Formula 3000 champion ahead Montoya
In 1996, Ricardo moved to Europe and competed in the International Formula 3000 Championship for Draco Racing. He won two of ten races and finished fourth in the classification. The same year, he became the first Brazilian to compete in the FIA International Touring Car Championship. He drove AMG-Mercedes C-Class for Warsteiner Team.
In 1997, Zonta won the Formula 3000 championship, driving Lola T96/50 (Zytek) for Super Nova team. With three wins and five podiums he won the title ahead Juan Pablo Montoya. Zonta's performances earned him a job of the official test driver in the Jordan F1 team. In 1998, Ron Dennis signed Zonta as test driver for McLaren.
1998 FIA GT Champion with Mercedes
While he was waiting for a full-time job in Formula One, Zonta competed with AMG Mercedes in the 1998 FIA GT Championship and won the title, together with Klaus Ludwig. They were driving Mercedes CLK GTR and won five of ten races. Zonta participated with CLK GTR at 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans, alongside Christophe Bouchut and Jean-Marc Gounon. They retired early in the race, after just 31 laps.
Ricardo debuted in F1 with BAR
In October 1998, the new FIA GT champion signed a Formula One arrangement with the British American Racing (BAR) F1 team. His team-mate was the 1997 F1 champion Jacques Villeneuve. Zonta debuted in Formula One at Australian Grand Prix, driving BAR 01 car with Supertec V10 engine. He qualified 19th but didn't finish the race, due to a gearbox failure, with nine laps to go.
Zonta injured his foot in an accident during practice for the Brazilian Grand Prix, the second round of the championship, and he was forced to miss Brazilian race and three more races afterwards. He was replaced by Mika Salo. After returning back Zonta recorded six retirements and finished five races. His best result was 8th place in the European Grand Prix at Nürburgring.
Zonta earned F1 points at three races
Zonta remained with BAR for the 2000 season. The drivers were the same but the team had a new Honda V10 engine and results were better. Zonta scored his first world championship point in the season-opening race in Australia. He later finished on sixth place two more times, at Monza and Indianapolis. With three championship points, he took 14th place in the drivers' standings, which remained the best F1 season in his career.
In 2001, BAR fired Zonta and hired Olivier Panis. Zonta became the third driver for the B&H Jordan team, replacing Heinz-Harald Frentzen for two races, at Canadian and German Grand Prix. Zonta finished seventh in Canada, narrowly missed the point, and retired at Hockenheimring.
World Series champion in 2002
In 2002, Zonta switched the focus on the World Series by Nissan, driving for Gabord Competicion. He dominantly won the title with nine wins in 14 races. In 2003, he was back in Formula One, as a test driver for Toyota.
He stayed with Panasonic Toyota Racing team in 2004 and he got a chance to drive when Cristiano da Matta was fired. Zonta participated in five Grands Prix races. He showed good performance at Belgian Grand Prix, driving on fourth place before he stopped due to an engine failure. Although Toyota hired Jarno Trulli as a new driver, they allowed Zonta to compete in his home race, the Brazilian Grand Prix, which he finished in 13th.
Participated in the legendary 2005 US Grand Prix
The 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix remained Zonta's last Formula One race. He was so close to one more Formula One start, but it was the legendary US Grand Prix at Indianapolis in which seven teams withdrew because of problems with Michelin tyres. Zonta was a test driver for Toyota in 2005 and he was supposed to replace an injured Ralf Schumacher at US Grand Prix, but he didn't start the race.
Le Mans podium alongside Montagny and Klien
He spent one more year with Toyota as a test driver but he didn't race in 2006. In 2007, he signed for Renault as a test driver but in the same time he returned to Brazil to compete in the Stock Car championship. Zonta drove Peugeot 307 of L&M Racing in 12 races and finished 29th in the classification.
He had a one-off appearance in the 2007 Grand American Rolex Series, driving Pontiac-Riley prototype for Krohn Racing. The deal was expanded in 2008 and Zonta competed the full-season with Krohn Racing. With two podiums in 14 races, he finished 8th in the classficiation.
In the same year Zonta went to Le Mans for the second time in his career and reached the overall podium. He was driving #9 Peugeot 908 HDi alongside Franck Montagny and Christian Klien. They finished third overall, behind Audi R10 TDI and #7 Peugeot.
Rich racing program across the world
Zonta also continued to race in the 2008 Brazilian Stock Car championship, with his own team Panasonic Racing. In 2009, Zonta again had a double program, with Krohn Racing in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series and with RZ Racing in the Stock Car championship. He won two races in America (New Jersey and Watkins Glen) and finished 17th in the final standings.
In 2010, Zonta expanded his racing activities to GT races. He was driving Reiter's Lamborghini Murcielago in the FIA GT1 World Championship. After winning three races, alongside Frank Kechele, Zonta finished 8th in the championship. In the 2010 Brazilian GT3 Championship, he was driving Lamborghini Gallardo of Scuderia 111. In the Stock Car championship Zonta switched to Chevrolet and competed the full season for RZ Corinthians Motorsport, finishing 11th in the final classification.
Runner-up in the Brazilian Copa de Marcas
In 2011, Zonta again raced mostly in Brazil, driving Chevrolet for Crystal Racing Team in the Stock Car championship. He scored his first stock car podium and finished 15th in the championship. In the FIA GT1 World Championship, Zonta participated in six races with Nissan GT-R of Sumo Power GT team, but without notable results.
In 2012, Ricardo Zonta continued to compete in the Stock Car championship and debuted in the Brazilian Copa de Marcas. Driving RZ Motorsport's Toyota Corolla XRS, he won three of 16 races and finished as runner-up, behind Ricardo Mauricio.
First stock car win at Interlagos
In 2013, Zonta added one more international competition to his racing program. He continued to race in two Brazilian championships but also represented Brazil in the FIA GT Series. He drove BMW Z4 GT3 for BMW Sports Trophy Team Brasil, together with Sergio Jimenez. Zonta finished 15th in the championship.
Zonta reached his first Stock Car victory in the last race of 2013 season, at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace (Interlagos, Sao Paulo). From 2014 onwards, he has been focused on Stock Car racing.