There are drivers in the history of Formula 1 who didn’t achieve a lot in terms of results – still they are remembered for one or another reason. Mika Salo was called in as a substitution for Ferrari when Michael Schumacher broke both of his legs in 1999.
Mika, how did you get in the picture after Schumacher’s accident at Silverstone?
It was all quite in a hurry. I found myself put in a Ferrari and was sent out to race without any testing.
Did you at least expect a call from Maranello?
Basically, I was the only free pilot at that time which meant I did have some expectations. However, Luca Badoer was Ferrari’s official test driver and he would have been a logical choice but for some reason the management didn’t opt for him. Therefore, it was still a surprise they actually called me.
What was the mood in the Scuderia?
Pretty pleasant, I liked it. After our agreement, President Montezemolo gave me a tour of the factory. There was a big room where all the people gathered to great me and I was introduced. Everybody was happy and, of course, they tried to help as much as they could. On the other hand, Michael was also very kind to me, we spoke a lot on the phone. He gave me advice and instructed me whom to address with certain problems.
Your first Ferrari race was Austria; however, the main issue became Germany where you should have won but you moved sideways to let Irvine win. How did you feel?
Well, I was hired to help Ferrari win the Championship. This was evident for me from the very first moment. There is nothing to regret about because it was simply my task. Before my first race, we agreed if a situation like this would come I had to move over. Evidently, I hoped that it would never happen but unfortunately – or not unfortunately – it did occur.
Then you had quite a disastrous Hungarian Grand Prix, starting 18th and earning no points. What happened?
Tell you the truth, together with the team, we tried many things during the practices but only a few worked – this is the explanation for this rather weak performance. One race later Spa was better and then, in Monza I was up on the podium again. All in all, I find it quite a good result from a declared No. 2 driver who was a substitute!
Michael was also very kind to me, we spoke a lot on the phone. He gave me advice and instructed me whom to address with certain problems.
Schumacher returned before the end of the season to get back in his seat. What came after it in your relation with Ferrari?
When I had the chance to drive for Toyota, I talked about it with Ferrari. After the Toyota story was over, I got another call from Jean Todt and discussed the GT programme. I can’t complain that I was forgotten!
In hindsight, what kind of feeling it is to be part of Ferrari’s history?
Obviously, I’m proud of it. Before Ferrari I drove only for smaller teams. Thanks to Ferrari I could experience what’s it like to be part of a huge and influential team. Additionally, I had my own small contribution to Ferrari winning the Constructor’s Championship in 1999, for the first time after more than 15 years!