Stéphane Sarrazin

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Last updated: 5-August-2002


Before Formula One Formula One After Formula One

Before F1

Sarrazin one of the new breed of dedicated F1 testing pilots

There are Grand Prix racing drivers, there are touring car drivers, there are sports car drivers, and there are drag and rally racers. But in recent times, a new breed of driver has emerged - the professional Formula One test driver. Nicola Larini started the trend by being Ferrari's long-term test driver in the early 1990s, a mantle since taken up by Luca Badoer. The likes of Marc Gené and Alexander Wurz, who in 2003 will be McLaren tester for the third straight year, seem set to follow in their footsteps.

Another man who can be added to that list is Stéphane Sarrazin, from Barjac in France. Unlike the others named above, Sarrazin has never had an F1 race contract, but in 2002 is in his fourth season as a tester. He makes it onto this site by virtue of one single Grand Prix start when he substituted, ironically, for Badoer in the 1999 Brazilian GP. Otherwise he seems destined to remain in the ranks of the unheralded test drivers who never get as much credit as they deserve for the car development work they do.


Plenty of success in France: FRenault Champ, but F3 is a shade tougher

Coming from a racing family, Sarrazin was taught how to race by his father, René. Five seasons in karts in France culminated in Stéphane becoming both French Junior champion and French National champion in 1991. After then winning the Elf Racing School series in 1992, he progressed into French Formula Renault with the Sodemo team. 5th place in his first year demonstrated his potential, and it came as no surprise when Sarrazin won the title in 1994, with 5 wins and 3 poles in his Martini Mk65 Renault.

Needless to say it was time to move up the ladder, and for 1995 Stéphane joined the Winfield team to compete in the cut and thrust of French F3. There he found things a little tougher. In this first full season, he only took one pole position, and with 34 points ranked 8th in the standings in his Dallara F394 Fiat. Staying with the team in 1996, but with a new Dallara F396, he scored another pole and came 2nd at Pau and 3rd at Nogaro, yet after missing four races with health problems he slipped to 9th overall.

1998 was Stéphane's first year of F3000. He raced for Apomatox, and took a win in his first race.
1998 was Stéphane's first year of F3000. He raced for Apomatox, and took a win in his first race.


F3 runner up; takes F3000 debut victory but slips back through the season

After the fairly bright start to his career, his first two seasons in French F3 had been slightly disappointing. But he made amends in 1997 when he went to the LD Autosport team, and in a Dallara F396 Opel took two poles, three wins at Magny-Cours, Nogaro and Croix-en-Ternois, plus five 2nd places at Dijon, Charade (twice) and Val de Vienne (twice), and also a 3rd at Ledenon en route to 2nd position overall with 141 points, just behind champion Patrice Gay.

1998 saw Sarrazin's first season in F3000, the last step before F1. In the standard Lola T96/50 Zytek for the Apomatox team, which was also the junior team for the Prost F1 outfit, Stéphane took the series by storm by winning on his debut at Oschersleben. But then a spate of accidents, retirements and low finishes, with only 4th at Monaco and 2nd at the Hungaroring from pole mixed in, saw him drop to 6th in the final points behind champion Juan-Pablo Montoya, with a score of 19.

Formula One

Takes role as tester, helping to develop the best of the AP machines

It didn't seem to really matter. Sarrazin was snaffled up by Prost to become their test driver for 1999, whilst remaining in F3000 for a second season with the Prost junior team. Of the four cars from the AP01 to the AP04 that was designed under Alain Prost's leadership, the AP02 of 1999 was probably the best, taken to eleven top 10 grid spots and nine points, including a 2nd at the Nurburgring for Jarno Trulli. It was a car that got better as the year progressed, and Stéphane undoubtedly had a role in its improvement.

But early in the year, prior to the Brazilian Grand Prix, regular Minardi driver Luca Badoer broke a bone in his hand in a testing shunt. It happened that ex-Ferrari team manager Cesare Fiorio had just gone moved from Prost to Minardi, and knew of Sarrazin's potential. With Prost's permission, Stéphane was drafted in as Badoer's replacement as team-mate to Marc Gené in the promising Minardi M01, which was using the 1998 Ford Zetec-R V10 engine.

Sarrazin was drafted into the Miardi team when Luca Badoer broke his hand in a testing accident.
Sarrazin was drafted into the Miardi team when Luca Badoer broke his hand in a testing accident.


Does a good job at Interlagos, having never even sat in the M01 before

Without so much as sitting in the Minardi before first free practice, Sarrazin knew the enormity of the task ahead of him, especially since Interlagos with its anti-clockwise layout and massive bumps was perhaps the most physically straining track on the calendar. However, he was far from disgraced. On Friday he was 20th fastest out of 22, ahead of both Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve, although both ex-World Champs had experienced problems.

At the end of the day, Stéphane commented: "I was very excited today when I first got on this car which I didn't know at all. This morning I ran with the main objective to become confident with the M01 and to understand the track which is very difficult. I need to become comfortable to this single-seater because I am tall, and the cockpit is small for my size. I am generally very satisfied as during the day my time improved more and more and I managed to make several laps."


Seriously impressive in qualifying, taking 17th from 21 cars

On Saturday morning Sarrazin got a new seat, and his pedals were adjusted. He was in a more comfortable driving position, and the proof was in the timesheets. In free practice he had leapfrogged ahead of not only Gené, but also the Arrows of Toranosuke Takagi and Pedro de la Rosa. Better still, he was over a second faster than his team-mate, and had dipped below the 1 minute 20 seconds mark, which neither Gené nor the Arrows managed to do.

This was starting to look seriously impressive, and it only got better in qualifying. After Ricardo Zonta had injured himself after crashing his BAR in the morning, Villeneuve sat out qualifying but would start 21st. That left 20 cars to set a time, and although he just missed out on the 80-second mark, his 1:20.016 time was still quicker than de la Rosa, Takagi and Gené, putting him in 17th place, just 3.448s off Mika Hakkinen's pole time, and only one spot behind reigning CART champ Alessandro Zanardi's Williams.

After a great race, a bad crash put Stéphane out of the race on lap 31. It remains his only ever start in Formula 1.
After a great race, a bad crash put Stéphane out of the race on lap 31. It remains his only ever start in Formula 1.


Spectacular impact leaves Sarrazin spinning like a Brazilian top

Completing a race distance would be another matter altogether though, but for a while it seemed like Sarrazin's fantastic debut run would continue. After getting away to a perfect start and staying ahead of his team-mate and the two Arrows, he fended off Villeneuve for a while before the faster BAR inevitably got through. However Stéphane then clung to the Canadian, and with the retirements of Hill, Johnny Herbert, Trulli, David Coulthard and Jean Alesi, Sarrazin found himself up to a great 11th place.

Then it all went horribly wrong. Thanks to a front wing failure on the quick left kinks between the Juncao corner and the start line, his Minardi got onto the marbles, and speared into a tyre wall, rebounding back onto the track in a cloud of smoke gyrating madly, spinning a full six and a half times in a matter of seconds before rolling off the track onto the infield. Legendary commentator Murray Walker exclaimed that he had never seen a car spin that many times before!


Unhappy Stéphane was on his way to something to notable

Stéphane was tremendously lucky to walk away unhurt, and even luckier that he had not been collected by another car as he kept spinning in the middle of the road. Needless to say, he was rather miffed by the whole experience: "I am very disappointed because the race was good. I was aware I could improve my position. Suddenly I don't know what happened on the straight, because my car smashed against the barriers. It is a shame because I could do a good race."

His last sentence was an understatement if ever there was one. Sarrazin was 17th in terms of fastest race laps, faster even than Zanardi, and had shown no signs of fatigue. Up to his crash he was ahead of Wurz's Benetton and Takagi's Arrows, which went on to finish 7th and 8th respectively. Who knows where Stéphane may have ended up, but at any rate it had been a hugely impressive debut, showing that he could cope at the top level. That it remains his one and only Grand Prix start is a travesty.

Sarrazin was kept on by Prost as their tester for 3 years Here he tests the AP04 at Silverstone.
Sarrazin was kept on by Prost as their tester for 3 years Here he tests the AP04 at Silverstone.


Remains tester for following season, the season from hell for Prost

When his F3000 season with the Prost junior team and his full season of testing duties with the Prost F1 outfit finished, he had reason to think that he may have been in line for the Prost race drive in 2000. But Prost decided to go with Nick Heidfeld instead to partner Jean Alesi. Although disappointing for Stéphane, it was probably fair enough. Heidfeld had blitzed everyone including Sarrazin in the 1999 F3000 season, and had the clout of Mercedes behind him.

So Stéphane had to be content with a second season as Prost test driver. Perhaps missing out on the race drive was a blessing in disguise, because 2000 turned out to be Prost's nightmare season, with no points on the board, horrific reliability, internal political warfare and a loveless partnership with Peugeot. The drivers managed to escape with their reputations relatively unscathed, although Sarrazin still succeeded in ruining his thanks to a lacklustre third season in F3000, but more about that later.


Stéphane remains on the sidelines while cashed up others take the race seats

Young hotshots come and go in motorsport, and by 2001 Stéphane was no longer one of the recognised talents knocking on the door of an F1 race drive. That Prost retained him as a tester was a godsend in itself, and who knows, with Heidfeld having left for greener pastures at Sauber perhaps Alain would have given him the race seat beside Alesi were it not for his team's poor financial state which required him to take on a pay-driver, namely Gaston Mazzacane.

Indeed, economics was probably the main thing conspiring against Sarrazin getting another Grand Prix start during 2001, as Prost's driver line-up went through a revolving door. When Mazzacane tripped over a performance clause in his contract, he was replaced by Luciano Burti, who came with the settlement money for being dumped by Jaguar. When he hurt himself at Spa, it was Tomas Enge, complete with Coca Cola money, who filled the breach.

Early in 2002, Toyota needed some experience to be partnered with their inexperienced Aussie tester Ryan Briscoe. Sarrazin was their man.
Early in 2002, Toyota needed some experience to be partnered with their inexperienced Aussie tester Ryan Briscoe. Sarrazin was their man.


Experience helps Sarrazin pick up a job developing the TF102

In the other car, the supposedly more competitive non-pay-driver one, after Alesi not-so-amicably split with his old buddy Prost, it was no surprise that Heinz-Harald Frentzen, just sacked by Jordan, was a better choice. As 2001 ended, Sarrazin looked set to remain in his role for a fourth season, only for Prost to fold in early 2002. Unlike some others, Stéphane had never even been a high profile test driver, and with few options and nothing but open-wheeler experience, his future was looking bleak.

That was until Toyota, with money to burn and serious about development, threw him a lifeline by making him their second tester beside young Australian Ryan Briscoe. With race drivers Mika Salo and Allan McNish, they have made the TF102 a competitive proposition. But sadly it looks as though Stéphane will not be in the frame for a race drive in 2003. At the time of writing, rumours were that Cristiano da Matta was going to come over from Champ Cars, with Sarrazin and Briscoe remaining as test drivers.

After F1

Takes 2nd F3000 win; is later dropped from McLaren junior team

After his one F1 start, and dovetailing with his testing duties, in terms of racing Sarrazin spent 1999 in F3000 with Gauloises Formula. Running the Lola B99/50 Zytek for the first time, he proved to be more consistent than in 1998, but not quite on the pace, resulting a 7th at Silverstone, 6th at the A1-Ring (where he started last), 5ths at Barcelona and Magny-Cours, and 4th at Imola. A surge in form saw him come 3rd at Hockenheim and win at the Hungaroring, leaving him 4th overall with 22 points.

Despite missing out on the Prost race drive for 2000, Stéphane could have been justified in thinking that there was some consolation in him taking Heidfeld's championship-winning F3000 seat at the McLaren junior team, the outfit. Many expected him to slog it out for the title with Bruno Junqueira, but the reality was very different. Junqueira went on to take the title as expected, but Sarrazin never seemed to get his act together, and after six races was dropped in favour of Tomas Scheckter.

Sarrazin passes the chequered flag to take his 2nd F3000 victory, in Hungary 1999. But 2000 would be a different story for the Frenchman.
Sarrazin passes the chequered flag to take his 2nd F3000 victory, in Hungary 1999. But 2000 would be a different story for the Frenchman.


Stuns the rally world with brilliant win for Subaru in final round

Throughout 1999, Sarrazin had proven to be a combative racer but not as good in qualifying, and in 2000 this inadequacy caught up with him. He came 7th at Imola, but could only manage 19th at Silverstone. After finishing 9th at Barcelona, he scored his first points with 5th at the Nurburgring, before retiring at Monaco and taking 6th at Magny-Cours. At this stage his team had had enough, and Stéphane's sacking left him 22nd at the end of the year on count-back, with only three points.

With his career fortunes slipping, Sarrazin drowned his sorrows at the end of 2000 by going off-road, and participating in the Rallye du Var, part of the French Rally Championship, in a Group N Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI with navigator Jean-Julien Renucci. He proved what inherent talent he had by taking out the Group N class, a remarkable achievement in his first rally event. In 2001, he competed in the event again, this time in a 1999-spec Subaru Impreza WRC, and stunned everyone by taking outright victory in the event.


Takes podium on return to F3000; races at Le Mans finishing 6th

Otherwise 2001 had been a quiet year for Stéphane on the racing front. Apart from his F1 testing he also tested for the Prost junior F3000 team, and had a one-off start for them at Monaco, where he restored his reputation somewhat by finishing a sensational 3rd, which placed him 14th with 4 points at year's end. He also joined the Team AB Sport-Car outfit for the Albi round of the French touring car championship in a BMW M3 Silhouette coupe, coming 7th in the first race and finishing runner-up in the second.

In October he took part in the Monaco Kart Stars event, where he came 6th and 2nd in the two heats, and finished 2nd in the final behind Gianni Morbidelli. He also raced at the Le Mans 24hrs for the ORECA team, but retired his Chrysler shared with Yannick Dalmas and Franck Montagny after engine problems. Returning with ORECA in 2002, this time with Montagny and Nicolas Minassian, he came 6th in his Dallara, and perhaps sports cars and even more rallying will be on his agenda for the future.

Stéphane sprays the champagne after stunning the rally world with his outright victory in the final round of the French Rally Championship.
Stéphane sprays the champagne after stunning the rally world with his outright victory in the final round of the French Rally Championship.

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