Esteban Tuero

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Last updated: 27-September-2001


Before Formula One Formula One After Formula One

Before F1

Destined for F1 from the very start; drives karts, FRenault and FHonda

They reckon it's cruel that young gymnasts are forced to start training for international competition before they hit their teens. They think it's destructive for tennis players to turn pro, egged on by parents who like seeing the dollars rolling in, at some ridiculously young age. They believe it's unfair to expose teenagers to that sort of pressure. Think it doesn't happen in F1? Think again. Here's the story of Esteban Tuero from Buenos Aires.

Tuero's father was apparently a racer himself, and from a small age young Esteban was being groomed for F1 stardom. He started karting when he was 7, in 1985, and continued in that discipline until 1992. Moving up to car racing in 1993, he spent a year in Formula Renault for the Crespi team in his native Argentina, and then switched to Formula Honda in 1994 with the Kissling team, where he became champion.


Takes the cake in Italian F2000, graduates to Italian F3 and tests F1

That year he was given his first dabble at South American F3 in a Ralt/Opel run by the INI team, but for his career to gain momentum he had to go to Europe. In 1995 he was thrust firstly into the Italian Formula 2000 National Trophy, driving a Dallara 392 with a Volkswagen engine for the RC Motorsport, where he swept all before him and became champion. The same team gave him a few berths in the dog-eat-dog world of Italian F3 that year, driving a Dallara 395 with Opel engines.

Tuero was more than able, no doubt about that, but perhaps he was being made to run before he could walk. For 1996 he joined Coloni Motorsport for Italian F3 with a Dallara 396 coupled to an Alfa Romeo engine. By this stage Formula One teams were interested in this next Argentine wonderkid (with Norberto Fontana having flunked), and although Benetton was in the frame it was Minardi, the traditional F1 starting point for young talent, that gave Esteban a test role for 1996 as well. At just 18, he had had his first taste of F1 power.


Disqualified from his only win, but performs well at the Monaco F3 race

In Italian F3, Tuero was impressive. He came fourth in the first round, and at Magione for the second round came home first, only for him to be disqualified for illegal fuel. At the prestigious non-championship Monaco F3 event, he started on the front row alongside pole-sitter and current Jordan F1 driver Jarno Trulli, even though for both drivers it was their first trip to this tough street circuit.

Trulli got away first, but Tuero tracked the Italian like a sniffer-dog, and eventually punted him out of the way at Loews hairpin on lap 17. Like a cynical professional, all at the tender age of 18, he then proceeded to brake-test Marcel Tiemann who was now tucked up behind him, although eventually Tiemann got by (and won the race) and Tuero had to stop with a flat battery.

Tuero impressed in Italian F3. Here at Magione he took a fine victory, only to be disqualified due to illegal fuel.
Tuero impressed in Italian F3. Here at Magione he took a fine victory, only to be disqualified due to illegal fuel.


Skips off mid-season to do 6 rounds of F3000, but gets little to show for it

Supposedly there was no need to hang around in F3 longer than he had to, so half-way through the Italian F3 season he jumped up to International F3000, where he drove for the Draco team in the single-chassis formula, in their Lola T96/50 Zytek. He would have been well-advised to finish off his year in F3 before making the jump, and his inexperience showed in F3000 where results failed to come. Incidentally, he ended up 13th in the 1996 Italian F3 championship with the 16 points he gained before he left.

He contested six rounds in F3000 in 1996, and despite finishing four times, he only got into the top ten at Magny Cours, the others were lowly 14th, 17th and 13th places. An accident at Estoril was followed by another clash early in the final round at Hockenheim, which ended his season on a sour note. Without having scored any points, and having done little running with the big guns of F3000, the question was, where to next for the fast-tracked Argentine?


Off to the Orient, as Esteban toughs it out for just one point

Without a deal to race in International F3000, instead of doing something like falling back to F3, in order to accrue the necessary points for a superlicence so that Tuero could move into F1, Esteban was sent to race in Formula Nippon in Japan in 1997, driving a Reynard 97D Mugen for Team Le Mans. But someone forgot to tell the Tuero camp that Formula Nippon can be just as hard as F3000 is in Europe.

The Argentine had to find out the hard way, scoring points only for a single 6th place at Fuji in his Reynard/Mugen 97D for Team Le Mans. With 1 point he was equal 16th overall (while, incidentally, Pedro de la Rosa won on 82, with Takuya Kurosawa 2nd on only 28!). But the miles covered, plus his continuing testing role with Minardi, meant Tuero did squirm his way into the Minardi F1 drive for 1998.

Formula One

Doubt surrounds his licence, as concerns are raised about his capacity

Squirm is the operative word, because there was actually severe doubt as to whether or not he would be granted a superlicence by the FIA. Minardi had already signed him, but as he didn't meet most of the requirements, for a while it looked as though Esteban wouldn't get his drive. The people in the know in F1 were glad about that, fearing that Tuero simply wasn't experienced enough to hack it in the highest echelon of all. When Tuero seemed to have been denied his superlicence, ITV commentator Martin Brundle, perhaps the best pundit in the business, said:
"As for Tuero, it would have been scary. I don't like to see these guys out there with so little experience. Imagine it: even if he didn't qualify, he'd be getting in the way during qualifying. And if he did qualify, then he'd definitely be being lapped plenty. He'd have really needed to have his wits about him. To be honest, it annoys me, people like that, with zilch credibility."

There was some concern at the beginning of 1998 as to whether Esteban would qualify for his superlicence. Here he is in pre-season testing checking on the M198's progress.
There was some concern at the beginning of 1998 as to whether Esteban would qualify for his superlicence. Here he is in pre-season testing checking on the M198's progress.


Take that, Martin! Brundle wolfs down the Humble Pie as Tuero qualifies 17th

Brundle would probably have been aghast when the FIA finally did grant Tuero his licence, and Esteban turned up in Melbourne to drive the Minardi M198 with the Ford Zetec R V10 customer engine. He was the 3rd youngest driver ever to race in F1 at just under 20 years of age, with only Mike Thackwell and Ricardo Rodriguez having started younger. By comparison Jenson Button is the 6th youngest thus far (but the youngest to score a point).

In turn, Tuero would have been very glad to stuff a big chunk of humble pie down Brundle's throat when he qualified a magnificent 17th out of the 22 entrants, ahead of Jan Magnussen, Ricardo Rosset, Pedro Diniz, Olivier Panis and team-mate Shinji Nakano. He backed that up by being 12th quickest in the warm-up, but retired with engine problems having set the 15th fastest lap in the race, less than a second off the best race laps set by Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher.


Minardi battling the Tyrrells, but Esteban never DNQ'd all year

Truth be told, Tuero could hack it in F1. In a rebuilding year for Minardi, while Gabriele Rumi's Fondmetal concern began to take a bigger interest in the team, the cars from Faenza were simply down on power and spent all year engaging in the battle at the back with the equally-slow Tyrrells.

After his splendid qualifying effort in Australia, Tuero didn't break out of the bottom 4 in qualifying ever again, but unlike Rosset, not once did he fail to qualify. In fact, somewhat amazingly, only three times all year (France, Belgium, Italy) did Tuero start from last spot. Tuero had the speed, that was clear, but getting it together in the races was a different matter, and here his inexperience did show from time to time.

Esteban never qualified out of the bottom 4 all season after Melbourne, but he never failed to qualify; something that couldn't be said of others.
Esteban never qualified out of the bottom 4 all season after Melbourne, but he never failed to qualify; something that couldn't be said of others.


Plenty of mechanical problems, but some crashes too

After a gearbox failure in Brazil, in his home race at Buenos Aires he spun off late in the race, but he redeemed himself with a fine 8th at Imola, 2 laps down, some 8 seconds in front of Mika Salo's Arrows. He backed that up with 15th in Spain, where he was once again 2 laps down. But driver errors and mechanical problems continued to plague him. He crashed on the opening lap at Monaco just before Casino Square.

Then in Canada, he was running strongly inside the top 10 when Villeneuve ran off the road and came back onto it right in front of the Minardi, and Tuero had no choice but to run up the back of the Williams. The Argentine eventually stopped with electrical problems, and then suffered hydraulics failure in France before spinning off at Silverstone and the A1-Ring.

Tuero caused all sorts of trouble for Murray Walker, who simply couldn't get his name right at Monaco!

"And out of the Rascasse comes Ernesto Tuero .. and el eh ... Esteban Tuero!"
(.WAV format, 152k, 14 secs)


Season ends with a big smash up and over Takagi, injuring Tuero's neck

16th and last place at Hockenheim was followed by more mechanical problems in Hungary and Belgium. Tuero was one of the lucky ones at Spa not to get involved in the first lap mayhem, but eventually succumbed to gearbox failure. He was then 11th in Italy, coming home ahead of both Rosset and Trulli in the Prost, but suffered an axle shaft problem at the Nurburgring which forced him to pit early and dropped him some 10 laps. By the end of the event he was 11 laps down and not classified.

The final race of the season at Suzuka saw Tuero collide with local hero Toranosuke Takagi's Tyrrell on their 29th lap. Thanks to Tom Prankerd, we know he later claimed that he had accidentally put his foot on the wrong pedal!! Riding up high over his rival's car, Tuero damaged a number of vertebrae in his neck. It wasn't a nice way to end his first season in F1, but he had done enough to show that he deserved his place.

A rather large collision with Takagi took Tuero out in Suzuka. The crash injured his neck, not a nice way to finish his first (and last) F1 season.
A rather large collision with Takagi took Tuero out in Suzuka. The crash injured his neck, not a nice way to finish his first (and last) F1 season.


All set for another season, when he suddenly, inexplicably, retires from F1

A restructured Minardi team looked forward to running him alongside Marc Gene in 1999, but in late January, after spending some time recuperating from his injuries, just as he was about to test the new car for the first time, he made a shock announcement that he was retiring from F1. This took the entire F1 paddock by surprise, not least of all Minardi itself.

Speculation is rife as to why he suddenly left, and Tuero hasn't helped the cause by saying he is sworn to secrecy over the matter. He once said, "You can ask me 60 times and I won't tell you." Some have suggested that Esteban never fully recovered from his neck injuries, while others say he was, understandably for a kid so young, sick of all the travelling around, and wanted to do something closer to home, his native Argentina.


Was he made fun of my the Argentine media? Was it sponsor trouble?

Two theories tend to stick out more than most, though. Francois-Luc Beaudoin tells us that according to the French magazine Auto-Hebdo, Tuero pulled out of F1 because he was embarrassed by the Argentine media, who kept making fun of him by calling him names on television, and mocking his performances. If that were the case, then it would have been mightily unfair, considering Tuero's age, inexperience, and the fact he was driving a Minardi.

Alternately, according to Javier Reboredo, the problem was sponsorship. One of his backers had gone bankrupt, whilst another, a television station, felt it wasn't getting value for money. Tuero's major sponsor, though, fell out with both Esteban's manager Eduardo Ramirez and with Minardi himself, with accusations flying that Ramirez had pocketed some of the sponsorship money for himself. Caught in this tug of war, Tuero apparently just got sick of the whole saga and walked away.

After F1

Joins Volkswagen and Hernandez in TC2000 tilt, but struggles early

The truth may have been somewhere in the middle of all those theories, but whatever the reason, Tuero linked up with the Argentine TC2000 touring car championship, which took him out of the international limelight. Here was a 2-litre championship with a difference. Unlike other 2-litre series (e.g. the British, and even the South American) which fell into decline at around this time, the TC2000 had manufacturer support, a vast array of cars and drivers, and machines with heavy bodywork modifications.

Tuero joined the works Volkswagen Elaion team run by Maldonado Competition to drive a VW Polo as team-mate to Walter Hernandez. This being the first tin-top series he'd driven in, it took him a while to adjust, and Hernandez easily had the better of him. However, he did improve, and began recording top ten finishes, before coming 2nd at Parana and winning the first race at San Jorge in the rain. It was too late to make any dent on the championship, though, Tuero finishing outside the top 10 overall.

In an otherwise low-key 1999 in Argentine touring cars, Tuero won the wet heat at San Jorge in his Volkswagen Polo Nbr 73.
In an otherwise low-key 1999 in Argentine touring cars, Tuero won the wet heat at San Jorge in his Volkswagen Polo Nbr 73.


A better year sees a win at Obera, despite team disputes

In 2000, Tuero raced in the same series, in the same car, for the same team, with the same team-mate. To demonstrate the closeness of this series, there were ten different winners in the first ten rounds, and one of the them was Tuero, who won at Obera from pole. However, Esteban was still not consistently a front-runner, and with 69 points he came 8th overall, although Hernandez was 3rd, only 12 points ahead on 81.

But by this stage Tuero had been embroiled in controversy once again, having had a major falling out with Hernandez. The two had collided in one race, forcing both out, and afterwards Hernandez began publicly questioning Tuero's place in the team if not in the series altogether. In the end, though, it was Hernandez who left the team come 2001, with Alejandro Bini joining Tuero in the works VW team for 2001.


Bora replaces Polo, but no wins thus far this year for Tuero

The team started off with the tried and trusted Polo model, although in recent rounds the new Bora has made its debut, with an attractive bright blue colour scheme, in a bid to beat the opposition from makes such as Toyota, Chrysler, Ford, Chevrolet, Honda and Ford. With four 4th places so far, Tuero continues to steadily improve, and currently runs 5th in the series on 46 points, but ahead of other ex-F1 drivers Oscar Larrauri and Norberto Fontana.

A superstitious chap, Tuero refuses to drive cars with numbers 13 and 17 because of their religious symbolism, but he doesn't mind invoking some divine intervention, saying that "God is the best co-pilot." Rumours in Argentina currently suggest that Tuero may be on the look-out for a return to single-seaters in 2002, possibly in a pay-driver's seat with a CART team.

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