IN A NEW regular series, I will be profiling the careers of those drivers who won races and championships and those who either didn’t get the luck, or just failed at the top level of motorsport. All drivers featured will have competed between the years 1991-2011.
Next to be profiled is one of the first Spaniards to reach the Grand Prix grid before the Fernando Alonso era, Marc Gene.
NAME: Marc Gene
TEAMS: Minardi (1999-2000), Williams (2003-2004)
GP STARTS: 36
BEST FINISH: 5th (2003 Italian GP)
IT SEEMS odd to think of a time when Spain really had no interest in Formula One. Before Fernando Alonso burst onto the scene, motorbikes dominanted the landscape of the country. The race in Barcelona was sparesly populated and that didn’t really change when Marc Gene entered the sport. Gene was a fighter and has proven to be successful in other formulas, notably in sportscars. Like so many others before and after him though, Formula One wasn’t a great success.
Gene came into F1 with the underfunded Minardi team in 1999, replacing hopeless Argentine Esteban Tuero. Before his Grand Prix break, Gene’s highlight of his junior career was winning the Open Fortuna of Nissan championship in 1998. Marc was paired in Formula One alongside Luca Badoer and actually needed special dispensation to start his first event in Australia. The season was a real struggle but Marc kept his nose clean and was a regular finisher to the chequered flag. He qualified 15th in Germany, ahead of both Saubers and Johnny Herbert’s Stewart and beat Alessandro Zanardi’s Williams fair and square to ninth place in Malaysia.
Minardi’s moment of fortune came at the unpredictable 1999 European Grand Prix. Badoer looked set for fourth place before mechanical gremlins struck. Gene made some smart strategy calls and held off Eddie Irvine’s Ferrari to finish sixth and take the team’s first championship point since 1995. More importantly for Minardi, it meant they beat BAR in the constructors championship and earned extra bonuses in travel money and prize rewards which were badly needed.
Gene continued with Minardi into 2000 with another Argentine no-hoper Gaston Mazzacane alongside. Again he got the most out of a difficult car and embarrassed some big names in qualifying during the season. This time there were no points but solid eighth placed results in Australia and Austria; the latter saw him beat Pedro Diniz’s Sauber and the Benetton of Alexander Wurz.
With Paul Stoddart buying the team in 2001, Gene moved onto a testing role with the BMW Williams team. He drove in place of a concussed Ralf Schumacher at the 2003 Italian Grand Prix, qualifying a phenonemal fifth at short notice. He even led the race for a lap and finished a solid fifth to keep the team ahead at the time in the cosntructors championship. In 2004 Schumacher Jnr was sidelined for several races by a back injury sustained in a heavy crash at Indianapolis. Once again Gene deputised but this time, with less success. He qualified eighth and finished a distant tenth in France, despite setting a quicker lap than Juan Pablo Montoya in the race. Silverstone was more of a struggle, starting 11th and finishing 12th. Gene was replaced by Antonio Pizzonia for the German Grand Prix and has not raced in Formula One since.
At the beginning of 2005, Gene signed a testing contract with Ferrari but his racing career in F1 was over. Today he is a pundit on the Spanish broadcaster LaSexta for Grand Prix. His Ferrari testing contract expired at the end of 2010, but Marc has had a successful time at the Le Mans 24 Hours for Peugeot. He finished second in 2008 alongside Jacques Villeneuve and Nicolas Minassian. A year later he drove the final stint and together with Wurz and David Brabham, won the classic event to end Audi’s domination at Le Sarthe.
Marc Gene is another example of getting the best out of some poor car equipment and little out of a better car in Formula One. Nevertheless his technical feedback and honest approach to racing made him a worthy addition to any backmarker team or leading constructor in a testing capacity in F1.
NEXT TIME ON THE DRIVER FILES: The mercurial and grumpy Frenchman who offered glimpses of form but infuriated many, Jean Alesi