We’ve all dream’t about it. A last-minute call to drive for a Formula One team at your home Grand Prix, and an against-all-odds scenario results in you leading the race on your debut despite an inferior car. One man, Markus Winkelhock, did just that, and by living the dream he became ingrained in the memories of Formula One fans. But what happened after his Formula One heroics? FormulaSpy takes a look at the career of Markus Winkelhock.
As the son of ex-Formula One driver Manfred and the nephew of touring cars drivers Joachim and Thomas Winkelhock, Markus had early racing influences in the family. His father, however, would be cruelly taken away from him at the age of five. Manfred, competing at the 1000km of Mosport in Canada, crashed his Porsche 962c on the 69th lap of the race at Clayton Curve (turn 2) and hit the long concrete barrier on the outside of the corner. He suffered injuries to his head and legs and died of his injuries in hospital the following day, aged 32.
However, the racing bug remained with Markus and he worked his way through the lower echelons of formulae racing in his native Germany, collecting wins in the Formula König, German Formula Renault and Formula Renault Eurocup Series competitions.
From 2001-2003, he competed in the German Formula Three Championship, which became the Formula Three Euroseries in 2003 (effectively creating a higher ‘European’ level of Formula Three championship). Here, he battled the likes of Nico Rosberg, Timo Glock, Robert Kubica, Gary Paffett, Tonio Liuzzi and Ryan Briscoe, taking six wins, five pole positions and fifteen podiums with Mucke Motorsport.
A move to the DTM in 2004 was his first foray into the touring car world, but with only a best finish of 13th – at the EuroSpeedway Lausitz and at the Hockenheimring – he failed to score a point all year, with the Persson Motorsport team only scoring two points that season.
A move to the World Series by Renault for 2005 would put Winkelhock’s career back on track. Partnering San Marinese driver Christian Montanari at Draco Multiracing USA, he scored his first podium in the series in only his second race at Zolder and took his first of three wins at the famous Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans. He finished third place overall behind Robert Kubica and Adrián Vallés, but his season was blemished by errors, including crashing his car twice at Sainte-Dévote during the Monaco round; once whilst battling for pole position in qualifying and again on lap one of the race. Other incidents at the races in Valencia and Bilbao cost him points, with another mistake at the Oschersleben race losing him victory.
A generally positive year saw Winkelhock signed as test and reserve driver for the Midland F1 team for 2006, a role which saw him participate in Friday practice sessions in Bahrain, Australia, Germany and Hungary.
He was retained for 2007 as Midland became the Spyker F1 team, the outfit’s third name in as many seasons. With his role initially reduced for this season, he gradually re-familiarised himself with the DTM championship in amongst his F1 duties. An against-the-odds F1 drive was on the horizon though, because with first-team driver Christijan Alber’s sponsorship money drying up, a seat became available for the European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. It was a last-minute call-up, but Winkelhock received the news that he would be making his Formula One debut for the race.
A lack of prior testing seemed to hamper his weekend, the Spyker F8-VII was very much the back-of-the-grid car for the 2007 season, and both cars lined up at the back of the grid for the European Grand Prix, with Winkelhock 1.5 seconds off the pace of team-mate Adrian Sutil.
Despite there being few dark clouds in the sky in the build-up to the race, the forecast declared that rain was almost a certainty during the early part of the race. For all the teams who had even half a chance of scoring points in normal conditions there were no doubts about tyre choice at the start of the race; dry track means dry tyres. Spyker, though, were in a position where they could take a gamble and, with their man Markus Winkelhock at the back having nothing to lose, gamble they did…
At the end of the formation lap, spots of rain started to fall as a large clouds had stealthily formed overhead. Winkelhock was instructed to pit for intermediate tyres before the race had even begun, resulting in a pit lane start as spectators were deploying coats and umbrellas when the race began. Cooler conditions caused a frantic start to the race with numerous spins and collisions, and the intensifying rain mean’t tyre changes had to happen. Pole-sitter and race leader Kimi Raikkonen attempted to pit but missed the pit lane, meaning he had to complete another lap as the majority of the field pitted to amend their tyre choice. The conditions played into the hands of Winkelhock perfectly, he passed all those in the pit lane and overtook Raikkonen for the race lead part-way through lap two. By the end of the lap, he was nineteen seconds ahead of nearest challenger Felipe Massa.
Conditions worsened and, with several cars flying off the road at turn one, the safety car was deployed with only a handful of laps completed. Winkelhock’s lead was alleged to have been as high as 30-40 seconds, but now it was whittled down as the field bunched up. The race was soon red-flagged as the race director waited for the on-track streams to disappear.
On a drying track, the race restarted under the safety car and Winkelhock – gambling on full wet tyres as opposed to the recommended intermediates – was soon passed by numerous cars. By lap 13, problems with the car’s hydraulics forced him into race retirement.
He had lead a total of six laps of his home Grand Prix, but he dropped for the next race in favour of Sakon Yamamoto, who brought more sponsorship. Winkelhock, though, was not surprised and seemed content with his brief stint in the sport:
“It was a great experience, but I am a realist,” he told Spox.com. “The DTM is what I am concentrating on for the future. Formula one, for me, is over.
“I am not really too sad about it and I am happy with my situation now. With the experiences and the race I had in Formula One, of course it is nice to look back, but with Audi in DTM, I’m happier than I was in F1 last year.”
True to his word, his sole focus became the DTM and his links with Spyker boss Colin Kolles secured him a drive with the Kolles-run Kodewa team, which was under the sponsorship name of Futurecom TME. After a tough, pointless return to the DTM in 2007 he switched to Team Rosberg for 2008, continuing in the Audi A4.
Of the Audi-run teams, Team Rosberg and Team Phoenix competed with year-old cars, giving a slight disadvantage to drivers such as himself, team-mate Mike Rockenfeller, Oliver Jarvis and Alexandre Premat. Nevertheless, he achieved his first points finish in his second race for the team at the Oschersleben race, and became a semi-regular points-scorer in his three-year stint in the DTM. He achieved a best finish of fourth place on three occasions; at the Hockenheimring in 2009, the Nurburgring in 2009 and at the Adria International Raceway (Italy) in 2010.
In 2010, Winkelhock began to branch out into GT racing. He entered the 24 Hours of Nurburgring with Team Phoenix, achieving third place overall as well as GT3 class victory in the Audi R8 LMS. This would continue to be a fruitful event over the years, achieving a further two GT3 class victories, as well as two overall victories in 2012 and 2014.
A drive in the GT1 World Championship followed for 2011 with the Münnich Motorsport team. Paired with countryman Marc Basseng, he took his first podium in the series in only his second race, before winning the next two events. The team built on a strong season to challenge for the title in 2012, winning the championship by one point ahead of two other teams. Despite winning only one race that year, the consistency of scoring in all but one race was enough to edge their rivals.
Flirtations with the FIA GT Series championship, the World Rallycross Championship followed across 2013-2014, as well as competing in the entire 2013 ADAC Masters Championship. Following a stint in the 2013 Blancpain Endurance Series, Winkelhock took to competing in the Sprint Series in 2014, continuing his association with Team Phoenix.
He took second place in his very first Blancpain Sprint Series race at the Circuit Paul Armagnac in France, as well as a third place at the season finale in Baku, Azerbaijan. Competing again in 2015, he continues to makes progress. At the time of writing, he and team-mate Nikolaus Mayr-Melnhof had recently secured a double-podium finish in the ‘qualifying’ and ‘championship’ races at the Algarve International Circuit, putting them in sixth place in this year’s championship.
At 35 years old, time is still on his side to see if he can add to his successes achieved in GT cars. His busy schedule, coupled with his seeming desire to try most forms of circuit racing suggest that he’s not finished yet and that he’s currently showing no signs of winding down.