Born in Mönchengladbach, West Germany Heinz-Harald Frentzen began his career at a young age, progressing through the karting ranks before completing two seasons in the German Formula Ford.
His race to reach Formula 1 was closely matched by his countryman Michael Schumacher, and such was their competitiveness that they were joint runners-up for the German Formula 3 Championship, finishing on identical points totals.
Formula 1, however, was to prove more difficult for Frentzen. While Schumacher went on to win the World Drivers’ Championship seven times, the title eluded Frentzen, who came closest in 1997 and 1999 with respective finishes of 2nd and 3rd, but ultimately only achieved three race wins before his retirement from F1 in 2003.
After Formula 1, Frentzen turned to German Touring Cars and entered DTM with Opel in 2004. His first season saw him unable to beat his team mates, finishing 14th in the championship standings. Nevertheless, Frentzen remained with Opel for the following season and managed to improve his performances, beating his team mates and finishing the championship as the best-placed Opel driver in 8th place.
Opel withdrew at the end of the 2005 season, but Frentzen’s form saw him join Audi for 2006. Frentzen took two 3rd place finishes along the way to 7th place in the championship, but quit the team at the end of the season, accusing the team of not liking him and not giving him the support he needed.
After this, Frentzen began to focus on a personal project, developing his own hybrid race car. In what was essentially a precursor to KERS being used in Formula 1, the hybrid car was built to get maximum braking energy to use as a booster for acceleration. Frentzen worked with a team to build and develop the car, and raced it in the 24 Hours Nürburgring in 2008. No surprise then, that Frentzen is supportive of the direction that F1 is headed in with the 2014 regulations, and is hopeful that the sport can move towards greener technology.
That year he also competed for Aston Martin Racing alongside Austrian driver Karl Wendlinger in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, finishing 4th in class and 16th overall. Later, in 2011, Frentzen took victory in a special one-off ‘Race Of Champions Legends’ race against Hans-Joachim Stuck, Marc Duez and Stig Blomqvist.
During this time, Frentzen remained close with the world of Formula 1, and stewarded at some races, including Valencia 2010 and 2011 and Singapore 2011.
Frentzen’s father was an undertaker and ran a funeral home in Mönchengladbach as well as extending his family home to build a museum in honour of his son, complete with trophies, race suits, helmets and books – memories of his achievements. The museum was private, but Frentzen’s father welcomed visitors, including famous faces from the Mönchengladbach football team.
What is next for Heinz-Harald Frentzen is unclear. Together with his wife Tanja, he has three daughters and they live together in Monaco. The 46-year-old said in an interview last month that it is looking likely that he will be driving in some capacity this year, but was tight-lipped on the details apart from being insistent that he still has a desire to race. There still may be more to come from Frentzen…