Features - Interview
MAY 1, 1991
BY JOE SAWARD
Berger has been Grand Prix racing for a long time now. He recently celebrated his 100th Grand Prix start, entering an exclusive 'club' with only 35 members in the history of the World Championship.
He made his Grand Prix debut back in 1984, drove for ATS and Arrows and began winning with Benetton in 1987. Three years at Ferrari netted him four wins, but he survived a huge accident at San Marino in 1989.
Berger always used to say that he wanted to drive for McLaren at some point during his F1 career. At the end of 1989 that wish came true. He joined the team to be team mate to the man who has frustrated his career more than any other: Ayrton Senna.
If you look at the statistics you will find that Senna also arrived in F1 in 1984, he rose quickly to the top via Toleman and Lotus. The most recent new member of the 100GPs 'club' before Gerhard was Ayrton. They are both the same age.
For Gerhard, joining Senna at McLaren was a challenge. His thinking was clear: you cannot be the best if you do not put yourself up against the best.
A year and a half later Gerhard has still not won a race for McLaren. Monaco was typical weekend. There was promise - and it was dashed.
In practice on the Thursday before the race, Gerhard was quicker than Ayrton - but when it came round to the race, Ayrton led from flag to flag and Gerhard crashed out after just a handful of exciting and dramatic laps.
'I hit Nelson Piquet on the first lap,' explained Gerhard. 'I had to pit. I rejoined, ran quickly at the back of the field, overtook a few people. Then I came up to a Minardi and it sprayed oil all over my visor. I couldn't see anything. I pulled all my tear-off strips away in one go and I was trying to wipe the oil off my visor with my hand, when I lost concentration for a second and my foot slipped off the brake pedal.
'It was big accident.
'Sixth position on the grid was no good. You just can't overtake at Monaco. If you are lucky you can overtake maybe one car; you have to be luckier to pass another. How are you going to overtake the next guy? You have too many guys. The statistics just don't work. To be lucky four times in a row is unusual. I was hoping that the start would go well and that others would have problems. I was going to wait and see.'
Monaco aside, however, the recent races have seen a much more confident and happy Berger than compared to the end of 1990. Then he was demoralised. He seemed to lose his normal smile and became almost listless.
A cruel cartoon in a French racing magazine began to portray Berger as being constantly asleep.
'Yes, last year was hard,' says Gerhard, 'but the start of this year was even harder. It was a real problem. I did a lot of work over the winter: testing and building myself up physically. I was expecting better results. I put myself under far too much pressure and I didn't do anything.
'Now I am coming back. It's getting better and better. Imola was good and Monaco was good until Saturday afternoon when I screwed up. That again was pressure from me - not from anyone else. - I was just trying to drive too hard. It doesn't work for me. I have found out that I have to let go of things. If I take everything easy, I get the best out of myself.'
It must be very demoralising to see Senna winning four races in a row?
'I'll tell you what,' smiles Gerhard. 'It's not so bad for me. It must be worse for teams like Williams and Ferrari. Everyone thinks it is tough for me, but I think it's worse for the others.
'I think that in comparison to Ayrton my speed is okay. He is just more perfect. He's confident within himself after all the success he has had. We must not forget that the guy has had 56 pole positions - every second race he did in F1 he was on pole. That is something that no-one has ever done in F1. I think it is rubbish to say I can beat him. He is consistently perfect. I have to do the same. I just have to let it come; not think about it and let it happen.
'I try to be honest in these things. I don't want to be one of those guys who find excuses for everything. If you have Ayrton in the team it is sometimes a little disappointing, but I learn. I like to learn and there is nowhere I can learn more than I can here at McLaren.
'Ron Dennis has been very good to me. When I talk about pressure it is always me, not the team. It's really fantastic how they handle me. I feel very happy here and I do everything I can to help the team. If I ma not winning because of Ayrton, I have to learn to cope with it, because this is the team where you are going to win.
'I am still doing well in the championship. It looks all right. I will get better as the season goes on. I'm not disappointed. At the moment my performance and my attitude are good and I am enjoying F1. I love it. I still get to laugh a lot. Sure, sometimes I get pissed off - but usually with myself. I like the team. It is very good.
'All I have to do is take it easy.' Just like in the French cartoon...