Marc Gene

One thing you can say about Marc Gene, F1 observers commented when he made his debut in Melbourne in 1999, is that the guy can talk. The man who had trained as an accountant could certainly do that, as he demonstrated with lucid remarks on his first impressions of the Big Time.

The Spaniard had made it the hard way, parlaying title success in Italy's Superformula championship in 1994 into a season in British F3 the following year. But after teammate Helio Castro-Neves (himself now a star in American Champcar racing) had blown him off, Gene found it hard to find a budget for 1996. At the same time his studies required his focus elsewhere, and it was not until 1997 that he properly got himself back on track. This time he turned up with Keith Wiggins' Pacific F3000 enterprise, before putting himself in hospital after a heavy accident at the second round, on the streets of Pau, left him with a fractured vertebra. All he could salvage from a disastrous year was a couple of outings with Nordic Racing when he had recuperated.

Gene was forced to take two steps back for 1998, finding employment as an accountant while competing in Spain's Open Fortuna formula for Nissan-engined single-seaters. It gave him the chance, however, to forge two vital relationships. One was with former Minardi racer Adrian Campos, who ran the team; the other with Telefonica, Spain's telecommunications giant that would soon play a major role in Minardi's future.

Gene won half of the 12 races as he headed for the title, and suddenly found himself in line for a drive with Minardi the following year. Logical, clear-thinking and dedicated, he soon had the team revolving around him after a series of strong performances in the uncompetitive car. The crucial moment came at the Nurburgring in the extraordinary GP of Europe; when luckless team-mate Luca Badoer dropped from fourth place in the closing stages, Gene swept through to take the final World Championship point that ensured Minardi another season of travel bonuses. At the end of the 2000 season Telefonica withdrew from F1 and Gene found himself with little chance of a drive with Minardi in 2001 and so took the decision to become test driver for the BMW Williams team. He stayed in the role for the next four years, standing in for Ralf Schumacher in races in 2003 and 2004 but did not do enough to convince the team to hire him to race in 2005. He switched to become a Ferrari test driver instead./p>