He was a much and quite unfairly maligned racer, tagged with the journeyman driver tag, at best.
Ricardo Rosset however was much more than the three wretched F1 seasons he took part in from 1996-1998.
When I say took part, 1997 doesn’t really count after the dismal Mastercard Lola project stumbled in to ignominy and eventual administration after just one Grand Prix.
As the man himself states: “In 1996 I was up against Jos Verstappen who already had two F1 seasons of experience and was bloody fast. The Footwork team was in turmoil then too as (Tom) Walkinshaw took over. Then the Lola thing happened before the Tyrrell chance came along in ’98. Like Footwork the team was having problems and BAT (British American Tobacco) bought the team halfway through the season. That was my F1 career!”
It’s not exactly chockfull of opportunity is it? Rosset had shown promise in the lower formulae. He won a British F3 round at Snetterton in 1994 against Jan Magnussen and Dario Franchitti and he took a debut F3000 victory at Silverstone in 1995 on his way to finishing runner-up to Super Nova team mate Vincenzo Sospiri. What many didn’t know was that while he was racing, Rosset also had a day job!
An intelligent and skilful businessman, Rosset ran his companies in parallel with his professional racing career from an early age and only started racing when he was 21. When it stopped abruptly at the end of that difficult 1998 season he put all his energy back in to his sports and leisure wear business – Track & Field.
“I was always told to have two options in my life and I had business and F1,” Rosset told us. “You know when I stopped racing I didn’t miss it all. My business was taking so much of my energy. Then when it started to get more and more successful I got the racing hunger again.”
After making Track & Field in to one of South America’s leading sportswear brands, Rosset returned to racing in 2008, exactly a decade on from the chastening experience with Tyrrell. This time it was fun though and he was soon winning races in the Brazilian Porsche GT3 Cup, eventually becoming a double champion in 2013, following up his initial success of 2010.
Here, Ricardo recalls his day of days when he vanquished the International F3000 field on his debut in 1995.
Ricardo Rosset – Race of my Life – 1995 International Trophy, Silverstone
I was close to choosing my Grand Prix debut at Melbourne in 1996. I had very little testing with the Footwork team but managed to finish in 9th place which would have been some points today. I even have that car now in my office, along with a Tyrrell chassis I drove!
But I have to choose my International F3000 debut at Silverstone in 1995. It was the perfect weekend as I took the pole, the race win and fastest lap. I was really surprised it happened liked that because there was some really tough competition and also my team mate at Super Nova was Vincenzo Sospiri, who was very quick but also very experienced by then. There were also many telaneted guys like Allan McNish, Kenny Brack, Tarso Marques and Marc Goossens.
I remember that I was able to pull out a good gap over Tarso who was on the front row with me. But soon Vincenzo was up to second place and almost at the same time I started to have a pretty unusual problem.
At about half distance I became aware of something uncomfortable in my seat around the neck area. It turned out to be my headrest which had worked loose. It was just becoming a big issue for me when it came away completely and flew of in to the gravel trap!
After that I was able to maintain the gap to Vincenzo and took the chequered flag about seven seconds ahead. It was an unbelievable feeling and I was very pleasantly surprised to be able to achieve that result in my debut race.
I had the best engineer I ever worked with – Mick Cook. We worked together very well and he was very creative and a master at reading the set-up. In fact when I went to Footwork for 1996 I tried to take him with me but he stayed in F3000 and ended up winning more races.
I suppose that result gave me lots of confidence but it was also tough to keep up the level of performance like that. The start of the season in 1995 was fantastic and I went on to win again at Enna and I was really close to Vincenzo in the championship at that stage. But when it came to tracks that I did not know like Pau and Hockenheim the experience of the other drivers showed. Ultimately Vincenzo went on to win the title and he deserved it. We then ended up as team mates at Lola but the less we talk about that experience the better I guess!
I won races in F3 and F3000 against some great opposition. F1 was a different story and each of the three teams I was with in F1 were in a lot of trouble and going through big changes, but I guess that is just the way it goes sometimes.
However, I will always remember that perfect day at Silverstone when the only problem I had was that loose headrest.
The Race of my Life article first appeared in the 28th January edition of Autosport magazine