After completing an early career, in karting and in Formula Ford - Austrian Karl Wendlinger found himself in the German Formula 3 Championship in 1988. After managing tenth place in that inagural season, Wendlinger managed to win the crown in 1989, and thus - got himself a drive in the Mercedes sportscar team for 1990.
Driving the Sauber Mercedes C11 - alongside Michael Schumacher, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Mauro Baldi and Jean-Louis Schlesser - the quintet managed to achieve fifth place in the 1990 World Sportscar standings. Not bad, for a team of rookies - of couse, as we all now know - Schumacher and Frentzen went on to become top-level Formula One drivers, with Michael, arguably transpiring into perhaps the best ever Grand Prix driver of all time. Wendlinger - was in good company.
In 1991, he continued to race for the Mercedes concern in sportscars - alongside a Formula 3000 programme with the Marko team. Untill, towards the end of the year - Mercedes' competitions boss; Jochen Neerpasch, placed two of his protoge's in F1. Schumacher, as history dictates - went to the Jordan team before signing for Benetton, whilst Wendlinger made a low key Formula One debut with the Leyton House outfit for the final two Grand Prix.
Formula One (Leyton House/March)
Karl's F1 debut, came at the 1991 Japanese Grand Prix, at the wonderful Suzuka circuit. He qualified in 22nd place - in a field of 26, but was unable to convert that into anything more, after he retired due to a big collision at turn one, between himself, J.J. Lehto, Andrea de Cesaris and Emanuele Pirro. His second race, didn't fare much better - as the Adelaide circuit was a wash-out, torrential rain leading to a curtailed event. Eventually, Wendlinger was classified in 16th place, two laps down on eventual winner Ayrton Senna - after aquaplaning on one of the many puddles present that day.
Karl was kept at the re-named March team in 1992, alongside the hapless Paul Belmondo. The highlight coming at the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, in which a race of attrition allowed Wendlinger to bring the car home in fourth position, albeit a lap down - but none the less a huge result considering the financial troubles his team were in. These three points, allowed Wendlinger to finish 12th in the drivers championship ahead of respected names such as Ivan Capelli, Thierry Boutsen and Johnny Herbert.
Formula One (Sauber)
For 1993, Wendlinger was re-united with his former team-boss at Sauber Mercedes, Peter Sauber - whom, had taken the plunge into Formula One team ownership in 1993. Some impressive driving followed in the Ilmor powered car, and Karl did well enough again to post fourth place at that years Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Other points finishes in Portugal, Canada and Hungary - helped give Karl 12th in the Championship again with seven points, two points, and a place ahead of more experienced team-mate; J.J Lehto.
This performance, ensured that this - bright young talent would get another go in the Sauber in the tragic 1994 season.
It started all so well for Karl, he notched up a point in the first race of the year at Interlagos, subsequently picking up fourth place in the San Marino race, a race marred by the deaths of both Wendlinger's countryman Roland Ratzenberger and the Brazilian racing legend Ayrton Senna.
The whole Formula One fraternity was in a state of shock after Imola, and the shockwaves were still rippling as the teams turned up in Monaco for the fourth round of the Championship. It was here, that Karl's career in Grand Prix racing - came in effect, to an abrupt halt.
During the qualifying session, approaching the famous Nouvelle Chicane, Wendlinger lost control coming out of the preceeding tunnel. Under braking, Karl's Sauber - hit the wall sideways at some force. The FIA doctors, were quickly on the scene - where they found Karl in serious peril. He had been knocked unconcious, and would be in a coma for months to come.
Karl, thankfully recovered from his injuries - but when Sauber granted him an opportunity to show he'd lost none of that sparkle for 1995, sadly it only went to prove that he'd lost his cutting edge, and he was relieved of his duties before the Monaco event a year on from the accident.
He came back briefly for Sauber in two Grand Prix, as the year drew out - but it was now evident in duplicate that "Wendy" was not the racer he once was.
After Formula One
Since then, he has competed successfully in sports cars and touring cars, winning the FIA GT championship (with Olivier Beretta) in 1999. After a spell racing for Abt Audi in DTM in 2002 and 2003 he currently races for JMB Racing in FIA GT again, driving a Maserati MC12 (with Andrea Bertolini).
Complete Formula One results
(Note: grands prix in bold denote points scoring races.)