2016 just keeps on getting worse with the news that former Minardi driver Esteban Tuero has retired from racing.
The 38-year-old Argentinean has well and truly upstaged Nico Rosberg with his shocking news. Tuero was only 19 years and 320 days old when he made his debut in the 1998 Australian Grand Prix and embarked on a whirlwind season in F1 which rocked the establishment.
A cursory glace at his Wikipedia page shows no points scored and only four classified finishes, but that doesn’t tell the entire story. Despite driving for the lowly Minardi team Tuero’s talent shone through.
During the Argentinian Grand Prix his in-lap before a pit stop was so ferociously fast that his team weren’t even ready for him. His mechanics stood in the garage, staring at the timing screens, awestruck at his sector times. They eventually got the fuel in and the new tyres on, but he was stationary for a whopping 41.8 seconds. He later spun off trying to regain the lost time – the legacy of that pit stop had cost him a certain podium finish.
After that he went on to take a sensational 8th place at Imola in what was only his 4th Grand Prix and there was already talk of Schumacher’s Ferrari seat coming under threat. It’s said the the threat of Tuero taking is seat is what prompted Schumacher’s mid-season run of form which thrust him into title contention with Hakkinen.
Indeed, Tuero was so fast and so accomplished that fans barely even noticed he was racing. One of his most spectacular on-screen moments came during the final race of the year at Suzuka. A classic Tuero ‘burn from the stern’ was halted when the Tyrrell of Tora Takagi rudely closed the door on an incredible lunge from Tuero, putting both drivers out of the race.
That would turn out to be his last Grand Prix. He had a drive secured with Minardi for 1999 and was one of the pre-season favourites for the championship, but just before his first test with their new car he sensationally announced his retirement from F1 at the age of only 20.
From then on he returned to his native Argentina to compete in national championships such as TC2000, Turismo Carretera, and Turismo Nacional, but with limited success. Clearly his talent was only suited to Formula 1 cars and not tin-tops.
So, why did Esteban Tuero suddenly give up on his F1 destiny? Funnily enough, no reason was ever officially given. Some say he had to retire because of a neck injury he sustained in the Japanese Grand Prix crash at the end of 1998; others say he was simply out of his depth and couldn’t deal with the mental pressures of F1 (given his performances, this is clearly nonsense).
However, at the time other drivers were allegedly very unhappy with Tuero’s presence on the grid. Many apparently felt that it was unfair as he was clearly overqualified for Formula 1 and made the likes of Hakkinen and Schumacher look like amateurs. Rumour has it that ‘the higher-ups’ forced him out of the championship to stop F1 from folding altogether at the prospect of decades of Tuero dominance, though it has never been confirmed and no-one has spoken of it since.