Baumgartner - Hungary's favourite son 11 Aug 2004
Why Minardi will have this weekend's star driver
Zsolt Baumgartner is the first, and so far only, Formula One driver to come from Hungary, making this weekend's race at the Hungaroring in front of his national crowd an emotional homecoming.
Baumgartner had a tough time making his break into Formula One racing, resorting to an innovative funding model to secure this year's seat with Minardi. In 1999 Baumgartner made a strong impression in Formula Renault, finishing third in the European Championship, but since then he has struggled to make his mark on either Formula Three or Formula 3000. He made his Formula One debut last year as a Jordan tester, getting race drives in Hungary and Italy as substitute for the injured Ralph Firman. For this year he moved to Minardi for a full race drive.
Finding the money to secure his seat looked like being a problem, though that was until the people of Hungary started donating money to get their man onto the grid, a situation reminiscent of that of Britains Justin Wilson, who sold shares in himself last season to secure his Minardi drive. The Hungarian Government has also put money behind Baumgartner to ensure his place on the grid.
So far, this season has been challenging, Baumgartner qualifying ahead of the last row of the grid on just one occasion, at the European Grand Prix, where his grid-spot of P17 put him ahead of Giancarlo Fisichella, Gianmaria Bruni and David Coulthard, none of whom had succeeded in setting a time. In races, Baumgartner has been unable to wring much pace from the indifferent Minardi, but he has managed to score several decent finishes by dint of sheer attrition, including an eighth place at the United States Grand Prix (out of eight finishers), Minardi's first point since Mark Webber's remarkable drive to fifth place at the 2002 Australian Grand Prix.
At least Baumgartner will be ensured a warm welcome at the Hungaroring, with thousands of supporters expected to show up to cheer on their hero - wherever he qualifies on the grid. He's certainly determined to try his best for them: "I'm really hoping for a good race at my home Grand Prix, for all the Hungarian fans I know will be there."