Pedro de la Rosa
Although hed previously won two European titles in radio-controlled car racing, Pedro De la Rosa didnt begin karting until the relatively late age of 17. Soon after he was discovered by the Spanish Automobile Federation, who immediately started sponsoring him and recruited him to compete in their 1988 single-seater scholarship programme called Ofensiva Uno.
The following year he won the Spanish Formula Fiat Uno series, with two wins and three podiums from seven races. In 1990 he moved up to the Spanish Formula Ford 1600 championship and proved equally successful, taking eight victories and a further podium to win the title.
The next year he was promoted to the competitive Spanish Formula Renault championship and after finishing the year fourth he set his sights further afield. Journeying to the UK, De la Rosa competed in the 1992 British Formula Renault championship. The move paid off with the Spaniard taking three wins and the title, but he didnt stop there, also clinching the European Renault series crown.
In 1993 he switched to British Formula Three, clinching three podiums and finishing sixth in the standings. A second season, however, gleaned less and in 1995 he moved to Japan to compete in their Formula Three series. He fared much better, taking eight wins from nine races and wrapping up the title well before the last round. He also took part in that years Macau Grand Prix, finishing third.
He stayed in Japan in 1996, competing in the Formula Nippon championship. One second place and six top-six finishes were enough to secure him a seat for a second season and that year he took his fifth single-seater title with a tally of six wins. After also winning the All-Japan GT championship, alongside co-driver Michael Krumm, Formula One teams started to come knocking.
In 1998 he made his debut as a Formula One test driver for the Jordan team, racking up more than 4,500 kilometres over the season. The following year he contested his first Grand Prix in Australia for Arrows, taking his inferior car straight into the points with a sixth-placed finish. Although he didnt score again that year it was enough to secure his seat for a second season.
And while his Arrows remained a backmarker, he took a further two sixth-place finishes for the team in 2000 at the Nurburgring and Hockenheim. In 2001, De la Rosa moved to Jaguar and made his way back into the points with a fifth-place finish in Italy and a sixth in Canada. His second season with the team ended in disappointment with the Spaniard failing to score, whilst team mate Eddie Irvine clinched eight points and a podium.
In 2003 he lost his seat at Jaguar and, unable to find another race drive, signed as a tester with McLaren. He stayed with the team in this role for the next seven seasons, but was also called on to race for the team in nine Grands Prix, capitalising on every opportunity that came his way. In 2005 he finished fifth in Bahrain after standing in for Juan Pablo Montoya and claimed the fastest race lap.
2006 saw him stepping into the breach again and, following Montoyas departure, he picked up 19 world championship points over eight races and took a second place in Hungary. However, it wasnt enough to persuade McLaren to pick him over Lewis Hamilton for their 07 campaign.
The Spaniard, however, remained a key member of the teams testing squad. Racking up mile upon mile of on-track work, his development input was considered vital and it was only because of tighter testing restrictions that his role has been whittled down in recent years. He was influential too away from McLaren and was named president of the Grand Prix Drivers Association from 2007-08.
In his late thirties, a full-time race return for the Barcelona-born driver looked unlikely. But with the 2010 season saying farewell to two manufacturers and welcoming four new teams, the merits of having an experienced race and test driver on your books skyrocketed. BMW Sauber were just one team to court the Spaniard and he eventually signed, teaming up with young rookie driver Kamui Kobayashi.
The veteran returnee, however, struggled to match pre-season expectations. Hampered by an uncompetitive and unreliable car, he retired seven times from the first ten races and scored his first - and only - points of the year at Augusts Hungarian Grand Prix. He was replaced by Nick Heidfeld for the final five Grands Prix of the year.
He almost immediately joined forces with new (for 2011) tyre supplier Pirelli as part of their Formula One tyre development programme, testing several times for the Italian manufacturer. Despite his experience on the new-style rubber, no race seats were forthcoming for the Spaniard for the 2011 season and he rejoined McLaren as their official test and reserve driver.
Even so he did race once during 2011, standing in for Sergio Perez at Sauber for most of the Canadian Grand Prix weekend, after the Mexican rookie felt unwell following opening practice. Perez had crashed heavily two weeks earlier in Monaco. Although herded into the car at such short notice, De La Rosa acquitted himself well, finishing 12th despite colliding with McLarens Jenson Button.
Many felt his Canadian foray would be the 40 year-olds last chance of a Grand Prix start, but in the closing stages of the 2011 season it was announced the Spaniard had landed a two-year race contract with Spanish team HRT.