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Pedro De La Rosa’s Early Success in Radio-Controlled Cars

Unlike most Formula 1 drivers, Pedro De La Rosa did not start his racing career in karts. Instead, he began by competing in radio-controlled (RC) car championships in his native Spain during the 1980s.

Pedro De La Rosa found great success in RC racing right from the beginning. He won three consecutive Spanish RC championships between 1983 and 1985. He then became the first driver to win the European RC championship twice, topping the standings in 1983 and 1984. In 1986, De La Rosa finished as runner-up at the inaugural RC world championships.

Switching to Karting and Single-Seaters

After achieving at the highest levels of RC racing, Pedro De La Rosa decided to try his hand at karting in 1988 at the relatively late age of 17. He promptly won the Catalonian karting championship in his debut season.

The Spaniard moved into single-seater racing in 1989, competing in the Spanish Formula Fiat Uno championship. He took five podium finishes in seven races on his way to winning the title in his rookie campaign.

Dominance in Lower Formulas

Over the next few years, Pedro De La Rosa competed in various junior single-seater series across Europe. He found success wherever he went:

  • Won the 1990 Spanish Formula Ford title with eight wins in ten races
  • Finished fourth in the 1991 Spanish Formula Renault Championship
  • Won both the 1992 British and French Formula Renault titles
  • Finished sixth in the 1993 British Formula 3 Championship with West Surrey Racing
  • Won the 1995 All-Japan F3 Championship, taking eight wins in nine races

Switching Focus to Japan

In 1996, Pedro moved to Japan full-time to race in Formula Nippon and the All-Japan GT Championship. He drove for Team Nova and TOM’S respectively in the two series. An eighth place finish in Formula Nippon and 13th place in the GT championship during his rookie season showed promise.

The following year, De La Rosa fulfilled that promise emphatically by winning both titles. He won six of ten Formula Nippon races and stood on the podium in every race. His title challenges ended in a tie, but wins countback gave him his first championship crown in senior racing. In the GT series, he won his second title while sharing a car with Michael Krumm.

Pedro De La Rosa’s Steps Towards Formula 1

His success in 1997 helped Pedro De La Rosa join the Jordan F1 team as a test driver in 1998. He quickly made an impression and contributed to the team’s improved form in the second half of the season, culminating in its breakthrough maiden F1 victory at Spa-Francorchamps.

Formula 1 Race Debut with Arrows

Thanks to the backing of Spanish oil company Repsol, Pedro landed an F1 race drive with Arrows for 1999. Despite driving an uncompetitive car, he made good use of the opportunity.

Scoring on Debut Despite Arrows Struggles

In his very first Grand Prix in Australia, De La Rosa drove a mature race to bring the car home in sixth place to score a precious world championship point. That would remain his and Arrows’ best result of the season. Although the car’s lack of pace and abysmal reliability limited results for the rest of the year, Pedro established himself as a credible F1 racer in his rookie season.

He continued with Arrows into 2000 and scored points in two races – sixth in Germany and another sixth place in Europe. But it was clear that he needed a faster car to continue his F1 progression.

A Brief Interlude at Jaguar Racing

With Arrows unwilling to retain his services for 2001, Pedro initially signed with the Prost team to become their test driver. But only two weeks into that deal, he switched to become the test and reserve driver for Jaguar Racing.

Midway through the season, De La Rosa replaced Luciano Burti as a race driver. There were flashes of promise, like qualifying eighth at Monza and finishing fifth at Monza. But generally, the uncompetitive Jaguar car limited Pedro to lower midfield results.

He retained his race seat for 2002 but endured a miserable season as Jaguar slipped further down the grid. Without a single point to his name, De La Rosa parted ways with the team at the end of the year.

Pedro De La Rosa of Spain driving the Jaguar during the second free practise session at the 2002 Monaco F1 Grand Prix in Monte Carlo. DIGITAL IMAGE. Source: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Finding Stability at McLaren (2003-2009)

With his F1 career at a crossroads, De La Rosa took up a test driver role at McLaren for 2003. He would spend the next seven seasons with the Woking squad, helping them develop race winning cars even if race opportunities for himself remained limited.

Shining in Rare Race Outings

When Juan Pablo Montoya injured himself before the 2005 Bahrain GP, Pedro grabbed the opportunity with both hands. He qualified eighth and finished fifth in the race, ahead of teammate Kimi Raikkönen.

Another chance came when Montoya abruptly quit F1 midway through 2006. De La Rosa scored points in five of the next eight races. This included a shock podium finish at the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix. He drove a controlled race in wet conditions as others faltered, bringing his McLaren home in second place.

Near Miss on a Full-Time Return

Pedro’s strong performances put him in contention for Montoya’s vacant seat alongside Fernando Alonso in 2007. But the team ultimately chose an up-and-coming Lewis Hamilton instead. So De La Rosa continued his trusted role as test and reserve driver for three more seasons, regularly testing race winning cars but never racing them himself.

A Second Chance as a Full-Time Driver

In 2010, Pedro finally returned to full-time F1 racing with the resurrected Sauber team. Despite scoring points in Hungary by finishing seventh, he generally struggled against teammate Kamui Kobayashi.

Sauber replaced De La Rosa with Nick Heidfeld before the end of the season. But Pedro quickly found his feet again by signing up as Pirelli’s test driver ahead of their debut as F1’s official tire supplier in 2011.

Helping Out in Times of Need

When regular Sauber racer Sergio Perez withdrew on medical grounds from the 2011 Canadian GP, his former team came calling once again. De La Rosa drove a solid race under wet conditions to bring the car home 12th.

Challenging Final Years with HRT and Ferrari

In 2012, ten years after his last full season, Pedro joined minnows HRT in the hope of helping develop the backmarker Spanish outfit. But driving the underdeveloped and uncompetitive F112 was an unenviable task. De La Rosa failed to qualify for the season opener in Australia and never made it out of Q1 all year.

Although HRT collapsed ahead of 2013, Pedro found himself back in red – this time as Ferrari’s test and development driver. He helped develop their turbo V6 hybrid racer before retiring from F1 at the end of 2014.

Post-F1 Endeavours

Since hanging up his helmet, De La Rosa has remained deeply involved in racing through several roles:

  • Technical and sporting advisor to the Techeetah Formula E team
  • Driver mentor and team principal of his own Drivex racing team
  • TV commentator and pundit for Spanish F1 coverage
  • Brand ambassador for Aston Martin’s F1 team

Now into his fifties, Pedro De La Rosa has made the transition from unconventional racer to wise F1 veteran and elder statesman.

With extensive success across junior categories, tireless work as an F1 test driver, and points scored for five different teams as a racer, he boasts one of the most unique and compelling CVs of his generation.

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