Formula 1

From Admirer to Racer, Allen Berg Recalls Journey to F1

TORONTO, Ontario — Allen Berg spent his childhood watching Formula 1, admiring the likes of fellow Canadian Gilles Villeneuve and others.

Between Villeneuve’s winning ways and how he had been able to reach the pinnacle of Formula 1 being from the great white north, Berg stated he was an inspiration for everybody at the time. The admiration grew when attending the Canadian Grand Prix in 1981.

“I was at the north hairpin when Gilles was third in the rain,” Berg recalled at the Canadian International Auto Show. “I was standing on top of the transporter. It was the race that Gilles got into the guy who got into second and continued on another lap. At the hairpin again, the nose came off. It bounced up, hitting him in the head and he shook it off before he kept going. He carried on to finish third and just for those who drive a racecar, to drive without a front wing – he cranked all the rear balance to the back of the car and drove the car the rest of the race in the rain by the feel of his pants.”

Berg got his chance to race in Formula 1 in 1986 after another driver got injured in a rally crash. Though, it wasn’t one of those opportunities which came about in a traditional sense. Everything began when his manager called him up to say there would be a seat available and they should be there.

Attending the Canadian Grand Prix, it appeared as though the opportunity had slipped away with another driver set to take the seat – but that wasn’t the case as the paperwork wasn’t complete as it should be.

“At the end of the event, when it was all said and done, we went back to the Ocella Garage,” Berg recalled. “There was a 55-gallon fuel drum. Enzo Osella took out Christian Danner’s contract. He whited out his name and wrote my name in it – he whited out the signature, and I signed right there, and I became a Formula 1 driver. That’s how it all started – not that glamorous.”

Set to make his debut in the United States Grand Prix next week driving for Osella, Berg admits he planned to stay in Montreal for awhile long before making his way down. Ultimately, though, the flight didn’t go as planned, having to land in Toronto due to mechanical issues.

“They took all the passengers off the bus and put them on a bus headed to Winsor,” he said. “So I think I hold the distinction of being the only F1 driver to make his debut arriving on a Grayhound bus.”

Berg ended up making a total of nine starts for Osella, scoring a best finish of 12th in Germany through his career. He noted the results reflected back on the team’s equipment partially, as their motors only made 900 hp compared to their competitors having 1400 hp.

“It was an amazing time – very challenging,” he said. “The drivers that are in F1 are the best in the world, and that goes right through the field. They’re all still very good drivers, even without the equipment to prove themselves.

“One of the most stressful times in F1 was when the leaders come up to lap you. There’s not a lot of rear visibility so you rely on the Marshalls with the blue flags and I was so stressed when they’d come up to lap me as I didn’t want to affect the F1 Championship. Driving 900hp racecar, I’d go off the driving line at the best time in my mind, and they’d be coming through two or three at a time. That was really a tough situation to be in.”

Berg wanted to continue racing in F1, but no opportunities came about which was partially due to the Canadian Grand Prix being canceled for the 1987 season. He remained involved in the sport, spending some time in the booth with CBC.

“I want to thank Brian (Williams) for letting me come up in the booth,” he said. “The one time, the feed didn’t come through correctly. The feed would come through with the European commentary – that time, it didn’t come through right. The producer at the time, ‘We don’t have the first two minutes of commentary. Think you can commentate a race?’. I said, ‘I can. If I can drive a Formula 1 car, I think I can commentate a race’. Anyway, it was quite interesting trying to make that transition to go from doing it to talking about.

“I don’t remember what I said, but the funny thing – I never got a call back from CBC.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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