Argentinian ex-F1 driver Norberto Fontana has recovered a crash helmet that he used at Sauber, which was stolen from his family’s home in 1998.
Fontana, who took part in four F1 grands prix in 1997 with the Sauber squad, received the helmet over the weekend after a fellow racer happened to spot it being worn by a motorbike rider in the street.
The helmet was stolen from Fontana’s family dwelling in his hometown of Arrecifes, located 180 kilometers away from Buenos Aires City. Thieves broke into the house and stole some of Fontana’s belongings during the 1998 European winter, while he was in England negotiating to race for Tyrrell in the upcoming F1 season.
Among the items taken by the robbers was an Arai helmet that Fontana had worn driving for Sauber at Mugello and Estoril during 1996, while serving as test driver for the Hinwil-based team.
Almost 24 years on, last Friday a fellow Argentine racing driver, Christian Bodrato Mionetto, spotted a woman seated on a bike in front of a bank in Tortuguitas, in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, wearing a helmet with Fontana’s characteristic design – and carrying his name. This aroused his suspicions, so he contacted Fontana after taking a photo.
When he saw the picture, Fontana immediately knew it was the helmet that was stolen in 1998. Bodrato Mionetto then approached the person who was wearing the helmet and, after paying a sum of money – the woman insisted that she was not connected to the helmet’s theft – recovered it in order to give it back to its true owner.
“I knew some day I would be able to find that helmet because when people see those colours, they know that they are mine,” said Fontana on his Instagram account.
Despite having been robbed almost 24 years ago, the helmet was in very good condition and only the radio communication system was missing.
Fontana raced four times for Sauber in 1997, initially as a replacement for the injured Gianni Morbidelli – who'd broken his arm in testing at Magny-Cours – with two ninth-placed finishes at Silverstone and Hockenheim his best results.
The Tyrrell seat for 1998 was finally taken by Brazilian Ricardo Rosset and, when it was clear he would not be able to have a place in the F1 grid, Fontana raced in Formula Nippon and FIA Formula 3000 and also had a brief time in the CART Series in 2000 before he moved back to Argentina.
He went on to win championships in TC2000 (2002 and 2010) and Turismo Carretera (2006), where he still races at the age of 46.