Mika Juhani Salo, born in Helsinki on November 30, 1966, began racing karts at the age of six, thanks also to his father Seppo's passion for this sport; it was during these years that Salo met the future Formula 1 champion Mika Häkkinen. In 1988, thanks to the sponsorship of Retting, a Finnish company, Mika took part in the Formula Ford championship, where he won five races and the championship ahead of Michael Schumacher. The following two years, however, the driver competed in English Formula 3 and in 1990 came second in the championship, behind compatriot Hakkinen, with whom he created a strong rivalry.
At the end of the championship, his driving license and the super license that the FIA is about to grant him are revoked. Furthermore, all his sponsors refuse to continue to finance his career and the Finn moves to Japan, where he takes part in the Formula Nippon championship, without obtaining great results. In 1994, Salo had the chance to replace Irvine, who was disqualified for three Grands Prix, for Jordan, but the driver refused as the Irish team asked him too much money to race.
The actual debut will take place at the end of the season, when Lotus will hire him to replace Herbert, who has moved to Benetton. With a contract initially valid for only one race, Salo finishes tenth in Japan and is also confirmed for the next Australian Grand Prix, which he is unable to complete. These tests, however, attract the attention of Nokia, which becomes his personal sponsor. At the end of the season, he goes to Tyrrell for 1995. Salo therefore began 1995 with Tyrrell, with whom he had a contract until 1996. Already at the first race he almost reached the points zone finishing seventh, but for a stretch of the race he occupies the third position, then losing it due to a spin due to the strong vibrations of his car caused by the layout of the circuit.
In the second world round, on the other hand, the Finn is noted for an almost close fight with the Japanese Aguri Suzuki, guilty of having caused his retirement. The rest of the season, however, sees the driver often finish in the top ten, without ever obtaining points, at least until the Italian Grand Prix, in which he obtains a fifth place. He will score three more points in the last two races of the season, finishing the championship in fifteenth place. Remaining in Tyrrell also in 1996, he won three points in the first two Grands Prix and another place in Monaco, finishing the season in thirteenth place. Confirmed in Tyrrell once again, in 1997, he will get a single placing thanks to the fifth place in the Monaco Grand Prix dominated by Michael Schumacher's Ferrari, in the rain, due to the premature interruption of the race: this result is due to the the entire Grand Prix, up to the suspension, without making pit stops, which allows him to move up the rankings.
During the summer, there will be talk of his probable move to Ferrari to replace Irvine after 1998, which in the end will not materialize. The Finn will therefore conclude his season with two points, which will also be the last ones won by Tyrrell. In 1998 Salo will form the Arrows couple with Pedro Diniz. The team decides to build the car entirely by itself with its own engine and chassis, but the results will be disappointing. The only points won by the Finn will come, like the previous year, from the Monaco Grand Prix where, also favored by the configuration of the circuit that does not require a powerful engine, he concludes fourth, even ahead of the world champion Jacques Villeneuve.
For 1999 Salo is initially confirmed by Arrows, but less than three weeks before the start of the season, the team leaves him free to make room for Toranosuke Takagi as he is supported by more generous sponsors. The Finn therefore finds himself without an engagement in a Formula 1 team, yet 1999 would have been his best year. Called up for the San Marino Grand Prix and in the following two races, under the suggestion of Villeneuve at BAR to replace the injured Ricardo Zonta, the Finn touches the points area twice, finishing seventh in Imola and eighth in Spain. When the Brazilian returned, Salo found himself again without a steering wheel, but due to the injury suffered by Michael Schumacher during the British Grand Prix he was hired by Ferrari to replace the German.
In six races, after making his debut with a ninth place in Austria, Salo shows excellent skills, but with a fluctuating performance. At the second race, in Germany, he qualified fourth, ahead of his teammate Eddie Irvine, and at the start he moved to second position skillfully repelling the repeated attacks of Coulthard's McLaren and then even gaining the command of the Grand Prix, taking advantage of the vicissitudes of the other. McLaren of compatriot Mika Häkkinen, up to now the leader of the race.
Salo could therefore have won easily but will have to give first place to Irvine, fighting for the World Cup. In Hungary he will struggle in the group, in Belgium he will be unlucky arriving only seventh, while in Monza he will do better than Irvine and will climb the podium again, finishing third at the finish. At his last race, at the Nürburgring, he will have to retire due to mechanical problems.
Salo leaves Ferrari with ten points, almost a third of all those obtained in his career, the only two podiums in Formula 1, the satisfaction of having contributed to the Constructors' Championship, returned to Maranello after sixteen years, and a contract that binds him to Ferrari indirectly for the following years. The first effects of the contract came in 2000, with the participation in another Formula 1 World Championship with the Ferrari-powered Sauber, where he returned to team up with Pedro Diniz. At the first Grand Prix Salo finishes sixth, but will be disqualified for car irregularities.
He will still get the first points a few weeks later, in Imola, with a sixth position, and over the course of the season he will conquer three more points in the points, or two fifth places in Munich and Germany, and another sixth place in Austria. Salo therefore ends the season in eleventh place with six points obtained, which will also be the only points collected by the team during the year. For the next two years he will agree with Toyota for the absolute debut of the third car manufacturer in the World Championship. In 2001 will be spent entirely in testing, far from the Grand Prix and full of technical problems, also due to a completely wrong car and a second not irresistible. In 2002 will see him again at the start but, except for the two points at the start of the world championship, thanks to the sixth place at his debut in Australia and the third race, in Brazil, the rest will be an ordeal that will rarely see him competitive.
In Italy he will do well and could finish fourth without any problems but when he returns from the pit stop he will cross the white demarcation line at the pit exit and will be penalized with a drive through, finishing the race well outside the points zone. Salo will therefore conclude the seventeenth season and at the end of the year he will decide to retire from Formula 1 due to a lack of motivation and incentives. In 2003 the Finn driver at the 12 Hours of Sebring with the Audi R8 Sport, the most successful prototype of the decade. He was also supposed to race the 24 Hours of Le Mans with it, but his crew finished the race in the first hour due to fuel problems. In the meantime, he competes in America, in CART with the PK Racing team, and finishes third in Miami, second out of four races disputed.
Recalling the link with Ferrari, Salo is involved with other leading drivers who have just retired, such as Johnny Herbert, in the development of the Maserati MC12, the extreme Gran Turismo that marks the return of the Modenese house to racing. Before disputing the last four races of the season in the FIA GT with the rookie Maserati, winning two, he himself made his debut in the championship at the 24 Hours of Spa with the Ferrari 575. The 2005 is almost a sabbatical, with only two races in the American Le Mans Series with the Maserati MC12, whose performance will however be limited and the results meager.
In 2006, on the contrary, Salo is very busy on two fronts: the American one of the ALMS with the Risi Competizione team, with the new Ferrari F430 for the GT2 class, and the European one of the FIA GT with AF Corse and the same car for the same class. On June 21, 2012, on the occasion of the European Grand Prix in Valencia, he was appointed race commissioner in place of Emanuele Pirro.