Few people in F1’s history can have only qualified for forty-two races from seventy-seven attempts, barely a fifty percent hit rate, and still remain as liked and respected as Roberto Pupo Moreno. Affectionately known as “Super Sub”, Moreno drove for no less than nine teams, more often than not with two to three in a single year, across six full or partial seasons in Formula One.
Hailing from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Pupo very nearly made is GP debut at the young age of twenty-three. With Nigel Mansell having broken his wrist during the 1982 Canadian Grand Prix, Lotus brought the young Brazilian into the fold three weeks later at the Dutch GP. However, having been thrown in at the very deep end, Moreno was unable to qualify. Mansell was back at the next round and it appeared that Roberto’s shot at the top level of motorsport was over before it began.
Moreno returned to the feeder series ladder, where he finished 2nd in the 1984 European F2 Championship, taking two wins and finishing on the podium in all seven races that he finished. The next four years saw full or partial seasons in F3000, culminating in the 1988 series title. During 1985 and 1986, Roberto also took part in twenty-one CART races in the States with Galles Racing, retiring from all but six events. 1987 saw Moreno was once again given a chance at F1 when the underfunded AGS team sought to replace Pascal Fabre for the final two rounds of the season. He retired in Japan but would finish 6th in Australia, scoring in only his second GP start, as well as taking the first points for the AGS team.
Following his F3000 championship in ‘88, Pupo was once again given a shot at F1, when Ferrari both signed him as their test driver AND helped him into a full time race seat with Coloni. However, he would only qualify for four rounds and would retire from each of them. 1990 saw a move to the equally inept Eurobrun squad. Here, Roberto would qualify for just two of fourteen rounds before being informed that the team would not even attempt the last two races of the season.
Roberto was then drafted in by Benetton to drive the final two races of the season following Alessandro Nannini’s horrific helicopter accident. His debut with the team would see Moreno take 2nd in Japan behind teammate Nelson Piquet, resulting in the only podium of Pupo’s Formula One career. He would follow this up with a 7th at the season ending Australian GP.
His showing in these two races would garner Roberto a full time seat with Benetton for 1991, though two 4th places would be his best results before unceremoniously being dropped by the team before the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix in favor of a certain German. Moreno would then take over the newly vacated seat at Jordan for two rounds before racing in Australia with Minardi.
1992 would see a partial season of ten rounds with Andrea Moda’s team in which Pupo would only qualify for one race before the team owner was arrested for forging invoices and the squad went under. The next two seasons would be spent in touring cars while a full season return to F1 with Forti in 1995 would yield nothing better than a 14th place finish. Pupo’s F1 career would end with a crash into the pitlane wall in the season ending Australian GP.
Moreno would return to racing in the States for 1996, racing with five separate Champ Car teams over the next four seasons, often subbing for other drivers. 2000 with Patrick Racing saw Moreno win in Cleveland and finish the season in 3rd place and he would take a second victory the following season in Vancouver. Pupo would continue on for partial seasons or one off races in both CART and the IndyCar series until 2008.
Other than his brief time with Benetton, Roberto Moreno never got the opportunity which may have shown his true speed. However, his ability in a car was evident by the racing world making him the go to driver in times of need year after year.