Category Archives: Forgotten heroes series

Forgotten Heroes: Stefan Bellof

Two weeks ago, on September 1st, marked the 25th anniversary of Stefan Bellof’s death. A quick look at his F1 career stats tell us nothing of his immense skill and speed, with only 22 starts and 4 points. But, what he did in Formula 2, and then sportscar racing, gave us a glimpse of what could have been one of the greatest F1 drivers of all time.

Stefan Bellof driving for Tyrrell

Stefan Bellof driving for Tyrrell

Stefan Bellof was born on 20th November 1957, and made his entry into motorsport by following his older brother Geörg into karting. For several years, he made good results in national competitions, until he won the International Karting Championship of Luxembourg in 1976, and then the German Karting Championship two years later.

After this, he made a meteoric rise through the German formulae. In 1981, he got a chance at German Formula 3, but entered the competition having missed the first two races. No problem for Stefan though, as with one race left in the series he was 7 points ahead. However, at the Nurburgring, he finishes 13th, while his title rivals Frank Jelinski and Franz Konrad were 1st and 2nd, meaning he lost the title at the very end. He had made his mark though, having finished in the top 4 in all of the first 8 races he competed in.

While ending the year, he decided to enter the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch. In his quarter final heat, he finished 6th, but was disqualified for excessive contact. Bellof famously made a promise to the meeting clerk after this, saying the official who penalised him had “better watch my career, because I’ll be back here next year and I’ll win my first Formula 2 race.”

With his pace, this was not a promise to be broken. A certain amount of backing from BMW meant Stefan made a place on the Maurer Motorsport Formula 2 team, with Willy Maurer being signed as his manager in the process. In his first race at the BRDC International Trophy at Silverstone, he only qualified 9th. However, showers and a wet track meant that Bellof stormed through the field, and won by 21 seconds to Satoru Nakajima, and was only the second driver ever to win on his Formula 2 debut. He swiftly followed this up with another win at Hockenheim, but a slump in form near the end meant he was unable to fight for the title.

After this disappointment, Stefan decided to move to sportscar racing, while staying in Formula 2, though this brought little luck. Still, he entered the World Sportscar Championship with Porsche alongside Derek Bell. This was to prove his immense talent, as their first race together meant they won the 1000km Silverstone race by an entire minute ahead of Bob Wollek and Stefan Johansson. Their next race was at the 1000km at the Nurburgring Nordschleife, where Bellof smashed one of the greatest motorsport records to pieces. His pole position time of 6 minutes, 11.13 seconds is unofficially the fastest ever time on the Nordschleife, and he was 5 seconds faster than anybody else. To prove his skill, he was travelling the “Green Hell” at an average speed of over 125mph.

In the race, his fastest lap of 6 minutes, 25.91 seconds is the official fastest lap ever for any car on the Nordschleife. Two laps after setting this time, his car flipped over and left him out of the race.

Later on in the season, he took two more victories in Kyalami and Fuji. In 1984, he continued to drive alongside Bell and also John Watson, and dominated the championship with wins at Imola, Monza, Nurburgring, Spa, Mosport and Sandown. Alongside this, he won the German DRM championship that year.

With his talent finally shining through, Bellof was signed to the Tyrrell team alongside Martin Brundle. The team were facing an uphill struggle, with their Ford engine lacking 150bhp compared to their turbo rivals. Despite a poor start to the year, Stefan scored back-to-back points finishes in Zolder and Imola. Another retirement followed at Dijon, before another masterful performance showed through. At Monaco, Stefan was 20th on the grid, but torrential rain caused a huge amount of drivers to crash out of the race. Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, who made Monaco his own in his era, were leading the race, but guess who was catching both the McLaren and the Toleman? A certain Stefan Bellof. The race was red-flagged before the race end, so we will never know if he could improve even further.

Stefan Bellof in Monaco in 1984, in 3rd place

Stefan Bellof in Monaco in 1984, in 3rd place

Stefan crashed out in Detroit while Brundle finished 2nd, but worse was to come. Tyrrell, and both their drivers’, points for the 1984 season were taken away after they were found to have lead ballast in their cars. Nevertheless, he continued at Tyrrell for 1985, but missed the first race of the season. Disregarding this, his first race at Estoril was another impressive one in treacherous conditions, moving his way up from 21st to 6th place in the wet. This was to be his first ever point in F1, as last year’s points were wiped from the records.

Stefan Bellof in Monaco in 1984, in 3rd place

Stefan Bellof in Monaco in 1984, in 3rd place

After last year’s brilliant drive, he failed to qualify for the 1985 Monaco GP, but made up for it with a 4th place in Detroit, which turned out to be his highest-finishing drive. However, the rest of his season had been ruined, as Tyrrel took until the German GP to switch to the turbo engines, meaning that Bellof was unable to challenge for podiums and even wins.

Despite only a few points in the early stint of his F1 career, he was being regarded as a potential future Formula 1 champion. However, his dreams were shattered at the 1000km of Spa race, where, driving a Porsche 956 and trying to catch Jacky Ickx, he collided with him and crashed into the guardrail, resulting in both cars catching fire and the race being halted. He was eventually extracted from the car, but declared dead an hour later.

Only three weeks earlier, compatriot Manfred Winkelhock had been killed driving a Porsche at Mosport Park, which had prompted Porsche to hurry the development of the safer 962 model, but didn’t arrive quickly enough for Stefan.

Stefan Bellof and Jacky Ickx moments before they collide at Eau Rouge

Stefan Bellof and Jacky Ickx moments before they collide at Eau Rouge

Despite a prospective career cut short, Bellof made a huge impact on motorsport. Unfortunately, his death prompted many teams to stop their drivers taking part in competitions outside of the main championship, which limited the drivers’ ability to prove themselves. Today, Michael Schumacher names Stefan Bellof as one of his childhood idols.

Mementos of Stefan Bellof can be found at the Sammler und Hobbywelt museum, including his go-kart , and his racing overalls and helmets from his time at the Porsche and Tyrrell teams. The Motorsportarena Stefan Bellof was also named after him.

In my opinion, Stefan Bellof was one of the greatest drivers of recent decades, and never really had the chance to show us his full potential. His stunning record lap at the Nurburgring, which has never been beaten, and his masterful drive in Monaco 1984 show that he had the talent to be one of the all-time racing greats.

Edit: Final picture of Bellof’s crash removed because it’s from the wrong event, correct one can’t be sourced.

Forgotten heroes: Patrick Depailler

Patrick Depallier

Patrick Depallier

Patrick Depailler is a driver who had all the characteristics of a true racing driver. He competed purely for the thrill of racing, and his passion was the driving force behind his career. Like so many others, however, Depaillerr’s ambitious career was cut short, not to mention being in the wrong car at the wrong time.

Patrick Depailler was born on 9th August 1944, as the son of an architect. In his earlier years, he was considering becoming a pastry chef, and was also looking at a career in automotive engineering. After he finished his education, he received a qualification as a dental technician. However, by his early teens, he had already caught the racing bug. His first mode of transport was an old Vélosolex, and later a Mobylette, which apparently was funded from his grandmother. He would spend hours a day in the shed, working on the bikes, trying to find the smallest amount of extra performance.

However, he never got a chance to race until 1962. He borrowed a friend’s 500cc Norton 88 SS, racing at a wet Monthléry circuit. Despite treacherous conditions, Patrick finished 2nd. He made the decicion in 1963 to move int0 motorcycle racing, although his parents had no knowledge of it. In his first national 50cc race at Clermont-Ferrand, he was 3rd, and he was approached afterwards by none other than Jean-Pierre Beltoise. At that time, Beltoise was a multiple-times mototcycle champion, and he had noticed Depallier’s riding technique. His compliments fuelled Patrick’s career even further, and pushed him to continue racing.

However, before he could continue, he was forced to spend six months in military service across France. While he was away though, he was pointed towards a newspaper article, with the “Operation Jeunesse” featured in it, which was a single-make championship, designed to find young talent for the future. Once he was finished in the military, he added his name to the thousands of entrants, and won a preliminary test, and selection process. In 1964, he competed in the competition with a Lotus Seven, and instantly scored 2 second places, then a 3rd. His next race, at the Chamrousse Hill Climb, was his first ever victory in motorsport.

After the 1964 season, he failed to acquire the finance to stay in car racing, so he went back to Jean-Pierre Beltoise, and while Jean-Pierre was injured after an earlier crash, Depallier drive his 250cc Bultaco, and did very well. Later, Beltoise went to Depailler’s home, and convinced his parents to support his future career, even though they had only recently found out about it. While they disapproved of Patrick’s dangerous activities, his father provided the finance for him to continue racing.

This allowed him to sign up to the Winfield School in Magny-Cours in 1966, to try and win the Volant Shell. He eventually lost out to fellow forgotten hero Francois Cevert, but Beltoise convinced Alpine to sign Depailler for 3 years. He went into French F3, and while he won many races, and competed in sports car racing, it took him until 1971 to actually win the title.

With that title in hand, it was time for Depailler to move on, and he raced in Formula 1 for the first time in the 1972 season with Tyrrell, at the final race of the season at Watkins Glen. He finished 7th, which was an amazing feat considering it was his first race. Afterwards, the 1-2 finish of Jackie Steward and Francois Cevert, both driving Tyrrells, drove alongside Depailler into the pits as a show of strength. However, he did not stay there for the next season, as he went back to F2 in an Elf chassis. He was scheduled to return to Tyrrell for the final 2 races of the Formula 1 season, but he crashed a motorcycle and broke his leg, ruining his opportunity. However, despite his mistake, he was still granted the opportunity to try again in 1974.

Patrick Depailler at the 1974 Swedish Grand Prix, driving a Tyrrell 007

Patrick Depailler at the 1974 Swedish Grand Prix, driving a Tyrrell 007

However, the space allowed for him in the Tyrrell team only came around this time because of the death of Francois Cevert. For the 1974 season, he drove the 005/006/007 variants of the Tyrrell car, and alternated between them, although it it not clear why. Nevertheless, he did very well, getting 5 points-scoring positions in 15 races. However, his season was blighted by several retirements, mostly caused by mechanical problems, and 2 collisions.

While the Tyrrell car remained not very competitive in 1975, Depailler managed to score his first ever podium position in South Africa. While he was in the points only 4 other times, there were less retirements than last year, and only one of those were mechanical related. In 1976, the arrival of the mad 6-wheeled Tyrrell gave the team a boost in terms of pace, even though it went down in history as looking absolutely ridiculous. He managed 7 podium positions out of his 10 finishes, an amazing result. After 2 seasons finishing 9th twice, Depailler was now 4th overall. However, these results were blighted by another awful run of mechanical retirements, so while the car was so quick it could be on nearly all of the races, the car’s reliability held him back.

Patrick Depailler at the 1976 Monaco Grand Prix, 3rd place, behind team-mate Jody Scheckter

Patrick Depailler at the 1976 Monaco Grand Prix, 3rd place, behind team-mate Jody Scheckter

The 1977 season was a step backwards, as yet again a huge list of retirements held Patrick back. He stepped on the podium 3 times, but still never won a race. The car’s performance was off, and it could rarely finish consecutive races, leaving Depailler 9th with only 20 points. While 1978 still didn’t put an end to the Tyrrell’s dire reliability, Depailler finally scored his first win in Monaco, and by doing so took the lead in the championship for the first time. 4 more podiums weren’t enough to keep a hold of the championship lead, and the car let him down again that year, as he was only in 5th place in the drivers’ championship. However, his driving skill was never diminished, as at the final race of the year in Canada, he drove magnificently in the wet to finish 5th, as shown here (note the slide at 1:48):

1979 saw another win for Patrick, as he took victory in the Spanish Grand Prix, which this time put him level with Gilles Villeneuve in the championship. However, this year was ruined not by the car, but a hang-gliding accident, which broke both of his legs after the 7th race, and forced him out for the rest of the season.

By the time he had recovered, he had decided that he would move on from Tyrrell. He must have been sick of the car’s shocking reliability, despite its tendency to perform well when it didn’t explode. While the Alfa Romeo had only spent a year in Formula 1 since leaving back in 1952, Depailler decided to join them to try and improve their cars. But, this move eventually ended his career.

The first disastrous problem was that the car was even more unreliable than the Tyrrell. In the first 8 races of the 1980 season, Patrick failed to finish a single race. He didn’t retire in South Africa, but was 25 laps down (out of 77), so surely that must have been a mechanical problem as well. All of the other races resulted in retirements, 3 times the engine, and 4 times all different components. While it was clear that the Alfa Romeo was an all-round horrific car, there was nothing Depailler could do.

Patrick Depailler overtaking team-mate Bruno Giacomelli at the 1980 British Grand Prix, which turned out to be his final race

Patrick Depailler overtaking team-mate Bruno Giacomelli at the 1980 British Grand Prix, which turned out to be his final race

Even if he could have made a difference, he didn’t get the chance. In testing for the German Grand Prix at the Hockenheimring, a suspension failure pitched and threw his car into the barriers at the high-speed Ostkurve, which caused fatal head injuries when the car rolled over.

The scene of Patrick Depailler's crash

The scene of Patrick Depailler's crash

Unfortunately, Patrick Depailler is never remembered as the driver he could have been. Those who do remember would think of the endless retirements, yet I’m sure his fierce driving skill can be used to prove that he deserved a better chance than he did. He had a pure passion for racing, had the skill to match, but misfortune meant he will never be remembered as a possible World Champion.

Forgotten heroes: Piers Courage

Today marks the 40th anniversary of Piers Courage’s death. He was known as a very quick, but erratic driver, and his 2 podium positions in Formula 1 do not get near describing what could have been for one of the best drivers on the grid during his time.

Piers Courage was born on 27th May 1942 in Colchester, and was the heir of the famous Courage brewing dynasty. Because of this, he was educated in Eton, and this is where he caught the racing bug. However, while he was there, he was unable to fully pursue racing, although every Sunday morning he would dissapear with his family’s Morris Minor Traveller.

Piers Courage

Piers Courage

Once he left Eton in the summer, he was able to get started fully. He began his racing career in a Lotus 7 which was funded by his father, although after this he was on his own. Most of his time racing the Seven was spent going backwards, thanks to his penchant of spinning. Off the racing track, he was similarly erratic, crashing his car into a skip in Montpellier Square, Knightsbridge. During this time, he was involved with many strange tales involving people such as Frank Williams, Charlie Crichton-Stuart, Jonathon Williams and Anthony  Horsley. For example, Piers decided to ram his car backwards into a wall, to reshape a damaged chassis.

In 1964, he teamed up with a good friend, Jonathon Williams, and raced in the European Formula 3 championship in a Lotus 22, under the name of Anglo-Swiss Racing Team. Although they did not compete for the entire season, they had made their mark, getting 2nd place in Zandvoort and 3rd in Reims. This encouraged Piers to compete for a full season in 1965.

The next year, he drove a 1.0L F3 Brabham for George Lucas, and got to know Frank Williams, who sometimes drove the car, other times being the mechanic. He got a string of good results, and 4 wins across the year, at Silverstone, Goodwood, Caserta and Reims, which earned him the 1965 Grovewood Award from Jim Clark. This impressive season earned him an invitation from Colin Chapman to drive a Lotus 41 in the 1966 Formula 3 season.

While his car was inferior to the dominant Brabhams, on occasion Courage was able to out-perform them, and earn himself some wins in the process. His impressive performances meant that Ron Harris asked him to drive in Formula 2 for one race, the 1966 German Grand Prix. However, Courage ruined this opportunity by crashing out in the race.

Despite this, he was still offered a drive by the Brabham Formula 1 team in 1967, and he drove a Lotus-BRM 25 for the first race in South Africa, although he retired with a problem with the fuel system, and spinning multiple times in the race. At the next race in Monaco, he spun off on lap 64, and retired again, causing the team to drop him for the rest of the season.

With his reputation now in trouble, Courage was forced to spend the rest of the season in John Coombs’ F2 McLaren M4A, and finished 4th in the standings. At the end of the season, he bought the car off Coombs, and brought the car down under to compete in the Tasman series as a privateer. This is where his career turned around, as in 7 races he finished second, fourth, fifth, third, third and fifth, and then scored an excellent win at the very end. This resulted in Tim Parnell offering him a second chance – with the Reg Parnell Racing BRM Team for 1968.

Piers Courage driving a Brabham

Piers Courage driving a Brabham

During the 1968 season, Piers was much improved, as he didn’t crash out of a single Grand Prix. He got into points-scoring positions 4 times, in France, Great Britain, Germany and Italy, all one after the other. However, reliability struck on more than one occasion, so he only finished 19th in the standings with 4 points. Still, it was a good improvement from his previous attempt.

Piers Courage driving for Reg Parnell Racing, in a BRM P126, in 1968

Piers Courage driving for Reg Parnell Racing, in a BRM P126, in 1968

For 1969, he got an offer to replace Jim Clark at Lotus, but declined, deciding to move to Frank Williams Racing Cars, driving a Brabham BT26A. Although he crashed out of the German Grand Prix, Courage had an excellent season, with 2 podium positions in Monaco and the USA, and 2 other points-scoring finishes. At Italy, where he finished 5th, Jackie Stewart remarked that Courage was “driving like a tiger” around the high-speed Curva Grande. His driving style had improved, and was more clean and consistent. With an 8th place finish in the drivers’ standings, things were on the up for Piers. But, as it tends to do, it all went horribly wrong.

Following a business agreement with Allesandro de Tomaso, Williams opted to use the newly designed De Tomaso 505, rather than the tried-and-tested Brabham, for the 1970 season. It was a disastrous mistake, as the De Tomaso turned out to be overweight and unreliable. For the first half of the season, Courage did not record a single finish, apart from a 3rd place at the non-championship race, the International Trophy. At the Dutch Grand Prix, things looked slightly better. Courage qualified 9th, which was a significant improvement on previous performances.

But, during the race, his car ran wide on a bend, rode up an embankment, and rolled upside-down, with the car bursting into flames. To make matters worse, the De Tomaso car chassis and bodywork had magnesium in it, which was put in to lighten the car. This magnesium exploded, so much so that nearby trees were ignited. His helmet afterwards showed signs of rubber, an indication that a loose wheel had struck him on the head. Just 3 years later, Roger Williamson crashed and was killed at this very same corner.

It would be unfair to remember Piers Courage by only the above race performances. He had just reached a turning point in his career, before it was brought to a sickening halt. Wins, possibly even more, would have been earned by Piers if he had ever had the chance. Hopefully, “Porridge” will be remembered for his sheer enthusiasm for motorsport, and his “living life to the full” attitude.

Di Montezemolo blasts new teams (again) in latest rant

Luca di Montezemolo, president of Ferrari

Luca di Montezemolo, president of Ferrari

Once again, Lucas di Montezemolo, the boss of Ferrari, has blasted Formula 1′s new teams, calling them “a joke”. In an interview with Autocar, he also expressed his will for 3-car teams, the return of in-season testing, and changes to the layout of a Grand Prix race.

Regarding the new teams, he said:

"There is a need to have competitive teams. F1 is like soccer. It
needs heroes and it needs big teams. You cannot equalize everything.
We need to avoid having too many small teams as it means too many
compromises."

Luca has made these sort of statements before, but since then, the new teams have made good progress to catch up, and are now only about a second behind the midfield. Why he finds the need to attack them when they have done nothing wrong, I don’t know.
He also suggested revisons to Formula 1, such as introducing 3-car teams (yet again) and bringing back in-season testing:

3-car teams: "Giving this car to a good young driver or Valentino
Rossi would be better than a team being four seconds behind."
Changes to race weekends: "Do we need to race at two in the
afternoon when everyone is at the sea. Could we have two races per
meeting? Do races need to last so long? F1 is not an endurance
race. We need races to be short and tough."
In-season testing: "F1 is the only sport in the world where there
is no training."

We all know by now that Di Montezemolo wants the intorduction of 3-car teams, as he has said it many times before. However, FOTA have never really discussed it, and few people are in favour of it, so I can’t see it happening.

The in-season testing ban has really hurt Ferrari, as they now cannot use their Mugello circit for most of the year. I would be in favour of reintroducing testing, but only when given to young drivers at specific points across the year. But, what he says about F1 testing is wrong, in my opinion. There is time for training in Formula 1, and it’s called Friday Practice.

I have said in the past that I’m not in favour of Di Montezemolo’s suggestions, and this time it’s (mostly) no different. Also, I think it’s disgraceful that he can attack the new teams like he did. Ferrari have never started off as a new team in a developed grid like Lotus, Virgin and HRT have, and these teams have done great work in increasing their pace and improving reliability. Luca should learn this, and actually respect the teams that will be racing him in a few years time.

Forgotten heroes: Wolfgang Von Trips

Wolfgang von Trips

Wolfgang von Trips

Wolfgang Graf Alexander Albert Eduard Maximillian Reichsgraf Berghe von Trips  is another name that is rarely, if ever, mentioned these days. However, he came incredibly close to winning the 1961 World Championship, and become the first ever German F1 champion. His jinx for accidents came in the way of that though.

He was born on 4th May 1928 in Horrem, Cologne, as the son of a noble Rhineland family. It is very difficult to see how he entered F1, due to the complete lack of information about it, but he first entered the Formula 1 World Championship with Ferrari in 1956. He was on course to compete in the final race of the season in Monza, but a practice accident ruled him out.

Next year, in 1957, he started the first race with last year’s car, the Lancia Ferrari D50A. He finished 6th, driving the same car as Caesare Perdisa and Peter Collins. For Monaco, he was given the Ferrari 801 to drive, and shared the car with Mike Hawthorn, but retired in the race. Other drivers replaced him for all but the last race of that season, again at Monza. Here, he finally had a car to hmself, and impressed with a 3rd place finish.

In 1958, he started the second race of the season in Monaco, but an engine failure ruled him out after 91 laps, after starting 11th on the grid. He then competed in the French Grand Prix, with a very impressive result. He started 21st on the grid, but he fought up the field to get 3rd place, ahead of Juan Manuel Fangio (in his last ever F1 race). Ferrari decided to keep him for the rest of the season after this. In Great Britain, another engine failure took him out, after again starting 11th. In Germany and Portugal he finished 5th both times. In Italy, he started 6th, but was caught up in an accident on the first lap. He did not race at the last event in Morocco.

For the first race of 1959 in Monaco, he raced for Porsche, but was taken out on the first lap from a collision, after starting 12th. He took part in one other event that year, AVUS in Germany, but failed to qualify. 1960 was a much better year for Von Trips, as his Ferrari Dino 246 was now up to the job. He got one 4th, three 5th places, one 6th and one 8th place. He had a transmission problem in Belgium, and was 11th in France. For the last race that year, he competed in a Cooper T51 for Scuderia Centro Sud, and only got 9th.

1961 was the best season of Von Trips’ career, as he finally showed his potential. He got 4th in Monaco, followed by his first ever victory at the Dutch Grand Prix (the only race in F1 history where everyone finished and nobody pitted). He followed that up with a second position in Belgium, before retiring in France thanks to an engine failure. Another win then followed at Great Britain, and then a second place at Germany. At this point, Von Trips only needed one third place in any of the next two races to win the world championships. This was despite him handing over the lead to Phil Hill twice, who his team thought was more likely to take the title. But, events at Monza changed all that.

Here, Wolfgang took his first ever pole position. This put him well on course for victory and the championship. But, on Lap 2 approaching the Parabolica, he tangled with Jim Clark’s Lotus, spearing his car into the spectators, killing 14 people and Von Trips himself. The race was not stopped, and so Phil Hill took the win, and the championship with it. This was the last ever time that Formula 1 visited the full 10km Monza circuit layout.

For the final race at Watkins Glen, Ferrari decided not to compete, in repect for Von Trips, and the fact that they had already completely dominated the season, so there was nothing to compete for. Hill won the championship by a single point, but after such a tragic event at Monza, many people remember this season for what could have been for Wolfgang.

Before he died, in 1961, he established a go-kart race track in Kerpen, Germany. After he died, the track was leased to Rolf Schumacher, who allowed his two sons to have their first ever racing laps there. His sons just so happened to be called Michael and Ralf.

Forgotten heroes: François Cevert

Francois Cevert

Francois Cevert

So many of the drivers I feature here could well have won Formula 1 World Championships. Of course, when people think of the best drivers never to win a championship, Stirling Moss springs to mind. But, it is my opinion that the greatest driver never to win the championship was François Cevert. He was tipped as Jackie Steward’s successor, and was France’s great hope of the decade. But, as so many others did, safety (or lack of it) stopped him in his tracks.

Albert François Cevert Goldenberg was born in February 1944 in Paris. He was the brother-in-law of Grand Prix driver Jean-Pierre Beltoise. As a child, he raced on his mother’s Vespa scooter against friends.  He took a training course at the Le Mans school, and then started at the Magny-Cours racing school. He registered for the Volant Shell scholarship competition, which offered the top finisher the prize of an Alpine F3 car. He won the scholarship, the car, and entered Formula 3 in 1967. However, he was unable to keep up his car financially and technically by himself, so he sought sponsorship, and traded in his Alpine for a more competitive Tecno car. He instantly showed his form, and won the 1968 French Formula 3 championship ahead of Jean-Pierre Jabouille.

The next year, Cevert joined the Tecno Formula 2, and did very well, finishing third overall with one win. Also, he made his Grand Prix debut, albeit in the F2 class, in Germany that year. In one of the races that year, Jackie Stewart had a hard time getting past the Frenchman. Since then, Stewart told his manager, Ken Tyrrell, to keep an eye on the young Frenchman.

In 1970, Johnny Servoz-Gavin suddenly retired from the Tyrrell F1 team 3 races into the season as the result of an eye injury. After watching him progress through F2, Tyrrell called up Cevert to drive for the Tyrrell team for the rest of the season. Cevert drove his first F1 race at Zandvoort, the Dutch GP. In the 9 races he drove that season, he finished 5 of them, and scored his first ever point at the Italian Grand Prix. Every single race he competed in, he closed the gap to team-mate Jackie Steward. That year, Tyrrell were running March cars, which were horribly unreliable, although Cevert had made enough of an impression to be resigned for 1971.

Francois Cevert finished second at the 1971 French Grand Prix

Francois Cevert finished second at the 1971 French Grand Prix

Tyrrell took a huge risk by making their own car, the 001. It payed off massively, with Stewart taking the world championship. For Cevert, he took his first podium, first fastest lap and first ever win that year. His victory was at Watkins Glen, the season finale, his fastest lap was at the Nurburgring, and the podium at his home race, the French GP. He finished 3rd in the championship, behind Steward and Ronnie Peterson. He also took victories in touring cars and the CanAm series that year.

1972 was a year to be forgotten for Cevert. Lotus and Emerson Fittpaldi won the championship, whereas Cevert could only finish in the points three times, one of those at the French Grand Prix (4th). He did however do well in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, finishing second in a Matra. By this time, the Tyrrell team-mates were good friends, and Stewart was never shy of advertising Cevert’s potential to win a championship.

Francois Cevert driving a Matra in Le Mans in 1973

Francois Cevert driving a Matra in Le Mans in 1973

For the 1973 season, Tyrrell were back at the top of Formula 1. Stewart and Cevert took three 1-2 finishes that year. Francois was able to keep up with Stewart at nearly every race now, and the Scot had a surprise planned for him at the end of the year. Since Stewart was planning to retire at the end of the year, he was going to hand the first driver role to Cevert for next year. Ken Tyrrell had it all planned out before the final race of the year at Watkins Glen: Steward and Cevert would be running 1-2, then Jackie would hand the win to Francois on the final lap, and symbolically hand him the baton of leadership of the team. Stewart had already won the world championship, so the plan didn’t bother him. However, tragically, the plan never occurred.

In practice for the US Grand Prix, Cevert approached the fast right-left uphill combination, called “The Esses”. Francois’ car moved too much to the left hand side, meaning he bumped off the kerb, and speared off towards the right-hand side of the corner. The car touched the track’s safety barriers, which caused the car to smash into the barriers on the other side of the track at a near 90° angle, which completely uprooted the barriers after the impact. Cevert was killed instantly through injuries after hitting the barrier. Jackie Stewart was one of the first on the scene, and saw that the stewards had left Francois in the car, because he was clearly dead. Jackie returned to the pits, and proceeded to do one of the bravest things any race driver has ever done.

Francois Cevert's car just after his crash at Watkins Glen in 1973

Francois Cevert's car just after his crash at Watkins Glen in 1973

When practice resumed, Jackie went out in his car, and took the Esses in fifth gear, as he always did. He did this because the lower revs meant the car was less jumpy through these corners. After this, he took the corner again, but this time in fourth gear, as Cevert always did, and realised very quickly how Francois had lost control. When he was satisfied as to how his team-mate and close friend had died, he pulled into the pits to end his racing career, as he and Tyrrell then dropped out of qualifying and the race in respect for Cevert.

Manou Zurini, a photographer, recalled what happened when he asked Jacky Ickx for information:

“Jacky Ickx had just arrived and I leant on his car with both elbows
but I could not question him. I saw he was crying, and then I knew
that it was all over for poor François. Jacky Ickx is not the sort
of chap to cry”.

Francois Cevert is never remembered as he should be, mainly because he is recorded as only winning one Formula 1 race. However, we can only imagine what he could have done if he had been able to lead the Tyrrell team into 1974. Even after he died, though, there was one more event which we must mention.

As well as being a racing driver Cevert was a classical pianist. His favourite piece was Beethoven’s Pathetique, and he played it at every opportunity. In between the 1973 Canadian and US Grands Prix, just before he died, Cevert went to Bermuda with the Stewart family, and played Beethoven’s Pathetique on the hotel’s grand piano every night. Much later that year, Stewart’s son Mark decided that he wanted a record for Christmas, but insisted that he buy a record at random in the record shop, and not look at it until Christmas Day. He was only 7, and picked a specific record because he liked the cover, though he had no idea what the record was. On Christmas Day, he opened the record to reveal Beethoven’s Pathetique.

Forgotten heroes: Luigi Fagioli

Luigi Fagioli

Luigi Fagioli

This is a name you probably won’t recognise. While he is one of Italy’s most successful racing drivers ever, most of his career came before the World Championship, and therefore modern F1 records, began in 1950.

He was born on 9th June 1898 in Osimo, Ancona Province in the Marche region of central Italy. As a child and young adult, he spent much of his time in hillclimb races, racing in an old French Salmson voiturette. He entered Grand Prix racing in 1926, and by 1928 had attracted the attention of the Maserati brothers. They allowed him to race a Maserati on the Targa Florio. He quickly became known as the Abruzzi Robber, because of his wild temperment which sometimes went completely out of control.

Luigi Fagioli driving a Maserati in 1931

Luigi Fagioli driving a Maserati in 1931

Despite this, he was successful in Grand Prix racing, winning the Coppa Ciano and the Circuit of Avellino in 1930. In 1931, at the Monaco Grand Prix, he entered battle with Louis Chiron, who had a Bugatti Type 51, which is widely considered to be one of the most famous racing battles of all time. Fagioli was at a disadvantage, as his Maserati 26M was geared towards long straights, not the twisty nature of the Monaco circuit. Depsite this, he showed his immense skill, but lost out to Chiron in the end, finishing 2nd. He got his revenge later that year, winning the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, beating Chiron and his fellow Italians, Achille Varzi and Tazio Nuvolari.

In 1932, he won the Grand Prix of Rome, and in 1933 was signed for the Alfa Romeo team, run by Enzo Ferrari, replacing Tazio Nuvolari. He soon won the Coppa Acerbo, Grand Prix du Comminges and the Italian GP. He was always supremely confident, and would blame drivers and retaliate those who made mistakes out on track. He also took risks others wouldn’t, and often got involved in unnecessary crashes, which gave him a somewhat bad reputation. However, his talents were undeniable, and he was poached by Mercedes to drive one of their Silver Arrows for 1934. His mechanic was the famous Hermann Lang.

Luigi Fagioli at AVUS in 1933

Luigi Fagioli at AVUS in 1933

However, he had a very difficult relationship with his team and co-drivers. In his very first race for Mercedes in 1934, team manager Alfred Neubauer ordered him to move aside for his team-mate, Manfred von Brauchitsch, so he could win the race. Luigi was under the impression that he was the number 1 driver, as Von Brauchitsch was inexperienced, and his other team-mate Rudolf Caracciola was injured. Fagioli was absolutely disgusted, and parked his car in anger. It quickly became clear that Luigi was only able to win when his German team-mates weren’t able to. Despite this, in 1934 he was able to win his second Coppa Acerbo, and the Spanish and Monza Grands Prix.

Luigi Fagioli at the 1936 Monaco Grand Prix

Luigi Fagioli at the 1936 Monaco Grand Prix

In 1935, his car was upgraded to the W25B model. This allowed him to win the Monaco GP, AVUS and Penya Rhin races that year. However, despite his success, his relationship with his fellow team-mates got even worse, especially with Rudolf Caracciola. Against team orders, Fagioli would try to pass him, sometimes getting through and sometimes not. This completely ruined his relationship with the team, and he left for Auto Union for 1937, purely to beat Mercedes-Benz. By this stage, racing was only for him to get revenge on others. It got even worse at the Tripoli Grand Prix of 1937, Fagioli was trying to pass Caracciola for the entire race with no team orders, but failed. After the race, Fagioli threw a wheel hammer at Caracciola, and then tried to attack him with a knife.

It would have probably got even worse, but his health problems quickly became apparent. He was suffering from crippling rheumatism, and it was seriously damaging his racing ability. At the Coppa Acerbo, a race he had won twice already, he was in such a bad state that he could only walk with a cane, so he admitted defeat and dropped out of the race. Combining this with World War 2, Luigi was never seen racing again for years. Nearly everyone assumed that was the end of his career, but they were wrong.

In 1950, the first ever FIA Formula 1 World Championship was forming. 52-year-old Fagioli had recovered well from his rheumatism, and shocked many by returning to drive for Alfa Romeo. Amazingly, he did very well, as he got 5 podium finishes in 6 races (the Monaco race was not held), which earned him third place in the first ever championship.

Luigi Fagioli finished 2nd at the first modern F1 race, the 1950 British Grand Prix

Luigi Fagioli finished 2nd at the first modern F1 race, the 1950 British Grand Prix

Luigi Fagioli at the 1951 Mille Miglia

Luigi Fagioli at the 1951 Mille Miglia

But, his first race of 1951 was his last. He shared a car with the famous Juan Manuel Fangio to win the French Grand Prix, which gave him the award of oldest driver ever to win a race, a record which he still holds today. However, he never raced in Formula 1 again after that.

In 1952, he signed for Lancia to drive sports cars, and finished third in the Mille Miglia, ahead of his arch-rival Caracciola. But, while he was practicing for a touring car race which was a supporting of the Monaco Grand Prix, he suffered a seemingly minor crash, breaking a hand and a leg. However, he had suffered internal injuries also, and died 3 weeks later from complications from his injuries.

He has a race named after him: the Trofeo Luigi Fagioli Hillclimb, a competition that he loved. It is held in Gubbio, and was created in 1966 in memory of Fagioli. Simone Faggioli has dominated the competition in recent years, winning 5 times since 2001. However, I have found no family link between Luigi and Simone, even if they do share an extremely similar surname.

Though his temper often got the better of him, sometimes with disastrous consequences, his thirst for racing and pure skill was undeniable, but unfortunately he will never be remembered as he should, since he barely competed in modern Formula 1. But, his success before this shows how he should have won championships, but health and time blocked the way.

Forgotten heroes: Ronnie Peterson

Ronnie Peterson at the Austrian Grand Prix in 1975

Ronnie Peterson at the Austrian Grand Prix in 1975

In the first of a new series, I will look back at several Formula 1 drivers who, despite their successes or promise, were never remembered in F1 history the way they should have been, for whatever reason. First up is Ronnie Peterson.

He wasn’t known as the “Super Swede” for nothing. While he only won 10 races in his Formula 1 career, Ronnie Peterson was regarded as on of the greatest drivers never to win a world championship, alongside Stirling Moss and Gilles Villeneuve. However, a crash in Monza 1978 put an end to what should have ended in a successful career for the Swede.

Ronnie Peterson finished 7th in his first ever race at the Monaco Grand Prix in 1970

Ronnie Peterson finished 7th in his first ever race at the Monaco Grand Prix in 1970

He made his debut in 1970, for the March team, at the Monaco Grand Prix. He qualified 12th out of 16 drivers. Ahead of him were much more experienced drivers in march cars: Jackie Stewart, Chris Amon and Jo Siffert. Despite this, he was the only March driver to finish the race, ending up 7th. After the race, Max Mosley, who was the chief of March Racing, said: “Write that Ronnie is fantastic – but don’t tell it to him”. While he continued to try his best for the rest of the year, he failed to score any points, as he was blighted by an uncompetitive car and poor reliability. For 1971, he was promoted to the full March works team, and instantly impressed. He scored 5 second places in that season, and finished second in the championship behind Jackie Stewart.

In 1972, the car was not up to standard. Ronnie only finished 9th overall in the championship. Outside of F1, he took second places in the 24 Hours of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring, 6 Hours of Watkins Glen, and BOAC 100km at Brands Hatch. He raced in 10 races in Formula 2, and took 2 victories. However, he couldn’t fight for the title, as he had scored points in F1 that year.

For the 1973 season, Peterson moves to the Lotus team, and has a great year. He took his first victory at the French Grand Prix that year. Across the 15 races in the year, he takes 4 victories, but only finishes 3rd overall in the championship, behind his team-mate Emerson Fittipaldi and Jackie Stewart. This was also the year when the Swedish Grand Prix made its debut, and Peterson finishes  at his home event. He also gets engaged to Barbro over the Christmas break.

Ronnie Peterson takes his first ever win at the 1973 French Grand Prix

Ronnie Peterson takes his first ever win at the 1973 French Grand Prix

For 1974, he remained at Lotus, but still failed to clinch the world championship. His new team-mate for this year was Jacky Ickx, after Jackie Stewart hung up his helmet. Despite Colin Chapman introducing the revolutionary new Lotus 76, Peterson only took 3 wins across the season, and finishes 5th in the championship. He still wins a a gold bar (Prix Rouge et Blanc Joseph Siffert) for the best performance of the season.

1975 was his sixth season in F1, but it turns out to be a complete disaster when the new Lotus Ford car fails to be completed before the start of the season. Ronnie struggles on with the old Lotus 72, but only finishes 12th in the championship with 6 points out of 17 races. The good news is that he got married to Barbro in April, and their daughter Nina is born in November. For the famous 1976 season, Peterson ditches Lotus after one race with the new car, the Lotus 77. He breaks his contract, and moves to March for the rest of the season. He takes 1 victory in Monza, but only finishes 11th overall in the championship.

For the next year Peterson takes a risk, and moves to the Tyrrell team, with their completely revolutionary 6-wheeled P34. However, the P34 was uncompetitive for a very specific reason, as Goodyear had failed to deliver the different tyres that Tyrrell needed for their innovation. This meant that the technology couldn’t be properly used, and Ronnie failed to win that year. Because of the fact that the car was not refined for the next year, he decided to move back to his old team Lotus. It was a decicion that paid off well, as their car was unbeatable, so him and Mario Andretti dominated the season. Up to the Italian Grand Prix, Andretti led the championship, with Peterson behind him with 51 points. But then it all went horribly wrong.

During practice, Peterson crashed his 79, meaning it couldn’t be repaired in time for the race, and he also bruised his legs in the process. There were two spare cars that Ronnie could use: last year’s uncompetitive 78, or a 79 that had been developed for the smaller Andretti. The competitive spirit prevailed, and Ronnie opted to use Andretti’s spare car, even though he wasn’t able to fit comfortably inside.

He lined up on the grid in 5th place, with Andretti on pole. But, while the back of the grid were still moving into position, the race starter threw the green flag to start the race, creating an accordion effect at the first corner. This is where the front if the grid were all slower to start off, and the backmarkers all flew off the grid, since they were still moving. This resulted in the entire field being bunched up together at the lethal first corner.

Approaching the Variente Goodyear, Ricardo Patrese’s Arrows hit the back of James Hunt’s McLaren, both of who started from the midfield. Hunt was thrown into Peterson’s Lotus, which flew into the right-hand side barriers, crushing the front of the car. Vittorio Brambrilla started from the back, but gained an advantage as he was already moving at the start. As he approached the accident, he swerved to try and avoid, but smashed into the back of Peterson’s Lotus, and the car burst into flames. After the horrific accident of Niki Lauda two years ago, fear struck everyone around the world.

Because Ronnie’s legs were cramped in, as he attempted to fit into Andretti’s car, his legs were crushed when he hit the barriers. As the car burned, James Hunt leapt out of his car and pulled Peterson from the burning wreck, and Ronnie only sustained minor burns. Hunt laid him out on the middle of the track, and stopped Peterson from looking at his legs to spare him further distress. After the fire was put out, the officials tried to put together what had happened, as there were 10 cars involved in the crash, Brambrilla had a severe head injury, and Peterson’s had 7 fractures in one leg and 3 in the other.

Ronnie Peterson is laid out in the middle of the track after the crash at the start of the 1978 Italian Grand Prix

Ronnie Peterson is laid out in the middle of the track after the crash at the start of the 1978 Italian Grand Prix

Ronnie could well have been saved, but for what happened next. The track officials insisted on forming a barrier around the crash site, meaning Professor Sid Watkins, the surgical advisor to Formula 1, was unable to help the drivers. After a delay of 11 to 18 minutes, an amblulance was dispatched, and brought Peterson to the Monza medical centre. After scans were made, it was established that the burns were not severe, his legs were splinted, and IVs were to be put in. His condition soon stabilised, and he was brought to the Ospedale Maggiore at Niguardia. An x-ray scan showed that he had a total of 27 fractures of his legs and feet. After a discussion with Ronnie himself, who had been conscious throughout the entire incident, the decicion was made to stabilise the bones. Unfortunately, during the night, bone marrow went into Peterson’s bloodstream through the fractures, forming fat globules on his major organs including lungs, liver, and brain. By morning he was in full renal failure and was declared dead a few hours later. The cause of death was announced as fat embolism.

Despite this horrible death, much good came from it. For example, after the shambolic actions of the track officials, the decicion was made that the medical car would follow the cars around the first lap, to give swift assistance to drivers involved in accidents. Marshalls were given better equipment to put out fires, instead of drivers having to rescue their fellow racers themselves. This posssibly saved the life of Gerhard Berger, after he crashed at Tamburello in Imola in 1989. Also, at Monza itself, the barriers were moved further back, to reduce the impact of crashes. These improvements in safety have saved many lives across the years.

But, his wife Barbro never got over his death, and committed suicide in 1987. Their daughter, Nina, opened a Ronnie Peterson museum in 2008, but it closed in 2009 due to a lack of government funding. A statue of Ronnie can be found in Örebro, made by Richard Brixel.

A statue of Ronnie Peterson can be found in Almby, Örebro

A statue of Ronnie Peterson can be found in Almby, Örebro

That year, Mario Andretti went on to win the world championship, with Peterson a posthumous second, showing just how dominant the Lotus 79 was. The real tragedy of his death was that Ronnie never got to see the safety improvements his demise brought about.

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