Nelson Piquet, the winner of the 1985 French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard, was visibly exhausted by the efforts of racing in the sweltering heat of early July. During the podium ceremony he reached out to steady himself on the shoulder of third place finisher Alain Prost.
Alain prost lead Nelson Piquet, seen here at Monaco, by two points before the final grand prix in 1983 at Kyalami and started the weekend well by out qualifying his opponents, Prost as well as third placed man Rene Arnoux for Ferrari (a further six points adrift), who were fifth and fourth whilst Piquet was on the front row.
The pressure was off, however, as first Arnoux and then later Prost both had their cars fail on them with Piquet’s third place more than enough to clinch the title.
To celebrate 1000 posts, I’m going to do a “Top Ten Favourite Drivers” list. I would just like to point out this is “favourite” not “best”, because we all know who the best drivers are. In no particular order. Here goes, in no particular order:
Francois Cevert. The handsome Parisian with eyes you could fall into was talented and earmarked to be successor to triple world champ Sir Jackie Stewart but unfortunately lost his life at Watkins Glen at what was to be JYS’ last Grand Prix, retiring immediately and not taking part in the race on Sunday. Hands down the most handsome man to have driven a Formula One car.
Gerhard Berger. The last man to be signed personally by Enzo Ferrari, the first and last man to take victories for Benetton Grand Prix, the original prankster of the Formula One paddock, and owner of the most stylish mullet in Formula One history. Favourite moments tied between that 1-2 at Monza in 1988 and that last victory at Hockenheim in 1997.
Felipe Massa. I give him a lot of stick recently, but the flood of emotions seeing him on the podium again brought back a lot of very fond memories. For three straight years he OWNED the Brazilian Grand Prix, and although it is my most heart wrenching Formula Moment watching him win the race but lose the title in 2008, and it is one that will stick with me for a long. He is Ferrari’s new guy, even if he isn’t the fasted. Like Michele and Clay and Jean and Gilles, he captured the passion and love for racing that is Ferrari and being beaten by three of the best drivers of the post-Senna era is nothing to be ashamed of.
Clay Regazzoni. Longtime Ferrari driver of the 70’s, Clay and his moustache always stood out for me. Team mate for Niki Lauda during the Championship years, Clay was also the first winner in a long line of great drivers for the Williams team. He would have his career ended after hitting an abadoned car at the USGP West at Long Beach 1980. Only his F1 career, that is, as he would go on to continue racing after being paralysed from the waste down. He had a custom Ferrari Daytona made for him that he could operate without the use of feet and fought for his right for a racing license and the acceptance of disable racers.
Mika Hakkinen. Spa 2000, nuff said.
Nigel Mansell. Il Leone. Our Nige. I’ve written at length about him before I think, and we all know who he is. Perhaps not quite as quick or naturally talented as Prost and Senna, he made up for it and then some. He earned his drive with Lotus, fighting tooth and nail, and again for his drive with Williams, and deservedly won a title in 1992 after many years of struggled. Should have stayed away from McLaren in 1995 though. Plus, dat moustache. Oh, and the reason why I like him? The way he drove. Oh buddy.
Jean Alesi. French-Sicilian and drove for Ferrari with his heart on his sleeve. The way he drove, the way he would lean his head into the corner, the tears when he won his sole race at Montreal, the tears after his car gave way after walking on water and leading by a country mile at Monza a year later. Was cursed to be at Ferrari during one of their worst periods since the 1980 season, but he chose the seat with his heart and not his head, turning down Williams which opened the door for Nigel Mansell. Imagining Jean Alesi winning a title for Williams feel weird, because although Williams has all that history, it just feels wrong separating Jean from Ferrari. Like Gilles and Clay before him and Felipe after, he was Ferrari.
Fangio. As far as I’m concerned, the greatest driver to have ever driven in Formula One. The Pelé or Johnny Unitas of Formula One, he wasn’t the first but oh boy is he the most well remembered. What he did at Nurburgring to clinch his final title is the stuff of legends. To come back from near death in 1952 to be the only man that didn’t drive a Ferrari to win in 1953, he then dominated three straight German Grand Prix in a row, won four straight championships (only matched by one man), and did it all while nearly twice the age of some of his closest competitors. The first great of Formula One and the finest.
Michael. When I was a little kid playing in the sand pit, five or six years old, every single car that had a 1 on its side was Michael Schumacher. He was my idol. All my friends cared about video games and football or whatever it was, all I cared about was Michael Schumacher. I hated McLaren, and Mercedes, and Williams, and DC and Mika and JV and Damo, and anything that wasn’t Michael and Ferrari. I have vivid memories of all these races, the elation of Hungary 1998, the devastating emptiness of Silverstone 1999, the amazing feeling when it all finally happened at Suzuka in 2000. All these strong memories tied to Ferrari and Michael. That final victory at Monza, oh boy, that one will stick with me a long time.
Sir Jack Brabham. Australia’s greatest ever driver, a national living treasure, the only man to win a World Championship as a driver and constructor. A true gentleman, only the second driver to win more than two titles, only the third to win more than one, and in a select club with Niki Lauda, JYS, Ayrton Senna and Nelson Piquet of triple world champions (to be joined by Alonso soon -_O ). He is just one of the finest to have ever raced and as an Australian who is rarely ever patriotic, this is one of the proudest things I feel my country has done, creating this man and unleashing him onto motorsport, with two of his sons going on to win at Le Mans. Sir Jack, my favourite ever Formula One driver.
As always, photos courtesy of the Cahier Archive.
While the whole country was celebrating their favourite moustache winning the historic British Grand Prix at Silverstone, a not-so-young 31 year old rookie made his first start for the equally historic (but now woefully bad) Brabham Formula One team during their final season. The Brit was classified last, four laps behind the leading Williams of Nigel Mansell, and there are photographs of the two driving together, two drivers at two completely different points in their careers. Mansell was close to clinching his long evasive World Champions and this not-so-young Brit, completely insignificant if not for his name, was probably doomed to obscurity like other champion’s sons like David Brabham and Michael Andretti until the very man that had exploited Frank Williams’ “let them race” attitude in the 1986 season, Alain Prost, stipulated “No Moustaches or Brazilians” in his contract, effectively ruling out Nigel Mansell and Prost’s rival Ayrton Senna unless they were to shave their moustache or change nationality respectively (impossibilities for both).
This left the door for the King of Monaco Graham Hill’s son, Damon, to take the second seat beside the Frenchman. From the start of 1993 to the end of 1996, over four seasons, Damon would go on to finish twice runner up and once victor of the World Driver’s Championship, two constructor’s titles and 21 race victories - a haul match only by then-double World Champion Michael Schumacher. For those four years, Damon found himself filling the shoes of two of biggest names in Formula history after the retirement and death of Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna respectively, and with the weight of the British public and the name of a double World Champion, some would simply crush under the weight of expectations. Damon took it all with good humour, did his bloody well darndest and after winning the world title was promptly shown the door because he wanted the pay rise he deserved. Nice doing, Frank.
Damon would get one last hoorah, though. On a rainy day at Spa Francorchamps in 1998, Damon would lead an unlikely 1-2 finish for seminal midfielders Jordan for their maiden victory. After a brief “career” playing in cover bands with other celebrities, Hill became head of the British Racing Driver’s Club and now spearheads the operations for the annual British Grand Prix at Silverstone. A race that he had won in 1994, which he dedicated to his father who had never won their home Grand Prix.
A forgotten driver of the 80’s, Swiss driver Marc Surer had heavy backing during his career due to his ties with BMW, and despite two separate incidents where he broke his legs he managed to carve a small niche for himself as a journey man driver, bouncing between teams due to his BMW backing. His career highlight (apart from having married not one but two Playboy bunnies) would perhaps be his fourth place finish for the lowly Ensign team at Jarama in 1981, setting the fastest lap on the way.
His career ended after a shock crash while rallying in his Ford RS2000 which severely injured him and took the life of his co-driver Michael Wyder. He was retained by BMW, however, as a driver coach and later head of Motorsporting, and remains involved in historic Formula 2 events. German F1 fans would probably know him best, however, from his commentating for Sky Sports Germany.
Marc Surer, 1985 European Grand Prix, Brands Hatch.
Brabham BT55 car #8 Elio de Angelis | 1986 San Marino GP
Get low! This was another of Gordon Murray’s sleak designs for Brabham a la the sensations BT52 and of course the innovative BT46B fan car. Despite it’s good looks it was too ambitious and ultimately failed due to forcing the tall BMW engine to be placed at an angle causing all sorts of drive train, crank shaft and gearbox issues.
This car look familiar? Well it should, because this would inspire Murray, after moving to McLaren a year later, to design arguably the most dominating Formula One car of all time, the McLaren MP4/4.
However, the beautiful BT55 also has a tragic note to it, when beloved Italian Elio de Angelis lost his life after flipping the car during an organised test session due in no small part to a lack of proper marshalling (fellow driver Alan Jones being the first on the scene - there were none stationed around the track) and no on-site helicopter - one had to be phoned in before he could be air some thirty minutes later. Despite only suffering a broken collar bone and burns to his back, Elio died from smoke inhalation - something that would have been prevented with appropriate marshalling.
Currently in a lecture about renal disease and kidney failure, and of course, being the massive F1 dork I am, I just keep thinking about Sir Jack Brabham, who has been on dialysis since 2008 - but still drives, gardens, and even flies over seas to attend Formula One events (he was at Bahrain a couple of years back for that epic “every living F1 champion sans Kimi and Nelson” photo they took). If you’re in Melbourne later this year, he will be attending the RACV Motorclassica in October where there will be a massive retrospect display of Brabham’s cars.