THERE must be many racing drivers who should, by rights, have made it to the pinnacle of motorsport — Formula 1.
But somehow missed out.
Paul Fearnley, of Goodwood — yes, the Festival of Speed people — has come up with 20 names that he believes should have got there.
And why they didn’t.
You might have a few more — or less — in mind, but the Goodwood piece makes for good reading.
But first. My list, my rules . . .
Fearnley stipulates that to be considered, racing careers must be:
- entirely post-WWII
- to have progressed beyond karting
- excludes starts in the Indianapolis 500 from 1950-1960. With apologies to A J Foyt (not that he ever expressed a wish to do F1).
Born in Brisbane, raised in Auckland and a superstar in the States, IndyCar’s most successful driver of the modern era – his five titles are bettered only by Foyt’s seven – bypassed Europe bar a couple of F1 tests with Williams in early 2004: he failed to impress with 900PS on the tricky grooved slicks of the day.
After winning the 2000 Indy Lights title, he led his first CART race – and won his third.
His 45 Indy Racing League victories since have been split pretty much equally between ovals – he won the 2008 Indianapolis 500 from pole – and road courses/street circuits.
The engaging Scot Dario Franchitti’s single-seater career on this side of The Pond never really recovered from an F3 shoeing from his Paul Stewart Racing team-mate of 1994. (That Jan Magnussen subsequently stumbled in F1 didn’t help either.)
He turned down a testing role with McLaren – he’d already committed to CART – batted back an offer from BAR and was relieved to be rejected by Jaguar in 2000 – and has won four IRL titles and three Indy 500s thereafter.
Might he have foregone one of the latter for, say, a Monaco GP victory? It’s a big might.
This NASCAR legend – a four-time champion and third in its list of all-time winners – cut his teeth in Midget and Sprint cars.
Often linked to a switch to F1 – usually with Williams – he impressed on his only test by pulling up less than a second shy of Juan Pablo Montoya after a dozen or so laps of Indy’s GP layout in a year-old (2002) FW24-BMW; the first rear-engined racing car he had driven.
The Californian based in Indiana since admitted that the F1 T&Cs were never right for him to give up on the good thing he had going with the ‘Good Ol’ Boys’.
The lad from Leicester had barely put a wheel wrong.
A karting ace, Jamie Green finished runner-up in British Formula Renault (ahead of Lewis Hamilton but behind Danny Watts) and Formula 3 (ahead of Nelson Piquet Jr. but behind Alain van der Merwe) before romping to the 2004 European F3 crown (well ahead of Hamilton and Nico Rosberg).
He should have graduated to the new GP2 with the ASM team – rebranded ART – but his handlers pecked: Rosberg got the drive and took the title. Green, a consistent winner for Mercedes-Benz and Audi in the DTM, hasn’t raced a single-seater since.
Welsh-born bike racer ‘Sox’ arrived in the UK from Rhodesia in 1958 with an empty suitcase and a heart full of hope.
By 1961 he had replaced the irreplaceable John Surtees at MV Agusta by winning the 350cc and 500cc world titles. (Surtees had been happier leaving the team in Hocking’s more mechanically minded hands than in Mike Hailwood’s.)
Keen to follow his mentor into the safer realm of four wheels, Hocking pulled the two-wheeled plug – after winning the 1962 Senior TT – and impressed in a handful of non-championship races in privateer Lotuses.
Sadly he was killed practising for that December’s Natal GP.
He was 25.
It seemed inevitable that the ‘Great Dane’ Tom Kristensen would go F1; he had won F3 titles in Germany and Japan and F3000 races in Europe and Asia.
His victory on debut at Le Mans in 1997, as late replacement for injured Davy Jones at Joest Racing, was, well, a bonus.
But insiders were warning he might miss the boat due to a lack of financial clout.
He impressed Michelin with his consistency and feedback prior to its return in 2001, and was linked with Prost and Williams.
Instead he stayed with sportscars, signing for Audi in 2000 and beginning perhaps the greatest sequence in motor racing’s history: six consecutive wins at Le Mans.
He had rewritten the rallying rulebook with his almost faultless speed and precision – and starred in the second-placed Pescarolo at Le Mans in 2006.
The suggestion that Sébastien Loeb might switch to F1 in 2010 gathered momentum in his own mind as well as the public’s – he had tested impressively for Red Bull at Silverstone and Barcelona in 2008, and was attempting to get F1 fit, at 34 – but small-mindedness prevailed when he was denied an FIA Superlicence, scuppering plans to contest the 2009 Abu Dhabi GP with Toro Rosso.
An immediate consolation was his sixth of nine consecutive WRC titles.
Quickest throughout the month of May, this native of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, slid underneath the newer Lotus-Ford of Jim Clark and began to pull away, rapidly.
His crew chief signall26ed ‘Easy’ – and it felt easy as traffic was dispatched and the gap grew.
Then suddenly he was forced too low by a backmarker in Turn One and the engine’s oil plug was ripped out. Clearly he had things to learn still – but those 33 laps of the 1964 Indy 500 were sufficient for the mechanics at Team Lotus to label him the ‘American Jimmy’.
Sadly he would suffer unsurviveable burns in a testing accident that December. He was 28.
This engineer/driver from Sydney was the ‘Jack Brabham’ who stayed at home.
He was invited to join the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association though he had never contested a world championship Grand Prix.
Jim Clark waited for him – so that they might continue what the Scot reckoned the best dice of his career – when his Brabham conked out briefly at Lakeside in 1965.
And twice he upstaged the overseas stars and returning heroes by starting Warwick Farm’s round of the Tasman Series from pole.
Colin Chapman made him an open offer – but family and business, plus the lure of the beach, won the day.
Four wins, six poles and 11 front rows from 16 starts at Indianapolis mark this Wichita-born Californian as arguably the greatest exponent of superspeedways.
His smoothness was legendary – and it held him in good stead during a brief F1 foray.
When Champ Cars visited Silverstone and Brands Hatch in 1978, he finished second and first – and caught Bernie Ecclestone’s eye.
His testing of a ground-effect Brabham BT49 at Paul Ricard and Riverside – where he was quicker than Nelson Piquet – in 1980 remains one of the great might-have-beens.
For in the end he preferred the USAC/CART battle he knew – plus a cast-iron relationship with Roger Penske – to the FISA/FOCA war that was alien.
You wait for one bespectacled Canadian driver . . . The prodigy from British Columbia Greg Moore beat Paul Tracy’s records in winning the 1995 Indy Lights title, and replaced F1-bound CART champion Jacques Villeneuve at Forsythe Racing in 1996.
His five CART victories would be gained on ovals – but in a style that oozed a car control likened to that of Gilles Villeneuve’s.
An approach from Williams to be its tester was declined and chats with Stewart Grand Prix came to naught – but there seemed no rush.
This affable talent was 24 and only one race away from joining Penske for 2000 when he was killed in a ferocious accident at Fontana in 1999.
The man from Tokyo left it too late.
Satoshi Motoyama was 32 by the time he drove a Jordan on the Friday of the 2003 Japanese Grand Prix – and would be two seconds off Fernando Alonso’s pace in a Renault at a December Jerez test.
The iron might have been hotter at the turn of the century – he had won the first of his four Formula Nippon titles in 1998 – but a long and lucrative GT deal with Nissan – he would win that national title three times – kept him away even from Le Mans.
As a result, he was – by choice – off F1’s radar.
The most successful driver in the long and storied history of British F3 – three titles and more than 120 victories – did not start racing until he was past 40.
Though Don Parker lacked the ambition and chutzpah of teenage tyros like Stirling Moss and Peter Collins, he was more than a match for them and their fellow GP wannabes of the 1950s in terms of speed, and taught them all a thing or three about racecraft: he was hard but fair.
Parker left no stone unturned in preparing his cars and often raced minus socks and underwear in a quest of lightness.
An unlikely but undoubted star.
Sketchy finance and resultant patchy campaigns in European junior formulae forced this Queenslander to jump ship to America before the end of 2005.
Four years later Will Power grabbed his chance with Penske and landed a full-time deal in 2010 as a result.
He has never finished lower than fifth in IndyCars’ overall standings since – becoming the champion in 2014 – and ranks alongside Scott Dixon as the category’s best street circuit/road course performer.
That’s not say he doesn’t know his way round an oval: he won the Indy 500 of 2018. Sorry, Minardi, but you had your chance in 2004.
Things came easily to this privileged, charismatic son of Ohio: a star college athlete, Tim Richmond had a pilot’s licence by 16.
Champ Car racing was perhaps the first challenge to cause him pause – and he was relieved when a groundbreaking switch to NASCAR in 1982 proved successful; a move to Hendrick Motorsports in 1986 saw him knuckle down – while retaining the showmanship – and score seven wins.
He could have cracked single-seaters given similar guidance. He was an outside bet for pole at Indy in 1980 when he crashed his Penske in warm-up; he qualified 19th, led for a lap, finished ninth after running out of fuel – and was awarded Rookie of Year.
Canada’s future rugged enforcer of CART – he won the 2003 title with Forsythe – Paul Tracy was a cherubic 25 at his 1994 Benetton test at Estoril.
Looks can deceive: the previous year, his first as Rick Mears’ replacement at Penske – no easy task – he’d gone toe-to-toe with Nigel Mansell.
The F1 test went well – he lapped faster than had Jos Verstappen and JJ Lehto (substituting for a banned Michael Schumacher) in qualifying for the previous weekend’s Portuguese GP – and a contract was drawn up.
He didn’t like the look of it, especially when viewed against the seven-figure deal being offered by Newman-Haas; Mansell’s American dream had soured whereas Tracy remained realistic.
Al Unser Jr.
Groomed for greatness by the racing dynasty from Albuquerque, Al Unser Jr. had by November 1991 translated 10 years of precocious promise into 17 CART victories – he won the championship in 1990 – plus two Daytona 24 Hours and titles in IROC and Can-Am.
His extended test of a Williams FW14, F1’s form car, at Estoril was, therefore, conducted by a driver totally at ease with himself – but who was perhaps not an ideal fit for either team or category.
He remained Stateside – reportedly turning down an offer from Benetton for 1993 – and added another CART title and two Indy 500s to an impressive CV that included six wins on the street circuit of Long Beach.
Al Unser Sr.
The hullabaloo of Indy and elder brother Bobby’s gift of the gab and driving talent might have drowned this quiet man had his stats not screamed at you: four wins; most laps led (644); and seven other top-three finishes.
In 1970, Al Unser Sr. won on ovals, road courses and dirt to earn the first of three national titles; the last was achieved in 1985 – his final full campaign – by a point, from his son!
He remains the only Triple Crown winner – three 500-milers in the same season – and in 1987 won Indy for Penske in a year-old ‘show’ March dragged from a hotel lobby. Yet F1 ignored him and he didn’t feel inclined pipe up.
The son of the founder of the Vanwall GP team did not race cars until after his forthright father’s death.
A chip of the old block, Colin Vandervell cut an eccentric figure, wearing green cords beneath his overalls and forever dashing to the paddock phone in the days before mobiles.
It wasn’t easy to keep him concentrated – but was all business when the flag dropped. He dominated UK Formula Ford in 1970, beat future world champions in F3 and added a Formula Atlantic title in 1973.
But that late start came home to roost.
An F1 test with March was rejected – he preferred dicing against Andy Rouse in Escorts – and his other callings were soon too compelling to ignore.
And finally – and out of alphabetical order because he’s the one who stands apart – the pole man: Parnelli Jones.
This Arkansas-born Californian arrived at Indy in 1961 with a fearsome reputation on ovals, dirt or paved, and out of the cockpit as well as in.
He led but finished 12th after being hit in the face by a rock – and shared the Rookie of the Year with Bobby Marshman.
He would never start beyond the second row for his six remaining attempts and with more luck would have won four; 1963 – his roadster fending off Jim Clark’s ‘funny car’ Lotus in controversial circumstances – remained his only win.
The first to qualify at over 150mph, he is reckoned to have discovered a whole new groove at the Brickyard.
Yet he reckoned himself to be a more natural road-course drive – when finally he turned his hand to them: in 1964, he smoked established stars to win the big sportscar bash at Riverside.
That same year he had also adapted swiftly to rear-engine single-seaters, winning at Milwaukee and Trenton, outrunning Jim Clark at the latter event, in Lotus-Fords.
Colin Chapman offered him a drive, but Jones did not fancy playing second fiddle to Clark. Besides, he reckoned Champ Car racing to have been more professional – and lucrative – than F1 at the time.
Mario Andretti reckons that Jones never did ‘get’ F1 – the Vel’s Parnelli team ran him from the end of 1974 to the start of 1976 – and his opinion carries great weight.
He also thinks that: a) he would never have his 1965 national title had Jones stuck around; and b) that Jones had everyone covered.
With further apologies to AJ Foyt – and to Laurent Aïello, Bobby Allison, Didier Artzet, Jean-Christophe Bouchut, Ryan Briscoe, Ross Cheever, Bertrand Fabi, the Ferté brothers, Billy Foster, Jean-Pierre Jaussaud, Gary Paffett, Roy Pike, Rickard Rydell, Dan Wheldon and any one else self-evidently – or maybe not so obviously – should have been included on this list.
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