Drivers taken before their time

FB

Not my cup of cake
Valued Member
F1 has had many exciting drivers (and some not so) over the years but some, unfortunately, were taken before we ever had a chance to see what they could have achieved. I thought it might be appropriate to have a place where we can eulogise about drivers we remember, who excited us, but who never were able to achieve what they were surely capable of.

I'm going to kick you off with Stefan Bellof - 1957 to 1985



After Jochen Mass and before Michael Schumacher and the Mercedes school of drivers one young German came into F1 and, for me, looked to be one of the most exciting and uncompromising drivers ever to line up in a Grand Prix car. Bellof arived in F1 via Formula 2 and WEC sports car racing, which he still raced in whilst an F1 driver and which, tragically, cost him his life.

Bellof on took part in 20 Grands Prix between 1984 and 1985 and in 1984 was unfortunate to be in the Tyrrell team which was disqualified for the entire season for, allegedly, using illegal fuel additives. Before being kicked out of the 1984 season Bellof had finished 3rd behind Prost and Senna in the rain shortened Monaco Grand Prix and was catching the two best drivers on the grid in the nimble, Cosworth powered Tyrrell.

In 1985 Bellof scored his first recorded championship points with a 6th place in Portugal, having run as high 3rd and then managed a 4th place in Detroit, again with Cosworth power against the largely turbo charged field.

Bellof lost his life in an horrific crash at Spa in September 1985 at the wheel of a Porsche 956, he was only 27 years old. This accident is probably the reason why F1 drivers rarely drive in any other motorsport series simply because the teams don't want to risk one of their major assests outside of the Grand Prix circuit.

Who knows what Bellof might have achieved in F1 but Michael Schumacher sites Bellof as one of his childhood racing idols and if he's good enough for Schumie he's good enough for me.
 

siffert_fan

Too old to watch the Asian races live.
Contributor
Tony Brise, who tragically died in the plane crash that robbed us of Graham Hill, showed a tremendous amount of promise in Formula 3. I saw him at the first Long Beach GP and was mightily impressed. I felt at the time that he had the potential to be a WDC. Unfortunately, we never had the chance to find out.
 

Senna's_right_foot

Pole Sitter
Supporter
Francois Cevert.
Joined Tyrrell in 1970 on a recommendation from Jackie Stewart, which in itself says much about his ability as a driver.
Cevert was killed at Watkins Glen in 1973 in what was supposed to be Jackie Stewart's final GP before retiring. His car left the track during practice and hit the safety barriers head on and he died instantly from massive injuries. Stewart and the Tyrrell team withdrew from the race as a mark of respect.
He quite clearly had the talent to take over Stewart's mantle as Tyrrell's #1 driver for the '74 season, and would have possibly had a shot at the WDC.
 
Senna's right foot beat me to it. Francois Cevert.
A brilliant driver who Jackie Stewart believed was quick enough to beat him in his final year.
I think Joe Ramirez once said about a race during that season (Zandvoort I think?) that Cevert passed Stewart at Tarzan due to Stewart missing a gear and Cevert gave the place back due to him not wanting to win like that. Atrue gent who's death devastated Stewart and Uncle Ken :(
 

Boyle

Race Winner
Contributor
Roger Williamson.
I remember a few years ago reading about him and the tragedy at Zandvoort but I just had to jog my memeory. He caught the eye of many with his performances in a Ford Anglia and several March cars in the junior series. Testing performances for BRM in early 1973 had many tongues wagging at this young British talent. He got his chance in Formula One later that year but his debut at Silverstone was cut short by a first lap incident involving Jody Scheckter.

His next race at the Dutch GP was the first time he would complete a racing lap in F1 but sadly also the last. On lap 8, his left front tyre exploded and his car careered into the barriers which, because they were poorly erected, caused the March to overturn. As the fire started, which at first was minimal, only fellow driver Dave Purley (who was next to Roger on the track as the accident unfolded) went to help him. The fire marshals, poorly trained but still human, simply stood by as Purley selflessly but in vain tried to overturn the car and then extinguish the flames. The fire tenders were given no insructions to help but would have to have dangerously driven against traffic to help. Had the race been red flagged then Roger's life could have been saved. Williamson was quoted by Dave as saying "For God's sake Dave, get me out of here". Purley was later heralded for his heroism, something he refused to accept. Roger Williamson was uninjured in the initial crash but the inadequacies of the marshals and race stewards led him to die of asphyxiation.

We never know what could have been but many were, and are, in agreement that he had all the hallmarks of a champion.

Thank god the marshalling (with the exception of that gentleman in Canada) has improved over the years to avoid such catastrophies.
 

sportsman

Sidecar racers have the biggest cojones
Contributor
In my time it's been Gilles Villeneuve, Ricardo Paletti, Elio de Angelis, Stefan Bellof, Manfred Winklehock, Michele Alboreto, Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger.

I could write about each...but that would take too much space. May God Bless them all.

Ray has raised an excellent list there.
I feel that I must add in my time Jim Clark.He was only 32 when he died at Hockenhiem and what makes it so bad he was competing in an unimportant F2 race.
RIP Jim
 

jez101

Bookies drive nice cars because of people like me
Contributor
Ray's list - I can't go back much further in time without going on hearsay, but on the basis of taken before their time - in the sense that they didn't have chance to fulfill their potential, Bellof stands out.

I would also like to add Alessandro Nannini to the list in that although he survived his helicopter crash, he never raced in F1 again but had shown exceptional promise before his accident

Nannini's story is a little too close to Kubica's for comfort. Lets hope that 25 years on, medicine is better able to put people back together...
 

VanChallis

Points Scorer
Roger Williamson.
I remember a few years ago reading about him and the tragedy at Zandvoort but I just had to jog my memeory. He caught the eye of many with his performances in a Ford Anglia and several March cars in the junior series. Testing performances for BRM in early 1973 had many tongues wagging at this young British talent. He got his chance in Formula One later that year but his debut at Silverstone was cut short by a first lap incident involving Jody Scheckter.

His next race at the Dutch GP was the first time he would complete a racing lap in F1 but sadly also the last. On lap 8, his left front tyre exploded and his car careered into the barriers which, because they were poorly erected, caused the March to overturn. As the fire started, which at first was minimal, only fellow driver Dave Purley (who was next to Roger on the track as the accident unfolded) went to help him. The fire marshals, poorly trained but still human, simply stood by as Purley selflessly but in vain tried to overturn the car and then extinguish the flames. The fire tenders were given no insructions to help but would have to have dangerously driven against traffic to help. Had the race been red flagged then Roger's life could have been saved. Williamson was quoted by Dave as saying "For God's sake Dave, get me out of here". Purley was later heralded for his heroism, something he refused to accept. Roger Williamson was uninjured in the initial crash but the inadequacies of the marshals and race stewards led him to die of asphyxiation.

We never know what could have been but many were, and are, in agreement that he had all the hallmarks of a champion.

Thank god the marshalling (with the exception of that gentleman in Canada) has improved over the years to avoid such catastrophies.

I saw the footage of this on the Beeb documentary. (F1, the killer years) Absolutely harrowing, shocking stuff. David Purley's attempts to save him had me in tears, and the desparation was clear to see. He was awarded a medal for bravery for that too.
 

sportsman

Sidecar racers have the biggest cojones
Contributor
Ronnie Peterson 1978 at Monza.That was awful.James Hunt trying to pull him from his car and appealing to the marshals to help.
Sid Watkins trying to fight his way through the police cordon and being held back.
There is a video of this horrific scene on Youtube but common decency and respect means that it should not be posted.
 

KekeTheKing

Banned
Supporter
I think I should mention Gordon Smiley here. To be honest, I didn't know much about Gordon, and sadly, one of the things I did know was that he suffered one of the worst crashes in Motorsport history during Indy 500 Qualifying in 1982.

But I was watching the final round of the 1979 British F1 (Aurora) Season at Silverstone the other day, and battling away at the front was none other than Gordon Smiley, representing Omaha, Nebraska and the United States. Smiley went on to win that race in very slick conditions and was about as thrilled as any driver I've ever seen after winning.

Incredibly, Gordon Smiley's victory at Silverstone in a prototype Surtees remains the last win for an American driver in any FIA sanctioned event.

Here is the final lap from that race, with Rupert Keegan following him home to clinch the 1979 British F1 title.

 
Keke, speaking of Indy Car drivers, I'd like to mention young Greg Moore if I may. He was a Canadian from the west coast and was very highly rated by drivers and team owners. I don't want to write much on here because it will bring a tear to my eye but I rate him the 2nd best driver to come out of Canada behind Gilles.

Young Greg was killed at the Marlboro 500 at Fontana in California at the 1999 finale. CTA members can Google and You Tube him and see what he was all about.

Cheers
 

Jos the Boss

Champion Elect
Regarding Ayrton Senna, I always think that the worse thing he did was died simply because all the other drivers that died are forgotten especially Roland Ratzenberger.
 

Johnny Carwash

Champion Elect
Contributor
Tom Pryce who was killed at Kyalami in 1977 when he ran down the marshal who was crossing the track to put out the fire in the back of Renzo Zorzi's Shadow.
 

tooncheese

Hans Heyer
Contributor
Ridnt (Monza Practice) and Hawthorne (Road accident) both could have gone on to add more titles, however Mike said he wouldn't race again after getting married, and Jochen told his wife he would quit if he won the title. Personally I think the lure of F1 would have been too great and they would have returned to win more races ad even titles.

Lorenzo Bandini was on the verge of greatness - already a race winner when he died. Wolfgang von Trips may have been able to challenge Jim Clark in the early 60s were it not for his death. Koinigg and Rodriguez both could have done well.

Sadly we are just left with thoughts of what could have been.
 

Il_leone

Champion Elect
Ronnie Peterson - clearly one of the best drivers after Stewart and always ended up in the wrong team at the wrong time... he was clearly better than Mario Andretti and faster but for Lotus rescuing his career he obliged to be No 2

Gilles Villeneuve - despite his hard racing he actually wanted to win fair and did not overtake Scheckter when he could have to win the world title in 1979 he put the team before his own first which is why Pironi messed him up
 
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