F1 flops, Motor Racing legends

By on Thursday, January 20, 2011

Michael Bartels is now very successful outside of F1

By James Bennett, Guest contributor

It is fair to say that in F1, the cream doesn’t always rise to the top. On many occasions, a great talent has slipped through the net, sometimes going on to great success in other categories. While F1 is the self-proclaimed ‘pinnacle of motorsport’, rarely is the grid made up of the 20-or-so best drivers in the world, or even the best F1 drivers. But at the same time, some of those that have gone on to become legends in sportscars or touring cars never did well in F1 to start with.

I have picked out some of the most significant names who never did well in F1, before going on to have success after – not the other way around, you may note.

Emanuele Pirro
When you think of famous F1 Romans, you’ll probably first think of Giancarlo Fisichella or Elio de Angelis, as opposed to Emanuele Pirro. You may not even realise he drove in F1, as his brief spell in the championship was a disappointment. Having finished in the top 3 in F3000 twice, in 1985 and 1986, he had to wait until halfway through 1989 to make his debut, replacing the underperforming Johnny Herbert at Benetton.

However, he did little better than the Englishman, and was cast aside at the end of the year. Instead, he joined Scuderia Italia, who had had a good 1989 season. But as well as missing two races due to a bout of hepatitis, the team’s form dipped, and he scored no points. 1990 wasn’t much better for him, with a best finish of 6th at Monaco, and at the end of the year, he was again released.

Emanuele Pirro, Monaco 1991

But in an amazing turn of fortune, his port-F1 career has been every bit as good as his F1 career had been bad. In the mid-90s, he achieved success in touring cars, winning the Guia Race at Macau twice before winning back-to-back Italian Touring Car Championships. The latter came on the back of a new association with Audi, the manufacturer with whom he was to achieve his greatest heights with. He formed part of one of the most dominant trios in Le Mans history with Frank Biela and Tom Kristensen, winning 3 years in a row from 2000 to 2002, before winning again in 2006 and 2007, putting him 3rd equal on the all-time list.

And so, it is a happy ending for the now-retired Italian – while his F1 stint was underwhelming, he recovered his reputation well, and it is his 5 Le Mans wins that he will be remembered for.

Derek Bell
Another driver with 5 wins at La Sarthe is Englishman Derek Bell. While he too is more well-known for his endurance racing exploits, he also competed in 9 F1 races over the course of 6 years, from 1968 to 1974, without much success, despite driving for two of the biggest teams in the sport.

Bell made his F1 debut for Ferrari at, of all places, Monza, but after qualifying an impressive 8th, he retired after just 4 laps. His only other outing that year at Watkins Glen ended similarly. In 1969, he drove for McLaren at the British GP in their new four-wheel-drive M9A – the car wasn’t a success and again he retired early.

It wasn’t until the end of 1970 that Bell actually finished a GP, at The Glen. 6th place in a Surtees was a decent effort, but it would be his only ever F1 point.

But what Bell is chiefly associated with in F1 is the disastrous Tecno project. The Martini-backed outfit had a decent pedigree in the junior formulae but their F1 car, shared by Bell and Nanni Galli, was abysmal. It would be the closest Derek got to a regular F1 drive. But today, after enormous success in sportscar racing, chiefly with Porsche, I doubt he loses sleep over it.

Bernd Schneider racing for Zakspeed

Bernd Schneider
Before Schumacher, there was Schneider. Way back in 1987, Bernd was the big talent in German motor racing, becoming German F3 champion and proving an inspiration to the future 7-time F1 champion. But he made the fatal mistake of signing for compatriot Erich Zakowski. While Zakspeed had not been particularly successful in their first 3 seasons in F1, it didn’t seem like a bad place to start out. However, Schneider’s arrival coincided with a downturn in the team’s performance, and he failed to qualify in 10 of the 16 races. But despite this, he kept faith in the team, who switched to Yamaha engines for 1989.

It didn’t make a great deal of difference – instead of not qualifying, Schneider had to get used to not pre-qualifying. He made the race start just twice, and retired on both occasions. Unsurprisingly, Zakowski gave up on his F1 dream at the end of the year, and Schneider was out of a drive. A couple of substitute appearances for Arrows followed in 1990, but after that, Schneider’s F1 career was finished. A young Schumacher noted that you had to wait for the right opportunity to enter F1.

Instead, Schneider found his niche in touring cars, joining Mercedes in 1992. Three years later, he began his era of domination of the DTM, clinching both the titles on offer. While the series was on hold from 1997 to 1999, he drove for Mercedes in its endurance racing programme. There were the highs of his FIA GT Championship title win, but also the lows of their disastrous attempts to win Le Mans in 1998 and 1999.

In 2000, the DTM reformed, and Schneider was quickly installed as the man to beat, winning the title in 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2006 to become the most successful driver in its history. He took his 36th and final win at the Nurburgring in 2008 and retired at the end of the season, his place in the annals of motor racing history secured.

But as late as the winter 1995, he tested for McLaren, by now powered by Mercedes, proving he was still well-regarded in F1 circles – it is unlikely he’d have had much success if he’d rejoined F1 at this point, but I’m sure that with the right opportunity, he could have become an established name well into the 1990s.

Bobby Rahal

Bobby Rahal
I could have picked Alex Zanardi or Danny Sullivan as the representative of American open wheel racing here, but instead I have chosen one of IndyCar’s longest servants and a three-time champion of the series. But unlike most young American races, Rahal’s sights were initially set on F1. After finishing runner-up to Gilles Villeneuve in Formula Atlantic in 1977, he switched to European F3 the following year with Wolf.

At the end of the season, Rahal stepped up to F1 for both North American races with the Canadian team. With little preparation, a lack of results is perhaps expected. He qualified 20th for both races, finishing 12th at Watkins Glen and retiring in Montreal. But any hopes he had of remaining with the team floundered when the team opted to replace Jody Scheckter with another big name, James Hunt, with no second car once again.

Bobby headed to European F2 in 1979, but soon abandoned that and headed back across the Atlantic to CanAm. After some success in sportscars, including victory in the 1981 Daytona 24 Hours, he secured a deal to race in IndyCars in 1982 courtesy of Jim Trueman. The Rahal-Truesports partnership would be one of the most successful of the 1980s, winning the title in 1986 and 1987, as well as the 1986 Indy 500. Five years later, Rahal was champion for a third time, this time with his own team.

Rahal built his team into one of the top outfits in the USA, with a further Indy 500 win as team boss in 2004 with Buddy Rice at the wheel. But in a parallel to his driving experiences, his spell in F1 team management was also brief and unsuccessful. He was hired by Jaguar in late 2000 as their new CEO, but after a continuing lack of success and internal conflict with fellow manager Niki Lauda, he was forced out midway through 2001. Some things just aren’t meant to be…

Bartles in the Lotus in 1991. Back then there was only one Lotus team - imagine that!

Michael Bartels
While all of these have now withdrawn from regular racing, German Michael Bartels is still plying his trade, and still winning races at the age of 42. But despite being best-known for his recent domination of the FIA GT Championship, he briefly drove in F1, and out of all of the drivers I’ve chosen, he arguably had the worst F1 ‘career’ of all of them.

The year is 1991. Team Lotus had begun the year with rookie Mika Hakkinen and Briton Julian Bailey, making a return to F1 after previously driving for Tyrrell in 1988. However, Bailey was disappointing, qualifying for only 1 of the first 4 races, and soon got the chop. Team boss Peter Collins then drafted in Johnny Herbert, who he had previously signed for Benetton and given an opportunity to after Martin Donnelly was seriously injured at Jerez in 1990. However, Herbert had Japanese F3000 commitments mid-season, and so Collins called upon Bartels, then in the main F3000 series, to substitute for him in 4 races.

Bartels never had the most impressive F3000 record and so in hindsight, it was no great surprise that his F1 record was poor. In his first weekend at Hockenheim, he wound up 28th at the end of qualifying, missing out on qualifying for the race by over 2 tenths of a second. That said, he was less than a second off Hakkinen. At the Hungarian GP, he again qualified a second off Hakkinen – problem is Hakkinen was 26th, the last spot on the grid, while Bartels was 30th. With Herbert back for Spa, his next outing was Monza – again, a second of Hakkinen, and down in 28th. His fourth and final attempt at qualifying again ended in the dreaded letters DNQ – this time, the gap to Mika was much wider, the Finn being over 2.7 seconds ahead. And that was that.

4 non-qualifications in a Lotus was a permanent stain on his record, costing him any further chance of progressing to F1. Despite an improved 4th in F3000 the following year, he was destined for the German touring car scene – the DTM and STW series beckoned. That was where he began to find his niche – his first 2 DTM wins came at Diepholz in 1995 driving for Alfa Romeo, while in 1999, he won the Guia Race at Macau, followed by wins in the Nurburgring 24 Hours in 2000 and 2001.

But where he truly established himself is in the FIA GT Championship. After a brief foray in 1998 with Zakspeed, he returned in 2004, taking 3 wins in a Saleen S7R run under the Vitaphone Racing banner for Konrad Motorsport, and beginning a long association with the hospital equipment manufacturer with whom he has become synonymous.

2005 was a key year. Bartels entered the championship as a team owner for the first time, running the successful but controversial Maserati MC12 decked in the black and turquoise colours of Vitaphone. The team has since dominated the championship, winning the teams title every year since, while as a driver, Bartels is a quadruple champion, winning in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010 and taking 12 wins as a driver-owner. A driver who couldn’t qualify in F1 is now the man to beat in his series 20 years on.

Find James at http://welshgrandprix.wordpress.com/

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