F1 is back, and it’s on Belgian soil, so what best to celebrate the return of Grand Prix racing into our lives than with a brief run-down of all 22* Belgian drivers to have ever contested? Here they all are for your pleasure, enjoy!
Jacky Ickx The most successful Belgian F1 racer, Ickx was eight times a Grand Prix winner and twice a world championship runner-up. A distant second to Jackie Stewart in 1969, he could have overhauled the points total of Jochen Rindt in 1970, the Austrian having lost his life at Monza. However fourth at the penultimate race meant Ickx was out of the hunt and Rindt was crowned champion posthumously. Jacky’s F1 career would begin a slow decline from there, but his success at Le Mans – six wins between in 1969 and ’82 – make him one of the classic enduro’s greatest competitors. Never won his home race, taking a best finish of third in 1968, his first full season in F1.
Thierry Boutsen A veteran of 163 Grand Prix starts, Boutsen is second only to Ickx in the ‘Greatest F1 Belgians‘ stakes. His career really took off when he joined Benetton in 1987, with five podium finishes in ’88 placing him fourth in the championship. Switched to Williams for ’89 and scored his first win in Canada. Added two more victories – Australia that year and Hungary in 1990 – before his career hit the slides following a move to Ligier. In three years with the French team he would score just two points.
Olivier Gendebien Contested 13 GPs between 1955 and 1961 with a best finish of second at the French Grand Prix of 1960. Driving for the Yeoman Credit team he also picked up third at his home event and finished a career-best sixth in the standings. Gendebien also enjoyed great success at Le Mans.
Paul Frere Between 1952 and 1956 Paul Frere entered 11 races, securing a total of 11 championship points – all of them at his home race. He was fifth at the Belgian GP of 1952, fourth in ’55 and a brilliant second in 1956. That would be his final Grand Prix – not a bad note to go out on – following which he would win at Le Mans before retiring from racing and becoming a journalist.
Lucian Bianchi Bianchi started a total of 17 races, scoring points at his home event in 1960 and ’68. However, his finest moment came at Monaco, where in 1968 he took third place. His grand-nephew Jules tragically lost his life after an accident driving for Marussia in 2014.
Willy Mairesse Started 13 Grand Prix between 1960 and 1965, scoring a podium at Monza in his first F1 event at the legendary track. Took fourth at the same circuit in ’62 but only finished one other race, coming home seventh at Monaco during the same season.
Bertrand Gachot A dubious Belgian. Born in Luxembourg, Gachot raced under a Belgian licence between 1989 and 1991. His first season was poor – he failed to qualify nine times from 14 attempts – and his second even worse. Driving a Subaru-powered Coloni he failed to qualify for all 16 races. Ouch. 1991 was much better, aboard the fetching Jordan 191, but when he was arrested for macing a London taxi driver he lost his seat to one Michael Schumacher. Later turned out for Larrousse and Pacific, but was by now racing as a Frenchman.
Eric van de Poele A man with an unenviable F1 CV; from 29 attempts to qualify he made the starting grid just five times. Raced the San Marino GP of 1991 for the Modena team (he failed to qualify for the other 15 races) before switching to Brabham for ’92. Made the race at the season opener in South Africa but failed to make it for the subsequent nine GPs and left the team for Fondmetal. He then qualified for all three races he entered with the little Italian team but they then ran out of money, leaving van der Poele out of a drive.
Johnny Claes Was on the grid for the very first F1 race at Silverstone in 1950. Went on to start a further 22 races but never secured world championship points, his best finish being a pair of seventh places at Monaco 1950 and at his home race in ’51.
And the rest…There are a few more Belgian F1 racers to get through. Andre Pilette started nine races during the fifties and sixties, scoring his only points at his home race in 1954. Jacques Swaters started seven races between 1951 and ’55, failing to pick up points. Phillipe Adams was the penultimate Belgian to race in F1 (with Gachot officially a Frenchman by 1995). Phillipe started two races for Lotus in 1994, debuting at his home Grand Prix at Spa. Georges Berger raced privately entered Gordini cars at his home race in 1953 and the Belgian GP of 1954, whilst Christian Goethals started one race – the German Grand Prix of 1958 – which he failed to finish. Not too much else to say about the lad, really.
The same could be said of Andre Milhoux, who entered the German Grand Prix of 1956 but failed to finish and never made another F1 appearance. Meanwhile, Roger Laurent contested the Belgian Grand Prix of 1952 and the German event in ’53. He finished sixth in the latter but, with points only going down to fifth place that season, received no reward for his efforts. Arthur Legat raced his home GP in 1952 and 1953, ending up not classified in the first and retiring from the second.
Patrick Neve Started ten races – and failed to qualify for four others – between 1976 and ’78, taking a best finish of tenth at his home event in ’77. Charles de Tornaco started two Grand Prix in 1952, finishing seventh in Belgium and retiring from the Dutch race. He failed to qualify in Italy the same year and failed to make the start of his home event in ’53 due to transmission problems. Teddy Pilette (son of Andre) started one race – his home event in 1974 – before returning to F1 in 1977. However, three failures to qualify was all he could manage and he never started a Grand Prix again.
Jerome D’Ambrosio represented his homeland in motorsport’s top tier driving for Marussia Virgin Racing in 2011. Despite impressing against his more experienced teammate Timo Glock, Jerome was dropped for 2012 but managed to land on his feet as Lotus F1’s reserve/third driver. After a stint as co-commentator on Sky F1’s GP2 coverage, D’Ambrosio has now become one of Formula E’s leading talents, competing in every ePrix so far, and scoring two wins, for Dragon Racing.
The latest Belgian talent to grace F1 is McLaren youngster Stoffel Vandoorne. Touted as being one of the future stars of the sport, especially after a dominating junior formulae career, his debut in 2016 replacing Fernando Alonso led to him outqualifying world champion Jenson Button and then bringing home a single point for 10th place. One to watch for the future, no doubt.
* Alain de Changy & Bernard de Dryver both entered Grand Prix but failed to qualify, whilst Bas Leinders contested practice for Minardi in 2004 but never raced. A total of 25 Belgian drivers (including the nationality-swapping Gachot) have taken to the track in some capacity during Grand Prix weekends.