Badger guest writer Matt Briggs is back for more, and having recently looked at the sport’s best and worst number two drivers he’s now delved in to the history of pay drivers. Like them or not they’ve been around since day one, and with teams shorter on cash nowadays they won’t be going anywhere any time soon. In part one it’s the worst who are being put under the microscope, as Badger investigates pay drivers.
In 1994 Jean-Denis Deletraz was a relatively unknown Swiss Formula 3000 driver with a wad of sponsorship money and Larrousse were a team staring into the financial abyss. Naturally an agreement was reached and dependable Erik Comas was replaced with Deletraz for the final race in Australia.
From the off it looked like Larrousse had been short changed. The Geneva native was almost three seconds behind his team mate and fellow pay driver Hideki Noda. During the race, while the eyes of the world were watching Michael Schumacher run Damon Hill of the road, Jean-Denis did his best impression of a moving chicane, albeit an incredibly slow one. He was dropping two seconds a lap on his team mate, three times that on the leaders and by the time he retired he’d been lapped ten times. His drive was so abject that it provoked an outburst from Jonathan Palmer that James Hunt would’ve been proud of.
The end of the story? Not quite. In 1995 season Pacific were in need of funds and Deletraz was once again there to save the day. In Friday qualifying at Estoril he was going so slowly he somehow managed to stall the car on the racing line, earning him a slap on the wrist from the FIA and on Saturday he qualified dead last.
During the race he managed to haemorrhage roughly 13 seconds a lap on the leader David Coulthard. After little more than half a dozen laps he retired with cramp in his left arm, this on a track which is known for being tough on the right side of a driver’s body. At the next race at the Nurburgring he was slightly more nippy but not enough to salvage his reputation. While he managed to stave off any physical ailments long enough to finish he did so dead last. Fortunately this was to be Deletraz’s last race, not because the F1 Gods decided to save him from any further embarrassment but because his money had ran out.
Around the same time Jean-Denis was stinking up F1 an Italian was doing a mighty fine job of mirroring his form. Giovanni Lavaggi, or Jonny Carwash as he was unaffectionately known, was an Italian who, despite his prestigious family background, had worked hard to be able to afford a race seat.
His chance came at the same Pacific team that Deletraz made his home, in the same car, during the same season. His worst performances came in qualifying, as he never made it far enough into the four races he took part in to embarrass himself. Bar a wet session at Spa where he jumped the pay driver’s pay driver Pedro Diniz he started every race at the back of the grid and almost always ten seconds plus down on the top drivers.
Like Deletraz his story didn’t stop after a handful of laughable performances. In 1996 he was back, this time with his compatriots at Minardi, who managed to find it in their heart to give him the final six races.
Just as he did in 1995 he made his return in Germany, but this time he didn’t even qualify. At the next race in Hungary he was classified tenth after spinning out with 8 laps to go. At Spa he again failed to qualify and at Monza his car coughed itself out on lap 6. Arguably his most notable contribution to the sport of F1 was at the next race in Estoril when he found himself in a tussle between Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve, allowing the Canadian to pass the Ferrari driver at the Parabolica and, not entirely unlike Deletraz, invoking the wrath of Jonathan Palmer. In Japan he once again failed to qualify, ending his F1 career. The only crumb of comfort Lavaggi can take from his sporadic appearances in F1 is that according to journalist Nigel Roebuck he wasn’t as bad as Deletraz.
While there’s an air of tragedy about the experiences of Deletraz and Lavaggi there’s something extremely Benny Hill about Taki Inoue’s stint in F1. He debuted for Simtek in 1994 at a sodden Suzuka but found the gravel after only three laps. Money saw him get a race seat for the next year with Footwork Arrows but thanks to the sheer expense and enormous embarrassment he probably wished he never bothered.
For most pay drivers derision is heaped on their speed, but Inoue had an innate ability to get caught up in the ridiculous even when his machine had ground to a halt. In practice on the streets of Monaco he went off one of the few escape roads and stalled. Rather than be lifted to safety and miss qualifying he asked for a tow, which arrived and began to take him back to the pits. Unfortunately for Taki the safety car was on an exploratory lap around the circuit and clobbered both driver and car so hard the FA16 flipped onto its roof.
Then in Hungary his engine failed and the incensed Inoue made a mad dash towards the rather laid back marshals who were meant to be in charge of extinguishing his smouldering Footwork. Unfortunately he didn’t heed the advice of Alvin Stardust and got mowed down by the slowly approaching marshal’s vehicle. He got a broken leg for his troubles but still managed to recover to see 1995 out. For 1996 Taki signed a contract with Minardi but his backers pulled out. To his credit he ‘fessed up and headed off into the motor racing wilderness.
We’ve ran out of space but honourable mentions must go to Alex Yoong, who almost literally won the lottery to buy his drive, Ricardo Rosset, who is proof Craig Pollock should never have been trusted to establish BAR and Adrian Campos, who finished just one race in his first season.
Catch back for part 2 of our look at pay drivers- where the best in the business will get a going over- tomorrow.