This week’s Badgerometer is one no driver wants to find their way on to: the top five racers never to win a grand prix. With victory being the sole aim of the F1 competitor this list is akin to ‘the top five chefs never to cook a meal’ or ‘the top five taxi drivers never to pick up a pick up a passenger.’ Yes, it’s a recognition of skill and ability but it also acknowledges that, for whatever reason, the men listed below fell just a little short of their true potential.
Active drivers are naturally excluded, being as they may yet grab that all-important maiden victory. As such the likes of Nico Rosberg and Nick Heidfeld, both of whom would have been in contention for this list, miss out – for now.
And remember, this is wholly subjective – we don’t claim this to be the definitive list of the finest drivers never to taste grand prix success and would love to hear YOUR top five.
You can write this off as my being a Welshman, and thus a massive fan of Tom Pryce if you want, but there are many who feel Pryce to be among the finest drivers never to claim a grand prix win. That he didn’t was a result of his tragic death at the South African Grand Prix of 1977 rather than any lack of talent, for later in that same year his replacement at the Shadow team, Alan Jones, would take his maiden race win. Tom could undoubtedly have done the same.
Brilliant in the lower formula, Pryce was the commanding winner of the 1974 Monaco F3 race. He quickly rose to F1 and was soon impressing the paddock with his displays at the wheel, scoring podiums at Austria 1975 and Brazil ’76. 1977 should have been his breakout year but it was ended at only the third race by a freak accident in which he collided with a fire marshal; the clash between the Welshman and the extinguisher killed him instantly, the marshal also perishing in one of F1’s most gruesome accidents. (have a look on Youtube, if you wish, we can’t watch it though!)
He was the equal of James Hunt in terms of ability and his far calmer, grounded mindset meant Tom could have remained an F1 driver far longer than the prodigious Englishman. Grand Prix wins, perhaps even world titles, would have followed.
Remember when we said this list is subjective? Here’s the proof, as Alex ‘Total Flop’ Zanardi creeps in at number four. ‘How,’ I hear you cry?
Well, it maybe be a bit of a cheat but this isn’t based on Alex’s F1 performances – it’s about what he did in Champ Car. During the nineties the series was in its pomp, with huge grids, varied and challenging circuits and mega drivers. Alex was head and shoulders above the rest, rocking up Stateside in 1996 and duly dominating the championship in 1997 and ’98 against guys who’d been there for years, in some cases their whole careers. He was aggressive, merciless and so, so fast. Watch him pass Bryan Herta at Laguna Seca’s legendary Corkscrew to take victory on the final lap and you’ll know what we mean.
Yes he was a flop in F1, but that was down to a poor Williams car built by a team in transition. Zanardi could have won grands prix – the talent was there. Now, feel free to write a comment about why we’re wrong…
After enjoying success in the junior categories, as well as sports-cars and prototypes, Bellof landed an F1 seat with Tyrrell for 1984, paired with fellow rookie Brundle. The pair enjoyed promising results that season, only for the team to be excluded from the championship for a technical infringement. He remained for the following year only to lose his life in a sports-car race at Spa midway through the year.
For many, Robert Kubica’s recent rally accident brought back memories of this hugely talented racer whose career was cut short away from the F1 circuit. Thankfully for Robert things did not end so badly. That they did for Bellof robbed F1 of a driver who could well have gone on to great success. A meeting with Enzo Ferrari to discuss the possibility of a drive for the 1986 season had already been scheduled at the time of his death.
The winner of a clutch of non-championship grands prix and the 1966 Le Mans 24 Hours, and Chris Amon has just been pipped to the honour of greatest driver never to win a race. The Kiwi was a man haunted by ill fortunes, his luck so bad that Mario Andretti once remarked: “if he became an undertaker, people would stop dying.”
After infrequent runs in non-works Lotus and Brabham machines Amon’s obvious abilities landed him his big break – a Ferrari drive for 1967. This would prove to be the most successful year of his F1 career, with four third place finishes plus two additional points-paying results leaving him an impressive fourth in the world championship standings. The following year, however, was a nightmare as seven DNFs – including the last five races in succession – dropped him to tenth overall. A second place finish at Silverstone was the only bright moment in an otherwise dark campaign.
He remained at Ferrari for 1969, but departed after five retirements from six races left him languishing in the standings. For 1970 he switched to British outfit March, registering three podium finishes but again being beset by race-ending problems. Two seasons at French squad Matra brought two more podiums but not that elusive first win. After leaving the team he never held down a full-time F1 drive again. At the conclusion of the 1977 season he quit F1 for good and has done little racing of any variety since.
Amon was undoubtedly a driver of real quality, one who drove for Ferrari at the wrong time and subsequently stumbled between lesser teams seeking his chance at redemption. He was the winner of the Le Mans 24 Hours in a car shared with countryman Bruce McLaren, and it’s not unfair to say that the two were in the same talent bracket.
Before Martin Brundle became the all-knowing voice of Formula One on British TV he was a highly-respected F1 driver, racing for the likes of Tyrrell, Benetton, McLaren and Ligier. But despite his skills he never won a grand prix. We reckon he ranks as the most complete driver not to do so.
It could be argued that Brundle’s finest hour came before he’d even reached F1, pushing the soon-to-be-legendary Ayrton Senna all the way for the 1983 British F3 title. The Brazilian won it in the dying laps of the season-closing race. The rest, as they say, is history.
Brundle went on to enjoy a long career in F1 but never grabbed that crucial first victory. A massive shunt at Dallas in his debut season set him back somewhat, whilst uncompetitive cars prevented his true talent from shining through. His big break came with a seat at Benetton for 1992, alongside German wunderkind Michael Schumacher. Martin held his own against a driver who would soon be rated among the sport’s all-time greats, scoring five podiums to end the year a career-best sixth in the standings, just 15 shy of Schumi.
Incredibly 1992 had given Brundle his first F1 podium, both despite departing the soon-to-be-title-winning team he would register a further three over the next three seasons. 1993 saw him take third for Ligier in San Marino, ’94 saw a brilliant second place at Monaco in the uncompetitive McLaren MP4/9 whilst a return to Ligier brought him third at Belgium ’95. He ended his career with a season at Jordan who, rather fittingly, were the same team that ran him in the 1984 F3 campaign. It’s the circle – the circle of life.
In addition to his F1 exploits Brundle was 1988 World Sportscar champion and took the 1990 Le Mans 24-Hours for Jaguar. Add these achievements to the fact that he competed, and at times defeated, both Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher and you get the picture of a driver who undoubtedly had the talent to be a grand prix winner. As is ever the case in these stories circumstance was all the prevented him from taking his first F1 win. Brundle was a top-line F1 driver – fast, professional and intelligent. The best never to win a grand prix? We certainly think so.