As you may be aware, December 21st is the day when the sun is in the sky for the least amount of time all year. On this day, we thought it would be fitting to commemorate those drivers whose time in the sun (in F1) was shorter than most. They may have more races than you or I, but they’re hardly Rubens Barrichello in terms of longevity.
Only one man on this list managed to even finish a Grand Prix, although he was also the only one to take part in more than one race. We start off with the imponderable man, the legendary figure of…
Experience: 4 Grand Prix (Bahrain, Malaysia, Australia & San Marino 2006)
Team: Super Aguri
We start off our list with a chap who actually managed to race – a term we’re using loosely here – in four whole Grand Prix. Compared to some one-race wonders (don’t worry, plenty to come) that’s actually an impressive number, and if we were going on pure racing miles covered, he would be far from the bottom.
However, this Japanese driver makes our list for a very short-lived blaze of glory, that ended with him flipping Christijan Albers at his (and sadly Imola’s) last race, and getting his FIA superlicence taken away for being, well… this good:
‘Ole Yuje’ spent a long time driving in JGTC, and had very little in the way of open-wheel experience, but Honda wanted an all-Japanese line up for their B-team, and his nationality fit the bill. Unfortnately, Ide was the best they could find.
Now that they’re back in F1, we’d like to hope that Honda would be open to using European drivers if they were to set up a B-team to complement their McLaren dealings. For example, Stoffel Vandoorne. Y’know, if you feel like it guys, we’re not gonna tell you how to do your jobs, no pressure…
(Oh my god, please do that)
Experience: 4 Friday test sessions (Bahrain, Australia, Germany, Hungary 2006)
& 1 Grand Prix Weekend (Europe 2007)
Moving on from the colossal feat of four Grand Prix, our Number 4 chap completed just one solitary race. However, his tenure in the sport was adorned with much greater success, and according to our races-completed-to-races-spent-leading-at-least-one-lap-ratio, he’s the greatest driver to have ever lived. It’s very scientific.
I speak of course, of Markus Winkelhock, who replaced Christijan Albers (the bloke that Yuji Ide flipped over) in 2007. His racing pedigree is actually rather strong; his father Manfred took part in 47 Grands Prix.
His one and only race saw him and Mark Gascoyne preempt the weather at an overcast Nurburgring. The formation lap was dry, but pretty much in sync with the red lights going out, the heavens opened. Winkelhock dived into the pits at the end of the formation lap and grabbed a set of full wet tyres, while everyone else was on slicks. Everyone else pitted for Intermediate tyres at the end of the first lap, but even they weren’t safe.
When eventually everyone else got onto the wet tyres after realising the Inters were too shallow, Winkelhock had a staggering 33-second lead over Felipe Massa.
He led five laps until seven drivers spun off at the first corner which had become a river. The race was red-flagged, and when the track dried out he was no match for the faster cars, and retired on lap 15. However, it has to go down as one of the most unexpected and impressive debuts in the sport.
Experience: 1 Grand Prix Weekend (Practice, Qualifying, and 800m of the race, Italy 1993)
The Italians go crazy in Monza for anyone in a Ferrari, this we know. In 1993 Jean Alesi propelled the team’s extremely average car to second place, the best the team would get all year. Italians also love a home-grown hero though, and at the same race, they had one; or so they thought.
Jordan had earlier in the season decided that Thierry Boutsen was too old and too tall for their car, so for Monza, they brought in young Italian Marco Apicella. He fit into the car better and had youth on his side, but unfortunately, was rather more crashy than Boutsen and crashed out at Variante de Retifilio – the very first corner.
For racing distance, he hands-down claims the title for the shortest career in F1, with a measly 800 metres, but his practice and qualifying efforts keep him off the bottom.
His career in Formula 1 seems like the ultimate exercise in futility in hindsight. However, you have to feel for the guy, because firstly, the accident was not his fault, and secondly, he had a minuscule taste of the pinnacle of motorsport before it was yanked from underneath him.
Could you imagine that? Being promised the good life with a race seat, and then losing it before you’ve barely started?
Oh hang on a second…
Experience: 112 Laps (Pre-season test days 2 & 4, Jerez 2013)
Marussia came off the back of their 2012 campaign with none of the same drivers returning to the team. Timo Glock legged it as he had become frustrated with being at a back-marker squad, and Charles Pic walked a few feet down the pit lane to Caterham, so the Anglo-Russian outfit nabbed Max Chilton.
Their second driver was announced as Luis Razia, and the GP2 runner-up turned up to the pre-season test in Jerez, eager to better the team’s position in the championship. He drove 31 laps on the second day of the 4-day test, and after Max took the MR02 for a spin on day 3, he returned for the final day, notching 81 laps for a total of 112.
Then…his sponsors ran out of money, and couldn’t pay the team. Ouch.
He was replaced by Marussia hero Jules Bianchi from then on, who was actually favourite to get the role after Adrian Sutil was announced at Force India instead of him.
You’d expect this kind of thing at perhaps a young driver test – driver arrives, does laps, leaves, doesn’t get race seat. However, the hype and build up of Razia’s arrival to Formula 1 meant it must have been an enormous anti-climax.
Pre-season tests can be like that though, as our winner knows only too well…
Experience: 1 Lap (Silverstone Pre-season test, 2005)
Mario Dominguez was a Mexican CART driver who Jordan shipped over to Silverstone for a pre-season test, in what would be the team’s final ever season.
Failing Crowded House’s sound advice, Dominguez did not bring the weather [of Central America] with him everyever he went, and instead, he ended up at a very depressing-looking circuit in Northamptonshire. The track was wet, and air was full of fog.
The test began, and Mario pootled around the circuit at a very slow speed for his first ever Formula 1 installation lap. The idea was to ease him into the car, and eventually help him adapt to the radical difference in aerodynamics between CART and F1.
Only, that never happened.
The course officials declared that it was not safe for the facilites’ medical chopper to take off (in case of an accident) due to the fog. Poor Mario was forced to come in on the same lap as he left, and he duly parked up.
So two British institutions – crap weather and health & safety overkill – essentially ruined his chances of an F1 career. At least passive-aggressive arguments and queuing didn’t come into it though.