People don’t tend to associate Wales with single-seater racing. Rugby, coal mines and wholly inaccurate allusions to unwholesome activities with livestock are what we, the mighty Welsh, tend to get lumbered with.
But scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find a number of Welsh wonders in the history of F1. What with today being Saint David’s Day, Badger’s resident Welshman has dreamt up five of his nation’s greatest F1 contributions .
You’ve probably never heard of Jackie Lewis, no surprise being as he contested just nine grand prix across the 1961 and ’62 campaigns. And he’s a slightly tenuous choice being as he wasn’t born in Wales – he is in fact the son of Welsh parents born in Stroud, England – but if Vinny Jones can captain the Welsh national football team we reckon Lewis can make this list.
His only points finish came at the Italian Grand Prix of 1961 where he scored an impressive fourth place, pipping Tony Brooks by just one tenth of a second aboard a privateer Cooper. That race, however, was marred by the death of Ferrari star Wolfang von Trips, who crashed at Parabolica and perished along with 14 spectators.
Lewis started a further four races but never finished among the points scorers again, then took a sabbatical at the end of the year from which he never returned. Wikipedia says he is now a sheep farmer, but whether that’s true or someone’s idea of a joke we aren’t entirely sure.
Did you know that erstwhile BAR and Benetton boss Dave Richards is a Welshman? His accent doesn’t betray his roots butold DR is in fact from the same neck of the woods as Welsh F1 racer Tom Pryce (more to come on him) and cut his teeth in motorsport by traversing the hills of north Wales aboard a rally car.
Richards subsequently got in to team management, founding the Prodrive company who would go on to achieve great success, particularly in rallying. Richards himself was at the forefront of the WRC effort, and subsequently landed a job with Benetton’s F1 effort for 1998. However the relationship lasted just one season, the Anglo-Italian’s owners team failing to see eye-to-eye with the Welshman.
He returned to F1 with more success in 2001 when he replaced Craig Pollock as boss of the BAR team. The signing of Jenson Button would prove a shrewd move, and it was Richards who led the team to their best ever constructors’ championship result of runner-up in 2004. He stepped down when his contact ended that year, but tried to return to F1 – this time with Prodrive – for the 2008 campaign. The team were granted entry but withdrew following a row over the use of customer cars. A subsequent application was rejected in 2009, no doubt in part due to the previous no show.
Today his group remains large, running cars in various championships, and enjoys significant backing from the Middle East. They’d make a great addition to the F1 grid but say they won’t consider it again until the new regs are introduced in 2013.
Bare with me as I switch to the first person for this one. Before someone decided that F1 cars should test exclusively in Spain the Pembrey circuit in South-West Wales was one of a number of venues that saw testing action, so it’s only right it makes the list. I grew up less than 20 minutes from the track and the fact that there was genuine F1 history so close to home was incredibly special. It’s still used for various other motersports today; in fact none other than Karun Chandhok tested a Formula Three car there recently in an effort to shake the winter cobwebs.
There is a chip shop near the circuit that Michael Schumacher once visited; a signed photo of the German from 1993 hung on the wall the last time I was there (admittedly that was close to ten years ago now). I also remember Honda ran their prototype F1 car there in the late nineties (this was the Harvey Poselthwaite-led team) and the sound was audible from several miles away.
But best of all is an old legend I was told when I raced karts at Pembrey. Apparently Ayrton Senna once crashed testing for McLaren at the circuit, suffering a pretty big shunt that ripped his front-left wheel from the car. It flew off in to the woods that surround the venue and was never retrieved. If the story is true, the wheel of one of the greatest racing drivers of all time is still lying there in the dark woods, silently gathering moss.
Newport-born Alan Rees only contested three grand prix (all in F2 cars) but made a far more significant contribution as a part-owner and manager of three Formula One teams between the late sixties and mid-nineties.
Rees made his entry as a team owner when he formed March Engineering with Max Mosley, Graham Coaker and Robin Herd. The outfit’s name was an acronym of the owners initials, Rees representing the ‘ar’, and it was the Welshman who acted as team manager.
He was then involved in running the Shadow team, home to fellow Welshman Tom Pryce between 1974 and his death in 1977. That same year Alan Jones gave the team their first win but at the conclusion of the campaign the Aussie racer and many of the team’s top staff – Rees included – departed.
For 1978 Rees was back with the all-new Arrows squad (again an acronym of the founders’ names) and remained as team manager until 1991. He departed altogether at the conclusion of the 1996 season after 18 years and eight podiums for the British team.
There was never any question who’d top this list. Ruthin-born Tom Pryce had the ability to win grand prix. From there he could well have stepped up to be a world champion, but his life was cut tragically short in a freak accident during the 1977 South African Grand Prix. Badger had a proper look at the man a year ago which you can see here, so there’s no need for us to re-tred old ground. What we will say is that Wales has never produced a more talented racing driver, one of such raw natural ability, and that his loss was felt terribly by his family, friends and the motor racing community as a whole. Quiet, shy and reserved, Tom was the antithesis of his contemporary James Hunt but undoubtedly every bit as quick.