Throughout 2014 I was compelled a number of times to tweet about the driving standards of a certain Venezuelan. But while I’m no fan of Pastor Maldonado, I have to admit he has earned his superlicence and has won a grand prix, which puts him in some pretty unique company.
I had some interesting feedback on Twitter this morning, when I asked who the worst F1 driver of all time is; Adrian Campos, Michael Andretti and Taki Inoue were all listed as candidates. I felt that most of these had simply not delivered according to expectations, rather than being properly bad.
Surprisingly nobody suggested “Johnny Carwash”, ie Giovanni Lavaggi, who, while not great, did at least manage to drag the car round at a semi-reasonable speed. I also thought about Rodger Ward, who qualified 41 seconds off pole for the 1959 American Grand Prix, but that was only because he turned up with a US-spec Midget Sprint car, which he thought would be nimble round the corners. He hadn’t reckoned with the effectiveness of the F1 cars of the time, in the shape of the new rear-engined Coopers and Lotuses. When he realised his mistake he was one of the first to advocate bringing a rear wheel drive car over for the Indy 500.
But in the end I had to go with my original choice: Carel Godin de Beaufort.
Jonkheer Carel Pieter Anthonie Jan Hubertus Godin de Beaufort – to give him his full name – was not short of a bob or two. Aristocratic blood flowed through his veins. And he liked racing.
His favourite races were the German Grand Prix and, of course, his home grand prix at Zandvoort. The organisers liked him because he was Dutch, and they might get to raise the flag and play the national anthem. Not at the end of the race though.
de Beaufort was slow. 10 seconds a lap slower round Zandvoort than anyone else, and with an attitude to using mirrors that even René Arnoux would have found shameful. Arriving at a corner to find de Beaufort blocking you was a frequent occurrence. “Bloody silly” is how Stirling Moss apparently described it to his paddock colleagues. Strong stuff.
Alas, being slow was not going to stop de Beaufort having accidents. His most famous achievement was to come off the banking at Avus. The track there was not dissimilar to that of Monza; to come off the top, 10 metres off the ground, at 110 mph or so would not be a good plan. But that’s exactly what he did, and he was incredibly lucky. His descent was slowed by trees and bushes and finding himself coming to a stop still in his car, the right way up, he took the only possible course; he drove back through the circuit entrance, through the paddock and back onto the track to continue racing. He was black flagged of course, nobody believed that his car (or him, probably) was in a safe state to continue.
He was not, however, blessed with empathy. Later in the day, despite the fact that Jean Behra had suffered fatal injuries in a near identical accident, he insisted on pushing through the roped off scene of Behra’s accident to be photographed and bragged continuously in three languages about his escape. The other drivers walked away in disgust, but aristocrats can handle that kind of treatment.
de Beaufort was not invited to the 1960 Belgian Grand Prix. He turned up anyway and his aristocratic manner, together with the fact that he was towing a racing car, meant that the officials let him through into the paddock.
When nobody was looking, he sneaked out of the paddock onto the track and proceeded to join in the fun of practice.
After a few laps, Jack Brabham stopped his car and complained to the clerk of the course. de Beaufort was black flagged (again) but continued for at least one more lap. Why stop when you’re having fun, right?
Afterwards, he calmed down a bit, and even scored four points (in the days when four points was what you scored for third place) during the 28 races that he contested. Surprisingly he became generally well liked in the paddock, apparently for his sense of humour amongst other things.
Eventually motor racing got him in the end, suffering fatal head injuries when he crashed at Bergwerk (where Niki Lauda had his fiery accident) on the Nürburgring while trying in vain to qualify.
Hopefully Pastor’s wild streak is over now, but in any case I can’t imagine he will outdo de Beaufort’s efforts. Can you think of anyone worse?