Youngest starter, youngest quitter
- Mattijs Diepraam
- 8W March 1999 issue
1984 German GP
For some mysterious reason the GP career of F1's youngest debutant ever has never come off the ground.
At Zandvoort in 1980, Kiwi Mike Thackwell still failed to qualify his Arrows A3 but when given a third Tyrrell for the end-of-season North American races, the 19-year-old New Zealander took last place on the grid. Thus the first teenage driver in history - with 19 years and 182 days of age - took the start of an F1 Grand Prix, beating the record Jan Lammers set in 1979. Thackwell was to be a comet fading away with a silent fizz, unable to build on his 1984 European F2 title and 1985 F3000 runner-up spot. Instead, the last of the F2 champions got stuck in sportscars and disappeared from the international scene altogether at a shockingly young age. Mike was seen one more time at Rio testing the 1986 RAM but the team that had given Thackwell a drive in 1984 Canadian GP folded soon after, eliminating Thackwell's last chance of an F1 return. The New Zealander was part of Sauber's sportscar squad before returning home to become a helicopter pilot.
So Thackwell's F1 career comprises of nothing more than an unassorted bunch of one-off drives scattered over the 1980 and 1984 seasons. 38 years of age in 1999, he was younger than F1 nestor Damon Hill. In the early nineties, sister Lisa Thackwell came over to Europe to try and reach an international level but she also hasn't been heard of in several years.
Reader's Why by Oleg Jmarine
Mike Thackwell (son of Ray Thackwell, Cooper F2 driver) in 1980 aged only 19 became the youngest ever driver to start a World Championship Grand Prix. But can that attempt be considered as a GP start? In the first corner he was involved in a crash and couldn't restart. He had a brilliant early career. In 1979, aged just 18, he contested the Vandervell F3 series in a works March, finishing third in the championship with 5 wins. In 1980 he raced the ICI March 802, putting in some great drives without gaining the reward he deserved, turned down the chance to race the works Ensign, practised an Arrows at Zandvoort, and then joined the Tyrrell team for Montreal. In 1981 he was one of the main contenders for the Formula 2 championship, but a serious crash at Thruxton put an end to it. Just before the start of the '82 season he was dropped from the team, because Ron Tauranac wasn't sure about Mike's condition. Season '83 was lost to Palmer due to a slowish season start, but the next year was the year of Mike's dominance: 7 wins out of 11 races, 6 poles, 11 fastest laps and leading 408 of the 580 laps run. In 1985 he switchee to F3000 with Ralt. He was one of the best, but he didn't win the titile because of sheer bad luck. His disappointment was so huge he refused to stay there another year. He was quite successful in endurance racing with Sauber and Brun before a brief reunion with Ralt in F3000 in 1988. He walked away from the sport before the age of 30.