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Missing out on F1



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Over at our sister site 6th Gear we’ve kept record of the many F1 cars that never got past the drawing board (or even beyond the imagination) or, when indeed finished, failed to start a single Grand Prix. But what about the drivers? Over the years so many of them missed out on a well-deserved shot at Grand Prix racing while the talent was obviously there.

Especially in the past few decades the number of talented drivers getting side-tracked mushroomed spectacularly, and for several reasons. On the one hand, single-seater categories in Europe burgeoned like never before, releasing an ever larger number of aspiring stars onto an ever wider staircase to F1. In direct opposition to that trend F1 was closing itself like an oyster, disallowing privateers and, since the nineties, keeping to a fixed number of franchise teams in order to keep the riff-raff out. As a side-effect, experience became ever more important, creating the monster career spans of the likes of Barrichello, Coulthard, Fisichella, Trulli and Ralf Schumacher. Besides that, F1 junior programmes, or ‘a budget’, became something of a life support system for upcoming drivers, and for many both supply lines of financial resources were always in danger of being cut off at the snap of a finger.

So, in an ever more F1-centric world, let’s honour the talent of those victimized by these trends.

With so many drivers having genuinely missed out, we won’t look at the men unable to reach World Championship-level Grand Prix racing simply because it wasn’t there yet, so no Nuvolari or Wimille – in fact, they did reach the highest level possible so what did they miss out on? Likewise we will skip the drivers who never seriously considered leaving their home ground or their preferred playing ground, so no Foyt, Mears, Matich or Motoyama, and no Toivonen, Loeb or Rossi. Also, we won’t consider the top drivers who carved out a niche elsewhere but did a handful of Grands Prix all the same, like Frank Gardner, Bernd Schneider or Tomas Enge, or even just one, like Archie Scott Brown, Alan Rees, Dieter Quester, Michel Leclère or Marco Apicella. The same will apply to those who were prime candidates for our list but received a very late Grand Prix call after all, like Allan McNish, Cristiano da Matta or Sébastien Bourdais.

Instead, this article is about the drivers who could have had a fulfilling career as a Grand Prix racer, yet for some reason were consistently overlooked. We will also look at some tragic cases of what-could-have-been. What we are left with is a baffling list of talented drivers who usually at one time mixed it with the best in Grand Prix’s racing runner-up categories, whether it be F3, F2, F3000 or GP2, and still failed to be considered for a Formula 1 seat, leaving them to revive their careers by moving to sportscars or touring cars, to America or Japan, or by going back home. A few simply quit in disgust or suffered career-ending accidents. Many of them were discussed on autosport.com’s Nostalgia Forum.

So here we present both our personal top ten and a long line of others to consider, both listed in alphabetical order. We’re not quite sure if our top-ten list is representative of the drivers most likely to have had a Barrichello, Coulthard or Fisichella-like F1 career when given the chance but it does show the amount of success some of F1’s most famous rejects have had outside what is considered the pinnacle of the sport. If anything, that’s the best hard proof of what could have been.

Our top ten

Laurent Aïello