5 of Formula 1's Greatest Lost Talents - Part 2
We covered five of Formula 1's greatest lost talents last month, but there are sadly far more than five who passed away before their time. A total of 32 have passed during championship Grands Prix, and even more, have died in other racing series and non-championship events.
Thanks to the likes of Sir Jackie Stewart and Professor Sid Watkins, safety in F1 and motorsport, in general, has improved to the point where death is extremely rare today. Only 1 driver has passed away during a Grand Prix weekend since the tragic 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.
Unlike some lists, this one isn't ranked, as it seems unfair to compare drivers who never got a chance to fully live up to their potential. They all have one thing in common, though -- they were supreme talents who had much more to give before their time on earth was untimely cut short.
#1 Tom Pryce (1949-77)
Tom Pryce is one of Britain's "lost generation" of Formula 1 drivers, alongside Roger Williamson and Piers Courage. There was a sixteen-year gap between British F1 champions (James Hunt in 1976 and Nigel Mansell in 1992) and had Pryce lived, he could've been the one to plug this gap. Pryce was and still is the only Welshman to win a Grand Prix, the 1975 non-championship ROC and he was a hugely talented driver.
Pryce drove for Shadow for the majority of his short Formula 1 career, achieving 2 podiums and a number of solid points finish in a car that wasn't a worldbeater by any stretch. He also achieved pole position for the 1975 British GP, a stunning display against the greats of the day. The true measure of a driver's talents is to compare him to his teammate and Pryce comfortably beat Jean-Pierre Jarier in his only two full seasons in the sport.
Pryce definitely had a bright future ahead of him, but fate dictated that he wouldn't make it further than the 1977 South African GP. During the race, Pryce collided with a fire marshall (who was ironically attending to Pryce's teammate) killing both instantly. Pryce was only 27-years-old and Frederik Jansen van Vuuren just 19.
#2 Elio de Angelis (1958-86)
Elio de Angelis was a supremely talented driver who held his own against great champions of the sport and could've been one himself, had he been allowed to complete his career. In just his second season in 1980, de Angelis had joined the prestigious Lotus team and his teammate was Mario Andretti, the 1978 champion. Elio beat the American all ends up, incredible for a driver that was so inexperienced.
The future 1992 champion, Nigel Mansell, joined Lotus for 1981, but de Angelis showed his class, outscoring the Brit in '81, '82 & '84. During this period, de Angelis would finish third in the driver's world championship in 1984 and claim his first win in Austria in 1982, the closest ever F1 finish.
Mansell would leave for Williams in 1985, but it didn't get any easier for the Italian, as Ayrton Senna, a man that needs no introduction, shared his garage. Senna got 38 points that season, de Angelis 33, not a large gap, especially when you consider that Senna was one of the fastest (if not the fastest) drivers to ever compete in Formula 1.
Elio left for Brabham in 1986, and it would've been interesting to see how de Angelis would've stacked up against Riccardo Patrese, but this sadly wasn't to be. After just four rounds being completed and at a test in Paul Ricard, Elio's rear wing detached at high speed, killing the Italian after a collision with the barriers.
He was only 28-years-old and in the prime of his racing career, de Angelis could've easily become a world champion had he lived and drove for one of the top teams. De Angelis competed against three world champion teammates and wasn't beaten easily by any of them, he was an incredible talent.
If you want to learn more about de Angelis, check out our Top 5 Italian F1 Drivers of all time.
#3 Wolfgang von Trips (1928-61)
I wrote in the last edition of these articles about how Stefan Bellof could've become the first German F1 champion had he lived, but there was another man from Germany who came very close before Michael Schumacher.
Wolfgang von Trips only competed in two full seasons of Grand Prix racing in the early 1960s and finished overall runner up in 1961. In '61, von Trips only just lost out to Ferrari teammate Phil Hill in the most tragic of circumstances. Finishing no lower than 4th during the season, this was a very consistent campaign for the 33-year-old, but a blown engine in France ended up costing him the title.
Von Trips qualified on pole for the 1961 Italian GP but crashed with Jim Clark on the first lap, got airborne and killed both himself and fifteen spectators in what was an extremely sad day for motorsport.
At the time, he was leading the world championship and was the strong favourite for the title. Hill would later say that this was the day when racing stopped being fun for him and the nicest man in motorsport was never the same after his teammate's accident.
#4 François Cevert (1944-73)
François Cevert was Sir Jackie Stewart's hand-picked successor at the Tyrrell team and was mentored by the Flying Scotsman during the early 1970s. The handsome Parisian finished in third place overall during his first full season of F1 racing in 1971, winning his only Grand Prix at the final race that year in the USA.
In addition to being fast, Cevert was also a gentleman; when Stewart made a mistake at Zandvoort in 1973, Cevert didn't pass his teammate, despite having a clear opportunity to do so.
When Stewart asked why he did not, Cevert replied that he felt that it was unfair and wanted to overtake his teammate on merit, a level of respect we don't see today.
One victory may not seem that impressive, but Cevert was back-up to Stewart's title-winning campaigns in '71 and '73 and would've gone on to have more success had he made it to 1974.
When judging drivers, the opinions of the true greats have to be considered and Sir Jackie rated Cevert very highly. Sadly - as was common in this era - Cevert passed away at the end of the '73 season due to a tragic accident at Watkins Glen, the site of his only win two years prior, he was only 29-years-old.
If you want to learn more about de Angelis, check out our Top 5 French F1 Drivers of all time.
#5 Ronnie Peterson (1944-78)
When writing a list of the best drivers to never win the Formula 1 championship, Gilles Villeneuve and Sir Stirling Moss are fixtures, but Ronnie Peterson is also in the same bracket as those legends.
The Super Swede is another example of a great driver that was taken too soon and came so close to winning titles, finishing runners-up in 1971 and 1978. 1971 was even more impressive when you realise that was his first full season in the sport, matching both Lewis Hamilton and Jacques Villeneuve decades before they made their debuts. Although Peterson didn't get a win in '71, his consistency saw him stand out as a future world champion.
Peterson continued through the 70s with March and Lotus, coming up against world champion teammates in Emerson Fittipaldi and Mario Andretti, drivers he stacked up well against both of them. 10 wins and 26 podiums in 9 years is an impressive record for anybody but fate would prematurely curtail his 1978 championship challenge at Monza.
Due to a start-line debacle, there was a pile-up on the main straight, Peterson initially survived but would later pass away due to his injuries. At the time, he was second in the championship and had a chance of usurping Andretti for the title.
Like Phil Hill, Andretti would say that it was a very sad day for motorsport and never celebrated his only F1 championship. Peterson was 34-years-old and in the form of his life, had he lived, he could've claimed that elusive title, but we were sadly robbed of that opportunity.