Journal: Who's Your Favorite Underrated Racing Driver?

Who’s Your Favorite Underrated Racing Driver?

By Michael Banovsky
August 26, 2016

There’s only one Michael Schumacher, but who’s one of the racers the German World Champion said he was inspired by? Stefan Bellof. Who? Oh, you know, the guy who still holds the Nürburgring Nordschleife lap record more than 30 years on. Ring a bell?

It’s unsurprising if Bellof’s name is largely unknown, especially among younger racing fans, as his life ended at 27 in a huge crash at Eau Rouge in 1985, while he was piloting a works Porsche 962. Said to be ‘fearless’, his turn of speed was incredible.

For instance, one of the first anecdotes worth trotting out is Alain Prost’s Monaco Grand Prix victory in the rain-stopped 1984 Monaco event, and how Bellof likely would have won the race had it continued—he’d been faster than both Senna and Prost. You won’t find his name all that high up the results these days, as Tyrrell was disqualified from the entire season, scratching Bellof’s name from the ledger.

I’ll watch in-car clips, races, and retrospectives, and marvel at the racing Bellof did…to say nothing of what might have been. These days, I find myself yelling at the TV when Nico Hulkenberg is on his way to a good result, hoping Lady Luck sends some his way.

There are more I follow and name, of course, but this column does have to end at some point… Who’s your favorite ‘underrated’ or ‘unknown’ racing driver?

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Callum Work
Callum Work(@callum_work)
1 year ago

Juan Manuel Fangio. One of the greatest drivers to have ever lived in my opinion, racing along side Stirling moss and absolutely obliterating him yet, everyone knows Moss.

1 year ago

Not because I am an Aussie, but it has to be currently Daniel Ricciardo and before him Mark Webber!!

3 years ago

Jos Verstappen for driving, racing, starting and overtaking skills (even with inferior cars). Unfortunately he had no feeling for reducing speed when the car was about to break down. Driven at 110%, many of his cars often failed. When he would have started one year later with some preparation, his career would have been different.

João Alves
João Alves
3 years ago

So many names to remember:
From the fifties: castelloti and dePortago
From the sixties: scarfiotti and chris amon
From the seventies: regazonni and Pinto (rallies)
From the eighties: bellof and bettega(rallies)
From the nighties: alesi and pedro lamy
From the 2000: serrazin and nick heidfeld
Current: romain dumas and alvaro parente

Zold Fulu
Zold Fulu(@zold_fulu)
3 years ago

Its interesting how a today record can bring back memories of long standing (yet forgotten) records. I looked differently at the funny experimental car in the Merc museum knowing that its record was on for 80 years. Same case with Bellof’s record.

Jacky is a completely different proposition. He is among the most versatile drivers, one of the most successful endurance racers EVER, and won Dakar Rally too. He is a legend, and I recall from reports e.g. that he was celebrated at the London CLassic Car show a few years ago (they have a great series celebrating greatest drivers).

Peter J Smith
Peter J Smith(@fb_1043682525)
3 years ago

David Donohue

Andrew Chow
Andrew Chow(@acsgp)
5 years ago

John Surtees. Never mentioned in the same breath as Moss or Clark, let alone Fangio or Senna. But to win both car and motorcycle GPs is an amazing feat.

5 years ago

I’m going to say Ronnie Peterson.

5 years ago

Sato Takuma

5 years ago

Takuma Sato

Jim Levitt
Jim Levitt(@jrl1194)
5 years ago

Is this F1 only?
John Morton and for that matter Vern Schuppan should have had more and better rides, especially John in the 70s

Martin Zini
Martin Zini(@tincho84ar)
5 years ago

Someone mentioned Carlos Pace, what about his teammate in Brabham, Carlos Reutemann, fast on F1 cars, but also, on Prototypes and even rally cars (3rd place overall in argentinean International rally as a guest driver with a peugeot 205 T16 the first time he drove one), and also gerhard berger…

Leon Prinsloo
Leon Prinsloo(@leonpmu)
5 years ago

In recent times Rubens Barrichello, prior to that Gerhard Berger.

5 years ago

Jose Carlos Pace, a talented, young, and very promissing driver who died on a plane crash before he could fight for the F1 championship. That would be inevitable, just like Bellof. Nowadays, the Interlagos circuit is officialy called “José Carlos Pace Circuit”.

Barry O Brien
Barry O Brien(@xjs)
5 years ago

Phil Hill

christian mortinger
christian mortinger(@cmort)
5 years ago

there is clearly a semantic issue with the question; none of the drivers named below are unknown and the fact that many careers have been cut short (often tragically), does not make the drivers underrated.

an underrated driver to me is somebody like moss (due to his success in so many different categories) or prost (eight times in a position to win the F1 championship)

5 years ago

For me it would be englishman Richard Burns who remains our only WRC champion. Was around around at the same time as Colin McRae but without the bin it or win it approach.

A wonderful talent and taken far too soon after sucumbing to brain tumour after a brave battle.

De Dion
De Dion(@de-dion)
5 years ago

Leo Kinnunen – won the world championship with Porsche 917 – set the lap record in Targa Florio – won the Interserie three times in a row – rallied everything from Porsche to Volvo 66 – briefly tried F1 too with his own team

5 years ago

Greg Moore was a great young talent to watch in Indy Car,,. The accident that took his life was crushing, as I’d enjoyed following him throughout his early years in turbocharged, open-wheeled beasts.

Matthew Flinn
Matthew Flinn(@mandmflinn)
5 years ago

Patrick Depailler was a shy, diminutive, chain-smoking Frenchman who carried a BIG stick in Formula 1 in the 1970’s. He drove with an almost fearless confidence and style and would probably have been a Word Champion in the right car. He was very much like Gilles Villeneuve and Stefan Bellof…… is unfortunate that he met with the same fate.

Matthew Flinn
Matthew Flinn(@mandmflinn)
5 years ago

Bellof was incredibly talented but took too much needless risk. Shortly after he set the Nurburgring lap record he had a massive crash in the works Rothmans Porsche 956…………which came as no surprise to his co-drivers Hans Stuck and Derek Bell who had repeatedly tried to slow him down a bit.
For the record, he was killed driving a privateer Brun Motorsport Porsche 956 attempting to overtake the God of Spa, Jacky Ickx, at Eau Rouge…….one of the most daunting corners in motorsport.

Dennis Cavallino
Dennis Cavallino(@denniscavallino)
5 years ago

Bellof’s name is there not to be forgotten. Very good. I grew up with stories about a Dutch racing driver: Carel Godin de Beaufort. He passed away 14 years before my birth, at the Nurburgring. And with the help of some friends we set up a website about 12 years ago to pay tribute to this man. and it’s amazing how much response we got during those years. My garage is turning into some kind of mini-museum and I still love to hear each and every story about Carel and to share these with others.

Tony Smith
Tony Smith(@smithtony)
5 years ago

Brian Redman- he won at every level – was easy on the equipment -multiple championships-one hell of a guy and a great ambassador of motorsports and yet he doesn’t get the respect that he deserves.

Juan Ganum
Juan Ganum(@504runner)
5 years ago

I remember my dad and his close friend watching F1 races back in the 70s. Both hailing from Argentina they used to cheer for Carlos Reutemann, who is the first driver I can recall from my childhood. Here’s what Wikipedia has on him:

As a racing driver, Reutemann was among Formula One’s leading protagonists between 1972 and 1982. He scored 12 Grand Prix wins and six pole positions. In 1981 he finished second in the World Drivers’ Championship by one point, having been overtaken in the last race of the season. He became the second Formula One driver after Leo Kinnunen to be at the podium of a World Rally Championship event, when he finished third in the 1980 and 1985 editions of Rally Argentina. He was also for three decades the only Formula One driver to score drivers’ championship points in both F1 and WRC, until Kimi Räikkönen’s eighth place at the 2010 Jordan Rally.

Christopher Gay
Christopher Gay(@christophergay)
5 years ago

Other brilliant German drivers who I was a fan of were Ludwig, and much later, Frentzen.

I don’t think sports car racers get as much notoriety as GP drivers, but some others, while certainly not underrated yet not household names, would be Weaver, Wallace, and Leitzinger. There are so many.

Christopher Gay
Christopher Gay(@christophergay)
5 years ago

I was not at the track, but was watching a live presentation on cable. Back then, there was not much coverage of motorsport like this in the U.S., especially from Europe. Group C, however, was thankfully and incredulously shown briefly to the very few die-hard fans who followed. I was certainly in the minority of my peers, and would follow each race, imagining myself in one of those racing cars.

After Bellof and Ickx collided, Ickx’s car came to rest facing Bellof’s car, which ignited. Ickx’s car was the factory car (I think Bellof was actually in a private entry, but I can’t remember), and carried a camera for the feed. The camera kept rolling while Bellof’s car went into flames. It was horrifying and surreal, to say the least. I grew up around motorsports, but I clearly remember bringing my mother into the room and explaining what had just happened and how horrible it was, especially to be televised. Yes, impossible to forget.

A few years earlier, at age 11, I had seen just Ickx shoot the earlier 936 around Laguna Seca at the Monterey Hitorics during a year for the Porsche marque. I think this was 1982.

Seeing any driver or personnel in an accident is never a good experience. More recently we have lost brilliant drivers like Earnhardt, Wheldon, Wilson, and more.

I’m glad you have chosen to show Stefan Bellof. I have always told my young son about him, as he was one of the true racers.

Christopher Gay
Christopher Gay(@christophergay)
5 years ago

I was hugely affected as a fourteen year old racing fan, alone watching Spa unfold live on that tragic day. The eerie footage is still imprinted in my memory.

Group C was alive and well, and young Bellof was a shining star, and certainly an inspiration for another young driver.

Andrew Strazza
Andrew Strazza(@onyxcars)
5 years ago

Fabulous talent..saw him making his name in the F2 Maurer-BMW!

Donald Callum
Donald Callum(@dcallum)
5 years ago

I watched that race too, though considerably older than 14, I remember they had in car footage from either Bellof’s car or the one directly behind.
Very sad day, impossible to forget.