The Ben Evans Column – The best of the worst

In my Formula Vee adventures this year I have raced against some very good and very bad drivers. Thanks to the heats and finals format I often get to see the slower drivers in action, and believe me some of them are awful.

There is one gentleman in particular who went a lap down when the leaders came round on their second tour at Thruxton last year. His performance hasn’t improved since. Either of my grandmothers would be quicker around Silverstone and one of them has been dead for five years.

It got me thinking about those lurking around the dregs of international racing grids over the years.

It’s one thing to be a rubbish club racer – low stakes, few spectators and a field consisting mainly of hobby drivers. It’s quite another to be lining up on an F1 grid with a time slower than pole in the Formula Ford support race.

Due to the megabucks required just to get to F3 these days, let alone F1, recent seasons have seen very few truly awful drivers taking to the grid. But, go back a couple more years (or to Friday third driver testing) and there are examples aplenty.

My personal favourite from the 13th row has always been the hapless Taki Inoue, who springboarded into F1 on the back of some sensational 17th place finishes in European F3000.

If ever a driver was earmarked for stardom, it wasn’t Inoue. Admittedly my reminiscences have been rose-tinted by his line in bizarre accidents – who could forget him being run over by a marshal in Hungary or managing to roll his car whilst being towed back to the pits at Monaco? The former incident in itself justifies the asking price for the 1995 F1 review video.

Amazingly Inoue wasn’t F1′s worst driver in 1995. That honour went to Giovanni Lavaggi who was barely known within his own family, let alone the international racing community, when he took up his seat with Pacific in 1995.

The Pacific was not a world beater but neither was Lavaggi and it wad no surprise when the 107% rule was invented to keep the likes of Lavaggi from qualifying (it stopped drivers whose qualifying efforts were more than 7% slower than the pole time from starting).

Amazingly Lavaggi found himself at Minardi in 1997, although most weekends finished when he wound up outside the 107% time. Surprisingly he has gone on to forge a successful sportscar career.

At least Lavaggi’s embarrassment was largely private, unlike Eliseo Salazar’s. Salazar was a good to middling driver in junior formulae who found himself in the 1982 ATS which was middling to dire.

But pootling around at the back need not be a problem – unless you take out the race leader, live on global television, as Salazar did to Nelson Piquet at Hockenheim. Admittedly it was Piquet’s Jackie Chan in a romper suit antics after the accident that gave it notoriety.

Money equals mileage. That has never been more obvious than when Chanoch Nissany bought himself some test sessions for Minardi in 2005. A wealthy businessman, Nissany was painfully out of his depth in F1 and the experience has led to new minimum mileage rules being introduced for new drivers.

In one test session – a rare thing for Minardi drivers – he managed to crash into team mate Christijan Albers.

Nissany may have been the last of the hilariously hopeless F1 drivers. Although if Ralf Schumacher gets much slower??????

Luckily A1 Grand Prix has stepped into the breach offering rubbish drivers from renowned motorsport talent pools such as Lebanon, Greece and China to make prats of themselves live on satellite TV.

Due to the fluctuations of the grid you can never be sure just how low the driver quality at an A1GP event will be, but on a bad day it looks less like an international racing series and more like an arrive and drive karting event. If A1GP is the World Cup of motorsport then at times it resembles a Lichtenstein vs Andorra qualifying match.

Elsewhere Champ Car and the Indy Racing League have always had some somewhat suspect drivers lurking around the fringes. AJ Foyt IV and Milka Duno spring to mind as particularly suspect, the latter’s efforts being roughly equivalent to those of a British Winter Olympian.

NASCAR is at times even worse with a number of chancers tempted by the enormous prize money, only to retire their cars due to ‘vibration’ once they’ve completed enough laps to collect the cash.

Sadly due to the enormous amounts of money required to go racing at the moment (space tourism is cheaper than an F1 drive), and the progression towards 16 year-old F1 drivers, the middle-aged businessman in F1 is rapidly being consigned to history.

It is not too late – so please Spyker don’t sell up – scour the Fortune 100 and get some totally unsuitable drivers on board, you never know they may just be the next Taki Inoue.

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1 comment on The Ben Evans Column – The best of the worst

  1. I have to nominate Rafael Unzurrunzaga who raced Megane’s last year. We were at the Donnington races and got to see him spinning out of qualifying before the session even began – exited the paddock (at the hairpin)and straight away spun into the wall.
    Further underlining his talent was his race 2 result (crashed out at the start of race 1, can’t remember if it was his fault) where he was lapped by every single finisher inside 15 laps, and his fasted lap was 12 seconds off the fastest, and 10 seconds off the next slowest.

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