Formula 1’s lost nations: New Zealand

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Bruce McLaren driving his own car at Watkins Glen in 1966
Bruce McLaren driving his own car at Watkins Glen in 1966

Last world champion: Denny Hulme, 1967
Last Grand Prix winner: Denny Hulme, McLaren, Buenos Aires, 1974
Last Grand Prix starter: Mike Thackwell, RAM, Montreal, 1984
Last Grand Prix: None held

Only eight drivers from New Zealand have ever started Grands Prix. But they include a world champion, the founder of one of the great F1 teams, and a driver considered to be one of the bext never to win an F1 race.

New Zealand?s F1 history

For some reason New Zealand’s F1 drivers are notable for achieving things at young ages. Burce McLaren became the youngest driver to win an F1 race when he scored his maiden victory at Sebring in 1959. That record was only broken by Fernando Alonso 44 years later.

Mike Thackwell still holds the record for youngest driver to participate in an F1 race. He was 19 years, five months and 29 days at the 1980 Canadian Grand Prix.

Thackwell never got the break he deserved in Formula 1. However the team created by McLaren persisted long after his untimely death testing a Can-Am car in 1970. Teddy Mayer, one of the men who helped run the McLaren team in its early years and for over a decade after the death of its founder, passed away yesterday.

McLaren won four races during his career, the last of which in his own car in 1968. But another New Zealand driver had already become the country’s first champion. Denny Hulme, driving for Australian Jack Brabham’s team, beat his boss and team mate to the championship the year before. Hulme also won the Can-Am championship for McLaren after Bruce’s death.

The other noteworthy New Zealand driver to compete in Formula 1 was Chris Amon who, as well as being the fifth-youngest Grand Prix starter, is often considered one of the best drivers not to have won an F1 race. On several occasions he led races he looked certain to win, only for some bizarre fate to intervene. He led at Monza in 1971, until his visor broke, causing him to drop back. A puncture robbed him of a likely win at Clermont-Ferrand the following year. His misfortune at the wheel was matched by an uncanny ability to choose the wrong team at the wrong time.

New Zealand has never held a round of the F1 championship. However many F1 drivers competed in the Tasman series which ran during the winters of 1964-1975 at circuits in New Zealand and Australia.

New Zealand?s F1 future

New Zealand has been among the top teams in A1 Grand Prix, largely thanks to the efforts of Jonny Reid. Red has now been replaced in the team by the splendidly-monikered Chris van der Drift, who won the Formula Masters championship last year.

Their exploits brought A1GP to New Zealand at its modernised Taupo circuit, but its doubtful the circuit would be up to hosting an F1 race even if the money was there to pay for it.

Read more about Denny Hulme: Denny Hulme biography

Formula 1’s lost nations

Denny Hulme in a McLaren at Anderstorp in 1973
Denny Hulme in a McLaren at Anderstorp in 1973