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10 F1 Drivers That Were So Bad They’ll Never Be Forgotten
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longform
2020-07-30 08:17:41
Dan Thorn
You might think an F1 driver is bad because they're consistently a few tenths slower than their teammate, or because they have the occasional spin. But as this motley crew shows, a truly terrible F1 career is about a lot more than simply lacking pace
10 F1 Drivers That Were So Bad They’ll Never Be Forgotten

10 F1 Drivers That Were So Bad They’ll Never Be Forgotten

You might think an F1 driver is bad because they're consistently a few tenths slower than their teammate, or because they have the occasional spin. But as this motley crew shows, a truly terrible F1 career is about a lot more than simply lacking pace

Every driver who races in F1 will hope to have success, or at least make a mark on the sport in some way. Unfortunately, some drivers end up being memorable for all the wrong reasons. Fans these days love to hate on the likes of Lance Stroll or Pastor Maldonado for being ‘bad’, but that’s an incredibly harsh take when you look at some of the drivers who’ve raced in the sport in the past.

These 10 drivers were not only bad, but some of them had moments that genuinely made you wonder whether it was possible to do a worse job.

Alex Yoong

(c) XPB Images
(c) XPB Images

Although both HRT drivers failed to qualify for the first race in 2011 and 2012, that was entirely down to the cars. As a result, Alex Yoong can be considered the last driver who failed to qualify for a race based on pure pace… or rather, a lack of it.

Malaysia’s first (and so for only) F1 driver, Yoong got his chance with Minardi in the last three races of 2001 as a replacement for Tarso Marques, with a single podium during the 1999 British F3 season his only significant result up to that point of his career. Unsurprisingly, he was well off teammate Fernando Alonso’s pace, but retained his place at the team for 2002, this time alongside Mark Webber. As with Alonso, he was consistently one to two seconds off of Webber’s pace in qualifying - although impressively, the gap was a mere seven-tenths in his home race.

Yoong even managed to bring the car home in the attritional Australian GP in seventh place - just one position away from scoring what would have been an unbelievable point. That was about as good as it got, though. Yoong never qualified anywhere other than last, and failed to make the grid at all on three occasions - at Imola, Silverstone, and Hockenheim. As a result, team boss Paul Stoddart decided to sideline Yoong for a couple of races in favour of Anthony Davidson in order to allow Yoong to try and improve behind the scenes and away from the spotlight of a grand prix weekend.

(c) XPB Images
(c) XPB Images

It seemed to work. When Yoong returned for the last three races of the year, he seemed much more comfortable. He easily qualified for all three races, getting within six-tenths of Mika Salo’s Toyota at Indianapolis and, perhaps most impressively, was just three tenths slower than Webber in qualifying at Suzuka. He even briefly ran ahead of him in the race before spinning out. There was still no doubt that Yoong was out of his depth, though, and he was dropped at the end of the season.

After a brief stint in Champ Car, he disappeared from racing for a while. He then returned in 2005 to the new A1GP championship and did rather well, winning four races across three seasons in a field that included drivers such as Nico Hulkenberg, Jos Verstappen, and Sebastien Buemi. He’s also won multiple GT championships in Asia which, like many other drivers on this list, proves that just because they weren’t any good in F1, it doesn’t mean that they’re not extremely talented racing drivers.

Taki Inoue

(c) Keyfabe/Creative Commons
(c) Keyfabe/Creative Commons

By results alone, Taki Inoue was poor. He made his F1 debut in a one-off race for Simtek in 1994 before managing to secure a seat with Footwork for the entire 1995 season. Generally speaking, the qualifying gap to his teammates was regularly measured in seconds rather than tenths and he only finished five of his 18 races, with retirements being a solid mix of spins and mechanical issues. But it’s not the lack of speed that makes Inoue’s career so legendarily awful, it was the unusual and comical incidents he constantly seemed to find himself in.

During practice at Monaco, Inoue went off at Mirabeau, stalled the car, and had to watch from the sidelines. After the session he jumped back in and got a tow back to the pits.

As this was happening, French rally legend Jean Ragnotti was out spanking a Renault Clio around the circuit. As he came through the swimming pool he spotted Inoue being towed back to the paddock, but it was too late - Ragnotti slammed into the back of the Footwork. Inoue turned the wheel to avoid hitting the truck that was pulling him, causing his car to flip upside down. Although he’d had the presence of mind to keep wearing his helmet, his seatbelts weren’t done up. Incredibly, he was OK - a fact he says he realised when his balls moved after the crash: “If balls don’t move, then there’s a problem with brain damage, I think”.

(c) Steve Gregory/Creative Commons
(c) Steve Gregory/Creative Commons

Amazingly, that wouldn’t be his last incident with a course vehicle. After breaking down from 18th place early in the Hungarian GP, Inoue’s Footwork started to smoke. In an attempt to help out, he grabbed a fire extinguisher from the side of the track, but as he ran back across the grass to his car, he was mowed down by a course vehicle that just arrived on the scene. After rolling across the bonnet, Inoue hopped a couple of times before collapsing on the floor. Apart from a slightly sore leg, he was fine, making the whole thing one of the most comical blooper reel moments in F1 history.

To be fair to Inoue, his driving was beginning to improve slightly at the season progressed, but a planned drive with Minardi in 1996 fell through when a sponsor pulled out. He’s since embraced his status as a terrible driver, freely admitting that he wasn’t good enough for F1 and joking about the unusual incidents that made his career.

Jean-Denis Deletraz

(c) XPB Images
(c) XPB Images

Deletraz drove three races in F1 - the 1994 Australian GP for Larrousse, and the Portuguese and European GPs in 1995 for Pacific - and by all accounts was rather terrible. Despite some OK results in F3000 in the 1980s, he’d done nothing of note when Larrousse brought him into the team for the last race of 1994 as a pay driver. In qualifying, he was 3.2 seconds slower than teammate Hideki Noda and was a staggering 10 laps behind the leader when his gearbox gave out after 56 laps.

With Pacific also in dire need of cash towards the end of 1995, Deletraz had another chance - but if anything, he was even worse. He was 12 seconds off of the pole time in Portugal and over five seconds slower than the next fastest driver; in the race he was several seconds slower than anyone else, lapped after just seven laps, and retired after just 14 laps with cramp.

His final outing at the Nurburgring was barely any better. Once again he was seconds off the pace, and a moment where he weaved across the circuit for no reason prompted Murray Walker to openly wonder “What is Deletraz doing!?” - a sentiment that summed up Deletraz’s F1 career. He at least finished this race - albeit in 15th and last, seven laps down.

That was it for his F1 career. A failed sponsor payment saw him replaced for the rest of the season, while his lack of pace prompted F1 to introduce the 107 per cent qualifying rule, precisely to prevent drivers and teams that were way off the pace from racing if they couldn’t be at least somewhat competitive. Although his time in F1 was laughable, Deletraz went onto to be much more successful in sportscars, twice winning his class at Le Mans. If the name seems familiar, it might be because his son, Louis Deletraz, is a current Formula 2 racer and Haas test driver.

Yuji Ide

(c) XPB Images
(c) XPB Images

At 31, Ide was quite old for a debutant when he joined the new Super Aguri team for 2006, but he had a decent racing background. Runner-up in Japanese F3 and the highly competitive Formula Nippon championship, a race-winner in Super GT and French F3, and with a fifth-place finish at the Macau GP, Ide obviously had plenty of talent. Unfortunately, none of it seemed to translate to Formula 1.

Despite having raced for team boss Aguri Suzuki in Japan, Super Aguri wouldn’t have been the easiest team to make your F1 debut with. For starters, the car was based on the old 2002 Arrows chassis, which wasn’t a competitive car then, let alone four years later. With the erratic-but-fast (and by this point, reasonably experienced) Takuma Sato as a teammate as well, it would be a tough environment for anyone to make their debut… and it showed.

At the season opener in Bahrain, Ide looked like he was struggling to even keep the car on the track - at one point, he corrected a slide so violently that his hand slipped off the steering wheel. He was almost three seconds slower than Sato in qualifying and seven seconds off Michael Schumacher’s pace. Amazingly, he made it 33 laps into the race before his engine failed.

Ide also struggled with the language barrier between himself and the team. (c) XPB Images
Ide also struggled with the language barrier between himself and the team. (c) XPB Images

Malaysia was a slight improvement (just the 1.7 seconds behind Sato in qualifying) as he again retired with mechanical issues, but he seemed to take a step backwards in Australia. He spun a number of times in practice and became something of an obstacle to other drivers in qualifying, where he was almost four seconds slower than Sato (if the 107 per cent rule was around in 2006, he’d have failed to qualify twice). Ide finally managed to finish a race (13th and last, three laps down, and a lap behind his teammate) but his own team was already growing weary of his ineptitude.

His days were numbered, and the next race at Imola was the final nail in the coffin. After qualifying 1.6 seconds behind Sato, on the first lap of the race he ploughed into the side of the Midland of Christijan Albers, flipping him into the gravel in a spectacular incident.

Under the advice of the FIA, Super Aguri dropped him in favour of Franck Montagny for the next race. A few days later, the FIA took away Ide’s super licence, effectively banning him from F1. He returned to racing Japan but unfortunately, his F1 adventure seemed to have affected his racing mentality - he ended up being banned from the 2006 Super GT season as well after failing to serve a penalty for contact with other drivers. And while pre-F1 Ide was a regular winner in Japan, post-F1 Ide wasn’t - he won just one more major race, the 2010 Suzuka 1000km.

Al Pease
Being disqualified from a race is a reasonably uncommon occurrence, and usually only happens because a car has breached technical regulations.

Not in the case of Al Pease. A successful racer in Canada, Pease entered his home race three times in the late 1960s, without success. The last of those occasions in 1969 ended with one of the most unusual and embarrassing disqualifications in F1 history - because he was too slow.

At the time of the disqualification, Pease had only completed 22 laps, less half the amount of leader Jackie Stewart. He’d also been something of an obstruction on the track, pushing other cars off the circuit and getting in the way of the front-runners. After almost wiping Stewart out of the lead, Ken Tyrrell went to the stewards and demanded Pease be black-flagged. The protest worked, and the 48-year-old Canadian became the only person in F1 to be disqualified from a race for driving too slowly.

It wasn’t all Pease’s fault, though. His car (an Eagle Mk1) was years out of date and in the months prior to the race had actually been used as a museum exhibit. As a result it was unreliable and badly prepared; most of the deficit to the other cars was because he’d spent almost half an hour in the pits getting things fixed. Although he’d qualified 17th out of 20 drivers, he was dangerously slow in the race - it’s no surprise the other drivers were struggling to pass him cleanly when he was over 15 seconds off the pace. Giving him the black flag was probably the right call.

Ricardo Rosset

(c) XPB Images
(c) XPB Images

Rosset’s career shouldn’t have been as bad as it was. In 1995 he was runner-up in his debut year in Formula 3000 (a forerunner of today’s Formula 2), earning him an F1 drive with Footwork the following year. Although teammate Jos Verstappen outqualified Rosset at every race, on plenty of occasions the gap between them was less than a second - hardly anything to shout about, but in the context of some of F1’s other terrible drivers, it’s more than acceptable. There were plenty of lows, too though - Rosset was involved in a number of incidents throughout the year, was frequently last in the races he did finish, and in Canada was embarassingly outqualified by one of the hapless Fortis.

1997 was a right-off - he joined the short-lived Mastercard Lola team, which failed to qualify for the first race in Australia and then disappered. Rosset found another seat for 1998, this time with Tyrrell - a decision which already caused issues even before the first race. Tyrrell had just been sold to British American Tobacco, running for one final year before it evolved into the BAR team the following season. Team boss Ken Tyrrell wanted to hire Verstappen, but BAT overruled him, preferring to take the money brought by Rosset’s sponsors. Tyrrell was so incensed by the decision to choose money over talent that he quit the team.

Looking at Rosset’s efforts in 1998, you can see why. He failed to qualify for five races (one of which was due to an injury he sustained in a practice shint) while teammate Tora Takagi was more than capable of mixing it with the Minardi, Prosts, Arrows’ and Stewarts. When he did qualify he was a lot less incident prone than he had been in 1996, with one notable expection. The colossal 14-car collision at a wet Spa should really have only been a 13-car pile-up, but Rosset - a good few seconds after the bulk of the accident had already happened - ploughed into the carnage at full speed.

(c) XPB Images
(c) XPB Images

That wasn’t the worst moment, though - that would be Monaco. In attempting to qualify (which he obviously failed to do), he had an off at Mirabeau. He got going from that, only to have a spin in the second part of the swimming pool. Somehow he not only didn’t hit anything, but had kept the engine running, and attempted to do a spin turn to get back pointing the right way. He messed that up, too, and ended up stranded on the kerb on the inside of the corner at a marshal’s post. As he was being pushed out of the way, Martin Brundle utterly rinsed the Brazilian during commentary:

Walker: ”I hate to say this but, a lot of people here are really debating whether Ricardo Rosset is Formula 1 material.”
Brundle: “It’s a fairly short debate, Murray.”

Even his own team were fed up with him. After the incident, his mechanics reportedly rearranged the letters of the name on his scooter so that it spelt the word ‘tosser’. It’s easy to laugh, but it must have been a tough season for Rosset - struggling enough with your own performance is bad enough, but having a team that clearly didn’t want him can’t have made it an easy environment to be in.

At the end of 1998, Rosset decided that he’d had enough and quit racing altogether. After 10 years away, he made a return to motorsport in 2008, going on to have success in GT racing in his home country.

David Walker

(c) Raimund Kommer/Creative Commons
(c) Raimund Kommer/Creative Commons

The first task any F1 driver has is to beat their teammate. Failing to do that is disappointing enough, but if your teammate is the champion and you’re not, it must be especially galling. David Walker perhaps knows that better that most, for he was Emerson Fittipaldi’s teammate in 1972 when Emmo became F1’s youngest world champion. Walker? He didn’t even score a single point - a unique achievement for a full-time teammate of a world champion.

After debuting with Lotus in 1971 driving the team’s unusual gas turbine-powered car, Australian Walker was promoted to a full-time seat with the team the following year having enjoyed a tremendous amount of success in Formula 3.

In his 10 races that season, Walker qualified 20th or lower five times and had a best grid slot of 12th - Fittipaldi had taken three poles and never been lower on the grid than ninth. Things were barely any better in the races, either, with a best finish of ninth in Spain, Walker regularly ended up finishing laps behind his teammate.

Of course, it wasn’t all as straightforward as Walker simply being bad. Lotus boss Colin Chapman was notorious for putting his focus on a single driver to the detriment of the others, and Walker was no different. It was a vicious cycle - the worse Walker performed, the less interest the team showed in him, which made him do worse.

Walker was even dropped by Lotus for two races because he’d dared to test a car for a rival Formula 2 team. Though he returned for the last race of the year at Watkins Glen, he qualified a sorry 31st and retired with engine failure from P-nowhere in what turned out to be his final race. He returned to F2 the following year and was entered for some F1 races with the Maki team in 1975. However, the drive never materialised and he decided to retire from racing at the end of the year.

Claudio Langes

(c) XPB Images
(c) XPB Images

There are a ton of drivers from the late 1980s and early 1990 who have strings of failures to qualify for races on the record, many of whom also had experience with the dreaded pre-qualifying. BAck then, F1 had so many different teams and drivers that it wouldn’t be possible for them all to be accomodated for an entire race weekend, so any new teams (or teams that had performed poorly previously) had to run the gauntlet of pre-qualifying. Held on the Friday morning before the main practice sessions, the four fastest cars would be allowed to take part in the main qualifying session, while everyone else’s weekend would be over before it started.

Claudio Langes’ entire F1 career consisted only of pre-qualifying sessions.

The 29-year-old Italian had a mediocre record in F3000 before joining the struggling EuroBrun team in F1 for 1990. EuroBrun hadn’t qualified for a single race in 1989 so the cards were stacked against him but even so, Langes struggled - badly.

He was hopelessly slow at all 14 races. He was always faster than the drivers from the Life team, but that car was so bad that it would have struggled to compete in F3000, let along F1. If you ignore Life (and occasionally, the similarly terrible Subaru-powered Coloni), Langes was always the slowest driver in pre-qualifying by a significant margin - his average deficit to teammate Roberto Moreno was 5.7 seconds. Average!

True, Eurobrun could barely afford to run one car competitively, let alone two, but for Langes to be consistently five or seconds seconds slower than his teammate in a car which was barely even fast enough to get out of pre-qualifying is genuinely awful. Moreno actually managed to get out of pre-qualifying five times, and on three of those occasions he miraculously went on to qualify for the race, proving that in the hands of a competent driver, even a car as bad as the Eurobrun could have some performance coaxed out of it.

Langes certainly was not that driver. The team collapsed with two races left to run in the season, taking Langes ‘career’ -if you can call it that - with it. With 14 DNPQs from 14 entires, Langes holds the unenviable record of the most race entries without ever actually managing to start one.

Chanoch Nissany

10 F1 Drivers That Were So Bad They’ll Never Be Forgotten - Formula 1

Nissany doesn’t really fit in this list since he was never actually entered into a race as a driver, but his sole FP1 outing in 2005 is too amusing not to include.

Nissany made his motor racing debut in 2002 at the age of 38. After some success in that hotbed of young driver talent, the Formula 2000 Hungarian National Championship, he decided to have a crack at some international events, where his sponsorship proved attractive for struggling teams. After some runs in F3000 machinery, he managed to snag a test for Jordan at Silverstone in 2004, where he finished with a lap time over 18 seconds off of the fastest set by Kimi Raikkonen.

In early 2005 he was then signed as an official tester for Minardi. In one particular outing at Misano he spun five times in six laps, causing two red flags.

Whoops. (c) XPB Images
Whoops. (c) XPB Images

After several more tests with the team, he and his sponsor managed to convince Minardi boss Paul Stoddart to let him drive the PS05 in FP1 at the Hungarian Grand Prix that year. It would fall on his 42nd birthday and thought it’d be a great PR opportunity to become the first Israeli driver to compete in a grand prix weekend. Stoddart agreed, and so Nissany ended up taking part in the first practice session. His run went predictably badly.

A few laps into his stint, Nissany came on the radio to say he was coming in because there was a problem with his car - it had too much grip. He went back out on track and eventually spun off. Apparently, he couldn’t remember how to remove the steering wheel, so he remained sat in the car as he was craned off.

In the eight laps he completed, his best lap time was almost 13 seconds off the fastest time set by Alex Wurz’s McLaren. After a couple more private tests with the team that year he disappeared from the international stage, though he did continue to race in Hungary, winning the Formula 2000 Hungarian National Championship title on five occasions. HIs son, Roy, is currently a development driver for Williams.

Otto Stuppacher
A hillclimber and sportscar racer in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Otto Stuppacher had a brief attempt at F1 during the 1976 season when the Austrian Sports Car Club acquired an old Tyrrell and wanted him to race it.

His first attempt was supposed to be the Austrian GP but, despite it being his home track, he (along with teammate Karl Oppitzhauser) was refused an entry due to a lack of experience. Stuppacher petitioned the other teams and drivers to let him race but, unsurprisingly, they agreed with the organisers’ decision.

Undeterred, Stuppacher returned for the last three races of the year in Italy, Canada, and the USA. On paper, his attempts look thoroughly unremarkable as he failed to qualify for all three races, and was significantly off the pace - 13.7 seconds slower at Monza, 12.6 seconds slower at Mosport, and a staggering 27.4 seconds slower at Watkins Glen. The Austrian GP officials had probably been right to refuse his entry.

However, there’s a neat aside to Stuppacher’s short F1 career. After he’d failed to qualify at Monza, three other drivers - one of whom was championship challenger James Hunt - had their laps disallowed due to fuel irregularities with their cars, promoting Stuppacher into the field. But, there was one small problem: he’d already gone home. By the time he’d been contacted and told he was in the race, it was too late - he wouldn’t be able to make it back to the circuit in time. Stuppacher withdrew his entry and with it, his only chance at starting a grand prix. That allowed Hunt back into the race - funnily enough, a storyline that was overlooked in Rush…

The early 1990s heyday of bad drivers will probably never be matched again. (c) XPB Images
The early 1990s heyday of bad drivers will probably never be matched again. (c) XPB Images

Chances are it’ll be a long time before we see any more genuinely bad drivers in F1. A combination of factors, such as the ever-increasing costs of motorsport, a strong junior ladder, the relatively small amount of F1 cars on the current grid, and - most significantly - the super licence points system means that any driver who reaches F1 nowadays is there because they have the right combination of talent and experience.

That’s definitely a good thing from a sporting point of view, but it’s also a bit of a shame. The terrible drivers who are seconds off the pace are as much a part of history as anything else in F1 and for many fans - especially those who grew up watching F1 in the 1990s - one of the many things that helped us fall in love with the sport. F1 cars are supposed to be these other-worldly feats of engineering that only the very best drivers in the world can tame. Seeing F1 drivers who struggled to get a handle on them helped to reinforce the mythos of the sport.

Plus, bad drivers can be entertaining - for the wrong reasons, sure, but entertaining nonetheless. The sport could do with another Ide, Deletraz, or Rosset.