Stefan Bellof: One of the Fastest Drivers Ever

Matt HillContributor IIIDecember 25, 2012

Stefan Bellof drives the #4 Team Tyrrell-Ford 012 in the rain   during the Grand Prix of Monaco on 3 June 1984 on the streets of the Principality of Monaco in Monte Carlo, Monaco.Despite finishing third Bellof was later disqualified for a technical infringement. (Photo by Mike Powell/Getty Images)
Mike Powell/Getty Images

The Monaco Grand Prix of 1984 is remembered for several reasons. Most people remember it for the horrendous weather and Ayrton Senna in the Toleman hunting down Alain Prost in the McLaren before the red flag fell. What is less remembered is the fact that Stefan Bellof in the Tyrrell was catching both of them. Had the race continued, chances are it would have resulted in a Bellof victory with Senna second and Prost third.

Sadly, Tyrrell was later excluded from the entire 1984 season for a technical infringement discovered at the Dallas race. Therefore, Bellof lost his third position and all the other points he gained throughout the season. Due to that, and the short amount of time Bellof was in F1, Stefan's career statistics in Formula 1 are rather underwhelming. In 20 starts he is only credited with scoring four points with no podiums or wins.

However, there is absolutely no denying Stefan Bellof's talent behind the wheel. In an Autosport survey of 217 drivers, Bellof was ranked the 35th-best driver ever in Formula 1. He was considered by some to be fearless, and that is what made him so fast on the track. To this day Bellof is the owner of the lap record at the legendary Nurburgring Nordschleife, set in 1983. This lap record earnt him pole position and he was a full five seconds faster than the next car

Bellof's 1984 Formula 1 season had seen him score five points before the Tyrrell exclusion and had seen some incredible drives in the only non-turbo car on the grid. Bellof scored points at Zolder, Imola and Monaco, but was guilty of overdriving and overstressing his machine on occasions. At Dijon, Bellof continuously short-shifted to try to keep up with the turbo cars, which resulted in a blown engine, and at Detroit he crashed out trying to over take teammate Martin Brundle, who ended up finishing in second (before the exclusion).

The Monaco Grand Prix in the rain is what he should be remembered for though.  After starting last and being the only Tyrrell representative after Brundle failed to qualify Bellof began to scythe through the field. Bellof produced an excellent daring pass to get past Rene Arnoux in the Ferrari heading in to the Mirabeau corner as well as having an excellent fight with Keke Rosberg. When the race was stopped, Bellof was in third, and had the race gone longer, he could have easily won. It's a great shame that Bellof's podium was been removed from the record books.

To go with his Formula 1 exploits, Bellof entered the World Endurance Championship and the DTM series. He won both championships, winning six World Endurance races and three DTM races. It was in his World Endurance races, though, where his performances were getting noticed. He was consistently the fastest man in his team of three drivers and often by a long shot. A certain degree of wildness remained, but he was without doubt the fastest driver there.

In 1985 he remained with Tyrrell in Formula 1, but the car was not overly competitive. However, he earned a point for sixth place at the Portuguese Grand Pix and then three more points for fourth at the Detroit Grand Prix. Ironically, at the Monaco Grand Prix in 1985, the track where he had his greatest triumph the year before, he failed to qualify but that was due to the deficiencies of the car more than the driver.

Bellof's talents had attracted interest, and he had a meeting scheduled with Enzo Ferrari to drive for Ferrari in the 1986 season. However, he never even finished the 1985 season, let alone competed in 1986, due to a tragic incident that saw the German leave us too soon.

Like the previous year, he drove in DTM where he won the only race he competed in and the World Endurance Championship. In the World Endurance races he was driving in a Brun Porsche, which was not a race-winning car, but was enjoyable for the young German to drive. However, in a manner rather similar to Robert Kubica, an enjoyable drive whilst not on F1 duty went horribly wrong.

At the 1985 Spa 1000 km sports car race, Bellof tried an insane move on Jacky Ickx heading in to Eau Rouge. Ickx turned in to the corner to take the normal racing lane, unaware Bellof was trying to pull alongside him. The front right corner of Bellof's car touched the rear right of Ickx's car, sending Ickx into a spin and fairly heavy impact into the wall. However, the touch sent Bellof's car spearing in to the wall head-on with the car going straight through the first barrier and into a secondary wall.

Bellof's car caught fire, but the damage was already done. Despite the best efforts of the medical crew and Ickx trying to extract Bellof it still took a long time. Once the car was lifted onto the back of a tow truck it became clear how severe the accident had been. The entire front of the car was piled on itself and the car was completely destroyed. Looking at the wreckage I prefer not to think of the injuries the Bellof suffered. Bellof was pronounced dead at the track hospital with horrific internal injuries.

As with the case of any driver fatality I have not put video footage or pictures of the car in this piece. It is not hard to find though for anyone who does want to see

Sadly, Bellof was responsible for his own demise for attempting such a dangerous pass. Bellof had been stuck behind Ickx for a few laps, got impatient and tried an insane move. One of his teammates in sports cars, Derek Bell, felt Bellof had still yet to mature as a driver ,which gave him his speed edge but also left him prone to making mistakes.

To me, Bellof is a great example of raw talent that, sadly, never had the chance to develop. He was Michael Schumacher's idol when the young German was growing up. In many ways, Bellof reminds me of Wolfgang Von Trips. A man who had immense talent, but was killed before he could get the accolades he deserved.

RIP Stefan Bellof


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