Formula 1 and the Worst Pay Driver: A Match Made in Money

Matt HillContributor IIIMarch 15, 2011

Recently I wrote a piece giving my top three drivers in the history of Formula 1. I thought it only appropriate that I look at the other end of the scale. This is a piece on one of the worst drivers ever to grace the sport. A man who got in to Formula 1 for one reason and one reason alone: Money.

Now pay drivers nearly always drove for teams in the same situations. Out on their last legs, down to their last few dollars and desperately trying to keep going. This is not always the case, but it is normally not far from reality.

The real pay driver boom occurred between 1985 and 1995. In this period of 10 years we saw many small teams try to make their way into Formula 1.

Teams such as Pacific, Eurobrun, Rial, Simtek, Coloni and Forti. They meant well but they just couldn't afford to really compete. These guys would employ people who could help build their budget so they could last a bit longer.

The pay driver is still very much with us. Vitaly Petrov is bringing a lot of money, so is Narain Karthikeyan and so was Sakon Yamamoto. They are by no means the worst pay drivers in history. Sakon is the worst out of them and he is not even in the same league of awfulness as the guy I am now going to tell the story of.

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I have picked what I feel is the ultimate example of pay driver awfulness.

Jean Denis-Deletraz

Jean Denis-Deletraz is one of the weakest drivers ever to get into Formula 1. He first got to drive for the Larousse team, which by this point, was a team headed for bankruptcy.

His first race was in Adelaide in 1994. Incredibly, he qualified in 25th, ahead of Domenico Schiattarella in the Simtek who was considered to be a stronger driver. But soon Jean's lack of ability began to show through.

He was immediately passed by Schiattarella at the start and fell back very quickly. He was so slow that he was already being lapped as early as Lap 10. So in other words, he was falling back, on average 8.8 seconds a lap from the leaders. You can imagine the laughter when Deletraz was brought in for a stop go for speeding in the pit lane on Lap 37.

His first race ended on Lap 57 when his gearbox failed. When he retired, he was already 10 laps behind the leaders.

Everyone thought that after this, Deletraz would never be seen in Formula 1 again; they were very much mistaken. In 1995, the Pacific team were in real financial trouble as well. They needed someone to come in to help pay the bills. Yes, you guessed, they got in contact with Jean Denis-Deletraz.

Deletraz leapt at the opportunity to get back into Formula 1.

He was hired for the final five races of the 1995 season. His first race was at Estoril in Portugal. Before the race, a journalist said that Deletraz was so hopeless that he made "Lavaggi look like Nuvolari." If that is not a damning indictment of someone's driving abilities, I don't know what is.

He qualified last, over 12 seconds off the pace of pole sitter Coulthard. When the race began, he did his normal trick of falling miles behind everyone else. He was falling behind at the rate of 12 seconds a lap which was even more than he fell back in his first race.

Deletraz quit the race after 14 laps, due to cramps.

The next race was the European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. He was only 9.1 seconds off the pace this time, which was by his standards, a good effort. He finished the race as well, coming in 15th and seven laps down.

At one point he even managed to pass Mark Blundell in the Mclaren, albeit due to the fact that Blundell was on slick tyres and the track was soaking wet.

He still managed to get himself noticed during the race though for other reasons. The first incident as you can see here involved him nearly being smashed into by Damon Hill

This is the second incident and one of my favourite pieces of commentary ever.

Murray summed that up pretty well I think.

He was due to compete at the final three races of the season. However, his money had run out and he was sacked. It was thought he was going to be replaced by fellow pay driver Katsumi Yamamoto but he was denied his super licence. The seat was given to Bertrand Gachot.

Keith Wiggins did a brilliant job of describing the sacking of Jean Denis-Deletraz, saying, "He had defaulted on payment and on ability alone we are not prepared to keep him."

Honorary Mention

This article wouldn't be complete without a mention of Al Pease. Al Pease was not a pay driver, but one of many guys who entered their home race whenever the Formula 1 circus came through back in the 60's

Al Pease holds a very dubious record of being the only man in the history of Formula 1 to be disqualified during a race for being too slow. He entered his home grand prix 3 times in Canada, the first of these attempts was in 1967.

In 1967, the battery ran flat so he ran to the garage and got a new one. The race was set for 90 laps, and Al had finished 47 by the time Jack Brabham finished. I think 43 laps down and still racing has to be a record in Formula 1.

In 1968 he failed to start. The 1969 race is the most infamous out of all of his exploits. He was disqualified on his 22nd lap for being too slow. He had done much less than half the amount of laps the leaders had done.   


Pay drivers will never go away. I think the era of truly rubbish pay drivers is over, but the era of pay drivers is not dead.