March 18 is evidently a good day to be born if you have aspirations of being a Formula 1 driver, with Larry Perkins (61 today), Volker Weidler (49), Alex Caffi (47) and Timo Glock (29) all celebrating their respective birthdays today!
Australian-born Larry Perkins’ greatest claim to fame is with his incredible success in Australia’s touring car scene as a driver and team owner, but his F1 record sadly pales into insignificance.
After achieving success by rising through the junior ranks on the Australian motorsport scene, Larry did the now-customary move to the UK, winning the 1975 European Formula 3 championship.
The year before, however, Perkins had made a one-off appearance at the 1974 German Grand Prix after being a late replacement for the unwell Chris Amon at the New Zealander’s ill-fated team. Despite lapping the daunting Nürburgring Norschleife circuit in a quicker time than Amon had managed, Perkins still failed to make the grid.
But his performances in the European F3 championship were enough to secure him a berth at the Ensign outfit (pictured) for a few races in 1976. He acquitted himself well with a best finish of eighth at Belgium and only failed to make the grid once in his six outings for the team.
His biggest call-up came later in the year from Brabham, replacing Carlos Reutemann who had moved to Ferrari. Failing to finish any of his three races for the team, he was one of several drivers – alongside Niki Lauda – to deem conditions too dangerous at the title-deciding Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji, withdrawing after a few laps.
It wasn’t enough to see him stay on in 1977, and he made a disastrous switch to the Stanley BRM outfit, which was continuing its inexorable slide into oblivion. After two races, he left the team and moved to Surtees for a few races, with equally little success.
He returned to Australia and promptly demonstrated the talent many knew he still possessed, winning the 1979 Formula 5000 championship, before embarking on a long and very successful touring car career that has seen him win the Bathurst 1000 six times.
Turning 49 today is ten-time non-qualifier Volker Weidler, who contested part of the 1989 season with Gunther Schmid’s Rial team.
German Weidler won his native Formula 3 title in 1985 before he branched out into sports and touring cars in 1986, taking the runner-up spot in the German Touring Car Championship of 1987.
A return to open-wheeler competition in 1987-8 didn’t show much in the way of impressive form, and it was his sponsorship backing which helped him secure the second Rial seat.
The ARC2 chassis he was equipped with was little more than a makeshift update of the team’s 1988 design, and the inexperienced Weidler stood little hope of making it out of pre-qualifying. He was disqualified from the German Grand Prix after receiving a push start from his team members when he spun on the circuit, and he was fired after failing to make the grid once again at Hungary.
Without a drive, he disappeared to the Japanese Formula 3000 scene in 1990, and also contested the Japanese Sports Prototypes Championship. His connections saw him secure a drive with Mazda at the 1991 Le Mans 24 Hours, where he surprisingly won alongside Bertrand Gachot and Johnny Herbert in the rotary-engined car.
His prospects were starting to look good, but his career came to a sudden halt when he was diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss (believed to have been caused by continued exposure to Mazda’s noisy engines), which forced his complete retirement from the sport midway through 1992, when he was leading the Japanese F3000 championship standings.
Friend to Richard’s F1, Alex Caffi started out in motorcross before moving into four-wheeled competition, where he quickly established himself as a star in Italy, finishing twice as a runner-up in the 1984-5 Italian Formula 3 championships.
He made his F1 debut in 1986 in a one-off appearance – replacing Allen Berg – in the overweight Osella Alfa Romeo, and joined the team full-time in 1987.
While his results were very much limited by the machinery, his determination was enough to see him move to the new Scuderia Italia Dallara outfit, which made its debut as a single-car team in 1988. Caffi impressed with a great drive to fourth at that year’s Monaco Grand Prix, and he stayed with the team for 1989 when is expanded to a two-car operation to include Andrea de Cesaris. Running second at Phoenix, he was taken out of the race by none other than his team-mate whom he was trying to lap!
Still looked upon fondly, Caffi joined the Footwork team for 1990 – a stop-gap year while it awaited the much-vaunted works Porsche V12 engines for the 1991 season. But the following year was a disaster: the engine was oil-thirsty and overweight, and poor Alex frequently failed to qualify before he broke his jaw in a rally accident midway through the season.
Once recovered, he returned for a few races at the end of the year, but moved to the Andrea Moda team for the 1992 season, quitting after two rounds when it became clear that the outfit was nowhere near race-ready.
Caffi went on carve out a successful career in sports and touring cars, as well as endurance racing.
He kindly afforded us an exclusive interview last year, which you can read here.