New Zealand’s last F1 racer – and until, Jaime Alguersuari burst onto the scene, the sport’s youngest-ever competitor – Mike Thackwell, is celebrating his 50th birthday today!
At the 1980 Canadian Grand Prix, Auckland-born Thackwell became the sport’s youngest-ever starter in the World Championship Grand Prix, only for the then-nineteen-year-old to get himself in a first-lap accident that would cause the race to be red-flagged. The young Kiwi’s car was wrecked and he didn’t make the restart.
We won’t get bogged down in the anorak’s debate as to whether or not he started the race, but it would be a further four years before he would grace the Formula 1 starting grid again – and by then, Thackwell was a rather more changed man.
To say that his rise to Formula 1 was meteoric would be a gross understatement. In 1979, he debuted in the Vandervell British F3 championship, taking five wins and finishing third overall at just 18 years of age.
By 1980, he was on several teams’ radars, knocking back the chance to drive for Ensign before he entered a race (and DNQ’d) with Arrows, and then joined Tyrrell at that Montreal race.
He dropped back to Formula 2 in 1981 and was a title favourite early on until a heavy crash left him on crutches and out of contention. Team boss Ron Tauranac dropped him from the line-up before the start of the 1982 season, and so Mike scraped together just enough to last from race to race until he joined the Ralt squad for 1983, and finished team-mate and championship-winner Jonathan Palmer.
By 1984, it was finally going to be his turn, and he duly grabbed the opportunity with both hands, winning seven of the season’s eleven rounds with six pole positions and nine fastest laps. Incredibly, he led but 172 of the 580 racing laps that season!
Yet he still couldn’t secure a full-time berth after hit-and-miss outings with RAM and Tyrrell in the middle of 1984, and so he moved to Formula 3000 and incredibly failed to win the championship despite being the class of the field – time and time again, luck just wasn’t with him.
And there began his steady withdrawal from the sport, only contesting the occasional F3000 outing and sports car race – albeit with very good success, no less – with the Sauber and Brun teams until he packed it in before he turned 30.
Thackwell is now a PD/Health/PE teacher in his homeland.
[Original images via F1-Facts]