Former Grand Prix driver Eric van de Poele is the third of today’s Grand Prix birthday boys, with the Belgian driver celebrating his 50th birthday today.
Known by the most die-hard fans for his handful of Grand Prix starts between 1991-2 (indeed, every team he raced for ran out of money!), van de Poele remains one of the true untapped potentials to have graced the F1 grid, never given the equipment to properly showcase his skills.
A talented man in touring cars (he was the 1987 German champion), van de Poele won the last ever Birmingham Super Prix Formula 3000 race in 1990, he made his F1 debut in 1991 with the brand new Modena Lamborghini outfit, qualifying just once all season.
The race in question was none other than the San Marino Grand Prix, where he drove a sensational race to be running fifth at the end until his fuel pump packed up with just four corners to go!
He joined the Brabham team in 1992 – the squad now a total embarrassment and a shadow of its former self – achieving a best result of 13th at the season-opening South African Grand Prix, and struggling to make the grid thereafter.
Its collapse saw him jump ship to the Fondmetal squad, but that only lasted three races before it too closed down.
Since then, van de Poele has carved out a hugely successful career in sports cars and touring cars, winning the Spa 24 Hours a record five times.
Finally given the opportunity to compete against his F1 peers in equal machinery during the short-lived GP Masters championship in 2006, van de Poele was mighty at the Silverstone race, coming oh-so-close to winning after a charging drive from the back of the grid.
Eric, usually spotted wearing his trademark ten-gallon hat, is arguably one of the most versatile racing drivers of the past twenty-five years, a man who has excelled in touring car, sports car and open-wheel racing, with the ability to drive anything, anywhere to its maximum potential. And, these days, that is a rare talent indeed.