Former Grand Prix driver and multiple Le Mans winner Derek Bell will be celebrating his 70th birthday today!
Despite his enormous talent behind the wheel, British-born Bell was seemingly cursed when it came to Formula 1. Repeatedly in the wrong car at the wrong time, he started a mere nine races in twenty-three attempts.
He started out in open-wheel racing in 1964, moving up into Formula 3 and later into Formula 2. Midway through 1968, his first Formula 2 season, Bell’s skill came to the attention of Ferrari and he was signed to their Formula 1 team mid-season.
His F1 debut came at the non-championship Monza Lottery race, and he was blamelessly involved in multi-car pile-up at the start of the race. He retired from the two World Championship races with Ferrari, but the team went suddenly cold on him and he was out of a drive in 1969, save for a one-off outing in a 4WD McLaren M9A at Silverstone.
Donington owner Tom Wheatcroft came to the rescue, and he helped finance a full season of Formula 2 competition for Bell in 1970 to help rebuild Bell’s career. He had a one-off outing with Wheatcroft’s F1 team at Spa, and also made an appearance with Surtees at Watkins Glen, where he scored his sole championship point.
It was also during this year that Bell enjoyed his first sports car outing – laying the future for an enormously successful career. He partnered Jo Siffert in the Gulf / Wyer Porsche, enjoying enormous success with the team over the next four years. Contrastingly, his occasional F1 outings with Surtees (pictured) and Tecno were disappointing, often failing to qualify.
In 1975, Bell claimed the first of his five Le Mans 24 Hours victories with Jacky Ickx in the Gulf Porsche, and he would compete in a host of motorsport championships for the remainder of the decade. In all, Bell claimed wins at the La Sarthe circuit in 1981, 1982, 1986 and 1987, as well as three wins in the Dayton 24 Hours, in 1986-7 and 1989.
Bell joined the Rothmans Porsche sports car squad, winning the World Championship with Hans-Joachim Stuck in 1985-6.
Eventually retiring from competitive driving in the mid-1990s, Bell took up a role in the commentary box, and later worked as a consultant for Bentley’s sports car project.
[Images via F1-Facts]