A quite brilliant junior motorsport career never translated into F1 success for Jonathan Palmer (who is celebrating his 55th birthday today), largely by dint of never having the proper equipment at his disposal to showcase his talent.
Palmer’s motorsport ambitions were put on hold while he gained qualifications as a doctor, but he kicked things off with Formula Ford in 1979 and by 1981 was competing on the front line in Formula 3. A tally of eight wins, seven pole positions and ten fastest laps showed that he was no slouch behind the wheel en route to the title. His second season of Formula 2 in 1983 proved again how quick he was, as he and team-mate Mike Thackwell dominated proceedings.
A one-off drive with Williams in 1983 saw Palmer join the execrable RAM outfit in 1984, where he did well to qualify the car and was usually able to haul it to the finish, albeit several lap down. The 1985-6 seasons were spent with the very under-resourced Zakspeed team, in which he again could do no more than make up the numbers.
By 1987, Palmer had been noticed and signed by Tyrrell, and duly went on to pick up his first points and win the Jim Clark Cup for non-turbo runners. More points followed in 1988 and 1989, but in the latter season he was being overshadowed by the team’s new-hire, Jean Alesi.
Unable to secure a race seat for 1990, Palmer joined McLaren as its test driver while dovetailing this with drives in Porsche’s sports car team.
Later on, he served as a pit-lane correspondent for the BBC’s Formula 1 coverage before stepping into the commentary box in the wake of James Hunt’s death.
Palmer now serves as Chief Executive for MotorSport Vision, owner and operator of five British racing circuits, including Brands Hatch. The group also ran the now-defunct Formula Palmer Audi championship, and it now operates the FIA Formula 2 championship.
Palmer has also served as a guiding force in the development of Justin Wilson and Andy Priaulx’s respective motorsport careers.