Former F1 racewinner Thierry Boutsen – the man to whom my father was the ultimate doppelganger in the 1980s! – is celebrating his 53rd birthday today.
Born in Brussels, Thierry’s racing career began in 1975 at Zolder’s Pilette Racing School when he studying engineering. Quickly realising this was much more his cup of tea, he gave up his studies to concentrate on motor racing full-time.
He ventured into Formula Ford in 1977, and clinched the Benelux title in 1978 with a staggering 15 victories in 18 races. This propelled him into German and European Formula 3 in 1979, where he was promoted to the factory Martini team in 1980, winning three rounds in the European Championship and claiming the runner-up spot in the Championship to Michele Alboreto.
Two seasons with March in Formula 2 produced more race wins but no championship, and he moved onto tin-top racing in 1983.
That year, he found some sponsorship from Diners Club and this allowed him to make his F1 debut with Arrows at the Belgian Grand Prix, staying with the team until the end of 1986, never achieving the results to justify his talent.
Benetton came calling in 1987, and he impressed the right people to be hired by Williams in 1989. A solid driver in the wet, he won in soaking conditions at both Canada and Australia that year.
Perhaps his finest win came the following year at Hungary, where he held off Ayrton Senna for the entire race, withstanding the most immense pressure to take his third and final win.
Williams decided that it needed a more spectacular driver behind the wheel, and out went Boutsen and in came Nigel Mansell. Boutsen went off to the pastures of Ligier, which looked like a promising move with the prospect of Renault engines for 1992.
But the two-year stint spent there was a disaster: the Lamborghini-engined 1991 car was a dog and the car for the following season was a disappointment.
Thierry was moved aside at the end of the year and joined Jordan mid-season, retiring on home turf at Spa-Francorchamps.
Thierry stayed on in sports cars, racing for the factory Toyota team. At the 1999 Le Mans 24 Hours, he had an horrific accident and fractured a vertebra, forcing his permanent retirement from the sport.
Now residing in Monaco, he owns a hugely successful business selling private aircraft, with one of his first clients being none other than Heinz-Harald Frentzen.
[Original image via Flickr]