Four former F1 drivers will be celebrating their respective birthdays today (pictured above, L-R): Brian Henton turns 64; Bernard de Dryver turns 57; Enrico Bertaggia turns 46 and Cristiano da Matta turns 37 today.
A former British F3 and Formula 2 champion, Henton competed in 38 Grands Prix between 1975 and 1982, but never scored a championship point, largely on account of the uncompetitive machinery he often had to drive.
Nicknamed ‘Superhen’ in the British press, Henton started motor racing at the relatively late age of 23, and claimed in 1971 that he would be a Formula 1 World Champion after he clinched the minor British Formula Vee title.
His F1 debut came in 1975 with Lotus, by which time the Lotus 72 was proving long in the tooth and its replacement, the 76, proved little better. Alternating between F2 and F1 for the next four years, he never quite made a name for himself in either category, until his winning the 1980 F2 title for Toleman propelled him full-time into F1 with the same team.
Sadly, the turbo-powered Toleman TG181 was truly awful, and he qualified just once. The 1982 season saw a few appearances with Arrows and then Tyrrell, but no results were forthcoming and he disappeared from the F1 scene altogether.
Although very appropriately named, little-known Belgian racer Bernard de Dryver made separate attempts to qualify for his 1977 and 1978 home Grands Prix at the wheel of a privately entered March and Ensign respectively, failing on each occasion.
A Formula 2 graduate, he later went on to contest the Aurora UK Formula 1 Championship in 1979 at the wheel of a Fittipaldi, scoring several podium finishes and finishing fourth in the Championship standings. He still occasionally dabbles in GT racing to this day.
Much was initially expected of Venice-born Enrico Bertaggia, who took the Italian F3 crown and the Monaco F3 support race in 1987, in addition to winning the prestigious 1988 Macau Grand Prix.
But it was in the bigger categories that his form started to unravel, and two seasons in Formula 3000 proved little and achieved even less.
Despite this, he bought a seat at Coloni midway through 1989 as a replacement to Pierre-Henri Raphanel, but failed to prequalify in every event that he was entered. Indeed, he was the slowest of all six prequalifying drivers at each event, a feat no other driver has achieved before or since.
He returned to F1 with the disastrous Andrea Moda outfit in 1992, and after the team’s entry was excluded at the season-opening South African Grand Prix, he stormed out when it turned out that the cars wouldn’t be ready in time for the next race at Mexico.
Cristiano da Matta was widely expected to be the next big thing in Formula 1, having cleaned up in the North American motor racing scene.
Following in the footsteps of fellow CART champion Juan Pablo Montoya in crossing the Atlantic to forge a career in F1, Cristiano debuted with the Toyota team in 2003, but his career sadly followed that of other CART graduates who failed to make the grade in another discipline.
Despite a generally impressive rookie season in which he outscored team-mate Olivier Panis – even briefly leading the British Grand Prix – the following year took a nosedive as Toyota’s fortunes waned.
In the boardroom mentality that was – and continued to be – so typical of the Toyota team’s Tokyo HQ management, the drivers were blamed as the root of the problem, and da Matta found himself fired after the German Grand Prix and replaced with fellow Brazilian, Ricardo Zonta.
Da Matta vowed never to race in F1 again, perhaps rightly complaining that the sport placed too much emphasis on car performance.
He switched back to Champ Car racing and proved he had lost none of his speed, winning at Portland for PKV Racing and finishing eleventh overall in the standings. For 2006, he would join Dale Coyne Racing, before switching to RUSport mid-season, peaking with second place on the streets of San Jose.
But his motorsport career almost came to a fatal conclusion when he was involved in a freak accident while testing at the Elkhart Lake circuit. A deer jumped the fence and crossed into his path along the back straight, striking the little Brazilian in the head and knocking him unconscious.
Operated on for a subdural haematoma, he was placed in an induced coma and kept in hospital for six weeks while he made a steady, and incredible, recovery.
He remained out of the cockpit for some eighteen months,before returning behind the wheel in a successful test session in a Riley Daytona Prototype.
Fully recovered, he now competes Brazil’s truck racing championship.
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