Former F1 drivers Vern Schuppan and Nicola Larini are celebrating their respective birthdays today!
Turning 68 today, this tall blond Australian with a very Germanic name arrived in Britain after a successful career in karting. Not achieving a huge amount in Formula Ford, it was when he jumped to Formula Atlantic that he started to make his mark, winning the Yellow Pages championship.
His results were enough to earn him a test with Tyrrell, and he was signed as a junior driver for the BRM team, achieving solid results in some non-championship appearances and finishing in second place in a one-off outing at the Spa 1000km with Howden Ganley.
Without a promotion to F1, Schuppan moved to Formula 5000 with Theodore Racing for 1974, but an opportunity opened up with Ensign and he stayed for a few races until dropping out. Later outings with Hill and Surtees produced no points’ finishes, and it was the field of sports cars that was starting to grab his attention.
Schuppan won ‘Rookie of the Year’ honours in his maiden USAC season in 1976, and he would later win the 1983 Le Mans 24 Hours with the Rothmans Porsche factory outfit.
Click here for Vern Schuppan’s complete F1 results.
Turning 47 today, Italian Nicola Larini is but one of many examples of talented drivers who have shown sparkling form in junior series only to find their skills squandered by years making up the numbers at the back of the grid. However, Nicola can at least take some comfort in taking the opportunity with both hands, finishing a fine second at the ill-fated San Marino Grand Prix while standing in for the injured Jean Alesi.
Starting out in karting, Larini’s first open-wheeler win came in the 1984 Fiat Abarth championship before he moved on to the Italian Formula 3 championship, switching to the Coloni team for 1985.
By 1986 he had upstaged his team-mate Marco Apicella to win the championship and he moved into Formula 3000 with the Forti Corse concern.
By the end of 1987, Nicola had made his F1 debut with Coloni before he embarked on a full-time campaign with the little Osella outfit, where he spent two years trying hard but achieving little. A year with Ligier in 1990 looked to be a stepping stone, but the car was plain slow.
The new Lamborghini team looked like it would fit the bill for 1991, and Nicola threw his lot in with them only to find the project was well short of his expectations, and he frequently failed to qualify.
Without a drive for 1992, Nicola dropped back to the Italian Touring Car scene, promptly winning that year’s title with Alfa Romeo, and moving with the team into the DTM series, winning that championship as well in 1993.
In the meantime, four appearances with Ferrari came his way, peaking with that podium in his final race outing for the team. Incredibly, he would remain out a Formula 1 race seat until 1997, when his role as Ferrari’s loyal test driver saw him placed at Sauber, who were using the Italian carmaker’s engines on a customer basis.
But it was a disappointing project that lasted just five races before he packed it in, and he returned again to touring cars, retiring from competition at the end of 2009.
Click here for Nicola Larini’s complete F1 results.