Former Grand Prix driver and team principal Jackie Oliver is celebrating his 69th birthday today.
British-born Oliver started his racing career at the age of 19 in a Mini before he made the big jump to a Ford Mustang as part of sampling a range of touring and sports cars. In the mid-1960s, he made his open-wheeler debut and he was signed as a works Lotus F2 driver just a year after making his Formula 3 debut.
His Formula 2 career as progressing well, and he made his F1 debut as a stand-in for the late Jim Clark at Lotus, becoming the number-two driver to Graham Hill. It was a tough start: Oliver crashed in two of his first four outings before he redeemed himself at the British Grand Prix, where he led until his engine failed.
However, team boss Colin Chapman wanted Jochen Rindt alongside Hill for 1969, and so Oliver made way and signed with BRM for two seasons. Neither year proved particularly successful, but Oliver boosted his stock with wins at the Sebring 12 Hours and Le Mans 24 Hours in 1969, partnering Jacky Ickx in the mighty Gulf squad. The following year, he won the Daytona 24 Hours and Monza 1000km, while he made the occasional outing in a third McLaren at selected Grands Prix.
By now, Jackie was getting involved with Don Nichols’ Can-Am project, and the pair moved to Formula 1 with Nichols’ Shadow team in 1973. The DN1 proved difficult to figure out, but he drove a storming race in the wet at Canada – the penultimate race of the season – to claimed third place, although many insist that he won when the lap charts were thrown into confusion due to the use of a safety car.
Leaving F1 racing seemingly behind him, Oliver won the Can-Am title in 1974 and then switched his focus to more of a managerial role within Shadow while he still dabbled in Formula 5000, making his final F1 outing at the 1977 Swedish Grand Prix (pictured).
As part of a consortium comprising Alan Rees and Tony Southgate, Oliver left Shadow at the end of the year and formed the Arrows team in 1978, with the team’s A1 chassis being deemed to be a near-copy of Nichols’ design. A new creation was penned and built in record time, and the team almost won a race in its first season.
Oliver stayed at the helm of the team – bought out and briefly renamed Footwork in the early 1990s until he bought it back – until 1999 when he sold his remaining stake in the team to Tom Walkinshaw, with the squad still winless. Having Walkinshaw in charge didn’t improve matters, and the team collapsed in mid-2002 with a mountain of debts.