It’s twenty-three years ago to the day that former F1 driver Mike Beuttler passed away. His name might only be of significance to true F1 aficionados, but his colourful and all-too-brief life is worth paying tribute to, for he remains the only F1 driver known to be gay.
His death in 1988 to AIDS makes him one of the many of his era to succumb to the crippling (and then, little-known) disease, but it was not just his sexuality – unique in the world of motorsport – that marked him out from his peers.
Beuttler was also a dedicated amateur in the then-semi-professional world of Formula 1, an all-but-extinct species in the now highly professional, corporate world that Formula 1 has become.
His support came from a group of London stockbroking friends (some of who were also gay), and while he may not have achieved the results that his talent perhaps warranted, his story is still fascinating.
Beuttler was born to English parents in the Egyptian capital of Cairo, where his family lived while his father served in the British Army during World War II.
His interest in motorsport was apparent throughout his childhood, and as soon as he left school at the age of sixteen, he took up an administrative role with racing enthusiast Graham Warner, whose Chequered Flag team was a regular entrant on the Formula 3 landscape.
Warner was interested in a little more than racing, it seems, and it was believed that Beuttler also captured his attentions…
Beuttler earned the odd opportunity to to pilot the team’s front-engined Gemini challenger, but it took until he was in his mid-twenties before his motor-racing career started in earnest.
It was in 1968 that he was finally able to drive a full season in Formula 3, courtesy of the backing of high-profile (and openly gay) stockbroker Ralph Clarke.
Over the next few years, Beuttler won several major races in his bright yellow Brabham – including the British Grand Prix support race – against the likes of fellow F1 up-and-comers James Hunt, Dave Walker, Dave Morgan and Tony Trimmer.
Beuttler’s desire to move up through the ranks had one unfortunate consequence: his tendency to regularly close the door on his pursuing rivals earned him the nickname ‘Blocker’, which stuck until his retirement from racing.
Beuttler now gained additional backing from the likes of other stockbrokers David Mordaunt, Alistair Guthrie and Jack Durlacher, and plans were laid to move into Formula 1 with a customer March chassis.
While he never confirmed the rumours, many of his contemporaries suspected that Beuttler and his backers enjoyed particularly close relationships on and off the track, although Beuttler would occasionally try and throw some off the scent by bringing along some rather busty young ladies to selected events! He wasn’t fooling anyone…
Beuttler’s F1 debut came at the 1971 British Grand Prix in a works March. He qualified twentieth of the twenty-four qualifiers, and retired with oil pressure problems. The remainder of his season was little better: he retired twice more, and in the other two races he failed to complete the minimum 90% of the race distance to be classified as a finisher.
He stayed for a full season in 1972, acquiring more backers but not achieving the race results that perhaps justified his friends’ continued investment. With March ruling that only its two works cars could field the latest chassis, Beuttler and his team took a modified March 722 Formula 2 chassis, which proved quicker than the works car!
His best finish that year was an eighth at the German Grand Prix, while he never managed to qualify inside the top-twenty.
Beuttler and his partners decided to give it another shot in 1973 – again with a March chassis – but his results were again discouraging. In fourteen races, his best qualifying result was an eleventh at Austria, while his best finish was seventh at the Spanish Grand Prix.
When the London financial scene suffered a dramatic collapse towards the end of the year, it effectively brought an end to Beuttler’s F1 foray, which totalled 28 championship starts.
Beuttler contested one more race – in sports cars, at the Brands Hatch 1000Km event – before quitting motorsport entirely and heading into business, and later trying his hand at journalism.
A shy, brooding and handsome man, Beuttler was well-regarded by many in the motorsport fraternity.
He later moved to San Francisco, and his passing (at age 48) just days before the end of 1988 brought a sad end to an all-too-short, yet very colourful, life.
[Images via ASAG, Formula 2 Blogs, Mike Beuttler Fan Page, SpeedWeek]