Perry McCarthy – a man famous for being the original Stig on Top Gear and also one of the unluckiest Formula 1 drivers – is today celebrating his 51st birthday.
Perry’s pre-F1 career – and indeed, his F1 career – wasn’t typical of the majority of drivers who have graced the sport’s stage. His early rise through the ranks was funded through work on his father’s North Sea oil rig servicing company, and he faced a constant battle to compete against much wealthier opponents.
Perry steadily rose through the European ranks in Formula Ford, Formula 3 and Formula 3000, and his talent was recognised with a test drive opportunity with Footwork in 1991.
Although he managed to impress the team, he didn’t succeed in getting an F1 break until 1992, but it was for the worst possible team you could imagine: Andrea Moda.
Rebuilt from the shadows of the Coloni team and run by shoe magnate Andrea Sassetti, to call the team uncompetitive and disorganised would be an insult to USF1.
McCarthy joined the team at the season’s third round in Brazil, after its original drivers Enrico Bertaggia and Alex Caffi walked out in disgust. He couldn’t compete in the event as he was denied an FIA Superlicense.
The fiasco was sorted by the next round in Spain, but just like the remaining eleven rounds, McCarthy never stood a chance at being able to qualify. In Canada, the team’s engines were seized due to non-payment of supplier, Judd. The team conveniently missed competing at the following French GP when its transporters were held up in the lorry strikes across the country. At the British GP, he was sent out on wet tyres on a bone dry track to attempt to qualify. He was excluded from the German GP, and at the Hungarian GP he was sent out to qualify with just seconds remaining before the session ended. His steering rack seized at the Belgian GP as he was attempting to go through Eau Rouge, and he was lucky to avoid a major accident.
By now, the FIA had warned Sassetti that his team would be banned from F1 if it didn’t take its entry seriously, and Andrea was arrested at Spa for alleged invoice fraud. When the team showed up at the following round at Monza, it was refused entry to the paddock and banned from the series for bringing the sport into disrepute.
It was a shocking experience for Perry, who never had the opportunity to show the F1 world his innate talent. Despite testing appearances for Williams and Benetton in the 1990s, he would never have the opportunity to race in F1.
McCarthy returned to sports cars after a brief retirement, and released his autobiography Flat Out, Flat Broke, in which he openly spoke about his all-too-brief F1 career and revealed that he was original black-suited ‘Stig’ in the BBC’s Top Gear show. The Black ‘Stig’ was “killed off” by the show at the start of its third season when his car drove off an aircraft carrier.
Perry now works as a corporate ambassador and after-dinner speaker for corporations worldwide.
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