Derek Daly

Derek Daly – who celebrates his 59th birthday today – will probably never shake the reputation of being both quick and accident-prone in his motorsport career, for it is true that this bubbly Irishman has endured his fair share of incidents over the course of his time behind the wheel.

Born in Dublin, Derek’s first behind-the-wheel motorsport experience came in the world of stock cars before he took the jump to Formula Ford in his homeland.

However, motorsport being an expensive business and without the wherewithal to help finance it, Derek ventured to Australia with his friend and fellow aspirant motor-racer, David Kennedy, to work in the ore mines and earn enough cash to fund his next motorsport campaign.

With money under his belt after a hard slog in the wilderness, Derek returned to Ireland and won the 1975 Irish Formula Ford championship. He crossed the Irish Sea to the UK, and despite being cash-strapped and forced to live in a converted coach, he won the season-ending Formula Ford Festival in 1976.

Derek graduated to Formula 3 in 1977, and won the BP national title, beating the likes of Nelson Piquet along the way. He graduated to Formula 2 for the Estoril round, and finished fifth on debut. Such was the impression that he made in Portugal that he was offered a full-time drive for 1978, and the offers from Formula 1 also came by as well.

In hindsight, Derek will admit that jumping to F1 in 1978 was one step too far given his relative inexperience, but he signed on the dotted line with Hesketh and made an incredible debut at the International Trophy race at Silverstone, taking an early lead in soaking conditions until spinning out. However, reality would quickly dawn on him, and he would fail to make the qualifying cut in his first three championship appearances was walked out on the team.

Derek gets airborne at the 1980 Dutch Grand PrixFortunately for Derek, the little Ensign team needed a replacement for Jacky Ickx and Derek was back in F1, picking up a precious point for himself and the team at the season-ending Canadian GP. This was enough to see him stay on with the team into 1979, but that year’s car was not up to scratch, and Derek dropped out and back to the Ron Dennis managed Project Four Formula 2 team, where he enjoyed further success until a late-season call-up from the Tyrrell team. He drove brilliantly at Watkins Glen before spinning out and this was enough for him to be offered a full-time drive with the team for 1980.

This year seemed to mirror Derek’s previous seasons: a bit hit-and-miss, with two fourth-place finishes in addition to several frightening shunts – a few of which were, in fairness, not of his own doing…

The following year saw him saddled with the uncompetitive RAM March team, which was saddled with an uncompetitive chassis that saw him fail to make the grid for the opening six attempts. He never gave up, and was thrown a lifeline by the Theodore team for the following season, jumping ship to the Williams outfit when Carlos Reutemann inexplicably called it quits.

Paired alongside the eventual championship winner, Keke Rosberg, Derek was very much put in the shade by dint of a lack of inherent qualifying speed, but put in a few gritty drives to earn points and support Rosberg’s championship tilt. He could so nearly have won the bizarre Monaco Grand Prix, but his form wasn’t strong enough for the team and he wasn’t retained for 1983.

Realising that his F1 career was finished, Derek crossed the Atlantic and tried his hand at IndyCars. After some promising early performances, his motorsport career was almost completely finished with an almighty accident at the 1984 Michigan 200 that ripped away the front of the car and badly smashed both legs. A lengthy, painful recovery ensued, by by 1986 he had fully recovered and was back behind the wheel. By the time of his retirement in 1992, Derek had won the 12 Hours of Sebring twice.

A complete natural, Derek transitioned with unbelievable ease into the commentary box and was a long-time feature in the ESPN commentary team, where his enthusiastic Irish twang was an instant hit with the viewers.

Also involved in the establishment of a driver academy, Derek penned a book on developing a champion driver after many years’ reflection on his own motorsport errors and mishaps. Derek also works as a motivational speaker, and now lives in the United States.

He kindly provided with an exclusive in-depth interview covering his motorsport career, which you can read by clicking on the thumbnail below.

[Images via F1-Facts, F1 Nostalgia, Flickr, LAT, Sutton Images, The Cahier Archive]


Derek Daly
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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.