The abormally brave and crash-prone former Grand Prix driver Gregor Foitek is today celebrating his 47th birthday.
Born in Zurich, Gregor was the son of former 1970s sports car racer Karl Foitek, and it was perhaps little surprise that he would follow in his father’s footsteps.
After winning the 1986 Swiss Formula 3 championship (a series where not a single race actually occurs on Swiss soil, mind you!), Gregor made a one-off appearance at the season-ending Formula 3000 race in Spain, and marked the moment with a big accident.
He raced full-time in the championship in 1987, and despite some strong qualifying performances in the latter half of the season, he failed to score any points.
Remaining in the series in 1988, he won from pole at the second round at Vallelunga (putting Johnny Herbert into the wall along the way). A few more points finishes would follow, but it would be his involvement in the shocking F3000 crash at Brands Hatch later that year for which he is sadly most remembered.
On the opening lap, he would collide with Herbert again. The accident caused carnage and wiped out most of the field: Herbert suffered badly broken legs that hampered his career prospects from that point on, while Foitek barrel-rolled along the guardrails and was himself fortunate to survive with little more than a fractured wrist.
He moved into Formula 1 in 1989, joining the tiny EuroBrun outfit. Many feared he would cause havoc in the races, but the EuroBrun challengers were such bad cars that Foitek never stood a chance of actually making the grid.
He quit EuroBrun after the Belgian Grand Prix and joined the Rial team, taking over the seat vacated by Christian Danner, who had grown sick of team boss Gunther Schmid’s iron-fisted running of his own team. Despite the team being guaranteed prequalification, Foitek suffered a huge accident in qualifying (caused by a rear wing failure), and was so spooked by the crash that he quit after his solitary outing with the team.
Foitek joined the Brabham team for the 1990 season, but was forced out after just two races at the behest of its new owners, who took over the team after he had signed on. He’d already disgraced himself by crashing out of the season-opener at Phoenix: he was pitched into the wall by F1’s enfant terrible, Olivier Grouillard, after chopping across the Frenchman’s nose along the back straight.
Perhaps it was coincidence, but more likely it was down to his father having a 25% shareholding in the team, but Foitek found himself at the Onyx team from the third round onwards, replacing Stefan Johansson.
In his second race for the team at Monaco (pictured right), Foitek was running as high as sixth in the attrition-hit race, only to be bundled into the barriers by Eric Bernard when he failed to defend his position against an attack by the Frenchman.
The Swiss team – headed by the eccentric Peter Monteverdi, who used to raid his personal collection of classic cars to source spare parts for the Onyx F1 cars! – rapidly fell into decline soon after, and Karl Foitek elected to pull his son out of the team before anyone got seriously hurt in the increasingly fragile cars.
Foitek’s motorsport career continued with two sports car outings in 1991 and two IndyCar appearances in 1992 before he disappeared without a trace from the car racing landscape.
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