Today we celebrate the 54th birthday of former Grand Prix driver Christian Danner – a man who preceded the likes of Vitantonio Liuzzi and Lewis Hamilton by being the distinguished as first (male) F1 driver to compete with an earring!
Danner’s pursuit of motorsport is not without plenty of irony, for his father – an automotive engineer – was one of the first leading researchers to campaign for law changes to reduce motor accident fatalities.
German-born Danner started out racing Renault 5s while completing his own studies in mechanical engineering before he was talent-scouted to join the Cassani Racing Team in the German Group 4 series in 1980.
Some solid performances in Procar saw him spotted by BMW motorsport boss Dieter Stappert, who signed the him to drive for BMW’s Formula 2 team. By 1983, Danner was a frontrunner in the series, while also maintaining a full-time role with BMW in the European Touring Car Championship.
In 1985, he scraped together the necessary funding to secure himself a seat in the inaugural Formula 3000 championship, which he won, and in doing so he became the first German to win an international motorsport title in the modern era.
His reward was two F1 outings at the end of the year with the Zakspeed concern. He joined Osella for the start of 1986, and it was his connections with BMW that saw him helicoptered into Arrows mid-season after Marc Surer’s career-ending rally accident. He took his first championship point with sixth place at the attrition-hit Austrian Grand Prix.
He returned to Zakspeed for 1987, but was generally outperformed by Martin Brundle in the sister car, which enjoyed its usual bout of unreliability.
Danner was – in many people’s eyes – too tall for the sport, and he was sidelined without a drive in 1988 before making a return in 1989. His comeback was with the Rial team run by the mercurial Gunther Schmid, a man not averse to destroying his own F1 cars if he didn’t get his way! A freak fourth place at Phoenix was the sole highlight, and the team collapsed before the season had finished.
With no more F1 drivers on offer, Danner went to Japan and its Formula 3000 scene before embarking on an unsuccessful tilt at IndyCars.
Tin-top racing beckoned and in 1992 he won the Spa and Nurburgring 24 Hours races, as well as ITC races at Helsinki and the Norisring in 1995 in the ITC with Alfa Romeo.
After a brief stint as a team manager with the Project Indy CART team in the mid-1990s, Danner turned to TV commentary and has been a regular on Germany’s RTL F1 commentary team.
We had the great pleasure of meeting Christian during our visit to the Australian Grand Prix last month:
Perhaps he’ll be kind enough to grace us with an interview?