- October 31, 1941
- United Kingdom
- Not Active
Derek Bell is a British former Formula One driver, but he was much more successful in sportscar racing, winning at 24 hours of Le Mans five times, three times at Daytona 24-hour race and he clinched two World Sportscar Championship titles.
He participated in the famous Le Mans endurance race 26 times between 1970 and 1996. He was the winner in 1975, 1981, 1982, 1985 and 1986. In Formula One, Derek Bell was competing between 1968 and 1974, but he recorded just nine Grand Prix races with five different teams (Ferrari, McLaren, Tom Wheatcroft, Surtees and Martini Racing/Tecno).
Good performances attracted Enzo Ferrari's attention
Derek was born on October 31, 1941, in Pinner, England. He grew up on a farm and helped running the Church Farm caravan site, along with the pub, near Pagham Harbour. After marshaling at some races at Goodwood, Bell's racing career started on the same track in 1964 with Lotus 7. He won his 1st race at Goodwood in March 1964. He quickly progressed to Formula 3, with the backing of his step-father’s Church Farm Racing team. His 1st single-seater was Lotus 31 in 1965, next year he got Lotus 41 and scored his 1st F3 victory, again at Goodwood.
Seven F3 victories in 1967 and good performances in Formula Two with Brabham earned him an attention of Enzo Ferrari, who invited Bell to compete with Italian cars in Formula Two, but also in Formula One.
First Formula One race at Monza
Derek debuted in a premium motorsport series on September 8th, 1968 in Monza, driving Ferrari 312. Only six drivers finished the race, Bell retired after just four laps because of fuel system problems. A month later Bell was driving at US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. He retired again after 14 laps.
In 1969, Bell continued to drive for Ferrari in Formula 2, Tasman Series and some non-championship races. His only F1 race was at the 1969 British Grand Prix with four-wheel-drive McLaren M9A. He retired again very early, after just five laps.
Le Mans debut with Ronnie Peterson in Ferrari
In 1970, Bell competed in various racing series – Formula One, Formula Two, Tasman Series, Formula 5000 and World Sportscar Championship. Part of WSC was the Le Mans race and Bell participated for the 1st time. He paired Ronnie Peterson in Ferrari 512S and they failed to finish. 1970 Le Mans race provided the background for Steve McQueen's famous movie „Le Mans“ and Derek Bell was one of the drivers who had a significant role in the movie.
Best F1 finish with Surtees at Watkins Glen
Besides Le Mans, he finished second in the 1970 European Formula Two Championship, driving a Brabham BT30 for Wheatcroft Racing. In the 1970 Formula One championship, Bell was driving Wheatcroft's Brabham BT26 at Belgian Grand Prix and retired in a very first lap with gearbox failure.
On October 4th, 1970, Derek finally finished his first Formula One championship race, after four unsuccessful attempts. It was the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, Bell was driving Cosworth-powered Surtees TS7 and he finished 6th. It remained Bell's best finish in F1 races.
Unsuccessful Tecno F1 adventure in 1972
He joined Surtees in 1971 at British Grand Prix, but he drove just 23 laps before the retirement. He succeeded to finish two F1 non-championship races, driving Wheatcroft's March 701 at Argentine Grand Prix and Frank Williams' March 701 at Questor Grand Prix in California. During 1970 Bell again had various programmes, with races in Formula Two, Formula 5000, Interserie, Can-Am etc. His second attempt at Le Mans, this time with John Wyer's Porsche 917LH, again finished with retirement. His partner was Jo Siffert.
In 1972, Bell's Formula 1 career was expanded to four races in one season, although he didn't qualify for two races. Bell and Nanni Galli were drivers of Martini-sponsored Tecno team. Bell failed to qualify at French Grand Prix and Italian Grand Prix while he started (and retired) at Nurburgring Nordschleife and Watkins Glen.
During 1972, he also competed in Formula 5000 with Sid Taylor's McLaren M 10, but his most notable result was the 8th place overall and the 4th in GT class at 24 Hours of Le Mans. Bell partnered Teddy Pilette and Richard Bond in Ferrari 365 GTB/4 of Ecurie Francorchamps.
Formula One career ended in 1974
In 1973, he skipped Formula One races and in 1974 he again joined Surtees in the final part of the championship. He failed to qualify at four races and started just at German Grand Prix, in which he finished 11th. It was Bell's last year in Formula One. Since then he focused on sports cars and sports prototypes.
In 1973, he became a member of the Gulf Research Racing project and competed with their cars at three Le Mans races. In 1973, driving with Howden Ganley he didn't finish the race. In 1974 Bell and Mike Hailwood finished 4th overall and finally in 1975 Bell scored his first Le Mans victory.
First Le Mans victory for Bell with Mirage in 1975
Bell's partner was Jacky Ickx, who already had one Le Mans win (1969). They were driving Gulf's Mirage GR8 powered by 3.0L V8 Cosworth engine. After 336 laps Bell/Ickx won ahead Ligier's crew Lafosse/Chasseuil. Bell was later driving Mirage cars in two more Le Mans races, finishing 5th in 1976 and retiring in 1979. Between those two races he recorded two retirements driving Renault Alpine A442, in 1977 together with Jean-Pierre Jabouille and in 1978 with Jean-Pierre Jarier.
The next chapter of the career and the most successful one was opened in 1980 when Derek Bell became a Porsche factory driver. During the 1980s and early 1990s Bell was the most successful driver. That period was marked by the reign of the Porsche 956 and Porsche 962. He achieved 16 outright victories in the World Endurance Championship and 19 wins in the IMSA Camel GT Championship.
Bell and Ickx - unbeatable masters of Le Mans
Between 1980 and 1992 Bell participated at 12 Le Mans races with Porsche (skipped only 1984) and achieved four overall victories and three more podiums. Bell's co-driver in six occasions was Hans-Joachim Stuck while Jacky Ickx and Al Holbert partnered Bell three times each. Ickx was Bell's partner in two wins (1981 and 1982), while Holbert and Stuck were driving alongside Bell in 1986 and 1987.
The Bell/Ickx partnership is considered by many as one of the most famous pairings in motorsport history. Ickx, after all, scored six Le Mans victories and he was later overshadowed only by Tom Kristensen's nine wins. Bell is holding the third place at Le Mans winners list, together with Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro.
1995 Le Mans podium for father and son
Although the period between 1981 and 1988 was the peak of Bell's career, he said that his favorite Le Mans race was in 1995, because he reached the podium together with his son Justin. Their co-driver in Harrods McLaren F1 GTR was Andy Wallace and they finished 3rd overall. It was second Le Mans participation of a father-son combination. The first time they competed together was in 1992 next to Tiff Needell in Porsche 962C and they finished 12th overall.
World's best endurance racing driver
In the post-Porsche era, Bell participated in four Le Mans races between 1993 and 1996, twice driving McLaren F1 GTR, once with Courage C30LM-Porsche and once with Kremer K8 Spyder-Porsche.
In a second major endurance race, 24 Hours of Daytona, he was victorious in 1986, 1987 and 1989. Of course, he was driving Porsches, and his co-drivers were Al Holbert, Al Unser Jr., Chip Robinson, John Andretti and Bob Wollek. In 1985, British driver was the winner of the World Endurance Championship. In 1986, he repeated the success in the same competition but it was renamed to World Sports Prototype Championship.
Bentley's global ambassador and recognizable TV person
At the peak of career, Derek was one of the top sports car and endurance race car drivers in the world. He has never officially stopped racing professionally and still enjoys driving in historic races. Besides driving race cars he had lots of other duties. He is a chairman of Spectre R42 supercar project, consultant in Bentley Speed 8 Le Mans programme and a global ambassador for Bentley. Derek is also familiar TV person. His media career began in the 1990s, when he was working as a Formula 1 analyst for ESPN and then Foxsports for a period of 8 years.
Popular guest and speaker all around the world
Derek's charm, wit and charisma have helped him to become a popular speaker at dinners and conferences around the world and he is always a guest of honour at every motorsport event. Derek is a proud patron of the charity Hope for Tomorrow, which funds mobile chemotherapy units throughout the United Kingdom and the charity Mission Motorsport which helps servicemen and women who have been medically discharged to gain new skills, their self-confidence and potential careers through motorsport. For all his services in motorsport, Derek Bell was awarded as Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1986.
Video: Short interview with Derek Bell
Photos : derekbell.com,