Joakim Jo Bonnier
- January 31, 1930
- June 11, 1972
- Not Active
Joakim Bonnier was a racing driver from Sweden who competed in both sports cars and Formula 1 and also was the team owner. He recorded 104 starts in Formula One World Championship between 1956 and 1971, scoring one victory at 1959 Dutch Grand Prix. In the sports car racing, his greatst success was the second place at 1964 Le Mans 24 Hours, together with Graham Hill in a Ferrari 330P.
Early career in rallying and ice racing
He was born on January 30, 1930, in Stockholm, to a wealthy and famous family. His father was University professor of genetics while many members of his family were in the publishing business. However, Bonnier had an easy childhood and had all the opportunities to have good academical career. He attended Oxford University, spoke six languages, later also studied in Paris, but motorsport was his love and passion
As a teenager, Jo began racing in Sweden, riding a Harley-Davidson. In 1951, he debuted in rally racing driving a Simca, also was successful in ice racing driving a Citroen and Alfa Romeo, but offroad racing wasn’t what he really wanted. In a meantime, he served in the Navy for three years before starting a serious racing career.
Formula 1 debut in 1956 with Maserati
In 1956, Bonnier debuted in the Formula 1 World Championship. It was in the season-closing race at Monza when Jo was driving a Maserati but retired on lap 7 after engine failure. In the following two season, he continued to drive Maserati for the various teams, including his own Ecurie Bonnier which he founded in 1957.
However, the results weren’t impressive. Bonnier had more retirements than completed races and his career was almost ended after the race at Imola in 1958 when Jo had a horrible crash He was thrown out of the car that was completely demolished and suffered a concussion, several cracked ribs, and a broken vertebra.
Only F1 win scored with BRM
Luckily, Bonnier recovered quickly and signed with BRM team for the last two races of the year. In the Moroccan Grand Prix, he picked his first points in F1 by finishing 4th. He stayed with a team for another two years and enjoyed some success.
The highlight of Bonnier’s period in F1 was a triumph in the 1959 Dutch Grand Prix. That was his first and only victory in the championship. That year was Bonnier’s best in Formula 1 after he has finished 8th overall with 10 points. In 1960 Joakim stayed with BRM, picked points in Monaco and in the US, eventually taking 15th position overall.
Moving from team to team
Years with the BRM team were the peak of Bonnier’s F1 career. However, he stayed in the series for another 11 years driving for numerous teams but without too much success. In 1960 and 1961 he was a driver of Porsche System Engineering and in both season Jo finished 15th overall, scoring 3 points in each year.
The next stop was Rob Walker Racing Team with which Swedish driver spent three years. The best results he achieved in 1963 when managed to collect points in four Grand Prix races, eventually finishing 11th in the Championship with 6 points. In the following season, Bonnier dropped to the 15th place and in his last year with the team, he couldn’t pick a single point.
In 1966 Joakim was a driver of the Anglo-Suisse Racing team, which actually was his own Ecurie Bonnier. He picked only one point, finishing 6th in the season-closing race in Mexico but probably the most notable moment of that year was appearing in the famous movie Grand Prix. While filming the race at Spa-Francorchamps circuit, Bonnier and almost half of the grid, including Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill, and Denny Hulme, crashed on the first lap.
Withdrawal from Formula 1
From 1967 to 1972 Bonnier barely could complete a full Formula 1 season. The results were more modest what wasn’t surprising, considering the fact that his team always was something short of money and experimented a lot with various chassis and engines. The 5th place in 1968 Mexican Grand Prix was the best result Bonnier achieved driving for his team.
Finally, in 1969 Bonnier decided to switch focus to sports cars racing and competed only in selected F1 events, regularly driving an uncompetitive cars and usually being unable to finish the races.
Sports cars racing career
In parallel to his Formula 1 commitments, Bonnier regularly raced in various sports cars racing categories with a considerable success. In 1960 he was the winner of the famous Targa Florio, driving a Porsche 718 alongside Hans Herrmann. Two years later Jo won 12 Hours of Sebring, sharing the seat of Ferrari 250 TRI with Lucien Bianchi. In 1964 Bonnier and Graham Hill were the runners-up in Le Mans 24h driving a Ferrari 330P. Another trophy was won in 1966 when Jo won 1000 km of Nurburgring driving a Chaparral alongside Phil Hill.
Over the years Bonnier triumphed in many minor endurance races in Europe, also competed part-time in Can-Am Series, while in 1970 he won European 2-Litre Sports Car Championship driving a Lola T210.
Fatal accident at Le Mans
Bonnier was killed in a crash during WSCC Le Mans 4-hour race on 11th of June 1972. Driving a new Lola T280, he collided with Ferrari Daytona of a Swiss amateur driver Florian Vetsch. Jo’s car went airborne, flew over Armco barriers and went into the trees spinning like a helicopter. The poor driver was killed instantly.
In 1962 Bonnier founded the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association and was its chairman until death, battling for the drivers’ rights. With his fluent command of six languages and aristocratic bearing, he added a bit of charm to the motorsport.
He had also taken a lead in the fight for track safety and advancing the image of Formula 1 drivers which at the time usually were considered as adventurous playboys. Thanks to Bonnier, that perception had slightly started to change.