Stefan Bellof was one of the most promising young drivers in Formula One and sports cars racing during the 1980s, but his career was cut short by the fatal accident on 1000 km of Spa in 1985. He lost his life at the age of 27. Besides 20 F1 starts and the 1984 World Endurance Championship title, Bellof is most remembered as being the record holder at the famous Nürburgring Nordschleife.
Champion from the start
Stefan was born in Giessen, West Germany, on November 20th, 1957. He followed his brother Georg's footsteps and made a racing debut in 1973, driving karting in the Automobilclub von Deutschland's Federal Junior Cup. Stefan was successful during the next few years and he claimed his first karting title in 1976, winning the International Karting Championship of Luxembourg. In the same season, Bellof also finished thirteenth in the Karting World Championship in Hagen, Germany. In 1980, Stefan became the German karting champion and it was finally time to step up in a real race car.
Formula Ford champ in a first full season
Bellof moved to Formula Ford at the end of the 1979 season, as a member of Walter Lechner Racing School squad. He debuted at Hockenheim in November and finished in the second place. His first full season in 1980 was victorious. Stefan became the German Formula Ford 1600 champion, taking eight victories in twelve races.
Climbing the ladder through Formula Three and Formula Two
In 1981, he stayed with Lechner in Formula Ford, but also progressed to Formula Three, where he was third in 1981. Bellof was driving Toyota-powered Ralt RT3 of Bertram Schäfer Racing and took three wins in nine races. He scored five wins in 10 races of Formula Ford, which was enough for the fourth place at the end.
Stefan continued to climb the racing ladder in 1982, and he participated in the European Formula Two championship. He was driving BMW-powered Maurer MM82 of Maurer Motorsport. With two wins in 13 races Bellof finished fourth in the classification. Team boss Willy Maurer also became Stefan's manager. They signed an eight-year management deal.
International sportscar debut at Spa-Francorchamps
While competing in Formula Two in 1982, Bellof made a one-off appearance in the World Endurance Championship at the 1000 km of Spa, partnering Rolf Stommelen at the wheel of a Porsche-powered Kremer CK5. The pairing retired from the race on lap 51.
Bellof had joined Kremer to compete in the Hessen Cup at Hockenheim as part of the Deutsche Rennsport Meisterschaft (German Racing Championship), but retired with transmission failure on his Porsche 936.
Moving to Rothmans Porsche team
Bellof continued to race with Maurer in the 1983 Formula Two championship, but he took only one podium in eight races and finished ninth. His focus turned to sportscar racing and he joined Rothmans-backed Porsche factory team.
He was driving a Porsche 956 alongside Derek Bell in the 1983 World Endurance Championship. Bellof and Bell won the first time at the 1000 km Silverstone, beating Bob Wollek and Stefan Johansson in the Joest Racing's Porsche 956 by almost a minute.
Stefan Bellof made a fantastic lap time at Nordschleife of 6m 11.13s
The next race on the calendar was the 1000 km Nürburgring in which Bellof rewrote several records at the Nordschleife. His pole time for that race of 6m 11.13s is unofficially the fastest lap ever driven on the Nürburgring Nordschleife in its current configuration. He was five seconds faster than the second placed driver, at an average speed of 202.073 kph.
Bellof also set the fastest lap during the race, with a lap time of 6m 25.91 seconds, which remains the official Nordschleife lap record for all cars. Two laps after setting the race record, on lap 20, Bellof's 956 flipped out of the race at the Pflanzgarten.
Three victories in the 1983 season
Bellof added two more wins later in the season at Kyalami and Fuji. He ended the 1983 season in fourth position. He also added a win in the non-championship Norisring Trophäe race.
During 1984, Stefan Bellof had a full schedule, as he was competing in Formula One, World Endurance Championship and Deutsche Rennsport Meisterschaft. Bellof first tested a Formula One car at the end of 1983, when he joined the top two drivers from that season's British Formula 3 Championship – Ayrton Senna and Martin Brundle – in testing for McLaren at Silverstone.
The 1984 F1 season with Tyrrell
For the 1984 season, Belloff joined the Tyrrell Racing Organisation together with Brundle. They were driving a naturally aspirated, Ford-engined Tyrrell 012. Bellof failed to finish in his first two races in Brazil and South Africa, before scoring his first two championship points in the later races at Zolder and Imola, where he finished 6th and 5th respectively. A retirement followed at the French Grand Prix Dijon, before Bellof achieved a podium finish in the rain-shortened Monaco Grand Prix.
From last to third on the streets of Monte-Carlo
Despite starting down in 20th and last place, Bellof remained away from the barriers that caught out many of his rivals, and was catching the race-leading pairing of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna when the race was stopped after 31 laps due to the bad weather conditions. Retirements followed in Canada and in Detroit.
However, Tyrrell team and both drivers were stripped of all their championship points after their cars were disqualified from the 1984 season, following a dispute over lead ballast in their fuel tanks found after the Detroit Grand Prix.
1984 World endurance champion with Porsche
Bellof's premier F1 season was unsuccessful, but at the same time, he had a brilliant performance in the World Endurance Championship, still with Rothmans Porsche 956 and Derek Bell as a co-driver, plus John Watson who joined the team in some races.
Bell and Bellof won the opening round of the season at Monza, but only after the pairing were reinstated to the results. After crossing the line first, their 956 was promptly disqualified in scrutineering with the car found to be under the 850 kg weight limit, which would also apply to the third-placed Martini Racing Lancia LC2. Appeals from both teams were lodged, so Bell and Bellof were declared as winners.
No success at Le Mans
Other victories at the Nürburgring, Spa, Imola, Fuji and Sandown helped Bellof claim the World Sportscar title by eight points from Jochen Mass and also helped Porsche secure the manufacturer's title for the year. The victory at Imola was achieved with Brun Motorsport's Porsche with Hans-Joachim Stuck as co-driver. A part of the championship was a 24 Hours of Le Mans race, but Bellof did not participate. The year before, he raced at Le Mans but retired.
In 1984, Bellof took one more championship title. He won in the German DRM series, winning three out of five races with Brun's Porsche 956.
Another Formula 1 season with Tyrrell
Bellof remained with the Tyrrell in the 1985 Formula One season. He missed the opening round of the season in Brazil and returned in the car at the Portuguese Grand Prix at Estoril. He was driving the old Cosworth-powered Tyrrell 012 and finished sixth under the rainy weather condition. His failure to qualify in Monaco was the only time that happened, apart from his exclusion at the 1984 Austrian Grand Prix.
Later in the season, his best result was fourth place at Detriot Grand Prix. In the second part of the season, Tyrrell switched to Renault's turbo engine. Bellof competed with the new car in Germany and Austria. His final Formula One race was the Dutch Grand Prix, where his Renault turbocharged engine blew up on lap 40.
Enzo Ferrari was waiting to meet Bellof
However, his results in F1 were not impressive, as he had 20 starts and no podium finishes or wins. Nevertheless, his driving style, talent, and courage made him favorite with the colleagues and audience and the top pick for a future F1 champion. He already had an agreement to meet Enzo Ferrari and talk to him about transferring to the famous Italian team. Unfortunately, due to Stefan's premature death, that meeting never took place.
During 1985, Bellof contested in six sportscar races in World Endurance Championship, German Racing Championship and non-championship Norisring Trophäe. His only win was scored at the Norisring DRM race alongside Thierry Boutsen. The Belgian driver was Bellof's partner in the World championship. They were driving Brun Motorsport Porsche 962C and 956B at Mugello (3rd), Monza (disqualified) and Hockenheimring (DNF). The seventh round of the championship was the 1000 km of Spa, the race in which the tragedy happened.
Death of Stefan Bellof at Spa-Francorchamps
Boutsen started the race from the third place on the grid. In lap 78, soon after Bellof started his stint, his Porsche collided with the Porsche of Jacky Ickx, causing both cars to spin and crash. Bellof's right front came into contact with Ickx's left rear on the top of famous Eau Rouge section and Ickx's car hit the wall on the right rear side, whilst Bellof's car went straight into the barriers, hitting the wall much harder.
Moments after the crash, Bellof’s car caught on fire and the rescue teams struggled for over 10 minutes to pull him out from the fiery wreck. He was rushed to the hospital, but the injuries were so bad that he was announced dead 15 minutes later.
Video : Fatal accident at Spa in which Stefan Bellof was killed
Remembering the bold driver
When the sad news of Bellof’s passing spread, the race officials stopped the race earlier in honor of Stefan Bellof and his tragic death. He was only 27 years old and he is still remembered as one of potential legends of motorsport and one of best young German drivers ever.