Formula 1 drivers at Olympic Games
Driving in the Formula 1 World Championship is a dream come true for most of the professional drivers, just as many other sportsmen dreaming about participating in the Olympic Games. Not so many people in the world managed to take part in both.
Probably you never heard about many of these names but they were Formula 1 drivers and also the participants of the Olympic Games. However, all of them are better known for their achievements in other sports than in Formula 1.
This is the short recap about some Formula 1 drivers who also were the Olympians.
Galica already was a successful Olympian before she got an opportunity to race in Formula 1. Divina is the most successful British skier, especially in downhill, and the participant of no less than four Winter Olympic Games.
She has competed in the Winter Olympics in Innsburck (1964), Grenoble (1968), and Sapporo (1972) before getting the chance to race in Formula 1 in 1976 and 1978. Actually, she never raced in F1 Championship races with Surtees and Hesketh teams after failing to qualify three times. However, Divina appeared in the non-championship race at Rockingham in 1977 and finished 12th.
Galica, who was awarded MBE for her achievements, also raced in Formula 2 and some other series before appearing for the last at Winter Olympics in 1992 in Albertville. After retiring she worked for Skip Barber Racing School before she became one of the directors in iRacing.com company.
Alfonso de Portago
The Spaniard was a millionaire and was heir to one of the most respected titles in Spain. Born in London and educated in Biarritz, his life could be a dream come true for many.
He was a passionate car and racing lover and had a solid experience before getting an opportunity to race in Formula 1 with Ferrari. He was 2nd in 1956 British Grand Prix at Silverstone. In total, de Portago raced in five Formula 1 races.
Alfonso competed in 1956 Winter Olympics in Cortina d’Ampezzo. He formed a Spanish bobsleigh team with a couple of his cousins and they did surprisingly well, finishing 4th overall and missing the medal by just 0.16s after having only three training sessions before the Olympics!
Sadly, de Portago was killed in the crash during Mille Miglia race in 1957. His co-driver also was killed in the accident, as well the nine spectators.
This guy still stands as the only Thai driver in the history of Formula 1. Prince Birabongse Bhanudej Bhanubandh, or Prince Bira, as a boy was sent to England and attended Eton and Trinity Colleges. He was interested in the arts but never got a formal education.
Easy-going Bira also was interested in racing before the World War 2 and competed in a couple of races, including 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1939, but the results were variable. Prince Bira was not only a racing driver, he was also a pilot and in 1952 he flew from London to Bangkok in his own aircraft.
From 1950 to 1954 Bira entered a total of 19 Formula 1 Grand Prix races, driving for many teams but all he was able to do was to pick a total of 4 points. However, he represented Thailand in sailing at four Olympic Games – 1956 Melbourne (12th), 1960 Rome (19th), 1964 Tokyo (22nd), and 1972 Munich (21st).
Bira died in London, on 23rd of December 1985, aged 71.
The Argentian who had a total of 17 entries in Formula 1 Grand Prix events, driving for Gordini and Maserati managed to score 13 points during his career from 1953 to 1955. He was also a relatively successful sports car racing driver at the international level.
After retiring from motorsports, Mieres turned attention to his old love – sailing. He represented Argentina in 1960 Summer Olympic Games in Rome and finished 17th, beating his rival from the road track, Prince Bira.
Roberto Mieres died in January of 2012 in Uruguay, aged 87.
The British racing driver entered only one Formula 1 race as a driver of Cooper, the 1968 British Grand Prix, but failed to finish the race. He also drove in Formula 3 and Formula 2 for Brabham before surprising retirement in 1970.
Widdows, born in 1942, was a member of the British bobsleigh team at Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck in 1964 and Grenoble in 1968. He later joined the champagne house of Moet et Chandon and in the 1990s returned to Formula 1 as its representative. Widdows has recently retired to Mallorca.
Bernardus Marinus ’Ben’ Pon, just like Widdows, drove in only one F1 race, 1962 Dutch Grand Prix, and retired from the race. However, his racing career was a pretty good one as he scored two class wins in 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1961 and 1967, while in 1964 he was 2nd.
His only appearance at the Olympic Games was in 1972 in Munich when he represented the Netherlands in skeet, one of the shooting disciplines.
After retirement, Pon started a business in wine trading in the Netherlands. Ben has his own winery in California.
Boris Robert ’Bob’ Said was the American racing driver. His only Formula 1 race was the US Grand Prix in 1959 which he failed to finish after he has spun off on the first lap. He also raced, with more success, in other motorsports categories.
Said twice competed in the Winter Olympic Games as a member of the US four-man bobsleigh team. In Grenoble in 1968, one of his rivals was another driver-come-bobsledder, Robin Widdows. Bob also competed in 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics.
Bob Said died in 2002, aged 69, but the same name is still present on the racing tracks as his son Boris is a successful driver in the various series.
Definitely the best-known name. Alex Zanardi was a well-known Formula 1 driver and later even more successful sportsman at Paralympic Games.
During his Formula 1 career, the Italian picked only point out from 44 starts, driving for Jordan, Minardi, Lotus, and Williams. A horrible crash at Lausitzring in 2001 left Zanardi without both legs but he miraculously survived. In the situation in which most of the people will be depressed, Alex was strong enough to return to the racing, driving modified touring cars with a considerable success.
The real triumph of Zanardi’s strength was shown in para-cycling. He is a multiple World and the winner of four gold and two silver medals in the 2012 London and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympics.
Sir Jackie, luckily, missed Olympic Games
Another interesting story is about Jackie Stewart. He narrowly missed qualifying for the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. He was close to representing the United Kingdom in clay pigeons shooting but after missing the Olympic spot, he was so frustrated that left the sport and, luckily, focused on racing. Later, he became a three-time Formula 1 World champion, partially thanks to missing those clay pigeons.