Martin Donnelly is an Irish retired racing driver who recorded thirteen starts in the Formula One World Championship in 1989 and 1990. He retired from professional racing after his 1990 F1 season with Lotus which ended with a nasty crash at Jerez.
Earlier in a career, before his short F1 stint, Donnelly's greatest success was the third place in the 1988 International Formula 3000 Championship and a victory at 1987 Formula 3 Macau Grand Prix.
Third place in the British Formula 3 early in a career
Born in March 1964 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Hugh Peter Martin Donnelly started his racing career in 1983, participating in the Irish Formula Ford. He stayed in Formula Ford for two more years, in British and European series, then switching to British Formula 3 in 1986, driving a Ralt-Volkswagen for Swallow Racing.
Victory at Macau Grand Prix, two wins in Formula 3000
In 1987, Donnelly's managed to win a famous Formula 3 Macau Grand Prix, driving a Ralt-Toyota for Tom's Racing. He defeated Jan Lammers and Bernd Schneider.
Donnelly stayed in the British F3 for one more season, scoring three wins and finishing fourth in the points in 1988. In the same season, he made five starts in the International Formula 3000 Championship with Eddie Jordan Racing. In five races, he won two times and added two second-place finishes, collecting enough point to be third in the championship although he raced less than half of the season.
Three starts in the World Sports-Prototype Championship in 1988
In 1988, Donnelly also made his sports car debut in the World Sports-Prototype Championship, participating in three events with two teams. He was driving Richard Lloyd Racing's #14 Porsche 962C GTi at Nurburgring 1000 Km with David Hobbs, finishing 7th, and at Spa 1000 Km with Derek Bell, not finishing the race.
In October 1988, he joined Japanese Team SARD at Fuji 1000 Kilometers, sharing the #50 SARD MC88S-Toyota with Jochen Dauer and Shuroko Sasaki. They didn't finish the race.
Martin Donnelly in the #9 Arrows at 1989 French Grand Prix
Unexpected Formula One debut with Arrows
Donnelly was Lotus F1 team's test driver in 1988 but he made Formula 1 debut with another team, being invited to replace injured Derek Warwick in Arrows team at the French Grand Prix in July at Circuit Paul Ricard. At the wheel of the #9 Arrows A11-Ford, he started 14th and finished 12th, three laps behind race winner Alain Prost (McLaren-Honda).
In 1989, Donnelly spent a full season with Eddie Jordan Racing in the International Formula 3000. He didn't repeat a performance from the previous year, scoring just one win to finish 8th in the points.
Debut at Daytona 24h and Le Mans 24h in 1989
In sports car races in 1989, Donnelly made a debut in two greatest endurance races. In February, he raced at Daytona 24 Hours with Castrol Jaguar XJR-9. He was sharing the #66 car with Derek Daly and Patrick Tambay, not finishing the race.
In June, Donnelly joined Nissan Motorsport to drive the #24 Nissan R89C at Le Mans, sharing a car with Julian Bailey and Mark Blundell. They retired after just five laps with a car damaged in an accident.
Later that year, Donnelly scored a victory with Nissan in Supercup race at Diepholz and finished sixth at Fuji 1000 Kilometers in a Takefuji Porsche 962C, sharing a car with Johnny Herbert.
Donnelly returned to Le Mans one more time in 1990, sharing the #25 Nissan R90CK with Kenny Acheson and Olivier Grouillard. Broken gearbox prevented them to race.
Martin Donnelly in the #12 Camel Lotus
Twelve F1 starts with Lotus in 1990
In 1990, Donnelly graduated from a position of test driver to full-time seat in the Camel Team Lotus. He was driving the #12 Lotus 102-Lamborghini. In his first outing with a car, he failed to start the US Grand Prix in Phoenix due to gearbox failure.
He started in Brazil but retired after 43 laps. He successfully finished San Marino Grand Prix in the 8thplace. Later in the season, he recorded six more DNFs and four successful finishes. His best result was the seventh place in the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Donnelly survived horror crash at Jerez in September 1990
Crash at Jerez stopped Donnelly's F1 career
In September 1990, Donnelly's career has been violently stopped by a serious accident at Jerez circuit. During Friday's practice for the Spanish Grand Prix, Donnelly suffered a suspension failure on one of the fastest corners, going off the track into the barriers.
The car was destroyed while Donnelly was thrown across the track with his seat still strapped to his back. He survived but was seriously injured. He was recovering for months, not returning to racing never again professionally.
Donnelly participated in one BTCC round with Infiniti in 2015
Retired from racing, never left motorsport
Donnelly stayed involved into motorsport, occasionally participating as a guest driver in many different competitions, such were British GT Championship, Britcar, Ginetta G50 Cup, Lotus Cup UK, Volkswagen Scirocco R Cup, British Touring Car Championship (in 2015) or FIA Lotus Cup Europe (in 2017).
He stayed connected with Lotus, frequently racing with their cars and working for Lotus Driving Academy. He also founded Donnelly Track Academy.