Formula 1’s lost nations: New Zealand

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Bruce McLaren driving his own car at Watkins Glen in 1966

Last world champion: Denny Hulme, 1967
Last Grand Prix winner: Denny Hulme, McLaren, Buenos Aires, 1974
Last Grand Prix starter: Mike Thackwell, RAM, Montreal, 1984
Last Grand Prix: None held

Only eight drivers from New Zealand have ever started Grands Prix. But they include a world champion, the founder of one of the great F1 teams, and a driver considered to be one of the bext never to win an F1 race.

New Zealand’s F1 history

For some reason New Zealand’s F1 drivers are notable for achieving things at young ages. Burce McLaren became the youngest driver to win an F1 race when he scored his maiden victory at Sebring in 1959. That record was only broken by Fernando Alonso 44 years later.

Mike Thackwell still holds the record for youngest driver to participate in an F1 race. He was 19 years, five months and 29 days at the 1980 Canadian Grand Prix.

Thackwell never got the break he deserved in Formula 1. However the team created by McLaren persisted long after his untimely death testing a Can-Am car in 1970. Teddy Mayer, one of the men who helped run the McLaren team in its early years and for over a decade after the death of its founder, passed away yesterday.

McLaren won four races during his career, the last of which in his own car in 1968. But another New Zealand driver had already become the country’s first champion. Denny Hulme, driving for Australian Jack Brabham’s team, beat his boss and team mate to the championship the year before. Hulme also won the Can-Am championship for McLaren after Bruce’s death.

The other noteworthy New Zealand driver to compete in Formula 1 was Chris Amon who, as well as being the fifth-youngest Grand Prix starter, is often considered one of the best drivers not to have won an F1 race. On several occasions he led races he looked certain to win, only for some bizarre fate to intervene. He led at Monza in 1971, until his visor broke, causing him to drop back. A puncture robbed him of a likely win at Clermont-Ferrand the following year. His misfortune at the wheel was matched by an uncanny ability to choose the wrong team at the wrong time.

New Zealand has never held a round of the F1 championship. However many F1 drivers competed in the Tasman series which ran during the winters of 1964-1975 at circuits in New Zealand and Australia.

New Zealand’s F1 future

New Zealand has been among the top teams in A1 Grand Prix, largely thanks to the efforts of Jonny Reid. Red has now been replaced in the team by the splendidly-monikered Chris van der Drift, who won the Formula Masters championship last year.

Their exploits brought A1GP to New Zealand at its modernised Taupo circuit, but its doubtful the circuit would be up to hosting an F1 race even if the money was there to pay for it.

Read more about Denny Hulme: Denny Hulme biography

Formula 1’s lost nations

Denny Hulme in a McLaren at Anderstorp in 1973

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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22 comments on “Formula 1’s lost nations: New Zealand”

  1. When I think of NZs history, as such a small nation I think we’ve given a lot to F1. And that makes me extremely proud. I’ll support McLaren til I die – in my eyes they’re a Kiwi team.
    And don’t forget Brendon Hartley, he’s definitely the closest to F1 that NZ has got in a long time!

  2. Terry Fabulous
    2nd February 2009, 9:14

    Great article Keith.
    I heard Chris A interviewed about being the unluckiest driver in F1 history. He scoffed and pointed out how many of his peers died behind the wheels and how lucky he was to be enjoying old age in NZ!

    Who was the other champ with Hulme?

    1. There wasn’t one – just poorly-written intro text, which I’ve now fixed.

  3. Taupo’s days may be numbered as the new Hampton Downs circuit is pushing for the A1GP race in future. Plenty of natural gradient apparently and good for the spectators. It’s also more accessible to more people being near Auckland. Which is good for me!

    It’s a shame we’ll never have F1 here, motor sport has such a big following in NZ. No money for F1 though and there’s no chance Bernie would allow a GP in a time zone 13 hours different to the UK!

  4. NZ brings such great memories for F1 fans. Chris Amon used to drive for Ferrari, and back then this team was on a shoestring budget and their cars broke all the time. He was very fast but seldom finished races.
    How can such a small country produce so many great athletes and the classiest team of all !
    I wish the McLaren team had a little orange kiwi bird logo, somewhere in the car, as a reminder of its beautiful history

  5. With Hartley and Earl Bamber both coming through fast, New Zealand is increasingly looking like the new Germany…

    1. Good one Andy – I had not heard of Bamber before. Best wishes to both on their prospective F1 careers.

      Indeeed it seems the Kiwis have gotten ahold of the driver-producing formula- any chance you folks can ship it to America as soon as possible? :)

  6. Bamber’s looked very promising in GP2 Asia given his inexperience. And Hartley’s good too, though not quite on Jaime Algersuari and Oliver Turvey’s pace in British F3 last year.

    Still with four decent young drivers knocking about surely we’ll see a driver from New Zealand in F1 again soon?

    1. Don’t forget Bamber’s double A1GP podium in the rain at Zandvoort when the cars were still so new and unfamiliar you could practically see the bubble-wrap flying off them as they cornered…

      And remember it was Hartley, not his rivals, who got given a Red Bull testing gig recently – he seems to be one of those drivers with the right sort of personality to queue-jump slightly faster rivals in the career stakes.

  7. Great article Keith. Thanks for that :)

    Reading it certainly makes me proud to be a Kiwi. And as you say, there is a real chance at another Kiwi driver making it into F1 in the coming years. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have another Kiwi in a McLaren?

    Over here in New Zealand, a lot of Formula One fans follow McLaren with a passion similar to that of the Tifosi’s love for Ferrari. To many of us, McLaren was, and still is, a Kiwi team ;)

  8. You know, it’s funny, I’ve never thought of McLaren being a “Kiwi” team until now.
    Perhaps in a nod to the their Kiwi heritage, the macca boys should do the haka before the race. I’d like to see that !

  9. McLaren should really go further to recognise and acknowledge the fact that their roots are undeniably New Zealandish…not only would it be wonderful to see their cars run with either a kiwi or fern motif to symbolise their roots, but can anybody explain why the british anthem and not the New Zealand anthem is sung when McLaren (as a constructor) wins a race?

  10. Indeed Hartley seems set, along with Robert Wickens, to be on the fast-path to F1, following in the tire tracks of fellow Red Bull youngsters Vettel and Buemi.

    And if you look at the really big picture in terms of Kiwi pride, don’t forget that Scott Dixon has been tearing up IndyCars for the past few years. All in all, New Zealand has been doing much more in international motorsports with far less than many other nations have been pullng off.

  11. It seems that as long as countries have one or two GP drivers they keep producing drivers that make it to F1 but as soon as they go a few years without one drivers from that country struggle to get a break.

    Thackwell should have had a long and successful F1 career. The guy was a fabulous driver and made so much money in F2 that he bought a plane. Imagine a GP2 driver now being paid so much that he could buy a plane.

    Brendon Hartley may be the next NZ driver to make F1 but he could be unlucky in his timing as they have been so many young drivers recently that F1 may go through a period of driver stability where it is difficult for a young driver to get a break.

    1. I have met him actually, nice bloke, though it was in the paddock at Oulton at the first round last year after he’d been beaten by Algersuari in qualifying and he was not in a good mood!

  12. Amon did win a F1 race Keith, just not a championship race. It was the race of Champions at Brands Hatch, but I’m too lazy to go the bookshelf to establish which year.

    I heard the Hampton Downs rumours as I left Taupo, but when I drove past Hampton Downs a few days ago, the track had been graded, but no surface laid. As far as I could see, only the residential buildings had moved forward since I passed some months ago.

    I fear for the future of A1GP, both in NZ and in general. There were rumours at Taupo of the NZ seat holder having to donate large sums to have the cars flown from Malaysia. Also I estimate the crowd this year was 30-40% down on 2007 (the first A1GP race in NZ)

    A great pity. I like the series and the concept.

    1. Amon did win a F1 race Keith, just not a championship race. It was the race of Champions at Brands Hatch, but I’m too lazy to go the bookshelf to establish which year.

      Very true!

  13. just thinking when us aussies will claim Breandon Hartley as an Aussie :P

    Hampton Downs would seem like a good place for F1, though i believe the track is not certified for F1, only the safety will be.

    An Auckland street race at night would be ideal for F1.

    However i do not see NZ hosting a GP in the near future or not for another 20 or so years.

    especially in these current economic times.

    1. Daniel @ 0933 “just thinking when us aussies will claim Breandon Hartley as an Aussie”

      hehe was thinking the same thing myself. Tell the Kiwi’s we’ll swap, they have can Russell Crowe back :D

  14. Sorry to be a pain in the arse or anything, but isn’t lewis hamilton the youngest ever f1 winner now. Feel free to correct me if i am wrong anyone.

    1. Hamilton is the youngest F1 championship winner. Vettel is the youngest F1 race winner.

  15. Hi Keith,

    I really liked the introduction to this, so I thought I’d make reference to it in a feature I’ve just written. Three years down the line from this post, and it seems New Zealand have a new trio of drivers who could put them back on the F1 map, in the form of Richie Stanaway, Mitch Evans and Nick Cassidy:

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