Although Justin Wilson was a fast driver and fierce competitor, his 1.9-metre frame presented a hindrance to fitting him into the tiny cockpits of thoroughbred grand prix racing cars.
Nonetheless by way of victory in the 1998 British Formula Palmer Audi championship, an emphatic Formula 3000 title win three years later, and an audacious bid to raise funding through a share issue scheme, he reached the Formula One grid with Minardi in 2003.
Wilson kept experienced team mate Jos Verstappen honest on qualifying and made some astounding starts in his Cosworth-powered PS03: he briefly ran seventh in the Malaysian Grand Prix having lined up 19th.
He gained promotion to Jaguar for the final five races when they elected to drop the under-performing Antonio Pizzonia. Although he’d beaten new team mate Mark Webber to the F3000 title two years earlier, jumping into the R4 with little prior running was a tricky prospect, but Wilson picked up a point in the rain-hit United States Grand Prix.
Red Bull paid a huge sum to put Christian Klien in Wilson’s seat for the following year, which brought an end to his F1 spell. However a debut appearance in Champ Cars the following year pointed the way forward for his career.
He returned in 2005 for a full season with RuSport, winning twice and finishing third overall. He went one better the following year but had to give best to Sebastien Bourdais, and the Newman/Haas driver beat him to the title again the following year.
It was supposed to be different in 2008, when Bourdais headed to F1 and Wilson took his coveted Newman/Haas drive. But Champ Car was on its knees and the series was finally absorbed into IndyCar, ending a 13-year rift. Wilson faced a tough season with a new car and several different tracks to learn. But at the penultimate round in Detroit he was pressuring race leader Helio Castroneves hard when the Penske driver was censured by the stewards for blocking and told to let Wilson through, handing him victory.
For 2009 Wilson switched to Dale Coyne and gave the team its first victory at Watkins Glen. Two win-less years at Dreyer & Reinbold followed, and he spent the last seven races of 2011 on the sidelines after injuring his back at Mid-Ohio.
Back at Coyne in 2012, Wilson took his first victory on an oval at Texas. The 2013 season was his best so far in IndyCar, finishing sixth in the overall standings, but following a disappointing 2014 campaign he lost his full-time seat.
Wilson returned on a part-time basis with the Andretti team in 2015. He took second place at Mid-Ohio but in the penultimate race at Pocono he was struck by debris after Sage Karam hit the wall. Wilson was rushed to hospital but died from his injuries the following day.