Jacky Ickx - the Belgian hero 23 Aug 2004
A look at one of the greatest all-round racing drivers
There are currently no Belgian drivers with Formula One race seats, leaving only Minardi third driver Bas Leinders to celebrate a 'home' event at Spa when the Belgian Grand Prix returns this weekend. But despite its relatively small size, Belgium has produced more than its fair share of Formula One drivers over the years.
Indeed no fewer than 22 Belgians have participated in Grand Prix meetings since Formula One racing began, but one in particular stands out - Jacky Ickx - one of the select group of racers whose extraordinary talent is immediately obvious to all who see them.
Ickx, like Stirling Moss from an earlier generation, is often referred to as the 'greatest driver never to win a World Championship.' His Formula One debut was arguably the most spectacular of all time. He qualified a Formula Two car in what should have been third place at the 1967 German Grand Prix - held at the fearsome and then untamed Nurburgring. The regulations forced him to start the race behind the entire Formula One pack, in spite of which after four laps he was already running in fifth place before he retired with a suspension failure.
He made his 'proper' debut at the Italian Grand Prix for Cooper-Maserati, scoring a World Championship point with his first race in a full Formula One car. In '68 he moved to Ferrari and took his maiden victory at that year's French Grand Prix, with a commanding drive in the wet seeing him come home almost two minutes ahead of second-placed John Surtees. A heavy crash at the Canadian Grand prix meant he had to sit out the remainder of the season, and moved to Brabham for '69 where a solid campaign saw him second in the Drivers' Championship
1970 was probably Ickx's most famous season, but for all the wrong reasons. He had returned to Ferrari from Brabham, but was involved in a terrible crash at the Spanish Grand Prix and was trapped inside his flame-engulfed car, suffering serious burns as a consequence. He was racing again at Monaco just 17 days later, and the season then developed into a battle between him and Jochen Rindt for the drivers championship. Tragically, in Monza Rindt was killed during free practice before the race, leaving Ickx as the only other driver who could take the title. He just missed out, leaving Rindt as Formula One racing's only posthumous world champion.
Ickx stayed with Ferrari until 1973 before moving to Lotus for the '74 season. It was a disappointing year as the car proved to be uncompetitive at most tracks, and with no improvement in 1975, Ickx left the team mid-season, only making fleeting returns to Formula One racing afterwards (the last, for Ligier, in 1979). Instead he concentrated on other forms of motorsport and became one of the most successful racing drivers of all time, taking six victories at Le Mans, becoming CANAM champion in 1979 and winning the Paris-Dakar Rally in 1983. He is still actively involved in racing as an ambassador for the sport and can frequently be seen at events.