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Take 12 Spaniards - a nation’s racing history 24 Apr 2008

Two spaniards, Pedro de la Rosa, left and Marc Gene Italian GP, Monza, 12 September 1999. World © Sutton Alex Soler-Roig (ESP) Lotus 49C failed to qualify on his third GP appearance. French Grand Prix, Clermont-Ferrand, 5 July 1970. World © Phipps/Sutton Adrian Campos (ESP) Minardi M187 with a local woman in the pits. British Grand Prix, Rd 7, Silverstone, England, 12 July 1987. World © Sutton Emilio de Villota (ESP)World ©  Phipps/Sutton Luis Sala (ESP) Minardi Cosworth M188. Formula One World Championship 1988. World © Sutton

Thanks in large part to Fernando Alonso’s spectacular success in recent years, Formula One racing now has a huge following in Spain. However, ask the average fan to name another Spanish F1 driver and many will struggle. Perhaps that’s not surprising, though, given that since 1951 only another 11 Spaniards have graced a Grand Prix entry list…

Juan Jover, 1903-1960
Grand Prix presences: 1, Best result: DNS, Championship points: 0

Barcelona-born Jover is remembered as one of Spain’s Formula One pioneers after competing in the 1951 Spanish Grand Prix alongside compatriot and Scuderia Milano team mate Paco Godia. Jover qualified his Maserati machine 18th, but technical problems meant he failed to start the race, which was won by Juan Manuel Fangio for Alfa Romeo. Jover switched to endurance racing, but was tragically killed in a road accident, aged 56.

Paco Godia, 1921-1990
Grand Prix presences: 14, Best result: 4th, Championship points: 6

Of the two drivers who kick-started Spain’s involvement in Formula One racing back in 1951, Godia (born Francisco Godia Sales) was by far the most successful. While Juan Jover failed to start on his one and only Grand Prix appearance, Godia competed in 14 races over an intermittent F1 career that spanned five seasons. He finished tenth on his debut - the 1951 Spanish Grand Prix at Pedralbes - at the wheel of a Maserati and went on to clinch fourth-place finishes at the 1956 Italian and German Grands Prix.

Alfonso de Portago, 1928-57
Grand Prix presences: 6, Best result: 2nd, Championship points: 4

His Formula One career may have been short lived, but de Portago (full name Alfonso Antonio Vicente Eduardo Angel Blas Francisco de Borja Cabeza de Vaca y Leighton) was one of the most colourful characters of his generation. The son of a Spanish nobleman, de Portago lived life at full gallop, pursuing a variety of high-risk sports including horseracing, bobsleighing and flying. With several forays into motorsport in the early 1950s, de Portago found a new obsession and in ‘56 became Ferrari’s fifth driver, alongside Juan Manuel Fangio, Peter Collins, Eugenio Castellotti and Luigi Musso. Despite tough competition from his team mates, de Portago had enough talent to make his mark, clinching second place at the British Grand Prix. A fifth place in the 1957 Argentine round was to be his only other point-scoring result - a few days before that year’s Monaco event he was involved in a crash in Italy’s famed Mille Miglia sportscar race. The accident claimed not just de Portago’s life but also those of his co-driver, Edmund Nelson, and 10 spectators.

Antonio Creus, 1919-1996
Grand Prix presences: 1, Best result: DNF, Championship points: 0

Another Spanish one-race wonder, Madrid-born Creus competed in the 1960 Argentine Grand Prix at the age of 40 in a privately-entered Maserati. Although he started 22nd and last on the grid, he made it up as high as 18th during the race. However, the extreme heat in Buenos Aires took its toll that day and Creus, who succumbed on lap 17, was one of three drivers to retire due to physical exhaustion.

Alex Soler-Roig, born 1932
Grand Prix presences: 10, Best result: DNF, Championship points: 0

Madrid native Soler-Roig’s Formula One career was undistinguished to say the least - 10 entries, five starts and no finishes. After failing to qualify his Lotus on his F1 debut at the 1970 Spanish Grand Prix, he had to wait until the following year to see race action, at the wheel of an STP March in South Africa. He made four further outings for the team that season, none bearing fruit, and his F1 journey ended after two DNFs with the Spanish BRM team in 1972.

Emilio de Villota, born 1946
Grand Prix presences: 14, Best result: 13th, Championship points: 0

Between 1976 and 1982, de Villota qualified for a Grand Prix just twice in 14 attempts. The Madrid-born driver got his first chance at his home event in ’76 at the wheel of a RAM-entered Brabham, but only a year later did he actually make it to the starting grid, lining up 23rd for the start of the Jarama race in the Iberia Airlines McLaren. He finished 13th. At the 1977 Austrian Grand Prix, he crashed out two laps from home and was classified 17th. Outside of Formula One racing, he scored two world sportscar championship wins in 1981. He was also 1980 champion in the British Aurora AFX series, contested by contemporary, rather than current, privately-entered F1 cars. De Villota now runs a driving school as well as teams in junior formulae.

Emilio Zapico, 1944-1996
Grand Prix presences: 1, Best result: DNQ, Championship points: 0

Zapico’s sole Formula One appearance came at his home event at Jarama in 1976, but was a short-lived affair. At the wheel of an outdated Williams FW04, the Leon-born driver failed to qualify. Two decades on a far slower machine claimed his life when he was killed in a road accident in his native Spain.

Adrian Campos, born 1960
Grand Prix presences: 21, Best result: 14th, Championship points: 0

Nowadays Adrian Campos is better known for his successful GP2 team than for his short-lived Formula One career. In the late eighties, however, Campos was Spain’s brightest racing hope. The son of a wealthy industrialist, he secured a seat with Minardi for 1987 after enjoying some test work for Tyrrell. Over a season and a half, he competed in 21 Grands Prix, but reached the finish line just twice. Although most of his retirements were down to mechanical issues, Campos - perhaps not surprisingly - became demoralised with the lack of progress. In early 1988 he notched up three successive DNQs and was dropped by Minardi, to be replaced by the Italian Pierluigi Martini for the remainder of the season.

Luis Perez-Sala, born 1959
Grand Prix presences: 32, Best result: 6th, Championship points: 1

F3000 runner-up the previous year, Perez-Sala joined Minardi in 1988 as team mate to fellow Spaniard Adrian Campos. During his two-year Formula One career, the Barcelona-born driver endured his fair share of ill fortune, failing to qualify six times and retiring on eight occasions. He enjoyed his best result at the 1989 British Grand Prix, surging through the field from 15th to finish sixth. It was his one and only championship point. Following his departure from Minardi, he went on to enjoy more success in the Spanish touring car championship. Now approaching 50, Perez-Sala continues to race and last season finished tenth overall in the Spanish GT series.

Marc Gene, born 1974
Grand Prix presences: 36, Best result: 5th, Championship points: 5

Of all the Spanish drivers, Gene’s path to Formula One racing took the most turns. A trained accountant, Gene finally got his big break after a year-long sabbatical pursuing his rather less exciting profession and a season of success in Spain’s Open Fortuna series. In 1999 he secured a seat with Minardi and although the uncompetitive car didn’t give him much rein for success, he managed 10 race finishes and secured the team an all-important world championship point at the European Grand Prix. A second season reaped fewer rewards and in 2001 Gene joined BMW Williams as test driver, a role he retained for four seasons, even standing in for race driver Ralf Schumacher at three races, his best result a fifth place at the 2003 Italian Grand Prix. But when Williams failed to offer him a permanent race role in 2005, Gene jumped ship to Ferrari to become the team’s second test driver, alongside Luca Badoer. He remains there still, having racked up over 24,000 testing kilometres, combining his testing duties with racing in the Le Mans Series - he currently leads the 2008 standings after winning the opening round in Barcelona with Peugeot.

Pedro de la Rosa, born 1971
Grand Prix presences: 84, Best result: 2nd, Championship points: 29

Though his statistics may look pale in comparison, de la Rosa remains Spain’s most successful Formula One driver after Fernando Alonso. He scored on his F1 debut with Arrows at the 1999 Australian Grand Prix, but two seasons with the team - and a further two with Jaguar - ultimately brought only minimal reward. A move to a McLaren testing seat for 2003 was eventually rewarded with a race outing at the 2005 Bahrain race, standing in for Juan Pablo Montoya. Fifth place and the fastest lap was the result, and he got a further eight drives for the team in 2006 following Montoya’s departure. However, a best result of second place at the Hungarian Grand Prix wasn’t enough to persuade McLaren to pick him over Lewis Hamilton for their ’07 campaign. De la Rosa remains a key member of the team’s testing squad, but at 37 a full-time race return for the Barcelona-born driver looks unlikely.