F1's 6 greatest eccentrics

Willam Storey is the new face on the Formula 1 block – and it’s a face that has made him instantly memorable. The ZZ Top beard and long (receding) Heavy Metal hair is quite some distance from the suave, perfectly groomed look most usually associated with grand prix racing’s money men – and his physical appearance seems a perfect match for a remarkably bolshy attitude, too.

Storey is the boss of Rich Energy, a new soft-drink brand that isn’t exactly familiar to supermarket shelves – but that hasn’t stopped the American Haas team from making it title sponsor, taking the wraps off a smart black and gold livery at the Royal Automobile Club in London last week.

“We are confident we will beat Red Bull in many races this year,” claimed Storey with a bravado that will make long-time F1 watchers smile. He and his fledging brand are out to topple the Austrian energy drink, which itself was an unknown new F1 sponsor 25 years ago. The contrast then was Red Bull surfaced as something of a mystery when its logos first appeared on Saubers – and that’s just the way enigmatic boss Dietrich Mateschitz liked it. We could never have guessed then how his company would become the most significant, influential and successful commercial force in F1 in the post-tobacco advertising era.

In that context, perhaps we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss Storey. Likewise, given what Red Bull has achieved, he might have been wiser to show a little more humility and respect. But that’s clearly not his style.

So is he for real? No surprises, there are plenty of doubters. Time will tell.

For now, let’s welcome Storey as the latest ‘colourful’ character to be attracted to, and courted by, F1. Such figures haven’t always stuck around for long, but they usually add to the rich tapestry. Eccentric cameos always brighten up an increasingly corporate and grey F1 paddock, as history reminds us.

1. Lord Hesketh

The aristocrat would surely raise a glass of something stronger than Rich Energy in Storey’s direction. He too was a target of mirth when he launched himself as a team owner in the early 1970s.

Hesketh Racing was purposefully a throwback. But while ‘Le Patron’ and his flamboyant friends cavorted, the team itself knuckled down. Sure, plummy ‘playboy’ James Hunt was perfectly cast as the hard-living driver – but he too was deadly serious about his sport. Victory for Hesketh at the 1975 Dutch GP, after a brilliant defeat of Niki Lauda’s Ferrari, proved that once and for all.

The family trust fund was cut off at the season’s end, as Hunt headed for McLaren and unexpected world title glory. Hesketh limped on for a while, but the magic was gone.

2. Walter Wolf

As Hesketh wilted, Wolf whistled into contention… And wrote some remarkable history.

Canadian oil-drilling industrialist Walter Wolf was another who couldn’t resist F1 as a means to spend some of his fortune. A partnership with Frank Williams frustrated both in 1976, but a new solo effort bore immediate fruit the following year.

A neat chassis finished in stunning dark blue and gold from ex-Hesketh designer Harvey Postlethwaite sent a shockwave through F1 by winning on the team’s debut in Argentina – a maiden feat only matched by Brawn GP 32 years later. Driver Jody Scheckter followed up with victory in Monaco (of all races) and Canada to finish a distant – but incredible – second in the title standings to world champion Lauda.

The dream was over by the end of 1979, but enigmatic Wolf – in his trademark full-length fur coat – had succeeded in biting a memorable chunk out of the F1 establishment.

3. Don Nichols

Bedecked in black cap and wide-brimmed toreador hat, the founder of the suitably named Shadow team was another who hardly conformed to F1 type when he launched himself into grand prix racing in 1973.

A string of striking cars made Shadow a cult team fondly remembered – even if it would score just a single (lucky) victory, for Alan Jones at a wet Österreichring in 1977.

As F1 eccentrics go, his team lasted a relatively long seven years in the top flight. But Don Nichols – allegedly a former CIA operative – always remained a man of mystery to F1, forever in the shadows… He died in 2017, aged 92, with a motor sport legacy written in black ink.

4. Jean-Pierre Van Rossem

Another hirsute F1 sponsor, this long-haired, bearded Belgian financed Littlehampton-based Onyx’s short-lived F1 campaign in 1989 – then walked away in disgust when the team failed to land a supply of Porsche V12 engines.

Like Bertrand Gachot, the driver who introduced the oddly-named Moneytron to the team, Van Rossem served time during a ‘colourful’ life in which F1 was but a small but memorable chapter. In a tidy chassis designed by Alan Jenkins, Stefan Johannsson claimed a world championship point in France, just Onyx’s seventh F1 race, and even landed a podium at Estoril, before fiery van Rossem lost his rag and walked.

He died last December at the age of 73. F1 remains none the wiser.

5. Paul Stoddart

This aviation entrepreneur was another short on typical F1 sophistication, but his brand of plain-spoken Australian business sense certainly got things done when he bought Minardi in 2001.

Stoddart cut his motor sport teeth as a sponsor for Tyrrell and in Formula 3000 team ownership before buying up the F1 minnow. His reign lasted little more than four years, but he certainly made his mark – literally in the case of countryman Mark Webber, while Fernando Alonso also gained his first break in a Stoddart Minardi.

The bearded businessman was also a welcome voice of insurrection at the height of the Max Mosley/Bernie Ecclestone era, and they surely weren’t sorry to see the back of him when he sold out to Red Bull in 2005. The same could not be said of many F1 observers who had found Stoddart a breath of fresh air in a paddock too often stale in personality.

6. David Thieme

Finally, the man who Storey will surely be most keen to avoid drawn comparisons.

Colin Chapman might have been a giant in terms of leadership and innovation, but his judgement of character wasn’t always the best… And his head was certainly turned (not for the first time) by David Thieme and his grandly-named Essex Overseas Petroleum Corporation.

The company turned out to be a one-man operation run from a room in Monaco’s Hotel de Paris, but during 1980-81 the eye-catching Essex colours at least gave Lotus a striking new look. An extravagant team launch at the Royal Albert Hall enhanced the charade – which came crashing down in ’81 when Thieme was arrested for fraud. His instant disappearance from F1 was met with bemusement, but little surprise – not least by Chapman himself.

Rich Energy: the new Essex? For Gene Haas’s sake, let’s hope not.

Photography courtesy of Motorsport Images.