9 Countries with only 1 Formula One Driver
Formula One is a very global sport but even so there are countries which have only ever had one entrant emerge from them. In the past, I’ve talked about all the Nordic Drivers in the sport, but now let’s turn our gaze at the racers from countries which have only ever produced a single competing driver (note: I’m only counting actual race entries, not practice)…
#1. Thailand: Prince Bira of Siam
Though its neighbouring Malaysia has hosted F1 events for a long time, Thailand has not. However, royalty from said country has taken part in the F1 events. Prince of Bira of Siam (full name: Birabongse Bhanudej) was a fairly prominent face in the F1 circuit during the 1950s. He raced between 1950 and 1955 in a number of outfits, including one under his own name.
The 1950 season under Enrico Plate was his best, with him scoring points in both the Monaco and Swiss Grand Prixs. The rest of his F1 seasons weren’t nearly as good although he did score one more time in 1954 in the French Grand Prix.
However, Bira’s official F1 records don’t maybe do him justice (though they do tell us he had a tendency of not finishing races). He won the 1951 Richmond Trophy which was driven to F1 specifications (but was not part of the championship). He also picked up trophies from Goodwood, Pescara and VII BRDC – with his other race victory coming in the 1954 Grand Prix de Frontieres in Belgium.
So Bira was no scrub, unfortunately all his best achievements came outside the championship circuit.
Addendum (November 27, 2018): Bira of Siam will lose his title as Thailand’s only F1 racing driver in 2019 with the signing of Alexander Albons to Toro Rosso.
#2. Morocco: Robert La Caze
The only Moroccan in history to race in Formula One also doesn’t have a great story behind him. Racing a single event in his home country in 1958, he finished 14th. To be fair though, he was technically driving a Formula 2 specification car. The only record La Caze held was that for a short while from 2012 until his death in 2015, he was the oldest living Formula One driver.
#3. Liechtenstein: Rikky Von Opel
Similarly to La Caze, Rikky Von Opel did not accomplish many great things during his very short stint in F1s between 1973 and 1974. Running for Team Ensign and later switching to MRD-Brabham in the fourth race of the 1974 season, Opel’s best results was a 9th place in both the Swedish and Dutch Grand Prixs that year.
The only other noteworthy aspect of him is that he is great grand-son of Adam Opel, the founder of the German Opel car company.
#4. Chile: Eliseo Salazar
Similarly to Bira of Siam, Salazar’s racing records from Formula One don’t really tell the full story. A March, Ensign and ATS driver between 1981 and 1983, his best result a 5th place in the San Marino Grand Prix in 1982 which shockingly still landed him 22nd, lower than the previous year when his best result was a 6th place the Dutch GP and 18th at the end of the season.
Salazar’s pre-F1 career however was amazingly good. The reason Eliseo was able to make the jump was because he actually competed in the short-lived British F1 series for RAM Racing in 1980. He achieved three victories and five podiums over-all, which landed him second at the end of the season, behind Spaniard Emilio de Villota whose own F1 results were even less spectacular.
Salazar would eventually acquire some amount of accolades in the American IndyCar series in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
#5. Czech Republic: Tomas Enge
The only Czech driver ever seen in Formula One unfortunately had the rotten luck of running with the Prost F1 team during the very end of their final season in 2001. Predictably, Enge couldn’t accomplish anything in the three races he was allowed to run before the team folded at the end of the season.
A shame, since Enge had been a rising star in the Formula 3000 series. The same year he made his F1 debut, he was third in the F3K, a result he repeated the following year.
Enge also went on to achieve some fame in the Le Mans series, including winning the European Le Man series in 2009.
#6. Malaysia: Alex Yoong
Now we finally come to our first and only Malaysian F1 driver. Similarly to Enge, Yoong had the rotten luck of getting stuck in one of the worst F1 teams on the lot. Making his debut at the end of 2001 and competing all through 2002, Yoong made his mark in the back-lot runners Minardi.
Yoong probably didn’t benefit from the fact that his team-mate was future F1 star Mark Webber. He even had to make way for two Grand Prixs to F1 nobody Anthony Daniels.
To be fair, Yoong’s accolades outside F1 were also few and far between. His best results have actually come more recently. Yoong performed admirably in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series, but his best results have come from Audi R8 LMS Cup series, including three consecutive championships between 2014-2016. So good on Yoong.
#7. Hungary: Zsolt Baumgartner
A true man of mystery, Zsolt Baumgartner was forgotten almost as quickly as he entered at the end of the 2003 season for Jordan. The following year he raced for Minardi and amazingly achieved one point in the US Grand Prix, firmly defeating his F1 nobody team-mate Gianmaria Bruni. Unfortunately for Baumgartner and Bruni, they were replaced by another F1 nobody Patrick Friesacher and Christijan “The Hose” Albers for the 2005 series.
How Baumgartner even made to F1 and what he’s done since is a bit of a mystery since the man’s resumé is really bare. In 2007, he was a reserve driver in ChampCar and served that same role in 2008 in Super League. Beyond that, he seems to have left motorsports altogether. Equally puzzlingly, he wasn’t really a super talent even before his Formula One stint. His best results in the Formula 3000 series (where he raced prior) were 6th and 5th.
All I can deduce from this is that Zsolt must have had very deep pockets.
#8. Poland: Robert Kubica
Poland’s one and only F1 driver was force of nature when he took the track at the end of the 2006 season driving for BMW Sauber, replacing Jacques Villeneuve and achieving a third-place podium only in his third F1 race ever. Kubica’s follow-up season wasn’t as spectacular though he finished 6th in the Drivers’ Championship. His first race victory came the following year which put him solidly in the Top-5 at the end of the season.
Unfortunately, BMW’s departure from F1s put an end to his time at Sauber in 2009 (his worst full season), but he kept up the good work at Renault in 2010 until a Rally accident forced him to retire from Formula Ones in 2011. Kubica would go on to win the WRC2 Championship in 2013.
Kubica of course is now Williams’ official reserve driver and though I’m annoyed he didn’t get a race-driver’s position – given Williams’ current performance, I’m now thinking Robert dodged a bullet.
#9. Indonesia: Rio Haryanto
Speaking of deep pockets, we finally come to Indonesian F1 nobody Rio Haryanto. All jabs and joking aside, I’m a little sad that Haryanto wasn’t allowed to finish the 2016 season for Manor, being put aside after twelve races in favour Esteban Ocon (current Force India driver). Manor would fold at the end of the 2016 season.
Haryanto wasn’t a total scrub pre-F1, he actually had three race victories to his name from the 2015 GP2 series and he had even attained a few accolades from the Asian Formula 2, the Formula BWM Pacific and the international GP3 series.
However, his racing career seems to have completely died down after his F1 stint.