While Formula One is widely acknowledged as the pinnace of four-wheeled motorsport, most people would agree that it’s not the best place to watch close racing – for that you need to look towards the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC), home of the tin-top warrior and so it seems a surprising number of F1 drivers.

Unfortunately none are competing on today’s grids, but over the years many a driver has made the step from F1 to BTCC, or in some cases (mostly in the 1960s) competed on both grids at the same time.

During the Christmas holidays we asked the following question: “Matt Neal made his BTCC debut in 1991 driving a BMW M3, but which former FIA Formula One driver finished his BTCC career in an M3 that same year?”

The answer is Jonathan Palmer, which more than 200 of you submitted correctly, and the winner of the prize draw was Neil Dolphin, who’ll be spending the first weekend in April hosted by an Autoglym-backed team in the BTCC paddock. Runners-up prizes went to Rob Jones and Ryan Brown, so congratulations guys and thanks to everyone who entered.

Palmer made his touring car debut in 1983, the same year he won the European Formula 2 Championship, whilst also making his Formula One debut in a Williams-Ford in the European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch.

It was another 8 years before Palmer rejoined the BTCC, after driving for four F1 teams (Williams, RAM, Zakspeed & Tyrell) and serving as a test driver for McLaren. This time he competed for a full season in a BMW M3 for the BMW Finance works team in what was the first year of the ‘Super Touring’ era. He collected two podiums (at Donington and Thruxton) and finished the season 7th overall.

L-R: Jonathan Palmer races against his BMW Finance works team mate. Matt Neal during his debut season in an independent BMW M3.

It was at the 1991 Silverstone Grand Prix support round where a young Matt Neal, also driving a BMW M3, lined-up with teammates Frank Sytner and David Leslie to make his BTCC debut. He finished 13th in the race, behind Palmer in 5th, but it marked the beginning of a 25 year career in BTCC that has so for delivered 59 wins for Neal.

But, how many other F1 drivers have competed in the BTCC?

What started out as a simple quiz, has led to many hours searching through the archives and we counted 47 drivers who’ve raced in both championships since the British Saloon Car Championship (BSCC) was first established in 1958.

Of course we may have missed a few, it was during the 1960s when the crossover between open-wheelers and tin-tops was at its peak, when drivers such as Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Dan Gurney, Denny Hulme and Jack Brabham used to duke it out in Jaguar Mk IIs, Lotus Cortinas and Ford Galaxies.

But you might be surprised how many other top F1 drivers made a name for themselves in touring cars, including no less than 7 world champions (Brabham, G Hill, Clark, Hulme, Stewart, Mansell, D Hill). And who can blame them? The racing was close, often fierce, and always spirited and while F1 remains the faster series, BTCC is the place where racers are born to shine.

And finally, it’s not only F1 drivers who are drawn to the BTCC, movie legend Steve McQueen drove in the 1961 Brands Hatch round using the championship winning Mini of John Whitmore. He finished 7th behind the cars of Christabel Carlisle and Vic Elford. Ten years later McQueen would star in perhaps the best motor racing film of all time – Le Mans, driving alongside several of the F1/BTCC drivers listed on this page.

Small world isn’t it?

F1 drivers who competed in the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) (1987 – )

F1 drivers who competed in the British Saloon Car Championship (BSCC) (1958-1986)

 
NOTE: If you’ve spotted an error or omission, please post any updates in the comments below.