Siegfried Stohr is a former Formula One driver from Italy. Just as he was coming to terms with F1 he was involved in a bizzare start line incident at the 1981 Belgian Grand Prix and went downhill from there
Born in Rimini of an Italian mother and a German father, Stohr started competing in karts at the late of 19 having completed his studies and graduated with a degree in psychology. He won 3 Italian championship titles in different classes before aquiring a Formula Italia car from his friend Riccardo Patrese in 1976 and winning the championship in 1977. He moved up to F3 the following year joining the Trivellato squad in a Chevron B43-Toyota and prompty won the Italian F3 championship. He also came second in the prestigious Monaco F3 race behind Elio De Angelis but ahead off of Alain Prost and Jan Lammers.
1979 saw Stohr move in F2, doing well to take his Chevron B48-BMW to second at Pau and Vallelunga before switching to the less competetive March 792. In 1980 he signed for Alan Docking to drive a Beta-sponsored Toleman TG280, winning at Enna and taking fourth in the Championship.
This led to an opportunity to race for the Arrows F1 team in 1980. The Arrows A3 looked good in the orange-and-spiderweb livery of sponsors Ragno Ceramiche and when Patrese stuck it on pole for the season opening Long Beach Grand Prix, it looked even better. The only problem was, where was the other Arrows. The answer was on the transporter. Sigfried, a full four seconds slower that Riccardo, failed to qualify.
In Brazil he managed to qualify in 21st spot, still three seconds behind his team-mate and friend, who finished third. In Argentina he was only 1.5s off Patrese and finished the race in 9th.
At Imola and the San Marino GP, his home race, the gap with Patrese was up to 2.8s again and Stohr failed to qualify. Then came Zolder and the Belgian Grand Prix. On the Saturday, Stohr posted a 1.24.66, for 13th spot on the grid and just a second off Riccardo's pace.
On the Friday, Carlos Reutemann had inadvertently run over Osella mechanic Giovanni Amadeo when he fell from the pit wall into his path. He was taken to hospital with serious head injuries from which he surcumbed on the Monday. The mechanics were furious with the organisers and FISA for the pitlane conditions.
Then on the Sunday, they protested, there were angry mechanics all over the place. Many of the drivers, led by Gilles Villeneuve, joined them, Laffite, Patrese and Pironi among them. Incredibly, the organisers decided to flag the field away. The drivers who hadn't joined the picketline started their warm-up lap while others were still walking back to their cars.
Nelson Piquet then overshot his mark and was sent around again. While the rest of the grid waited under the under the impression that there was going to follow another warm-up lap, several drivers then shut off their engines, Riccardo Patrese being one of them. Then with Piquet back in place, FISA starter Derek Ongaro continued with the starting sequence. Patrese, who had been waving his arms frantically for over 30 seconds, had been joined by his mechanic Dave Luckett who was trying to help. Ongaro gave the green light.
Patrese was a sitting duck in his 4th place on the grid. After being missed by the the first few cars he was hit, ironically by his team-mate's similar car. Sandwiched in between was the luckless Dave Luckett, who had nowhere to go. One of his legs was shattered but fortuntely he survived. Riccardo was understandably furious, throwing his helmet to the ground, while Stohr broke down in tears. The two Arrows drivers were non-starters when the race was finally flagged away.
The accident between Stohr, Patrese and Luckett was cause for an immediate rule change. From then on when the one minute signal is shown all team personnel must leave the grid by the time the 15 second signal is given. If any driver needs assistance after the 15 second signal he must raise his arm and, when the remainder of the cars able to do so have left the grid, his team may attempt to rectify the problem.
After Zolder, Stohr never managed to get as close to Patrese aagain. In Monaco, his 14th place on the grid looked OK, but the gap with Riccardo was up by over a half second. It got worse from then on there on, with Siegfried slipping down the grid. He was not helped by the drop in the car's reletive performance. Other teams were making giant strides with the development of active suspension and the mid season decision to swtch to Pirelli tyres proved to be unfortunate.
In Germany, Stohr finishing 12th after starting last. In Austria, Stohr was a full three seconds behind Patrese, with a similar gap at Monza. France was Siegfried's third DNQ by a substantial margin and he was unceremoniously sacked.
Siegfried decided to hang up his helmet and he retired at the age of 29 to set up a very successful driver training school at the Autodromo Santamonica at Misano-Adriatico near his home town Rimini. In the years that followed Stohr and his instructors, that included Gianfranco Brancatelli, Andrea Belluzzi, Luca Drudi, Mauro Martini and Alex Zanardi, taught thousands how to drive quickly. He is also a successful journalist and author, writing books on safe driving and an autobiography covering his troubled F1 career.