Blindingly fast and confident, sunnyboy Stefan Bellof captivated not only the imagination of German motorsport fans. Today would be the 50th birthday of the man who drew the attention of a wider audience in his Country to motor racing long before Michael Schumacher appeared on the scene. Clearly World Champion material, Bellof didn’t live long enough to turn the predicted brilliant career into reality.
After playing around a bit Stefan, aged sixteen, and his older brother Georg began racing karts seriously in 1973. Both were winning constantly, Stefan bringing home many national titles.
Six years later he went for a one-off race in a Formula Ford and got a deal with Walter Lechner for 1980. After winning the German national title he went on to compete in the ONS-Chempionship, open to international license holders, and won again.
Meanwhile he’d been offered to debut in F3 for the team of Bertram Schäfer It was mid-season, so to finish the season he needed funding that his friend and manager Rainer Braun got from real estate millionaire Georg Loos. Stefan only lost the championship due to very polemic crash in the final round ending up third in the German championship, with three wins from seven starts.
In 1982, at the time with limited BMW backing, he got a place in Willy Maurer’s F2 team, winning the first two races of the season, a feat never accomplished before in the history of the European F2 championship. Despite early success the season didn’t go too well against the works-funded teams. A couple of podium finishes stood against technical failures. And there was this crash in Spa’s Eau Rouge that got Stefan’s over-worked guardian angel busy again.
As the BMW link didn’t lead anywhere, in fact, growings tensions between Maurer and the board of directors in Munich because BMW would keep foreign drivers under contract but refused to do much for Germany’s rising star would lead to Maurer become Bellof’s manager in 1983 securing a deal as Porsche works-driver as well as an F1-test with McLaren in Silverstone. Although nothing came of the McLaren-test, it went to show BMW that the loss was theirs.
Despite Stefan’s musing about driving “stuff” with a roof on top, he began enjoying the Rothmans backed Porsche factory team and racing in the World Endurance Championship. Partnering alongside Derek Bell for most of the season, he was noted for setting the fastest lap at the Nürburgring 1000km race and was still leading when he crashed his Porsche 956 on its roof, the lap record for all cars still stands to this day.
He joined Tyrrell in 1984 and in the rain-soaked Monaco race, was catching up to race leader Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna when the race was flagged to a halt at half the distance. But the way he wrestled past René Arnoux’s Ferrari had already caught the attention of Enzo Ferrari who would from now on keep an eye on this youn German.
Unfortunately Stefan was stripped of all his championship points alongside with team mate Martin Brundle, after their Tyrell was discovered with illegal lead in their fuel tank at the Detroit Grand Prix. Still he would stick with Ken Tyrrell’s team as he was promissed a turbo engine for 1985 and would no longer have to bring any sponsorship to the outfit.
He would win the World Endurance Championship for drivers with Derek Bell and helped Porsche to win the manufacturers title at the same year. He also won the DRM (Deutsche Rennsportmeisterschaft, later became the well-known DTM) at the wheel of a Porsche 962 owned by privateer Waler Brun.
Always saddled with uncompetitive cars (the Tyrrell team of 1984-85 were the only team still using the normally aspirated Ford Cosworth engines, giving away in excess of 150 hp to their turbo rivals, though in the final stages of his Grand Prix career Tyrrell did use Renault turbo engines), Bellof never truly had the opportunity to show his true talent in Formula One.
Regarded as a likely future World Champion, he was secretly contacted by Enzo Ferrari and, meeting with Luca di Montezemolo in Monaco, signed a two year contract with the Italian team. But the dream pairing, precisely ten years ahead of Michael Schumacher’s move to Maranello, never materialised as Stefan Bellof was killed at the 1985 Spa 1000km sports car race, when he tangled his Porsche 956 with Jacky Ickx at Eau Rouge, both cars catching fire and halting the race, only to later die in hospital.