Zakspeed: From Touring Cars to F1 Disappointment
With a history of success in touring cars, GTs, and sportscars, Zakspeed’s foray into Formula 1 from 1985 to 1989 proved underwhelming. Despite their achievements in other racing categories, the German outfit only managed a single points finish during their five-year stint.
The story of Zakspeed begins with Erich Zakowski, whose family relocated from Prussia after World War II and settled near the Nurburgring racetrack. Zakowski honed his skills as a mechanic and eventually established his own garage before venturing into professional racing.
Right from the start, Zakspeed fostered a close relationship with Ford. They campaigned touring and GT cars not just in Germany but also across various international circuits. The team enjoyed tremendous success in the DRM series (a precursor to DTM) with their eye-catching Capri models while simultaneously competing in IMSA with Mustangs.
However, it was in sportscar racing where Zakspeed’s collaboration with Ford reached its pinnacle. The works Ford C100 was designed as the successor to the legendary GT40 by accomplished designer Len Bailey who had worked on both projects.
The car made its debut at Brands Hatch 1000kms race in 1981 before being further refined by Tony Southgate. Despite featuring drivers such as Marc Surer and Manfred Winkelhock – both active Formula 1 racers at the time – as well as Zakspeed regular Klaus Ludwig, the Ford C100 failed to achieve significant success.
Following Ford’s withdrawal from the sportscar project, Zakspeed continued their involvement by developing and racing an updated version of the car under their own name.
Zakspeed took a different direction when they entered Formula 1 in 1985. They embarked on an ambitious project that included designing and manufacturing their own 1.5-litre turbo engine while still enjoying relative success in the DTM series.
The team initially fielded a single entry for Jonathan Palmer but struggled with reliability issues throughout his tenure. After Palmer suffered injuries in a sportscar accident at Spa, he was replaced by Christian Danner towards the end of the season.
In 1986, Zakspeed expanded to two cars with Dutchman Huub Rothengatter joining Palmer. However, reliability remained a persistent problem, preventing both drivers from achieving anything higher than eighth place finishes.
Martin Brundle took over Palmer’s seat for the 1987 season alongside Christian Danner. The team made progress during this period as other smaller teams transitioned to using atmospheric engines following new regulations banning turbos. Brundle secured fifth place at Imola amidst high attrition and also finished seventh in Monaco, marking Zakspeed’s only points finish in Formula 1.
In 1988, German rising star Bernd Schneider partnered with veteran Piercarlo Ghinzani after most teams had already switched to atmospheric power units. Unfortunately for Zakspeed, their restricted turbo engine proved uncompetitive and frequently led to failures to qualify for races.
With turbos completely outlawed for the 1989 season, Aguri Suzuki replaced Ghinzani and brought along Yamaha atmospheric V8s as engines. However, the team had slipped into the pre-qualifying group , and throughout the season, Suzuki never managed to make it into the main field while Schneider only qualified twice. This dismal performance ultimately led to Zakspeed’s withdrawal from Formula 1 at the end of that year.
Following their exit from F1, Erich Zakowski handed over control of the company to his son Peter, a successful racer in his own right. Under Peter’s leadership, Zakspeed continued competing in various championships across motorsport disciplines.
In conclusion, Zakspeed may have faced disappointment during their time in Formula 1, but they remain an integral part of racing history with their notable achievements in touring cars and sportscars. Their pursuit of success on both international circuits and German soil solidified their close ties with Ford and contributed to their enduring legacy as a respected racing team.