Beyond the chequered flag: Thierry Boutsen

Beyond the chequered flag: Thierry Boutsen

3 May 2013 – For the latest instalment of a series running throughout 2013, GPUpdate.net enjoyed a candid conversation with Thierry Boutsen, who is currently making his presence known in the aviation world after widespread success in Formula 1 and sportscar racing. The Belgian competed for five outfits during an 11-season phase in the top echelon, which yielded three victories in the colours of Williams.

Born in Brussels on 13 July 1957, Boutsen’s route to Formula 1 was an impressive one. After winning the Volant V title in 1977, Belgian Formula Ford honours were promptly notched up, before champagne was sprayed in abundance in Formula 3 and Formula 2. At this time, he also tried his hand at endurance racing, but his focus was on breaking into Formula 1, and the opportunity ultimately arose with Arrows in 1983.

Boutsen driving the Arrows A6 chassis in 1983
"It was a great moment," recalls Boutsen, who raced from his home Grand Prix onwards. "I never thought I could achieve that, but I believe there were some key elements. First of all I was able to win races in all of the categories I took part in, whether it was Formula 2, Formula 3, Formula Ford, Touring Cars or Group C. I thought that Formula 1 would be OK for me if I had the chance. But to get a chance you need to do a lot of research for money and get the team to work with you. I was extremely lucky to have a very good start."

It was while driving for Arrows that he was involved in one of the most bizarre finishes to a Formula 1 race. Following on from the midfield battles of his first two seasons in the sport, interspersed by a trio of points finishes, the 1985 San Marino Grand Prix saw him fighting with the big guns. But he claimed his maiden podium in a rather unconventional way, calling on the power of his muscles after running out of fuel.

"I crossed the line pushing the car in third position," Boutsen reminisces. "I got second afterwards. I knew that it was totally forbidden to push a car on the track, but there was a line in the regulations saying that you could if the car is in a dangerous position. So I purposely left my car in a dangerous position when it ran out of fuel, to push it across the line. I was very competitive all the way through and was within a few seconds of the 'real' leaders. I’m not talking about Senna because he was using far too much fuel and was out of competition right away. It was a very good race."

Boutsen’s performances over the course of the next two years did not go unnoticed in the paddock, with Benetton offering him a contract for the 1987 and 1988 campaigns. Although his first season was ruined by a string of reliability problems, momentum gathered the following term and he was able to achieve a quintet of podium finishes behind the dominant MP4/4 driven by Alain Prost and the aforementioned Senna.

"In the first year with Benetton the car was quite competitive," explains Boutsen. "I could have won at least two races, like in Mexico and Austria, but we had so many problems with reliability that I could never get to the end of a Grand Prix. Competitivity is one thing but reliability is the other! And I was missing one. The year after, I finished on the rostrum five times behind the two McLarens. It was a very, very good year; I was not equipped with a turbo engine, just a normally aspirated engine."

In 1989 Boutsen made the biggest move of his Formula 1 career and joined Williams on a two-year deal. Despite a massive pre-season accident, which he described as mentally-draining, his childhood dream of winning in Formula 1 came true, with victories being achieved at the rain-soaked Canadian and Australian Grands Prix.

More silverware was added to his cabinet throughout 1990, while playing a key role in the development of the team's active suspension. But, despite his positive results, he was replaced by Nigel Mansell at the end of his contract and had to watch from the sidelines as the Briton fought for the title. Just how did he feel at that moment?

Boutsen reads some notes in the Williams FW12C
"I was totally frustrated because I did the development of the active suspension for almost one year," says Boutsen. "I spent all my time doing that and the car became very, very competitive at the end and then somebody else benefitted. But, c’est la vie. I don’t even think about it anymore because it happened like that and I’m extremely lucky to have done well in Formula 1. Of course you can always do better when you think back, but when you do it you are limited by certain factors and you should not cry too much."

Spells with Liger and Jordan followed, before he called time on his Formula 1 career at Spa-Francorchamps in 1993. He then made further sportscar outings, notably securing a GT1 victory at Le Mans, but what about life away from the fast lane? Instead of relaxing on a beach, Boutsen has been at the helm of an aviation sales company since 1997. Dedicated to meeting the exacting needs of clientele, including the likes of Michael Schumacher and Mika Häkkinen, a similar adrenaline rush is experienced.

"The real start of it was because of my passion for aeroplanes and the fact that I had already bought and sold two or three aeroplanes for myself while I was racing," he explains. "In 1997 I decided to form a company in Monaco, because I got some business from a friend in Formula 1. Heinz-Harald Frentzen asked me to purchase a plane for him and that was the very first client I had. Then I worked for Keke Rosberg, Mika Häkkinen, Michael Schumacher, Guy Ligier and some other people in Formula 1.

"After a couple of years I decided to go abroad and see the rest of the world! I enjoy doing what I’m doing as much as I enjoyed F1 and racing as a whole. Every time I sell an aeroplane it’s like winning a race. We are successful because we are putting a lot of energy into it to get it right. The reward is very, very big when you do that."

Mike Seymour
Twitter: @MikeSeymourF1


Previous instalments: Mika Salo

related

Comments

Latest News
Full
Compact

  1. Tuesday 28 March 2017

  2. Video: Onboard with Rahal at Barber 05:24

    Video: Onboard with Rahal at Barber

    Ride onboard with Graham Rahal at the Barber Motorsports Park, ahead of next weekend's Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at the venue.

    Indy
  3. Monday 27 March 2017

  4. 17:02

    Follow GPUpdate on Instagram in 2017!

    F1
  5. Australian Grand Prix: Winners and Losers 16:22

    Australian Grand Prix: Winners and Losers

    Sebastian Vettel opened the season with victory at the Australian Grand Prix, setting up the prospect of a title battle with…

    F1
  6. Márquez: Tyre change was 'biggest mistake' 15:36

    Márquez: Tyre change was 'biggest mistake'

    Reigning World Champion Marc Márquez labelled a tyre change pre-race as the "biggest mistake" as he slipped away from…

    MotoGP
  7. Canamasas to test again for Trident 14:32

    Canamasas to test again for Trident

    GP2 veteran Sergio Canamasas will again conduct Formula 2 testing with Trident for the second pre-season group running in…

    F2
  8. Hülkenberg 'just couldn't overtake' Alonso 14:10

    Hülkenberg 'just couldn't overtake' Alonso

    Renault's Nico Hülkenberg was left frustrated after dropping behind McLaren-Honda rival Fernando Alonso on the opening lap of…

    F1
  9. Vandoorne: McLaren race finish a milestone 12:02

    Vandoorne: McLaren race finish a milestone

    Stoffel Vandoorne says that reaching the finish of the Australian Grand Prix represented a milestone for McLaren-Honda…

    F1
  10. Sauber baffled at no Magnussen penalty 11:42

    Sauber baffled at no Magnussen penalty

    Sauber Team Principal Monisha Kaltenborn blasted an "incomprehensible" decision by the stewards not to penalise Kevin Magnussen…

    F1
  11. Viñales thrilled with 'incredible' Qatar win 10:58

    Viñales thrilled with 'incredible' Qatar win

    Maverick Viñales hailed an "incredible feeling" as he claimed victory on his Yamaha debut at the season-opening Qatar Grand…

    MotoGP
  12. Formula E unveils revised Berlin track layout 10:39

    Formula E unveils revised Berlin track layout

    Formula E organisers have unveiled the revised circuit layout for this year's Berlin ePrix at Tempelhof Airport. The disused…

    FE
  13. Räikkönen rues difficult opening stint 10:24

    Räikkönen rues difficult opening stint

    Ferrari driver Kimi Räikkönen was left to rue a difficult opening stint to the Australian Grand Prix as he finished the first…

    F1
  14. Vettel, Hamilton relishing potential title fight 09:12

    Vettel, Hamilton relishing potential title fight

    Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton say they are relishing the prospect of a title battle against each…

    F1
  15. Video of the Day: Hamilton's hospitality tour 05:32

    Video of the Day: Hamilton's hospitality tour

    Lewis Hamilton takes you on a tour of Mercedes' hospitality unit at the Australian Grand Prix.

    F1
  16. Sunday 26 March 2017

  17. 20:48

    Latest MotoGP photos: Sunday at Losail

    MotoGP
  18. 20:47

    In full: Qatar Grand Prix race results

    MotoGP
  19. Viñales victorious in scintillating Qatar race 20:28

    Viñales victorious in scintillating Qatar race

    Maverick Viñales claimed victory on his Yamaha debut after prevailing against Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso during a thrilling…

    MotoGP
  20. 18:00

    Starting grid for the Qatar Grand Prix

    MotoGP
  21. 16:07

    Latest F1 photos: Sunday in Melbourne

    F1
  22. Clear: Australia win 'fell into our hands' 16:05

    Clear: Australia win 'fell into our hands'

    Ferrari's Head of Race Activities Jock Clear believes victory at the Australian Grand Prix "fell into our hands" after early…

    F1
  23. Giovinazzi lauds 'fantastic' F1 debut 12:26

    Giovinazzi lauds 'fantastic' F1 debut

    Sauber's Antonio Giovinazzi hailed a "fantastic" weekend as he claimed 12th place on his Formula 1 debut at the Australian Grand…

    F1
  24. Massa delighted to lead midfield charge 11:38

    Massa delighted to lead midfield charge

    Williams' Felipe Massa labelled himself as "really happy" as he led the charge in Formula 1's midfield by placing sixth at the…

    F1
  25. Sainz Jr. hails 'confidence boost' for STR 11:02

    Sainz Jr. hails 'confidence boost' for STR

    Carlos Sainz Jr. says Toro Rosso's performance at the Australian Grand Prix has acted as "confidence boost" for the team…

    F1
  26. Pérez reckons seventh place maximum 10:27

    Pérez reckons seventh place maximum

    Sergio Pérez believes he extracted the maximum from Force India's potential as he finished in seventh position at the…

    F1
  27. Wolff: Ferrari had quicker package in race 09:24

    Wolff: Ferrari had quicker package in race

    Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has conceded that Ferrari simply had the quicker package during the Australian Grand Prix, highlighting…

    F1
  28. Alonso: McLaren last 'in normal conditions' 09:08

    Alonso: McLaren last 'in normal conditions'

    Fernando Alonso fears that McLaren-Honda could be Formula 1's slowest team "in normal conditions", despite an encouraging…

    F1
  29. Ricciardo: Separate issues caused dramas 08:57

    Ricciardo: Separate issues caused dramas

    Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo says two separate issues on his RB13 compounded his dismal Australian Grand Prix weekend, as he…

    F1
  30. Marchionne praises Ferrari's winter push 08:36

    Marchionne praises Ferrari's winter push

    Ferrari President Sergio Marchionne has reacted to Sebastian Vettel's victory at the Australian Grand Prix with a statement…

    F1
  31. Hamilton 'ran out of grip' during first stint 08:29

    Hamilton 'ran out of grip' during first stint

    Lewis Hamilton conceded he simply "ran out of grip" during the first stint of the Australian Grand Prix, as he missed out on…

    F1
  32. Vettel 'over the moon' with Australia win 08:07

    Vettel 'over the moon' with Australia win

    Sebastian Vettel described himself as "over the moon" after he opened his and Ferrari's 2017 Formula 1 campaign with victory at…

    F1
  33. 07:39

    In full: Australian Grand Prix race results

    F1
  34. Vettel beats Hamilton to Australian GP win 07:36

    Vettel beats Hamilton to Australian GP win

    Sebastian Vettel beat Lewis Hamilton to victory in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, after going longer on a one-stop…

    F1
  35. 05:34

    Follow the Australian Grand Prix live!

    F1
  36. Williams gets suspended fine over gearbox 05:16

    Williams gets suspended fine over gearbox

    Williams has been handed a €25,000 fine, suspended for the entirety of the season, after failing to inform the FIA of its…

    F1
  37. 05:02

    Starting grid for the Australian Grand Prix

    F1
  38. Ricciardo hit with five-place grid penalty 03:27

    Ricciardo hit with five-place grid penalty

    Daniel Ricciardo has been dealt another blow at his home event in Australia, with Red Bull changing his gearbox after he crashed…

    F1
  39. Pirelli expects one-stop Australia race 03:12

    Pirelli expects one-stop Australia race

    Formula 1 tyre supplier Pirelli is expecting a one-stop strategy to emerge as the favoured approach by drivers for the…

    F1
  40. Mercedes braced for 'big fight' with Ferrari 02:44

    Mercedes braced for 'big fight' with Ferrari

    Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says the team is braced for a "big fight" with rival Ferrari ahead of the season-opening Australian…

    F1
  41. Alonso: McLaren 'better than expected' 02:32

    Alonso: McLaren 'better than expected'

    Fernando Alonso says that McLaren-Honda's Australian Grand Prix weekend has gone "better than we'd expected" after pre-season…

    F1
  42. Video of the Day: Formula 1 2017 explained 02:01

    Video of the Day: Formula 1 2017 explained

    Ahead of the season-opener, Lewis Hamilton provides a refresher on what's new in F1 in 2017.

    F1
  43. Saturday 25 March 2017

  44. 18:28

    Latest MotoGP photos: Saturday at Losail

    MotoGP
more news