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Jonathan Palmer

Full Name:
Dr Jonathan Charles Palmer
7th November 1956 (Age 63)
Lewisham, London
Most recent race (in database):

A qualified doctor, championship winner and Grand Prix driver for seven years, Jonathan Palmer had an impressive and successful history in the sport even before he became a circuit owner and promoter. A determined and driven man, those qualities made Palmer a success in business and helped rescue Brands Hatch and its associated venues.

Background and early racing career

Also the son of a doctor, he was studying medicine when he started racing an Austin-Healey Sprite. Palmer showed well enough in Formula Ford 1600 but it was graduation to Formula 3 in 1981 that persuaded him to suspend his medical career. He steered his West Surrey Engineering Ralt RT3-Toyota to victory in the opening four rounds and beat the highly-rated Thierry Tassin and Raul Boesel to the British title.

Now regarded as a talent to watch, Palmer drove for the works Ralt-Honda Formula 2 team in 1982 and 1983. He finished third at Donington Park that first season before dominating in 1983 during which he won six times to beat team-mate Mike Thackwell to the European F2 Championship.

Formula 1 debut for Williams

Also Williams test driver that year, he made his Formula 1 debut in the 1983 European GP at Brands Hatch when driving a third Williams FW08C-Ford. He out-qualified experienced team-mate Jacques Laffite and finished 13th after a cautious race.

Determined to be a full-time GP driver in 1984, Palmer raised enough sponsorship to drive a RAM-Hart. However, that and a subsequent campaign with the Zakspeed turbo did little apart from keep his name on the F1 entry list as both teams struggled.

Sports car success and switch to Tyrrell

He also raced in sports cars at the time and won the 1984 British Aerospace 1000Kms at Brands Hatch with Richard Lloyd’s Porsche 956GTi. Second in the 1985 Le Mans 24 Hours – a race he may have won if regular co-driver Jan Lammers had not left the team shortly before the event – his year was interrupted when he broke his foot during the Spa 1000Kms.

Another F1 season with Zakspeed followed but Palmer’s best opportunity among the sport’s elite came in 1987 when he joined Tyrrell. He finished fifth at Monaco to score points for the first time on his 46th GP start. A career-best fourth in Australia, he ended the season by winning the one-off Jim Clark Trophy for drivers of normally aspirated (as opposed to turbo)-powered cars.

Eleventh in the overall championship, he remained with Tyrrell for another two seasons scoring the occasional points and qualified a career-best ninth for the 1989 French GP. However, Jean Alesi made his spectacular debut for the team that day and Palmer was left without a drive at the end of the season.

Subsequent career

He joined McLaren in 1990 as test driver – a role he fulfilled for three seasons while racing in sports cars and saloons. Seventh in the 1991 British Touring Car Championship for BMW, he established PalmerSport as a premier corporate entertainment concern. He also replaced the late James Hunt as BBC Television’s GP analyst. Palmer lost that role when ITV took over the British F1 broadcast rights in 1997 but business was booming.

In addition to PalmerSport, he launched the low-cost Palmer-Audi single-seater category in 1998 and managed the career of its inaugural champion Justin Wilson thereafter. Motor Sport Vision was formed in 2004 to acquire and run Brands Hatch, Cadwell Park, Snetterton and Oulton Park and Palmer breathed new life into old venues. He then won the FIA tender to run a new F2 Championship in 2009 – the category following the same single make, shared resources model as FPA.