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F1 Drivers and Road Cars – Who Helped Develop What?

Despite being sacked by Mercedes and replaced by Lewis Hamilton, the German car maker reckons that Michael Schumacher is still a worthy asset to retain for a while.

Yesterday, Mercedes-AMG F1 team boss Ross Brawn revealed that the seven-times F1 World Champion will stay on at Mercedes-Benz, as an “ambassador” and potential development driver for the road car division.
Whilst the prospect of the most successful F1 driver to date tinkering with future Benz models is enticing, though, it did subliminally ask this question: have any other F1 drivers been a test driver of sorts over the years?
Let’s find out, shall we?


Sebastian Vettel & Infiniti

With the Japanese luxury car maker being one of Red Bull Racing’s main sponsors, it perhaps isn’t a surprise that Infinit’s started to cash in on it’s association with the top-tier F1 outfit and it’s star asset, Sebastian Vettel.
Whilst us here at carwow are willing to put money on more ‘Vettel Edition’ Infiniti products in the future, so far there’s only been one: the limited-run performance variant of the FX50 SUV.
However, despite being tweaked by the three-time champion himself – amongst other requirements, Vettel was an advocate of the car having more power, a faster top speed for blasts down the Autobahn and stiffer suspension – most of the people who’ve driven the FX50 Vettel Edition reckon it’s not different enough from the regular car.
Especially considering it cost over £100,000 brand new. And they had the cheek to charge nearly £5,000 for the optional rear spoiler.
Moving on…

Ayrton Senna & Honda

Though Senna spent most of his F1 career at McLaren, there isn’t much evidence to suggest he had that much of an input with the ballistic road car the Woking-based outfit were developing at the time, the iconic F1.
But the late, great Ayrton did spend some time as a road car test driver: as Honda was McLaren’s engine supplier in the late 1980s, Senna was asked by the Japanese car maker if he could help fine-tune the suspension settings for the NSX supercar.
What was intended to be last minute minor adjustments, though, eventually led to Senna requesting the entire chassis to be comprehensively reinforced!
Also – though this isn’t 100% confirmed – it’s said that Senna also had a minor role in the development of the fourth-gen Honda Prelude. 
Which, if the Senna association is indeed confirmed and verified as fact, is perhaps worth considering if you’re on the lookout for an affordable, front-wheel drive coupe in the classifieds…

Michael Schumacher & Ferrari

Mercedes may want to keep Schumi so he can tinker with their road cars, but being an automotive development driver isn’t exactly an alien concept to Herr Schumacher.
Alongside his work with the Scuderia Ferrari F1 team, the German driver was also instructed to fettle with some of the company’s most legendary supercars to date.
Topping the list is his work on the ‘race car for the road’ that was the magnificent Enzo. But that’s not all: Schumacher also plaid a part in sorting out the track-only version it spawned, the FXX, along with the 430 Scuderia.
With a portfolio like that, it’s no surprise that Mercedes plans to keep Michael Schumacher on the payroll!

Jonathan Palmer & McLaren and Caterham

Whilst we can’t say for certain if the aforementioned Ayrton Senna did indeed work on the McLaren F1 supercar, we do know that the team’s test driver at the time, Jonathan Palmer, did.
Whilst some of our readers might remember him most for being the BBC’s temporary F1 commentator when James Hunt succumbed to a heart attack, Palmer did do quite a bit of development work on the F1 supercar. 
Indeed, it was the British driver who put the Macca through it’s paces around Nardo’s huge banked oval circuit, topping out at a not-exactly-shabby 231mph.
Palmer’s role as a development driver doesn’t end there, though: in 1992, he put his name to the manic, 250bhp Caterham 7 JPE, which at the time broke all the records at the time with it’s timed runs from 0-60mph (3.4 seconds) and 0-100-0mph runs.
Oh, and Jonathan Palmer also has a son called Jolyon, who’s currently making impressive progress in the GP2 championship, one of the feeder series for F1. 
So, if history is to repeat itself and see a new generation of Palmer in Formula One, there’s always the chance we’ll see some more manic road cars with that surname associated with them…

Walter Rorhl & Porsche

Okay, we’ll admit it – Walter Rohrl isn’t exactly a Formula One driver. A quick search on Google suggests he’s never driven an F1 car in his life, let alone in an official, FIA-approved Grand Prix.
But he is a two-time World Rally Championship, who’s perhaps most famous for piloting monstrously powerful Lancia 037s and Audi S1 Quattros to victory along the tight-and-twisty route that makes up the Monte Carlo Rally.
And if that’s not enough, Niki Lauda dubbed him a “Genius on Wheels”. Praise doesn’t come much higher than that…
Upon retiring from the WRC in 1987, Rohrl was picked up by Porsche as a test driver, and is currently one of the car company’s most experienced senior test drivers.
He’s also set the Nurburgring lap times in various Porsche road cars, with the 7:28 he registered in the Carrera GT being the fastest time he’s ever set in a road-legal Porsche.
God only knows what he’ll be able to pull out of the bag once he’s given the keys to the 918 Spyder…
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