Axon's Automotive Anorak: Grand Prix driver's endorsements

16th January 2018
Gary Axon

Although few petrolheads will have been surprised by the pre-Christmas reveal of McLaren’s long-rumoured new hypercar, some may have been rather more shocked by the model name chosen by the Woking-based supercar maker for what it is claiming to be its most extreme new car to date - Senna.


McLaren has chosen the Senna name for its latest track-focused beast to honour the three-time Formula 1 World Champion Ayrton Senna.

McLaren states that a portion of the model’s profits will go to the Ayrton Senna Foundation set up in his name, with all 500 examples being produced sold instantly at a price of £750,000 each.

Although Senna’s name is being used posthumously by McLaren, a number of other post-war Grand Prix Drivers, both dead and alive, have also had their names applied to various car models to add excitement, sporting prowess and showroom sizzle to often humdrum vehicles. Here are dozen-or-so other examples;

Courtesy of Car and Classic.

Courtesy of Car and Classic.

Jack Brabham

The Australian three-time Formula 1 World Champion added his name to the special 1967 Vauxhall Viva HB ‘Brabham’, plus the Viva-derived Holden Torano HB down under. Brabham also ran a tuning business, getting more power out of humble British family saloons such as the Triumph Herald and Hillman Imp. He also promoted the Sunbeam Alpine S2 through a series of print ads. 

Emerson Fittipaldi

The charismatic two-time Formula 1 World Champion and Indy 500 and CART winner’s first production car association was with the Brazilian-built Fiat 147 hatch, which his tuning business raced, and sold road-going examples under his name. He also later added his moniker to the Spanish market-only SEAT 127, the range-topping Chevrolet Omega (the Brazilian version of the executive Vauxhall Carlton) and more recently, the Pininfarina Fittipaldi EF7, which made its British debut in the Michelin Supercar Paddock at last year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed.


Michael Schumacher

The legendary seven-time F1 World Champion and huge Fiat 500 enthusiast -Michael Schumacher – gave his name whilst driving for Scuderia Ferrari to two now increasingly collectable Fiat Sporting hot hatch models, the Seicento and Bravo. He also starred in European-wide TV ads for Fiat’s range of light commercial vehicles, such as the Ducato.


Niki Lauda

In the mid-1970s, the North American Alfa Romeo importer convinced three-time F1 World Champion to endorse a special edition Niki Lauda Spider, sold with some rather gaudy black ‘go faster’ stripes, including the Austrian driver’s signature. Lauda went on to become a global brand ambassador for Alfa Romeo in the late 1970s, as well as promoting a special edition Fiat X1/9, after being given an example of the capable mid-engine targa as his daily driver.


Stirling Moss       

Although British racing hero Stirling Moss has a light-hearted reputation for endorsing a number of motoring-related products (car accessories, insurance, and so on) his name has only officially been applied to three cars. This trio consists of the current magnesium-bodied continuation Lister Knobbly Stirling Moss Edition (announced in late 2016, as a homage to his famous Lister race win), the 2009 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren Stirling Moss, with just 75 examples of the 300 SLR car car-inspired barchetta built, and most bizarrely, the Australian Chrysler Valiant VG Stirling Moss Special, offered in 1971 with 100 examples only, featuring a special interior trim, side body stripe and an American-sourced Hemi-branded six-cylinder motor from a Dodge pick-up truck.

Clay Regazzoni

The hard-charging Swiss Formula 1 driver put his name to a special Regazzoni Edition of much-mocked Nissan Cherry-bodied Alfa Romeo Arna Ti in 1986, the model being spruced-up with additional colour-coded front and rear spoilers, plus the obligatory mid-1980s side stripes.


Carroll Shelby

Legendary Texan racer (and chicken farmer) Carroll Shelby famously became personally involved with the creation of the AC/Shelby Cobra, as well as early Mustang-based Shelby GT350 models. He also put his name to other American performance Ford models, as well as various mid-1980s Dodge variants, and even a failed update of the AC 3000 ME. In the mid-2000s Shelby launched his own bespoke performance coupe, known as the Series 1.

Jo Siffert

The Swiss importer of the tiny French Secma F16 sports car named a version in honour of the Swiss Grand Prix driver Jo Siffert – affectionately known as ‘Seppi’ – with his family’s blessing in 2016.


Sebastian Vettel

Four-time Formula 1 Word Champion Sebastian Vettel’s name appeared on a special performance edition of the Infiniti FX50 SUV as part of the Japanese premium brand’s partnership with the Red Bull team that Vettel was driving for at the time.

Philippe Streiff       

Former French Grand Prix driver Philippe Streiff bought a Belgian Gillet Vertigo coupe after his 1989 Rio testing crash, modified extensively for the now quadriplegic F1 star to self-drive. Increasingly Streiff became more directly involved with Gillet, now being a shareholder in the Company, which has offered a special Philippe Streiff version of the Vertigo.


Alex Zanardi

Despite Ayrton Senna famously being highly involved in the chassis development and dynamics of the original, first-generation 1990 Honda/Acura NSX, Honda’s premium North American brand, Acura, offered just 50 examples of the special Acura NSX Alex Zanardi Edition in the USA in 1999. 

Jo Schlesser

To honour the passing of his great French Formula 1 and sports car driver friend Jo Schlesser, race car constructor and rugby legend Guy Ligier named all of his road-going and race cars ‘JS’ in Schlesser’s memory, from the mid-engined JS2 Maserati V6-powered coupe of 1971, right through to the contrasting JS5 49cc microcar, and the current JS50 voiture sans permis.


Denis ‘Denny’ Hulme 

The family of the Kiwi ex-Formula 1 Driver’s Champion of 1967 gave their permission for the Hulme name to be applied to the striking F1 supercar, the prototype of which made its world debut at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2006. Sadly, the promising Corvette-powered 7-litre Hulme amounted to nothing, as its main creator passed away a couple of years ago, leaving he supercar project in limbo.

Vic Elford             

Former sportscar, rallying and Grand Prix driver Vic Elford tuned classic Range Rovers and first-series Mazda RX7s in the 1980s, sold under the Elford brand name.


The names of some important pre-war grand drivers and Le Mans winners have also been used post-war, such as Bugatti with the modern-era Veyron and Chiron – both honouring pre-war Bugatti drivers Pierre Veyron and Louis Chiron – plus 1920s Bentley Boy, Tim Birkin, with his surname used by a South African Lotus Seven-inspired roadster producer. 

Although they or their families may not have given their names to any particular car models, other post-war Formula 1 drivers have promoted car companies and their model through advertising endorsements. These include Jackie Stewart (e.g. Ford Capri II TV ad), Jim Clark (print ads for the Ford Corsair and Cortina, plus the 1960s Lotus Elan) and James Hunt (the Vauxhall Chevette and 1977 range).

Nigel Mansell appeared with F1 commentary master Murray Walker and Monty Python comic Eric Idle in an amusing TV advert for the Austin Metro TV, with ‘our Nige’ also later starring with Brazilian GP ace Nelson Piquet/Nigel for an American 2015 Ford Fusion television commercial. More recently, ex-Mercedes Grand Prix drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have featured in TV commercials for Mercedes-Benz, including the AMG A45 and E-Class.

Even important none-racing Grand Prix characters have not been exempt from advertising promotions. In the early 1970s both print and TV ads for the Fiat 128 in Italy and the USA used none-other than Enzo Ferrari to promote capable family saloon that he chose for his daily driver, with gifted F1 engineer Gordon Murray being used by D&H for the Mini-based Midas kit car that he chose drive and admired.

  • McLaren

  • Brabham

  • emerson fittipaldi

  • michael schumacher

  • niki lauda

  • shelby

  • sebastian vettel

  • Alex Zanardi

  • denny hulme

  • vic elford

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