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Peter Arundell was a promising British Formula One driver in the 1960s who raced for Team Lotus alongside legendary driver Jim Clark. Though Arundell showed flashes of brilliance, his career was cut tragically short by a devastating crash. Today, Arundell is largely forgotten, a footnote in F1 history. Yet for a brief, shining moment, Peter Arundell looked set to become a household name.

Early Racing Success

Peter John Arundell was born on November 8, 1933, in Ilford, Essex. After serving in the Royal Air Force, Arundell began racing an MG TC in local club events in 1957. He quickly progressed to a Lotus Eleven and by 1959 was winning races. His victory in the Formula Junior race at the 1959 Boxing Day Brands Hatch meeting caught the eye of Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus. Chapman signed Arundell to race for Team Lotus in 1960 alongside future world champion Jim Clark and Trevor Taylor.

Driving in Formula Junior, Arundell proved he could compete with his more illustrious teammates. He scored podium finishes and even outraced Clark and Taylor on occasion. After dominant seasons in 1962 and 1963 where he won multiple Formula Junior races, Arundell looked poised for a move up to Formula One.

Strong Debut with Team Lotus in F1

In 1964, Arundell finally got his chance in F1 as Clark’s teammate at Team Lotus. Driving the innovative but temperamental Lotus 25, Arundell made an immediate impact. In his first-ever World Championship Grand Prix in Monaco, Arundell finished 3rd, joining Clark on the podium.

Remarkably, in his second race at the Dutch Grand Prix, Arundell finished 3rd once again. Two podiums in his first two races suggested the 28-year-old Englishman could be a star of the future. And indeed, after running 4th at the French Grand Prix, Arundell was briefly 3rd in the 1964 World Championship behind Clark and Graham Hill.

Peter Arundell at Watkins Glen in a Lotus 33 – photo and info John Lacko via FB

The Crash that Changed Everything

But at a Formula Two race at Reims in 1964, Arundell’s career took a tragic turn. While battling for position, Arundell lost control and spun. American driver Richie Ginther, unable to avoid the spinning Lotus, slammed into Arundell at high speed.

Arundell was launched from his Lotus over 50 yards into the air. He crashed head-first into an embankment, breaking his arm, leg, and collarbone. The horrendous crash put Arundell in a coma for over two weeks and dashed his hopes of returning for the 1965 season.

Attempted Comeback with Lotus

Such was Chapman’s belief in Arundell, he promised to keep a race seat open for him in 1966. But when Arundell returned after missing most of two seasons through injury, he struggled to recapture his old form.

Driving the experimental Lotus 43 chassis with the infamous BRM H16 engine, Arundell suffered chronic mechanical failures. When able to finish races, he lagged behind the leaders. Out of F1 for 18 months and still recovering from devastating injuries, Arundell was but a shadow of his former self.

At season’s end, he had scored just a solitary point. Despite his podium heroics on debut for Lotus, F1 teams quickly forgot about Peter Arundell. He never raced in F1 again after 1966.

Peter Arundell shares a joke while the podium celebrations take place – Rainer W. Schlegelmilch

Life After F1 for Peter Arundell

Though only 33, with no F1 offers forthcoming, Arundell was forced to retire from racing altogether in 1969. He later emigrated to the United States, where he set up a successful software company.

Arundell eventually returned to England, but never returned to the F1 paddock. He died in 2009 at the age of 75 after an extended illness.

To motorsport historians, Peter Arundell is little more than a footnote – a shooting star across the F1 skyline. But for a brief period, it appeared he could soar into the pantheon of British F1 legends.

His heartbreaking crash at Reims changed the trajectory of Arundell’s life and career forever. One wonders what heights he could have climbed had fate been kinder that fateful day in 1964.

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