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Ireland has produced five Formula One drivers over the years, with Derek Daly being the most successful among them. While Irish F1 drivers have not achieved race wins or championships, they have scored points, started races, and represented their nation well against the best drivers in the world.

Joe Kelly – Ireland’s First F1 Driver

The first Irish F1 driver was Joe Kelly. He participated in the first two ever Formula One World Championship Grand Prix in 1950 – the British Grand Prix. Kelly drove a privately entered Alta in both races, but failed to finish or be classified in either.

Derek Daly – Ireland’s Most Successful F1 Driver

Undoubtedly the most successful Formula One driver from Ireland has been Derek Daly. After winning the British Formula 3 title in 1977, Daly debuted in F1 with Hesketh Racing in 1978. He raced through the turbo era in F1, driving for teams like Ensign, Tyrrell, Theodore, March and Williams.

In a career spanning 1978 to 1982, Daly started 49 races and scored a total of 15 championship points. This makes him the highest points scorer for Ireland in Formula One. His best finishes came in the 1980 Argentine Grand Prix and the 1980 British Grand Prix, where Daly finished 4th in both races.

Two of Daly’s most memorable Formula One moments came in Monaco. In the 1980 race, he had a huge crash on the opening lap, vaulting over three other cars. Then in 1982, Daly found himself in contention for a shock win in the closing laps before his gearbox failed.

Derek Daly driving his RAM March Ford 811 F1 at the 1981 British GP on Silverstone. Source: Anthony Fosh,

Daly’s F1 Career Highlights

  • Starts: 49
  • Points: 15
  • Best Finish: 4th (1980 Argentine GP, 1980 British GP)
  • Podiums: 0
  • Poles: 0

After his time in F1 ended, Daly went on to have a successful career in CART racing in the United States. He had one podium finish and scored over 100 championship points in CART. Daly also raced in IMSA sports cars, winning the 12 Hours of Sebring twice driving for Nissan.

Other Irish F1 Drivers

There have been three other Irish drivers who competed sporadically in Formula One besides Joe Kelly and Derek Daly:

David Kennedy

David Kennedy raced in Formula One in 1980 with the Shadow team. He failed to qualify for 7 of the 8 races he entered, only making the grid for the Spanish Grand Prix. Kennedy was unable to start that race though, which was eventually stripped of World Championship status.

Tommy Byrne

Byrne participated in 5 Grand Prix from 1982-1983, entering races for Theodore Racing and ATS Racing. He qualified for two races but was unable to finish either.

Ralph Firman

The most recent Irish F1 driver was Ralph Firman, who drove for Jordan in 2003. Firman started 14 races and scored a single championship point with an 8th place in Spain. That point was the first by an Irish driver since Derek Daly in 1982.

The Best Irish Formula One Driver

While other Irish drivers have raced sporadically in F1, Derek Daly clearly stands out when looking at the history. His 15 career points makes him Ireland’s most successful F1 driver, in a period where scoring points consistently was an achievement.

Daly drove in F1 during a highly competitive turbo era against champions like Lauda, Piquet and Rosberg. The fact that he managed two 4th place finishes during this time proves his talent.

His results may not seem impressive compared to today’s F1 superstars like Hamilton and Verstappen. But given the resources and smaller talent pool back then, Daly maximized his potential.

Why Derek Daly is Ireland’s Best F1 Driver

  • Most starts of any Irish driver – 49
  • Most career points by an Irish driver – 15
  • Best finish for Ireland – Two 4th places
  • Showed competitiveness in the mighty turbo era
  • Had longevity from 1978 to 1982

While an Irish driver is yet to stand on the F1 podium, Derek Daly has come closest so far. He was the cream of the crop for Ireland on the Formula One grid during his stint in the sport.

New driver on the horizon

For a small nation like Ireland to have multiple drivers compete in Formula One, even if briefly, demonstrates that talent can come from anywhere. Derek Daly beating the odds to score points in F1 proves nothing is impossible with hard work.

While these drivers raced decades ago, their achievements contributed to Formula One history and deserve recognition. We should appreciate their talents rather than just statistically comparing them with today’s champions operating in a more advanced F1 world.

Many Irish F1 fans keep their eyes open for Alex Dunne, a young talent who joined Formula 3 in 2024 and is hoping to pierce his way through all the way to F1. Although the first couple of races didn’t go great for Dunne, he showed great race pace and a lot of potential for podium finishes later in the season.

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