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There have been a total of 25 South African F1 drivers over the years, with 17 of them having started at least one Grand Prix. While only a handful managed to score points or podium finishes, the nation still holds the record for most F1 drivers from the African continent and rank 9th in the world, ahead of countries such as Japan, Australia, Netherlands or Finland.

Jody Scheckter – The Best of South African F1 Drivers

By far the most successful of South African F1 drivers was Jody Scheckter. Driving for teams like McLaren, Tyrrell, Wolf and Ferrari between 1972-1980, Scheckter recorded 10 race wins and 33 podium finishes across his 113 race entries.

He won his only Drivers’ Championship in 1979 with Ferrari, scoring 51 points with 3 wins. This made him the only African driver to win the title. He is also his country’s only F1 race winner.

Scheckter took South Africa’s first F1 pole position and fastest lap as well. His career saw many incidents but he matured into a calculating driver later on. He drove the innovative 6-wheeled Tyrrell P34 to the car’s only win in 1976.

Tony Maggs

Tony Maggs participated in 25 F1 races between 1961-1965, scoring 26 points with 3 podium finishes. Driving for the likes of Cooper and Lotus, he achieved consecutive 2nd place results at the 1962 French GP and 1963 French GP.

He moved to BRM briefly in 1964 and even ran his own Reg Parnell Racing team in his last F1 race – the 1965 South African GP. One of South Africa’s earliest F1 drivers, Maggs had success in other formulas like F2 before retiring after a fatal spectator crash in a national event.

Other Notable Drivers

While Jody Scheckter and Tony Maggs are South Africa’s most accomplished F1 drivers, there have been over a dozen others who raced in Formula One:

  • Ian Scheckter, Jody’s brother, started 20 races between 1974-1977 but never scored a point
  • Dave Charlton is statistically the 4th most experienced South African in F1, starting 11 races across 8 seasons
  • Eddie Keizan entered 3 GPs in the mid 1970s without success before leaving the sport
  • Guy Tunmer participated in a single race – the 1975 British GP for Bernie Ecclestone’s team

Additional names like John Love, Doug Serrurier, Peter de Klerk have also represented South Africa in F1 over the years across a handful of starts each. Most failed to finish a race, much less score points or podiums.

South Africa’s drivers in F1

South Africa may not have a Driver’s Champion besides Jody Scheckter but it still holds a few important distinctions:

  • Most Formula One drivers from Africa – 25 in total
  • 9th highest number of F1 drivers by nation
  • Ahead of racing powerhouses like the Netherlands, Japan, Australia in terms of number of drivers

Notable teams like Tyrrell, Wolf, Ferrari have had South African drivers representing them through history. With his championship win, legendary status and post-racing success, Jody Scheckter remains an inspiration.

Even though the nation lacks an active F1 driver since 1980, its motor racing heritage persists through Australia’s Oscar Piastri whose mother is South African.

Memorable Races & Cars

Besides scoring South Africa’s only F1 wins to date, Scheckter and Maggs also have other firsts and milestones to their names:

  • Jody Scheckter won the 1974 Swedish GP, giving South Africa its first F1 victory
  • He won the 1977 Argentine GP, giving new entrants Wolf its debut win
  • Scheckter is the only driver to win a race in the unique 6-wheeled Tyrrell P34
  • Tony Maggs finished 2nd at the 1962 French GP on debut for new works team Cooper
  • Maggs repeated the feat next year, with another French GP 2nd place for Cooper

In a championship career spanning over a decade, Scheckter drove for British teams like McLaren, Tyrrell and Walter Wolf Racing before clinching the 1979 title with Ferrari.

The 312T4 car he drove to the championship was pioneering in its use of ground effects, giving drivers like Gilles Villeneuve race wins too.

Long Forgotten Nation

South Africa has a rich history in motorsports besides Formula One too. Many homegrown drivers found success racing sedans and sports cars since the 1930s across categories like Formula Atlantic (Ian Scheckter), CanAm (P.J. Jones) and World Rally Championship (Sarel van der Merwe).

The Kyalami circuit near Johannesburg hosted 20 World Championship F1 races from 1967-1993, with names like De Klerk, Maggs, Scheckter and Charlton participating in their home event.

With its Grand Prix and roster of international drivers, South Africa has contributed to Formula One significantly for a nation that hasn’t seen a driver compete in over 40 years now.

With no hope for a new South African F1 driver in the near future, and the Kyalami Circuit being in ruin, there is litte hope for South Africa to make a comeback into the world of F1. But having a figure such as Jody Scheckter one day may insipire some young individuals and give a fresh breeze of talent from South Africa.

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