Before they were famous

| 5 Mar 2015

The greatest names in motorsport have been immortalised in some of the most instantly recognisable and iconic images of the 20th century, many of which have graced the pages of Classic & Sports Car over the past 33 years. But, as is so often the case, taking the path less travelled can offer a much more interesting insight into the lives of our heroes. 

This month, Classic & Sports Car takes you to the beginnings of careers, before fame and fortune, to a place of pure competition. We've trawled through the LAT archives to bring you candid images of 11 of the biggest names in motorsport from before they were famous, and at the very start of their adventures. 

Copyright LAT Photographic


Stirling Moss' father was an enthusiastic racer, so it was perhaps no surprise that his son started early. Here, an 18-year-old Stirling is racing a Cooper-Jap 500 MkII at Silverstone in 1948 – his first year as a professional driver. The 'Boy Wonder', as he was dubbed, also competed in hillclimbs with this car, setting the scene for a career that brought success in various motorsport disciplines.



Future F1 world champion Jim Clark took part in his first hillclimb at the age of 20, and just two years later he was driving a Jaguar D-type for the Border Reivers team. He is pictured in 1958 with (left) Jock McBain and (right) his friend and early mentor Ian Scott-Watson. 



This wonderfully intimate photograph shows a young Damon Hill and sister Samantha with their father, two-times F1 world champion Graham, at the 1967 Italian Grand Prix at Monza. 

Damon went on to follow in Graham's footsteps and reach the pinnacle of motor racing, winning the title with Williams in 1996. He shared the same helmet design as his father, too – eight white oar blades on a blue background – that symbolised the London Rowing Club, for which Graham rowed in the 1950s. 



James Hunt started his racing career in Minis – his first one spectacularly failed scrutineering at his supposed debut event – and progressed to Formula Ford for 1968. He won once that year and took another victory in ’69 – he is pictured at Mallory Park in March of that year – before graduating to Formula Three. 



Senna joined the ranks of Formula One's elite in 1984, but three years earlier his future in motor racing hung in the balance. After graduating from karts, he began campaigning a Van Diemen RF81 and won the Formula Ford 1600 championship (he is shown on his way to victory at Brands Hatch). However, at the end of that year he decided to retire and return to Brazil under pressure from his family. He was back for ’82, however, minus his wife Liliane and now fully dedicated once again to his racing career.



Gilles Villeneuve's flame burned short and bright, as with so many beloved by the public. Bar one race with McLaren – his debut at the 1977 British Grand Prix – he spent his entire Formula One career with Ferrari. His spectacular style earned him six wins – often in cars that had no right to be at the front – as well as a legion of fans, before his death during practice for the '82 Belgian Grand Prix.

His early racing endeavours, however, were spent at the controls of a snowmobile in his native Quebec before making the jump to single-seaters. In 1975, he finished second at Mont-Tremblant, Canada in his March 75B-Ford BDA (pictured). The following year, he won the Formula Atlantic championship, bringing him to the attention of F1 team bosses. 



Lewis Hamilton's name was being mentioned among racing folk long before he burst on to the Formula One scene in 2007 – almost winning the championship that year before claiming it in ’08.

His association with McLaren stretched back to the mid-1990s when, as the Open Karting Champion, he approached team boss Ron Dennis at the Autosport Awards and said that one day he would like to drive for McLaren. The team backed him from 1998, and he is pictured at the Awards that year having won the European and World Karting Championships.



Ron Dennis is best known to modern racing fans as the man who turned around McLaren's fortunes in the early 1980s. He has overseen constructors'  and drivers' championships with Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakkinen and latterly Lewis Hamilton – but his motorsport roots run much deeper. 

This photograph captures a youthful Dennis during his time as a mechanic with Brabham, and shows him deep in conversation with team founder Jack at the German Grand Prix in 1969. For many years, it was thought that Dennis cost Brabham victory at the 1970 British GP by leaving the mixture setting on full rich – Jack ran out of fuel on the last lap. Only many years later did fellow mechanic Nick Goozee confess that it was him... 



A controversial figure in recent years, Ecclestone has been around motor racing for most of his adult life. He started as a driver – here at Brands Hatch in 1951 aboard his Cooper – before acting as manager for Stuart Lewis-Evans and, later, Jochen Rindt. After buying the Brabham team in 1971, he became more involved with the commercial side of Formula One as the sport turned into a made-for-TV business.



The Rodriguez brothers – Ricardo and Pedro – were child prodigies. In 1958, 16-year-old Ricardo was refused an entry at Le Mans, where the 18-year-old Pedro is shown aboard his Ferrari 500TR chasing the 250TR of Wolfgang Von Trips. The brothers shared a Ferrari at La Sarthe in 1961 and, after Ricardo's death in the ’62 Mexican GP, winning the 24 Hours was one of Pedro's main ambitions. He achieved it in 1968. 



Not for Martin Brundle the established route to Formula One via karting. The future Grand Prix star and 1998 World Sportscar Champion started out in grasstrack racing, progressing to hot-rods and touring cars. He is pictured in 1981, the year in which he partnered the legendary Stirling Moss in Team BP Audi. 

Brundle later said that his only goal for that year was to blow Moss away, admitting that he should instead have been soaking up as much information and advice as possible from the great man.