Éadbhard Ó'Caoimhín (Formula 1 Driver)

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Éadbhard Ó'Caoimhín
Nationality Flag of Ireland svg.png Irish
Born 9th May 1954
Dublin, Ireland
Current Team Ligier
Car Number 2
Former Teams N/A
Races 19
Championships 0
Victories 2
Podiums 6
Points 66
Pole Positions 0
Fastest Laps 0
First Race 1979 Argentinian Grand Prix
First Victory 1979 Argentinian Grand Prix
Last Victory 1979 Austrian Grand Prix
Last Race 1980 Brazilian Grand Prix
Best Finish 2nd (1979)


Éadbhard Ó'Caoimhín (b. 9th May 1954 in Dublin, Ireland) is a retired Irish racing driver. He is remembered primarily for his illustrious Formula One career, in particular his run to 2nd in the Formula One Driver's Championship in his debut season of 1979. However, domestically he is also known for his sports broadcasting career, having taken up commentary duties on racing events for national broadcaster RTÉ following his retirement from Formula One. Ó'Caoimhín holds the distinction of being one of only three drivers to win their first Formula One event, at the 1979 Argentinian Grand Prix, the others being Giuseppe Farina and Giancarlo Baghetti.

Early life

Ó'Caoimhín, an only child, was raised by his mother in Dun Laoghaire, a wealthy Dublin suburb which lies on the sea. The late '50s and '60s were a time when large parts of the country were steeped in poverty which led in rural areas to a paucity of cars. Ó'Caoimhín remembered, in a 1979 television interview, summer trips to his cousins in Galway, where he would sit on a wall for hours on end waiting for cars to go by. It was on one such trip, in the summer of 1968, that Ó'Caoimhín first got behind the wheel of a car, his uncle's prized Volkswagen Beetle. Instantly getting to grips with the controls while driving through a newly harvested field, the next day he entered into a local time trial event on a closed public road, which he won handsomely despite being significantly less experienced than his competitors. Soon, despite only being 14, he was regularly entering similar time trial events back at home, as well as track events on the newly opened Mondello Park.

Formula Three

At the age of 17, while in his final year at school, Ó'Caoimhín made the difficult decision to emigrate to France in order to pursue his single seater career. Despite being an accomplished student he did not complete the Leaving Certificate university entry exams, instead taking part in the 1971 French Formula Three championship. The usual route for prospective Irish drivers was to take the well-trodden path to Britain, so Ó'Caoimhín's decision to go to France was a brave one. Despite being up to 10 years younger than his rivals, he placed 5th in the championship, scoring 1 win and 4 other podiums. Unfortunately, despite this promising beginning to his career outside Ireland, the next few years were less successful, finishing 12th and 15th in the championship in '72 and '73 respectively and not managing to win a single race. Believing himself to have stagnated, and forced into a move by the cancellation of the French F3 series, he moved sideways into British Formula 3 for 1974, still aged only 20.

He enjoyed a fruitful season in 1974, placing 2nd behind a dominating Brian Henton, and winning 2 races. Always looking to improve and progress, he took this as evidence that he was sufficiently prepared to move on to European Formula 2 in 1975, a series which he had already dipped his toe into in '74.

European Formula 2

In F2 Ó'Caoimhín joined up with the Équipe Elf Switzerland, a team that usually employed only French drivers, using contacts formed during his spell racing in France. As team-mate to F1 driver Jean-Pierre Jabouille and future F1 team owner Gérard Larrousse, he experienced a steep learning curve, only scoring 2 points in the entire season. Despite this setback, however, he was retained in the team due to both his previous promise, and funding procured from the Guinness company. 1976 proved significantly more productive for Ó'Caoimhín, winning his first race in the formula at the Salzburgring, and ultimately finishing 3rd, while team-mate Jabouille won the title outright.

1977 was a defining year in Ó'Caoimhín's career; still only 23, he had been bouncing around European motor-racing without making a splash for nearly 6 years. All that changed however as he blitzed the competition, his Elf Switzerland team running only one car due to lack of funds. Out of the 13 races Ó'Caoimhín won 7 of them, and was on the podium for 3 others. He had the championship sewn up as the series went to Donington Park for the final round; the race should have been a victory parade, as Ó'Caoimhín proudly claimed his title and marched on to a Formula One seat. Unfortunately, as ever, it didn't work out like that. Starting from the middle of the grid due to issues in qualifying, he was caught up in a massive incident with Bernard de Dryver on the first lap, resulting in extensive injuries to his lower legs. The race was stopped as it took more than an hour to extracate Ó'Caoimhín from the tangled wreckage of his and de Dryver's cars. He was the European Formula 2 champion, but it seemed as if his career might have to be put on hold.

Formula One

1979-1980: Ligier

Instead of taking up his seat with Ligier for the 1978 season, Ó'Caoimhín was forced into a year of physical therapy and recuperation. He took the opportunity of his year out of racing to finally pursue a university degree, graduating after an intense year with a degree in History and Politics from Trinity College Dublin. Late in the year he participated in a test session for Ligier, who had only run one car, for Jacques Laffite, for the season after Ó'Caoimhín was ruled out due to injury. After putting in competitive times Guy Ligier decided Ó'Caoimhín was sufficiently recovered to drive in the 1979 season.

As Formula One embarked on a season of remarkable change, it was only appropriate that the first race acted as a celebration of the new. Spaniard Callum McAllister took pole at Argentina, while Ó'Caoimhín took advantage of high attrition in the leading pack to win his debut race from 7th on the grid. The win was only Ligier's second in Grand Prix racing, and even Laffite, who had endured 3 seasons in the midfield, couldn't begrudge the Irishman his win.

After that dream start, Ó'Caoimhín's season came crashing back to earth. In Brazil he took his first front row start, but an unfortunate engine problem took him out of the race just before the end. In Kyalami he had an underwhelming weeked, qualifying well back in 10th and retiring again when his engine blew while team-mate Laffite was victorious. At Long Beach he qualified an impressive 3rd, but yet another engine malfunction put paid to his chances. In Spain he finally took his first points since Argentina, placing 6th after a poor qualifying session left him down in 13th.

The Belgian GP at the famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit was the second race of Ó'Caoimhín's season which could be, and was, described as 'miraculous'. Unable to find any grip in qualifying, he was wallowing down in 18th on the grid come race day. However, during the race, a combination of fantastic driving, competitors retiring, and luck led to him finding himself on the podium for the second time, in 2nd place behind Callum McAllister, who took his first Grand Prix win. In the immediate aftermath of the Belgian Grand Prix, the FIA announced the staging of an Irish Grand Prix at Mondello Park in 1980, an exciting development, and one which would almost certainly not have occurred without Ó'Caoimhín's success and the resultant Irish interest in F1.

Monaco was another 'back to reality' situation, yet again retiring with an engine failure, which prompted Guy Ligier to sign an engine deal with Peugeot for the 1980 season. At the team's home race Ó'Caoimhín qualified 3rd, well ahead of team-mate Laffite who was down in 9th. A good show of consistency saw Ó'Caoimhín finish 4th, but this was overshadowed by Laffite's terrific drive to win the race, and put Ligier into the lead of the Constructor's championship. Following a weak race ending in retirement in Silverstone, Ó'Caoimhín embarked on a run that put him firmly in title contention, taking a solid 3rd in Hockenheim in a race remembered for Marc Surer's massive crash, a fantastic win ahead of Laffite in Austria, and another 2nd at Zandvoort, a result which put him in the lead of the driver's championship.

An untimely gearbox failure at Monza set him back slightly, but a hard-fought 2nd at the European Grand Prix held at Brands Hatch, ahead of Rene Arnoux, the man who had inherited the lead of the championship, set him back on course. At the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal a superb fightback from 15th after the start ended with a well-earned 4th place which put Ó'Caoimhín back in the lead of the championship, a single point ahead of Arnoux, who in turn was a point ahead of Laffite as the paddock moved south to the US.

With the championship on the line, at Watkins Glen Ó'Caoimhín managed an impressive 4th on the grid, ahead of Laffite and Arnoux in 5th and 10th respectively. However, the race was less productive; he lost positions off the grid, and an engine failure from 7th put paid to any chance of points; nevertheless, his two French rivals also failed to score points, and so the championship situation was the same as before the American race as the circus moved on to the first championship Australian Grand Prix at Adelaide.

At the street circuit Ó'Caoimhín continued his improved qualifying form with 4th on the grid, ahead of Laffite and Arnoux. Despite this promising qualifying, however, his race and season did not prove to have a happy ending; running in 6th, he found himself unwittingly involved in the race-ending crash, in which Ensign driver Martin Rossler was seriously injured. With the red flags falling, Ó'Caoimhín ended up being classified 11th, with Laffite safely on the podium in 2nd, handing the Frenchman the championship. Ó'Caoimhín was quoted in the Irish press criticising the narrow nature of the Adelaide track as being too unsafe for a modern F1 car, but he later retracted his comments as being said in frustration.

He may have been bitterly disappointed to have lost the championship by only 2 points to his team-mate with two non-scoring races in a row, but 2nd in his debut season with two wins, contributing hugely to Ligier's win in the Constructor's Championship, was still a significant achievement. There was no question of his not being retained for 1980, when Ligier linked up with Peugeot to run turbo engines badged as Talbot, a deal partially financed by the sponsorship from Guinness Light which Ó'Caoimhín had secured due to his popularity in Ireland.

The 1980 season began less encouragingly than '79; the new Talbot engines were lacking in power while the JS15 was conservative in its design, and by the third race a single fourth position in Brazil was all Ó'Caoimhín had to his name.

Complete Formula 1 Results

Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 WDC Points
1979 Equipe Ligier Gitanes Ligier JS11 Ford Cosworth DFV ARG
1
BRA
16†
RSA
Ret
USW
Ret
ESP
6
BEL
2
MON
Ret
FRA
4
GBR
Ret
GER
3
AUT
1
NED
2
ITA
Ret
EUR
2
CAN
4
USA
Ret
AUS
11
2nd 63
1980 Equipe Ligier Gitanes Talbot Ligier JS15 Talbot Turbo AUS
Ret
RSA
7
BRA
4
BEL
Ret
FRA
4
MON
Ret
SUI
3
USA
5
CAN
Ret
IRE GBR GER EUR AUT ITA JAP USE 8th* 13*

*Season in progress