Ireland’s Derek Daly began racing in the Irish Formula Ford Championship before tackling the European Formula 2 Championship in 1977, where he finished fifth on his debut, and only F2 outing of the year, at Donington Park.
A second season in F2 in 1978 started brightly with points finishes and a pair of wins in rounds five and six in a campaign he combined with a number of Formula 1 outings with Hesketh, by now in the twilight of their F1 existence.
Lord Hesketh, unwilling to pour any more money into his pet project had originally withdrawn his team from F1 in 1975.
However the 308B chassis they’d used in 1975 had already been updated for ’76, and the remains of the team – cars included – was sold to Walter Wolf who, ironically, invested in cash strapped Williams to form the ill-fated Wolf-Williams team, and the 308C (as it was known) was rechristened the Wolf-Williams FW05.
Meanwhile, Anthony ‘Bubbles’ Horsley, Lord Hesketh’s partner, wished to continue Hesketh independently, and with another, different, updated version of the 308 (this time the 308D) continued into 1976, before folding in 1978 without scoring a single point.
Daly failed to pre-qualify for all Grand Prix he entered with Hesketh, before they folded and Daly was forced to look elsewhere for a continuation of his F1 career.
He was picked up by Ensign where he again failed to qualify on his debut, before making it into the race next time out at Brands Hatch where he would ultimately retire.
The tail end of the season would provide hope for Daly’s career however, when not only did he finish 10th, then 8th then 6th (scoring a point!) in the last three Grand Prix of the year, but the 27 points he’d scored in F2 was enough to seal third place in the championship.
He remained with Ensign for 1979 until a string of DNQs resulted in his departure following his missing out on the Monaco Grand Prix. He wouldn’t remain sidelined for long, however, as three Grand Prix later he was back with Tyrrell, where he’d see out the year.
A second season at Tyrrell followed in 1980 – a season which began with a terrific fourth place in the season opener in Argentina. A second fourth place helped him to a career best 11th place in the WDC.
It wasn’t enough to secure him a second full season with Tyrrell, however, and he moved to an uncompetitive March team where he finished the campaign pointless, prompting a sideways move to fellow minnows Theodore for 1982, where his prospects looked just as bleak as with March.
Daly joins Williams
As Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses once said in avoiding a court marshal ‘As luck would have it, war broke out…’.
And the same was true for Derek Daly. As his Grand Prix career seemed to be stagnating towards the tail end of the field, with the outbreak of the Falklands war, Argentine Carlos Reutemann felt he could no longer drive for the British Williams Grand Prix team and he headed back home and into retirement after three rounds of the 1982 F1 season.
Williams, following a one-off drive by Mario Andretti who was contracted to a full-time drive in Indycar, chose Daly from the plethora of drivers who’d let it be known they were available, and offered him the drive on the basis of his considerable experience.
Daly duly accepted, and joined Williams from Zolder. Sadly for Daly, despite seemingly having all the necessary attributes of a Grand Prix driver, Frank deemed him not quick enough for a team with World Championship ambitions.
“He was intelligent, had an excellent personality and was a willing test driver. He wasn’t too expensive…It was a pleasure to work with him.” said Sir Frank of Daly.
“But, ultimately, I really don’t believe that he was quite fast enough to hold down a position in a team like ours.”
“As far as I’m concerned, we aim for the two best in the business. This is Williams.”
With five top six finishes with Williams to his name (including leading the Monaco Grand Prix with just over a lap to go before retiring), Daly ended the season, whereupon he was replaced by 38 year-old Frenchman Jacques Laffite for 1983.
Daly would go on to have a lengthy Indycar career, with a career best of third place in Milwaukee in 1987 – a feat he’d fail to repeat in any of his 66 other Indycar outings.