A junkfood F1 career
- Mattijs Diepraam
- 8W August 1999 issue
- Hans Heyer - One for the record?, by Mattijs Diepraam
1978 Dutch GP (qualifying)
Like Rikky von Opel, Dutchman Michael Bleekemolen turned his F1 career into junk food: wetting your appetite from the onset, but rushed into much too soon, swallowed in whole within 15 minutes of fame and leaving you sorry you didn't take the time to prepare something healthy and satisfying.
Bleekemolen's haste to get into F1 was remarkable to say the least because he was two-timing his F1 outings with a regular F3 drive! In the Super Vee and F Ford categories Michael was undoubtedly a quick guy but when he got his F&S backers (Ton Fagel and Bob van der Sluis) to buy him a seat in one of RAM Racing's year-old Marches he threw himself in the deep end. His was just one of the huge fleet of privateer 761s to fight it out at his home race at Zandvoort and unsurprisingly Bleekemolen - at that moment racing in Super Vee - finished qualifying 34th out of 34 cars.
Next season "Bleek" (which in English would be pronounced "Blake") got himself a pukka Chevron drive in the European F3 championship. He started off well by finishing runner-up to teenage countryman Jan Lammers in the season opener at Zandvoort. Three weeks later he followed this up with another second at the Österreichring, then taking a third the following week at Zolder, another track he knew well. With 16 points in the bag the season was looking good for Bleekemolen and his disastrous single F1 outing was soon forgotten. Then in July a win followed, the Dutchman beating Lammers' main rivals Patrick Gaillard and Anders Olofsson at Enna-Pergusa.
With young Jan rightly concentrating on F3 and scoring his fourth win of the season on Olofsson territory at Karlskoga, Bleekemolen's backers again began to feel itchy as the end-of-August Dutch GP date loomed in the distance. Then a golden opportunity arose with the German ATS outfit. Hans-Günther Schmid's ATS team had gone into its second year in F1, after having taken over the Penske team lock, stock and barrel at the end of 1976. Its 1977 machine was presented as its first self-built car and while that was undoubtedly true, it was by no means self-designed. In fact, the HS1 was a reworked PC4, with only its edgy cockpit sides distinguishing it from its Penske predecessor. Anyway, the autocratic Schmid proudly lent his initials to the car and showed the same dictatoresque behaviour by turning the team's No.10 into a merry-go-round: no less than four drivers had filled its seat before F&S managed to get Bleekemolen into it for Zandvoort - this after the team had started the season with the competent line-up of Jochen Mass and Jean-Pierre Jarier.
"Jumper" was the first to evacuate the No.10, being replaced by 32-year-old Italian rookie Alberto Colombo for two races. Then Keke Rosberg was pulled on-board before Jarier did a one-off in Germany. With Binder in the car for Austria and the team's first double non-qualification taking place there, perhaps Bleekemolen should have seen it coming. As it happened, Zandvoort was another disaster for the team, with Mass failing to make the grid for the second time in a row. Bleekemolen worked wonders in emulating the experienced German but it was all to no avail as the two cars qualified a hopeless 29th and 30th.
Then Mass, the only driver not to have fallen foul of Schmid's irate temper, crashed heavily in pre-Monza testing, breaking his knee, and Schmid put Michael in the lead car for Italy. With his F&S sponsorship Bleekemolen didn't have to fear for his seat until the end of the season, but Ertl was immediately replaced by Rosberg after Monza meant a third successive strike-out for the team. The Flying Finn then put in two great performances with the new D1 skirt car (in fact another PC4 derivative) in the season-closing North American races. Bleekemolen did manage to qualify the cumbersome HS1 at Watkins Glen for what was to be his only F1 race but an oil leak put him out 16 laps from the end. Tellingly, the Dutchman failed to score another podium in European F3 that season.
With F1 managers reluctant to give him a second chance for 1979, Bleekemolen happily reverted back to European F3, which in reality was the right level of competition for him at the time. Driving for March, Michael repeated his 1978 Enna victory and finished a creditable second in the championship, albeit a long way behind runaway champion Alain Prost. Sadly, no-one in F1 (or in F2, for that matter) was waiting to sign him up for 1980. So he stayed in F3 but now with a rather less competitive car, falling down the ranks until he quit single-seater racing at the end of 1982. Still in his early thirties, this was the end of his career as a serious racer.
For many seasons to follow he was to be a fierce competitor in the Renault 5 Turbo and Alpine Cups running along as an F1 sideshow on Grand Prix Saturdays but this was hardly a high-level international playing field. Gradually he started to concentrate on his business and phased out his racing activities. Today, Bleekemolen is Holland's best-known racing instructor and the owner of several indoor karting centres, while his teenage sons Jeroen and Sebastiaan have embarked on their international career, in 2001 joining their father in the Hezemans Carsport Holland line-up in FIA GTs.
Bleekemolen's lucrative karting centre business has proved the example for racing countrymen Jos Verstappen and Mike Hezemans (son of seventies touring car ace Toine). With Dutch companies neglecting to sponsor motor racing, it's the drivers' own entrepreneurial spirit which nowadays provides them with the money to go racing for free. As with young Hezemans, the Bleekemolen Jrs are racing on a no-salary basis, the family business coming up with the profits to make a living. Now compare this with Belgium, Austria or Finland, and you keep wondering why. Karting is practically Holland's number two sport while between F1 drivers "Jos the Boss" has by far the largest fan club worldwide. But apparently, not a single marketing manager holds a membership card. Holland's Belgacom, A1 or Nokia, where are you?
Reader's Why by Arjan de Roos
Bleekemolen's F1 career was an unsuccessful one with several DNQs. He did not qualify for the Dutch GP in 1977 with a March. During that year he made plans to drive for Ensign. The ATS was in fact a Penske PC4 with altered bodywork and some other modifications (new monocoque). Years later he actually said he was insane to drive a car of which the chassis was so poorly constructed that he could hear the rivets jump up and down when at high speed! ATS was able to put two cars together: the HS1/1 and the HS1/2. During 1978 the first real ATS debuted, the D1 (a John Gentry car). This car was used by "Bleek" (pronounce as Blake) in practice for the Italian GP, to no avail. Bleekemolen did qualify for the Canadian GP and after a pitstop was able to bring in some laps. Bleekemolen never returned to F1 but for years now has been active in one-make series in European and Dutch championships. He actually participated in the supporting race at this year's Masters of F3 at Zandvoort early August. Both his sons are active drivers and the youngest of them seems set to go for a single-seater career that has just started at F3 and might reach F1 some day. Bleekemolen was sponsored by F&S Properties and the CENAV. F and S stood for (Ton) Fagel and (Bob van der) Sluis, two motorsport loving-business men. They supported a vast amount of race drivers in the seventies, ranging from Formula Ford, Sports 2000, F3 and as a certain high F1. CENAV was the exploiting company of the Dutch race track. In 1978 Bleekemolen achieved a feat that is not commonly seen in motor racing. He competed in F1 as well as in F2 and F3 in the same season.