Thierry Marc Boutsen (born 13 July 1957 in Brussels, Belgium) is a former racing driver who raced for the Arrows, Benetton, Williams, Ligier and Jordan teams in Formula One.
Boutsen was considered a promising driver, testing for McLaren and Brabham. He was briefly attached to the Spirit Honda F1 project before losing out to his Formula Two team-mate Stefan Johansson.
Boutsen driving for Arrows at the 1984 Dallas Grand Prix.
In 1983 he paid $500,000 for a drive in Formula One and made his debut with Arrows at his home race, the 1983 Belgian Grand Prix at the shortened 7 km (4.3 mi) Spa. While he scored no points in 1983 his careful handling and close performance compared to experienced team-mate Marc Surer. With backing from Barclay cigarettes he remained with the team for a further three seasons. The first saw Arrows struggle with their difficult first turbocharged car, with powerful BMW turbo engines but poor handling. Boutsen scored points twice in the old Cosworth DFV powered A6 and once in the turbo machine. His second season saw several notable results, including 2nd place at Imola. Boutsen crossed the line third, behind Alain Prost and Elio de Angelis but after the race, Prost was disqualified because his car was 2 kg underweight. Three more points scores saw him 11th overall in the standings. A final season with Arrows saw no points for Boutsen in an uncompetitive car, but in parallel to F1 he drove for the Walter Brun team in Group C and clinched the World Championship title with them in 1986, winning Spa 1000 km.
Boutsen driving for Benetton at the 1988 Canadian Grand Prix.
He got his big chance when he switched to the works Ford F1 team, Benetton, for the 1987 season. While the package wasn’t a race winner it did allow him to run regularly in the top 6. He scored points in six races, his best being awarded 3rd place in Adelaide after the disqualification of Ayrton Senna’s Lotus and moved to 8th overall. For 1988 Benetton switched to normally aspirated Cosworth engines in anticipation of the banning of turbos in 1989. Boutsen’s consistency, mechanical sympathy and speed saw him score points in 10 of the 16 races – with five 3rd place finishes – and place 4th overall as the best non-turbo driver in the table.
His reputation as a reliable, fast driver with good development skills saw Frank Williams sign him on a two-year contract to drive the new Williams Renault car. 1989 began with Boutsen on the back foot as veteran team-mate Riccardo Patrese had a major resurgence in form, but at the Canadian Grand Prix Boutsen drove well in wet conditions and took his maiden victory after Senna suffered a late engine failure. Three more podium finishes came before Boutsen rounded the year off with a second victory at the rain-soaked Australian Grand Prix. Boutsen had been one of the drivers protesting about the conditions at the circuit before the race.
1990 saw more consistent points scoring drives, including his third and final Grand Prix victory – a lights-to-flag victory in Hungarian Grand Prix where he took his first pole position and held off sustained pressure from Alessandro Nannini and Ayrton Senna to win. However, Nigel Mansell was available in 1991 and Williams Renault felt they needed a ‘star’ driver to put together a championship bid. Despite Boutsen winning three races in two years to Patrese’s one they decided to keep the Italian to drive alongside Mansell.
With no vacancies among the top teams Boutsen had to drop down to the Ligier team. Despite having a sizeable budget and Lamborghini V12 engines the car was uncompetitive and Boutsen was frequently unable to disguise his disgust with the machinery given to him. The arrival of Renault engines in 1992 improved matters a little and in his final race for the team he scored 5th place, his first points since leaving Williams.
Initially he was unable to find a drive for 1993 but Barclay secured him a slot at Jordan, replacing Ivan Capelli. Boutsen was rusty, too tall for the car and largely outpaced by young team-mate Rubens Barrichello, failing to score any points in ten races. With Eddie Jordan keen to bring in younger, well-sponsored drivers to the seat the decision was taken to turn Boutsen’s home race into a farewell event, though he retired on the first lap.