For a fleeting moment in the early 80's Tommy Byrne was the world’s greatest driver, the motor racing equivalent of George Best and Muhammad Ali all rolled into one. His rise was meteoric and his fall spectacular. In a little over four years Byrne went from driving a Mini Cooper in stock car racing to the big-time in Formula One. Eddie Jordan the former team-owner, who worked with both Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher, will tell you: ‘Forget Schuey and Senna. Tommy Byrne was the best of them all.’


Tommy Byrne was a cocky, aggressive driver from humble roots and the F1 glitterati simply didn't like the mix. Driving was a route out from a future of toil and drudgery he saw stretching out before him. Upon his arrival in Britain his talent was obvious and its impact immediate as he secured six championships in four years.


During this period he caught Ayrton Senna’s attention as a serious rival. That two incredible talents would arrive on the scene at virtually the same time was a freakish occurrence. While they both drove for the Van Diemen team, Byrne knew it was a source of resentment for Senna that he was being paid to race while the Brazilian had to pay his own way. For Byrne, ultimately, it would prove a disaster. In the early 1980s it was quick Brazilians with deep pockets rather than penniless tearaways who were all the rage among motor racing's top brass.


Byrne’s own F1 career was limited to a handful of races for the under-funded Theodore team and a test outing for McLaren that has become the stuff of legend. Byrne’s time wasn’t just good, it was unbelievably good. It was the fastest time any McLaren had ever recorded at Silverstone, including the qualifying times set by former World Champion Niki Lauda and John Watson in the same car at that year's British Grand Prix. 

While Ayrton Senna was winning his first F1 race, Byrne’s career was already on a downward slope. A procession of clowns, lunatics and gangsters flitted in and out of his life before he finally followed his dream to settle in America after a turbulent stint on the Mexican F3 circuit. Thirteen years into their respective careers as the two brightest future stars of Formula One - Ayrton Senna was in his grave, deified like no other driver. Byrne was a depressed, drunk, labourer. Byrne's rise to F1 was prodigious, but the longer fight – to accept how everything turned out and how he rebuilt his life – is the real struggle. The story of the greatest F1 driver never to emerge.