Mike Beuttler scored five top-10 finishes in F1 between 1971 to 1973
Mike Beuttler raced against many of the all-time Formula 1 greats in the early 1970s – and then disappeared.
Even the British driver’s closest motorsport friends heard nothing from him over the final 14 years of his life.
Then, in late 1988, they learned from his family that he had died in Los Angeles of Aids, aged 48.
Beuttler remains the only known gay male driver to have competed at the highest level of motorsport.
He did so at a time when F1 was an especially macho environment. James Hunt, the 1976 world champion, famously had the phrase, ‘Sex, the breakfast of champions’ embroidered on his overalls and many drivers had reputations for being womanisers.
There were no organisations such as Racing Pride, which launched in 2019 to promote LGBT+ inclusivity in motorsport.
So how did his friends view him?
“Mike gave it absolutely everything on track – he wasn’t a natural talent but he worked hard,” former motorsport journalist and friend Ian Phillips told Sport.
“I knew he was gay, but it didn’t matter in my world.”
The racing world of the 2020s is a very different place to that of the 1970s.
Matt Bishop, a Racing Pride ambassador and Aston Martin F1 chief communications officer, said: “In the early 1970s, people didn’t talk about being gay.
“In the United Kingdom, it was only in 1967 that homosexuality was legalised between two consenting adults in private.
“Why would Beuttler be out and proud? He wouldn’t. I don’t think the word ‘out’ really existed when he was racing.
“Beuttler did bring a girlfriend and different women to races, perhaps it was a convenient disguise, because it stopped the tongues wagging.”
Mike Beuttler would often be accompanied by Anne Ries de Loen at races
‘Blocker’ Beuttler’s racing career
Beuttler raced in F1 for three seasons, from 1971 to 1973. As well as Hunt, he faced other world champions in Sir Jackie Stewart and Niki Lauda.
His path to the sport began to open up after he had success in the late 1960s in Formula 3 and then moved to Formula 2, most notably winning at Vallelunga in Italy in 1971.
Phillips met Beuttler in 1970, and got to know the driver well as he competed in Formula 2.
“He was quiet compared to Hunt or [British driver and motorcycle racer] Mike Hailwood and an incredibly friendly guy, but beneath that was a fierce determination and he took racing immensely seriously,” said Phillips.
Beuttler got the reputation of being a very rough racer, because he did not like being overtaken and would block anyone who got in his way – and the nickname ‘Blocker’ was born.
In 1971, Beuttler made his F1 debut at the British Grand Prix in a privately funded March car.
His career was financed by stockbroker friends and in 1972 he raced as a semi-works March driver, with Lauda and Ronnie Peterson as his team-mates at the Canadian Grand Prix.
“He probably wasn’t ready for F1 when he joined, but had a great team of backers,” said Phillips.
“He made up for it with his determination and every time he climbed out of the car you knew he had been at work – he was sweating and his eyes were bulging.”
Mike Beuttler raced in 28 Grands Prix during his career
In 1973, Beuttler achieved his best-ever finish, seventh in the Spanish Grand Prix. Overall, he scored five top-10 finishes in his career.
But then the UK was plunged into financial turmoil by the 1973 oil crisis, and his team did not have the money to stay in the sport.
Aged 34, Beuttler retired from racing.
Ann Bradshaw, a motorsport PR consultant who first met Beuttler in the early 1970s, said: “There was no stigma with Mike, he was a nice gentle person – everyone knew he was gay, it wasn’t a secret and it was accepted.”
‘He just disappeared, completely’
After Beuttler left motorsport he moved to the USA, spending time in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
“I suspect it would have been easier for him to live the lifestyle he wanted in LA and San Francisco, whereas being gay in London was a more secretive thing,” said Phillips.
“He probably wanted to find his own generation where he could be open and free.”
Beuttler’s life in the USA remains a mystery, though there are reports he went into the business world.
“He just disappeared completely,” said Phillips. “I don’t know anyone who had any contact with him, apart from family.”
What is known is that Beuttler died of Aids on 29 December 1988.
“His sister phoned me when he died,” said Phillips.
“She phoned out of the blue one day and said, ‘I am the sister of Mike Beuttler and I am very sad to tell you that he died of Aids in LA.’
“He was such a nice bloke.”
‘LGBT+ people have always been part of motorsport’
Britcar Endurance Championship driver and Racing Pride co-founder Richard Morris has had lots of support within motorsport after coming out as gay in 2018
Since Beuttler’s death, several motorsport drivers have come out as gay.
Le Mans class winner Danny Watts came out in 2017, a year after retiring, while in the W Series there is LGBT+ representation on track in fellow British drivers Abbie Eaton and Sarah Moore.
Richard Morris, co-founder of Racing Pride and a driver for the Praga team in the Britcar Endurance Championship, came out as gay in 2018, when already established in motorsport.
“I took my boyfriend to a race before I came out when I was racing in Formula Ford and he was there as my friend,” said Morris, 30.
“I had women around me at tracks who were my friends. Some people knew I was gay but I wasn’t out – I think that is very similar to Beuttler’s experience.”
Morris said coming out to the motorsport community has been a positive experience.
“I already had a boyfriend for seven or eight years but I had not told people in motorsport,” he said.
“You worry it might affect your relationship with mechanics, you worry you might get extra scrutiny on social media and you worry sponsors will think it is a risk.
“But my team was very supportive and lots of other drivers started putting Racing Pride stickers on their cars – it has been brilliant.”
With LGBT+ people being more regularly accepted and celebrated in motorsport now, how is Beuttler remembered today?
“Regarding his position in the pantheon of LGBT+ sporting heroes, it is time he is rehabilitated,” said Bishop.
“If he was alive, he would have been interviewed about Section 28 and gay marriage.”
Section 28 was a law that affected England, Wales and Scotland, passed in 1988 by a Conservative government that stopped councils and schools “promoting the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.
There were mass protests by LGBT+ campaigners and the law was repealed in Scotland in 2000, before England and Wales did the same in 2003. Same-sex marriage became legal in England and Wales in March 2014, in Scotland in December 2014 and in Northern Ireland in January 2020.
“It is really interesting to look at Beuttler’s story now – it shows LGBT+ people have always been part of motorsport and they have been really successful,” said Morris.
“It also reminds us of the challenges faced.”Mike Beuttler achieved five top-ten finishes in F1 between 1971 and 1973.
Mike Buettler competed against many of the big names in F1 in the early 1970s and then disappeared.
Even the closest friends of the British pilot have not heard from him in the last 14 years of his life.
Then, in late 1988, they heard from his family that he had died of AIDS in Los Angeles at the age of 48.
Buttler remains the only known gay male racer to have competed at the highest level in motorsports.
He did it at a time when F1 was particularly macho. James Hunt, the 1976 world champion, had the famous saying Sex, the Breakfast of Champions embroidered on his overalls, and many drivers had a reputation for having women.
There were no organizations like Racing Pride, which launched in 2019 to promote LGBT+ inclusion in motorsports.
And how did his friends view him?
Mike gave everything on the track – it wasn’t a natural talent, but he worked hard, former motorsport journalist and friend Ian Phillips told Sport.
I knew he was gay, but in my world that didn’t matter.
The racing world of the 2020s is very different from that of the 1970s.
said Matt Bishop, Aston Martin Formula One’s Pride Ambassador and Head of Public Relations: In the early ’70s, we didn’t talk about being gay.
In the United Kingdom, homosexuality was not legalized until 1967, and was practiced in private between two consenting adults.
Why should Buttler be proud? He wouldn’t do that. I don’t think the word “out” really existed when he was racing.
Beutler brought a girlfriend and several women to the races, perhaps it was a practical disguise as it prevented tongue licking.
Formula 1Mike Beuttler often accompanies Anne Ries de Loen to the races.
Blocker Beutler Racing Quarry
Beutler drove in Formula 1 for three seasons, from 1971 to 1973. In addition to Hunt, he challenged other world champions in Sir Jackie Stewart and Nicky Lauda.
His path in the sport began to open up after his successes in the late 1960s in Formula 3 and then Formula 2, especially after his victory at Vallelunga in Italy in 1971.
Phillips met Beutler in 1970 and got to know the driver well, as he did in Formula 2.
Compared to Hunt or Mike Hailwood, he was calm and incredibly friendly, but there was a fierce determination and he took the race very seriously, Phillips said.
Beutler has a reputation for being a very tough driver because he doesn’t like being overtaken and blocks anyone who gets in his way – the nickname Blocker was born.
In 1971, Büttler made his Formula One debut at the British Grand Prix in a privately financed March car.
His career was funded by his broker friends, and he competed in the Canadian Grand Prix as a semi-finalist in March 1972 with Lauda and Ronnie Peterson as teammates.
He probably wasn’t ready for F1 when he got there, but he had a great team of supporters, Phillips said.
He made up for it with his determination and every time he got out of the car, you knew he was working – he was sweating and his eyes were puffy.
Mike Beuttler competed in 28 Grand Prix events in his career.
Büttler achieved his best result in 1973, when he finished seventh in the Spanish Grand Prix. He finished in the top ten five times in his career.
But then, due to the oil crisis of 1973, Britain was plunged into financial difficulties and his team had no money to stay in the sport.
Buttler stopped racing at the age of 34.
Ann Bradshaw, a motorsports public relations consultant who met Beutler in the early 1970s, said : There was no stigma to Mike, he was a kind and gentle man – everyone knew he was gay, it wasn’t a secret, and it was accepted.
He just disappeared, completely.
After retiring from motorsports, Buttler moved to the United States and spent time in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
I suspect he would have found it easier in Los Angeles and San Francisco to live the life he wanted, whereas being gay in London was a more clandestine affair, Phillips says.
He probably wanted to find his generation where he could be open and free.
Mr. Beutler’s life in the United States remains a mystery, although there are reports that he has been involved in business.
He just disappeared, Phillips said. I don’t know anyone other than his family who has contact with him.
We know Beutler’s on the 29th. In December 1988 he died of AIDS.
His sister called me when he died, Phillips said.
One day she called out of the blue and said: I am Mike Beutler’s sister and it is with great sadness that I must inform you that he died of AIDS in Los Angeles.
He was such a nice guy.
LGBT+ people have always been part of motorsport
Richard Morris, BritcarBritcar Endurance Championship car. Richard Morris, co-founder of Racing Pride, has received a lot of support in motorsport since revealing his homosexuality in 2018.
Since Buttler’s death, several motorsports athletes have turned gay.
Le Mans class winner Danny Watts came out of the closet in 2017, a year after retiring, while fellow British drivers Abby Eaton and Sarah Moore are LGBT+ in the W Series.
Richard Morris, co-founder of Racing Pride and Team Praga driver in the Britcar Endurance Championship, turned gay in 2018 after already making his mark in motorsport.
I took my friend to a race before I went out when I was in Formula Ford, and there he was, as my friend, Morris, 30, said.
There were women around me who were my friends. Some people knew I was gay, but I wasn’t – I think it’s very similar to the Buttler experience.
Mr Morris said his appearance in the motorsport community was a positive experience.
I had a boyfriend for seven or eight years, but I didn’t tell the motorsports people, he said.
You’re afraid it will affect your relationship with mechanics, that social media will be under increased scrutiny, and that sponsors will find it a risk.
But my team have been very supportive and many other drivers have started putting Racing Pride stickers on their cars – it’s great.
The Beutler legacy
How do people remember Buttler today, when LGBT+ people were more regularly accepted and celebrated in motorsports?
As for his position in the LGBT+ Sports Hero Hall of Fame, it’s time to justify it, Bishop said.
If he were alive, he would be questioned about Section 28 and gay marriage.
Section 28 is an Act which applies to England, Wales and Scotland. It was passed in 1988 by a Conservative government that forbade boards and schools from teaching the acceptance of homosexuality as an abusive family relationship.
There were massive LGBT+ protests and the law was repealed in Scotland in 2000, followed by England and Wales in 2003. Same-sex marriage became legal in England and Wales in March 2014, Scotland in December 2014 and Northern Ireland in January 2020.
Now it’s really interesting to look at Beutler’s story – it shows that LGBT+ people have always been a part of motorsports, and they’ve really succeeded, Morris said.
It also reminds us of the challenges we face.