29 October 1951
Havant, Hampshire, England
|Formula One World Championship career|
|Entries||2 (1 start)|
|First entry||1980 Belgian Grand Prix|
|Last entry||1980 Monaco Grand Prix|
|British Formula One Series career|
Needell attended Ottershaw School followed by City University, London where he achieved an Honours Degree in Civil Engineering. Hired by George Wimpey & Co, his day job was as a Structural Design Engineer.
Needell first raced at a driving school at Brands Hatch in 1970. He progressed to Formula Ford, his progress assisted by the use of a Lotus 69 FF he won in an Autosport magazine competition. He later sold his Lotus and used the money to buy and race an Elden Mk10. Needell's Formula Ford period culminated in his acquiring a Crossle 25F with which he won the Kent Messenger FF Championship after competing for only half of the remaining season. This success landed him a partly paid drive in the Formula Ford 2000 Championship in a Hawke chassis provided by McKinstry Racing. Needell was completely dominant in that car and series which provided him with the springboard into Formula 3. The remainder of the 1970s saw Needell as a front runner in the British Formula 3 series and then in the Aurora British Formula One championship. In 1979 he was unable to graduate to the F1 World Championship due to the lack of the correct licence, but he was back in 1980, driving two Grands Prix for Ensign, qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder. However, he had an engine problem and did not finish the race. He subsequently failed to qualify for the Monaco Grand Prix.
In 1988 and 1989 he competed in the British Rallycross Grand Prix in a Metro 6R4 prepared by Will Gollop's motorsport team. He achieved a good result in 1988 finishing 4th in the B-Final in what was his first rallycross event, however, the 1989 event was cancelled due to heavy fog after the practice sessions.
Needell made his first appearance at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1981 driving an Ibec-Hesketh 308LM alongside Tony Trimmer. They failed to finish and again in 1982 this time paired with Bob Evans and Geoff Lees in an Aston Martin Nimrod NRA/C2. However the following year Needell finished 17th driving a Porsche 956. In 1985 Needell briefly led the 24 hours driving the Aston Martin EMKA C84/1 and would eventually finish 11th. His best result at Le Mans was 3rd in 1990. He then had a couple of years in the British Touring Car Championship with Nissan, before returning to sports cars in 1995, driving a Porsche at Daytona and a Jaguar XJ220 at Le Mans. He then drove the Lister Storm for 3 years, reaching 3rd overall at Daytona in 1997 before gearbox problems dropped them to 19th. In 1998 he finished 2nd in the GT1 championship and won the Silverstone Golden Jubilee Trophy race.
Since then, Needell's racing career has mainly consisted of racing hard-topped cars, with varying levels of success in sports cars, historic racing and touring cars. He achieved particular notoriety after an accident with Nigel Mansell at the 1993 TOCA shoot out race at Donington Park.
Needell is a television presenter and motoring journalist, and co-hosted the BBC TV series Top Gear starting in 1987. In 2001, when the BBC cancelled Top Gear (the show was brought back in 2002), Needell and the whole cast defected and signed with Channel 5 to produce and host a new motoring show named Fifth Gear. He does, however, still contribute to Top Gear magazine. Needell has also co-presented 'MPH' at Earls Court in 2003, 2004 and 2005 with Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond and in 2006 with Clarkson and James May (because Hammond was recovering from an on-location accident in a rocket car which rolled over at top speed, leaving him in a coma). He also appeared very briefly in the 2005 Top Gear Comic Relief special, Stars in Fast Cars. In 2009 he appeared on James May's Toy Stories featuring the building of a Scalextric around Brooklands, and also visited James' LEGO house. In 2011, he appeared on Top Gear, driving the Ariel Atom V8 in a race against a BMW S1000RR around the Top Gear Test Track. The segment was done in humour, with May supposedly driving the Atom V8, only for it to actually be Needell.
He was one of several people suspected of portraying the elusive masked racing driver The Stig on the current format of Top Gear. The true identity of The Stig was eventually revealed as being Ben Collins in late, necessitating Needell's return to Top Gear after a nine-year absence to train Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle for his lap in the reasonably-priced car. In the same episode Clarkson referred to Needell as the "Emergency Stig".
On 7 February 1999, Needell drove a McLaren F1 XP5 prototype to set the fastest lap record at the Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire, over a 2-mile (3.2 km) banked circuit, top speed test: An average speed of 195.3 mph (314.3 km/h) was attained, with a maximum speed of 200.8 mph (323.2 km/h).
Needell has lent his voice to the first and second games in the 'TOCA Touring Car series' for British video game developer Codemasters. His voice is also featured in the 'Ferrari Challenge' and 'Le Mans 24 Hours' video game for racing game developer Eutechnyx. He also features in the video games Race Pro and GTR Evolution racing an Aston Martin DBR9. Additionally, he is the voice of the Road Angel road safety device and GPS speed camera alert system, as well as the face on their advertising campaigns. He was the launching announcer for the high speed Rita roller coaster at Alton Towers, as well as narrating several Discovery Channel documentaries.
Thruxton Circuit has an exclusive deal which enables customers to pay £145 for three laps of fast-paced driving and drifting with Needell. The laps are filmed from within the car and feature his commentary and conversation with the passenger.
In recent activities Needell has also been presenting the world series of Powerboat racing throughout the United Kingdom. Working with Greenlight TV and Powerboat GP, Needell regularly commentates, casts voice overs and interviews drivers. His latest appearance during the world championship race in Nottingham on 1 September 2013 saw the climatic result of the Powerboat F2 Series come to a thrilling end.
In November 2006, Needell was cleared of 'failing to supply details in relation to a speeding ticket', and the accompanying speeding offence by Pontypridd magistrates. He was defended by Nick Freeman, otherwise known as Mr. Loophole, who also defended former colleague Jeremy Clarkson on a similar case.
He also works as an after dinner speaker.
Complete Formula One results
|1980||Unipart Racing Team||Ensign N180||Cosworth V8||ARG||BRA||RSA||USW||BEL
24 Hours of Le Mans results
Complete British Touring Car Championship results
(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position - 1 point awarded) (Races in italics indicate fastest lap)
† Not eligible for points.
‡ Endurance driver.
- DRIVERS: TIFF NEEDELL – GrandPrix.com
- "I could have been Lewis Hamilton" – Auto Trader online
- Tiff Needell profile – Dave television channel
- Some say he's Top Gear's true star. We only know he's The Stig, The Scotsman, 28 March 2008
- Trackside – Who is the Stig? – Auto Trader online
- Top Gear's new Stig is... Tiff Needell – mirror.co.uk
- Tiff Needell's column – AutoExpress.co.uk
- worlds Largest Nuke Explosion Sample commentary YouTube
- Evo magazine February 2012 issue editorial section
- Tiff Needell – Fifth Gear on five
- Needell cleared over ticket
- TMC Entertainment – Tiff Needell profile