Jonathan Charles Palmer (born 7 November 1956) is a British businessman and former Formula One racing driver. Before opting for a career in motor racing, Palmer trained as a physician at London’s Guy’s Hospital. He also worked as a junior physician at Cuckfield and Brighton hospitals.
He is currently the majority shareholder and Chief Executive of MotorSport Vision (MSV), a company that runs six UK motorsport circuits, the PalmerSport corporate driving event at Bedford Autodrome and several racing championships including British Superbikes and GB3.
Prior to his business life, Palmer was active in Formula One between 1983 and 1989, and drove for Tyrrell, Williams, RAM, and Zakspeed. He won 14 Championship points from 83 starts. He also raced a Group C Porsche in sports car events between 1983 and 1990, winning the 1984 1000 km of Brands Hatch with co-driver Jan Lammers and taking second place at the 1985 24 Hours of Le Mans with co-drivers James Weaver and Richard Lloyd.
Following his education at Brighton College, Palmer raced an Austin Healey Sprite and a Marcos in club events while he was a medical student at Guy’s Hospital. He went on to work as a doctor at Cuckfield and Brighton hospitals, and opted for a professional driving career after he had participated in Formula Ford from 1978 to 1980. He won the British Formula 3 Championship in 1981, and landed a Williams Formula One test drive in 1982. The following year he won the European Formula Two Championship, and the British Racing Drivers’ Club awarded him their Gold Star.
Palmer joined Williams as a test driver for the 1982 and 1983 seasons whilst racing in F2, and made his Formula One debut at Brands Hatch on 25 September 1983, driving a Williams in the European Grand Prix. This drive was a ‘thank you’ from Frank Williams and Patrick Head. He finished 13th out of 26 starters. Moving to the Skoal Bandit RAM March team in 1984, his six finishes yielded one 8th place, three 9th, one 10th, and one 13th. He joined Zakspeed in 1985, starting in eight races and retiring from all except the 1985 Detroit Grand Prix, where he finished 11th. Sixteen starts with the same team in 1986 resulted in eight retirements and a best finish of 8th in Detroit.
In 1987, Palmer talked with McLaren boss Ron Dennis about becoming the team’s No. 2 driver to double World Champion Alain Prost. Dennis ultimately signed Stefan Johansson, and Palmer joined Tyrrell a week before the season’s opening race in Brazil. Although outpaced by its turbocharged competitors, Tyrrell’s naturally-aspirated Cosworth-powered car proved reliable, and it was nimble on tighter circuits. Palmer won championship points in three races, and it was in the Australian Grand Prix that he achieved his career-best fourth-place finish. He also won the Jim Clark Cup, a championship for drivers of normally aspirated cars. He stayed with Tyrrell for the next two seasons, during which his best results were two 5th-place finishes and three 6th. At the end of 1989 he signed as McLaren’s test driver.