BBC Top Gear’s Secret Weapon

When he’s not setting lap times for cars tested on BBC’s Top Gear – one of the most popular motoring TV shows in the world – or instructing celebrity guests for the show’s “Star in a reasonably priced car” part, nobody knows who he is or what he’s doing.

Some say, that if you forcibly take off his helmet, the rest of his racing suit would fall to the ground revealing nothing inside. Some say, that the soles of his shoes are made from Pirelli tyres. All we know is, he’s called “The Stig”.

The idea for the Stig was contributed by host Jeremy Clarkson and producer Andy Wilman’s as they tried introducing a fresh new format to the original version of the show. The new version included a Live audience, a test race track, some crazy stunts, and a professional racing driver as a part of the show’s cast – The Stig. Having faced a little difficulty in finding a driver who was comfortable speaking in front of the camera and doing so extremely well, Clarkson and Wilman decided that the Stig’s role would be silent. Hence they pulled up the gimmick of him being anonymous and not speaking at all. The name “Stig” was derived from Wiman and Clarkson’s school where the new boys had always been addressed as Stig.

He was unmasked and stripped twice!

The Stig is not just a person. It is more of a post. And there have been more than just one “Stig” in the Top Gear series. The very first one was Perry McCarthy who would dress up completely in black – Black helmet, black racing suit, black boots and gloves etc. His role of the Stig was exposed in January 2003, and confirmed by him in the later part of the year, following which, the character was “killed off” in the third season premiere, and was reintroduced – with a new unknown driver inside a white suit. The new Stig lasted through to the end of the 15th season. The 13th season also had seen a mock unmasking of the Stig being revealed to be none other than seven-time world Formula 1 champion Michael Schumacher. It was, of course, just a gimmick, or maybe not, no one but the show crew would know, but then even they have never really spotted the man behind the full face helmet.

The finale of the 15th season was followed by racing driver Ben Collins’ autobiography titled “The Man in the White Suit”, after which in a court case, Ben was supposedly revealed to have been the second Stig. The 16th season saw the show bringing in yet another race driver as the Stig, and his identity has so far remained a secret.

The identity of the Stig and who it might be has been claimed to be one of the most common FAQs on the internet. Online and text answering pages have compared the question about the racing driver’s identity to being as popular as the questions about the “meaning of life”.

Every car, performance or passenger, that finds its way to be featured on Top Gear, has to end up in the hands of the Stig. As written on the show’s webpage, “He doesn’t do sponsorship, make excuses or call for press conferences. He exists for one reason alone – to squeeze every last remaining drop of power and performance, out of any car that dares to make it to our track, giving us a definitive lap time around our demanding test track”.

Possibly an ex-F1, but nobody knows who’s the new one

At the Silverstone Circuit Charity drive, just before the 2008 British Grand Prix, former Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso commented on the Stig’s lap of the circuit, saying that although he had no clue as to who Top Gear’s test driver might be, he is definitely a very good driver and that he might possibly be an ex-F1.

The 16th season saw the presenters crack a joke about Stigs being a fast growing species and the newly conceived Stig in the previous finale had already grown up completely. Apart from a different helmet and overalls, the new Stig has pretty much the same build as the previous one. He holds a speed record round the track, of 1:13:8 in the Pagani Huayra, set in the 19th season’s first episode. The current Stig is believed to be British racing driver Gordon Shedden, although upon being asked, Shedden himself has never confirmed or denied being the Stig.

Some say, that his identity will be unknown till the end of time. We have no clue, and the Top Gear guys will surely not tell anyone. All we know is, yes that’s right – he’s called the Stig.