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F1 History 6

I was there when: 1973 British GP

It might as well be 1000 years ago: 1973. No internet. No camera phones. And neither a TV – our Pye black-and-white, what few channels it provided accessed by twisting clamped Mole Grips, had just gone bang in spectacular style – nor a telephone chez Fearnley; we used a neighbour’s and left a couple of coppers in a tin.

Ah, but we were happy. Setting off for Silverstone at ‘a quarter to stupid’ on a Saturday morning, three of us in a two-seater that had recently celebrated its 40th birthday, we had a flask and some sarnies but no tickets for the British Grand Prix. Pay on the gate. First come, first served. Simpler times.

history  I was there when: 1973 British GP

This was a three-hour journey that we were very familiar with: to Hayfield; past the Ferodo works at Chapel-en-le-Frith; Buxton to Ashbourne on the A515, part of the proposed road circuit that unsurprisingly fell flat in the 1950s; Lichfield Cathedral’s three spires; and then the long blat down the A5, keeping a wary eye out for Ford Granada ‘Jam Butties’ – and an eager one out for brand new Triumph Dolly Sprints to bait. There were no signs of either. Good and bad, then.

A huge crowd had been predicted but we arrived in good time and parked in the lee of the stands along the pit straight. Thirty New Pence for an official programme later, we made our way towards Copse. The viewing bank was filling fast and we eked a space at the turn-in point in time for the Formula 1 warm-up.

I am sure that Jacky Ickx in the lone Ferrari – this was his penultimate GP with the Scuderia – was the first man out. But then I’m sure it was warm and sunny, whereas DSJ’s report in Motor Sport insists it was dull and overcast; it also points out that it rained during the GP. I don’t remember that either.

history  I was there when: 1973 British GP

At least some colours of the day remain vivid: that red Ferrari’s shimmering gold wheels; the daffodil yellow of ‘Blocker’ Beuttler’s ‘Stock Exchange’ March; the bottle green of that bulbous Ensign; and the thrillingly sinister black, black, black of the JPSs, with their rear wings hung way, way, way out back. No photos – our Kodamatic was cruddy – just glowing flashbacks.

We watched LA’s Tony Rouff win the Formula 3 Final in a GRD, ahead of Russell Wood’s March and the GRDs of Alan Jones and Brian Henton. Apparently. Unfortunately, it passed me by.

Frank Gardner’s thunderous Camaro did not, however. How could it? He won the saloon encounter by a mile once fellow countryman Brian ‘Yogi’ Muir’s BMW CSL had gone pop. The massive accident that ended Dave Matthews’ career and smashed his Broadspeed Capri and Dave Brodie’s Escort to smithereens did pass me by, however. Or did we see the smoke from it rise over the other side of the circuit? Yeah, maybe we did.

history  I was there when: 1973 British GP

As for the GP itself – well, all those cars disappeared, didn’t they? My hero JYS held a huge lead by the end of the first lap. Boy, he was good at that. Then came Ronnie, Reut, Denny, Cevert, Hunt – a big cheer! – Revvie, Regga, Emmo. Pause.

I recall the gasp that shot along the line and I could just about see Roger Williamson’s wrecked works March that had popped out sideways from under the ‘Daily Express’ bridge. Did a loose wheel bobble past us? I think so. And some dust swirled by.

The second start 90 minutes later lacked the anticipation and drama of the first, and the lulling rhythm that a chicane-less Silverstone allowed descended: until Stewart went missing – in a cornfield. Apparently. Then he appeared again. And disappeared again. And reappeared again, amid the leaders this time. “He’s a lap down!” shouted Dad. I still thought he might win.

history  I was there when: 1973 British GP

Instead, of course, Peter Revson did. Both he and his McLaren M23 were unobtrusively steady: efficient rather than memorable. The latter was left to Hunt – cheers in response getting louder each and every lap now – as his charging white March, with yellow airbox borrowed from Beuttler, mixed it with the established names. I had a new hero. (Sadly, Corgi never did make a 1/32 of his 731 and so Hunt never did win any of my elaborately staged – I’d pause for lunch, naturally – ‘carpet GPs’.)

The meeting was running late and the crowd began to thin after the main race concluded. Tired of standing, we grabbed a seat in the grandstands: no jobsworths, no questions, no bother.

Mum, her nerves already shredded by the day’s events, leapt from said seat when some of the faster Formula Atlantics got into a tangle at the start: Ray Mallock, Steve Choularton from Hale Barnes – local to us – and New Jersey’s Jas Patterson. We stayed right to the end, though. We always did. Yet still it took an age to exit the car park and we arrived home gone midnight.

history  I was there when: 1973 British GP

The frustration of that queue is what Dad remembers most about the day. Ask him about his first GP – the 1957 British at Aintree – and he can give you chapter and verse, however: the train journey there; Archie Scott Brown sliding a Lister-Jag through a damp Tatts; the bellowing Ferrari 801s being warmed up by the mechanics; the collective sigh as Stirling Moss pitted his misfiring Vanwall; the rising sense of anticipation as he flew through the field in team-mate Tony Brooks’ car; and being swept onto the grid – “My feet hardly touched the ground” – as the crowd surged forward to proclaim that maiden all-British victory.

Your first GP is special. That’s why I can remember so much of mine, even though I was not quite six at the time – Dad insists the trip was a birthday present – and it was 1000 years ago.

Author’s note: written without recourse to YouTube.

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history  I was there when: 1973 British GP

Add your comments

6 comments on I was there when: 1973 British GP

  1. Dave Cook, 27 June 2013 09:18

    Oh yes. Me and my mate sat outside the pub at 10.30. Looked at each other. “Let’s go now!” he says. Off to my place to grab a couple of folding chairs and off we go. Sleep fitfully on the side of the road by the main entrance. 6.30AM (Saturday,of course) drive in, all the way round to Becketts, park up, over the bank and unfold chairs by fence, same spot as the Trophy in April. No snow this time! Witness Stewart’s fabulous move on Peterson on the first lap, then, nothing! Cars coming round sans parts, wings askew, etc. Then the restart. What a race! What a day! Feels like yesterday. And yes, it was overcast. Back at the disco in the evening met a guy who was there who said it was nice to meet somebody who was interested in Motor Racing. Spent all night talking about Chris Amon and ignored the girls! Still friends to this day.

  2. Andrea Barbolini, 27 June 2013 09:44

    Just a note (i’m so pedant!):
    It wasn’t Jacky Ickx last GP for Ferrari. He raced the 312B3 in Monza too.
    Great story though. Loved it

  3. Paul Fearnley, 27 June 2013 11:02

    Dear Andrea,

    Glad you liked it despite the howler.

    You’d think that I never checked this stuff. And you’d think that I would have learned by now never to use the words first and last: they always cause trouble.

  4. Bob Hinchliffe, 27 June 2013 12:01

    I was there too! Working the scoreboard at Becketts but we had been there since Thursday evening and watched Ronnie through Woodcote in practice on Friday. Opposite lock with the outside rear tyre smoking. We wandered around the paddock in the evening carrying our pints of bitter which we’d bought from the paddock bar. We were no doubt smoking our free JPS cigs as we leant over the cars and talked to the mechanics! The Lotus 72′s were up on axle stands with suspension dangling, I remember that is was a sunny evening and as close to paradise as I’d been at the age of 24.
    I was so impressed with Roger Williamson in practice and as ever he had his head thrust forward and seemed to be willing that March to go faster, he had only a few more weeks to live.
    After the big accident on lap one some stragglers made it round to Becketts and Graham Hill parked his Embassy Hill in front of us with collapsed front suspension. We went to the bar on the outside of Woodcote Corner after the race and James Hunt came in dressed in tight denim jeans and jacket with a beautiful blonde girl on his arm ,he got a great cheer from the drinkers and seemed very happy with his performance. I haven’t checked any of this on YouTube but it might only spoil the memories if I did.

  5. Dave Cook, 27 June 2013 12:05

    Didn’t he drive a McLaren at the Nurburgring in between? I remember a picture of his Daytona when some wag put two Yardley stickers on it.

  6. John Norris, 28 August 2013 12:24

    A lovely article. Makes me nostaligic for my frst time – same venue, 2 years later.
    And what a good idea for a book. We could have contributions from the likes of Nigel Roebuck, Stirling Moss, Derek Warwick, Lord March, etc interspersed filler contributions from the public.
    I’d read it!

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