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F1 History Sports Cars 17

Siffert and Rodríguez

It’s difficult to think of two countries with less climatic, cultural and economic crossover than mañana Mexico and like-clockwork Switzerland.

They’re chilli peppers and Emmental.

But Pedro and Jo – Rodríguez and ‘Seppi’ Siffert; Gulf Racing Porsches and Yardley BRMs – found plenty of common ground. Often fighting over the same piece of Tarmac, theirs was an iconic rivalry aboard iconic machinery.

sports cars history  Siffert and Rodríguez

I am well aware that it is possible to read too much into a photograph. I know, for instance, that there was 999km to go at Spa in 1970 when that shutter clicked. But there is no doubt in my mind that those few thou encapsulated it.


It bears witness to a moment of terrifying commitment that causes you to gasp and then to smile and finally to chuckle.

The gasp is elicited by the trading of paint at the entry to Eau Rouge. The smile lies in the knowledge that both drivers were cut from the same competitive cloth: colourful, with a ragged edge. The laugh is triggered by the gap. The knowing, healthy distance that the other Porsche 917s, plus the works and privateer Ferrari 512Ss, have allowed between themselves and that couple of red-mist crazies in the blue-and-orange cars ahead.

Trouble in the Ardennes damp was clearly expected. But Pedro and Jo made it – though it would be a stretch to say safely – through. The former went on to set the fastest lap that day – more than 20 seconds quicker than the previous year’s best. But it was the latter, thanks to sterling support from co-driver Brian Redman, who won for a JW Automotive team that no doubt gasped, smiled and chuckled – apart perhaps from boss John ‘Death Ray’ Wyer, for whom winning was a very serious matter indeed.

sports cars history  Siffert and Rodríguez

That win was a very serious matter for Jo, too. Porsche was his patch – he’d won five times for it in 1969 (with yeoman Redman) – but already newcomer Pedro had torn him off a couple of strips by winning first time out in a 917 at Daytona – Siffert never would finish a 24-hour race for Porsche – and then in sensational style at a sodden Brands Hatch.

Blue collar Siffert had worked too hard, wheeled-and-dealed too relentlessly, to get where he was to give it up without a fight. Like all ex-bike racers, he looked balsawood frail but was as tough as teak.

But privileged Rodríguez had raced bikes too. And like Siffert, he had driven the wheels off anything and everything he could sit his bum in. And again like Siffert, it would be a long time before Formula 1 fully appreciated his talents.

Having raced throughout the 1960s their rivalry came to a head in 1971 when they were paired at BRM as well as at JWA.

sports cars history  Siffert and Rodríguez

Boots were on different feet now. BRM was Pedro’s patch, having driven for it in 1968 and scored in 1970 – at his beloved Spa – its first GP win for four years. It was Pedro who chatted affably with the mechanics and Jo who remained aloof.

Intriguingly, at JWA, it was Pedro who kept the quieter counsel and Jo who liked to down a couple of beers at lunch during test days, leap over pit counters and generally set the tone.

Always respectful of each other, they assumed nothing and expected to reap only what they sowed.

Jo had the edge in qualifying in the 1970 sports car season, but it was Pedro who won four races to his ostensible team leader’s three.

The following year the score was 4-1 in the Mexican’s advantage.

sports cars history  Siffert and Rodríguez

He was also 4-1 ahead by the time their F1 qualifying head-to-head had reached midseason.

Plus Pedro had caught the eye with a ferocious part in perhaps the greatest wet-weather duel: versus Jacky Ickx’s ultimately victorious Ferrari at Zandvoort.

It was Jo who joshed about a little Mexican bastard trying to kill him. It was Pedro who was in no need of leavening jokes as he perpetrated a slow strangulation rather than the crime of passion alluded to. His speed, consistency, mechanical sympathy and paucity of crashes combined to form a relentlessness that even fearless, workaholic Jo could not quite match.

At Österreichring in June, Pedro conjured another miracle victory, this time by charging on slicks in the rain to obviate pit stops after dropping three laps while a voltage regulator was changed.

sports cars history  Siffert and Rodríguez

He was at his best, then – two weeks before his unnecessary death in an inconsequential race.

When asked why he planned to contest that fateful Interserie encounter at the Norisring in a privateer Ferrari, he had answered simply that he needed the money.

Needed the ‘fix’ more like – in the same way that Siffert had bought a Formula 2 Chevron to fill what few gaps his F1, WSC and Can-Am programmes left him.

Pedro’s death released something inside Jo. He moved forward a couple of rows in GP qualifying and revived flagging BRM’s morale with a convincing victory from pole at the Österreichring despite a slow puncture late in the race.

He finished second at Watkins Glen, too.

He was at his best, then – three weeks before his unnecessary death in an inconsequential race.

sports cars history  Siffert and Rodríguez

The supposedly celebratory Victory Race at Brands Hatch was his 41st outing of the season. It felt like one too many – but still he put his BRM P160 in pole.

He was recovering from a weary start when his car snapped beyond his control on the approach to Hawthorns. The cause was inexplicable. The rescue response was inexcusable. And 50,000 attended his funeral.

A lot has changed since – praise be! – but there is still some crossover between then and now. For Switzerland read Somerset. For Pedro read Sergio (or ‘Checo’ – depends how well you know him, I guess). For Jo read Jenson. And for murder read ‘Move over!’

The tracks have gone soft – from Eau my God! to deserts of Bahraini room – but these little Mexicans are still hard bastards.

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sports cars history  Siffert and Rodríguez

Add your comments

17 comments on Siffert and Rodríguez

  1. Mario Carneiro Neto, 26 April 2013 13:17

    Here’s the movie version, with a nice clip of that pass at Eau Rouge to boot!

  2. Alex Harmer, 26 April 2013 14:12

    Thanks Mario, I’ve added it to the bottom of the feature.


  3. The Original Ray T, 26 April 2013 17:26

    It’s unfortunate that Perez’s battle was considered not “proper racing” by Button, and how racing in F1 has degraded to the point that even close racing is now deemed unacceptable to drivers.
    Button is annoyed by Perez, but Arnoux and Villeneuve became friends with mutual respect after Dijon, and that was a much more intense battle.

  4. John B, 26 April 2013 21:48

    I agree with Ray T on this. If drivers are stopped driving like we saw at the last GP ie. trying to overtake, what do we have left?

  5. Chris Hall, 26 April 2013 22:10

    The pictures of the two at Spa always make me think of a couple of things. Firstly that each was the pretty much opposite of what I’d expected. . Pedro, the fiery Mexican, actually was more of a Prost, whereas Siffert, the cool calculating Swiss was more of a Senna. Except in this instance of course where Pedro dived down the inside but was given room by Jo, just….

    The other memory ? Fast forward 15 years, again two Porsches going for the same bit of road but obviously a lot quicker having accelerated downhill from La Source. Completely different result…….

  6. Terry Jacob, 26 April 2013 23:05

    Oh , Jo and Pedro , real racers from an era when that really meant something .

  7. Carlos Jalife, 27 April 2013 04:36

    An article I enjoyed!

  8. Rich Ambroson, 27 April 2013 04:58

    Well said, Original Ray.

  9. chris b, 28 April 2013 17:24

    two really great drivers and two really great blokes, seemingly in respect of each other and great for motor sport,

    i was always puzzled why Pedro had to race that weekend for money – sorry can’t afford their biography, if memory recollects wasn’t his Father somewhat wealthy?

    I always though Jo drove at his best at circuits aka Enna, such as in 1965 when he beat Jimmy fair and square and i think the poignancy of all three of their deaths, unnecessary deaths I add, still hurts all these years on,

    sorry i don’t see the connection with Jo and Pedro and Sergio and Jenson, i suppose come to that i actually don’t see the connection between motor racing of their era and Farce One of today, sorry Formula One of today, says a great deal when a lifelong F1 fan prefers to watch MOTOGP than F1 now

  10. dave cubbedge, 28 April 2013 19:11

    Great read! Two of my all time favorites, both taken too soon. I have always felt that Seppi was on the verge of a lot more F1 wins….sadly not to be.

  11. Joe Machado, 29 April 2013 21:31

    In my opinion Sergio Perez cannot be compared to Pedro Rodriguez. That would be an insult to Pedro! The cars today are “point and squirt” type cars, not the machinery that Pedro and Seppi used to drive. Sergio could not touch one of those cars with a 10 foot pole. I have not problem with Sergio driving today’s machinery but the 70s cars he would not be able to drive with the same verve Pedro did.

  12. Tony Geran, 30 April 2013 04:47

    It’s one thing to rub paint just after a (albeit rolling) start but to rub wheels with your team mate in an open wheeler at full speed is something else, especially when you haven’t performed that well with your new team until this point of the year. Perhaps we ought to consider what happened at this very same corner 15 years later when Bellof tried to take Ickx at Eau Rouge. I agree with Chris B above, F1 today seems like kids’ stuff compared to the ’70′s and ’80′s. Agree also that Moto GP is better viewing, but personally find it a bit flat following Stoner’s retirement. Maybe I’m getting old but I found the finale to the US Masters the most exciting piece of sporting theatre so far this year.

  13. Philip Morris, 1 May 2013 13:31

    Both great drivers, but it was Jo who won the 1978 F1 British GP driving for private entrants Geoff Thomas and Rob Walker in a Lotus in the days when F1 cars were often lethal as far as their drivers were concerned.

    Jackie Stewart and others worked hard to reduce the annual carnage of F1 drivers and those in other disciplines and did a great job.

    Unfortunately their efforts are now being abused in all racing disciplines with the drivers now being almost totally safe whatever antics they get up to and crashes they cause! had they driven in the modern way in the 50′s and 60′s they would have had all motor sport banned due to the unbelievable carnage they caused.

    Yes, I did race in those years in Saloon Cars with three classes which gave considerable speed differentials and have great respect for those who unfortunately did not survive, unlike the modern dodgem car drivers, sorry “touring car” identikit cars.

    it may make for good TV but is poor motorsport.


  14. wayne wachtell, 1 May 2013 19:01

    I miss both of these guys!!!!!!!! RIP ! liked racing better back then you had someone to root for!!!!

  15. Philip Morris, 3 May 2013 21:28


    I must have been thinking of my age, Jo Siffert won the British Grand Prix in 1968 not ’78, apologies to all for the misleading info.

  16. Nigel Cooney, 4 May 2013 08:27

    The two best drivers of their (or any) era, in my opinion – driving for the two most iconic teams – BRM and JW Porsche.
    I still try and enthuse about GP racing (sorry, I mean eff wunn in
    modern-speak!) and endurance racing but you couldn’t pay me to go to modern circuits and the noise – or rather, the lack of it in
    the case of current Audi diesels – discourages me from going to
    Le Mans.
    But…. Pedro & Jo….. That was proper stuff!!

  17. oscar bracamontes, 9 May 2013 16:21

    I have always tought that they were destined to go together during races and on their final journey.
    Thanks for such an interesting and emotional revival of this unforgetable brief but substancious period.
    Pls. receive my regards from México.

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