My only Grand Prix

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1975 Swedish at Anderstorp by Damien Magee

Arturo Merzario decided he didn’t want to drive.., when did you get the phone call from Frank Williams team?

Friday night. I flew to Sweden and drove the car for the first time on the Saturday. Straight away it was understeering badly, which was no good for Anderstorp’s constant-radius corners. I qualified 22nd. Ian Scheckter was my team-mate in the newer FW04 and he qualified 20th; I was in FW03.

Almost every driver was complaining about understeer. Did you consider Anderstorp a tough place to make your first GP start?

Not really, I understood constant-radius corners; I knew the gig. But my attitude was that I just had to get this thing to the finish.

What do you remember of the race?

After the start, at the third corner, the throttle stuck flat-out. For the first 10 or 15 laps I was kicking the pedal every time to free it. There was an engine kill switch under the steering wheel that I was flicking off as I changed down for the corners. The team reckoned that I finished 11th on the track, but the organisers classified me 14th. That was it.

Was it physically demanding?

Yes. At the end of the race I couldn’t feel my legs. But you learn from that experience. It was like my first Formula 5000 race on the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit I finished third on that occasion, but my right arm was totally dead from changing gear. It didn’t happen again, though. From that point on, I exercised my arms to take it, because you really had to hang on to those cars.

How satisfied were you with your performance at Anderstorp?

My ‘race’ was with Ian Scheckter: he put it in the barriers; I finished.

Did it mean anything special to you or was it just another race? It was just another race, just another job.

I realised that was how it was going to be long before I got the chance to do a GP. I always thought if anything came up, the answer would be ‘Yes, I’ll jump in it’. But even now I don’t trade on it; I don’t talk about it unless asked.

What are your memories of Frank Williams from that weekend?

It’s like my attitude to Bernie Ecclestone: you don’t talk, you listen. I was just somebody doing a job for him. He didn’t want to talk to me. There was no information about the car, how to do this or do that It was just, ‘Here’s the car, away you go’. He was getting paid for the car to be out there and I was available. I think it was Bernie who suggested me for it. My attitude is that I was lucky to have had that chance to do it and I’m pleased I did.

You tried to qualify the RAM-Brabham BT44 for the French Grand Prix in 1976, but failed that time. What happened?

It was a similar story to Anderstorp: a late phone call on Friday and a mad dash down to the circuit. The car was absolutely impossible to drive and I didn’t know what was wrong with it. But then the team took the engine out. A DFV has got two bolts at the top and two at the bottom to attach it to the car, and the two at the bottom were broken. That’s why I didn’t qualify.

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