1971 US at Watkins Glen
What prompted Alain de Cadenet to take you grand prix racing?
We’d just won at the Norisring with an Interserie car. Unfortunately Pedro Rodríguez got killed and I think Alain read in the paper that it was ‘a minor motor race’. That was surprising as there were 110,000 people there. He took umbrage and said, ‘Let’s buy an F1 car’. He did a deal with Ron Tauranac for a BT33.
You started with the Gold Cup. How did that go?
The Brabham came with the wrong wheels on it. It was terribly light and I couldn’t get any feel in the steering. Later we found out it should have had 20in wheels — we had 22in and the geometry was wrong. It was Jean-Pierre Jarier’s first F1 race as well and we lapped him. Then in Alain’s wonderfully chaotic way we went off to North America via Page & Moy. In Canada I was a reserve, but after others had problems we got onto the grid. Then, when we came round to make the start, the engine went all funny. It had broken a cam so we didn’t start. I can remember having a good few drinks afterwards and then riding a scrambles ‘bike back to the hotel!
But you made it in the US GP…
At Watkins Glen I finally got used to how bad it was. I just adapted. I think it cut out and I spun on the first lap. It stalled but we got it going. I came in for a new battery and went out again. I’d lost a lap and was stuck in the middle pack. I was behind Denny Hulme with Ronnie Peterson behind me. I stayed there for about 20 laps and thought I’d cracked it. And I did literally crack it, because the chassis then cracked in half. It started tyre chunking and that broke the horseshoe on the back of the chassis. I came in and Tauranac gave me a huge telling off. I said to him, ‘I’m from sportscars — you don’t get out of them until they hit the ground!’
Any regrets on not doing more F1?
There were the usual offers to go and have tea with Louis Stanley, but to be honest I didn’t want to waste my time. It wasn’t any great loss when we decided that we didn’t actually like the people in F1 and that we’d go back to sportscars. And that’s what made Gordon Murray to a certain extent — us giving him the opportunity to turn that BT33 into a sportscar, the Duckhams Special. And that was a very good car indeed.
But are you proud of the fact that you made it to F1?
It seems to have had a greater effect on other people. To be perfectly honest I can’t say I really wanted to be a GP driver, being a bit more cynical by then. I’d raced against most of those people in sportscars anyway. It was good for Alain to have a go. I take my hat off to him for getting in as an independent. — AC