1976 United States GP at Watkins Glen
How did the drive come about with the Wolf /Williams team?
I got involved because Chris Amon, who was my team-mate in the Talon Formula 5000 team, had broken his toe. He recommended to Frank Williams that I sub for him in the next race, so Frank rang me up. I said yes. It’s funny — in those days I had always promised myself that I would only do Formula One if I thought that the car had a bit of a shot at it. I got the phone call and those ideas went out the window! It did turn out to be disappointing but, 28 years after the event, I am glad that I did it.
Williams then was not like now…
No. Walter Wolf was the owner, Frank was the team manager and Patrick Head was the team engineer. The car was a Harvey Postlethwaite design fitted with a Cosworth DFV and it had rubberised suspension. It was a disaster!
Did you get to drive the car before you got to Watkins Glen?
No, not at all. But I had been there three months before the US GP in the (F5000) Lola, against the likes of Mario Andretti and Brian Redman. I drove for VDS Racing for a number of years but this was Bay Racing Enterprises, owned by Bob Bay. The 5000s were a match for F1 cars at some circuits. The time that I fired in aboard the Lola would have had me fourth on the grid for the F1 race! The F1 car was five to seven seconds a lap slower than the 5000 and I kept thinking, “Gee, I would not mind having my old Lola here!” F1 cars had high cornering speeds, especially on faster corners, because they had better aero. They stopped better because they had so much less weight but a 5000 would eat them on some parts of the track. The 5000 had about 550bhp and the Williams car wasn’t supposed to be far off that figure, but the Lola would eat it for breakfast coming out of a corner.
And the race was not a great result for you?
Well, I finished it. I got home in 14th, but there were no brakes left — no, not true, I had brakes on the front but the rears were gone! I think I had about three of the five gears left but I did better than my team-mate, Arturo Merzario, who didn’t finish. I outqualified him as well. That’s the first thing you have to do, isn’t it?
When you finished the race, did you expect that you would get another chance at F1?
I had a good career going in F5000. I had been in that game for six or seven years by then and I had been in two big accidents. I knew that I did not have the capacity to survive another one. I would have liked to have carried on in F1 but Blind Freddy could see that that this car was a waste of mine and everyone else’s time. — PB