Formula 3 in retrospect

Whatever happened to the likely lads?

In the late 1960s any aspiring Formula 1 ace simply had to get into Formula 3 somehow or other. These days we’re used to Grand Prix drivers emerging from other categories such as Formula Atlantic or even Can-Am and the system of progression is far less predictable than it used to be. Formula 3 is currently enjoying a particularly healthy time and, in particular, the Marlboro British championship seems set for sustained success in 1982. But, no question about it, Formula 3’s heyday was in the late 1960s when the 1-litre, Ford-based “screamers” held sway. With just over 100 b.h.p. available if you were prepared to take your highly-stressed, three-bearing, four-cylinder engine to just under 10,000 r.p.m., you could propel your Brabham, Lotus or Tecno into the leading bunch and make a name for yourself. The competition was cut-throat, the grids all over Britain and Europe were absolutely enormous. But in these pre-ground effect days when even aerofoils were in their infancy, tyres were skinny and chassis straightforward spaceframes, driving ability was the single most important asset in a competitor’s racing package. And it wasn’t exorbitantly expensive by the standards of the day. £10,000 would have been a perfectly reasonable budget with which to contest the major British championships. In 1982 you’ll probably need more than ten times that amount to buy the right sort of programme. And inflation, while it may seem outrageous, certainly hasn’t multiplied by ten times in the past decade.

In the late 1960s Grand Prix team managers watched Formula 3 with an eagle-eye. Anybody who was good would be quickly gathered up by an F2 team to race in a category in which he could pit his skills against many F1 contestants. Ever since Jackie Stewart graduated from his Tyrrell Cooper-BMC in 1900, the first year of the 1-litre Formula 3, talent-spotters scanned the horizon for fresh material. And there were plenty of very capable drivers, many of them British, who struggled to the forefront of F3 to develop the split-second knack of winning in these gruellingly competitive conditions.

Of course, everybody knows and remembers the most obvious names. Britain produced James Hunt and twice Le Mans winner Derek Bell who has established himself as an endurance driver of World class even though his F1 career proved intermittent and largely unsuccessful. With intelligently planned support from Elf, France produced a host of notable names such as Jean-Pierre Beltoise, Henri Pescarolo and the ebullient Johnny Servoz-Gavin, all of whom made their way into F1 thanks to Matra’s interest and co-operation. Sweden’s contribution to the form book took the shape of those two great rivals Ronnie Peterson and Reine Wisell, both of whom made it through to F1, as did Antipodean stars Tim Schenken and Howden Ganley.

However, it’s easy to recall the subsequent careers of these well-known drivers and it’s not these famous names we’re concerned with in this article. No, we’ve decided to look back across a selection of their rivals who, although highly competitive and capable of winning races, never graduated to the higher echelons of the sport. In many cases they’re now earning their livings away from motor racing pure and simple. But most of them admit to retaining an avid interest in the sport which is never likely to evaporate.

Looking back over twelve to fifteen years one quickly detects a great sense of camaraderie amongst many of the participants. For example, one of the most notorious “bolt holes” in the F3 community was a fiat in Harrow populated by such worthies as Frank Williams, Charles Crichton-Stuart and Anthony “Bubbles” Horsley. All were mad keen motor racing enthusiasts and they struggled into the 1-litre F3 on precarious budgets, Williams and Horsley financing their efforts by some pretty “dodgy” used car dealings. Classic stories connected with this pied-a-terre include the day that future World Champion car constructor Williams “streaked” down the garden to win a bet, returning to the flat to find that his associates had locked the door, leaving him starkers in front of a disbelieving populace exiting an adjacent church! Williams also confessed that he could never quite work out why he was consistently being beaten to various car deals — until he discovered that Bubbles was listening into his calls on the extension and then moving in on his arrangements!

Heady days! Of course Williams, whose F3 exploits where characterised primarily by his incredibly hairy driving, has now reached the dizzy heights of Grand Prix stardom as a constructor. Horsley’s subsequent career took him to Hesketh Racing, where he was responsible for fashioning James Hunt’s early Grand Prix career, and he still works for “His ‘Nibs” in a senior managerial capacity. Of this trio, Crichton-Stuart, a nephew of the Marquis of Bute, proved by far the most successful F3 campaigner. Driving for Stirling Moss’s SMART organisation, he won the Argentinian Temporada series in a Brabham at the end of 1965. The following year hr did the Temporada again, this time in a Natalie Goodwin-owned Brabham before retiring when his wife produced a child. So Charlie quit active motor racing, turning his hand to flying for several years. Now he’s back amongst his old chums as a member of the Williams team and is the man who first put Frank in touch with his Saudi Arabian backers.

On a more successful level from the point of view of the 1-litre F3, one should never forget the name of Charles Lucas. In 1965 he fielded a colourful team of private Brabhams driven by himself, the late Piers Courage and American star Roy Pike, the whole equipe attracting a great deal of attention with their “colour coded” overalls and livery which was a major departure from the regular blue Dunlop driving suits of that time. The efficiency of the Lucas team led to an invitation to run works Lotus 41s the following year, but “Luke” himself was even more ambitious and commissioned the design and construction of his own F3 machine, the Titan, for 1968. Courage by this time was pursuing his F1 aspirations no Pike and Lucas did most of the driving. The cars were well turned out, quick and frequently won races. But neither man progressed much beyond F3. Lucas, who also drove a Maserati 250F with magnificent aplomb and later handled Lord Hesketh’s birdcage Maserati in historic events, has now “retired” to farm his family’s estate near Ripon in Yorkshire. Pike, considered by many of his contemporaries as probably the most meticulous and talented of all the 1-litre F3 drivers, now lives in rural Somerset and occupies his time with the painstaking restoration of old country houses. His friends confirm that he brings the some perfectionist approach to bear on this particular task as he did when he was in the cockpit of a racing car.

Casting one’s mind back to 1969 we must bracket the name of Alan Rollinson right in with both Schenken and Wisell as a race winner of the first order. A determined Midlander, Rollinson financed his own private Brabham BT21 to run against the newer cars of his rivals. But his career never took him closer to Grands Prix than the odd F2 outing. Later he became sidetracked into Formula 5000 and later retired to concentrate on his garage business in Walsall. Even now he recalls those competitive days with great nostalgia, maintains a keen interest in the sport and is even considering a return in some club racing category “just for the fun of it”.

There were, of course, two very definite levels to the F3 game. The national club championships and the major international meetings which attracted the overseas attention of people like Wisell and Peterson. One of the most successful club level F3 men was Bournemouth enthusiast Harry Stiller whose family had made a considerable fortune out of the “1001” carpet cleaner in the early sixties. Stiller’s racing career petered out at the end of the decade, but his enthusiasm for the sport didn’t diminish and he was behind the private Hesketh 308 in which Alan Jones made his 1975 Grand Prix debut. Subsequently Stiller moved to California where he became involved in selling Rolls-Royces to the rich and famous.

Bracketed together with Stiller must be the effervescent Tony Lanfranchi. Today we think of this Swiss-born Yorkshireman as the epitome of British club racing; a great enthusiast who loves racing as much for the fun of good company as being out on the circuit. But cast your mind back to the end of 1968. At the wheel of a Merlyn Tony, even then over 30 years old, proved that he was highly competitive and gave man-to-beat Tim Schenken a really hard time in several races. The high spot of his F3 career was probably his second place to Schenken’s Chevron in the 1968 Motor Show 200 epic. But Tony’s career never reached any subsequent heights of single-seater achievement. To Lanfranchi, motor racing is meant to be fun and he can still be seen at any club meeting you care to choose round the country, loving every moment of it.

By the end of 1969, the F3 winner’s circle had become a crowded place, occupied by Chevron and Titan in addition to Brabham and those foreign “infiltrators” who’d managed to get their hands on an Italian Teens. But one man who ran against the tide fern couple of seasons was Morris Nunn who, in 1967, had opted for one of the spindly, slim Lotus 41s. Nunn really did runes a very modest budget, but his red car was lovingly prepared and always proved extremely competitive, Mo proving particularly adept at the business of slipstreaming which was so crucial an art on fast circuits such as Silverstone. Noun’s career subsequently involved a brief flirtation with Formula 5000 before he started building his own cars. The rest of the Ensign story was covered in last month’s Motor Sport, so no more need be said in this article!

Two British drivers of note to get their hands on Tecnos were Chris Craft and Peter Gaydon. Craft had established a reputation in saloon cars in the early 19696 before spending a year in Italy driving for the small BWA team in Formula 3. He subsequently returned to Britain and ran his own Tecno throughout 1968, proving impressively competitive. Craft actually managed a handful of F1 races in 1971 at the wheel of a Brabham BT33 owned by Alain de Cadenet, but he never established a foothold in this premier formula. He nonetheless built up a fine reputation as a sports car driver and has continued racing to date in a wide variety of long distance and saloon events. Away from the circuits he pursues his interests of interior and furniture design as well as photography from his Essex home.

Gaydon graduated to a Tecno in 1969 after a disappointing year struggling with a private Titan — the cars sold to private customers seldom demonstrated the same speed as the factory ears. He had a smooth, stylish approach to his driving and this earned him a scat in a Bob Gerard Brabham BT30 in F2 the following season. But Gaydon admits that his outlook changed completely after he married at the end of 1970. “Prior to that I never had any doubt that I would make F1”, he says, “but then I began to think otherwise”. After a handful of sports car races he finally gave up, but remained in close touch with the sport as a director of Motor Race Consultants, the race entry and management company. Later he moved to Donington Park as Managing Director where he enjoyed several happy years before moving on to take up the post of Marketing Manager of Hesketh Motorcycles.

Bearded former hillclimb ace Peter Westbury tried his hand in F3, running a very elaborate trio of Brabhams for himself, Derek Bell and Mac Daghorn in 1967. Westbury was perhaps a little old to really make a name for himself but he continued up into F2 where he ran his own private Brabham in the early 1970s under the banner of his Felday Engineering company. Subsequently he forsook the cockpit of a racing car for various business pursuits but can still be seen round British circuits on occasion, particularly in the role of a judge at the British Grand Prix.

From north of the Border came the pleasant Richard Scott, a dab hand with a privately owned. Frank Williams prepared Brabham in 1969 and 70, who subsequently also had a crack at F2. Richard’s racing was mostly financed from his own pocket, but without sponsorship it was becoming increasingly difficult to sustain an effective F2 programme as the 1970s rolled on. Eventually this quiet and pleasant Scot retired back to his native land where he now runs a large kitchen equipment store in Aberdeen.

Occasionally the British F3 lads were shaken up by the arrival of some effective competition from the other side of the channel. The French usually arrived with their Matras, excellent handling monocoque machines which put their power down much better than their spaceframe British-built rivals. Jean-Pierre Jaussaud was probably the best “Frog” not to make it to F although he subsequently switched to a Tecno and later was badly hurt in a shunt during the F2 Monza Lottery He just failed to win the 1972 European F2 Championship his private Brabham losing out to Mike Hailwood’s Surtees, and although he’s no longer racing single seaters he can be seen in saloon cars at French national events. A young Belgian called Jacky Ickx popped up once or twice in 1966 with Ken Tyrrell’s Matra and this machine was also used by Brabham privateer John Fenning to win the “slipstream special” at Reims the same year. Ickx’s subsequent history is well-known: Fenning retired to manage his family’s garage in the Hampshire town of Stockbridge.

Right at the end of the 1-litre F3 a wild young Frenchman called Jean-Pierre Jarier began to make his name in a Tecno, Bev Bond and David Walker were at loggerheads in the works Lotus team and Emerson Fittipaldi burst through the scene in a matter of weeks, leaping from Formula Ford to Formula 2 after only a handful of F3 races in between. Bond retired to his Hampshire seaside home after a few more erratic seasons in F3 while the writer last bumped into Walker in a Toronto bookshop three years ago! He was working on an automotive project for a Canadian university at the time.

From Switzerland came the pleasant Jurg Dubler, now a freelance television commentator with a national TV network in that country. He pops up at several Grands Prix during the course of a season. Tony Trimmer, 1970 Motor Sport/Shell F3 Championship winner, still hovers hopefully round the fringes of British national racing. He won the Aurora Championship in 1977 and 78 but never had the chance to show his true colours in a Grand Prix environment. In 1970 he drove a smart white Brabham for Race Cars International, an independent team owned by Irishman Brendan McInerney. I’m told that Brendan subsequently became a professional backgammon player in between stints of helping with his family’s Dublin based contracting business. Fredy Kottulinsky, once the teror of European F3 with a series of Lotuses, now works for the Audi rally team in a test driving capacity!

There were others who made it to F1, never to shine. Jack Oliver was briefly co-opted into the Lucas Lotus team in 1966 before pressing on towards an unsuccessful F1 career. Now he has a Grand Prix team of his own, Arrows. Mike Bauttler never reproduced his smooth F3 form in F2 or F1. He retired at the end of 1973 and now lives in San Francisco.

There are dozens, literally, of others. What happened to Cyd Williams, to Dave Berry or to Norman Foulds? Or Barry Collerson, Kurt Keller, Manfred Mohr and the French/Polish “Count” Adam Potocki? Are they still involved round the fringes of motorsport in some way or another? Or have they evaporated into some other area of business, sustaining themselves only with fond memories of spectacular racing, great rivalry and no many interesting circuits on which they could race. Motor racing in Europe could be fun in those F3 days. If you didn’t want to shape up against Pike, Lucas or Schenken, you could trail your second-hand Brabham on its clapped-out VW pick-up to Schleizer-Dreiack in East Germany, to Brno in Czechoslovakia, to Hammenlinna in Finland or Enna-Pergusa in Sicily. There was sufficient money to be earned, even for an also-ran, to pay the cost of moving on to the following weekend’s race. Many British drivers left for the Continental tour in April and didn’t return until October.

Competitive, carefree happy days — for some! For others the 1-litre F3 was a crucial rung on the ladder of success. Either way, those who participated reckon it was the most competitive junior single seater category ever. And the most enjoyable. — A.H.