John Love: Beware of the underdog
Extraordinary tales from the Motor Sport digital archive
F1 Retro January 2001
These days the idea of an F1 underdog upset is a junior driver from a massive multinational manufacturer-backed team winning for a slightly less good multinational manufacturer-backed team (see Esteban Ocon, Hungary, 2021). But in 1967, what would have arguably been the greatest grand prix turn-up of all nearly came to pass.
A 42-year-old with a paralysed left wrist entered an F1 World Championship event, getting within six laps of beating the best in a car that wasn’t even designed for F1 races. The man in question was John Love, a Rhodesian ace who had a tendency to enter South Africa events whenever the circus rolled into town, and he recalled his 1967 brush with glory to Adam Cooper in 2001, describing it as “tear-jerking” at 150mph.
The event – which technically stretched over two years since qualifying was on December 29-31, 1966 and the race January 2, 1967 – featured Love starting fifth in his ex-McLaren Tasman Cooper, but then falling back into the clutches of the midfield. However, Messrs Stewart, Clark, Rindt and Gurney retired, leaving the local hero in the lead.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Love told Cooper. “I just kept plodding on and plodding on. These things are what you want, but you don’t believe that they could really happen.”
Alas, fuel pick-up issues meant Pedro Rodríguez snatched the win from Love with six laps to go – but it was still a valiant effort and a famous runner-up spot. As Cooper says, “Of such things legends are made.”