My only grand prix -- Leo Kinnunen

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1974 Swedish at Anderstorp

As a top sportscar driver, what made you want to try Formula One?

After three successful years in Interserie, we were planning to do Can-Am and F2 in 1974. Then we learned that the whole team had been closed down. It was a big blow. I was in good shape and in winning form, so we decided to have a look at F1.  In those days you had a chance to do it with reasonable money.

Why did you decide to buy a Surtees instead of joining a works team?

It was the end of the year, so all the seats were already gone. So we ended up buying a car from Surtees. We were thinking that it was a good car. We really bought a pig in a poke…

You failed to qualify at Nivelles…

It was the first time I saw the car. At the first sight I knew it was a totally shit car. I said aloud that no one is going to do well with it. I managed a test lap and it did not work at all — I came to the entrance to the pits and selected first gear, and the car just stopped there. Surtees sold us a Canadian mechanic and he had built the gearbox in the wrong way. That stopped our car after the first lap.

But you started in Sweden — any memories of practice that weekend?

We took the car to Finland and managed to get better driveability. Before the race at Anderstorp, my mechanic confessed to crosswiring the spark plugs and said that we could do only eight or so laps before the engine would blow up.

What was it like sitting on an F1 grid?

It did not feel anything special. I felt most of all the big disappointment with the car. I just hoped that it would not cause a bad accident by falling apart. We decided to put in only 20kg of fuel just for a great start. But it was a shock to notice that we could not do anything, even with a lighter car. I could have overtaken Jochen Mass and a couple others in the braking before the first corner, but I was too ashamed to do that. I knew it was only eight laps for me, so why disturb the race of the others? After eight laps I just stopped the engine. We tried to make it look like a genuine failure.

Did you know you were the last man to wear an open-face helmet in a GP?

I was thinking that people were crazy to use closed helmets. They were heavier. I had a very sensitive neck and I was afraid that if there would be an accident, my neck would be broken because of a heavy helmet. While trying the new helmet I felt I did not get enough oxygen.

You failed to qualify again. Why?

In Austria we had a good go — we made a new rear wing and the car was good to drive in the long curves. My only memory of Monza is that our tyres were stolen from the pits! But nobody can do anything about the fact that I was the first Finnish driver in grand prix racing.