It was with great regret that I learned of the death of Peter Gethin, a very under-rated driver in my opinion, who seemed in his Formula 1 spells at McLaren and BRM to have arrived just at the wrong time.
Although I attended my first ‘live’ race (the BOAC 1000Kms at Brands Hatch) in April of 1968 at the tender age of four years, it was not until Gethin’s famous victory at Monza in September 1971 and that of his team mate Jo Siffert at the Osterreichring two weeks before that I seriously took notice of motor racing, and can recall scanning the pages of my father’s copies of Autosport, Motoring News and, of course, Motor Sport to read the details of these two thrilling races. Not long after that win at Monza I was present at Brands Hatch for the World Championship Victory Race which, with the fatal crash of Siffert, taught me the brutal truth of the sport at that time. Many readers may understand a seven-year-old’s bewilderment as one hero ‘won’ the race whilst another died.
The following year I was at the British Grand Prix. At the souvenir shop selling BRM merchandise I bought a poster of Gethin in his P160. At the time I thought this the finest looking single-seater car; I still do. As I walked with my father on the pavement behind the main grandstand we came upon the man himself, sitting on the grass, in his racing overalls flanked by two tightly clothed Marlboro beauties. I asked him if he would sign the poster which he agreed to do, but we then realised that none of us had a pen to hand. Gethin got up from the grass, saying he would go to find one and invited me to sit with the girls whilst I waited, telling them to ‘look after me’. I still have that autographed poster.
Living close to Brands Hatch in the late ’60s and early ’70s I was lucky enough to go to many races, especially F5000 where, of course, Gethin was a master, first in a McLaren, then a Chevron and finally a Lola. The last time I saw him race was as a late replacement at the British Grand Prix of 1974 in a one-off Embassy Hill Lola drive.
The 2011 season has seen more overtaking in Formula 1 for many a long year and even if it is somewhat contrived, it has added to the spectacle. However, take a quick detour to YouTube to see Gethin’s victory at Monza on that far off day in 1971 and you will see all anyone needs to about real overtaking and courageous driving.
Phil Johnson, Belgrade, Serbia