My only Grand Prix

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1967 Mexican GP at Mexico City by Jonathan Williams

How did you end up driving for Ferrari in Mexico?

I’d just competed in the Can-Am races at Laguna Seca and Riverside, and was waiting for the Las Vegas race. [Ferrari team manager] Franco Lini just said, ‘You’ve got to be a good company man and come down to Mexico. By the way, bring your overalls you never know…’ Nobody actually said there was a good chance of getting into the Fl car.

So there was no suggestion that you were actually going to race the spare?

No. I was very happy in Southern California. I had struck lucky because Chic Vandagriff; who was a Ferrari dealer, had given me a 275GTS to run around in. This vehicle had netted me a very nice little blonde.! was doing fine with her and could see no reason to go to Mexico to watch Chris Amon drive a Formula One car! It was rocking the boat from my point of view.

Did you finally understand the team’s plan when you made it to Mexico?

Franco wanted to give me a run, but Ferrari wasn’t sure. With the problems of communication in those days, Franco was waiting for a telex from Ferrari to say yes or no. It really was a sloppy affair.

Amon had rejected the car on the Saturday is that when you found out?

Even then they didn’t say that I would be driving it that day. It was well into the practice session when they suddenly said, ‘Get changed. Look like a race driver. Jump in it’. I remember I damaged its nose on a track marker.

Despite the lack of preparation, were you very excited to find yourself sitting on a grand prix grid?

Honestly, I thought, ‘How sad is this?’ Even today I don’t like making a fool of myself, and I thought that’s what I was about to do. Chris was a lovely man, but he was too busy and had no time to give me any tips or hints. It wouldn’t have helped anyway. But you led Jackie Stewart for a while… (above)

That just showed how bad that BRM H16 was! I was ahead of John Surtees as well in the Honda at one point. I had a long battle with Jean-Pierre Beltoise in the new Matra. He knew what he was doing in that car, and I didn’t. I could get a healthy lead on him on the fast straight, and then he’d embarrass me on the twisty bits. I managed not to bust it and made it to the finish in eighth.

Where could the drive have led?

If they had given me half a dozen races I’m sure I could have put the car where it should have been. I think I could have driven in ’68, but I managed to hit something solid in testing at Modena. They wouldn’t have asked me to test unless they thought they could use me. The phone never rang again!

You’re officially a Ferrari grand prix driver. What has that meant to you?

I’m happy to have done it, of course I am. If you’re into trivia, this is big time, isn’t it? I spent most of this morning sending off autographs to people who’ve dug me up. They’re better than Interpol! There’s some guy selling my signature on eBay for $10. I wouldn’t be upset if it was $100…