1974 Belgian GP at Welles
How did you land the Brabham drive?
I was having a lot of success in Formula 5000 which opened a few doors but the problem then, as now, was money. Then the Automobile Club of Belgium did a deal with Bernie Ecclestone — who was always open to making a deal in return for a large cheque — and I got the drive.
What was the BT42 like?
The car itself was great but the engine was down on power. It just wouldn’t pull properly. To be honest, I just went round and round. I had to come into the pits several times but at least I made it to the finish. I was four laps down at the end (in 17th and last place).
So it didn’t lead to any immediate offers, then?
No. None. Again it was down to money. I took the view that it was better to stay in F5000, where I could run at the front with good equipment, rather than try and chase the F1 dream with a second or third car in a works team or try and fund a privateer drive.
But you did have another stab at GP glory three years later with the much-derided Stanley-BRM…
I tried to qualify the P207 for the German, Dutch and Italian GPs in 1977 but the V12 engines weren’t great, often dropping valves. The car itself wasn’t too bad —well, not as bad as some people have said — and there were some great mechanics in the team, but BRM was in decline. I can honestly say that I didn’t pay for the drive but we didn’t really stand much of a chance of success precisely because we lacked money.
And how did you get on with team boss Louis Stanley?
Very well. I knew he had a bit of a reputation for being… well, maybe difficult is not the correct word. Anyway, he looked after me well enough. I was certainly treated better than I had been at Brabham: I was wanted at BRM.
And you drove the car in the Aurora AFX series the following year…
Yes, but we didn’t do much better there either.
So, considering all the success you had with Count van der Straten, was there ever any talk of VDS in F1?
No, not really. Rudy raced for the love of it. He didn’t much care for the ambience of F1 which in his view was all business. Plus, as we had learned from racing sportscars with Alfa Romeo, when you’re up against the works teams as privateers you’re always last in the queue for spare parts. You really have no realistic chance of success. We were happier in F5000 and the Interserie.
What does it mean to have been an F1 driver, if only briefly?
I don’t make too much of it, but people seem to remember when you’ve been a grand prix driver so, yes, it’s good. — RH