1974 Austrian at Osterreichring by Dieter Quester
You were 35 when your Formula One chance came up. Had you tried to break into grand prix racing before then?
I’d never raced a single-seater until 1969, when I combined some Formula Two races for BMW with winning my second European touring car title for them. I then finished third in the European F2 series in a March in ’71, but went back to touring cars. I did have talks with Max Mosley about a drive with March in F1 for ’72, but Niki Lauda got the seat. My problem was that I had a lot of opportunities with BMW, and they were now moving up to the Gp 5 world championship. And they paid me. For F1, I needed to organise a lot of sponsorship money.
Where did the Surtees deal come from?
Mike Hailwood had broken his leg and Jochen Mass went to McLaren, leaving a space at Surtees. My deal was all put together by Mike Earle, who’d been my team manager in F2, with backing from an Austrian cigarette brand, Memphis.
Did your knowledge of your home circuit prove to be an advantage?
I’d raced sportscars there, but driving a track that fast in an F1 car was a very different proposition. I’d had no testing at all, so it was a really new experience.
You qualified last for the race, but were the only Surtees to make the cut. Neither Derek Bell or Jean-Pierre Jabouille made it in. Was that satisfying?
I was pretty pleased. But I was also quickly learning about the ways of F1. I’d been promised there would only be two cars, but when I arrived Surtees had three. I thought it’d be fine, but soon realised it was a real mess – not enough spares or tyres, etc.
In the event you had a quiet race and rose up to finish ninth…
Finishing was my target, I was not experienced enough to expect better. I wasn’t too nervous before the start because I thought back to my F2 days racing against all these F1 stars: Fittipaldi, Peterson, Regazzoni. I thought, “Okay, you know these guys, and they pretty well cook with the same water as you – just stay cool”. I had a good fight with Graham Hill’s Embassy Lola, and then also with Ian Ashley’s Trojan. But I learnt that F1 is all about what car you have and the Surtees wasn’t great. John was a good guy, but lacked money.
Why did you not carry on and do more races?
After Austria I shook hands with John on a deal to do the Italian, US and Canadian GPs. But I’d been taken aback by the ways of F1 — and in a TV interview the next day I said that John seemed “a tricky man”. I didn’t mean it in a bad way — just that’s how they survived in F1. Word got back to John, so he said: “If you think that, it’s better you don’t drive for me.” So he took my friend and fellow Austrian Helmuth Koinigg instead, who was then killed at the Glen. It was an odd feeling — and I was very sad.
Did you come close to an F1 drive again?
No. Maybe I should have tried harder, but I was happy with what I had at BMW. I won two more ETC titles and four Spa 24 Hours. I think that’s okay.