Ever decreasing circles
As the demands of F1 grew in the 1970s and ’80s, so the number of non-championship races shrank. Yet right to the end, such events still provided an important opportunity for rookies and aces
By Paul Fearnley
1970 & 1971 Oulton Park Gold Cups
Jochen Rindt parked the victorious Lotus 72C at Old Hall Corner, grabbed the suitcase he’d placed at the marshals’ post during the F3 support race, dashed to his plane, used the circuit as a runway, and was winging to Vienna while John Surtees, runner-up in the second heat but the winner on aggregate, was still on his slowing-down lap. It’s fair to say that this race meant more to the Englishman than it did to F1’s man of the moment.
These had been tough times for Surtees: Honda had pulled the rug out at the end of 1968, and BRM had proved disastrous in 1969. “Surtees the team was born of frustration,” Surtees the man admits. “I’d decided to be my own boss rather than be at the mercy of other peoples’ actions.”
Despite a reputation for being a prickly taskmaster, Surtees drove no one harder than himself. But lacking the nut-brown thick skin and zinc-tub constitution of Jack Brabham and the laid-back, follow-me ease of Bruce McLaren, the Sisyphean toil of start-from-scratch DIY F1 would eventually make ‘Il Grande John’ ill.
“The pressure fell fully on my shoulders: sponsorship-procurer, general manager, part-designer, driver and test driver. It was stressful. And it became more stressful when we had a court case [in 1978] over [missing] sponsorship payments.” This, combined with lingering complications caused by the blood transfusions he’d had in the aftermath of his Lola T70 shunt at Mosport in 1965, put him in a hospital bed – and out of F1.
Matters had looked rosier in 1970: “I established a workshop at Edenbridge and we designed a car as efficiently as we could within our capabilities. We didn’t farm things out to subcontractors. We made the tub, the suspension, everything.”
TS7 made its debut at the British GP, where John might have had a top-six finish but for the plunging oil pressure of a tired DFV. Engine problems also halted his runs in Germany and Austria. He was, however, on pole at Oulton Park, sagely banging in a lap just as rain curtailed the second session.
“Oulton was somewhere that always gave me a lot of pleasure,” he says. “It was a teaser on bikes and in cars. There’s a lot of variation within it that provides a real challenge, and you must have a car working nicely if you want to be quick.”
He’d not been on pole in F1 since Monza 1968 – but racers like Surtees don’t forget: he bolted into Old Hall and led the opening 20-lapper throughout, finishing 6.6sec ahead of Jackie Oliver’s BRM P153 and the clutch-less Rindt. But with the latter item repaired and a taller top gear fitted for the second heat, Rindt moved swiftly to the front. Surtees, tucked up behind Oliver, could see his win slipping away, which is why he made a move around the outside at Cascades.
Rindt needed a 12.8sec advantage to win on aggregate. He looked like getting it, too, for Surtees was struggling with a DFV that cut out above 9500rpm – “fuel starvation” – and a badly vibrating crown wheel and pinion. The Austrian was 10sec ahead entering the final lap. But it was Surtees who put in a Monaco-last-lap effort, clawing back six-tenths to win by 3.4sec: a brilliant effort in a hobbled car. At only his fourth attempt he had become the third man to win in F1 aboard a car bearing his own name.
And he would win here again in 1971. This also involved a major Heat Two effort in a down-on-power car: seven cylinders on this occasion. His TS9 having finished third in the first heat, he overturned a 5.8sec deficit to beat Howden Ganley’s BRM P153.
“I thought, ‘All I have to do is keep John in sight and I could win this’,” says Ganley. “But he took off like a scalded cat.” And won by 11.4sec.
Surtees: “Those wins would have been nicer had they been GPs, but they were proud occasions. Just about every car I’d sat in – from the 1962 F1 Lola we did with Eric Broadley – had part of me in it because I’d been so involved. But to have my name on the front made these wins special.”
1975 race of champions
We should be thankful that the shy guy who could never quite believe he was where he was, doing what he was doing, won an F1 race. His talent was obvious and it seemed only a matter of time. But time, as it turned out, was not on Thomas Maldwyn Pryce’s side. And potential is an intangible. A win’s a win. Indelible.
Shadow had potential, too. Designer Tony Southgate’s new DN5 had in ‘Jumper’ Jarier’s hands – only one car was yet available – set a hot pace in sultry South America for the first two GPs of the season. But his pole positions came to nought points.
“Bringing the car home was always the most difficult thing for us. We were not renowned for reliability,” admits Southgate. “But DN5 was instantly quick. It was the first car to be developed on the rolling-road wind tunnel at Imperial College. That became our much-mumbled-about secret weapon. With a rolling-road tunnel you can get data that’s 10-20 per cent different from a normal wind tunnel, and the biggest difference we saw concerned the centre of pressure: it was much more to the rear than we’d envisioned. That meant we had to get the front to work more efficiently. So we made the nose very low and flat, and it had a small air intake (for an oil cooler) that also acted as a downforce-producer. We had more aero load than the opposition. We struggled on the faster circuits. But Brands was perfect for us.”
As it was for Pryce: he’d learned his trade here; lived just down the road in West Kingsdown; and now it became the first track he’d visited twice in an F1 car. It poured in practice and he was brilliant, out-Ronnie-ing Peterson, the man Shadow had almost traded him for at the start of the season, to qualify on pole by a second. On the dirty side of the track, however, he fluffed his start and was baulked by the Lotus 72s of Peterson and Jacky Ickx while the Tyrrell 007 of Jody Scheckter cleared off.
The gap was 10sec by the time Pryce wriggled free of the JPSs on lap four. But from quarter-distance down it came: 8.2, 6.9, 5.0, 4.5, 3.7, 3.4. Then suddenly, as traffic loomed (in the shape of World Champion Fittipaldi’s McLaren), Tom was right with Jody.
“Tom was very inexperienced when he arrived [in 1974],” says Southgate. “He had bags of enthusiasm, though, and was part of the team to such an extent that we had trouble getting rid of him at the end of each day. There had been some real eye-opening performances from him in 1974, but although he had bags of natural talent he had to work at it a bit more than Jean-Pierre. [But] if you’re prepared to learn from your experiences, it can only help.
“I was used to rookie-type drivers, so having Tom in contention for this win was not unduly troubling. He was very press-on, very brave, but he wasn’t a win-at-any-costs bloke. If he’d been unable to make a move on Jody he would have been happy to bring the car home in his wheel tracks. Equally he was just as capable of making that move.
But he didn’t have to. Scheckter’s DFV went bang with 13 laps left. All Pryce had to do was bring it home. The hard bit.
1974 President Emilio Medici GP
What is it with right-wing hardliners and F1? Brazil’s 31st president had little over a month remaining of his term when half the Brazilian GP field was persuaded to fly 1000km to the middle of nowhere. Well, it would have been in the middle of nowhere had not his country’s capital city, political machinery and chicanery been relocated to Brasilia – think Thunderbirds backdrop – in 1960.
All that was missing from this futuristic cornucopia of concrete – viewed from the air the city makes the shape of a swept-wing aircraft – was a circuit. So they built one – a 12-turn 3.4-miler – in the crook of one of the wings and within sight of the centre’s tower blocks, semi-spheres and hyperboloids. It cost $3.5 million and took two years to construct.
“Actually they were still building it when we got there,” says Howden Ganley, who was scheduled to drive a works March 741. “The track was a bit ‘Scalextric’ and there was this fine red dust that got everywhere. I thought it looked a bit rough.”
Howden, however, felt even rougher: “I was ill and asked to be taken to the hotel. It was very isolated. Everything was so spread out you couldn’t walk anywhere. Not that I was in any fit state. I put on every bit of clothing I had – including my Nomex underwear, both sets – and climbed into bed to sweat it out. I lay there dying for a couple of days. I managed to do the minimum amount of laps in order to qualify, but the team had a reserve driver on standby for the race. Anyway I decided to start – and by the end of it [he finished sixth, one lap down, after wrestling with a bothersome gear linkage] I felt fine. I’d finally sweated it out.”
To the fans’ delight, local-ish hero Emerson Fittipaldi dominated the 40-lap race once his McLaren M23 had passed the Brabham BT44 of Carlos Reutemann for the lead on lap seven.
“It was a strange race in a strange place. I’ve never been back,” says Ganley. “Is the circuit still going?”
Yep, it’s now called the Autodromo Nelson Piquet. But F1 hasn’t been back either.
1972 Republic of Italy GP
Only seven cars were on the grid yet, no doubt after a protracted and hearty lunch, the organisers contrived to line them up incorrectly.
“Did they?” asks Howden Ganley. “All I knew was that I was on the front row.”
Scheduled for a relaxed 5pm start, this Marlboro-showcase 80-lapper at Vallelunga eventually got under way 40 minutes late. Shrug. No matter.
“Some local dignitary was there to drop the flag,” says Ganley, “and I always reckoned you could panic these guys. When his flag was in the air I dropped the clutch. Sure enough, he reacted and dropped the flag. That’s how I got the jump on ‘Emmo’.”
But the torquey DFV in Fittipaldi’s pole-sitting Lotus 72 saw him beat Ganley’s V12 BRM P160B into the first corner, from where, despite losing an endplate and half a spoiler from his rear wing, the in-form Brazilian led to the end.
“I’d got angry in practice,” says Ganley. “I’d been saying for weeks that we needed a proper airbox, and finally it turned up. The idea was for me to share it with Peter Gethin [in the other P160B]. But [team manager] Tim Parnell said I couldn’t use it. I got in the car and hung 12,000 revs on it as I left the pits. Tim’s theory was that I drove faster when he wound me up. This time it worked. I don’t think it was red mist, but I did cane the engine. Vallelunga’s great if you can ignore/avoid the rock faces. It’s that kind of track.”
He found 1.42sec but was still a second off Fittipaldi’s pace. The performance deficit in the race was half a second per lap.
“I was running around on my own in second when the car spun right round at the long right-hander before the pits: a bottom clevis pin had broken. I drove into the pits and the guys fitted a new one.” The repair cost seven laps.
“Then, blow me, about 20 laps later the wheel bearings in a rear hub collapsed. I pitted again and got the guys to fit a new one. My idea was to go out to see if I could set fastest lap. The team reckoned I had, but the timekeepers must have got bored and gone home. It was that kind of event.”
1978 International Trophy
It wasn’t plain sailing – the conditions at Silverstone were too Roaring Forties for that – but Dubliner Derek Daly certainly appeared charmed. It had been giant leaps all the way since his stock car days: 1975 Irish Formula Ford champion; 1976 Formula Ford Festival winner; 1977 BP F3 champion, and a fifth and fastest lap on his F2 debut. Now for F1. Naturally.
Guy Edwards, his manager, had done a deal with waning Hesketh, who were thrilled by Derek’s uncomplaining competence in its unloved 308E. “It was a reasonably balanced car,” says Daly. “It was just too heavy. [Co-designer] Frank Dernie told me it was about 150lb over the limit.”
He qualified ninth for his F1 debut and nobody was surprised. What was unexpected was that he was up to second before diving into Copse for the first time.
“I was always good at starts: instinct, reflex, go! This one was so good that I was tempted to continue overtaking through Copse. But James Hunt was to my left and suddenly there was a flash of red-and-white as he chopped across, at which point a wall of water hit me. I decided to sit back.” Until Maggotts! “I went around the outside of him. I was young and brave, and that’s what we did in F3.”
It was at this point that Daly started to question himself: do they know something I don’t?
Perhaps. A vast lake at Abbey skimmed him across the boggy infield. But then again perhaps not: Hunt went off, too; as did Clay Regazzoni; but not before Patrick Depailler and Keke Rosberg had spun at Becketts; and not before Ronnie Peterson and Niki Lauda had slithered off during the morning warm-up. On lap two Jacky Ickx, the greatest wet-weather driver, aquaplaned off at Chapel. And on lap three Mario Andretti, one of the more astute drivers, rotated at Abbey and thudded his lovely new Lotus 79 into Regga’s plugged Shadow DN9.
Daly had emerged from that quagmire and was now second and closing on Hans Stuck’s misfiring Shadow. He passed the Austrian, as did the Theodore TR1 of Rosberg (in his second F1 start) on lap seven, but on lap eight he spun at Abbey, as did Rosberg. At which point even Keke, Captain Car Control, plumped for discretion. But Derek didn’t let up. Why?
“Those old Bell helmets had two nylon studs over which the visor was clipped. My left-hand stud had pulled out of the helmet. I’d never had that problem before. Typical. The left side of my visor was hanging down and I was blinking a lot because the rain was hitting my face at 150mph. I couldn’t hold the visor in place because I needed both hands on the wheel to catch all the slides. But there was no way I was going to stop. All I could do was hope the rain eased up.
“I didn’t know the race situation apart from the fact I was leading. All I thought about was going as fast as I could. I guess it was inevitable I was going to come unglued. It got away from me at Woodcote [on lap 13]. I couldn’t see enough to read the puddles.”
Still it was a performance that might have set him up for F1 life. It didn’t. He stayed with Hesketh and promptly DNQ-ed at Long Beach, Monaco and Zolder, after which the team withdrew. Thereafter he flitted from Ensign (1978-79) to Tyrrell (1979-80), to March (’81) and Theodore (’82). And when Williams came calling in 1982, after the sudden retirement of Reutemann, it was too much, too late. New team-mate – and 1978 International Trophy winner – Rosberg seized the moment to become World Champion. Daly underperformed.
“I didn’t take full advantage,” he says. “I had some personal issues that affected my driving, and when Frank [Williams] let me go at the end of the season he was right. But that’s okay. To have come from where I did and reach F1… I’d lived the dream for a while.”
The ‘Daly Express’ stopped that amazing day at Silverstone.
1983 Race of champions
The last one. Ever. Full stop. There wasn’t the time or will to fit any more such races into the calendar. The World Championship was becoming all-encompassing and just 13 cars arrived at Brands Hatch. The rest were at Paul Ricard testing prior to the French Grand Prix.
Tyrrell had an extra snafu. Michele Alboreto, Uncle Ken’s No1, had a prior engagement at Monza with Lancia’s World Endurance Championship squad.
“I got a call at the eleventh hour from Ken,” says Danny Sullivan, the team’s No2 and an F1 rookie. “It was an unusual situation because Tyrrell was one of the better-organised teams I drove for. I was in LA and told Ken I’d get the first flight. Even so I didn’t arrive at Brands until the Thursday. There was a bit of jetlag involved, which was hardly ideal, but I was grateful for the extra seat time.”
He qualified sixth, albeit 2.6sec slower than Keke Rosberg’s pole-sitting Williams FW08C. But a demon start saw his 011 up to third by Druids behind René Arnoux’s turbo-charging Ferrari 126C2B and Rosberg and ahead of Alan Jones, making the first of his comebacks, in an Arrows A6.
“Everybody thought I’d made a brilliant move – which I had! – around the outside at Paddock. What they didn’t know was that I’d been punted up the back. I did go around the outside of Jones, but that was more about missing him than overtaking him.”
It was a cold day yet Arnoux’s tyres were cooked after just seven laps – Ferrari would eventually run out of slicks after three such stops – and by mid-distance Rosberg’s left-rear, despite it being a harder B compound, looked as if somebody had attacked it with a Stanley knife and a blowtorch. Sullivan, who had used the unusually long morning warm-up to carefully scrub in a set of softer Cs, was poised to attack by lap 25 of 40.
“I don’t recall doing anything special with the tyres,” he says. “We just followed our usual procedure. Ken was adamant about how we treated our tyres: no lock-ups, no wheelspins, look after them! Keke might have had a harder tyre on his left rear, but it wasn’t that which gave me an advantage. You have to remember how Keke drove; I’m not being derogatory, he was just one of those guys who pitched the car in.
“When I saw his tyre I thought, ‘Great, I’ve got him.’ But then I thought, ‘Damn, how come I’m not closing faster?’ I knew he wasn’t going to give it up. Brands Hatch was a great circuit but it didn’t lend itself to overtaking in an F1. I knew that pressuring him into a mistake was my best chance. I couldn’t afford to sit back because that would have enabled him to nurse his tyres.
“It came down to the last lap. I went around the outside of him at Druids. We were wheel to wheel but he just drove it wide towards the grass, and I had to back off. I caught him up over the rest of that lap and hoped to go underneath him on the front straight, but the gap was too big. He came over to me after the race and said, ‘Hey, I’m sorry. I had to do that.’ I told him I would’ve done the same thing in his position.”
Although denied a win by Rosberg’s skill and determination, second was a huge confidence boost for a driver in only his fourth F1 race. It proved to be, however, the highlight of Sullivan’s F1 career.
“I would have preferred some better results – the team was good but the car was rarely a front-runner against the turbos – but I felt it had been a good rookie season. Certainly Ken seemed pleased. But when he lost the Benetton sponsorship at the end of the season he told me he might not be able to honour the rest of my contract. We waited and waited for news, but eventually I had to make a decision.” Sullivan joined Doug Shierson’s CART team. “I had a fantastic career in America and have no regrets, but I would have liked to do more F1. If a team had called me after my Indy win in 1985, even the day after, to offer me that chance, I’d have been there in a heartbeat.”