My only Grand Prix

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1978 US at Watkins Glen: by Michael Bleekemolen

How did your Formula One chance with ATS arise at the back-end of 1978?

I’d made an attempt to qualify a March entered by RAM Racing at the Dutch Grand Prix in 1977. It was a disaster and we’d tried unsuccessfully to arrange something with Ensign for the following year. Then my sponsor, F&S Properties, did a deal to buy me another one-off ride at Zandvoort, this time with ATS.

How did that turn into a full-time drive for the remainder of the year?

I didn’t qualify, but I was quicker than my teammate Jochen Mass, so Gunther Schmid offered me a good deal for the rest of the season. All we had to do was to pay the team’s hotel bill.

What do you remember about your only GP start?

Something strange had happened to the car by the time I arrived on to the grid. When I pressed the pedals, the monocoque flexed. The same happened when I turned the steering wheel. There was something wrong with the rivets holding it all together.

Why did you decide to start the race?

It was my first grand prix, so what else could I do?

The lap charts show you making up a lot of ground on the opening lap…

I think I was briefly 11th on the first lap. I missed the chicane and passed maybe 10 cars. In all the confusion [there was a first-lap accident], no one complained. I was actually a bit afraid about the car; I knew that Francois Cevert had died at the Glen five years before. I pitted after seven laps and didn’t want to continue. After we had a look at the car I decided to carry on. A finish looked on, but then the oil filter started leaking and I retired with a dozen laps to go.

Why did you fail to qualify at Zandvoort, Monza and Montreal? Goodyear effectively set the grid in those days. If you were unlucky, you had to run on the same tyres they used in the British F1 Championship. Then, you had no chance. I remember Rolf Stommelen telling me that he was given a set of tyres with Formula 5000 chalked on the side! I was quick at Watkins Glen, but one week later in Canada I was nowhere.

What was the ATS HS1 like as a car?

I don’t think it was very good. I did have a go in the new car, the D1. I did five laps in it at Silverstone to warm it up for Mass. Then he had a big shunt and broke his legs. Keke Rosberg came back into the team for the final two races and he got the new car.

Was there a chance of staying with ATS for 1979? Schmid was a difficult man, but I actually had a good relationship with him. We were talking about it, but he told me he wanted a German driver.

Did you continue with your F1 ambitions after that? I went back to Formula 3. Toine Hezemans was my manager and we tried, but nothing came off.

What does it mean to say you are a GP driver?

In Holland it means a lot. Everyone knows me in my country and part of the reason is that I did F1. I am involved in corporate entertainment and it is important for me to be able to say that just once in my life I raced in a grand prix.