…chance doesn't exist; there's always a cause and a reason for everything – Elahi

19 races? Forty years ago that was not a problem….

Amidst all the talk about this year’s arduous 19-race championship it’s worth reflecting that the F1 teams also raced 19 times in 1971…seemingly without problem and at a time when flight travel not only took longer but was also serviced by fewer routes and when routine tasks like engine changes took five hours and thus obliged mechanics regularly to work all-nighters.  The FIA World Championship was only 11 rounds long 40 years ago but the teams in addition competed in no fewer than eight non-championship races – in venues as far apart as Buenos Aires (Argentina), Ontario (California), Hockenheim (Germany) and Oulton Park (England).  Not much thought was given to logistics, either.  The non-championship Argentine GP was held in late January but there were no other races in South America and the championship season itself didn’t start until early March (in South Africa).   And the Questor Grand Prix, held in California in late March, was inserted between the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch and the Rothmans International Trophy at Oulton Park.

Sir Jackie Stewart dominated the 1971 season with his Elf Tyrrell-Cosworth, although the year will also be remembered for Mario Andretti winning his debut race for Ferrari (at Kyalami); Jacky Ickx and Pedro Rodriguez displaying their prodigious wet-weather skill in a wheel-to-wheel battle at Zandvoort; Peter Gethin winning Monza for BRM  (by 0.01sec and at an average of 150mph); and Francois Cevert taking his first (and sadly only) win for Elf Team Tyrrell at Watkins Glen.  Other notable events included Mark Donohue finishing third in his F1 debut (in a Penske-entered McLaren in Canada); Vic Elford slicing through the field at the Nuburgring in a third works Yardley BRM; Jo Siffert scoring his second F1 win in Austria; Ronnie Peterson finishing a great second at Monaco for STP March; Sam Posey qualifying mid-field at the Glen in a third works Surtees (only fractionally slower than Mike Hailwood); George Eaton and John Cannon racing for BRM in the North American GPs;  and Skip Barber, he of driving academy fame, not only racing his March 711 in North America but also finishing sixth in the non-championship event in Hockenheim.   1971 also marked the first appearance of slick tyres (Spanish GP) and of a turbine-powered F1 car (Dave Walker’s Gold Leaf Lotus 56B, at Zandvoort, although it had raced in non-championship events prior to that).

Speaking of those non-championship events, let’s remember the winners and some of the highlights:  Chris Amon won for Matra in Argentina (with Carlos Reutemann finishing third with a McLaren M7C in his first F1 race).  Clay Regazzoni won the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch for Ferrari (with the talented policeman/racing driver, Ray Allen, finishing sixth in Frank Williams’ March 701); Mario Andretti followed up his Kyalami win with victory at Ontario (where Pedro Rodriguez set fastest lap for BRM);  Pedro then won the Rothmans International Trophy at Oulton Park (after a close fight with Peter Gethin’s McLaren:  both drivers shared fastest lap!); Graham Hill scored Brabham’s only win of the year at the GKN/Daily Express International Trophy at Silverstone (when a stuck throttle forced Jackie Stewart head-on into the barriers at Copse);  Jacky Ickx won the Jochen Rindt Memorial Race at Hockenheim for Ferrari;  John Surtees repeated his 1970 feat by winning in a car bearing his own name at Oulton Park, in the Rothmans International (nee Gold Cup);  and Peter Gethin won the sad and shortened Rothmans World Championships Victory Race at Brands Hatch.  It was in this race that his team-mate, Jo Siffert, left the road at Hawthorns and died in the huge fire that followed.  Looking back now, it is shattering to imagine the pain – and the season – that the Yardley BRM team was forced to survive.  They lost their star driver, Pedro Rodriguez, in an unimportant quasi-CanAm event after the French GP (where Pedro was lying a great second before he retired with an electrical problem) but carried on immediately with regular drivers Siffert and Howden Ganley.  Peter Gethin, son of the acclaimed National Hunt jockey, Ken Gethin, was enticed from McLaren to race for BRM from the Austrian GP onwards – and then won his second race for the team in that classic slipstreamer at Monza.

Then Jo died at Brands, at season’s end.

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4 thoughts on “19 races? Forty years ago that was not a problem….

  1. Wow Peter, what a fantastic review of an amazing time in motorsport. I remember a lot of it now that you rewind the memories. And we didn’t have the interwebs to keep us informed back then.

    I got my racing news from the old newspaper-style Autoweek and Rob Walker’s GP reports in Road & Track – usually four months after the event took place. It was a different time, yet just how did things get done without our modern conveniences?

  2. Thanks – yes, they were titans. Looking back, I’m staggered by the amount of time they spent flying around the world just to get to the next race. In 707s, too, if we include the late 1960s! And what about Mario Andretti and Dan Gurney? In Europe, we’d occasionally receive the bland message that they’d be missing a race due to “other commitments”; in reality, if we’d had penetrative media coverage back then, we would have seen someone like Gurney racing a Brabham and a Galaxy in the wet at Brands, driving to Heathrow, flying to Chicago, flying again to….Phoenix….testing an IndyCar for two days….flying to LA….racing at Riverside…..flying to Paris…..flying to Brussels and then racing at Spa. All in the space of 14 days. Through thunderstorms (because avionics were still poor), with hopeless connections with the outside world – and all this while running his own race team and building cars for customers! Consider, too, that in 1966-67 Jim Clark split with his long-time girl-friend, moved from his family home in Scotland to Bermuda (of all places: and when I say “moved” I mean “moved”. For tax reasons he had to re-locate some of his furniture to Pembroke, Bermuda!) found a shared flat in Paris and drove in IndyCar, F2, Saloon, Sports and F1 events all over the world….took the trouble to renew the tax disc on his Lotus Elan…and drove absolutely at his peak in every form of racing!

  3. I think you are quite right that they were titans – men of a different era.

    I recall a story about Clark and Sir Jackie together in a race, the specific event escapes me. Regardless, Jackie had a pretty solid accident and was moaning about in the ambulance. Clark had stopped his car, maybe because of a red flag, and went to check on Jackie. Clark saw Helen Stewart approaching the ambulance and told Jackie “pull yourself together man, Helen is coming.” The account I read was much more eloquent but it showed a resolve and toughness that seems less common these days.

    And for all that flying around and racing in the fire traps of the day, they earned such little money. I think it was Brian Redman that said they were paid $500 a race by Porsche to hustle a 917 around the track. I bet Bernie’s weekly dinner bill is more than that…

    Agreed, I don’t know how they did it back then. I enjoy reading your work Peter, thanks!

  4. I can imagine the scene! And the following may be legend, but it’s worth repeating all the same: Richard Seaman’s last words, in the hospital after his Spa accident, were said to be, “Please tell my wife I won’t be able to take her to the cinema next week….”

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