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.