The Australian Grand Prix at Warwick Farm, nr Sydney, Australia…
We drove to The Farm in our Morris Cowley, me in shorts, long socks and short-sleeved shirt, my Dad in his point-to-point attire, complete with cloth cap and shooting stick. White-coated marshals directed us to our car park, nodding approvingly at our “Reserved” label and at the little cardboard grandstand tickets that hung from strings tied through our buttonholes.
I jumped from the car, taking in the smell of crushed grass, barbeque and beer. I sprinted over to a programme seller.
“One please. How much?”
“Two and six.”
“Dad? Do you have two and six?”
The programme was printed on glossy, white paper. I was there. It was happening. It was the Australian Grand Prix. Warwick Farm. Sunday, February 10, 1963.
I scanned the entries:
Car No 1: RRC Walker Racing (Dvr Graham Hill) – Ferguson
Car No 2: Bowmaker Racing Team (Dvr John Surtees) – Lola
Car No 3: Bowmaker Racing Team (Dvr Tony Maggs) – Lola
Car No 4: Ecurie Vitesse (Dvr Jack Brabham) – Brabham
Car No 5: Scuderia Veloce (Dvr David McKay) – Brabham
Car No 6: BS Stillwell (Dvr Bib Stillwell) – Brabham
Car No 8: Ecurie Australie (Dvr Lex Davison) – Cooper
Car No 10: Bruce McLaren (Dvr Bruce McLaren) – Cooper
Car No 11: Alec Mildren Pty Ltd (Dvr Frank Gardner) – Cooper
Car No 12: Bowmaker Racing Team (Dvr Jim Palmer) – Cooper
Car No 14: Scuderia Veloce (Dvr Chris Amon) – Cooper
Car No 15: J Youl (Dvr John Youl) – Cooper
Car No 16: Independent Motors (Dvr Tony Shelly) – Lotus
Car No 17: Total Racing Team (Frank Matich) – Elfin
…and so on. I knew nothing about practice days back then, nothing about how the grid had been defined. From our seats, though, high up in the grandstands, a good 500 yards from the circuit, Dad’s old binoculars (actually my grandfather’s and therefore the pair that had seen service in Burma) allowed me to watch the new World Champion, Graham Hill, climb from his dark blue Ferguson even as the starting grid began to take shape. I was shocked by the dark patch of sweat that ran from top to bottom of his light-blue one-piece overalls. I was in the shade, munching my Mum’s sandwiches, dipping into our Esky for a quick gulp of iced water; the drivers were out there, under a torrid Sydney Sun, sweating and drinking water even as they sheltered beneath Les Leston umbrellas.
And there – on the left! – there is John Surtees, the driver on pole position. He seems to be putting ice or something inside his helmet. And next to him is Bruce McLaren! They appear to be laughing about something. They’re chatting and joking and pointing to something down at the other end of the grid. In car number 5, David McKay, our local hero, sits quietly in his Brabham. Amazingly, he is starting third, alongside Surtees and McLaren. And what’s that little red car – number 17? Ah yes. That’s another local. Frank Matich.
“It says here in the paper,” interjects my Dad, “that Matich was fast enough in practice to start fourth but will be moved further down the grid because he’s only driving a 1.5 litre car. Sounds as though he did a jolly good job.”
F. Matich. Total Team. I would remember the names.
It was a long race – 100 miles of non-stop heat, noise and action. The “something at the back of the grid” turned out to be Jack Brabham, starting his new turquoise-coloured car in amongst the also-rans after numerous problems in practice. It was Jack, though, who drove emphatically through the field, winning the AGP for the Dowidat Spanner Trophy. Surtees finished second after a late-race spin, ahead of Bruce, the excellent David McKay, the polished Bib Stillwell and the press-on Graham Hill in the Ferguson. I couldn’t undertstand, back then, why Graham’s car looked so different from the low-line Lolas, Coopers and Brabhams. I didn’t appreciate four-wheel-drive back then, even if front-engined cars seemed to fill most of the motor racing books I’d been lucky enough to read.
Afterwards, when the packed race-day schedule was over and the shadows were longer, we walked across the track to the paddock area. My exhilaration left me breathless. “There’s David McKay!” “And look Dad! Over there! There’s Bruce McLaren!”
“Be quick now, Pete. We must get home. Mum’ll be waiting for us.”
“Can’t I get an autograph? Do you think they’ll mind?”
“Of course, but remember to be polite. Don’t interrupt and remember to call him ‘Mr McLaren’.”
I was but a nine-year-old. The Beatles had yet to enter my field of perception, as had Jim Clark. I knew nothing of the F1 World Championship that would follow this short series of Australasian races; I read only the monthly Australian motoring magazines, for at Swains or at Angus and Robertson’s there was little else to study.
I had discovered, though, a world that stretched my imagination to new heights, to new limits. That world seemed untouchable – but somehow I had to follow it. From Sunday, February 10, 1963 onwards, school-bound though I was, I could think of little else.