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One off Grand Prix winners: Peter Gethin, Monza 1971

Submitted by on September 20, 2010

Some say that winning your first Grand Prix is one of the most difficult aspects of being a successful GP driver, but over the next few weeks we will showcase seven drivers from the 1970′s who might argue that getting your second win is the really hard part…….

Italian Grand Prix: Monza 1971

1971 was turning into a difficult season for ex jockey Peter Gethin. His adventures as a McLaren GP driver were being filmed for a TV documentary when the team decided to release him from his contract. Undeterred, he set off to Bourne and managed to arrange a drive with the Yardley BRM team, an outfit that was basing it’s GP efforts on numbers – often entering four cars for each race. The tragic death of Pedro Rodriguez a few weeks earlier had left a vacancy in the team’s driver line up.

In 1971 the BRM V12 engine was still able to beat the Cosworth DFV when it came to ultimate power and Jo Siffert had used this to his advantage to win at the fast sweeps of the Osterreichring. The next GP on the calender was at Monza and many people thought that Seppi could well be on for the double. This was to be the last GP at Monza without any chicanes, an epic slipstreaming battle would be the order of the day and a powerful engine was a must have.

As the race unfolded Gethin found himself in the second bunch of cars battling with Jackie Oliver in the McLaren with which he had started the season, while Siffert and the other BRM of Howden Ganley were in the first bunch as the lead of the race swapped time and again. But by just after half race distance, Gethin had joined the leaders as cars started to wilt under the constant pressure of being driven flat out for mile after mile.

Entering the final lap the leading bunch consisted of the  BRM’s of Gethin and Ganley, Mike Hailwood’s Surtees, Ronnie Peterson’s March and the Tyrrell of Francois Cevert. None of these drivers had ever won a GP at that time. No-one was sure who would win this one, but the one thing that everyone did know was that you didn’t want to be leading into the final turn at the Parabolica. Exiting onto the start/finish straight, the leading car would be the only one unable to pick up a slipstream. It was young Cevert who did so and he was immediately overtaken by the late-braking Peterson, but Ronnie had pushed just that little too hard and ran wide. As the whole pack sprinted for the line it looked as though the Swede would get there first, but at the last second a white BRM flashed alongside. Gethin was using every last horsepower from the V12 against Ronnie’s DFV and at the flag is was enough ……… by one hundredth of a second!!!!

After Monza Gethin returned to his customary position of running towards the back of midfield. He continued with the re-branded Marlboro BRM team for 1972 (scoring just one point – at Monza) before finding a more successful drive in the British Formula 5000 Championship and gaining revenge on the formula one boys by beating them to win the 1973 Brands Hatch Race of Champions in a F5000 Chevron. One off drives in the ’73 Canadian GP (for BRM) and ’74 British GP (in a Graham Hill Lola) failed to bring any points, let alone another visit to the top step of the podium.

Mel Turbutt

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