35 Years Ago Today
I was 15 at the time, 35 years ago, and very excited at the prospect
of a trip to the British Grand Prix, scheduled for six days after
July 11 1971. The French Grand Prix had taken place on July 4, at
Paul Ricard, and the first six on the grid were Stewart, Regazzoni,
Ickx, Hill, Rodriguez and Siffert. I was never a Stewart fan, but
the other five, together with Ronnie Peterson (who qualified a lowly
12th in the March – powered by that awful Alfa Romeo engine),
were my favourites.
Regazzoni, Ickx, Rodriguez and Siffert were all
in V12-powered cars in 1971, in their BRMs and Ferraris, and all
four were sportscar legends. As it turned out, the Ricard event
did none of them any favours, the BRMs and Ferraris going through
an unreliable phase then, although the P160 did come good before
But at Silverstone, on July 17, there was no Perdro
Rodriguez: he’d used the intervening weekend, since the French
Grand Prix, to race Herbert Muller’s Ferrari 512M at the Norisring,
and a backmarker had pushed him into the barrier, the Ferrari exploding
into flame. He just couldn’t resist the chance to race, and
paid the ultimate price.
enough, it probably wasn’t the 1970 BOAC 1000 Kms (where
Rodriguez was the absolute master of the wet - this is the official
Porsche poster to mark that race, right) that sealed my hero-worship
of the little Mexican: it was the 1971 Dutch Grand Prix, when he
and Jacky Ickx had raced wheel to wheel for the first half of the
race. As the track dried, Ickx pulled out a modest gap, and took
the flag with an eight second margin. They’d lapped everyone
else – but the top six was filled out by Regazzoni, Peterson,
Surtees and Siffert, heroes all. The Goodyear-shod cars were having
a dreadful day, Stewart finishing five laps down in the Tyrrell.
It was almost the perfect result for me. My all-time hero won, chased
home by one of my next most-favoured group.
Silverstone’s British Grand Prix was a dull
one, and the sense of doom and gloom after Rodriguez’s death
continued into the race. The Ferraris and BRMs didn’t last
– and Stewart, whose car looked so dull on the track, cantered
away to the win.
The 1971 sportscar season was effectively over by
then – although a week before his death, Pedro Rodriguez had
driven one of his finest ever races, to win the 1000 Km at the Oesterreichring.
Jackie Oliver had ‘walked’ from the JW Automotive team,
to drive in the Can Am, and Richard Attwood took his place in the
JWA Porsche 917 for the Austrian race. Rodriguez was magnificent
that day: he’d had to pit for a replacement battery, but had
charged back through the field, to within sight of the factory Ferrari
312P and the Marko / Larrousse Martini 917. He then pitted for Attwood
to take over – for just 12 laps.
was always so impatient,” wrote his mechanic, Ermanno Cuoghi,
in his book ‘Racing Mechanic’ (with Jeremy Walton).
“He can see he is losing places with the co-driver, he wants
to get back in straight away. David Yorke ‘as to stop him
for the actual time allowed. Pedro would get out of the car, comb
his hair, washing his hands and face and sittin’ on the pit
wall ready to jump in the car again. He was fantastic, driving always
with so much human effort.”
Perhaps if it had been Ickx in the Ferrari, the
result might have been different – but Regazzoni couldn’t
take the pressure and crashed, Rodriguez coming home to the final
victory for the Gulf 917s: his final victory too, of course. He
died a week later.
Are there certain
parallels between the great Mexican and a man of similar temperament
from the modern era? It would be hard to imagine Pedro Rodriguez
carrying on driving for a team that didn’t want him to be
there – not that you could imagine anyone not wanting him
to race for them. But is it impatience, and a sense of not being
wanted, that has driven Juan-Pablo Montoya out of F1? He and Pedro
Rodriguez both had (have) that ability to excite the fans, and F1
is the loser without Montoya. But perhaps the Colombian’s
move to NASCAR will provide him with a drive at one of Pedro’s
former ‘homes’ – at Daytona, for next year’s
Rolex 24? A Ganassi Riley doesn’t quite compare with a Gulf
917, but watching Montoya get the most from a Riley-Lexus might
stir some memories of the late Mexican’s exploits
35 and more years ago.
This is the
memorial to the Rodriguez brothers, at the circuit that now bears
their name, in Mexico City. Ricardo Rodriguez was killed at the
track in 1962.