THE LAST SLIPSTREAM BATTLE
Sunday, the 5th September, 1971, was a hot, sunny and dry day. It was exactly one year ago, when Austrian Jochen Rindt had been killed in the Parabolica curve of Monza to become the first posthumus world champion in the history of Grand Prix Racing.
Until 1971 the circuit of the Autodromo Nationale, lying in the wonderful Royal Park of Monza, was a high speed track. Slipstream battles always belonged to the races there. The slipsteam had it´s effect, to make a car following another one faster, up to a length of 400 metres. No or very special, and therefore very small, wings were used for maximum top speed on the long straights.
The 1971 worldchampionship had been decided in the 8th round, the Austrian Grand Prix held at Zeltweg, where Jackie Stewart in a Tyrrell Ford had won the title. But the race for the constructors´ championship had not been finished, in spite elf Team Tyrrell having got a comfortable lead.
After the German Grand Prix Peter Gethin, son of a British champion jockey and after the death of Bruce McLaren in June 1970, number 2 driver of the Colnbrook based New Zealandish team, had been sacked being accused of bad performance. Earlier in 1971 a B.R.M. cockpit had become empty, because Bourne´s number 1 , Mexican Pedro Rodriguez had been killed in a sports car race in German Nuremberg driving a private Ferrari. At the Austrian round Gethin had joined Yardley B.R.M. .
In the Monza practice Gethin only had qualified 11th place, he had been only a little faster than his team mate and Grand Prix novice Dr Helmut Marko in the old B.R.M. P153, while the Briton was driving the new P160 type.
After Jackie Stewart (Tyrrell Ford) and both the Ferraris of Jacky Ickx and Clay Regazzoni had retired from the 1971 Italian Grand Prix all by blown engines in the first third of 55 laps race, most of the leading laps were done by Swede Ronnie Peterson in a March Ford, overall 23. But the changes were uncountable, also pole sitter Chris Amon in the Matra, Francois Cevert in the 2nd Tyrrell Ford, Mike Hailwood, after 6 years of absence giving his come back appearance in a Surtees Ford, Jo Siffert (B.R.M.), and, before their drop outs, Regazzoni and Stewart were in the top position.
The second half of the Italian Grand Prix was dominated by a group of Amon, Peterson, Cevert, Gethin, Hailwood and Ganley (in the 3rd B.R.M.) fighting very tough for victory. None of the members of this group had won a Grand Prix before, and New Zealander Chris Amon was the most experienced driver of them. But before he could go for the lead again, he lost the vizor of his helmet, so he dropped down half a minute to be out of the hunt.
Left: Fierce battle in the slipstream of the Parabolica curve. Francois Cevert in the Tyrrell Ford (No.2), Mike Hailwood (Surtees Ford, behind) and Ronnie Peterson (March Ford, outside)
During the last lap first Cevert, then Peterson were in the lead before the last curve, the Parabolica. But while Peterson suffered under a broken exhaust pipe, costing him 300 rpm, most of the race, Gethin had got the advantage of an excellent acceleration of his V12 engine. For the Parabolica he went into the brakes latest of all his rivals, then he switched off his rev limiter to beat Peterson by 1/100 of a second. It was the closest finish in Grand Prix racing so far, the first 5 cars were within a second.
Until today it could be found no decision, which finish was closer, Monza 1971 or Jerez 1986, where Nigel Mansell in the Williams Honda was beaten by Ayrton Senna in a Lotus Renault by 0.014 seconds. The time keeping systems are too different to come to a final conclusion. Monza 1971 was the last slipstream battle in history, the following year chicanes were installed to make a fascinating period in motorsport stop forever.
For Peter Gethin it was the triumph of his lifetime and by 242.615 km/h he also set a record of winning average speed made for eternity. He drove a total of 30 Grand Prix, the last one 1974 in Britain with a Lola Ford of Graham Hill´s Embassy Team. In the mid-eighties Gethin became a team manager at Toleman (later re-named into Benetton) for a rising star from Brazil: Ayrton Senna
Grand Prix 1971
9th round of the F.I.A Formula 1 Worldchampionship, Monza, 5th September 1971
55 laps á 5.75 kms = 316.25 kms
1 Peter Gethin/GB, B.R.M., 1:18.12.60 h
2 Ronnie Peterson/S, March Ford, 1:18.12.61
3 Francois Cevert/F, Tyrrell Ford, 1:18.12.69
4 Mike Hailwood/GB, Surtees Ford, 1:18.12.78
5 Howden Ganley/NZ, B.R.M., 1:18.13.21
6 Chris Amon/NZ, Matra, 1:18.44.96
7 Jackie Oliver/GB, McLaren Ford, 1:19.37.43
8 Emerson Fittipaldi/BR, Lotus Pratt & Whitney, 1 lap behind
9 Jo Siffert/CH, B.R.M., 2 laps behind
10 Joakim Bonnier/S, McLaren Ford, 4 laps behind
11 Graham Hill/GB, Brabham Ford, 8 laps behind
12 Jean Pierre Jarier/F, March Ford, 8 laps behind
Fastest Lap: Henri Pescarolo/F, Williams March Ford, 1:23.80 min = 247.02 km/h (Lap 9)
© 2001 by researchracing
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