Well-bred, well-funded, versatile
- Mattijs Diepraam
- 8W October 2000 issue
1969 US GP (5 October 1969)
A typical Northern American single-seater racer - well-bred, well-funded, versatile - George Eaton suddenly found himself in a European environment called F1, and within a superbly British team by the name of BRM. This was in a time when Grand Prix racing still exuded lots of Old Continent class to the Americans - that is those living north of Virginia - and of course to those most European of North Americans, the Canadians. It was also the time the US GP actually had more paying visitors than paid ones. And when you have a place like the Glen, with its Woodstock-meets-Nürburgring kind of atmosphere, you were sure to have many thousands of noise-addicted hippies flocking to the Watkins Glen camp site. Remember these were the late sixties.
In 1967 Eaton became involved in the booming Can-Am series through acquiring a McLaren M1C - his merchant family providing the necessary sources. He became a solid supporting act to the Bruce & Denny Show, a third at a very wet Laguna Seca his best result of the year. Switching to two new Macs - an M12 for Can-Am and an M10 for North American Formula A - he soon turned into a real front-runner in both championships.
And so, hot on the heels of BRM's Bobby Unser disaster one year before, George received an invitation to race a 'guest' P138 at two of the season-closing races in the Americas. He wasn't to race in his home event though: for this occasion the third BRM was given to local hero Bill Brack, another Formula A runner who had raced the third Lotus 49B R1 the year before at St. Jovite, after Baghetti had done so at Monza in 1967 and before Moises Solana would do so in Mexico four weeks later.
Although the Len Terry-designed P138 and P139 were terrible cars both Brack and Eaton didn't do really well compared to BRM regulars Surtees and Oliver who at least got some points out of those last three meetings, Surtees taking a third at Watkins Glen, 2 laps down, with Oliver taking a lucky 6th and his only point of an otherwise nightmarish season which was to push Surtees into constructing his own cars for 1970. In contrast, Brack finished as an unclassified runner in his guest appearance, 10 laps down, while Eaton qualified last in his two events, retiring from both.
So it came as a surprise that with Pedro Rodriguez returning to Bourne and Jackie Oliver staying despite his dreadful 1969 season, team manager Lou Stanley signed Eaton to contest the full 1970 Grand Prix season in a third entry. Still, there it was, and with Yardley's stylish coulours replacing the sombre Owen Racing Organisation green from Spain on, and the prospect of Tony Southgate's brand new P153 also of the mouthwatering kind, George could not resist taking Stanley's offer.
It all turned into a huge disappointment. While Pedro Rodriguez honed the P153 into a front-runner, taking his first win since Kyalami in 1967 and a showing championship potential through a late burst of points finishes, Eaton only had a 8th qualifying position at St. Jovite to show for his efforts, which largely went to waste, as did Oliver's (again) but this had more to do with failing engines (of which almost every one seemed to fall into the hands of poor Jackie) than with lack of driver talent.
So it came as no surprise that Eaton was relegated once more to a Canadian GP guest drive in 1971 - George again not showing much gratitude in the way of results - while becoming involved in sportscars for Ferrari. This lasted just over a season before Eaton lost interest and quit racing altogether.
Two weeks after Eaton's last F1 drive yet another Canadian was invited to race George's car at Watkins Glen. British-born Formula A star John Cannon also drove a March 701 in the F1-meets-Indy Questor GP and then went on to become one of the best F5000 racers. Cannon was the sixth BRM driver of the 1971, which in hindsight might have been a prelude to Lou Stanley's ludicrous 1972 multi-car set-up. With Helmut Marko joining the team at his home race, taking over the third car from Vic Elford, who raced it as a one-off in Germany, the squad's numbers soon rose to four at Mosport Park, where Siffert, Ganley, Marko and Eaton raced for BRM in a fleet of P160s. With Marlboro entering the scene for 1972 and the P180 project gaining momentum it really was a small step to expand the armada to five at Buenos Aires on January 24, Ganley, Gethin, Marko, Wisell and Soler-Roig doing the honours.
With Beltoise joining but Wisell and Soler-Roig not attending at Kyalami, the number was back to four. So what was new? They had done this before!
Reader's Why by Josh Lintz
The list of Canadian F1 drivers in the late 60s and early 70s was this: Al Pease, Eppie Wietzes, Tom Jones (not the singer!), Bill Brack, John Cordts, John Cannon, and George Eaton. Eaton was the only one of the group to obtain a full-time seat in Formula One. Maybe that list isn't so impressive, but around 1977 the fellow named Gilles Villeneuve shook the foundations of Grand Prix racing. It needed the shaking just as desperately as it does now. Thankfully, Jacques Jr is there to provide a little spice to the grids today, and a few honest comments about FIA rule changes!
This picture shows George's F1 debut for BRM, where he retired after qualifying 18th. He also competed in the 1970 season for BRM, but never figured in the top-six all year, with his best a 10th in his home race at Canada in 1970; even failing to qualify at the small grids at Monaco and Jarama. Eaton got one last chance to prove himself: at the 1971 Canadian GP for BRM, finishing 15th. Even though this was a BRM team that had little new since his last outing for the team, he never drove in F1 again. He raced a Ferrari sportscar at Sebring, Le Mans and Watkins Glen, but good results remained elusive. In 1972 he retired after the Daytona 6-hour race.
Eaton also entered Can-Am in 1970 with the BRM P154, but the car's handling has been described as "terrifying". There were several structural failures during the season and BRM's engines were not reliable. George Eaton managed to qualify his BRM in the top eight several times but didn't finish any races. BRM's Can-Am program suffered from the fact that they were a Grand Prix team that was merely dabbling in Can-Am. Maybe this is why BRM's racing fortunes took such a downturn in the 1970s: they were the ultimate example of a team trying to bite off more than they could chew.