A finer second career
- Mattijs Diepraam, Felix Muelas
- 8W February 1999 issue
- 1966, 1967 & 1969 German GP - A tale of two classes, by Mattijs Diepraam
Ron Harris Racing Team Protos-Cosworth P16 (F2)
1967 German GP
Let's present to you a list of four very illustrious people from the sport's history: Bernie Ecclestone, Roger Penske, Alain Prost and Guy Ligier.
Three of them have something in common but who is the odd one out?
The right answer is of course Le Professeur. And why? The four-times World Champion has been far more successful as a driver than during his short career behind the scenes, whereas Messrs Ecclestone, Penske and Ligier hardly made any headlines during their brief driver careers but as team owners each scored Grand Prix wins.
Bernard Ecclestone was a non-qualifier in one of his own Connaughts at the 1958 Monaco GP and showed up again a couple of races later in Britain only to relinquish his car to the more talented Jack Fairman. After these two non-starts Bernie eventually went on to head the Brabham team and collect numerous wins with Reutemann, Pace, Lauda and Piquet - before becoming the advocate of all F1 teams and the self-appointed first secretary of the sport.
Roger Penske finished his home GP twice in 1961 and '62 to quit as a driver soon afterwards, going on as a very successful team owner and constructor in CanAm, Indycars and F1, scoring his only GP victory with John Watson at Zeltweg in 1976.
Guy Ligier only made his mark after fielding a Matra-powered Ligier for Jacques Laffite and scoring several wins with Laffite, Depailler and Pironi, while as a driver he soldiered on two seasons ('66-'67) in self-entered cars - taking his Brabham-Repco to his only championship point at the 1967 German GP.
Incidentally, if you are fond of coincidences... this picture was taken at the very same Grand Prix. And the man at the wheel would be a fine addition to the aforementioned collection of talent really taking off in F1 after quitting the sport as a driver. It's engine wizard Brian Hart, who never drove an F1 car but participated in a F1 World Championship Grand Prix all the same.
It happened in the second of three years ('66, '67, '69) that the German GP was open to F2 drivers doing their own race amidst the big boys - hardly a problem on a 14-mile track. They were ineligible for points but on several occasions managed to put their cars between the major league contenders. For instance, if Jackie Oliver had driven an F1 car in 1967 Guy Ligier would not have scored his single point as a driver, for Jackie finished 5th on the track in an F2 Lotus fielded by Lotus Components, three places in front of Ligier.
In 1967, the world also saw the only appearance on the Grand Prix scene of the awkward Protos F2 machine. Its drivers were Kurt Ahrens Junior and Brian Hart, the latter being one of the regular drivers for the Ron Harris Racing Team, while Ahrens was drafted in to replace the injured Eric Offenstadt.
Early 1967, the Protos was commissioned by Ron Harris for an attack on the European F2 Championship. Hart, who already had a great interest in engineering, had been a admirer of its designer, Frank Costin, who followed on his preference for timber construction, using a bonded plywood monocoque, with metal bulkheads and a tubular subframe to carry the engine. Wooden ribs on the flanks carried the fuel tanks and supported the outer skin. The car was aerodynamically refined by its distinctive cockpit screen. Although the car was overweight and the ground clearance too high, it went well on high-speed circuits, especially at Hockenheim, where it finished second at the hands of Hart.
1967 saw the start of the new 1600 cc 6-cylinder formula, and the advent of 'graded' drivers to enhance the spectacle. And spectacular it was. The Ron Harris team signed Hart and Eric Offenstadt to drive, the two having to share the first chassis for the first few races. The sixth race of the season at Mallory Park saw the first small success for the sleek Protos cars, the second chassis now available. In his heat Hart qualified an encouraging second, while Offenstadt was fourth. But as both cars suffered suspension failures later on, Hart and Offenstadt didn't take the start. By June, Brian Hart was taking the car to 3rd in qualifying at Hockenheim, with Eric finishing the race in 4th.
The following race at Reims was a disaster, both cars retiring, Offenstadt getting hurt in the process and being replaced for the second Hockenheim meeting by a young Pedro Rodriguez. Pedro immediately shone, leading for several laps but crashing in the second heat. Still, Brian Hart hauled in the team's best result, finishing second on aggregate. The Jarama inauguration race then saw a peculiar Protos entry for none other than Chico Godia! It was posted as an alternative to Frank Manning's Lola-Lotus entry and it would have a miracle if Godia had indeed taken the wheel ten years after retiring. Eventually, the drive went to Robs Lamplough, with Rodriguez taking 7th and Hart retiring.
At Zandvoort, Brian had an unusual team mate in the shape of Rob Slotemaker. In a race that took Ian Raby's life the Dutch touring car ace retired, with Hart scoring another point for 6th. Another local hero, Kurt Ahrens, was drafted in for the support race of the German GP, ten F2 cars starting from a separate grid but running at the same time as the F1 race. Ahrens retired with radiator problems while Hart's race was far from trouble-free as well, finishing an unclassified 5th in the F2 class. Hart scored yet another point in the Gran Premio del Mediterraneo at Enna-Pergusa but Pedro Rodriguez, returning as Hart's team mate, had a big off, destroying tub 01 in a big way, the car breaking in half after touching Beltoise's Matra. Maybe that was the reason the Protos were withdrawn from the remainder of the championship, six races still to go. Hart's one 2nd and two 6ths meant 8 points and 11th in the championship.
The Protos chassis Nos. 02 and 03 returned to the track once in 1968, Ron Harris entering Vic Elford and Pedro Rodriguez for the Eifelrennen. Vic qualified 9th and Pedro was 14th of the 17 entries. While Elford went on to finish 7th, the Mexican retired on lap 10 due to fuel starvation. Harris then bought a pair of Tecnos (similar to the ones the Tecno factory entered for Clay Regazzoni and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud) and assigned Rodriguez, Attwood, Hobbs, Offenstadt and Jonathan Williams to drive. In the Argentinian Temporada races Harris invited Carlos Reutemann to drive one of the cars but as all of his drivers the man from Santa Fe failed to make an impression that season.
Brian Hart went on to become a very successful engine builder, moving into F1 with the Toleman team and branching out to several midfield or back-of-the-grid teams such as Spirit, RAM, Haas Lola, Jordan, Minardi and Arrows. Hart's initial steps into F1 were sobering, the bulky Toleman way off the pace, but by 1983 car and engine were a fine qualifying proposition, albeit too unreliable to pose a threat in the race.
Having snapped up the talents of Ayrton Senna in 1984, the team (and its shoestring-budget engine supplier) might have scored its only victory at the soaking wet Monaco GP, only to see Alain Prost being waved the chequered flag before the charging youngster could storm past.
In Benetton guise the team shot into the big league but Brian Hart wasn't involved in their sudden rise to fame. He did however manage to stun some of the big-buck engine manufacturers by sticking to his game all through the nineties: constructing useful racing engines that were able to embarrass the factory efforts on occasion, especially on curvy Mickey Mouse tracks.
Of late, Jos Verstappen's string of fastest laps at the wet 1996 Brazilian GP, driving an Arrows-Hart, has underlined Hart's capability of developing very driveable engines. Lack of reliability has however been a recurring theme in Hart's F1 history but he deserves praise for being a factor (okay, a small factor!) in F1 for more than 15 years.