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The fastest Formula One Grand Prix of all time

Won by the BRM P160 and Peter Gethin

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The fastest ever Formula One race fell to BRM in 1971.
The race also produced the closest ever finish.
The closest ever "blanket finish" also occurred due to the first five cars crossing the line together.

So the fastest race record was at last broken in 2003 at the Italian GP - but BRM still have two of the fastest three.

The five fastest Grands Prix up to the start of 2009
1 - 153.843mph 2003 Italian GP - Michael Schumacher Ferrari
2 - 150.755mph 1971 Italian GP - Peter Gethin BRM
3- 149.942mph 1970 Belgian GP - Pedro Rodriguez BRM
4 - 149.807mph 2002 Italian GP - Rubens Barrichello Ferrari
5- 148.597mph 1993 Italian GP - Damon Hill Williams-Renault

The five closest Grand Prix finishes up to the start of 2009
1- 0.01 seconds 1971 Italian GP won by Peter Gethin in BRM P160/01 also 0.61 seconds covered the first five finishers being the largest "blanket finish".
2 - 0.011 seconds 2002 USA GP won by Rubens Barrichello Ferrari (an attempt to "dead-heat" with team mate Schumacher?)
3- 0.014 seconds 1986 Spanish GP won by Ayrton Senna Lotus-Renault
4- 0.05 seconds 1982 Austrian GP won by Elio de Angelis Lotus-Cosworth
5- 0.08 seconds 1969 Italian GP won by Jackie Stewart Matra-Cosworth

How fast was the fastest race? My interest in Formula One motor racing was cultivated in the mid 1960s on the writings of Denis Jenkinson as MotorSport's "Continental Correspondent". To spend the summer cruising around Europe in an E-type Jaguar watching motor racing - Yes please ! The titanic "Jenks" was always a law unto himself and (to the probable shock of the English speaking world) often pointed out the Imperial numbers (in miles per hour) that they cheered were meaningless to the metric (kilometres per hour) majority in mainland Europe.
Different speeds have been quoted. Is this due to converting time and kilometres to KPH and then to MPH? There is also the problem that the mile of the USA is not quite the same as an imperial mile.

One thing is certain, this is the only race won at over 150 mph. As for the average speed in miles per hour, take your pick from the following..............
Average speed 242.615 kph -55 laps being 316.25 kilometres in 1 hour 18 min 12.60 seconds (From Denis Jenkinson (DSJ) in MotorSport October 1971)
150.75 mph - (Ivan Rendall in "The Chequered Flag") - Fastest lap 153.49 mph
150.76 mph - 242.72 kph (0.01sec.) - (David Tremayne & Mark Hughes in "The concise encyclopaedia of Formula One")
150.76 mph - (William "Bill" Boddy in "The History of Motor Racing") - Fastest lap 153.49 mph
151.31 mph - (Louis T. Stanley in "Behind The Scenes")

On 15 August 1971 the Austrian Grand Prix was held at the picturesque and demanding Osterreichring. Jo Siffert in his BRM P160 scored a solid victory. Siffert's teammates did not do so well, with Ganley retiring after only 5 laps and Gethin and Marko trailing in at 10th. and 11th. both two laps behind. Leaving one high speed power circuit with a win and heading to another the team could expect their top driver to be right at the front and could only hope that the other drivers were not right at the back of the pack.

The 50th anniversary of the Italian Grand Prix fell on 5th September 1971 at the historic Monza track.

Setting the scene
The late 1960's and early 1970's were a time of "adventurous" design and engineering of aerodynamic aids (or WINGS, as simple folk such as my self called them). Speeds were increasing and a rash of chicanes was about to emasculate the high-speed circuits of the world. While the aerodynamics were still relatively inefficient and while high speed corners were left to the drivers of great skills (or move bravery than brains!) slipstreaming "trains" of cars were the norm at Monza. Unlike current Formula One, drivers were able to race inches apart without a great loss of grip around the corners and pass and re-pass with the aid of the "sucking" effect of the hole cut in the air by the leading car.
Most teams had come prepared to sacrifice cornering down-force from aerodynamic devices in favour of lower drag, in the search for more maximum speed. The works March 711s cars took advantage of their bulbous round nose without its unusual front wing. BRM ended up with various combinations. Gethin ran without front wings and a rear wing with two vanes, but no end plates. Ganley had the full set of front wings, rear wing with two vanes and end plates. Siffert had a rear wing with two vanes and end plates

Saturday practice.
The Formula One lap record officially was still held by Beltoise in 1 mm. 25.2 sec. in 1969 with a Matra M580. In practice for the 1970 race Ickx in his Ferrari managed a lap in 1 mm. 24.14 sec.

Just before practice ended at 6.30 p.m. there was a mad rush and cars could be seen going down the back straight at no more than 80 or 90 mph. with the drivers peering intently in their mirrors waiting for someone to go by and provide a slipstream "tow". Every now and then a bunch of cars would get together and there was some pretty hectic driving taking place as everyone tried to get an ultra-fast lap time. Most drivers got themselves confused with too many cars so that they got in each other's way, but one or two timed things right and Schenken had his Brabham in the draught of a bunch of cars so that he was gaining speed, at which point Amon caught him up and used his slipstream to waft by and get in a lap of 1 mm. 22.40 sec., an average speed of 25 1.213 k.p.h. (nearly 156 m.p.h.).

Race day


1 C. Amon Matra-Simca V12 - MS120B/06 1 min. 22.40 sec.
2 J. Ickx Ferrari flat-12 - 312B/l No. 4 1 min. 22.82 sec.
3 J. Siffert BRM V12 - P160/02 1 min. 23.03 sec.
4 H. Ganley BRM V12 - P160/04 1 min. 23.15 sec.
5 F. Cevert Tyrrell-Cosworth V8 - 002 1 min. 23.41 sec.
6 R. Peterson March-Cosworth V8 - 711 /6 1 min. 23.46 sec.
7 J. Stewart Tyrrell-Cosworth V8 - 003 1 min. 23.49 sec.
8 G. Regazzoni Ferrari flat-12 - 312B/2 No. 5 1 min. 23.69 sec.
9 T. Schenken Brabham-Cosworth V8 - BT33/3 1 min. 23.73 sec.
10 H. Pescarolo March-Cosworth V8 - 711/3 1 min. 23.77 sec.
11 P. Gethin BRM V12 - P160/01 1 min. 23.88 sec.
12 H. Marko BRM V12 - P153/07 1 min. 23.96 sec.

Emerson Fittipaldi used the Pratt & Whitney gas turbine powered Lotus T56B/1. He qualified 18th. With a time of 1 min. 25. 18 sec. His race resulted in a steady eighth place, one lap behind.

In the Sunday morning warm-up hour from 10 am. Siffert used the time to bed in the new engine of BRM P160/02.

The race
The afternoon saw the assembly of a "power" grid with V-12 & flat-12 cylinder engines dominating. Matra, Ferrari, BRM and BRM being ahead of the first Cosworth V-8 of Cevert's Tyrrell.

The race started with a battle of the Swiss as Regazzoni took his Ferrari into the lead from the start (from the fourth row !) and had the BRM of Siffert alongside at the end of the first lap. The leading pair were followed by Stewart (Tyrrell-Cosworth), Ganley (BRM) and Peterson (March-Cosworth).

By lap four Peterson was leading followed by Stewart in second place, Siffert back to third and then Regazzoni. As "Jenks" reported in the MotorSport report of the race " was all instant stuff .... with their wheels almost touching one another .... there was no nonsense about race-tactics, it was "Harry Flatters" for all concerned." All this was taking place at an average speed of 150 m.p.h.

The BRM of Marko was having engine trouble and after a visit to the pits came to a halt out on the circuit. The BRMs of Siffert and Ganley BRM were suffering in the afternoon heat and running hotter than was safe, especially when slipstreaming close behind other cars. Siffert dropped back to cool down a little.

Quarter distance on lap 13 saw Peterson lead Cevert followed by Regazzoni, Stewart, Ickx, Siffert (BRM), Ganley(BRM), Hailwood, Amon, Gethin (BRM), Oliver and Pescarolo. Siffert dropped back again due to high water temperature on lap 15, while on lap 16 Stewart pulled off with his special Cosworth having expired. Shortly afterwards Ickx got back to the pits with engine trouble, to be followed on lap 18 by his team mate Regazzoni's with another broken Ferrari engine. At this pace, only the strong would survive.

Lap 25 was a glory time for two British World Champion motorcyclists when Mike Hailwood took the lead for the team of John Surtees

Siffert took his cooled BRM into the lead again on lap 28, with the other BRMs of Ganley in sixth and Gethin was running in a distant seventh. The hopes of BRM took a severe knock when Siffert found his car stuck in fourth gear. The BRM team leader had a frustrating time with a car over-geared for the corners and under-geared for the straights.

Amon, Peterson, Hailwood and Cevert were giving the crowd their thrills at "the sharp end" as the race worked its way to a close. BRM were now playing only a minor part in the proceedings' Ganley within sight of the leading group with his engine feeling the strain and Gethin within sight of his team mate with a healthy engine despite his enthusiastic use of well over the recommended 10,500 r.p.m

On cue for a spectacular finish the race result started appear from the "cut and thrust" with five to go. The legendary Amon luck struck when the ace removed the dirty rip-off cover from his visor. Sadly it and main visor were detached, forcing the driver to slow down due to the high-speed blast of air. To add insult to injury Amon's Matra engine went "off colour" and that was the end of his challenge. Things, on the other hand, were looking up for Gethin. After many laps of lonely effort he joined the leading gaggle for the crucial final laps.

Lap 53 Gethin lead Peterson and Cevert in close order.

Lap 54 Peterson was ahead of Cevert, Hailwood and Gethin. As in the tradition of a Monza slipstream battle the order anywhere except in the final dash out of the last corner would not give a clue to the final result. The only certainty was that there would be a first time winner, as all of the "stars" had fallen by the wayside.

Lap 55 - The last lap Cevert led along the last straight (not always the most advantageous position). Peterson dived into the lead under braking for the last corner (not always the most advantageous position!). While Peterson and Cevert fought each other around the Curva Grande, each determined to deny the other victory; Gethin came out of the corner leading. The leading four headed for the line inches apart with Ganley in fifth close at hand. Five feet crushing accellorators to the floor, five screaming engines and in the blink of an eye BRM had won the fastest, closest and most crowded Grand Prix finish of all time.

The Results
42nd ITALIAN GRAND PRIX-Formula One-55 laps-316.25 kilometres

1st. P. Gethin (BRMP160/01) - 1 hr. 18mm. l2.60sec at 242.6l5k.p.h. ---- at record speed
2nd. R. Peterson (March 711/6) - 1 hr. 18mm. 12.61 sec. ---- after a gap of 0.01 sec.
3rd. F. Cevert (Tyrrell 002) - 1 hr. 18 mm. 12.69 sec. ---- after a gap of 0.08 sec
4th. S. M. B. Hailwood (Surtees TS9/004) - 1 hr. 18 mm. 12.78 sec. ---- after a gap of 0.09 sec
5th. H. Ganley (BRM P160/04) - 1 hr. 18 mm. 13.21 sec. ---- after a gap of 0.43 sec

A blanket finish of 5 cars in 0.61 sec.

6th. C. Amon (Matra-Simca MSI2OB/06) 1 hr. 18 mm. 44.96 sec. - pondering over an "easy" win lost as he squinted through his visor-less helmet?

9th. J. Siffert (BRM P 160/02) finished 2 laps behind - pondering over an "easy" win lost due to gearbox problems as he struggled to the end jammed in fourth gear?

H. Marko (BRM P153/07) Retired on lap 4 with ignition problems - pondering over what could have been after starting alongside his team mate and eventual winner?

23 starters - 12 finishers

As a key member of the BRM management and also one of the most outspoken observers of the Grand Prix world here is an insight into the race and it's winner.

"Peter Gethin and Monza" - (Louis T. Stanley from his book "Behind the Scenes" 1985)

"In Grand Prix racing Peter Gethin appeared to be something of a lightweight, an impression that proved deceptive. Son of the well-known jockey, Ken Gethin, he was born in Ewell, Surrey, on 21 February 1940..............
Generally speaking, Peter Gethin's stay was in a low key but redeemed by one purple patch that found a place in the record book. The setting was Monza, that seething cauldron of Italian fervour where speed is worshipped and the memories of Alberto Ascari.
Wolfgang von Trips and Jochen Rindt linger. It is also the shrine of Ferrari tradition. In short, the Italian Grand Prix is a daunting test of machinery and nerve.
There were four B.R.M.s on the grid. Chris Amon was on pole position in a Matra, with a new lap record under his belt. Jackie Ickx came next in a Ferrari, then the B.R.M.s of Jo Siffert and Howden Ganley. Peter Gethin was in 11th place next to Helmut Marko, also in a B.R.M. At half-distance Gethin was not in contention, lying seventh, and some 9 seconds behind the leading half dozen who were circulating under an umbrella of 1.6 seconds. It was a miserable position. He had lost the tow, the tail-enders were no threat, but in no way was he making any impression on those in front. Once in that sort of no-go land, chances of success are remote. The only way to narrow the gap was hard driving. Gethin put the boot in and worked his way to sixth place by lap 35, 5.6 seconds behind the pack.
Five laps later the gap behind the leader had shrunk to 4.9 seconds. With 10 laps remaining Gethin was only 3.3 seconds behind the front man and 2 seconds behind his teammate, Ganley. Lap 48 saw him up with Ronnie Peterson, François Cervert, Mike Hailwood and Howden Ganley. Amon had dropped out of contention. On laps 52 and 53 Gethin took advantage of the slipstreaming and went into the lead to test BRM. power alongside the others. It looked promising so he dropped back waiting for the final lap."

D. S. J. Of MotorSport was dedicated to finding out what really happened Formula One. He also had a healthy disrespect for drivers talk not quite matching their actions. This is his investigation of the fantastic last few seconds of the race.

"After the race it was interesting to listen to Cevert and Peterson explaining why they did not win, when they started the last lap each confident that he had got it all worked out for victory. During the closing laps Peterson's March split an exhaust pipe and he told how he was 300 r.p.m. down on maximum due to this. However, he explained that he was able to stay with Cevert by braking harder and later. (Who asked why he was not braking at the maximum before the exhaust pipe split?) He had it worked out that he could pass Cevert's Tyrrell between the last corner and the finish if necessary, as he had tried it a number of times during the last 15 or more laps.
Cevert counteracted by saying that he had a much more powerful engine than Peterson and could pass the March any time he wanted to, but did not intend to show Peterson this until the final sprint (and I thought they were racing "Harry Flatters" !). Cevert's plan was to lead down the back straight, let Peterson lead into the last corner and pass him on the run-in to the finish by reason of his superior engine. He did not want to lead at the last corner in case Peterson got in his slipstream and "jumped" him at the line. At this point Peterson asked Cevert why he braked so late into the last corner, because it forced the Swede to brake even later and go sliding wide. Cevert insisted that he had not braked late, and in fact had braked early to lure Peterson by. Seeing the March in a full-lock slide on the outside of the last bend Cevert decided to pass on the inside but at that moment saw his right-hand mirror full of BRM with Gethin really standing on the brakes and also heading for the inside. Thinking he would get run into he moved to the left, nearly collecting Hailwood's Surtees in the process, and Gethin nipped through to lead the sprint to the finish. Normally he used third gear on the BRM for this corner, revving to 11,500 r.p.m. in third and fourth up the finishing straight. This time he used his very high second gear, which got him out of the corner quicker and helped him to hold the others off in the acceleration match.
After all the explanations by the Frenchman and the Swede I suggested to Gethin that he had been a bit unruly on the last corner. He grinned and said: "They left the door open and there was room for my BRM so I went through." Then he added: "It was a bit tight, but isn't that what racing is all about ?" My only comment was "good on you, mate". I may be wrong but I got the impression that neither Peterson nor Cevert fitted Gethin into their calculations, which is strange considering that he appeared from way behind to lead on lap 52 and 53, so they must have known he was about the place. Later when I mentioned to Gethin that Cevert said he had had to move over to avoid an accident, saying (righteously, I thought) that he would rather settle for second place than risk an accident, the Londoner looked all innocent and said: "I thought he'd move over when it got tight." That last corner fracas was really rather interesting for in it you could see the characters of the three drivers concerned. Peterson is a charger, with not too much racing intelligence, Cevert is a beautiful young man who is timid and doesn't want to get hurt, and Gethin is a tough little Londoner who has obviously grown up the hard way. Poor old Hailwood, who was there on the spot, didn't get a look in, apart from nearly being struck by Cevert's Tyrrell."

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