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(Not so Famous) British Drivers at the British Grand Prix

(Not so Famous) British Drivers at the British Grand Prix

Back in the day when these things were not so tightly controlled it was quite common to see drivers make the odd appearance in their home nation’s grand Prix. Those up-and-coming might be given their chance by an established team entering an additional car whilst for others it would be as a self-funded (underfunded?) privateer, often in outdated machinery. Britain being the centre of the Formula 1 universe saw more than its share of such hopefuls.

 Among the twelve British drivers on the original entry list for my first British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch in 1974 was Mike Wilds attempting to qualify for his first Grand Prix. Unsurprisingly, in an ex-Ronnie Peterson/James Hunt March of 1972 vintage, he failed but would go on to make three Grand Prix starts for Ensign and BRM.

For the British Grand Prix at Silverstone the following year there were no less than three British drivers making their Grand Prix debuts and furthermore, they all qualified. The Championship winning Lotus 72, the original ‘John Player Special,’ now in its sixth season was showing signs of its age. Jacky Ickx had departed prior to Silverstone and Brian Henton was drafted in as his replacement. He qualified twenty-first out of twenty-five. As the race was also sponsored by John Player, the team entered a third car for another debutant, Jim Crawford, who qualified dead last.

Meanwhile,Team Surtees, running a single car for John Watson that season entered a second car for F2 winner Dave Morgan who lined up twenty-third on the grid.

Unfortunately, they were all to crash out in the changing dry/wet conditions that brought a premature end to the race although Henton and Morgan were classified sixteenth and eighteenth respectively.

Brian Henton went on to make nineteen Grand Prix starts without scoring a point, most notably for Tyrrell and Toleman with whom he had won the 1980 European Formula 2 Championship. Jim Crawford had one further F1 start and Dave Morgan never entered another Grand Prix but did engineer in F1 and other Championships around the world.

Back at Brands Hatch in 1976 whilst the Formula One world was concentrating on the Hunt versus Lauda battle at the front of the grid, history was being made at the back. Former Olympic skier turned professional racing driver, Divina Galica was entered for her first Grand Prix and together with works March driver Lella Lombardi there were two females entered for a Grand Prix for the first time. Unfortunately, neither was to qualify which was not surprising in Divina’s case as her entry in a year old ex-John Watson Surtees was seen as no more than a Brands Hatch promotional gimmick.
Mike Wilds was there once again but failed to make the cut in what would be his last Grand Prix entry, this time in a two year old ex-Jarier Shadow.

There were so many entrants for the 1977 Grand Prix at Silverstone that fourteen cars had to take part in a pre-qualifying session on the Wednesday evening before official practice. The list included Gilles Villeneuve and Patrick Tambay making their Grand Prix debuts. The only one of the five Britains to make it through was Brian Henton (March) but then he failed the qualifying proper. Included amongst those who did not pre-qualify were Andy Sutcliffe, (March) entering his only Grand Prix, Tony Trimmer who had failed on three occasions to qualify a Maki in 1975 and 1976 but was entering his first British Grand Prix in a Surtees and David Purley in his home-built LEC. Purley had raced in the British GP in 1973 but became famous for his attempt to rescue fellow driver Roger Williamson at Zandvoort that year. He also became famous for surviving a 179.8g impact during this pre-qualifying session which ended his Grand Prix career.

Brands Hatch in 1978 saw another British driver failing to qualfy for his first Grand Prix, Geoff Lees driving a privately-entered Ensign. In fact three of the four non-qualifiers were British. He was joined by Rupert Keegan in the works Surtees and Tony Trimmer in a private McLaren in his second attempt at his home race. Lees went on to make sporadic drives for several teams in F1 and won the European F2 Championship in 1981 before turning to sports cars. But this race would be the last Grand Prix entry for Tony Trimmer who never did manage to qualify for one.

Many of the above were talented enough to make the grade as their showing in other categories and formulae would verify, but they lacked the funding to progress. And with the death of Tom Pryce and James Hunt’s retirement, John Watson would be the only British driver entered for the 1979 British Grand Prix.