Peter Gethin 1940 – 2011

Peter Gethin has died after a long illness. He was 71 years of age. Gethin is best remembered for his victory in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in 1971, when he won the slipstream race to the chequered flag, with the top five cars covered by six-tenths of a second.

Born in Epsom in Surrey, Gethin was the son of a wellknown jockey Ken Gethin. Peter preferred horsepower to horses and first an impression in Formula 3 in 1968, by which time he was already in his late twenties. This propelled him into the British Formula 5000 Series with Church Farm Racing. He dominated the series, winning the title in his debut year and again in 1970. Soon after that he moved into F1, being take on by McLaren after the death of team founder Bruce McLaren. He stayed with the team in 1971, but in the middle of the year he was approached by BRM, which was looking for a replacement for Pedro Rodriguez, who had been killed in a sports car race at the Norisring. He switched to BRM and in his second race won at Monza. Not only was it the smallest margin of victory recorded up to that point in Formula 1, but it was also the fastest ever average speed. A month later he won the Victory Race at Brands Hatch.

But the 1972 season was not an easy one for BRM and at the end of the year he left, returning to Formula 5000, winning the Race of Champions and thus becoming the only Formula 5000 driver ever to beat the F1 cars when the two series combined. He made a one-off return to F1 in 1973 at the Canadian GP when BRM dropped Clay Regazzoni and he was back in F1 again in 1974 when Graham Hill took him on for the British GP after Guy Edwards broke his wrist. He won the Tasman Formula 5000 crown in 1974 and remained in F5000 until in 1976 and then decided that he would switch to management and began overseeing the career of rising Italian star Beppe Gabbiani. His last important victory was in a Can-Am race at Road America in 1977 in a Lola. In 1984 he was appointed team manager of the Toleman F1 team for a while and then went back to Formula 3000 and set up Peter Gethin Racing in 1986. In later years he also ran a racing school at Goodwood.

20 thoughts on “Peter Gethin 1940 – 2011

  1. Very sad news. I competed against him once in a sprint at Brands Hatch. He was in a Lotus 23 and I in a Lotus Super Seven. Might have been my first ever sprint there. Although I was such a rookie, he was happy to chat and pass on helpful advice. I’m glad his name will live on in history for that Monza win. Don’t think anyone will ever take that away nowadays.

  2. I had left the Australian motor racing scene before Peter Gethin came out for the Tasman series, so I didn’t particularly know him. In 1998, walking in to the track on the second day of the first Goodwood Revival, I fell into step with a gentleman who asked me how I was enjoying it. We chatted for a while and he casually mentioned that he was driving. “What?” I asked. “The V16 BRM” he said…..and the penny slowly dropped that I was chatting with the great man himself. I’ve always remembered that pleasant and helpful chat, and the fact that he was not at all offended that I should not have recognized him immediately.

  3. The 1977 Can-Am Peter ran in was a shadow of its earlier form. (I don’t have words and shouldn’t take up the space to try to convey to post-’70s race fans what an incomparably fabulous show the original was.) Anyway, in 1970 Peter replaced sponsor-conflicted Dan Gurney, who’d replaced deceased Bruce McLaren, in the untouchable Mclaren Can-Am team, and I saw him win at Road America after Denny Hulme was disqualified for a push-restart after spinning off. Also spied him walking about the Lola works in his blue-jeans while I was in a 1975 group tour of the factory. The names from my memories of fun and excitement are leaving us. What can I say, but that, it’s time. Rest in peace, Peter, and thanks for being a great part of those great shows.

  4. My first sight of Peter Gethin was when the U.K. Formula 5000 championship came to Castle Combe in 1969, he set an outright lap record that was practically 8 seconds quicker than the previous one (Ron Fry in a GT40). It made me realise what frontline motor racing was really like, it also made me think that I needed to go further afield than my local circuit.

    I watched a lot of Formula 5000 after that visit to Castle Combe, Peter Gethin was always there, at or near the front.

    Thank you and R.I.P.

  5. He was indeed a charmer. At the prizegiving after his win at Pau, I watched him sweep up one of the pretty hostesses for dinner – despite his French being minimal and her English nil …

  6. I worked for geth running his used car operation in south norwood in 1969 and 70. great fun and hard work, especially when he drove us in his left hook red 911S even if only round the corner to lunch, or better still somewhere further away to pick up a car or go testing or whatever. brilliant
    ian halliday

  7. Remembered not the least for being a part of the McLaren team’s marvelous response to Bruce’s death in 1970.

  8. When I was a lad of 14, Peter Gethin was one of my F5000 heroes. 15 years later he became my boss when he took on the T.M. job at Toleman. It’s a cool thing to meet one of your heroes.
    R.I.P. Peter

  9. Joe,

    I’m a relative youngster but from what I read in many articles F5000 seemed to be a very competitive series. Why was it discontinued? Financial woes, lack of sponsors…?

    1. Formula 5000 was an open wheel, single seater formula that ran in various regions from 1968 to 1982. The 5000 was so-called because of the maximum 5.0 litre engine capacity, although a of cars ran with smaller engines. The primary engine was the Chevrolet V8 but the costs of these increased in the 1970s, in part because of the exchange rates. The championships were opened up to F1 cars, so that the old 5-ltre machinery was no longer competitive and the series was replaced by local F1 series, none of which were very successful.

      1. Thanks Joe for that information.Just wish though that there was a serious rival to Formula 1 these days. I know that with economic vagaries that’s a tough ask.

  10. These are just my impressions … but I think F5000 operated at greater heights in ’70’s USA, with such topline teams as Chaparral, Penske, All American Racers and Parnelli fielding big-money efforts with top-name drivers. And, while the title of “Mr. Formula 5000” stateside seemed undisputably Brian Redman’s, it was Peter Gethin’s in Europe.

  11. I was a schoolboy in February 74, dangling my legs over the pit counter at Sandown Park, Melbourne during the Friday practice for the penultimate round of the Tasman series. Gethin’s Team VDS Chevron came through the reverse cambered turn 1 with a bucketload of oversteer. In that frozen moment his car was pointing at 45 degrees to the armco in front of me. In the blink of an eye and a swirl of his arms he corrected, roared on up the hill to turn 2 and left me breathless! My appreciation of the skills of gifted drivers began then and I was reminded of this moment on hearing the news of Gethin’s passing. R.I.P Peter.

  12. Joe

    Have been away for a couple of days and only saw post. I can recall his drives out in here in the Team VDS Chevron F5000’s, always drove well and was generous of his time with fans. Will be sorely missed.

  13. I liked Peter Bakalor’s comment – goes to show that the good (great) ones don’t have to flaunt it.
    In his F5000 days PG had painted sharks on his helmet – something to do with his manager? can anyone provide a clue?

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