Peter Gethin, 1971

Former Grand Prix winner Peter Gethin has passed away after succumbing to a long battle with illness. He was 71 years old.

Gethin is (perhaps unfairly) remembered for his solitary World Championship victory, a sensational last-lap win at the 1971 Italian Grand Prix at Monza, when he snatched the lead on the final sprint from the Parabolica, leading home a five-car dash to the chequered flag that saw him win by just one-hundredth of a second.

Gathin (arm aloft in celebration) won the 1971 Italian GP by 0.01 seconds! It was the closest-ever finish in the history of the sport to that point, and it was also the fastest ever Grand Prix in terms of average speed, a record that took over thirty years to break.

But Gethin’s career amounted to more than just that. He enjoyed a fantastic career that spanned some 15 years and encompassed a host of motorsport categories.

The son of a jockey, Peter abandoned horses for proper horsepower, making his first racing forays in a Lotus Seven in 1962. He quickly rose to become one of Britain’s top club racers before he made the jump to Formula 3 competition in 1965.

He stagnated for a bit until 1968, when he contested a full season of Formula 2, claiming two podium finishes late in the season when he switched from the uncompetitive Chevron to a Brabham chassis.

His move into Formula 5000 competition in 1969 started putting his name on the motorsport map. Driving a semi-works McLaren, he blitzed his opponents in the first half of the season with four successive wins, and then hung on gamely to claim the championship as the rest of the field gained in competitiveness. He backed this up with a successful title defence the following year.

Peter Gethin His involvement in McLaren was becoming more apparent at this point, after he finished sixth at the Race of Champions on debut. He took up a full-time berth with the team following the death of team founder Bruce McLaren, as well as taking over McLaren’s Can-Am seat, winning at Elkhart Lake.

He stayed with the team for the 1971 season, but his form faded and he was out of the line-up by mid-season, despite finishing second at the International Trophy.

He was snaffled up by BRM, and claimed that famous win in just his second race for the team. He repeated the feat at the season-ending Victory Race at Brands Hatch, although the event was tragically marred by the death of team-mate Jo Siffert.

BRM’s typically wayward form reared its head in 1972, and Peter once again struggled, slinking off to Formula 5000 once again.

He showed he still could pedal with the best when he claimed a shock win at the Race of Champions, becoming the first F5000 driver to beat all of the F1 machines. He remained in Formula 5000 and Can-Am for a few more years, before retiring at the end of the 1977 season.

Peter Gethin demonstrates his BRM at the 2007 Goodwood Festival of Speed He turned his focus to team management, helping run the March F2 team and managing the career of up-and-coming driver Beppe Gabbiani. He later helped run the Toleman F1 team during its early foray into Formula 1, before he set up his eponymous Formula 3000 team.

In his later years, he ran a racing school at Goodwood and was also a regular attendee at historic meetings and revival events.

His loss will be tragically felt among many F1 aficionados,, and we extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends.

[Images via LAT, The Cahier Archive]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.