Peter Gethin participated in 31 World Championship Formula One Grands Prix, debuting on 21 June 1970
. He won the 1971 Italian Grand Prix in the fastest average speed in Formula One history (until the record was broken by Michael Schumacher in the same race in 2003), but this was his only podium finish. There was only 0.01 seconds between him and second placed Ronnie Peterson
, also a record). Indeed, he never led an entire lap of Formula One racing, as he passed from fourth to first in the last lap.
Gethin also participated in numerous non-Championship Formula One races, such as for Team McLaren in the 1970
Canadian-American Challenge Cup series, driving the McLaren M8D that had been driven by Dan Gurney in the first three races of the season. Gethin won one race and finished third in the 1970 championship. In 1974 Gethin won the Tasman Series, a Formula 5000 series held in Australia and New Zealand. Gethin drove a Chevron B24 Chevrolet. He later ran a Formula 3000 team.
Racing in a Lotus 7
In an era when some young men were influenced by the chosen career of their fathers, Peter Gethin, born on 21 February 1940, the son of Ken Gethin, the famous flat-race jockey, ignored the turf and chose tarmac instead. Like so many sons of famous fathers, his academic career was not notable, and he led a rather rootless life until he moved into motor racing. He soon found the excitement he was looking for, and in 1962
, at the age of 22, he took up racing with a Lotus 7
. He soon decided that single-seater racing was the only path to the top though, and he switched to a Formula Three Brabham. He took part in many races in Britain and Europe, joining the famous circus of drivers who toured the Continent, living from hand to mouth, often sleeping in their cars and spending all their money on their racing cars.
This way of life continued for several years with no great success coming his way. He moved to a B7 Formula Three Chevron in 1967
, and began to pick up a few good placings. By 1968, he had moved into Formula Two, racing both a Brabham and a Chevron, but there were many Grand Prix drivers taking part in Formula Two at that time and Gethin made only a modest impact against the tough opposition. The breakthrough came when he decided to desert the established formulae and take a chance with the fledgling Formula 5000 for single-seaters powered by 5-litre stock-block engines. He was given the opportunity of driving the factory-supported McLaren M10A run by Church Farm Racing. These cars were as powerful as the current Formula-One machines, and Peter showed that he could handle the power and cope with the difficult handling of the big cars by-winning three races in a row - the Guards F5000 race at Oulton Park, the Kent Messenger F5000 race at Brands Hatch and the Guards race at Mallory Park.
Gethin took his car to the USA for a spell of racing in their equivalent Formula A but returned to take a fourth place at Hockenheim and win the Guards F5000 Championship from ex-Formula One Lotus driver Trevor Taylor who had also turned to F5000. His victories naturally brought him to the attention of the McLaren team, and it seemed they would eventually give him a chance of driving in Formula One, but his chance came much earlier than he anticipated, for Bruce McLaren was tragically killed in a testing accident at Goodwood and then Denny Hulme received badly burned hands during a testing accident at Indianapolis. He took over the works Formula One McLaren M14A at the Dutch Grand Prix where he crashed the car, but he began to get the hang of Fi racing and he finished tenth in the Austrian GP, ninth in the Italian, sixth in the Canadian and fourteenth in the USA event. His sixth place in Canada earned him his first World Championship point.
The McLaren Can-Am Team
Gethin also raced for the McLaren Can-Am team midway through the season when Dan Gurney was forced to leave the team because of contractual difficulties. He showed that he was equally at home in the McLaren M8D by winning the Road America race and finishing second at Edmonton and Donnybrooke. This gave him third place in the Can-Am Championship. In Formula 5000, Gethin was virtually unbeatable. If his car was going well, he would win. Out of twenty F5000 races, he won no less than eight and finished second in two others. His victories came at Zandvoort
, Castle Combe, the Silverstone
Martini race, Mallory Park, Zolder, Anderstorp and Brands Hatch (twice), while he took second places at Oulton Park and Mondello in Ireland. His McLaren M10B had been immaculately prepared and run by Sid Taylor on behalf of the factory.
McLaren retained Gethin in the Formula One team for 1971
, firstly with an M14A then with the new M19 model. He had very little success, although neither did his team leader, Denny Hulme, but McLaren decided to drop Gethin from the team before the Austrian GP in August. He was immediately snapped up to drive a Pi60 BRM by the factory and, in only his second drive with the team, he won the Italian Grand Prix in a classic finish in which he led a screaming five car group of cars across the line by mere inches. He also won the Rothmans Victory race at Brands Hatch which was stopped due to the crash which killed Jo Siffert.
Earlier in the season, Gethin had taken second place in the two-heat International Trophy race driving an F5000 McLaren, and he also took in several Interserie races using an ex-Can-Am McLaren. Against modest opposition, he won at Zolder and finished second at Keimola and the Norisring. For 1972
, he was retained by BRM but had a miserable season, hardly ever finishing a race. His only Championship point was a sixth at Monza. In Formula Two, he drove a Chevron-BDA where he put up some fine performances, notching up a victory at Pau and taking fourth place at Salzburgring. Gethin lost his place with the BRM team for 1973
and, as no other Formula One team wished to sign him, he returned to Formula 5000 with a Chevron B24. He notched up several wins with the Chevron, none more welcome than when he outpaced all the Formula One cars in the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch.
The Belgian Team VDS recruited Gethin to join Teddy Pilette in an attack on the 1973
Tasman series in Australia and New Zealand. They proved to be the most competitive team in the series; Gethin scored in every round to take the Championship comfortably. Gethin continued to race for VDS in European F5000 races. Gethin died at the age of 71 in December 2011 after a long illness.