If you were to ask me what my all-time favourite era of F1 was, I bet you’d think I’d say the 1990’s, or early 2000’s. Well you’d be wrong. My actual favourite period of F1 is the fabled ground effect era; running from the late 70’s to the mid to late 80’s.
It was a time where privateers and manufacturer teams could still fight on a level playing field. The sound of flat-12’s, DFV’s and (eventually) turbo’d V6’s echoing around the stadium like the Three Tenors with the volume turned all the way up to 11. It was a time where you could park a metaphorical bus between the lines of the rule book, and experimentation was the flavour of the decade.
Now, I have to confess, I was not around when this era was taking place. I can merely go by stories, eye-witness accounts and, of course, our beloved YouTube. But there’s one story that caught my eye recently which I wanted to share with you all; because I believe it highlights just “how off the rails” and “loose” this period of the sport actually was. Plus, for the younger generation of F1 fans, it shows just how far the sport has come in the all-important area of safety!
This is the story of a guy named Hans Heyer.
Hans wasn’t an F1 driver. It was 1977 and he was, at the time, a German touring car driver who also competed 4 times in the 24hrs of Le Mans. However, ATS were in need of a driver to take the number two seat in the up and coming German Grand Prix. Now for those of you who don’t know, ATS were just starting out in F1; after buying the remaining PC4 chassis from Penske Racing. They started off with one car and one driver by the name of Jean-Pierre Jarier, and he placed 6th on their debut in the sport – which, I’m sure you’ll agree for any era, was impressive.
Riding off this good result they, in my opinion, made the rookiest of rookie mistakes. They tried to run before they could walk. For the German Grand Prix and Hockenheim they entered a second car, and gave Hans the opportunity to take the seat and race for them. Hans had never competed in single-seat racing at this level before but as opportunities to advance to F1 were so sparse (just as they are today) he jumped at the opportunity. Who wouldn’t!
So let’s just recap for a second. We have…
- A new team entering their second ever race in the pinnacle of world motorsport
- A second car for the already under-resourced team to worry about
- A miniscule development budget
- Being driven by a man more familiar with drifting Capri’s than taking the racing line at Stowe in a single-seater open-wheeled Formula 1 car…..
What could possibly go wrong? Well just about everything.
Heyer placed 27th out of 30 during practice, failing to qualify for the race itself. Mind you, Emerson Fittipaldi and Art Merzario also DNF’d so competition was tough to say the least. But it’s still not something you’d want to shout about. So Hans was forced to the pits for the race, but insisted on staying in the car just in case a space opened up at the last minute.
No such opportunity arose and the flag dropped. The drivers on the grid managed to keep out of each other’s way for all of about 9 seconds, when Regazzoni and Alan Jones came together heading into the first corner. Hans saw his chance and used the incident to drive under the radar and join the track! Yes, join the race he had not even qualified to take part in.
Not only did he successfully manage to get out on track under the noses of the officials, but managed to complete almost 10 laps before mechanical failure saw his not-race-race come to an end. You have to ask yourself this though… Germany is a smart country. They know how to count, yet they failed to notice an extra F1 car running around the track. Oh and did I mention the car was bright yellow? It’s almost the equivalent of streaking a football pitch and not a single player, ref or fan noticing and carrying on regardless. In fact, no, it’s like the streaker joined one of the football teams as an extra striker and carried on playing 12 against 11…. still naked.
Needless to say, Hans wasn’t invited back to F1 and was replaced by a guy called Hans Binder. But, our Hans (Heyer) remains the only driver EVER to receive DNQ, DNF and a DSQ in the SAME F1 RACE. An achievement I am 99.99999% sure will never be beaten. Hans Heyer went back to touring cars and went on to win a smattering or races with multiple teams and vehicles. He also competed 13 times in the Le Mans 24 hour race, including his last in the Silk Cut Jaguar in 1986.
But, going back to his slightly unorthodox first and last F1 race, you have to admire his determination to get out and race despite being told he couldn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it was reckless, potentially dangerous and something he should rightly have been penalised for. But it arcs back to the reasons that I love this particular era of Formula 1 – and I’m sure this particular story is, for Hans and many others, one of the most memorable moments, if not the most, of his motorsport career.
Could you imagine pulling that stunt in a modern day F1 race. Assuming you could even get out of the pits, you would be black flagged, disqualified, dragged out of the car and marched to the race office (or even the back of a Police van) quicker than you can say “Nice shirt, Eddie”. There would be enquiry after enquiry, points deductions, fines; you name it and the FIA would throw it at you.
And this is why this era can never be truly repeated, but it’s also the reason that I hold classic motorsport so close to my heart.