Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler BlackJack’sBriefs
Such a list is not easy to compile, and it is even harder to be objective.
The way I reduced 830 F1 drivers to 20 is detailed in Part I. I wanted twenty top drivers (top No.2’s who might have been a team leader.) who had proved their ability to win – not drivers who showed talent but were unable to realise their potential, including drivers whose career was brought to an untimely end, for whatever reason.
. . . was born in 1930 in Granada Hills, California, the same town as future World Champion, Phil Hill, and Ginther worked on Hill’s cars before making his race debut in 1951, and later partnered Hill in the 1953 Carrera Panamericana. Hill crashed their Ferrari but they returned in 1954 to take second, behind works driver, Umberto Maglioli.
Ginther combined driving privately entered Porsche, Ferrari and Aston Martin cars with working in the garage, including trips to Maranello to help ‘sort out’ European customer cars… and eventually moved to international events like the 12 Hours of Sebring and Le Mans. From 1954-1959 – his services were highly sought by many American importers of European sports cars.
This was a very different route into F1 than was normal in Europe and Ginther was 30 when he had his
first F1 drive, in the 1960 Monaco GP, for Ferrari where, first time out, he finished sixth. By the Italian
GP Ginther was a race leader, for 25 laps, before being passed by team-leader, and old friend, Phil Hill, for a 1-2 finish. This was Ferrari’s only win this year as Jack Brabham’s Cooper and Moss’ Lotus dominated the season.
1960 was a year of Americans in F1: Ginther, Hill, Masten Gregory. Fred Gamble, Alfonso Teale, Chuck Daigh, Lance Reventlow, Harry Schell, Dan Gurney, Bob Drake, Jim Hall, and Peter Lovely… In total 21 drivers scored points for the championship, and a further 36 drivers were entered in at least one race – not counting the Indy-500…
For two years (1959-60) Ferrari stubbornly held onto a front-engine design and, desperate for success against these little British whippersnappers, ran three or four cars, calling upon many drivers to see how they would fare, and Ginther was one of them. He drove in four races, finishing sixth in the first two (Monaco and Holland), and second in Italy.
For 1961 Enzo relented and, with a regulation change to 11⁄2-litre engines, Ferrari built a powerful new V6, mounted in the rear… while the British constructors despaired, hunting round for something better than the very old Coventry-Climax, straight-4 (which even BRM were obliged to use), and trying to delay the introduction of the new regs. Ferrari entered Hill, Ginther and von Trips, with an occasional fourth entry, and five at Monza. Moss won two masterful, historic races at Monaco and Nurburgring but otherwise Ferrari were invincible, and won their first Constructors Championship.
Although Moss won at Monaco Ginther was the only other driver to stay with him, finishing just 3.6 secs. behind, and posting the fastest lap of the race, on a circuit where Ferrari could not have expected to be fast. Ginther also scored the fastest lap at Spa (another drivers’ circuit), and had two further podium finishes, to place fifth in the championship.
In 1962 the now 32-year-old Ginther joined Graham Hill at BRM, where he was acknowledged as a solid No.2. Indeed they finished 1-2 in Italy but, whereas Hill took his first championship, Ginther finished down in eighth after one other podium and four retirements… but… in 1963, as Jim Clark’s Lotus 25 ran away from everyone, Hill and Ginther finished second and third in the championship. Actually Ginther had more points than Hill but back then only the best six results counted, which put them equal, and Graham took second due to his two wins. Ginther finished second to Graham on both occasions, and had three more podium finishes during the year.
Things remained much the same for 1964, the Hill/Clark dice being joined, and beaten (just) by John Surtees’ Ferrari. Ginther continued to play solid support to Hill, and finished equal fourth in the championship. In the middle of the season Honda made a low-key (V12) entry in the German GP, and finished thirteenth. Two later entries ended in retirement so, for 1965, Honda enticed Ginther to provide his vast experience as a test and development driver.
Unfortunately the Honda enthusiasm seemed to ebb and flow, as their luck decreased, and Ginther scored just two sixth places prior to the final race in Mexico. The year had been a bun-fest between Clark and Graham Hill who took almost everything between them but, in the last race, in Mexico, Ginther managed to start from third spot on the grid, behind Clark and Gurney, and forged ahead to lead at the end of the first lap and… that’s where he remained for the entire race. Only Gurney’s Brabham was able to stay with him as Ginther took his first and only GP victory – and Honda’s first. It was also the end of the un-loved 1.5 litre formula. Colin Chapman declared: “These engines are fit now only for giving away with cornflakes…”
Interestingly, virtually everyone complained of serious understeer in Mexico, much more than had occurred before. Hardly anyone knew why, or bothered to ask anyone else. But virtually everyone had a solution: boost front tyre pressures 7 lb. over the rears, when normally the cars were run with the rears just slightly higher. Ring any bells…?
1966 heralded the start of the new 3-litre formula and, once more, the British teams were casting about for engines, the all-conquering Coventry-Climax having decided to pull out. Brabham managed to get Repco to develop a V8 Oldsmobile engine, and Ferrari had the choice of V6 & V12 engines. Meanwhile Honda disappeared until the seventh race, where they arrived with a new V12. Ginther was leading this car’s first race before crashing out, and breaking his collarbone. Both cars also retired in America before scoring fourth and eighth in Mexico.
Brabham ran away with both championships (still the only time a driver has won the championship in a car of his own manufacture) but for Ginther it was a wasted year.
For 1967 Honda geared up for a major assault and signed John Surtees from Cooper, where he had moved in 1966 having quit Ferrari after two races because they wouldn’t let him race at Le Mans. Ginther was sidelined. He managed to get an entry with Gurney’s Eagle team at Monaco but failed to qualify and, at 37, that was it. Ginther also got an entry in one of Gurney’s cars for the Indy-500 but, when a broken fuel-line sprayed ethanol/gasoline on him, reminding him of a previous burn experience, he abruptly retired.
In 1966 Ginther had appeared in, and been a technical advisor on, the film, Grand Prix, driving for the fictitious ‘Yamura’ team. In eight seasons he scored one win, fourteen podiums, three fastest laps, a third in the drivers’ championship, several memorable drives while supporting both Graham Hill and Phil Hill, and deserves to be remembered in this list of great drivers – who never won the World Championship.
Richie Ginther died from a heart attack, on holiday in France, in September, 1989, aged 59.
to be continued, next week…