Written By Ashish Singh
On September 23, 1973, Canadian Grand Prix saw the use of safety car in Formula 1 for the first time. After few practice laps in the previous Grand Prix at Osterreichring in Austria, the safety car driver, Eppie Wietzes was ready in his Porsche 914 along with his co passenger and FOCA representative Peter Macintosh. The race ended up as the most controversial race in the history of Formula 1.
The introduction of the safety car was enforced by the number of crashes in the 1973 season. Clay Regazzoni had a horrific crash at Kayalami in South Africa while two months ago Roger Williamson succumbed to his injuries after his crash at Zandvoort in Netherlands. In both the incidents, the rescue measures were hampered by the speeding cars on the track. So, something was needed to slow down the cars.
It was a rainy Sunday at Mosport Park in Canada when twenty five cars lined up behind the pole position man, Ronnie Peterson, for the second last race of the 1973 Formula 1 season. With Jackie Stewart having won the Drivers' World Championship in Italy two weeks earlier, all eyes were on Tyrrell and Lotus who were fighting for the Constructors' title.
By lap 24, the track started to dry resulting into a heavy traffic in pit lane. Things became more complicated when Jody Scheckter collided with Francoise Cevert on lap 33. This accident led to the first ever Safety Car in Formula 1 come out on track.
With no experience of driving a safety car in a race, safety car driver Eppie Wietzes was looking for the leader Jackie Stewart who dived into the pits as the safety car started its lap. As Tyrrell’s mechanics struggled to release Stewart after messing up the stop, the confusion prevailed over the race leader.
Those were the days when the lap charts were done by hand and it was a nightmare situation. In this confusion, a point came which brought down the Wietzes’s moment of glory as he picked up a wrong car as the race leader. It was Howden Ganley's Iso-Marlboro which came out of the pits just ahead of Jackie Stewart. It was a surprise for Ganley himself who must have murmured inside his helmet ‘who? me’, as he was a lap down while going into the pits.
Before picking up Ganley, Wietzes let pass many drivers looking for Stewart’s Tyrrell, who all ended up gaining a lap while Fittipaldi who had come up to lap Jackie Stewart was now stuck behind him.
Wietzes’s drive as the first ever safety car driver ended after five laps leaving the race charts in chaos. Finally the race ended but the confusion did not. Late in the evening that day, the results were confirmed. Peter Revson, who was believed to be a lap down, was declared the winner. Fittipaldi who lost a lap in the chaos officially finished second. Fittipaldi believed that he was the actual winner of the race as no car overtook him on the track. Many believed it was Jackie Oliver who had actually won the race and should have been declared the winner.
When Stephen Slater interviewed Eppie Wietzes, referring to 1973 Canadian Grand Prix, he asked ‘in 1973 you drove a safety car at the Canadian Grand Prix. It was a total disaster...’
‘I was only told what to do by the two way radio, so any confusion that there was came from the control tower. It wasn't down to me’ he replied.
He was right. Macintosh asked for guidance on the radio from race control on more than one occasion. The answer was standard every time ‘stay ahead of no. 25 (Howden Ganley’s Iso-Marlboro)’.
Though it could have been a mistake from the race control officials, it took away the great moment from Wietzes.
Nowadays we have electronic race charts and it is impossible to think of the race charts by hand. But those who did it that day by hand will never forget that race.
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