This article first appeared in the 27th March edition of Autosport magazine
Brian Henton was talking to Sam Smith
My weekend at Hockenheim at the end of the 1978 season seemed to perfectly encapsulate the bitter/sweet nature of motor racing.
I had come out of a brief and difficult period in F1. I just seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time…..all the time! Then I set my own team up which didn’t work out. I don’t think a few grubby blokes working out of a van was what Bernie had in mind when, in the 1970s, he started his vision for the future of F1.
By the start of 1978 I was pretty much written off. But I was still determined to get back to F1 and I honestly believed that in the right car I could win. So I started all over again. Mortgaged everything I had and bought a March 782, borrowed an engine from Brian Hart and got Pete Hemmings, a mini specialist as my chief mechanic. Barry Foulds who had worked for Alan Smith was drafted in as second ‘spannerman’. A mate of Pete’s who we just knew as ‘Lou’ was the truckie and then we had this bloke called ‘Nick the Greek’, who we also called ‘Jesus’ because that is who he looked like. He acted as ‘gofer’. So with this elite team we decided to do European F2!
We were so hand to mouth that year it was unreal. But we formed an incredibly tight, motivated and hungry little team. Mixing it with the best we got several poles, fastest laps and decent finishes. I led a few races but because we were running on ‘second-hand fresh air’, things broke and denied us wins.
We got to Hockenheim where there were two races. I won the first one beating guys like Giacomelli, Surer, De Angelis and Cheever. That felt good.
Just before the weekend I had signed with Toleman for 1979 and had agreed to sell the March. The guy who was buying it was in the paddock with the cash. Everything was working out very nicely. What could possibly go wrong?
In the second heat I was chasing Cheever for the lead and going down to the first chicane Eddie braked super early. The BMW engine car was much lighter than our Hart powered March. He launched me in to the air and I started barrel-rolling. It was pretty much an aircraft accident.
When all the banging and crashing stopped I was just sat in the monocoque and nothing else. The thing was obliterated. I looked at it and instantly realised I’d lost approximately £50k. Next thing I know I’m running up the track to tell Cheever how disappointed I was. I decided to do this with my fists. Once the marshals had pulled me off him, I ended up at hospital for a check-up.
Funny thing was that the g-forces during the accident had been so great that the vessels around my eyes had burst and I had these scary black rings around them. Allied to concussion I somehow decided, along with the boys in the team, to get colossally pissed that night to drown our collective sorrows and also to thank the lord I was alive.
Big mistake! I had forgotten I had a PR event in Paris the next day and had problems getting through immigration because I looked like the walking dead!
Profile – Brian Henton
Henton was a late starter to racing but won both British F3 titles in 1974. A brief chance with a below par Lotus came in 1975 before setting up his own F1 and F2 teams in 1977 and 78. He took the European F2 title in 1980 with Toleman and moved in to F1 the following year with them. His final F1 race came at the Race of Champions in 1983. Henton now runs an renewablesengineering company and lives in Leicestershire.