Revson’s Last Formula One Victory: Rebuilding a Race Lap By Lap

A wet start to the 1973 Grand Prix of Canada would prove an omen of what was to come.

A wet start to the 1973 Grand Prix of Canada would prove an omen of what was to come.

It remains to this day one of the most controversial and fiercely debated Formula One Grand Prix races of all time.  Coming up on the fortieth anniversary of the legendary 1973 season that saw Jackie Stewart win the World Driver’s Championship, there’s still the controversy of who should have won the Canadian Grand Prix, which took place on September 23, 1973 at Mosport International Raceway.  What should have been a routine race ended up being anything but, with the race marking the first time in Formula One history that a Safety Car was deployed and the resulting confusion over who the actual winner of the race was.

These are the facts of the Grand Prix.  The race started with a twenty-five car field in wet conditions.  Going into the race, the Driver’s Championship had already been decided with Jackie Stewart taking the honours.  The Constructor’s Championship was a dog fight by a mere three points separating Lotus-Ford and Tyrell-Ford.  With two races to go in the Championship including the Canadian and United States races, every position on the track mattered for the points the two constructors could gain.  Neither Ken Tyrell nor Colin Chapman was going to give an inch if they could avoid it.  By lap 24 of the Grand Prix, the track conditions had changed, creating a very chaotic and busy pit lane while teams changed tires.  On lap 33, an accident involving Jody Scheckter and Francois Cevert would create the call for the first Safety Car deployment in Formula One history.

What has been debated is who won the race.  This was significant as the finishing order of the Canadian Grand Prix essentially decided the Constructor’s Championship.  As the checkered flag dropped on the race, Peter Revson was the man that had been shown the flag first and was classified as the winner.  Colin Chapman, who had been in pit lane the entire race, was convinced the officials had it all wrong as a result of the pit stops and the Safety Car having been deployed during the race.  He was determined to gain the advantage over Tyrell in the Constructor’s Championship and proceeded to the Control Tower to file an official protest of the results.  Chapman claimed that his driver, Emerson Fittipaldi, had won the race instead of Revson. (Note:  To this day Emerson Fittipaldi continues to claim he was the rightful winner of this race.)

Tower Steward Ron Evans was packing up in the Control Tower.  His weekend was done for all intents and purposes, and he wanted to take his wife and four-year-old daughter home.  Evans had a class of high school students to teach at 8:30 a.m. the next morning.  Busy sorting through paperwork, he was surprised when he heard a throat being cleared and looked up to see Colin Chapman standing in front of him.  Evans had a sinking feeling he was not headed home as soon as he’d hoped and braced himself as he asked Chapman if he could help him with anything.

“I wish to file a protest” came the polite and short reply in Chapman’s rather bland English accent. Chapman had all the necessary paperwork completed and in hand to turn over to the officials.

Colin Chapman, Team Principal, Lotus-Ford

Colin Chapman, Team Principal, Lotus-Ford

Evans referred Chapman to the Clerk of the Course, Paul Cooke.  Cooke referred Chapman’s protest to the Chief Steward, Dr. Sid Mandel, for action.  Sometime approximately two hours after the checkered flag had fallen, Mandel called to order one of the largest and important protest hearings in Formula One history.  The hearing was attended by 22 representatives from all the participating Formula One Teams, the Stewards, and representatives of the Canadian Race Communications Association, the official Timing and Scoring organization of the race.  Approximately 30 people set about the daunting task of figuring who had won the 1973 Formula One Grand Prix of Canada.

It should be noted that in 1973 there were no transponders or computerized/electronic timing equipment.  The technology simply did not exist until the late 1980’s.  All timing and scoring was done on lap charts by hand.  The same method used to determine the winner of an amateur race was used to determine the winner of the highest level of motorsport competition in the world.  It is a dying skill in the today’s motorsport world, with less and less people able to maintain a handwritten lap chart as each year passes and the sport becomes more reliant upon technology to provide the information needed.

Mandel acted as the Chairperson of the hearing while Evans took notes and minutes.  Each Team was represented by the individuals that had created the Team’s lap charts for the race.  In addition, the lap charts of the official Timing and Scoring representatives were included.  While several witnesses including Paul Cooke spoke before the meeting, there were no other attendees.  In the seven hours that followed the start of the meeting the Teams themselves, with the assistance of official Timing and Scoring, reconstructed the entire 80 lap race one lap at a time.

Current ASN/Canada FIA International Steward Terry Dale has found himself in similar circumstances during his tenure as a Chief Steward.  However, Dale has never had to hold a protest hearing as large and as complex as this one.

“It’s a huge task to hold a protest hearing with this many people in it.  I have had several teams involved in a protest hearing but never have I required every race team’s involvement.  It would be an absolutely monumental task and the level of diligence and detail required for this meeting is far beyond anything I have ever dealt with.  I cannot begin to imagine the level of stress and pressure put on those involved.”

Using their handwritten lap charts, the Teams agreed after each lap as to the position of each car in the race.  The accuracy and ability of the Teams to accomplish this feat stunned Evans, who admits it was incredible to witness.  The level of detail the Teams were able to put into the reconstruction of the race left no doubt as to what the final result was.  There was no arguing, fighting, or disagreement during the meeting that required intervention by Mandel.  The final decision signed off by Mandel was a set of race results determined by all 11 Formula One Teams and official Timing and Scoring themselves using their own handwritten lap charts.  The official results of the race published and available today were determined and agreed upon by all of the participating Formula One Teams, including the protesting team of Lotus-Ford, and not a result decided independently by the Stewards.

At approximately 1:30 a.m. on Monday, September 24, 1973 the victory for the race was confirmed as being Peter Revson’s.  In losing his protest, Chapman was denied the advantage he thought was needed going into the final race of the season.  Trailing by one point in the Constructor’s Championship, Tyrell lost the Constructor’s Title by ten points at the end of the United States Grand Prix.  That loss would unfortunately become insignificant due to the death of Tyrell driver Francois Cevert at the U.S. Grand Prix.  In addition, that 1973 Canadian Grand Prix victory would be the last one for Revson, who died in a testing accident in March of 1974.  It would also be 20 years before Formula One would again deploy a Safety Car in a race, a sight that is quite common place in modern racing.

Peter Revson during the 1973 Formula One Season.

Peter Revson during the 1973 Formula One Season.

The 1973 Canadian Grand Prix goes down in history as being unique for many reasons.  Until now, no one knew that its finishing order was a testament to the ability of human beings to reconstruct a race in full from handwritten lap charts and to cooperate in the pursuit of the truth.  It is one of the most incredible feats in the history of motorsport and should be one of the reasons why the 1973 Canadian Grand Prix is remembered most.  Not every race is won on the track or in pit lane.  Sometimes the race is won in a handwritten lap chart.  It’s an important lesson to remember, particularly in the modern era of computers, transponders, and timing loops.

 Acknowledgements:  My thanks to Paul Cooke (Vice-President of Competition – ASN/Canada FIA) and Ron Evans (Retired) for sharing their recollections of this race with me, current FIA International Steward Terry Dale for his opinion, and Allan De La Plante for his wonderful photos.

Colene Allen is the Canadian Motorsports Media Correspondent for In The Pits Racing Radio on the ESPN Radio Network.  She is a 14 year veteran road course racing official. 

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