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A stone's throw from fame



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Helmut Marko




Monte Carlo


1972 Monaco GP (practice)


Dr Jonathan Palmer cannot claim to be the only doctor to have raced F1 machinery. But whereas Dr Palmer could talk shop with Syd Watkins MD, Helmut Marko might have put his law doctorate to good use in a friendly banter with lawyer Max Mosley.

Herr Doktor Marko from Austria only started to show promise in F1 when cruel fate put a sudden end to his sporting ambitions. Effectively the fifth driver of BRM's 1971 and 1972 multi-car operation - at times covering one fourth of the grid - Marko had to make do with the leftovers Louis Stanley threw at him. Replacing Vic Elford, Marko debuted at his home GP in 1971, in what was effectively a one-off, the race won by his team leader Jo Siffert. Helmut qualified 17th and finished the race in 11th. A driver to take the car home - a trick he learned in sportscars - Marko finished all of the GPs he started, save the 1971 Italian GP, in which his engine expired after he had qualified well up in 12th. Again on the occasion, a team mate won, Peter Gethin taking the slipstreamer event to a trilling finish, scoring the fastest win in the history of GP racing.

The BRM outfit, which had grown from three to five cars during the second half of 1971 (perhaps to cover the loss of Pedro Rodriguez?), continued into 1972 with the same staggering number of entries, Marko lining up next to Gethin, Ganley, Wisell and Soler-Roig, with Jean-Pierre Beltoise joining the team from Kyalami onwards. But in 1972 BRM looked to have lost its bottle, the team failing to score a single point before arriving at the Principality - quite a performance with a massive five-car involvement!

In reality, the strain of running a multi-car operation was too much for the team, the cars suffering from dreadful reliability. The team was even meant to be a six-car squad, Stanley having persuaded Philip Morris to throw their money into the bottomless BRM pit. The intention was to have Gethin, Ganley and Beltoise race the new P180 under the Marlboro flag, with P160s for Wisell, Soler-Roig and Marko, backed by their national Marlboro companies. But with the team's mechanics unable to cope with the workload and the P180 proving a difficult design, the three 'B' drivers were in and out of their cars constantly, Beltoise and Gethin claiming their P160s. On occasion, the team rolled out B versions of the aging P153, clad with P160 bodywork, for Marko and Soler-Roig but the strategy was lost to the outside world - and probably to the team as well.

The Austrian was forced to miss Spain, relinquishing his seat to local hero Soler-Roig, but was back for Monaco. There, a miracle happened in the same way Olivier Panis took the 1996 Monaco GP, since BRM did not only conquer Monaco by sheer numbers in 1972. In fact, the team delivered a surprise winner to the crowd, Jean-Pierre Beltoise taking the only win of his career and BRM's last, beating the season's top drivers Ickx, Fittipaldi and Stewart in a soaking wet race. Ultimately, Marko also drove to his best F1 result at Monte Carlo, finishing 8th, three laps down. His Belgian race was quite uneventful, Marko finishing 10th from a lowly 23rd on the grid.

At the next event at Clermont-Ferrand, Helmut was finally entrusted the proper P160 he had only driven once before at the final 1971 race at the Glen, where John Cannon was given the remaining P153. Things were looking extremely bright after an encouraging 6th in qualifying, albeit trailing Chris Amon's flying Matra by 3.9 seconds on the 8-mile track.

Eight laps in the race however, disaster struck.

A stone thrown up in his track pierced through his visor, hitting him straight in the eye and blinding it instantly. Miraculously, the Austrian managed to stop the car undamaged but the damage to his eyesight was already done. He was forced to retire on the spot. The sad event led safety-conscious Jackie Stewart to push helmet manufacturers into incorporating a bullet-proof visor material into their designs.

Marko's racing activities were more respected in sportscars where Helmut was a mainstay of the Porsche team in its glory days at the Sarthe. The highlight of his career surely must have been winning the 1971 Le Mans edition with Gijs van Lennep in a Martini Racing 908, before signing to drive for Alfa Romeo's burgeoning sportscar team, racking up several rostrum finishes before the Clermont-Ferrand debacle.

In the nineties, Dr. Marko has been the leading figure of the RSM Marko team, delivering a German F3 title to Jörg Müller in 1994, partly thanks to Marko's eccentric choice of Opel power. Promoting with the same driver to a European level the team soon became a factor in F3000 as well, taking the coveted championship amidst controversy in 1996, the Hockenheim stewards accused of favouritism after they disqualified rival Kenny Brack from his title-winning second position.

The year after saw the team unsuccessfully defend its title with current F1 revelation Juan Pablo Montoya, who got noticed all the same by front-runners Super Nova, the David Sears-run team signing the Colombian for a successful 1998 title assault. RSM Marko by then had turned its back on F3000, citing spiraling costs for its defection to the second-rate American oval series IRL. Marko signed rookie Mark Steele to drive his newly-acquired Dallara-Aurora but in the end the young American never raced it and the team was a no-show. For 1999, RSM Marko returned to International F3000 as if nothing happened, running Sauber's F3000 satellite team under the Red Bull Junior flag.

Reader's Why by Don Capps

Lexan. Whenever I see a picture of Helmut Marko or even think of him, that's the word that pops into my mind. I'll come back to it later.The obvious answer is that it was the weekend of the last victory by BRM - Jean-Pierre Beltoise in the BRM P160. It was also the first time the little red lights on the tails of the cars were used in a race. It was also the first year that the grid was expanded to allow 25 cars to participate in the race. The circuit itself was essentially unchanged - that would be next year - but the pits were revised and enlarged. One point of interest is that the pit exit deposited those re-entering the race smack onto the racing line at the start-finish line. But, business was business and the need to plug as many starters as possible onto the grid, particularly in light of the relatively quiet, but potentially nasty, discussions that were held over the winter of 1971 and 1972. The organizers and entrants were not happy with each other, being either greedy or penny-pinching according to your viewpoint. And the CSI was of little help in the discussions, which eventually saw the season actually get and stay underway after some initial fears that it would be stillborn. During the winter of 1971/1972, the Formula 1 Association and the organizers starting bumping heads over a multitude of issues. Money, of course, was the basic issue.

The movement towards more business and less sport had started, and with a vengeance. The Geneva accord put a band-aid on most issues, but a major one was that the starting grid for each race would be 25 cars. That is, starting money would only have to be made available to 25 starters by the organizers. After two lean years the Dutch dropped their round for 1972. At the Spanish race two weeks prior to the race at Monte Carlo, the representatives of the organizers attending the race were quizzed as to the number of starters at Monaco. From 1956 until 1970, the number of starters was limited to 16. In 1971, the grid was increased to 18 starters and initially, prior to the Geneva agreement, the grid for 1972 was to be 20 starters. The Monaco organizers said 25 starters and nothing was thought of it until everyone showed up at the Principality ready to have at it. The first practice session is always a shambles, but the team managers were especially unhappy to discover the organizers saying that rules - "but, paragraph b Article 4 says only 20 starters, sorry" - were rules and were only planning to allow 20 starters, not the 25 starters that had been verbally agreed to in Spain.

Meanwhile, the cars were being locked down in the new garage area and not much was happening on the streets. As the race is a major source of revenue for the Principality, many merchants were quite concerned about the lack of cars on the track... Indeed, many were completely unaware of the brewing battle that was on the verge of taking place. The new president of the Automobile Club de Monaco, Michel Boeri, was up to his eyebrows in angry team managers on Thursday morning, Thursday noon, and Thursday afternoon. The F1A was talking "strike" or "boycott" and Boeri was thinking "disaster". The ACM then dropped its trump card on the table saying only the CSI could suspend the rules and since Prince Metternich was nowhere to be seen in the paddock, we are so sorry.

However, the director of the FFSA, Jacques Blanchet, was present and also a member of the CSI board. With the teams threatening to pack up and leave, Blanchet made the decision that there would be 25 starters on the grid. Everyone stopped unpacking and went back to the task at hand.

The new pit area meant that the chicane was moved closer to Tabac and speeds were higher between the Tunnel and Tabac, but the new chicane was much narrower and speeds slower going through it. As mentioned, the pit exit now had a traffic light to control the exit from the pits onto the track. The GPDA selected Vic Elford to operate the light for the weekend.

A few factoids from the weekend: Brian Redman was driving for the McLaren team since Peter Revson was at Indianapolis for qualifying. Jackie Stewart would finish the race in 4th, but miss the next race, at Belgium, due to ulcers. He would return for the French race at Clermont-Ferrand. On Saturday, the F3 race, run in the wet, was won by Patrick Depailler in an Alpine A367-Renault from Tony Trimmer in a JPS-Novamotor and Colin Vandervell in an Ensign-Vegatune. The Friday prior to the race it was announced that Crystal Palace would be closing at the end of the 1972 season.

For the 1970 and 1971 seasons, Big Lou Stanley, brother-in-law to the Owen in Owen Racing Orgainiation, had secured sponsorship from Yardley for the team. At the end of 1971, Yardley jumped ship to McLaren where it would be the primary sponsor for 1972 and 1973, and the sponsor for the third entry for Mike Hailwood in 1974. For 1972, Stanley talked Marlboro into bank-rolling the BRM team. His dream was to field a six car team: Jean-Pierre Beltoise, Peter Gethin, and Howden Ganley in P180s and Hemut Marko, Reine Wisell, and Alex Soler-Roig in P160s. The team managed to field 47 starts in the 12 races, but it only had a total of four finishes in the points, including the win by Beltoise at Monte Carlo to show for it. What was more indicative of the season was the 26 retirements the team suffered. The mechanics were overwhelmed and the ability of the race shop to cope started out poorly and digressed from there. In addition, the team also participated in seven non-championship events (of which three were combined with F5000), where they produced 18 starts and had nine finishes in the top six to weigh against six retirements.

The whole arrangement was a shambles. Drivers were suddenly dropped from being entered in a race and just as suddenly called to be at a race in just literally a matter of hours. It was a classic example of how to squander a golden opportunity. The P160 was basically a good car. The P180 proved difficult to work with initially, but could have perhaps been sorted out if there had been a better organized approach to the whole business. The P142 engine was a solid engine and had excellent potential. However, Aubrey Woods left at the end of thee 1971 season and further development for all intents and purposes dropped off as the season progressed.

Here are the drivers for BRM during the 1972 season: Jean-Pierre Beltoise, Peter Gethin, Howden Ganley, Reine Wisell, Helmut Marko, Alex Soler-Roig, Vern Schuppan, Jackie Oliver, Brian Redman, and Bill Brack in the Fiddlers Three Restaurant International Racing entry for the Canadian race.

So, Lexan - at the French race at Clermont-Ferrand in July, Marko finally got a pukka P160 under him, led all the BRMs in qualifying and put himself sixth on the grid. While running well in sixth place on his 9th lap, a stone thrown from the tread of a car in front of him, either Fittipaldi or Ickx, smashed his face shield and severely damaged his left eye. Depite the intense pain and lack of vision, Marko managed to bring the car to halt from over 200 kph and pull off to the side of the course. When the marshalls got to him, he had passed out. Although whisked as rapidly as possible to the mobile medical facility in the paddock and then to the nearest hospital, Marko never regained the use of his eye despite surgery performed by several eye specialists.

After the event, Jackie Stewart recalled the material that Jim Hall had used for the sliding skirts of the Chaparral 2J Sucker car that he drove at Watkins Glen Can-Am in 1970 - Lexan. Stewart got in contact with the maker, Dupont, and had them make a batch of face shields to replace the plastic ones everyone had been using before Marko's accident.

Marko's racing career didn't really get started until his formal education, a doctorate in law, was completed. His first major series was F3 in a McNamara. He excelled in sports cars finishing on the podium with a third at Le Mans in 1970 and winning it with Gijs van Lennep in 1971 driving Martini Racing-entered Porsche 917s. In 1972 he drove for Alfa Romeo, the Tipo 33/3, with podium placings at the Targa Florio, the Österreichring 1000 Kms, Daytona, and the Nürburgring 1000 Kms. After his eye injury, he remained active in various activities in racing as a consultant.