In 1964 Brabham, BRM, Cooper and Lotus formed the Formula 1 Manufacturers Association, or F1CA as it was then known. Ferrari didn’t join, but it was Ferrari. The association created the Paris Agreement, whereby most of the start-up funds paid by grand prix organizers went to F1CA members, leaving only crumbs for the privateers. It was noted by Formula 1’s newest constructor, the British Racing Partnership (BRP), that he had not been invited.
What would happen would leave a sour taste in the mouths of some who are still with us and of BRP founder Ken Gregory, a disillusioned man.
“I think a lot of it was the jealousy of the other team owners,” says Bruce McIntosh, a young BRP mechanic at the time and now a senior FIA official. “They didn’t like Ken Gregory because he was making money [out of the sport]. It was pretty much the same as Bernie Ecclestone was looked at later. It was disgusting; I felt like we were driven out by the establishment.
In 2013, a week before he died of cancer, I visited Ken. The snub creaked all the same: “I thought that the F1CA was an association of hypocrites motivated by fear”, he declared.
BRP was in its second year as a constructor and had already won a non-championship F1 race, which even Team Lotus failed to do in its first two seasons at this level. Its chief mechanic, Tony Robinson, estimates that having crawled in 1963 then learned to walk the following season, it would have raced in 1965, thinking of the possibility that it could then have reached the same heights as McLaren. So what went wrong? Was BRP’s demise solely due to the F1CA, or was there more and how should BRP be viewed in light of history?
I first met Ken on a cold, damp Sunday afternoon in his Beaconsfield office in December 1978. By this point he had become an editor and I was there to interview for a job in his editorial department. . I remember walking out thinking he was a man I didn’t want to work for. However, he had invited me to an awards ceremony his magazine was hosting a few days later, where he announced to those gathered that I was about to join the company. It was the first time I heard about it but I decided to go with the flow and became one of its employees. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. He was a wonderful, if sometimes controversial, and grateful boss.
I tell this self-indulgent story in an effort to illustrate Ken’s nature, something that I believe was the source of BRP’s rise, success and ultimate failure. Those who didn’t know him were often suspicious of him, and I believe that the “big guys” of the F1CA were part of it. Those closest to him knew he was more than just a man with an eye for primary luck.
The main requirement to become a member of the F1CA was that the cars had to be, in theory, built by the team and that it had to have completed at least one season of F1 competition. The 1963 BRP prototype had not adhered to this stipulation as it had used Lotus 24 uprights and suspension. However, both 1964 cars were, as pointed out by the team’s number one driver, Innes Ireland, made at least 90% by the team itself. True, the engines came from BRM, but all members of the F1CA, except BRM itself, purchased their power units from an outside source.
“Ken had been traumatized by Moss’s career-ending accident on Easter 1962”
BRP informed the F1CA that it was ready to comply with its membership rules and invited the association to inspect its cars at the United States Grand Prix. No one showed up and Ken got the distinct impression that Andrew Ferguson, F1CA secretary, was anti-BRP. The same thing happened at the Mexican GP, the last race of the season, again without inspection. In 1962, BRP missed around £8,000 in seed money for meetings it could not afford to attend, while payment for those it did attend was very low. At the end of the year, the whole operation was calculated to have lost £7,000. If it had been a signatory to the Paris Agreement, it would have broken even.
Gregory couldn’t afford to continue, and after fulfilling an order from Masten Gregory’s father-in-law, George Bryant, to build a few cars for the Indianapolis 500, a remarkable achievement in itself, he closed the doors of the the team’s Highgate workshop. “How ridiculous that a team as large and well organized as BRP cannot afford to race,” Ireland wrote. “I think that’s an indication of the amount of ‘sport’ left in the sport that a great team like BRP had to go to the wall.”
Growing up in motorsport as manager of Stirling Moss, Ken had created something of a ‘driver-dealer’ reputation. However, the fight was now out of him. As he thought, the Ken Gregory of previous years would have had a harder time preserving his team. He had been traumatized by Moss’ career accident at Easter 1962 (driving a Lotus 18/22 entered by BRP), not only by the serious injuries of what had been a close friend but also by the way their relationship had subsequently deteriorated. Three drivers, Ivor Bueb, Harry Schell and Chris Bristow had also been killed earlier in cars entered by BRP, which affected him deeply.