With a plethora of magazines stacked precariously high on my desk, all waiting to be given a quick flick-through at some point, it’s only now that I have been able to give any time to looking through last week’s issue of Autosport which features one of the biggest F1 driver polls ever to find out just who is the greatest person to turn a wheel in the sport.
Now it won’t come as a complete surprise to learn that Ayrton Senna heads the list which was compiled by persuading around 200 F1 drivers to vote for their all-time greats, but what interested me the most was the inclusion of Dan Gurney at number 28.
Not that I disagree you understand, for he was perhaps one of the best American drivers of his generation, renowned for not only his technical ability but also his driving prowess behind the wheel of a car. But what intrigued me the most was the following titbit of information on the four-time grand prix winner:
“Even more significantly, he (is) credited as the man who kicked off the tradition of spraying – rather than drinking – champagne on the podium”
Had I wrongly been telling people all these years that Jackie Stewart was the man who began this tradition in F1?
Well, yes and no.
Stewart’s champagne spraying antics came shortly after winning the French Grand Prix in 1969. As an army of photographers descended on his Matra-Ford, which came to a halt on the start/finish line, someone handed the Scotsman a double magnum of Moet & Chandon champagne.
Unbeknown to him, the bottle had been left out in the sun for the duration of the race, and as the cork was released, the champagne began to escape. Not wanting to waste any, he placed his thumb over the top, which then only served to increase the pressure and caused the champers to spray out on all those around him… and so a F1 tradition was born.
But how does Gurney come into the equation? Well it was him who initiated the practice at the 24 Hour of Le Mans two years previously, when he spontaneously sprayed champagne whilst celebrating on the podium after unexpectedly winning the endurance event with A.J. Foyt for the Shelby-American Inc. Team.
So there we go. All tied up in one nice neat package. Gurney was the first to do it in motor racing and Stewart was the one to catch the attention of a wider audience. Or was it?
Well there appears to be another twist in this story. Enter Graham Hill.
The above picture was taken from the XXXI Australian Grand Prix at Lakeside on 22 Feb 1966 – sixteen months before Gurney’s triumph at Le Mans. Hill emphatically won the race for Owen Racing Organisation, which also featured none other than Jackie Stewart, who failed to finish the race through gearbox issues and subsequently departed from the circuit and missed his team-mate’s celebrations in the process.
So why isn’t Hill widely credited as being the one who began the champagne spraying tradition? Well even though we have an account of him using the bottle of bubbly for purposes other than drinking, his actions were not shown internationally on TV. Gurney and Foyt’s celebrations on the podium at Le Mans was screened in umpteen countries around the world – as Ford ensured it would be – and that is the point from which the habit became established, via Stewart along the way.
Undoubtedly there were probably a host of other drivers prior to Hill’s win down under in ’66 who used their champers for drenching purposes. But without any evidence to suggest otherwise, I will give this one to the British racing icon.