Jackie Oliver’s three F1 outings for McLaren in the summer of 1971 kicked off on a most unfortunate note. Having qualified his M14A in 22nd position on the grid for the British GP at Silverstone, no sooner had Jackie dropped the clutch than he was confronted by the rear end of Graham Hill’s stationary Brabham BT34 six places in front of him. Oliver had nowhere to go apart from straight into the back of the veteran former twice world champion. Both were out of the race on the spot.
Oliver is a bright and breezy Essex lad who got a lucky career break, albeit in tragic circumstances, after the death of the legendary Jim Clark in April 1968. Drafted into the Lotus F1 team alongside Graham Hill, he immediately blotted his copybook with Lotus boss Colin Chapman by shunting his Lotus 49B at both Monaco and Rouen, but was commandingly leading the British GP at Brands Hatch when his car’s transmission failed.
“I started my F1 career with probably the best F1 car of its time with Lotus 49,” he recalled. “I went to BRM in probably the worst in 1969, and although better in 1970 it never got to the end of any of the races. I moved to McLaren in 71, and the car was probably the worst from the team anyone could have contested in before or since.”
As Jackie points out, it wasn’t simply a question of the M14A being somewhat less than competitive – and the first M19 not being much better.
“The few races I did for them were marred by incidents, most of which I try to forget. Nowhere to go with Graham's Brabham at the start line incident at Silverstone, retainer plates being improperly fitted to the inboard rear brake callipers at the Austrian GP, launching the four pads out through the rear wing on its first brake application and me and the car on into the barrier. Finally a rear Goodyear tyre came off the rim at maximum speed during the Italian GP at Monza. This was before tyre pegs being fitted to cross-ply construction tyres.”
For 1969 Oliver had been replaced at Lotus by Jochen Rindt, moving on to the BRM squad on a two-year contract which only really paid off in 1970 when the team’s new Tony Southgate-designed P153 proved competitive in terms of pace, but sadly not so in reliability. He then had his three race odyssey with McLaren in 1971 after which his only F1 outing was a guest drive for BRM in the following year’s British GP at Brands Hatch until he rejoined the world championship trail on a full-time basis with the emergent Arrows team in 1973.
Oliver retired from driving in F1 at the end of 1973, although he won the Can-Am sports car championship the following year, after which he moved into a management role at Shadow. In 1978 he and a group of fellow Shadow employees left to set up the new Arrows F1™ squad which he subsequently sold to the late Tom Walkinshaw. For nine years he was a director of the British Racing Drivers’ Club, the owner of Silverstone and is still involved in the circuit as a non-executive director.