One of the most bizarre episodes in Formula One history occurred on this day in 1977 at the Hockenheimring.
Thirty cars were entered for the German Grand Prix, the 11th round of the championship. Among them was a local driver called Hans Heyer driving a Penske PC4 – the same type which the American team had scored their only grand prix victory courtesy of John Watson the year before.
With 24 places available on the grid six drivers faced elimination before the race began and the competition to make the cut was fierce. Mexican Hector Rebaque claimed the final place in his Hesketh 308E, lapping in 1’57.18.
A dismayed Heyer was just four hundredths of a second of Rebaque’s mark – and there were two other drivers quicker than him who also fell short of qualifying. But Heyer was not to be deterred from making his grand prix debut by the inconvenient fact of having failed to qualify for it.
Shortly after the race began sharp-eyed observers noticed the number 35 ATS Penske, which was supposed to have been parked in the paddock, appear on their lap chart.
It’s not clear exactly how Heyer made his covert return to the track. It’s possible he did so amid confusion over a problem with the starting light gantry. He only made it nine laps before a gear linkage failure ended his only grand prix appearance.
It’s hard to conceive of anyone getting away with a similar escapade in the ultra-professional world of modern Formula One.
The footage below is of Heyer taking his ATS on the track earlier in the weekend: