A Morning Interview With Historic F3 Racer Peter Hamilton

Are you familiar with the name Peter Hamilton? No? If you’re thinking that he’s a relative of Lewis Hamilton think again! If you’ve seen the latest film, RUSH, well then his name will have popped up in the ending credits (of the Formula Three drivers).

But why?

Peter is a member of the Historic Sports Car Club and races Formula Ford and Three cars from the late 1960s to the early 1970s. He actually supplied some of these cars during the filming of RUSH. They’re featured right at the beginning of the film before Niki Lauda and James Hunt even set foot in a Formula One car. They were two boy-racers fighting for the 1970 Formula Ford title by the scruff of the neck. Peter briefly appeared in the film as a Formula Three driver and an extra (long hair and sideburns galore).

If you want to know more about the cars themselves, you’ve got a lucky treat. In RUSH, the cars looked spectacular, brilliant, fast. In real life they’re jaw-dropping. The paint work is done to perfection. The light reflects off of it as though the gods in heaven are smiling on it. The body is made of steel. Surprising for a car of that time, isn’t it? Normally, they’re made of aluminium. However, these cars have been modified, so that they’re easier to repair if anything goes wrong. For example, if the car has a stunt or if the engine cuts out. Following a recent accident at Brands Hatch, Peter had stripped his pale blue Tecno down to the steel frame.

Here’s a Tecno F3 car being taken for a spin. This car is featured at the beginning of the RUSH movie in the F3 scene where Niki Lauda and James Hunt had a coming together.

I interviewed Peter Hamilton on a sunny Sunday morning in early October 2013 in his purpose-built garage at his home in Lancashire:

How did you get interested in Historic racing cars and where can you buy these cars?

“I got interested in old racing cars and then went looking for an old car. The problem was that to buy a restored one was very expensive so I had to find one that wasn’t restored.

Sometimes they are complete boxes of bits and so and so. This one here, the one that is now pale blue, had been crashed about 10 years ago and was sitting in a shed.

We knew the guy had it and we knew that he couldn’t afford to restore it, so it was just a case then of negotiation…

Well, you think that you end up with something that is a bargain, but it doesn’t work out that way.

So, in the end, I think I paid about £7,000 for it and it ended up in total costing about £40k. That’s roughly what you are into, because an engine and a gearbox are about £15,000 together, so that’s life isn’t it. But! They’re worth £40k, not like modern stuff where you drive it for a season and it depreciates in value because modern technology is overtaking it. You know this is great, because the technology is static, so the values are in fact increasing. That was another reason for going historic because I had spent too much money doing the modern stuff…

The cars are bought through a network, basically. There is a website, well there are several websites in fact, and if you put ‘historic F3 cars for sale’ into Google, you’ll find two – there’s a European one and a UK one and there are cars for sale there. They tend not to be projects though, but runners that are being raced and they tend to be expensive.”

Before the interview, you’ve told me about your recent racing accident. Can you explain how this happened?

“I guess it was triumph of ambition over talent… basically, I qualified 9th and went into the first corner after the first lap from the start.

I had a really good start, I was 5th, and there was a group of 3 or 4 really quick, experienced guys…

if you let them go you’ll have to be the fastest car on the circuit to catch them up. That wasn’t going to happen, so the only solution is don’t let them go.

So I hung on for the first lap, but as I ended the first lap into the first corner of the second lap, on the cold tyres, trying to hang on … may be the car is not as quick as they are, may be I’m not as quick as they are, but anyway the combination meant I left the track and ended up in the gravel and then very quickly ended up in the tyres.

I thought I was going to be sore, but as I wear a neck brace since I broke my back in a race a few years ago it really worked and I was fine. They took me to the medical centre as a precaution but I was fine.

How much work will have to go into the car to repair it?

“We are still trying to work that out – as you can see (points to the shell of the car at the back of the garage) – but it took probably 2 days to get to where it is now, to strip it down, and it will take a bit longer to put it back… and then, really, it’s just how damaged the chassis is.

Anyway, the good news it that the engine had to come out anyway, because it’s done two seasons and it needs a rebuild. That’s something I had to do anyway and it’s the end of the season now. It would’ve been pretty frustrating at the beginning of the season instead of the end of the season. So, it’s a few days… I’ll miss the next race, but that can’t be helped.”

You participated in the recently released movie ‘Rush’. How did this come about?

“The club that we are part of, the Historic Sports Car Club, sent out an e-mail to everybody with an F3 car.

It was quite interesting, actually, because lots of people were quite cynical about it and said ‘well, I’m not putting my car into that kind of environment, because it’s going to get damaged’.

They were initially going to have stunt drivers driving the cars, but in the end, we negotiated that, as they are too odd and difficult to drive, we were going to drive them. That meant that we had to set aside about 6 days’ time, but it was paid and it was paid quite well. The pay was partly for your time and partly for the wear and tear on the car.

In the end, there were 15 cars used in the film. Whilst we were there they were filming the F1 stuff as well at Cadwell Park, so the F1 guys were at the fast part of the track filming for scenes like the Watkins Glenn race in the film where you see Francois Severe getting killed – well, not getting killed, but after his accident, which is what happened.

And then we were on the twisty bit through the mountain section and it was really fun. There were camera cars, helicopters everywhere … you could literally see money being burned all the time (laughs)… we had a great time!

We were in the hotel there for 4 days, so we’ve got to sit and have dinner with all the people and meet the actors and Ron Howard, the director, and they were all surprisingly human and accessible.

What was really interesting was just how, because there was so much money being spent, organised they are in terms of every minute of every day.

At the beginning of the day you get this sheet, well it’s actually not a sheet, it’s about 6 sheets, and every minute of the day is planned out. You’d think they’re all going to roll up at 10 o’clock and get going by lunchtime. But it’s not like that at all. It’s very complex. Even we were in having our hair done and sideburns stuck on, because we were not just in the cars, we were sort of extras as well.

We actually do get to see ourselves in the film, briefly. The whole organisation, because you can see they are spending so much money, was really quite impressive.

At first, what we didn’t understand, was that we did 2 days’ filming at Crystal Palace initially and then there was a break of about 3 months until the Cadwell Park scenes. The reason for this was that they had made a short film first, for which they had about $20 million. The short film is then used to raise the big money. So, I suppose it’s quite possible that someone puts up the $20 million as a gamble. They make the short, they spend the $20 million, they take it to get the funding for the rest of it and then they don’t get it, then its just gone – waisted money… But I guess with someone like Ron Howard involved you’re going to get the funding, aren’t you? That was really quite an interesting bit about the business of making films.

One of the nicest things that happened to me was at a dinner. I was sitting next to one of the lads who was on the crew, a young guy in his twenties, chatting to him about the film business. He was pretty fed up, because he was quite ambitious about what he wanted to do, but there was a sort of apprenticeship you had to go through – the ‘old school’ guys basically forced you to do this thing however good you were – and he was really frustrated about the movie business.

As we were chatting I asked him ‘are you interested in cars?’ And he said, ‘not really, no, but my grandfather was Colin Chapman’. He really was Colin Chapman’s grandson! And he was in the film business, not particularly interested in cars and ended up working on ‘Rush’. And there were Lotus cars in the F1 and F3 races … kind of amazing really.

Final question: who is your inspiration in Formula 1?

Senna! He was a fantastic driver. And I think the documentary film “Senna” showed him to be a much more interesting guy than we thought. He was a very smart guy and fantastically talented. A fierce competitor, but quite a nice guy as well. I suppose there are others that would say Jim Clark or Fangio, but of my time Senna was probably the greatest driver I’ve ever watched. That lap at Donnington, probably the greatest F1 lap ever raced… you know you watch that and you think yeah he’s a bit special.