Ross Brawn's non-championship race idea vindicated by 1969 shambles

Sir Jackie Stewart won the bizarre edition of the Brands Hatch Race of Champions in 1969 Phipps/Sutton

Next Wednesday sees the 48th anniversary of a shambles F1 would rather forget but which proves a point made recently by Ross Brawn. F1's new man at the top is in favour of staging an annual non-championship race as a means of experimenting with new formats without costing teams and drivers vital points if the ideas fail.

It's a suggestion that has some merit as well as an interesting precedence. Non-championship races used to be a regular part of the F1 calendar, Britain holding no less than three in 1969, starting with the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch in March.

Since the opening round of the championship had already been run in South Africa, this may not have seemed useful as a shakedown event. But such was the relaxed way of the F1 world that new or heavily modified cars were introduced as the season progressed.

For the Race of Champions, Jackie Stewart would race his Tyrrell-Matra MS80 for the first time, having relied on the 1968 MS10 at Kyalami -- where he won, as it happens. Frank Williams brought his gleaming new Brabham-Ford BT26 to Brands Hatch for Piers Courage and McLaren used practice to run front aerofoils on the orange M7As for Bruce and Denny Hulme.

Not everyone was obliged to enter. Ferrari had agreed to send a car for Chris Amon but, instead, sent a last-minute telegram to the organisers (British Racing and Sports Car Club) saying they were not coming. And yet, with only 13 cars on the grid, there were many more spectators than you see at one or two contemporary Grands Prix I won't mention. This was the first opportunity for British fans (and many from across the English Channel) to witness F1 cars in the flesh that year.

These days, the Formula One Group (FOG) would need to decide whether or not to insist on a full entry. The chances are, everyone would want to run provided, of course, funding/prize money was arranged, something which is not beyond the sport's imagination when needs must - as they would, given the handy UK location. A non-championship race at Silverstone would be a useful way for a team to trial race weekend procedures, never mind testing new parts or giving reserve drivers the chance to race (and possibly bring cash to the team). And then, as Brawn says, FOG could experiment with format. Which is exactly what happened in 1969.

There's nothing new in this world when you discover that it was decided to "make things more interesting" by running Indianapolis-style qualifying on the Friday and Saturday afternoons. The idea was for the running order to be dictated by the fastest times from free practice each morning. That was all very well, but no one bargained for the March weather. And neither did they take into account that F1 cars in general were as unreliable then as the Honda power unit appears to be now.

The plan went awry immediately when Jochen Rindt, although fastest in the morning, elected to run last and no one seemed capable of changing the Lotus driver's mind. McLaren then completed one flying lap but never appeared at the end of the second thanks to his ignition cutting out.

Silence. No one seemed to know what to do. As Bruce would note in his Autosport column: 'Denny had the same thing happen to him in the morning but, when you're the only car on the track and you don't come round, everybody notices it.'

Jack Brabham managed his pair of flying laps but Stewart would complete just one before aborting and returning to the pits with a misfire. Jo Siffert did exactly the same thing when the Ford DFV in his Rob Walker Lotus refused to run cleanly. But at least that was better than Pedro Rodriguez who brought his BRM back to the pits at the end of his out lap. And then it started to rain.

Now what? There appeared to be no provision for such an eventuality -- apart from falling back on morning practice times if all else failed. After much dithering, a drying track prompted the abandonment of qualifying and a continuation of free practice. By which time, the McLaren team had packed up and were heading back to their factory at Colnbrook.

Never mind; there was always Saturday. Free practice had been running for no more than 30 minutes when fog closed in and track activity had to be called off for the rest of the day.

Rindt started Sunday's race from pole but Stewart walked it -- as he would a championship unhindered by any attempt to 'improve the show'. The hard lessons had been learned when it mattered least.