The first win for a Formula 1 driver is always special, and we’ve been able to power drivers to their maiden victory on three occasions. But before Nigel Mansell’s triumph at Brands Hatch in 1985 and Jenson Button’s success in Hungary in 2006, the first was also our first.
As a teenager, Richie Ginther had been developing his engineering skills working for Douglas Aviation in California, and in his spare time was hot rodding before he got to know another Californian who would eventually lead him towards grand prix racing.
Phil Hill knew Ginther’s older brother better, but Richie was soon part of the pit crew on Hill’s cars and ended up transitioning into racing himself at the age of 21. In his first proper race at Pebble Beach in 1951, Ginther finished second to Hill in what was a sign of his prowess behind the wheel.
But Ginther would not race for another four years as he joined the army, including time as a helicopter mechanic in Korea. After leaving the army, Ginther was back to his support role of Hill, who by now was regularly racing Ferraris. But Ginther’s own talents as a driver were not going unnoticed, and by 1960 he was a Ferrari works’ driver and made his Formula 1 debut at Monaco.
Impressing those in F1, Ginther was hired by BRM, but despite a number of podiums - enough to carry him to third in the drivers’ championship in 1963 - that first victory continued to elude him. That changed when he joined Honda for the 1965 season.
We made three entries into F1 in 1964, all with Ginther’s fellow American Ronnie Bucknum. At that time, only Ferrari and BRM were regular entrants building both its own chassis and engine, so as Honda bravely took the same approach and prepared for a full season, Ginther was an attractive proposition. He had the skill behind the wheel, but also the technical knowledge and experience of both teams.
Ginther came on board ahead of our first full campaign in 1965, with Motor Sport Magazine noting “his technical nous undoubtedly helping the fledgling marque rise to prominence” in what was an encouraging season.
His first points came in only his second race as a Honda driver at the fearsome Spa-Francorchamps circuit, starting in fourth and finishing in sixth place in heavy rain. Given the opening round we entered in Monaco had not been a competitive showing, it was clear progress that was further shown by qualifying third at Silverstone, half a second from pole position.
Another top three start - and back then three cars lined up on the front row at many circuits - followed at Zandvoort and after a brief spell in the lead Ginther converted that into his second points finish for Honda. Despite again qualifying third at Watkins Glen for the penultimate round of the season, there had been no further points when the paddock arrived in Mexico City for the finale.
The same Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez venue as today was used, although with a different layout. On our first visit to the challenging venue thanks to the altitude, meticulous preparation in the lead-up to qualifying ensured Ginther was again third.
With the engine running sweetly, Ginther swept into the lead ahead of Jim Clark and Dan Gurney by Turn 1, and opened up a solid lead as many other drivers hit trouble. But Gurney was not going to let him ease to victory and increased the pressure in the second half of the race. All of the pre-race work paid off, however, and Ginther held on to win by a little under three seconds.
It was a slightly bittersweet moment as Ginther celebrated alongside chief mechanic Yoshio Nakamura, because the race marked the end of the 1.5-litre regulations in F1, and would be the American’s only win.
The next season, under 3-litre rules, we only entered the new RA273 for the final three rounds, Ginther would again excel in Mexico - finishing fourth and scoring the fastest lap - before he bowed out of Formula 1 the following year.