F1 Fanatic guest writer Andrew Tsvyk looks back at a time when the F1 season started on January 1st.
It used to be that Formula 1 was not a multi-billion dollar business, the cars were not developed by rocket scientists in sterile laboratories and there was a race on New Year’s Day.
Alright, I have to admit that racing on New Year’s Day was not common even before big money arrived in Grand Prix racing. But, as weird as it may seem nowadays, on January 1, 1968 there was a world championship race at the Kyalami circuit in South Africa.
Despite the celebrations, it was business as usual for Jim Clark, as the Lotus driver put in a typically dominant performance during qualifying, clinching a record-breaking 33rd pole position. Team mate Graham Hill and Matra driver Jackie Stewart joined Clark on the front row which, in 1968, was three cars wide. But while Hill and Stewart were separated by 0.1s, Clark was a full second faster.
Such a performance must have depressed the opposition, but Clark’s rivals had probably got used to the idea that their best chance of success would come if he hit trouble. Clark’s Lotus often suffered mechanical problems, as Colin Chapman’s creations were as fast as they were fragile. Therefore, Clark often had to relinquish race wins, where he had been leading by a lap or more.
But with Ford joining forces with Lotus in 1967, mechanical gremlins had increasingly become a thing of the past. The Lotus-Ford partnership had already proved to be a dominant combination on the other side of the Atlantic, with Clark winning the 1965 Indy 500, becoming the only driver to win both the 500 and the world championship in the same year. And with Ford’s involvement in motorsport reaching Formula 1 in the second part of the sixties, Lotus were privileged to be the first to get their hands on the new Ford-Cosworth DFV engine, which would dominate Grand Prix racing over the following 15 years.
Ford’s Formula 1 debut at the 1967 Dutch Grand Prix was a fairy-tale story with Graham Hill taking pole position and Jim Clark clinching the race win. The Scot added two more triumphs to his tally in the remaining rounds of the 1967 world championship, but lost out the ultimate prize to Brabham’s Denny Hulme by ten points.
Nevertheless, Clark had every reason to be excited about the upcoming season. First of all, both the Lotus 49 and the Ford-Cosworth DFV engine had proved extremely quick from the beginning. But while teething problems spoilt a couple of races in 1967, everyone expected Chapman and Cosworth’s Keith Duckworth to solve them by the first race of 1968.
The weather was beautiful on race day, which encouraged the locals to attend the show. However, with track temperatures reaching a staggering 54ºC and air temperature 33ºC in the shade, many participants were concerned not only about tyre wear, but also the reliability of their machines.
After a dominant performance in qualifying, the Lotus-Fords were expected to be untouchable in the race, at least if nothing went wrong with them. However, 28 year-old Jackie Stewart seemed to have other plans.
While both of the British racing green Lotuses had poor starts, with Clark losing the lead and Hill dropping down to seventh, Stewart blasted to the front of the field. Nevertheless, keeping Clark behind proved difficult, and when the 15 cars came nose to tail down the main straight at the end of lap one, pole-sitter Clark made a bold move on Stewart entering the first corner. With the Lotus-Fords in the class of their own in terms of top-speed throughout the weekend, Stewart was defenceless.
Having retaken the lead of the race, Clark started to pull away from his chasers. But while the Scot had no problems with doing that, his team mate, Graham Hill, had more worries. Seventh at the end of lap one, the 1962 champion had the bit between his teeth, as he tried to recover the lost ground. He soon moved ahead of John Surtees (Honda) and Chris Amon (Ferrari), setting his sights on Jack Brabham and Jochen Rindt. Graham profited from Black Jack’s misfortunes, whose engine started to misfire, and took away third place from Rindt on lap 13. After that the Englishman had an uneventful race as both Stewart and Clark were out of reach, while Rindt’s Brabham-Repco could not sustain the pace of the Lotus-Ford.
Hill overtook Stewart shortly before the Tyrrell driver was forced to retire with a broken rod on lap 43. This was a huge disappointment for the Scot who had been the only threat to Clark’s dominance. Tyrrell were using the Formula Two-based Matra MS9 for the last time, and had become the first team other than Lotus to use Cosworth engines.
Jim Clark was untouchable on the day and broke a major record with his 25th career win, eclipsing the mark set by the great Juan Manuel Fangio in the 1950s.
Sadly, it was also Clark’s last win. A few months later the great driver lost his life while competing in a Formula 2 race at the Hockenheimring It used to be that Formula 1 drivers raced everything that had four wheels…
|1.||4||Jim Clark||Lotus-Ford 49||1|
|2.||5||Graham Hill||Lotus-Ford 49||2|
|3.||3||Jochen Rindt||Brabham-Repco BT24||4|
|4.||8||Chris Amon||Ferrari 312/67||8|
|5.||1||Denny Hulme||McLaren-BRM M5A||9|
|6.||21||Jean-Pierre Beltoise||Matra-Ford MS||18|
More than 100,000 people attended the 1968 South African GP, but it was not only the hype of Formula 1, good weather or the new year atmosphere that encouraged the locals to watch the world’s greatest drivers in action. While there is no doubt that the locals admired the likes of Clark, Brabham and Hill, the South Africans also came to support home drivers Dave Charlton, Basil von Rooyen and Jackie Pretorius.
But while none of the locals made it to the finish, the South African fans were cheering for Rhodesian racer, John Love. They hoped he would emulate his performance of the previous year, when he led the race in a privately-entered Cooper-Climax. Love headed the field until lap 73, when a misfire forced the local hero to pit for fuel, losing the lead to Pedro Rodriguez.
Love made a total of ten world championship starts, his final effort being the 1972 South African Grand Prix. While second place would remain his best career result, the man from the country now known as Zimbabwe is famous for his exploits in the local South African F1 championship.
The 1968 South African Grand Prix saw 14 retirements out of 23 starters and the most dramatic accident took place on lap two, when a water pipe broke on Ludovico Scarfiotti’s Cooper-Maserati. The Italian did a fine job of pulling off safely just after the Esses and quickly left the cockpit. Unfortunately, Scarfiotti received second-degree burns and was taken by helicopter to a hospital in Brenthurst.
Scarfiotti made a speedy recovery and was able to race in the following round of the world championship at Jarama in Spain, finishing third. However, he would lose his life one year later, crashing a Porsche 910 during a hillclimbing event in the German Alps, aged 34.
This is a guest article by Andrew Tsvyk. If you want to write a guest article for F1 Fanatic you can find all the information you need here.