Driving through the pain barrier

Jackie Stewart’s 1968 German GP win impressed due to his pace but also his grim determination to race with a wrist injury

There’s always ‘a reason why’, and – if one is that way adjusted – it’s always interesting to uncover the evidence of that ‘reason why’. For decades now any of those who were present that day, and thousands more enthusiasts who only read about it, or saw the TV coverage of the event, speak in hushed admiration of Jackie Stewart’s staggering drive to win the 1968 German GP on the North Circuit of the Nürburgring.

Do you recall it? That’s right, through dense mist and fog, on a track surface wet, cold and supremely treacherous, he simply ran away from all his world-class opposition to win by a shattering four minutes from his nearest rival, Graham Hill. He was driving the Ken Tyrrell-entered Matra-Cosworth MS10, which in period was absolutely one of the most businesslike-looking of all contemporary Formula 1 cars. Its multi-riveted aerospace engineering monocoque simply looked like a guided missile, and as it bored swirling tunnels through the Eifel mists that Sunday it was plain that history was being written.

But Jackie had been troubled for weeks by a painful wrist injury, a broken scaphoid bone, and at the Nürburgring his left wrist was supported by a plastic cast. He recalls that if the weather had not been so dreadful, and the track had been dry and grippy, he would almost certainly have been unable to finish the race. In fact the slick track lightened the Matra’s steering just that crucial bit to make his demonstration of emergent driving genius possible.

He had tweaked his wrist in a Formula 2 practice accident at Jarama, outside Madrid in Spain, three months earlier. Jackie had been driving Ken Tyrrell’s dark green Matra MS5 with its 1600cc Cosworth FVA four-cylinder engine. He had been swapping best practice times with works Matra number one Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Jochen Rindt’s Winkelmann Racing Brabham-FVA BT23C. He had hacked a whole 2.3 seconds off the late Jim Clark’s July 1967 lap record and was trying hard in the final session when he spun abruptly in the right-hand loop after the Jarama pits and careened into the wire catch-fencing. The car’s steering gave his left hand a tremendous tweak, and there was no doubting he had a problem…

He had to content himself with dropping the starting flag on race day, and thereafter struggled through that mid-season with his damaged wrist in a plastic cast. The Nürburgring triumph really underlined not only the man’s class, but also his fearlessness. And when his safety campaigning later became so unpopular in some quarters – what a saving grace that German drive proved to be. Nobody, but nobody, could ever doubt it. JYS had balls of steel. Think on, Mosley.