This year absolutely bulges with anniversaries, and one of the most spectacularly exciting Formula 1 races ever run took place on May 12, 1962.
The 14th BRDC International Trophy at Silverstone was the most important pre-season non-Championship race, and this edition saw a classic confrontation over 52 laps between Team Lotus’s Jim Clark, and BRM’s Graham Hill.
Jimmy was driving the spaceframe-chassised Lotus 24 with 1½-litre Coventry Climax V8 engine, while Graham was in the latest BRM P578 with its fuel-injected BRM V8 power unit. Jimmy had already won the season-opening Snetterton race in his works 24, finishing more than 50sec clear of Graham’s latest misfiring BRM – on seven cylinders much of the way.
The following Easter Monday race at Goodwood saw Graham score his first win in the BRM V8, albeit in the absence of Clark who was at Pau, France, in his Lotus-Climax 24, retiring with a gear change problem. Instead, veteran Maurice Trintignant won there in a Rob Walker four-cylinder Lotus 18/21. Goodwood, of course, saw the grisly accident which ended Stirling Moss’s frontline racing career – actually as he sought to unlap himself from Hill’s BRM.
On April 29 the Aintree 200 then continued this pre-season non-Championship series, so jam-packed with interest for all enthusiasts, to say nothing of the teams, ferociously eager both to learn, and earn… Clark qualified his Lotus on pole, 1.2sec faster than Hill’s next-fastest BRM. In the race Graham and team-mate Richie Ginther chased Jimmy hard, Richie moving into second place when Graham’s V8 lost power. But the little American’s gearbox then failed, as did Graham’s engine. Clark won from Bruce McLaren’s Cooper and the ‘Sharknose’ Ferraris of Phil Hill and Giancarlo Baghetti.
The big Silverstone May meeting followed. In practice Graham’s BRM handled particularly well while the engine felt “smooth and powerful”. He qualified on pole, two-tenths faster than Clark. Richie qualified his BRM fourth, on the outside of the front row – remember 4-3-4 starting grids? – but race day dawned grey and wet. Both BRMs made bad starts allowing Clark to streak into a fully 7sec lead after three laps.
Two laps later Ginther clipped the inside wall at Club Corner which threw him across the road into the safety bank, detaching both left-side wheels, shifting the engine an inch in the buckled chassis frame and effectively writing off one BRM. On track Graham’s car had meanwhile shed one of the upturned stack-exhaust megaphones from its 1-4 engine bank. By lap 10 three had gone, and one from the 5-8 bank. He was falling back from Clark by a second per lap, and John Surtees in his Bowmaker Lola-Climax was closing fast, third. At Woodcote corner on lap 20 Graham was baulked by the Sicilian Nino Vaccarella’s Lotus 18/21, careering across the verge in avoidance, damaging the BRM’s underpan and scraping vulnerable pipework.
Ironically, he and Nino had been Porsche team-mates at the previous weekend’s Targa Florio. That collision cost Graham 7sec, and Surtees was long gone into second place as he rejoined. Chief Engineer Tony Rudd recalled “It got him good and mad, which always made him go!”. A steady drizzle began. Graham found the BRM felt OK. In eight laps Clark pulled out another 2sec, but Hill caught and re-passed Surtees. By lap 29 he was 28sec behind Clark, gaining a second per lap. By lap 35 the gap was 20sec, with 17 laps left to run. Lap 42 – Graham gaining 2sec per lap. The rain intensified. The BRM was out-handling the Lotus. Clark was lapping in 1min 50sec – Hill still putting in 1min 48sec. The apple-green Lotus was slowing, 1min 51secs – Graham down to 1min 47sec, gaining 4sec per lap. When his engine had been losing megaphones, Graham experienced power loss below 8000rpm. To compensate he revved the engine to 10,500, and later – gaining confidence (and in a red mist) – to 11,000rpm though staying in top gear as much as possible on the greasy road.
“Masten Gregory got in Jimmy’s way – I really ought to buy him a drink”
Graham recalled: “On the last lap, going through Abbey, I could see I was really gaining on Jimmy and… when approaching Woodcote he obviously saw me in his mirror. I was going to go through on the inside but as soon as he realised what I was up to he shut the gate and closed right in – exactly what I would have done. So I whipped round the other side and went straight round the outside of him. Unfortunately I had to go right onto the wet. I crossed the finish line in a great broadside, all sideways, and just pipped him. With the last lap to run I was only four-and-a-half seconds behind. Apparently Masten Gregory got slightly in his way – I really ought to buy Masten a drink one of these days”.
He added “We were very chuffed”. Indeed, BRM owner Sir Alfred Owen was equally pleased, and when Richie Ginther suggested that perhaps a two-year-old Austin A40 was no longer appropriate transport for the winning team’s Chief Engineer, he agreed – and provided Tony Rudd with a brand-new… wait for it – Hillman Minx.