1968 British Grand Prix race report - Win for a Sportsman
Win for a Sportsman
With Great Britain's major race taking place on London's back-door step, almost within the sound of Bow Bells, a short rush up the A20, one of our worst "race-track" main roads, and some hurried printing has enabled a report of the meeting to be squeezed into this issue, albeit limited in space and scope, so the following is a potted account from our potted circuit. As the Grand Prix only took up two hours of an eight-hour day of speed and thrills, it seemed a bit of a "potted Prix" rather than a "Grand Prix".
Jo Siffert takes the chequered flag to win the 1968 British Grand Prix. Photo: Motorsport Images
Thursday, July 18th, at 10:30 am, everything was set for practice but there were no competitors, they were all in the paddock, but no one seemed ready to go. In Rob Walker's van, his mechanics were screwing the final bits on to his brand-new Lotus 49B, which Siffert was to drive, identical to the works cars, with Hewland gearbox, 1968 front and rear suspension, nose fins, and rear-mounted aerofoil, but all painted Walker blue. His old car, number 49/2, had been returned to the factory and it was being used as a stand-in to replace Oliver's car that was wrecked at Rouen. It still had the ZF gearbox and 1967 suspension but had a new nose, with adjustable fins, rear-mounted "wing", and had been painted red, white and gold like Hill's car. Both works cars had their rear "wings" mounted twelve inches higher than at Rouen, to get them out of the turbulence, and they both had small "spoilers" on the tip of the nose to break up the air-flow across the large, flat nose surface ahead of the windscreen.
Surtees was bolting a fairly large "wing" to the back of the V12 Honda, though some of the parts looked a bit like Meccano, and Gurney's Eagle 104 had a "wing" that looked as if it would bend the exhaust pipes if it created any downward thrust. BRM were steering clear of aerodynamics and had even removed the nose deflectors, the cars looking very naked. Everyone was in the paddock, including Hulme and McLaren with their orange McLarens, Amon and Ickx with three Ferraris, Brabham and Rindt with their "4-cammers" and their spare "2-cammer", Stewart with the two V8-powered Matras, and Beltoise with the number two 12-cylinder Matra, Elford and Widdows with the works Coopers, Courage with Parnell's B.R.M., Moser with Vogele's Brabham, and Bonnier with his McLaren V12. Absent were Bianchi, because Autodelta would not release to Cooper the 3-litre Alfa Romeo V8 engine as being race-worthy, even though it has reached 380 b.h.p., Lanfranchi, who seemed to have made an entry with a non-existent B.R.M., and a completely unknown "Tom Jones" who has bought the low, flat, 1967 Cooper-Maserati V12.
When the cars began to leave the paddock and practice got underway about 10 minutes late it really went with a rush. Record for the full Brands Hatch circuit was set by McLaren at the Race of Champions last March with a lap time of 1 min 31.6 sec, and in no time at all Stewart and Gurney were around this figure, soon to be followed by Surtees, Attwood and Amon. Then Hill set the standard with 1 min 29.8 sec, so that any laps at more than 1 min 30 sec were not going to impress anyone. He later improved to a splendid 1 min 29.5 sec, the tall "wing" struts wobbling furiously on their rubber mountings as Hill drove with a fiery determination that was good to watch. Amon, who was wearing so much protective clothing that he looked very uncomfortable and hot, was well in the hunt and down to 1 min 29.8 sec, and then Oliver used all his Brands Hatch knowledge, which is considerable, and took Chapman's advice to relax and not try so hard. The result was 1 min 29.9 sec, in what is really an obsolete Lotus 49! Siffert felt his way along cautiously in the brand-new 49B, and Widdows was getting used to his first experience of a single-seater with something under the accelerator pedal when there was a nasty noise from a big-end bolt breaking and a hole in the crankcase. Ferraris tried different-length exhaust pipes, and then Amon had his water system expansion tank split on 0011 which covered everything with a strange yellow-coloured water but did no harm. Those drivers whose cars had "wings", "spoilers", "deflectors", "straighteners" or just bits of aluminium were busy altering, bending, twisting or tweaking them, in the way they used to play about with anti-roll bars or shock-absorber settings. Hulme took his "wing" right off, but after a lap or two stopped and put it back, convinced of its value. By 1:30 pm the tempo was terrific, the lap record looked very sick with nine drivers below it, and it confirmed that the standards of the Race of Champions in March were quite low, as I suggested at the time.
Piers Courage holds off Denny Hulme and Jacky Ickx at Brands Hatch. Photo: Motorsport Images
At 4:30 pm, there was another hour of practice and as Attwood's mechanic was driving his BRM out of the paddock through the crowds round the gate, they all stepped back, but the gatepost in their midst did not, and the right rear wheel struck it and ripped the bottom suspension members off. So Attwood could not practise. The morning tempo was not repeated, but Amon went quickly in the spare Ferrari, Rodriguez drove the spare BRM as well as his own, Gurney had moved his "wing" forward, above the engine, the practice times of Hulme and McLaren, as shown in the accompanying table, meant either stalemate, superb tuning, or a remarkable equality of driving. Actually, Hulme looked far from fit, his face being swollen and unhealthy-looking. Cooper having no spare car meant that Widdows could not do any more practice, and the Brabham team had been getting nowhere at all.
On Friday morning, at 10:30 am, it all began again. Attwood's car was repaired, as was Rodriguez's, for the Mexican driver had had the left front rocker-arm suspension mounting break away from the "monocoque" structure, at the end of the previous afternoon. Widdows had a new engine in his Cooper, McLaren appeared with his original car M7A-1 now rebuilt, and as a spare Brabham brought out the 1967 car as the 4-cammers were playing-up all the time, and everyone was keen for a go at pole-position and the 100 bottles of champagne that went with it. Hill's time of 1 min 29.5 sec was still standing, and the next serious contestant seemed to be Amon, although when the 4-cam Repco V8 behaved properly Rindt soon got below 1 min 30.0 sec. McLaren got down to 1 min 30.4 sec in his spare car, which meant that all three McLarens had recorded the same time! Hill was not content to sit back, for Amon was approaching his time, and he rushed the Lotus 49B round in 1 min. 28.9 sec., which made Chapman beam with joy and Firestone purr with delight about their new "Y-front" super "wet-and-dry" tyres. Amon equalled Hill's old time and then Oliver did a magnificent 1 min 29.4 sec, so that Team Lotus were one and two on the grid and everyone was smiling. As practice was nearing its end, at 12:30 pm, Hill was standing by his Lotus all dressed up and ready to go if Amon should beat his time, and it was good to see this competitive attitude between teams once again. Unfortunately, the official announcement of Hill's fastest lap came over the public address some ten or fifteen minutes after he had done it, so that very few of the many spectators present were able to appreciate it. (See the article elsewhere on "Grand Prix practice" and think about it.) In the last few minutes, Amon had got himself all worked up for a do-or-die effort when he was baulked by a well-known yellow car, and that was that; Hill got the champagne. Ickx had never really got to grips with the circuit, there was more oil about the Brabham pit than was reasonable, Stewart tried the V12 Matra and could not find anything to complain about, Hulme broke a drive-shaft inner universal joint on the left, Beltoise ran out of ELF (!) petrol in the V12 Matra, which now had a small "wing" astride the engine, but mounted on the chassis. BRM packed up early, and Moser and Bonnier did not qualify. While everyone was watching Hill, Oliver and Amon, Siffert put in a lap at 1 min 29.7 sec which surprised a lot of people.
"Being in the lead, Siffert made quite sure that he left no opening on any of the corners, and though Amon followed him like a shadow there was nothing to do but follow."
In contrast to Rouen, there was more than enough practice time, and at the end of Friday afternoon there was an untimed hour for final adjustments, during which McLaren tried some Goodyear rain-tyres in the dry, and also drove Bonnier's yellow McLaren-BRM V12, as it was not handling properly, Ferrari were out with two cars, Surtees appeared briefly, and Moser got his car going properly.
At twenty minutes to 3 pm on Saturday the first spots of rain began to fall, by which time the starting area was packed with people and Grand Prix cars and there was a mad rush by some for rain tyres and dithering about by others from one foot to the other. After a warm-up lap, they all lined up on the dummy grid, with Bonnier and Moser on the back row, as it seems that the R.A.C. write qualifying rules into the regulations so that they can be broken. With almost military precision the field began to move up to the starting grid as 3 pm approached, except that Elford's engine would not start and he was wheeled on to the grass. When the flag fell the front row made a beautiful start, but Gurney's Eagle engine died and he had the sense to turn sharp right and get out of the way of the surging mob behind him. Siffert had followed the two works Lotus cars away and there they were, Lotus cars one, two, three, with Amon, Stewart and Surtees chasing them. Oliver led from Hill and Siffert, but even on the opening lap there was oil smoke coming from the back of the leading car. Brabham stopped for good at the end of one lap, his Repco V8 engine broken, Elford had got going and was in with the tail-enders, but Gurney was too far behind, with fuel-pump trouble, to be of any consequence. Almost immediately the race divided into two parts, those on dry-weather tyres and those on wet-weather tyres, the dry-weathers winning, for the spots of rain had not developed, and though the skies were grey and cloudy it remained dry. Oliver led for the first two laps, and then Hill went into the lead and apart from the oil smoke from 49/2, the three Lotus cars made a fine sight in complete command of the race, for while Amon, Stewart and Surtees were close behind, they did not look as if they could do anything about it.
John Surtees leading Denny Hulme during the 1968 British Grand Prix. Photo: Motorsport Images
In the second part of the race McLaren and Hulme were getting to grips with the opposition, the former hampered by wet-weather tyres, the latter hampered by feeling very under-the-weather physically. Rindt was needing all his "lightning reflexes" to cope with his Brabham on wet-weather Goodyears, and Rodriguez was in similar trouble with his BRM, Gurney's Eagle seemed to just lay down and die quietly, and Bonnier claimed to have broken his BRM V12 engine, while Moser's gearchange went wrong.
At ten laps the Lotus triumphant tour was still very impressive, in the order Hill, Oliver, Siffert, with Amon hanging on tenaciously, but Stewart was showing signs of losing contact, as his left-hand exhaust tail-pipe was broken, and eventually fell off. His slight reduction in speed caused Surtees to lose contact with the leaders as well. The Matra V12 engine suddenly showed signs of seizing, so Beltoise hastily switched off and coasted to a stop, and Attwood dropped out with water-circulation problems. Though Surtees managed to find space to get past Stewart, he could not rejoin the leading quartet, who were now some way ahead, and as Amon was merely keeping up, and not challenging, it looked like being a Lotus benefit already. Courage topped at the pits on lap 14 with his BRM engine overheating, and Rodriguez stopped on the same lap to give up the unequal struggle on the wrong tyres and have them changed.
Hulme had taken over the second part of the race, his feeling ill cancelling out his tyre advantage over McLaren, and lckx was now between them. There was quite a long gap before Rindt arrived, and he was followed by the two Coopers. Elford leading Widdows. While the triumphant Lotus tour was impressive. it was not fantastically fast, the new lap record being set at 1 min 30.9 sec by Oliver, though Siffert was realty enjoying himself tailing the two works cars with his brand-new Lotus, and for non-Lotus fans the race had become a bore. On lap 27 Hill suddenly turned up the slip-road behind the pits and withdrew from the race with a broken right-hand drive shaft and broken suspension, the rear wheel leaning inwards; it all happened as quickly as that, and it left a very contented Oliver in the lead, his only worry being that the oil smoke had stopped, for it might have meant no more oil in the system to leak. It obviously did not, for he was still going well, and with a clear road ahead he lowered the lap record to 1 min 30.8 sec and then 1 min 30.3 sec, pulling away slightly from Siffert. The field was fast diminishing, for Elford stopped out on the back of the circuit when the B.R.M. V12 engine in his Cooper made a loud and expensive bang, with a connecting rod through the side, Cooper's third B.R.M. engine failure in two weeks! At the same time, Widdows' engine popped and banged with ignition problems. Stewart, who still had his wrist bound up, was beginning to slow visibly, and lckx and Hulme were catching the Matra V8, the Belgian boy having got by the World Champion, but not away from him.
Jo Siffert leads Chris Amon's Ferrari during the 1968 British Grand Prix. Photo: Motorsport Images
With one of the Lotus team gone, Amon began to put the pressure on Siffert, hounding him all round the circuit, and behind them, Surtees was a lonely fourth. to become even lonelier when his "wing" mountings began to bend and finally the "wing" flew right off! Ickx and Hulme had caught Stewart, but the Ferrari driver had an incredible "moment" coming out of Hawthorn bend and was back behind the Matra and the McLaren by the time he got sorted out, but soon followed Hulme through past the blue car. Amon made a big effort and got past Siffert on lap 37 and on the next time round set up a new lap record of 1 min. 30.0 sec., to follow it up on lap 40 with 1 min 29.0 sec, but Siffert stayed with him and recorded the same time, to improve it to 1 min. 29.7 sec. on lap 42, to which Amon could not reply. This little scuffle kept them very close, but all the while Oliver was holding a comfortable lead. The 40-lap mark was half-distance and the order had been Oliver (Lotus), Amon (Ferrari), Siffert (Lotus), lckx (Ferrari), Surtees (Honda), Hulme (McLaren), Stewart (Matra), McLaren (McLaren), Rindt (Brabham), Rodriguez (B.R.M.), Moser (Brabham), Courage (B.R.M.), the rest having stopped. Ickx had made up for his slight error, Surtees was having a bad time without his "wing", and Rindt was just having a bad time. As Oliver swept round South Bank Corner and under the bridge there was a different puff of smoke than before and the ZF final-drive unit gave up. Just as this was about to happen, Siffert had got in front of Amon so that when the Swiss driver went round South Bank, he went into the lead of the race.
Being in the lead, Siffert made quite sure that he left no opening on any of the corners, and though Amon followed him like a shadow there was nothing to do but follow. Both cars ran faultlessly, and it was now all over, everyone else seemingly touring round and getting lapped, Ickx in third place, Hulme fourth, Surtees fifth, Stewart sixth, McLaren seventh, Rindt eighth, and there was some slight excitement when the last-named went by on lap 54 with flames flickering around the left side of the gearbox, a leaking fuel pipe having caught alight and burning merrily; the speed of the car keeping the conflagration subdued. On the next lap it was still burning, and the lap after he found out and stopped smartly, and fire-marshals put it out before any real damage was done. Amon kept pressing, but Siffert was making no mistakes, and when on lap 76 they lapped Stewart the Scot got in the way of the Ferrari for nearly the whole lap, and it was then all over. — Denis Jenkinson
Jo Siffert stands on the podium after winning the 1968 British Grand Prix. Photo: Motorsport Images
Everyone seemed delighted and pleased that the Rob Walker/Jack Durlacher team had won. We all felt it helped to make up a little for the disaster of the Race of Champions weekend.
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Ferrari certainly knows how to make strong racing cars. The two V12 engines were never heard to miss a beat throughout practice and the race.
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Oh dear! Guess whose "wing" fell off?
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We used to complain that the petrol companies had too much control over Grand Prix racing; is it time to suggest that the tyre companies are having too much control and influence.
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The supply of information from the Press Department was first class; it must have made the visiting French journalists very embarrassed when they remembered Rouen.
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The race only lasted a fraction over two hours and yet a lot of the Grand Prix cars fell apart, and I have been advocating 1,000-kilometre Grand Prix races. I must be joking. Grand Prix cars or Petit Prix cars?
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Anyone who arrived around 1.30 p.m. must have wondered whether they were at a meeting a the Royal Aero Club rather than a meeting of the Royal Automobile Club. There were aeroplanes zooming in all directions' and not the sound or smell of a racing car.
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First Championship race this year that Matra have not led at some point.
FORMULA THREE-20 laps-85.296 kilometres
1st: J. Miles (Lotus-Ford) .. 33 min 05.5 sec —154.650 mph
2nd: R. Pike (Titan-Ford) .. 33 min 07.7 sec
3rd: C. Craft (Tecno-Ford) .. 33 min 25.9 sec.
GROUP 5 SALOONS-2- laps-85.296 kilometres
1st: F. Gardner (Ford Escort Twin-cam) .. 36 min 33.3 sec.—140.0 mph
2nd: H. Hane (Ford Falcon V8) .. 36 min 44.0 sec
3rd: J. Fitzpatrick (Ford Escort GT) .. 37 min 59.8 sec
N.B.—For what it is worth, the TV play referred to on page 690 will be shown on August 5th.