Silverstone at 70: 1960s

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RAC British Grand Prix, July 19 1969

Sir Jackie Stewart on one of the most memorable British Grands Prix ever

Jackie Stewart and Jochen Rindt battle for the lead of the 1969 British Grand Prix

The pattern was set. Jochen Rindt and Jackie Stewart, said Jenks in Motor Sport, were “head and shoulders above everybody else”, and with several teams struggling to get their four-wheel-drive cars to work their divided attentions meant no one else was likely to threaten the Lotus and Tyrrell-Matra aces. The question, said Jenks, was not who would win the British GP but who was the fastest man in Grand Prix racing today, Stewart or Rindt?

Both men were aiming for pole – and the £100 bonus for the fastest lap in each practice session. Stewart, Rindt, Stewart it went, until the last session when Stewart went out to top his Austrian rival’s time – only to meet a dislodged kerb when committed to Stowe. The resulting puncture spun him into the bank. Stewart was unhurt, but the car was defunct – which meant displacing team-mate Jean-Pierre Beltoise from his Matra MS80.

In the older car Stewart couldn’t outdo his chief rival; though Jackie had set fastest lap, using the Beltoise car meant he would start second on the grid between Rindt and Denny Hulme’s McLaren.

And Jochen took that final £100.

“Shame I missed that,” laughs Sir Jackie. But that sequence of events led to one of the most thrilling duels ever seen at Silverstone.

“I think it one of the best races I ever had,” says Stewart. “I suspect it’s the race with the most passes between two drivers – 32, I think. At that time slipstreaming was the thing to do, and at Silverstone there were two places for that: Hangar Straight, and going down to Woodcote from the fast left-hander at Abbey. That’s where you’d slingshot past the other guy. On most laps we passed each other twice. There was no way you weren’t going to pass at either spot, unless a driver started to weave, and that was something neither of us did. We knew each other too well; we were two friends and both cars were competitive.

“It was a great tussle. We indicated to each other which side to pass to make it easier. We knew we were going to be passed and we were dragging away from those behind us. Blocking each other would have meant the other guys catching us, so I would lift my hand to tell him to go this side or that side and he would do the same. It was obvious that unless you got Becketts wrong you were going to pass the other guy before Stowe.”

In a separate race behind, Hulme’s third place evaporated with ignition problems, promoting a fierce Bruce McLaren/ Jacky Ickx duel to a battle over third while another dogfight involved Graham Hill, Piers Courage and Jo Siffert with Chris Amon adding the alto notes of a Ferrari V12 to the tenor of the DFVs. For the huge crowd it was sensational – three different tussles, while the two leaders lapped car after car. Then…

“Down Hangar Straight I saw Jochen’s wind endplate was loose and I thought ‘My god, it’s going to cut his tyre’ – the worst thing at that speed. So I drew alongside and pointed. He told me afterwards that he only saw it then. So he had to come in and get it fixed.”

Even then, such was their lead that the Austrian rejoined in second, but a last-minute fuel stop dropped him to fourth behind Ickx and McLaren.

”A great race,” says Sir Jackie. “I couldn’t have asked for anyone better to race against. We had total trust in each other. We were soaked in perspiration, but it was invigorating – you couldn’t make any mistakes at all. That’s one of the great things about Silverstone.”