Hill vs Clark: British Racing Gold

Browse pages

50 years ago a new order broke through to challenge Formula 1’s established stars. Jim Clark and Graham Hill, with an innovative Lotus and a BRM finally delivering on its promise, took centre stage

Alan Brinton was a good old-school journalist. He was 1950s Fleet Street personified. He addressed everyone as “old boy” or “my dear”, could actually touch-type but, cast adrift by the closure of The News Chronicle national newspaper, he had become a leading motoring writer, edited Motor Racing magazine and was a radio broadcaster. Fifty years ago, late in 1962, he sat down with that year’s two British Formula 1 World Championship protagonists, Jim Clark and Graham Hill. Wreathed in tobacco smoke from his ever-present pipe, he would have clicked the ‘record’ button on his briefcase-sized Uher portable tape machine, and began their discussion by asking Jim Clark about his revolutionary monocoque-chassis Lotus 25…

Jim Clark: “Colin Chapman is always one for trying new ideas, and he argued that with monocoque construction he could give a more rigid structure for less weight and more compact size. I know that it had been thought about quite a bit towards the end of last season [1961].

“There was something brewing around last year’s Earl’s Court Motor Show, but Colin wouldn’t tell me then what it was, as I hadn’t actually signed up for 1962. All he did say was that he had something radically different that he wanted to try.

“It wasn’t until I got back from the South African races that I became fairly well aware of what was going on. We then had the Lotus 24 in hand, but as yet no V8 Coventry Climax for it. But when I returned from South Africa the initial work started on the 25, with the plumbing and ittings being laid out.

“At that time it was intended having a steering column gearchange. I couldn’t get the pendulum pedals working to my liking, and there were a lot of conferences about that. Colin eventually managed to ind enough room for a conventional gearchange, but in fact the whole job took longer than was originally intended, and it was May before the car was ready. When the Lotus 25 was taken to Zandvoort for the first Championship race I had done absolutely no testing at all…

“Frankly, I was very doubtful about using the new car. I wanted to run the 24 which was going very well, and the original idea was that Trevor [Taylor] would drive the 25 in the race. In the end it was decided that I should have a bash with the 25 in the race. Not surprisingly, we ran into trouble, but I suppose it taught us a thing or two.

“One of the problems with the 25 at first was the very reclined driving position, which made visibility difficult, particularly on sharp corners. We made some slight modiications later, and of course I gradually got used to it.”

Graham Hill: “We’d expected to have our BRM V8 engine for 1961, but it didn’t turn out that way. The car was hanging around for a long time, waiting for bits for the engine. I was all in favour of putting a Climax 1.5-litre ‘four’ in the V8 chassis for 1961 – it might have taught us something, and helped with development on the handling side.

“The V8 eventually turned up at Monza [1961]. What few people realised was the terrific effort which was made at Bourne to get them [out there at all]. We didn’t use the V8s in
the race, but… we put in some more useful testing after the race.

“I certainly realised that I would have a better chance in 1962 than in the previous four years. But I had no idea at all that it would turn out as it has. At that time I hadn’t seen either Porsche or Ferrari – remember Porsche were coming out with their eight-cylinder, and Ferrari were promising their four-valve-per-cylinder job… I just thought we would be there with something of a chance, but frankly I didn’t think we’d done enough development during the winter. I felt, consequently, that we should have been further ahead than we were.

“At Goodwood on Easter Monday I had complained that my car did not seem to be as quick as the Lola or the Lotus. The BRM weighs nearly 1100lbs without fuel, but with oil and water. It has a slightly bigger frontal area than the Lotus, and is bigger all round.”

Jimmy told Graham: “I thought that your BRM – and Richie’s [Ginther’s] too – really had a lot more steam at Monza.”

Graham: “And I was pretty certain that you had more than I did at Watkins Glen. I certainly thought your Lotus was quicker in a straight line there…”

Jimmy: “That’s interesting, because I felt that at Watkins Glen my car was getting out of the corners a trile quicker than yours, but by the end of the straight you were beginning to catch me again.”

When asked how Graham’s BRM had left Jimmy’s Lotus 25 for dead right from the start of the French GP at Rouen, Jimmy explained: “First of all, I didn’t really feel up to driving very brilliantly that day after the mishap I had during the irst practice session, when the steering went wrong. Secondly, I ended up with a brand-new car which hadn’t been bedded in. It hadn’t got the right ratios and I hadn’t run the car with a full tank before the race. In addition I had to slip the clutch from time to time; a lot of oil had been dropped. The 25 is not a good car on oil, and my short-lived lead went for a burton…”

Graham agreed that the French race had been quite dramatic: “After I had my tangle with Jack Lewis’s Cooper, and got going again, I thought I could catch you again. Then, when you went out, it seemed that all I had to do was to keep going. Of course, I didn’t; the fuel injection linkage packed up and I had to retire. It was a very disappointing day for us both.” Graham added: “I reckon Surtees’s Lola at Reims was the quickest we have seen this year.” Jimmy agreed: “Yes, he was going like a bomb that day. When he decided to go he just dashed away from all of us. And that is a difficult thing to do on a circuit like Reims, because you get a tow effect even when you are a long way behind.”

In terms of assessing one another’s performance, the Belgian GP which gave Jimmy his maiden World Championship win at Spa proved inconclusive.

Jimmy: “Graham’s BRM had an intermittent misire. My car went probably as well as it has ever done. I was particularly pleased with this, because a spare engine had been popped in overnight, and the car was untried.” He admitted to a personal fright

Jimmy agreed: “Yes, he was going like a bomb that day. When he decided to go he just there: “Going down the Masta Straight I found that the rush of air was getting under the peak of my helmet and threatening to force it up. I decided that the only thing to do was to throw the peak away, so I caught hold of the strap at the back and gave it a yank. I’d got hold of the wrong strap though, and pulled my goggles off by mistake!

Fortunately, I had another pair round my neck, and managed to get them in place. Then I tugged at the peak, and eventually, after a lot of effort, it ripped off. I suppose it has something to do with the airlow round the cockpit of the Lotus 25, but since then I haven’t worn a peak on my helmet.”

Asked about rev ranges used in BRM and Climax V8 engines, Graham replied: “I don’t like to see the BRM rev counter drop below 8000… At the beginning of the year we were using up to 10,000rpm, and later on this was stepped up to 10,500 – though I have occasionally used higher. Later in the season the useful rev range was somewhat widened, but I still didn’t like to see the needle fall below 9000. It doesn’t matter so much in second gear, though, when I don’t worry if it is around 8000rpm.”

Jimmy confided he was frightened by Graham’s talk of so many revs: “With the Coventry Climax V8 we started off with an 8500rpm maximum. Eventually we used 9000rpm, but never over that… 9200rpm has either blown up the engine or appeared about to. In the higher gears the Climax has something quite useful from 7000 to 7500rpm, but I find it can be used as low down as 6000…”

Both Hill and Clark believed that if a car was any good it would be good on any circuit.

Jimmy: “Most would have said that the Lotus 25 was not the ideal car for Monaco, and yet it went there like a bomb, until it retired”.

Graham had never been to the East London circuit where the championship-deciding South African GP was due, and was concerned its two hairpins might favour Jimmy’s Lotus more than his BRM. Asked if he might feel advantaged by having raced – and won – there before, Jimmy grinned: “To my mind a Grand Prix driver should be able to learn a circuit in the time allowed for practice, and I know that Graham will. Of course I’d be perfectly happy to show him the way round in the race itself…”

Reviewing the season thus far, Graham admitted: “The Dutch Grand Prix” – at which he took his irst World Championship win – “…was terribly important, but I don’t think it was my best race. For my money the best dice with you, Jim, was the Monaco GP, even though I retired later”.

Jimmy agreed: “…because that was a race I really enjoyed too. Everything seemed to be coming to a climax when I was pressing Graham, and I was wondering how to get by; indeed I was debating whether in fact it would be possible because unfortunately I had lost fourth gear. I would certainly have liked my race to have gone on at least five more laps, just to see whether I could have got into the lead.”

Graham remarked that they had seldom raced in close contact except at Watkins Glen: “…where I thought I was a bit outclassed. You drew out a lead and sat on it. No matter what I did I couldn’t get within striking distance.” He added graciously, and accurately: “That was one of your outstanding days, and an even iner effort than it appeared at the time, because of losing your clutch”.

Jimmy added: “I had more worries than that… at one stage the engine gave a cough, and I thought the gearbox was going. I heard a noise from one of the carburettor intakes, and that set me thinking that perhaps a valve had gone. I thrashed on, but though I couldn’t get the rev counter above 8000 it didn’t seem to make any difference to my lap times. Then, towards the end, the synchromesh started tightening up.

I was very relieved when the end came.” On the thorny topic of having had any off days, Jimmy instantly confessed: “Rouen – but this had a special reason – the fright I had in practice. In fact I think I could have got with it if only I had got going at the start”.

For his part, Graham dismissed any such notion: “I think I must have off days, but I don’t notice them. Perhaps I don’t want to.” Many observers rated the German GP at the Nürburgring as race of the year, with Graham, Dan Gurney, John Surtees and Jimmy all putting in blinding drives. Jimmy: “It was also my one big mistake of the year, when I forgot to switch on my fuel pump on the start line, and got away well behind the others.

Because of torrential rain before the race, we had been allowed a warming-up lap to look at the state of the circuit. During that lap my goggles got extremely wet. They were steaming up terribly when the two-minute signal was given. At the start of the Monaco GP I had got away on only seven cylinders because a plug wetted on the line. So after that I have always started the engine with the pumps off, and switched them on afterwards.

“I carried out this procedure at the Nürburgring. I stopped the engine, and made a quick check to see if the mirrors were correctly set. Then I started cleaning my goggles. Because of the conditions there was a danger of them steaming up again, so I held them off my face to prevent this. I was so absorbed that I completely forgot to switch on the fuel when it was time, and the engine died just as I let the clutch in. I’ve kicked myself many times since! It was a ghastly error. I don’t know what would have happened if I had moved off with the others, but at least it would have made things interesting…”

Graham admitted that “it would have been an even harder race if Jimmy had been up with us at the start”. He rated that drive as being his “best of the season and it was certainly the hardest. I had to steel myself to drive fast enough to win, but no faster. The ’Ring is no place for pressing on regardless, particularly when it is damp, and the slightest mistake would have put paid to any chance of winning.So far as having anything in hand is concerned, you really never know quite how much extra you may have. I certainly didn’t that day… There was one time when I eased back a little too much where some oil had been dropped, and the other two closed right up. That was a bit too close, and I had to concentrate like mad in an effort to draw out three or four seconds on them again.”

Asked which race he deemed his best, Jimmy considered: “I have driven harder for longer in some of the races I haven’t won. The Nürburgring still makes me shudder to think of it! I suppose I was reacting from being annoyed with myself, but that day I attempted things with the Lotus I didn’t think were possible before. I think my car is probably a little trickier in the damp than some… but I think the main reason I had such a go in that race was because I knew there were no puddles on the circuit – owing to the gradients all the puddles drain away pretty quickly.”

Graham didn’t realise at the time that Jimmy had been delayed, confessing he didn’t know where he was, “…and I was having enough trouble with Surtees and Gurney!”

Jim cut in: “If you had known how far I was behind you, you would probably have thought it was just the Lotus handling in the wet…”

To which Graham responded: “I realised later on that you were coming up fast, because I got a 15-second signal. Judging by the way you were going there was no problem about
a Lotus on a damp track.”

Graham, meanwhile, had driven Rob Walker’s Lotus 24 in the non-Championship race at Karlskoga, so he had a little experience of what the Lotuses might be like in contrast to his BRM: “I thought it weaved a bit, and seemed a bit unstable under braking”.

Jimmy: “Now you realise what we have to put up with!”

Graham: “You seem to manage all right… I thought the traction of the Lotus was very good, though.” To which Clark countered: “That was probably because you were not used to an under-powered car…” While they both rated Dan Gurney as having driven extremely well all year, Jimmy also rated John Surtees and Monaco and Reims winner Bruce McLaren.

Asked if Stirling Moss had been in contention – instead of having had his career ended by his Easter Monday Goodwood accident – Graham admitted: “A great deal would have depended on his having a reliable car. But if he had, then I think he would be in the lead for the championship.”

He added: “Certainly if Stirling had been on the circuits the situation would have been different for both of us. Don’t you agree, Jim?”

Jimmy did: “Neither of us has any illusions about Stirling’s tremendous skill and determination. Of course, a great deal would have depended on what car he would have used for the Grandes Epreuves, and how well it behaved. But from past experience we know what Stirling can do in a car that is not potentially a race-winner – look at Monaco and the Nürburgring last year…”

In fact Stirling’s injuries set up that 1962 season as an open goal, yawning wide before the best new blood the contemporary F1 cast could offer. And in that historic season’s Formula 1 World Championship decider at East London, South Africa, both Jim Clark and Graham Hill (and their respective teams) simply went for it – one hundred per cent, pulling out all the stops in their Lotus-Climax 25 and BRM P578 respectively.

Doug Nye