The Hockenheim Formula Two race was certainly the most tragic event in British motor racing history and any report of the meeting must be coloured by Jim Clark’s death. The National newspapers who gave it so much space hardly found time to mention the winner and called it a minor race. In fact it was the first round of the 1968 European Formula Two Championship for non-graded drivers and attracted a top-class field.
The entry was more or less the same as the previous week’s race although Stewart, Ickx and Rindt were otherwise engaged. One new car appeared, this being the first Formula Two Chevron from Derek Bennett Engineering Ltd. The car was basically very similar to their F.3 car which was introduced last autumn and was powered by the usual FVA engine and driven by Gethin.
The circuit is situated close to the Rhine just outside the small town of Hockenheim from which the wine Hock takes its name. The circuit has little to recommend it, being a flat blind for all but four or five corners grouped in a stadium designed to hold 100,000 spectators. Most of the circuit cuts through thick German forests with the towering pines bordering both sides of the road.
Practice was more a matter of getting a tow than anything else, and the two works Matra drivers worked well together and took the first two places with Beltoise being credited with 1 min. 59.3 sec., 0.7 sec. quicker than Brian Hart’s record of last season. A surprise third fastest was the German Ahrens who is another to graduate from driving in F.3 the previous year. He is driving a Brabham sponsored by the German division of Caltex petroleum.
The race was split into two parts and the result worked on combined positions which always leads to confusion. Part of the track was wet from morning rain, and several of the drivers who are contracted to Firestone found that their wide tyres were at a disadvantage to the Dunlop runners, who had a much narrower old-fashioned size, but latest compound, tyre. There was great excitement for the German spectators for Ahrens mixed it with the two works Matras for first place until half distance when the engine blew apart. By this time Clark had crashed, actually going off on lap 5 when in eighth position. The Lotus left the road on a slight curve which the drivers were taking flat out despite the conditions and the only reason for his accident that occurs to me is that the engine cut out as it had done occasionally during practice due to a trouble which was never found. The car crashed into the trees and broke up and Clark was killed instantly.
This was unbeknown to either the spectators or to the other drivers at the time, and the race continued for the full 20 laps with Beltoise just beating Pescarolo to the post. Lambert in his Brabharn came through the field to take third place ahead of the similar cars of Bell and Courage.
After several German saloon races, an announcement of Clark’s death was made to the crowd but the organisers had no hesitation in continuing with the second race. Again it was the works Matras out in front with the Brabhams of Bell, yet another graduate from F.3, and Courage worrying the French cars. Bell had to retire with clutch trouble so it was all left to Courage who made a great effort to get in front of the Matras and led for part of the last lap only to be taken by Beltoise two corners from the end amidst enormous excitement. He managed to stay ahead of Pescarolo who was a close third. A tremendous battle for fourth place resolved itself in the order Widdows (McLaren), Lambert (Brabham), Schlesser (McLaren), Amon (Ferrari) after losing time with a spin, and Irwin (Lola).
The positions of the two races were added and the driver with the lowest score proclaimed the winner and this was of course Beltoise. The one tie between Amon and Schlesser was resolved on combined time. So the first two races of 1968 both went to the French Matra but Ferrari still look like offering a strong challenge to the mass of British Cosworth-powered cars.—A. R. M.