Reflections on the German Grand Prix

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IN the July MOTOR SPORT I said that there were only two achievements of note that Jim Clark had not yet accomplished, and one of these was a resounding win at the Nürburgring. He has now rectified that omission without any “ifs” or “buts,” his performances in practice and the race proving without question that he is a true World Champion and the best Grand Prix driver we have ever seen; some of us, I know, are now really convinced about the prowess of Jim Clark. A few years ago when Fangio was undisputed master of Grand Prix racing and the F.I.A. recognised World Champion, the American publisher and racing enthusiast Floyd Clymer made a big song and dance about Fangio being called “World” Champion, pointing out that he had never won Indianapolis or any similar American track-race, and therefore he should be called World “Grand Prix” Champion Driver. To some extent I went along with Clymer and agreed with his sentiments, but not with his methods of publicising them. I hope that Clymer is now satisfied with the title bestowed on Jim Clark for 1965, “World Champion Driver.” He has driven in six of the seven major Grand Prix races held so far this year, and won all six; the one he did not enter was the Monaco G.P. and he had good reason, for the following day he won the Indianapolis 500 mile race in America, thus stopping any possible criticism from Mr. Clymer.

After the German G.P. a lot of people were saying that the World Championship series was now virtually finished, because Clark had won six events and could not be beaten on points. I say this is complete nonsense, for we still have the Italian G.P., the United States G.P. and the Mexican G.P. on the calender and it is my hope that Jim Clark wins those three as well. If I am any judge of Clark’s character I would say that he has the same idea, and Championship points or not he will start all three events with the sole thought of winning them. Before the Nürburgring race Cohn Chapman said he hoped Clark could win, not because it would mean winning the Championship, but because he had never won a Nürburgring race and this was the last chance under the present 1 1/2-litre Formula, and these were Clark’s feelings as well. In 1963 and 1964 John Surtees won the German G.P. for Ferrari and a lot of people were speculating as to whether he could win this year and make it “three in a row,” but there wasn’t a hope with Team Lotus, Coventry Climax and Jim Clark in perfect harmony and right on form.

In the German G.P. programme a lot of space was given to a title that was “Meister des Nürburgrings,” or Nürburgring Master, and this was accredited to anyone who has won the Nürburgring race three years in succession, which gave it to Alberto Ascari, 1950, 1951 and 1952, and Juan Manuel Fangio who won in 1954, 1955 and 1956. John Surtees was in the running to be a Master of the Nürburgring, but Clark put a stop to that. There was an additional note to the qualifications of “Meister des Nürburgrings” and that was that any driver who had won four times, but not consecutively, could have the title. This let in the German Champion Rudolf Caracciola, for he won in 1931, 1932, 1917 and 1939. It seems to me to be rather a fatuous title for it had no way of giving it to Stirling Moss, and if anyone deserved the title of “Nürburgring Master” it was he. There is hardly any need to recall his drives, and victories, in the 1000-kilometre races with Aston Martin and Maserati, or his 1961 German G.P. victory with an obsolete Lotus. Like the Drivers’ Championship, this Nürburgring Mastership seems to lack something in its make-up. Had it merely been a “Meister des Großen Preis von Deutschland” there would have been no discussion, but it states clearly that it is for “Masters of the Nürburgring.”

In practice for the race any team with a spare car had to make sure it had a number on it and the letter “T,” indicating “training car.” While the timekeepers took note of any lap times by the “T” cars, the times did not count for the starting grid. The Ferrari team had two 12-cylinder cars which Surtees was trying, one with the number 7 and the other with 7T on it. After a short while I noticed that Surtees was always out in number 7 and 7T was always in the pits, which seemed odd, to say the least. Checking up on 7T that was sitting in front of the pits I found that it was the older of the two cars, whereas earlier 7T had been on the new 12-cylinder Ferrari. Surtees came into the pits and decided to do a lap in the other 12-cylinder so a mechanic removed the seat and put it into the car marked 7T and as Surtees got in and started the engine another mechanic peeled the plastic “stick-on” letter T off the nose and quite unashamedly walked over and stuck it on the car that Surtees had just been driving. Naturally the timekeepers could not see this happening and as far as they were concerned the Ferrari “training car” never went out for practice at all! Of course, the reason for all this was that Surtees had not decided which car he was going to use in the race, and wanted every lap to count towards the starting grid position, as he did not know which car was going to prove fastest. It was all rather like the famous sports-tar team that only had one car finished in time for pre-practice scrutineering at a race some years ago, so they took the same car along three times, each time with a different number on it! In the days of painted numbers this sort of thing could not happen; it was the advent of the plastic “stickon” numbers that encouraged the “wide-boys.”

Before the start of the Grand Prix the organisers presented Paul Hawkins with a naval lifebelt, in memory of his dive into the harbour during the Monaco G.P. It was inscribed “swimming-kangeroo” and had been autographed by nearly everyone in the pits during practice. After the race Clark, Hill and Gurney were driven for a lap of honour in the back of a modern drop-head Mercedes-Benz, followed by Colin Chapman in a borrowed Excalibur, which is a modern copy of an SSK Mercedes-Benz of the vintage years made from modern Studebaker components, and is such a copy of the SSK that it had a vee-radiator and flexible outside exhaust pipes. Many people walked casually by and assumed it was a very well preserved example of a vintage SSK Mercedes-Benz, especially those who have never seen a real SSK and only know the model from photos or drawings. A closer look would have revealed disc from brakes, no clutch pedal, automatic transmission and a VS engine. I’ve no doubt that many of the 250,000 people round the long circuit thought it was an SSK Mercedes-Benz as Chapman drove by. I won’t repeat his comments when I asked him what he thought of it! (Nor mine!—ED].

I often have occasion to criticise commentators at English race meetings but the Nürburgring commentator takes the prize for being out of touch. It is not his fault that he is put in a box that overlooks the starting line, and cannot see the pits or any part of the circuit. Some of his sources of information must be equally hidden away, for to anyone watching the nineteen ears accelerating furiously away from the start, all trying to get to the south turn as soon as possible, it must have been obvious that one car suddenly shoved up and was passed by everyone. It was a red Ferrari and the driver had a light-coloured helmet with a stripe over the centre, so it could only have been Surtees. After the South turn hairpin the course runs along behind the pits, parallel to the starting area, and anyone could see that a 12-cylinder Ferrari was going along slowly behind the whole field. In spite of this, reports came from around the course during that opening lap, which were broadcast by the commentator, that said that number 7, John Suttees, was in fifth place. In actual fact it was Bandini in number 8. The leaders had nearly completed their first lap before number 7 was dropped from the announcements being-given out. When Surtees arrived late and stopped at the pits; there were many of us in the pits who sighed with relief because we thought we were losing our grip on motor racing.

After the comments last month about “three-car teams” it was interesting to see Lotus and Brabham with three cars apiece, even though there was no hope of either team getting all three cars in the front row. Clark’s winning ways rather overshadowed the performance of Dan Gurney, for he had a very ordinary CoventryClimax-engine probably giving very little more b.h.p. than those of Anderson, Hawkins or Bonnier, and yet he knocked about ten seconds off the lap record in practice, and held a very strong third place for most of the race, his driving obviously being tremendously forceful and by the end of the fifteen laps he was well and truly wound up and really in a Nürburgring groove.

Ever since the threat from the East appeared on the Grand Prix scene, in the shape of the V12-cylinder Honda, a lot of us have been jokingly saying “Honda go home,” in the way that Europe is covered with white-washed slogans saying “Yanks go home.” After Zandvoort, Honda did go home, and it seems a very sound and sensible decision. Over the past few races they have been making excellent progress, but at the same time they have been finding out about all sorts of things that could be improved, but being so far away from the home base has meant rather restricted development work. By giving the Nürburgring race a miss it meant that they could have seven clear weeks back at the factory, which is enough time for them to build entirely new cars ready for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Their intention is to have a real go at Monza, at the expense of the Nürburgring, and it is a wise decision, for at Monza a vastly superior car as regards b.h.p. could win with a second-class driver at the wheel, whereas at the Nürburgring all the power in the world wouldn’t win without a first-class driver.

A big topic of conversation was the practice lap times of Jackie Stewart on his first drive at the Nürburgring with a Grand Prix car, and only his second visit to the circuit anyway. Earlier in the year he practiced for the 1,000-kilometre race as co-driver to Graham Hill in Ronnie Hoare’s Prototype Ferrari and he managed to get down to a 9-minute lap in a very short space of time. He did not get much opportunity for practice and was looking forward to the 44-lap race to give him plenty of opportunity for learning the circuit in readiness for the Grand Prix. However, luck was against him for Graham Hill did the first stint of driving and the car was put out of the race with electrical trouble before Stewart even had a chance to sit in it, so his chance of learning the circuit was lost. In the first practice session for the Grand Prix he made fastest time, and in the third session he was second fastest overall, and probably would have been second fastest in the second practice session had his car not given trouble. It seems there is only one driver he cannot beat and that is his fellow Scot, Jim Clark, and there is no disgrace in that. In the race he made a slight mistake, which put him out, but had this not happened it is unlikely that he would have kept up with Graham Bill, for the B.R.M. team leader was in cracking good form, but to have finished third behind Clark and Hill on his first Grand Prix race on the Nürburgring would have been quite an achievement, always assuming that he had beaten Gurney, which is quite likely. Earlier in the season I wondered if Stewart was running before he could walk, but after his performances this season there is no question about it, he is a natural fast driver and has set a new standard in Grand Prix driving, and he does it all with very little effort and without “blood, sweat and tears,” like some drivers.—D. S. J.