65 – 1963 Belgian GP


A series taken from the 162-page Motor Sport special 100 Greatest Grands Prix (other specials are available here).

Jim Clark was spooked by Spa. He almost jacked in the sport after his ’58 international debut there in Border Reivers’ Jaguar D-type, when the battling Lister-Jaguars of Masten Gregory and Archie Scott Brown lapped him as though he were standing still.

Then later he’d driven through the smoke of compatriot Scott Brown’s fatal accident.

He’d almost jacked it in two years later, too, despite finishing fifth in only his second GP: the Belgian, at you know where. For Lotus had endured its grimmest race meeting: Stirling Moss and Mike Taylor were badly injured in practice crashes caused by mechanical failures and Alan Stacey was killed during the race when he lost control after being struck in the face by a bird. Clark, who ended the race with blood on his car – he had skimmed past the lifeless body of another Brit, Chris Bristow – had understandably seen enough. Almost.

Yet Spa also gave him his first world championship GP victory. In 1962, after a troubled practice, he gradually increased his pace during the race and took the lead on lap nine. Even then, he had to bear witness to team-mate Trevor Taylor’s 130mph tangle with the Ferrari of Willy Mairesse, which both men somehow contrived to survive.

Yorkshire Trev suffered another purler at Spa in 1963, cutting a cartoon-like hole in a wooden observation hut when “something went” during practice. Clark, meanwhile, was kicking his heels because of gearbox woes.

Having qualified only eighth, for a place on the third row, Clark stared uneasily at the back of the Ferrari of ‘Wild Willy’. Suitably spurred, the Scot led into Eau Rouge and rocketed away, albeit with the BRM of Graham Hill in tow. The circuit was damp and his Lotus kept jumping out of top gear, so Clark had his hands full until Hill retired at half-distance because of transmission bothers. 

At which point it began to rain. Biblically. 

View the 1963 Belgian Grand Prix on the Database

As lightning lit a brooding sky, Clark dropped his pace dramatically. Reduced to 60mph in places, one of his laps took 6min 40sec compared to his 3min 58.1sec fastest lap. Yet still he was quicker than his rivals.

His boss Colin Chapman tried to get the race halted prematurely, but it ran its full 32-lap course. Soaked, and hardly in the mood to celebrate, Clark stopped mere yards beyond the chequered flag and trudged up the hill to the sanctuary of his pit. He had finished almost five minutes ahead of the Cooper of runner-up Bruce McLaren, whom he had allowed to unlap himself, but still the end could not come soon enough. Victory was a sideshow. Survival was paramount. PF

About 100 Greatest Grands Prix | From the editor Damien Smith
The Grand Prix motor races we can never forget…

Welcome to this special one-off magazine, dedicated to our love of Grand Prix racing and produced by the same team that brings you Motor Sport each month.

It seemed a good idea: whittle down 107 years of racing history to come up with 100 GPs that could be considered the ‘greatest’ – then rank them in meritocratic order. By week three, the old grey matter was beginning to ache…

Defining greatness was the first task. There were the obvious races – the wheel-to-wheel duels, the comeback classics. But there were also individual performances of supreme dominance, races that might not necessarily have been the most exciting to witness. Greatness goes way beyond thrill-a-minute, we decided.

Then there were those races of prominence, attached to a certain time or place that made them hugely significant. I’m thinking specifically of Belgrade, 1939. Only five entries took the start of a race that didn’t sound particularly scintillating. But as it happened to take place on the very day WWII broke out, we felt it worthy of inclusion. Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel’s remarkable maiden GP win at Monza in 2008, for lowly Scuderia Toro Rosso, was left on the cutting room floor. Is that fair? You decide. We also opted to include a few races that weren’t Grands Prix, leastways in name, although the strength of entry was such that they might as well have been…

Choosing which races should make the list was hard enough; ranking the top 100 in some sort of order was even tougher, especially when it came to the crunch: which should be number one? We never did agree unanimously on the ‘greatest’, but if the magazine was to be finished a decision had to be taken. And that’s what I’m here for!

Will you agree with our choice and order? Probably not. But if steam begins to issue from your ears, take a deep breath. In any exercise such as this, there is no definitive list – because there can’t be. Our top 100 is based on opinion, nothing more, designed to be a bit of fun and to spark good-natured debate among fans of the world’s greatest sport.

So turn the page, delve in – and whatever you do, don’t take it too seriously.

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