A series taken from the 162-page Motor Sport special 100 Greatest Grands Prix (other specials are available here).
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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.
1963 German GP
August 4, Nürburgring
Nine tenths apart around the Nordschleife?
Nothing in the overall scheme of things – and symbolic of the parity John Surtees felt existed between himself and Jim Clark.
We’d seen glimpses in 1960, when briefly they’d been together at Lotus, but after walking away from Colin Chapman it had taken a couple of years for the seven-time motorcycle world champion to secure a recognisably competitive F1 seat. That said, he had qualified on the front row in Germany one year earlier, before taking his unfancied Lola Mk4 to second behind Graham Hill’s BRM. He knew the Nürburgring on two wheels and was no less accomplished on four.
This time Surtees was 16sec clear of the field (no, there shouldn’t be a decimal point) during the opening practice session, although Clark’s Lotus 25 had the upper hand (by a less spectacular 2.6sec) during the wet afternoon. Ferrari had plumped for Bosch fuel injection in a bid to get their six cylinders on a par with the Climax-powered Lotus’s eight and Chapman opted to give Clark a fresh engine overnight – a tactic Ferrari also adopted.
The Scot went on to beat Surtees’s previous best by the aforementioned nine tenths, although the Ferrari driver was now hampered by a chassis crack. As a mark of the gulf separating the top two from the rest, Lorenzo Bandini – third fastest in Scuderia Centro Sud’s BRM, almost three seconds clear of Graham Hill’s works car – was another 7.6sec in arrears.
Clark’s dynamite starts were by now a trademark – and he duly chalked up another. He was unable to build his customary advantage, however, because his engine began intermittently to lapse onto seven cylinders. Only Surtees, though, was sufficiently close to capitalise.
Even then, Clark was able to remain in touch for the first nine of the 15 laps… at which point Surtees posted a time only three tenths shy of his briskest in practice. The slipstream was henceforth broken – and with a couple of laps to go the same was starting to apply to the Lotus’s transmission. Clark was obliged to nurse his car to the finish – oddly, his only second place in a points-scoring F1 race – and Surtees went on to secure his maiden world championship Grand Prix success (with a wheel at each corner)… and Ferrari’s first since September 1961, at Monza. It hadn’t been wholly comfortable, either. In addition to Clark, he’d also had to deal with a leaking saddle tank that left him soaked in fuel by the end.
As Surtees told Motor Sport writer Paul Fearnley earlier this year, “I was in a rhythm. I was enjoying myself. That feeling of being at one with your machine always gave me a lot of satisfaction. I got satisfaction from passing Jim, too, but the nicest thing about that day was seeing all the smiling faces in our pit. They were so pleased. The 1962 season had been dreadful for them and my victory picked them up a bit. It showed them that they could be successful again in F1.” SA