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.
1966 Belgian GP
June 12, Spa-Francorchamps
Friday and Saturday had been hot and sunny. Indeed, the latter’s practice session was delayed for 45 minutes by a forest fire above Burnenville. Sunday, however, dawned overcast and threatening.
Spa’s microclimate had everybody guessing on the grid. With reports of rain emanating from the far side of this ultra-fast 8.75-mile road circuit, John Surtees, his Firestone-shod Ferrari on pole position by more than three seconds, decided to make a late switch to proven Dunlop wets. A wise decision, as it turned out.
The opening lap was wilder, more surreal than anything Hollywood could have conjured up – director John Frankenheimer was busy here collecting footage for his Grand Prix film. The rain had swept across the circuit – and the engine in Jim Clark’s Lotus had already gone bang – by the time the field reached Burnenville. Caught unawares, seven cars were eliminated: Mike Spence (Lotus) and Jo Bonnier spun – the latter’s Cooper-Maserati left dangling precariously over a high brick parapet; Denny Hulme’s Brabham-Climax slapped into the back of Jo Siffert’s Cooper-Maserati; and the BRMs of Graham Hill, Bob Bondurant and Jackie Stewart spun at the Masta Kink.
The latter struck a telegraph post, hit a cottage and was trapped in a car bent like a banana and fast filling with fuel. He had to be rescued by Hill and Bondurant, the former borrowing a spanner from a spectator to remove the steering wheel and free his team-mate after 25 nervy minutes. Stewart’s lucky escape – no thanks to the organisers – was the genesis of his controversial safety campaign. Being tended to by nuns and taken to hospital in an ambulance that got lost en route had opened his eyes, if not yet those of some others.
Jochen Rindt, an impressive second-fastest qualifier in the dry, was another to endure a monumental spin in the sudden downpour. He somehow avoided hitting anything at the daunting Masta Kink and by the fourth lap had forced his Cooper-Maserati past the Ferraris –a 3-litre V12 for Surtees and a 2.4-litre V6 for Lorenzo Bandini – into the lead.
Surtees was content to play a waiting game and hung back just far enough to steer clear of Rindt’s hanging spray. As the rain began to ease, the Englishman increased the pressure on the precocious Austrian, whose limited-slip differential began to wilt under the increased forces exerted by a drying track.
From the Archive: “An Italian victory” by Denis Jenkinson (July 1966).
With four laps to go, Surtees made his move and pulled away relentlessly thereafter to score what would be his final victory for the Scuderia. His had been a calculating display of virtuosity and strategy. Not that Machiavellian team manager Eugenio Dragoni saw it that way. He complained that Surtees had let a rival team’s car lead for 20 laps. Rightly incensed, Surtees hit back. When the meddlesome Dragoni again undermined him at the following weekend’s Le Mans 24 Hours, he walked out, never to return. PF