F1 sprouts wings

by Jack Phillips on 9th June 2018

Exactly 50 years ago, rear wings entered the world of Formula 1, at Spa behind Chris Amon...

The winglets had grown, in tandem the times tumbled.

It was Spa-Francorchamps, 50 years ago on June 9, that Ferrari and Brabham raised things a few feet into the air and gave their cars wings – a la Jim Hall. Lotus had dabbled with winglets at Monaco, flaring the nose of the 49 to winning effect for Monaco master Graham Hill.

But when the cars arrived six hundred or so miles north, ‘"spoilers", "fins" and "wings" could be seen sprouting in all directions,’ according to Denis Jenkinson.

Most common was a wedge-like mounting: Lotus, McLaren and Honda had forged planes across the rear of the body of their cars.

But two literally stood out. ‘Brabhams had a "wing" mounted on struts above the gearbox’, continued Jenks, ‘and Ferrari came out with an elaborate aerofoil mounted high above the gearbox like a miniature Chaparral.’

Jenks was dubious, preferring to comment of the implications of the drivers than the innovations themselves. 'Like contented cows, contented drivers drive well, and a driver convinced of the improved stability of his car would take the fast corners just that bit faster.'

But he couldn’t argue with the times. Chris Amon, while still half a second shy of Jim Clark’s 1967 then-qualifying lap record, bettered the field by almost five seconds to claim pole. Rain on Saturday made it untouchable, but its point was made.

“Although we were down on power,” Amon once told Nigel Roebuck, “and Spa was very quick – my pole lap was well over 150mph – the car was working beautifully. On that lap, as I came down the Masta Straight, after the kink, I caught up to Brian Redman, and I can remember going by him on the inside, at the entry to Stavelot, with my foot buried right in it, while he was having to brake in his Cooper! The thing felt tremendous."

Amon chose to run the wing in Sunday's race, team-mate Jacky Ickx opted against. 

Typically, bad luck struck on race day and sent Amon rolling into retirement from a lead battle with John Surtees’ more powerful Honda – that had the legs but not the wings ­– when a stone punctured the Ferrari’s radiator.

Surtees too pulled off into retirement, leaving the victory to fall in to the arm of Jackie Stewart – his other still in a cast. Until he then ran dry of fuel on the penultimate lap, handing victory to Bruce McLaren, in a car designed and built by his eponymous company.

History was set – McLaren had won in a McLaren and wings had sprung.

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