Definitely one of the best ever in F1. Jim Clark won the World Championship in 1963 and 1965, the Indy 500 in 1965, finished second in his class at Le Mans in 1959 and third overall in 1960.
Born in Kilmany, Scotland in 1936, Clark was raised on a farm near Duns, close to the border with England along with 4 sisters. After a few years, he was sent to the Loretto School in Edinburgh to finish his education, his main sporting interests being cricket and hockey.
When he was 16, however, his uncle and grandfather both passed away and he was forced to return home. Now, Clark had no dreams of being a racing driver at this point. He knew that it was expected of him, having only sisters, to take over the family business and raise sheep (the family had 2 sheep farms, about 12.000 acres in total).
One day, going to a Young Farmers meeting (Young Farmers is an organization in Scotland that serves as a social centre for each region, hosting all sorts of activities for the local youth – their ethos is to offer personal development for young people), Clark overtook another car on his way there. The driver of the overtaken car, Ian Scott-Watson, thought Clark was an idiot for driving as if he was a racing driver and, upon arriving at the Young Farmers meeting, sought out the driver to tell him off. They became best friends in little time and Scott-Watson would be the man responsible for changing Clark’s life completely...
Scott-Watson was doing local racing events in a Sunbeam-Talbot and invited his new best friend to join him. Clark accepted and started tagging along as a mechanic. One time, after Scott-Watson finished his practice for the race the next day, Clark went out to see what driving on a track felt like. And in 5 laps, he was 3 seconds faster than Scott-Watson, who couldn’t believe what he was witnessing. When he got out of the car, Clark asked his friend (who maintains that he was dead serious when he said it) why everyone was going so slowly. His friend, who still could not believe what he had just seen, explained to Clark that the others were not going slow, he was just going so bloody fast... It really did seem that Clark’s ability to drive was simply something he was born with, a natural talent.
The next day, June 16, 1956, Clark started his first ever race. But it wasn’t a smooth transition. Scott-Watson remembers that it took all the effort by him and other friends who were there to convince Clark to take part, as would be the case a few more times, for he was ever reluctant to believe his own talent.
In 2 years, he was driving for a local team, racing Jaguars and Porsches in national events. In 1958, he won 18 races... On Boxing Day, that same year, he would meet the man who would take him to Formula 1. There was a GT race at Brands Hatch and Clark would finish the race in second place to a driver named Colin Chapman. During the next decade, those two names would dominate Formula 1 in a manner never seen before (and not seen since until a certain German went to drive for the Maranello squad).
In 1959, Clark joined John Whitmore in Lotus Elite Mk. 14 at Le Mans, finishing 10th overall. The winner that day was the Aston Martin driven by Roy Salvadori and Carroll Shelby. Graham Hill, who would be Clark’s teammate later, did not finish the race, driving a Lotus, while Colin Chapman withdrew before the race started, having to simply watch. And watch he did... When Clark won the Bo’ness Hill Climb soon thereafter, Chapman was sufficiently impressed to give Clark a ride in his Formula Junior team.
Early in 1960, as winter was ending, Clark’s father talked to his son and told him that either his racing hobby would pay for itself or he would have to give it up. Little did he know what was in store for his only son.
Soon after his father ultimatum, Clark took the Lotus Formula Junior around Goodwood (a stand-alone event and Lord Goodwood’s estate) and won the race, beating Lotus driver John Surtees in the process. That was enough for Chapman.
As Surtees left the Lotus Formula 1 team to go compete in the Isle of Man TT, Chapman took Clark to the Dutch GP at Zandvoort as the team’s third driver, behind Innes Ireland (who was also beaten by Clark in the 1959 24 Heures du Mans) and Alan Stacey. Ireland would finish second, behind the Cooper-Climax of Jack Brabham, Stacey would retire on lap 57 and Clark on lap 42 (both retirements caused by transmission failures).
The following weekend, as Surtees was still not back, Clark again took the start at the 1960 Belgian Grand Prix, the worst weekend in Formula 1 history until San Marino in 1994. For the 1960 race, Formula 1 still used the long Spa track, 14.12 kms of dangerous high-speed racing, with the fearsome Masta kink still in place. It would prove disastrous.
In practice, Stirling Moss suffered an accident that would take months to recover. Mike Taylor also crashed in practice, suffering injuries that would end his racing career. Once the race started, however, things would get worse. Chris Bristow crashed at Malmedy, hit an embankment, was thrown from the car into barbed wire, being decapitated by it. Alan Stacey, Clark’s teammate, was then hit in the face by a bird at the Masta Kink, crashing going full throttle and dying instantly. Clark, in an interview in 1964, would say about the Belgian GP: “I was scared stiff for the whole race, I was afraid to let the car slide and drift, a terrible race.” Even if he was, he still finished fifth, scoring his first points in Formula 1. For the rest of his career, Clark would hate going to Spa, but it didn’t stop him from winning the Belgian GP four times.
With Stacey’s death, Clark went on to drive the rest of the 1960 season, finishing fifth again at the French GP and scoring his first podium at the Portuguese GP. His mechanic for those early Lotus years, Cedric Seltzer, remembers that, upon meeting Clark, he thought that there was no way that this was a racing driver, since he was so quiet, so shy. But his opinion changed completely once Clark was in the car, Seltzer saying that the transformation was incredible, it was as if he was a different person. One of Clark’s sisters, Betty, upon going to see her brother racing in Formula 1 for the first time at Brands Hatch (Clark would finish P16), was appalled at the danger and couldn’t bear to tell her mother, once she was back, what she had seen. Mrs. Clark, once she saw with her own eyes, started to simply wish for the races to be over, so she could breathe again. But they knew that there was no way they could pry Jim away from this world now.
Clark still had time to go to Le Mans again, this time finishing third along with Roy Salvadori, driving an Aston Martin.
In 1961, Lotus and all the other F1 teams would be powerless against Ferrari. It was the first year of the 1.5 litre formula and the Maranello team proved unbeatable, with Phil Hill taking the drivers title and Ferrari the constructors. But Clark still managed to set the fastest lap at Zandvoort and two podiums (Dutch and French GP).
During the Italian GP, however, things would again turn grim. Wolfgang von Tripps, who came in as the only real opponent to his teammate Phil Hill in the driver's championship, was battling with Clark down the back straight when, approaching the Parabolica, he overtook Clark, hit the brakes and pulled into the racing line, their wheels touching. Clark was sent into the barriers, retiring immediately. Von Tripps, however, would crash into a crowded spectator stand and be thrown from the car, killing 15 people and the German driver. Italian police immediately blamed Clark for the accident, which would cause a lot of troubles for Clark for a few years to come.
Surtees, who was following Clark and von Tripps has always sustained it was a racing incident, albeit with horrendous consequences. But it left Clark in a terrible mental state. Lotus personnel were all worried about him since they could see how shaken the accident left him.
Clark retreated to Scotland and spent the winter there, being hounded by the media (which seriously displeased the reclusive Scot). He was terribly afraid he wouldn’t be able to go back to Monza without the police wanting to arrest him.
As the 1962 season started, Lotus debuted their new car, the Lotus 25. It would revolutionize the sport. The car had a chassis that was three times stronger than the 24, but lighter by 50% (Brabham had purchased 24s to race that year and were not pleased...). The drivers would race almost lying down, improving aero efficiency tremendously. Powering the 25 would be a Climax V8. After the Italian domination of 1961, this season would be a British party (with Porsche scoring their sole GP victory with Dan Gurney at Rouen as the only non-British win).
The 25 would be a revolution in design but a disaster in reliability. Clark would retire from 4 of the 9 races that year, most of them from the lead, including at the last race, in South Africa, where remarkably he could still have won the championship. Clark would end the year in second place, behind Graham Hill (BRM), scoring 6 pole positions, 5 fastest laps and 3 race wins (including his first ever, at Spa ironically). But the season started at Zandvoort, where Clark had trouble from the start, eventually finishing P9. First race niggles on the 25 prevented it from showing its true pace. Before they could travel to Monaco, where the 25 would show its qualities, Clark and Lotus took a trip across the Atlantic to compete in the Indy 500.
The local talent was impressed by the Scot. Parnelli Jones said, “he seemed to be a natural”. Andy Granatelli said (a few years later) “he was an incredible racing driver, he showed up the way that day. (...) He was perfection when it came to being a gentleman, never lost his cool with anything”. And Clark would need to not lose his cool, since he should have won the race if the organisers had made good on their promise to DQ any driver that was leaking oil. Parnelli, the race winner, earned the nickname “Parnoily” that day, for he drove the later part of the race with a cracked oil system.
Back in Europe, Clark took the 25 to Monaco and promptly got pole, did the fastest lap and retired with a clutch problem. It would be a recurring theme in the 62 season...
But at Spa, no one could deny Clark. Hill got pole, but Clark did the fastest lap (almost 2 seconds faster than Hill’s pole time) and would not be denied in his least favourite track, winning with over 40 seconds to spare to Hill. It was victory at last for Clark and the Lotus 25, the first of 4 in a row at the Belgian track. Clark, after winning his first race, changed absolutely nothing. He continued to be as reclusive as ever, media-shy to the extreme, and preferring to be left alone. The events in Italy had actually made it worse, for he was terrified of having the subject brought up again and again during the season, trying his best to say the least amount possible at every weekend.
In the French GP, Clark snatched pole, lead at the start and was forced to retire with suspension damage, Gurney taking the win. Back in British soil, Clark got pole, fastest lap, and won the race (not the last time he would do so). It was a triumphant victory for Lotus, with Clark leading all 75 laps at Aintree.
The Lotus 25 was not a good match for the Nürburgring, though, and Clark could only manage P4 that day, Hill taking another win. It would be much more at home at Monza (where the race was now held on the shorter track, the longer version with the banked turns being dropped after the previous year’s tragedy), but the 25 unreliability was again at work, and Clark retired with gearbox troubles. But, to his relief, no one tried to arrest him (he was hauled for questioning again, which greatly irritated Clark, as he obviously didn’t have a better recollection of the accident one year later).
Next up, the USA GP at Watkins Glen. For the third year in a row, Ferrari didn’t send a car over to the USA race, leaving Phil Hill without a ride for his home GP yet again and the British to dominate unopposed. But Lotus did send their cars and Clark made good use of it. Again he dominated. Pole position, fastest lap, lead 93 of 100 laps, race win. He lost the lead while lapping backmarkers, but promptly lowered the lap record to below his pole time, overtook Hill, and never again lost the lead, lapping the whole field other than Hill, who finished second, with Clark actually easing off after 70 laps (after setting another lap record before being told to slow down), as the team was afraid they would not see the checkered flag if he kept going on that pace.
So as the F1 circus travelled to South Africa, Hill and Clark were in a fierce battle for the driver's championship and the last race would decide it. Clark was 9 points behind, but a race win would give him the title (the scoring methods were weird), so he promptly put the 25 on pole, determined to win the race. At the start, he got away clean from Hill and was comfortably in the lead until lap 62 (out of 82), when an oil leak forced him to retire. Hill was left to take the win and the title.
Later, being interview on British TV, he was asked about Clark, to which he answered: “He’s a very tough opponent. He can drive quickly and he can race, which are not the same thing.” Then the host asks him, as the interview is being aired live, if he would like to say something to Clark. Hill, answering with no hesitation, looks at the camera and says “I hope you go back to farming.”
As 1963 started, Lotus was sure that nothing would stand in their way this year. The 25 had been thoroughly tested and its reliability improved. Clark was as good as ever and after retiring at Monaco with a gearbox failure, he went on to win the next four races. Again at Spa, then Zandvoort, Reims, and Silverstone. Surtees won at the Nürburgring before Clark won at Monza, Mexico, and South Africa again (Hill won at Watkins Glen).
His seven wins set a record that would only be equalled by Alain Prost in 1984 driving the McLaren MP4/2 and beaten only in 1988 with Ayrton Senna and the McLaren MP4/4. But considering 1963 had only 10 races and both 1984 and 1988 had 16, Clark’s 70% win ratio is much better than either McLaren driver. Clark also got 7 pole positions and set the fastest lap in 6 of the races. It was a simply dominant year for Lotus and Clark. His fastest laps were usually track records, he won at Spa with almost 5 minutes to second place Bruce McLaren (under torrential rain, no less), lapped the entire field at Zandvoort, lapped everyone other than second and third places at Silverstone, it was a superlative year.
He also became the first driver to win the championship with three races to go, being crowned at Monza (where he lapped everyone but Richie Ginther’s BRM), before ending the year by lapping everyone other than Gurney at the South African GP, finishing with 54 points to Hill’s 29. If the scoring system had not only counted the 6 best results, Clark would finish with 73 points (Hill’s total would not change), so he would have more than doubled the second place finisher’s total. A truly incredible demolition of the field. Back in Scotland, Clark was welcomed home to much fanfare, with seemingly the whole Scottish Borderlands showing up to cheer on their champion. His old pal Scott-Watson filmed the whole celebration and it is plain to see that, back in his home, surrounded by his people, Clark was jubilant. Smiling, playing, laughing with everyone.
But it was a very different picture within Clark. His championship celebration at Monza had been interrupted by the Italian police (more questioning) and he was very upset at the British media for the way the reported on it, focusing more on the problems than on the triumphs. An interview from that time shows Clark very agitated when the subject turns to the press treatment of him, going so far as to swear many times.
For someone that was celebrated by everyone as a very cool-headed and tranquil person, it was very much out of character to hear him like that... John Whitmore, by now a friend of Clark, recalls that Clark would never show emotion, but in those days they started to come out, in the form of outbursts at the press.
A winter in Scotland, however, allowed the press to forget and Clark to relax, travelling to London constantly to stay abreast of the developments at Lotus. He would stay with the Whitmores in their London home, along with another Scottish driver who was starting to get noticed, Jackie Stewart. The Whitmore’s home became known as the Scottish Embassy and while Whitmore and Stewart were there with their wives, Clark was living a very entertaining lifestyle (Helen Stewart once asking Clark if the girl he was with was the same one from the previous week – it wasn’t...).
During this period, Clark met Sally Stokes and they began a relationship that would last until the early days of 1968. An interesting coincidence is that their first date was going to the premiere of Cleopatra, with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who would later steal James Hunt’s wife from him. During this time, Clark began to show his chronic indecision when outside the car. Stewart recalls that they missed many movies by simply not being able to decide which one to see until it was too late. It became a running joke that Clark could never be allowed to be the one to decide anything.
Lotus intended to continue to press the competition in the new season, as the 25 was still unmatched by anything the opposition threw at them.
But the season would not go to their plans. Ferrari brought a new and improved challenger and had Surtees and Lorenzo Baldini as their drivers (Phil Hill, along with not being given a car to race in his home GP in 63, was also fired by the team...). Surtees, the former motorcycle champion, would prove a worthy challenger to Lotus’ domination and after Clark had three retirements in the last 5 races, win the title, becoming the first (and only to this day) driver to win the top class of racing on both 2 and 4 wheels.
Clark did win the British GP (and at Zandvoort and Spa), but it was a miserable year otherwise. He started from pole 5 times, he set the fastest lap 4 times, but also retired from the lead three times and, in the end, he couldn’t compete with Surtees’ reliable Ferrari.
Again he went to Indy and again he was the class of the field. And again his car broke down and he went home with nothing but the admiration and respect of his competitors to show for his efforts.
But 1965 would see Clark finally triumph on the Brickyard. And what a triumph it was. The first foreigner to win the Indy 500 since 1916, winning the largest prize ever for a motorsport event (a Mustang, one year supply of meat – delivery to Scotland not included –, two TVs and, to his dismay, photoshoots with supermodels, the cover of Time magazine, and TV interviews). Clark hated everything about that, his shyness becoming worse and worse.
During one week after the 500, he covered 6.500 kms in 7 days, crisscrossing the USA on one PR obligation after another. But it was all deserved since no one had ever seen someone from outside the country completely obliterate the competition (he won with 2 laps over second place).
He wanted to go back to Scotland and rest, but the Formula 1 season was underway (he missed the Monaco GP for Indy) and he was determined to win the title again. For the season, Scotland would have another one of its sons joining the ranks, as Stewart was to start racing for BRM (he would finish the year third in points, winning the Italian GP).
But Clark was untouchable again. Even though he finished the Italian GP P10 (he was leading but a fuel pump issue ended his day) and retired from the last two races, USA and Mexico (first win by Honda in F1, by the way, with Ritchie Ginther driving), so his year ended on a low note, he had won every race until then, Monaco excluded obviously, and the title was never in doubt.
South Africa, Spa, the French GP at Charade (which is an awesome track, for those that don’t know it, like a French Nürburgring, obviously completely unusable now due to safety concerns), Silverstone (fourth British GP in a row), Zandvoort (third in a row), Nürburgring, they were all his to play with. Of the 9 races he took part in, he sat in pole in 6 of them, set the fastest lap in 5, led in all of them except Mexico. It was simply a stunning display by Clark and Lotus. Clark became the only person in history to win the Indy 500 and the Formula 1 title in the same year, a feat never replicated. He had even taken his old Lotus 25 (they had upgraded to the 33 that year) to France, for one last win with it.
There was simply no one who could stand in the way of Clark and Chapman’s cars. Their relationship was almost paternal now, with Chapman serving as translator of Clark’s observations to the team, improving the cars constantly. The team knew that Clark was almost as important as Chapman and treated both with reverence. The atmosphere at Lotus was said to have been brilliant during this period, with all the hard work being welcomed by the team, for they knew that the work would be rewarded with Clark extracting everything the car had to give.
Stewart, having shared the podium with Clark three times, commented at the end of the year that they were now known as Batman and Robin, “but everyone knew who Batman was”. However, even if he was Robin to Clark’s Batman (and they were getting even tighter, with Hill joining the fraternity, which began being called The 3 Musketeers), Stewart and the rest of the paddock could not understand how he was so much faster than everyone else was, even drivers in the same machinery. Legends abound, obviously, and each person had one idea for the reason.
Stewart has always maintained that Clark was simply smoother than everyone else, driving with a finesse that made it seem as if he was caressing the car, instead of driving it to the limit, never fighting the car. Withmore, on the other hand, felt that his sensitivity was the key, because Clark could feel things that even other racing drivers simply could not.
Seltzer, his mechanic at the start, had many theories about how he could be fast in an F1 car, in a Ford Cortina (in which he took every turn on 3 wheels, using it to win the British Touring Car Championship in 1963), in sportscars, it never mattered, he was always fast. He also once said that what impressed him the most was that everyone analysed what he did, but no one could ever figure out why this Scot could be such a good driver. In his book about his time in Formula 1, Seltzer said, about Clark’s treatment of the car: “There have been many stories about the tyres on Jim Clark's car lasting four races. This is true, but also the brake pads lasted three times longer than those any other driver. Derek Wild used to say that you could put all the gearboxes on the bench in front of him in random order and he could tell which gearbox came out of Jim's car as it showed less signs of wear.”
He simply was that good. Clark, in his usual simplicity, had a definite answer (that never satisfied anyone): ““I don’t drive faster, I just concentrate harder and that makes me go faster”. For him, it really was simple like that. He sat in the car, focused all his attention to driving it fast and the car responded to his wishes, going fast (more often than not faster than anyone else could).
Even if no one could explain why it happened, the reality was the Clark was again the World Champion and once he returned to Scotland, the reception was again glorious. Everyone seemed to want to show their appreciation for his accomplishments. Just five years earlier, his father had told him to either make it pay or quit his hobby. Now, because of his hobby, Jim Clark and his family went to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen and he was earning very good money.
For the new season, regulations had been changed so that engines would now be 3 litres, instead of 1.5, and it was with anticipation that the teams turned up for the first race of the season at Monaco. This was not only the first race for the McLaren team, but also when the Monaco scenes for Grand Prix were shot (if you have not watched it, please do so at your earliest convenience, it’s a great movie). The film’s director, John Frankenheimer, asked McLaren to not race in the traditional New Zealand colours, but in white and green, so that the car could be used as the Yamura car for the movie. It’s a good thing Frankenheimer was a good director, because Bruce lasted only 9 laps in the race.
Clark seemed to be in fine form, putting the car on pole, but once the race started, things quickly unravelled. He was overtaken at the start by Surtees and had to battle for sports until his suspension gave out while dicing with Hill. The other Musketeer, Stewart, won the race for BRM.
Next up, the Belgian GP at mighty Spa (again, parts of Grand Prix were shot during this race – seriously, the movie is incredibly good, go watch it). Phil Hill drove the first lap with a camera on the nose of the car.
The race started under a tremendous storm and the obvious happened: chaos. Seven drivers crashed in the first lap, including Hill and Bondurant at the Masta Kink, where Stewart would also crash and become trapped under his car, with fuel leaking from it and forming a pool around him, until the other two borrowed a toolkit from a local nearby and freed him, after 25 minutes of terror for the trapped Scot. There was so much water on the track and Clark’s engine flooded and he was also forced to retire. Incredibly, Phil Hill was able to complete the first lap in his camera car, avoiding the carnage around him. From this day on, Stewart became a consummate advocate for safety, a crusade that he held firm to (even if he got a lot of flak for it throughout) and had an extremely important impact on the developments of the next few years in that regard.
As the teams travelled to France, Clark’s luck was not only not improving, but getting worse with every race. This time, he would be hit in the face by a bird during practice and not even start the race. Jack Brabham, driving for his own team, won the first of four straight races. Although Clark would eventually score a P4 and a P3 (Brands Hatch and Zandvoort), the year was lost as he retired at the Nürburgring (John Taylor and Jackie Ickx had an accident in the first lap, in which Taylor was badly burned, eventually dying from his wounds), at Monza, and in Mexico, managing one win at Watkins Glen as the sole highlight of the season.
If Clark and Chapman’s relationship were to be any closer, Clark would have probably left Lotus, since the ended the year absolutely distraught (and he always signed one-year deals only, so he was always able to choose where to go next ¬– even if he never chose anything other than Lotus).
During the 1966 season, Clark was convinced by his accountants (probably the only people, other than the ones that paid him, who knew how much he was earning) that, if he remained a taxpayer in British soil, he would pay too much and that he should choose another place to move to and become what was known as a tax exile. The downside to this plan? He wouldn’t be able to step in British territory for a full year. He was uncertain about how this would make him feel, but he chose Paris as his exile home. Along with the two other Musketeers and their families, Clark was beginning to enjoy life outside motor racing and outside Scotland. The big family of Clark (and Sally), the Stewarts, and the Hills (who already had a boy called Damon by this time) would travel together, spending all their free time with one another. They had gone to Australia in the beginning of 1965 and 1966 so that Clark could compete in the Tasman Series (he won it with a Lotus 32B and would do so again in 1967 and 1968) and as 1967 began, they did the same thing. Along with their families, they all enjoyed the summer in the Southern Hemisphere, having copious amounts of fun, enjoying being together without any pressure.
The exile, however, was not going to be easy on Clark and because Sally still had her life in Britain, their relationship was the first casualty of that period. Everyone agreed that it was a shame, as Surtees once pointed out “she was the love of his life”, but Sally, in an interview a few years later, would comment that it was probably for the best, considering how things eventually turned out…
As Clark enjoyed his single life in Paris, Lotus was hard at work preparing a new car for 1967. Graham Hill was now Clark’s teammate and since the Scot couldn’t go to Britain to test the car, Hill was left in charge of the task. He was pleased with the handling, but had misgivings about the engine, but all the doubts would be erased as soon as it was put into a race.
This was to be Chapman’s finest work, drawing inspiration from his own designs and from the Lancia D50 from 1954, the first car to use the engine as a stressed chassis component (Chapman had tried it on the 43 already). It would to be the first car to have wings (in 1968), the first car to use the legendary Cosworth DFV (by far the most successful engine ever, for which Chapman had secured an exclusive deal for the year), the first car to have sponsorship on it (becoming the Gold Leaf Lotus), and it would win 2 drivers and 2 constructors championships before it was retired.
The new Lotus 49 was a transformational machine, but Clark would see it for the first time when they both arrived at Zandvoort for the Dutch GP, the third race of the season (he had retired from the previous two, using a 43 for South Africa and a 33 for Monaco, the race that claimed Bandini’s life).
Hill put the car on pole, while Clark could only manage P8. But the 49 would fly in Clark’s hands. Hill lasted for only 11 laps with spark plug problems, but by lap 15 Clark was leading, a position he would hold until the end, setting a new track record on his way. All of this, in a car he had never seen before first practice.
Clark got pole at Spa and led at the start, but had spark plug issues on lap 12 and finished P6 after losing time in the pits for repairs (Hill retired again with the same issues as Clark). Both cars retired at the Bugatti Circuit at Le Mans, this time the differential taking both drivers out.
It was starting to feel like 1966 would repeat itself.
Although fortunes would change at Silverstone and Clark would take pole and the win, easily outpacing the field in front of the home crowd, he would again suffer at the Nürburgring, retiring from the lead with a broken suspension, then suffer spark plug issues at Mosport (Canadian GP, another great track) and retire from the lead after starting from pole and setting the fastest lap.
By this time, Denny Hulme had 43 points and Clark was in fourth place with only 19. It did seem like the year was cursed. And Clark started worrying about what could happen to him if he had a car failure while going hard, confessing to Stewart that things were not going so well at Lotus and that his relationship with Chapman was starting to suffer due to his growing concerns over the car’s design.
1967 Italian GP
Next up, the Italian GP (the first race where starting lights were used) and what could be considered Clark’s most famous drive without winning the race. Starting from pole, Clark led until lap 12, when a puncture made him enter the pits for what would be a troubled pitstop. Once he rejoined the race, Clark was a lap down in sixteenth place. From that point on, the fans witnessed magic.
Clark tore through the field, going faster and faster until he equalled his pole position time of 1:28.5 in the race. He regained the lap he lost, caught up to the leaders and took the lead of the race, ahead of Brabham and Surtees until, on the last lap, the Lotus 49 ran out of fuel, allowing Surtees and Brabham past, Clark coasting home on no fuel to finish third.
Although Surtees had won the race for Honda (the final win for Surtees and the last for the Honda team until Jenson Button’s Hungaroring victory), the Italians only wanted Clark. He was celebrated for his spirited drive, his mastery of the Lotus 49, it was a joyous day in the place that had caused him so much heartache.
Although Clark would win the two next races, at Watkins Glen and in Mexico, it would not be enough to overtake Hulme, who would take the drivers title for Brabham. Combining the entries for both Clark and Hill (and four more for third drivers), the 49 started 22 races, reaching the finish line 8 times (6 on the hands of Clark, which further underscores how gently Clark treated the car compared to everyone else). It would be a transformational car, but the first year was extremely painful…
The pain was lessened by the joys of Paris, however, as Clark discovered the benefits of being a rich man in a city with a very intense nightlife. When Stewart went to visit him, he was baffled by the transformation in Clark, how had become a much more relaxed, at ease person, now more willing to enjoy himself.
1968 would be a year of changes in Formula 1. As Lotus lost their exclusivity for the DFV, it became the most sought after engine in the field. Mclaren built a car with it. Ken Tyrrell entered his own team, powered by Cosworth, designed by aeronautic company Matra, and driven by Jackie Stewart.
In May, Lotus would show up to race with a car in Gold Leaf colours, kicking off the unlimited sponsorship era in F1. Wings started appearing on the cars (Lotus again being the first one). McLaren won their first race at Spa, only the third time a driver had won a race with a car his own team had manufactured (Dan Gurney was the other one). Gurney used a full-face helmet for the first time, after using it at the Indy 500 that year (in some years FIA would make it mandatory).
But the year started as it had ended: with Lotus and Clark victorious. The South African Grand Prix was held on New Year’s Day and the team was in top form. Clark and Hill started from the first two positions and that is how the ended the race, with Clark scoring his 25th win, surpassing Fangio to become the record holder (until 1973, when Stewart would pass him on his way to setting the new record at 27).
After South Africa, there was to be a long break until the Spanish Grand Prix, which would take place in May. So many F1 drivers went to Australia to compete in the Tasman Series, with Clark winning the title for the third time.
During this period, it became clear to the 3 Musketeers and their families that Clark was trying to win his third title and retire. He talked to the other two drivers that he was starting to worry about what he would do once he stopped racing, since he knew he could not do it forever, even if he really did enjoy racing, and he would have to stop at some point, go back to Scotland and raise a family. He also confided in Stewart, who by then was a very known advocate for safety in racing, that he did think of the dangers sometimes, especially if there were trees around a track.
On April 7, 1968, Clark was supposed to be at Brands Hatch for a sportscar race, but he chose to drive at a Formula 2 race at Hockenheim, mainly because of his contractual obligations to Firestone. Many F1 drivers took part in these races in those days and Clark and Hill were there with their Gold Leaf Lotuses (a young Max Mosley was taking part in that race as well). In the fifth lap of the first heat of the event, as he came down one of the track’s long straights, Clark’s car crashed into a tree at high speed. He was quickly put into an ambulance with a broken neck and a skull fracture but died of his wounds before reaching the hospital.
There is no consensus or definite proof of what happened. Only one person, a marshal by the name of Winfred Kolb, witnessed the accident, who said he only saw the car swerving over a few hundred metres before the crash. Aeronautical accident investigators poured over the remains of the car and the evidence they could find for months but could not come to a definite conclusion, their best guess being a deflating rear tyre.
It came as a shock to all. Seltzer, his old mechanic, remembers that he saw Clark’s face appear on the TV and immediately knew what had happened and started crying. Sally, now married to a Dutch and living in the Netherlands, heard his name on the radio, followed by a word she didn’t know. She stopped her car and called her father in law, asking what it meant. His reply said it all. He could only manage to say “oh no”.
Colin Chapman, who had been a father figure to Clark, was devastated. He would never again be close to one of his drivers, saying that he could not again withstand the pain he had felt when Clark died. Hill and Stewart, his closest friends in F1, were deeply affected as well, with Stewart attacking safety issues with renewed fervour after the accident. Hill, having now to rally the team around him, went on to win the 1968 Drivers Championship (Lotus won the constructors), which he dedicated to Clark.
Clark’s body was taken to Scotland, to be buried in the farming country he loved so dearly. Unfortunately, he was not able to retire quietly there, to raise his family in peace, his racing days over of his own volition. Dan Gurney, his teammate at Indianapolis and a fierce admirer of Clark in and out of the car, flew from California for the funeral. Parnelli Jones flew in as well, later saying that the world would never be the same again. Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart obviously attended as well, to say goodbye to their friend one last time.
Stewart summed up the feelings of all when he said that Clark would never be replaced, as he was one of a kind. The always reluctant racing hero, who once said that he got into Scott-Watson’s car all those years before just to find out what it would be like to drive a car fast, would be missed by many, equalled by none, and missed by all.
According to his wishes, the first thing his tombstone says about him is that he was a farmer from the Scottish Borders. And that is all he was, deep down. He just happened to also be the greatest driver Formula 1 has ever seen.
Jim Clark’s career records are superlative and he appears in most every top ten list.
Alberto Ascari and Juan Manuel Fangio are the only drivers that surpass his win percentage.
He holds the record for most Grand Slams (pole, fastest lap, race win) with 8 ¬- 1962 British GP, 1963 Dutch GP, 1963 French GP, 1963 Mexican GP, 1964 British GP, 1965 South African GP, 1965 French GP, and 1965 German GP.
He holds the record for highest percentage of laps led with 71.47% in a season (1963).
He's tied in second with Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in leading every lap in a race with 13. Ayrton Senna holds the record at 19.
Article by Flip Jacobsen.