7th April 1968 – Jim Clark and that F2 Race

Almost every account you read of Jim Clark’s death at Hockenheim describes the event as “an unimportant F2 race” or “minor F2 race” or similar dismissal.

Regular readers of my blogs will know of my campaign against sloppy use of language, and this is another example of it. I can maybe understand a hack from a mainstream rag getting the wrong idea about one of the world’s leading drivers, and the outstanding talent of that time, running in a Formula 2 event, but motoring journalists should know better. So here’s my effort to set the record straight as I see it.

Background

The statement “unimportant (or minor) F2 race”, when applied to the Hockenheim race of 7th April 1968 is wrong. The “Deutschland Trophae” was the opening round of the European Formula Two championship, and was therefore an important Formula 2 race. A major F2 race.

OK, so the European F2 championship was for up and coming drivers and stars like Clark, and his team mate at Lotus Graham Hill, were not eligible for points, so that is the inference of the minor or unimportant wording; they mean that he didn’t need to be there because it wasn’t an F1 grand prix.

But, in those days, there were a host of graded drivers who would run in F2 besides Clark and Hill; Formula Two’s King, Jochen Rindt, plus Jackie Stewart, Jack Brabham, John Surtees and Chris Amon were amongst the grand prix stars who you could expect to find on an F2 grid on a regular basis. They weren’t making a fortune from it either. Yes it was in their contracts, but they also got pleasure from doing it; they were racers.

Participation in F2 was an important part of racing for many of the GP teams. Several of them, like Lotus and Brabham, made customer cars and used the F2 team to promote sales through results. Ferrari was back in the category for 1968 and Matra, as F1 new kids, had an F3 and F2 pedigree. Lola was in there too, even though their F1 participation at the time was through John Surtees’ links to Honda and McLaren also had F2 chassis on offer and a quasi works team.

Another factor of importance is that Gold Leaf had just started their sponsorship of Team Lotus and the Gold Leaf Team Lotus (GLTL) colours had first been seen in the Tasman series down under, too late to have appeared on the cars at the opening F1 GP of the year in South Africa. The next GP wasn’t until May in Spain. Because of his tax residence status Jim Clark had not appeared at the F1 Daily Mail Race of Champions at Brands Hatch in March, leaving Hill to wave the GLTL flag there alone (with attendant TV advertising issues). The sponsorship did include F2 though, plus F3 and even the little Lotus 47 in national sports car racing and, as with any high profile sponsorship, you need to get the brand out there and so the GLTL F2 schedule was important.

Formula Two in the Late Sixties

The European F2 championship was only open to non graded drivers and was an important step on the promotion ladder to an F1 drive as shown by ’67 European F2 champion Jacky Ickx having progressed to F1 with Ferrari for ‘68. The opportunity to compete on equal terms with established stars from the grand prix world was a strong motivator for the up and coming drivers. Points were awarded on the standard 9-6-4-3-2-1 basis for the first six non graded drivers home in each event, regardless of their overall position.

Clark, Stewart and Rindt had been regular winners in F2 during 1967, and expectations were good for the 1968 F2 season which had opened with the non championship Gran Premio de Barcelona on 31 March. Clark and Hill in their GLTL Lotus 48s were amongst a Spanish field that also included Stewart, Rindt, Amon, Ickx and Redman from that year’s F1 grid. The next weekend was the fateful day at Hockenheim to open the European Championship, then the next weekend on to Thruxton in the UK for the Easter Monday BARC 200, and on the weekend after that there were 2 races on the same day; the Pau GP in south west France and the Eifelrennen on the South Circuit of the Nurburgring in Germany, and the week after that they were back in Spain for the Madrid GP.

Six F2 races in five weekends and Hockenheim, Thruxton and Madrid were all rounds of the European Championship and the big boys from F1 turned out for all six of them, albeit that they had to split up between the two in one day weekend, Rindt and Stewart going to Pau while Ickx, Redman, Rodriguez and Elford turned out in Germany. After Hockenheim Graham Hill and GLTL missed Thruxton and the Eifelrennen, but were back thereafter.

Spring 1968

So it was a crowded calendar for international racing in Europe that included the warm up British F1 races The Race of Champions in March and the International Trophy in April plus the BOAC 500 world championship sports car round at Brands Hatch on the same day as Hockenheim. This was an event that took a number of the F2 regulars to make up the driver pairings and this brought forward another issue in the Jim Clark legend worth covering here, that of the Ford F3L.

The Cosworth DFV, or Ford DFV as it was still officially called then, was an F1 engine. Enquiries had been made about its availability for the 3 litre sports prototype category of the World Sports Car championship, but just a single sports car use was sanctioned, this going to Alan Mann for his Ford backed F3L project and the DFV was not modified or re-tuned for sports car use.

The F3L made its debut at the BOAC 500 and the rumour was that Clark and Hill were down to drive it until GLTL insisted that they go to Germany instead. They did have ties to Alan Mann, Hill especially having driven sports cars for him, including the Ford Mk2 with which Hill had led from the start of the ’66 Le Mans 24 hour race. Mann had enquired about their availability and in his biography tells that he had flown to Paris to see Clark and had his provisional agreement, but suggestions that it was a done deal seem unlikely given that the F2 calendar was in place for long enough in advance for Clark and Hill to have known of the clashing events. Clark could only have done the race and possibly one day of practice because of his tax status in any case although he had told Mann that he could fit Brands in.

Yes, the programme for the Race of Champions on March 17th predicted that Clark and Hill would be in a new Ford prototype at the BOAC 500, but this would have gone to press several weeks earlier and may have been no more than wishful thinking. Both Clark and Hill were contracted to Ford rather than to Lotus, but the latter was the obvious priority given the F1 aspect. The theory that Chapman’s alleged jealousy of Alan Mann’s influence with Ford UK resulted in him making sure that Hill and Clark had to go to Hockenheim, would mean that this decision had cruel irony although Mann was convinced that this was the case. What is more likely is that the German organisers, being aware of the fixture clash, were keen to have two former world champions on the grid and had offered top dollar starting money to get them there. The GLTL Lotus 48s were race proved and ready to go whereas the F3L project was struggling to make it to Brands and at the track AMR were only able to run the one car in the race, the second car being withdrawn. They were not short of top line talent though for they had Bruce McLaren, Jack Brabham, Denis Hulme and Jochen Rindt in the two cars for practice. With the second car being withdrawn AMR paired Bruce, who had qualified the car second, with Mike who had done much of the testing and that pairing was very competitive until the car suffered driveshaft doughnut problems and retired.

Jim Clark could race anything, anywhere and be competitive. Whilst he was struggling with the F2 Lotus in the dank and grey conditions in Germany, he had put his new chassis, R48-4, in the middle of the front row in Spain, splitting pole sitter Stewart from Jochen Rindt before being put out of the race on the first lap through being hit from behind by the Ferrari of Jacky Ickx.

The Deutschland Trophae

This was run over two forty lap heats with the results decided on aggregate. F2 events were serious races, and this one had a total distance of just over 168 miles and would take an aggregate one hour and twenty five minutes for the winner. Contrast that with a modern F1 grand prix; hardly a minor event.

At Hockenheim both GLTL 48s were having problems. Not only were their Firestones not working as well as the Dunlops many of the other runners were on, but Derek Bell tells of sitting with Clark on the morning of the race and Clark warning him not to get too close when Bell came round to lap him because of an incurable engine misfire and cutting out problem. Clark had qualified seventh, a full 2.4 seconds slower than the pole time of Jean-Pierre Beltoise who would go on to win both heats in his Matra. Under the circumstances Clark could have packed up and gone home, but he was a professional racing driver and he went out and did his job.

In damp conditions on the 5th lap, running on his own in eighth place, the car went out of control flat out at around 150 mph on the gentle right hander heading out towards the Ostkurve (roughly where the first chicane was later installed). The car left the track on the outside of the bend and slid across the grass verge before slamming into trees, the impact being immediately fatal. There was only one witness, a track marshall who saw the car approaching him as normal, but said that then it snaked briefly before leaving the track.

The accident has generally been put down to deflation of the left rear tyre, but Derek Bell’s conversation with Clark that morning puts an alternative possibility forward as the engine cutting out at that point would have had a similar result. And there is a third factor. After qualifying R48-4 in the middle of the front row at Barcelona, Clark was hit under braking for the hairpin on lap one and retired with rear suspension damage, Lotus had a reputation for frailty and there was just a week to get the car from Barcelona to Hockenheim and effect repairs. Did something break as a result? The car was destroyed in the accident and we’ll never know for sure. Motor sport had lost one of its greatest exponents.

The first heat ran its course with Beltoise winning from team mate Pescarolo after a good battle between them and with the Brabham of Ahrens before he retired late on. The privately entered Brabhams of Lambert, Bell and Courage finished three, four and five ahead of Amon’s Ferrari in sixth. On hearing the news of his team mate, Hill took charge, dealing with the authorities and making the necessary arrangements. He would take no part in heat two, and nor would the private McLaren of Robs Lamplough who withdrew, distressed by what had happened.

For the rest the show went on. Beltoise, Pescarolo and Courage had a fine scrap in heat two settled only in the stadium section on the last lap with Beltoise winning from Courage. The aggregate result was Beltoise, Pescarolo (both Matra), Courage, Lambert (both Brabham), Amon (Ferrari), Schlesser, Widdows (both McLaren) and Mosley (Brabham) (yes, Max Mosley). Beltoise would go on to be a worthy European champion with five wins in the nine round championship. Three months later in July, of the finishers at Hockenheim, both Chris Lambert and Jo Schlesser would join Clark on that grid in the sky. Racing driver was a dangerous profession in those days.

Conclusion

So to sum up, the F2 race at Hockenheim was not, in its own right, a minor or unimportant race; in F2 terms it was an important one. I would also challenge the view that it was not vital that Clark took part in it. It’s maybe a natural reaction when a top sports personality dies doing something other than that which represents the pinnacle of their achievements. People are in denial, but it doesn’t make such statements correct. What would they have said had he died thrilling fans with his two and three wheeled antics in a Lotus Cortina? Team Lotus did F2. He knew that and, given his status as World number one, he could have declined and just stuck to F1 plus the Indy 500, but he enjoyed racing, the Lotus 48 had been a competitive F2 mount for him in ’67 and the prospect of more success seemed likely with his brand new car (R48-4) for 1968. But any form of motor racing in those days was dangerous, and Jim Clark understood that. He just liked racing.

Here are some good books and DVDs on Jim Clark and the era that you might like to add to your library:

Jim Clark: A Photographic Portrait

Champion – Jim Clark [DVD] [1991]

Colin Chapman: Inside the Innovator

Jim Clark – The Legend Lives On [DVD]

Alan Mann – A :Life of Chance

Other Things and Further Research

To get a feel for the time, here are two videos from the event. The first has no commentary, and includes other sights from the meeting, but does give a strong flavour of the era; note that neither Lotus has seat belts, as was common at the time (although they would not have saved Jim Clark), also note the absence of a pit wall, just a few straw bales to separate pits from track. and see the trees and how close to the track that they are as the cars go out into the country section of the circuit. The second clip shows news coverage. The severity of the accident is all too apparent

My thanks to those who have published these on YouTube.

Hockenheim April 1968 #1

Hockenhein April 1968 #2

Note:

If you see buttons marked Dowload or Play Now below these words they are not part of this post and appear to have been placed there by the blog hosting service. Use them at your own risk

 

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