My first Formula one race
First up was the F2 race. We waited about an hour in the sunshine, excitement building with every sip of the forbidden coca cola. A few vintage cars drove around the track to keep the excitement up. And then off they went. The formula two race. I had never heard such a decibel overload. The roar as thirty cars raced past ten feet away, engines screaming at ten thousand revs per minute (As uncle Spiro explained to me, the inner workings of the internal combustion engine, with pistons and cylinders and rich petrol).
Out of the first corner one car emerged way ahead of the others pulling away with every passing lap. By the end of the race he had lapped the second place car. I thought that is how racing worked. The winner laps the rest of the field. All I could talk about was this amazing driver, and in those days they had open cockpit cars with helmets and goggles, so you could see their faces clearly.
I was hopping with excitement. The deafening sound. The smell of petrol thick in the air. The crazy risk of going into corners, tires screeching, at breakneck speed. Just wow. Here was a whole new world of possibility for unimaginable fun and from the first sight, sound and smell of a race car, I was invested.
The F2 race ended and we walked over to Crowthorne, at the end of the main straight, and the big race began. The main event. Formula one racing. Bigger engines. Better tuned. Ford Cosworth 3 liter V8’s. They were even louder. I was enchanted by the magic spell of the big race.
Out of the first corner, one car surged ahead. The number four car, the same driver as the last race. By the end he had lapped the rest of the field and he won with such ease Formula one for me was evidently a one man show. One guy won both races that day.
I went to the pits with Uncle Spiro, who was a car mechanic and knew people, where I was introduced to this gracious man with a Scots accent. Another first for me. Why does he talk so funny? Something Scots, with their distinctive accent should consider when traveling and meeting young people.
Uncle Spiro explained to me that Jim Clark did the mechanic work on both his cars that day, the F2 one and then the F1. Just months later Jim Clark died on the track. In a F2 race.
On 7 April 1968, Clark died in a racing accident at the Hockenheimring in West Germany. He was originally slated to drive in the BOAC 1000 km sportscar race at Brands Hatch, but instead chose to drive in the Deutschland Trophäe, a Formula Two race, for Lotus at the Hockenheimring, primarily due to contractual obligations with Firestone. Although the race has sometimes been characterized as a “minor race meeting” the entry list was impressive with top-running Matras for the French drivers Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Henri Pescarolo, Tecnos for Carlo Facetti and Clay Regazzoni, Team Brabhams for Derek Bell and Piers Courage, a Ferrari for Chris Amon and McLarens for Graeme Lawrence and Robin Widdows. Team Lotus drivers Graham Hill and Clark were in Gold Leaf Team Lotuses and a young Max Mosley was also in the race, moving up from the Clubman series.
The event was run in two heats. On the fifth lap of the first heat, Clark’s Lotus 48 veered off the track and crashed into the trees. He suffered a broken neck and skull fracture, and died before reaching the hospital. The cause of the crash was never definitively identified, but investigators concluded it was most likely due to a deflating rear tyre. Clark’s death affected the racing community terribly, with fellow Formula One drivers and close friends Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Dan Gurney, John Surtees, Chris Amon and Jack Brabham all being personally affected by the tragedy. People came from all over the world to Clark’s funeral. Colin Chapman was devastated and publicly stated that he had lost his best friend. The 1968 F1 Drivers’ Championship was subsequently won by his Lotus teammate Graham Hill, who pulled the heartbroken team together and held off Jackie Stewart for the crown, which he later dedicated to Clark.
I saw the fire marshal turn into a red mist before my eyes, which is what happens when your hit by a sharp car at 200mph. There was very little left of that young man.
I watched spellbound as first responders removed his body from the car. I read later that one of those chaps stole the wedding ring off Tom Pryce’s dead body. His wife requested its return. It was returned. That night the incident was all over the news. replays of the marshal turning to red mist.I loved the F1 circus. Later, when I moved to England in 84, I heard many great stories from my friend Leo Sayer who was great friends with Bernie Ecclestone, and had many first hand tales of rock and roll F1. Leo got to drive one of the great cars of the day.
They changed the rules to make F1 safe and no one has died in a racing incident since. (As far as I know.) In 94, when Senna died, aged 34, the cars ran 3.5 Liter engines. His Williams for the 94 season had a V10 engine by Renault Sport termed the RS6 specification, delivering approximately 830 hp. But none of the computer tech that is in the current computer cars. It was a pure power car that needed a pure power driver.
That’s enough for me.