The World Championship began on the 2 of January 1967 in South Africa, on the Kyalami circuit, which for the first time hosted a race valid for the championship standings. The three previous races valid for the World Championship were held on the East London circuit, however in 1966 the race was not included in the official calendar, hence the organizers decided to move it to the Kyalami circuit. The track, which is located near Johannesburg, is 2.5 miles long and has several tricky corners and a medium-length straight. The average speed is low and the highest peak was reached by John Love with the Cooper-Climax 2.7, slightly exceeding 100 mph. The only negative aspect of the circuit is represented by its position; it is located 1500 meters above the sea level, and during the hot season the atmospheric conditions facilitate the vaporization of the cars' fuel. Despite of this disadvantage, which causes major difficulties for teams and drivers, the circuit had received favourable opinions, so much so that it was reconfirmed as the host track for the 1967 Grand Prix.
The race, which opens a championship consisting of eleven Grands Prix, will not prove to be of great importance from a technical point of view, since many teams had not completed the tuning of their cars. Among them there is Ferrari, who does not show up in Kyalami because of the lack of fine-tuning of the 12-cylinder engine due to the delays caused by the continuous trade union strikes. The other main teams are all present at the first Grand Prix of the season. Team Brabham signs up with two cars, as in the last Grand Prix of the 1966 season, one for Brabham himself and the other for Hulme, while Cooper competes with Rodriguez and Rindt as official drivers for this season, again by using single-seaters that have not yet been modified. B.R.M. presents two new 16-cylinder single-seaters, which will be entrusted to Stewart and to the new entry of the 1967 season, Mike Spence. At the end of the 1966 championship, the B.R.M. Team had promptly started a series of tests to improve the reliability of the engine, followed by some aerodynamic modifications. The English team arrived at the track with three different snouts: the one used for most of the previous season, a very short model, and finally a nose conceived and designed thanks to the wind tunnel and featuring slit air intakes located behind the radiator line.
Team Lotus arrives at the circuit with two Lotus 43 with a B.R.M. H16 engine, which have two different chassis: Clark's car has a new R43/2 chassis, while Graham Hill's single-seater has the old R43/1. According to the statements made by Lotus engineers, from the next Grand Prix the single-seaters were going to be using a new engine. Surtees enters in the Grand Prix with the Honda Racing team with the same car used in Mexico, but with a new suspension, as an attempt to solve the steering problems encountered in the last tests of 1966. Surtees was already in Kyalami two days before the start of the race weekend, engaged in unofficial tests with Honda, with the aim of improving the reliability of the car. Unfortunately, at the end of the tests, the mechanics realize that the oil - for unknown reasons - has irreparably damaged the engine and so, at the beginning of the first session, while the other drivers are on track, Surtees is stuck at the pits, waiting for a new engine to be installed on his single-seater.
The Eagle Team signs up with two cars for Gurney and Ginther, but only Gurney’s turns out to be working well. Also, in the case of the Eagle Team, the single-seaters that will take part in this Grand Prix are the previous season’s models, because the new single-seater turns out to have major reliability problems and the best idea is to use it from the second Grand Prix on. The remaining eight entries for the South African Grand Prix are private drivers: Siffert, Bonnier, Anderson and Courage are the European drivers who will participate in the race, while Love, Tingle, Charlton and Botha are from South Africa.
There will be three practice sessions, which will be held from 2:30 pm to 5:00 pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, while the race will be run on Monday. Drivers are also allowed to attend the track in the morning, but there will be no timekeepers at the circuit and therefore the registered times will not be official. On Thursday, only ten single-seaters are running on track, despite the medium-low temperatures and the excellent weather conditions for the drivers; some teams, however, make the last changes to their cars. In the Honda box, the mechanics repair the new engine, which encountered some issued to the ignition system, while Lotus is working to replace Hill's car’s tank, which had been inexplicably found broken. The other drivers, however, think that two days of tests are sufficient for the preparation for the Grand Prix, and consider it appropriate to rest during the first day of qualifying. Among the few competitors present at the circuit, Stewart is the first to go on track, but after a few laps he returns to the pits as his tires are totally destroyed.
The conditions of the tires do not shock the team members nor the driver himself, as the compound used is a new type of Dunlop rubber for wet conditions and it was used under the request of Tony Rudd, who was eager to know the duration of the tires on a dry track: between five and ten laps. Back on track with Goodyear tires, Stewart records decent times, but he is slowed down by an overheating problem on his car and returns to the pits to replace the nose tested in the wind tunnel with a more aerodynamic model. The Cooper team, meanwhile, is in trouble: both cars suffer from overheating problems and consume fuel very quickly. In spite of this, Rodriguez manages to set the second best time of 1'29"4, while Rindt is still unable to complete a lap without his engine encountering problems.
The situation appears chaotic not only in the Cooper pits, but also in Eagle’s, where the mechanics are trying to solve an incomprehensible problem on Gurney's car. The driver, who went on track with the second car, since the first one had to be modified, returned to the pits after recording a time of 1'32''4 and gets out of the car. Once having jumped back in the car with the intention of returning to the track, he notices that the engine makes a weird sound, but the mechanics are unable to understand the origin. After a few attempts to start the engine, a pulverized stone comes out of the exhaust manifold; while Gurney was not present, a spectator had approached the car and leaned on the rear wheel. A stone, which had probably been kept in the man's pocket, had bounced off the engine and subsequently found its way into the exhaust. Having solved the mystery, Gurney returned to the track and at the end of the session managed to record a lap in 1'30"00. The only team that did not have any overheating problems seemed to be Brabham, who set the best time of the session at 1’28"3.
The next day the sky is blue and the wind is very weak, factors that make the heat almost unbearable. The official weather report of the circuit announces that the air temperature is 32 degrees centigrade, while the asphalt of the track is 60 degrees centigrade. In spite of the fact that the weather conditions are not the best, most of the drivers registered for the Grand Prix are at the circuit; the only ones missing are Brabham, who decided not to risk damaging his car in a further practice session, and Sam Tingle who, although his single-seater arrived at the circuit late in the morning, decided not go to the pits.
As Thursday's session had foretold, several teams are in trouble because of the overheating issues that affect their cars. One of the few drivers who does not suffer of this problem is Hulme, who at the end of the session will be the driver to have completed the most laps. Spending most of the afternoon on the track, while the opponents are forced to stop at the pits for even longer periods of time, Hulme manages to complete a lap in less than 1'28". The second classified is Love, who however cannot reach Hulme, and records a time of 1'30". For only two hundredths, with a time of 1'30"2, Rindt is in third position, slowed down by the malfunctioning engine of his Cooper. The Lotus and B.R.M. mechanics work assiduously to solve the overheating problems of their cars, but with poor results, and their performances are rather disappointing. Surtees is not in a comfortable situation either, because the Honda engine has very complex vaporization issues, which heavily affect the speed. In addition, the English driver saw his test possibilities diminished due to an oil pump failure, the fusion of some bushings and the blockage of the accelerator with the result that the engine refused to work at less than 8.000 rpm.
At the end of the practice session, many mechanics do not leave their workstations, with the aim of resolving their teams' difficulties in time for the third qualifying window. Late in the evening, Honda representatives go talk to the organizers, in order to demand for the permission to do an additional unofficial practice session, which will take place at 7:00 am on Saturday. Having received the green light from the organization, the following morning the team and the drivers are at the circuit and manage to record some track times in 1'30". Surtees takes this opportunity to test the tires and decides to use Firestone for this weekend.
With the passing of the hours, temperatures rise and the third practice session begins in the early afternoon. The situation is similar to the one encountered the previous day, with the exception of the wind, which seems slightly stronger than on Friday afternoon. Despite the slight breeze, overheating problems persist for some drivers, and among them is Graham Hill. So far Hill's weekend has not been particularly lucky: during Friday's session he managed to complete only five laps, and today only eight before his engine broke down. Brabham and Hulme are the only two drivers who, at the beginning at least, are at ease with both their cars and the track conditions as well.
Luck assists Hulme for the first two days of practice, but during the third session it seems to be against him. After completing a few laps, Hulme is forced to pull his car over to the side of the track because the fuel pump has stalled. With the help of a mechanic, who joins him on the track after receiving the approval from the safety officers, the problem is solved and Hulme is able to start just in time to run a few laps before the session ends. The best time of the day belongs to Brabham, who completes a lap in 1’28"5. At the end of the tests, there is an atmosphere of tension and uncertainty in the paddock: the weather conditions are very hot and there is no certainty that the cars can finish the Grand Prix without experiencing overheating problems. The mechanics take advantage of the entire Sunday in order to make the necessary changes to the single-seaters before the race.
During the night between Sunday and Monday, a strong storm hits the circuit, depriving the track of the layer of rubber that had accumulated in the previous days. This unforeseen event further articulates the drivers' situation; in fact, the Kyalami circuit is composed of abrasive materials, which wear out the tires very quickly. Although the circumstances are complicated for teams and drivers, there are no solutions that can be taken quickly and that can improve the situation of the asphalt, so the race will be run at the scheduled time.
On Monday 2nd January 1967 at 3:10 pm, the drivers lined up on the starting grid and, after the waving of the start flag, Hulme managed to keep the first position, while behind him Clark risked to be squeezed between the two Brabhams and was therefore forced to slow down. This move, although necessary, facilitates Surtees, who overtakes him and starts chasing Brabham and Hulme. At the end of the first lap Hulme has a considerable gap from Brabham, who is busy defending himself from the first and decisive attacks by Surtees. Behind this leading group are Rodriguez, Clark, Rindt, Charlton, Stewart, Love, Anderson, Bonnier, Courage, Gurney, Siffert, Tingle, Spence and Hill, while Botha is almost a lap behind.
During the first laps, the drivers, except the first classified, suffer from great difficulties that concern the track visibility: before the beginning of the race, some marshals had covered some oil stains on the track with sand, and now, when the cars run over them, great clouds of dust rise. The track conditions do not stop the competitors from fighting each other, and during the second lap Rindt overtakes Clark and is about to overtake his teammate Rodriguez. In the meantime, Stewart stops at the pits and retires from the race due to an engine malfunction. Rindt conquers the third position on Rodriguez, but during the fifth lap he loses three positions due to a spin caused by a contact with the kerbs of the track.
At the eighth passage, Surtees has a lead of eight seconds on Rodriguez, who has moved up to second position thanks to an error that made Brabham slip to fourth place. For a few laps, the classification is unchanged, if not for the margin separating Surtees from Brabham and Rodriguez, which is slowly shortening. And, as expected, during the fifteenth lap Brabham tries to overtake Surtees, but fails and is overtaken by Rodriguez, who joins the fight for the second position. Shortly after, Brabham regains the position on Rodriguez, and during the twenty-first lap he overtakes Surtees. The latter is overtaken by Rindt two laps later, and slips to fourth position. While the fight for the podium seems to be on, the first overheating problems are noticed by the drivers, and Clark, at the nineteenth lap, returns to the pits to remove the front nose and decrease the overheating on his car, but after three laps the situation does not seem to be improved and at the twenty-second lap the Lotus retires from the Grand Prix with a broken dispenser’s diaphragm.
The victory seems to be in favour of Hulme, who has twenty seconds of advantage on Brabham. To entertain the spectators there is, however, the incredible comeback of Love and Gurney, who started in tenth and eleventh place and are now in fifth and sixth position. Gurney tries to overtake his rival several times and only after ten laps, on the thirty-second, he manages to get the fifth place, but is overtaken again by Love. At the thirty-eighth lap, Rindt is forced to retire due to engine overheating, and during the following lap Brabham returns to the pits as well with the engine of the car not working. The mechanics carefully examine the car, but they cannot find the cause of the problem, so they turn on the engine and it starts working again, so Brabham comes back on track with four laps of delay. As the cars cross the pit lane, the tire technicians take note of the condition of the tires and their faces express a clear concern: the tires are wearing out too fast.
The pit stops allowed Surtees to move up to third position, with Rodriguez behind him, representing a serious threat. The Honda was losing speed and Surtees risked more than once to abandon the race because of the difficulty he had in turning right and the overheating of the pedals, which were burning his feet. He is therefore overtaken by Rodriguez in a few laps, but decides to continue the Grand Prix.
Suddenly, a roar of surprise rises from the stands when Hulme crosses the pit lane at maximum speed, nails the car in front of his pits, and after shouting a few words to his mechanics, returns to the track. The mechanics open a can of brake fluid as quickly as possible, and after a few minutes Hulme returns to the pits. The nose is removed from the car, and the mechanics pour the fluid on the brakes, and then cover the fuel pump with dry ice. Finally, they reassemble the nose on the single-seater. Hulme leaves the pits in fourth position, two laps behind Love, who is in first position.
Love now has a chance to win in front of his home crowd, and the anomalous sound produced by his car's engine does not particularly worry him, as this problem has accompanied him throughout the race. This will prove to be a serious mistake of underestimation, as the engine malfunction had caused the fuel to wear out faster, and Love is forced to stop in the pits to add a few litres of fuel to his tank. Back on the track, Love finds himself behind Rodriguez and is soon overtaken by Surtees as well. The South African Grand Prix is won by Pedro Rodriguez, followed by John Love and John Surtees, third with his Honda.
When Rodriguez stops his single-seater, the inspectors realize that there is only a thin layer of the tires, a few millimeters, which alarms the tire manufacturers. The race ends with great disappointment for Love and Hulme, who is only fourth at the finish line, while Rodriguez and Surtees open the season in the best way. Collecting the last available points are Bon Anderson and Jack Brabham, fifth and sixth respectively.
Rodriguez, as a reward for this achievement, will be hired by Cooper-Maserati for the current sporting season, and will act as a sidekick to another young driver, the Austrian Rindt. A recognition that rewards the gifts and the courage of a true car lover: we are not talking about a professional who races being this his only job, but a billionaire gentleman, who could have hung up helmet and gloves to the classic nail a long time ago. The formations that took part in Formula 1 in 1967 were thus defined. Brabham availed itself of its patron, Jack Brabham, who became world champion last year at the age of forty, and the New Zealander Denis Hulme. For the B.R.M. Stewart, who became team leader following Graham Hill's transfer to Lotus, and Mike Spence, to whom perhaps Piers Courage, one of the aces of the “nouvelle vaglie” of Formula 3, will be added. In the American Eagle, Dan Gurney will be flanked by Richie Ginther, left free by Honda. The Japanese company, as it is known, hired Surtees as a test driver. In the official Cooper-Maserati Lotus team there are the famous names of Clark and Hill, while McLaren, besides Bruce, can count on the revived Phil Hill.
At the same time, there is a clear situation at Ferrari: Bandini, Amon and - when possible - Scarflotti and Parkes will alternate at the wheel of cars equipped with a twelve-cylinder engine. The Italian single-seaters did not participate in the South African Grand Prix. The reason is simple: on the one hand, the new 48-valve engines are not yet up to speed, and on the other hand, it is necessary to follow the preparation of the prototypes which will have to renew the great duel with the Fords on the Daytona circuit at the beginning of February. Ferrari is a company of limited dimensions, and miracles cannot be made. Precisely because of the absence of the Modenese manufacturer's cars and the lack of 1967 models among the cars that have started, the South African race has a relative value on a technical level.
There is the comforting confirmation of the Cooper-Maserati, which, after a difficult start, had concluded the 1966 season by winning in Mexico with Surtees. In Johannesburg the engine (12 cylinders of 3000 cubic centimeters, 370 horsepower at 9500 rpm) and the chassis were the same as last year. They would be renewed for the next round, the Monte Carlo Grand Prix, scheduled for May 7, 1967. At that time, we will also see in contention the new Lotus with the eight-cylinder Cosworth-Ford engines, the Brabhams with the Buick 8 V, the Hondas with modified suspensions and an upgraded engine, and the B.R.M. with the new 12-cylinder (the 16-cylinder H-cylinder resulted being too weak).
As always, it seems to be an exciting championship. In the lead, for now, there are the Mexican Rodriguez (9 points), Rhodesian Love (6 points) and the Englishman Surtees (4 points), but the road is still long. The South African Grand Prix opens a world championship that will see ten more races before the World Champion title is awarded, and the nine best placings during the season will be taking into consideration. The next round of the World Championship will be the Monaco Grand Prix, which will be held on 7 May and will see the official 1967 single-seaters hitting the track.