#163 1968 Spanish Grand Prix

2021-11-28 23:00

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#163 1968 Spanish Grand Prix

A lot of work had gone on to get Spain back on the World Championship calendar, and the creation of a purpose built circuit 30 kilometres away from th


A lot of work had gone on to get Spain back on the World Championship calendar, and the creation of a purpose built circuit 30 kilometres away from the capital was a huge step in the right direction. The new Jarama circuit had been completed in 1967, and had already hosted a Formula 1 race, won by Jim Clark, although a few changes were made after their comments. Cones were replaced by kerbs, loose gravel removed for tarmac, and safety barriers lowered to actually catch flying cars, resulting in a track that could hold up to slowly evolving standards in Formula 1 circuits. Unfortunately, the pre-season since the opening round in Kyalami, over five months earlier than the Spanish meeting, had been dominated by events in the first weeks of April and May.


Clark had won the season opening round in South Africa, a victory that had made him immortal in the Formula 1 realm as he overtook the record of Juan Manuel Fangio for race wins. Fate, however, decided to play a different hand after that, and in heavy rain during a Formula Two race at Hockenheim, the Scot went off at full throttle and slammed into the unprotected trees, a rumoured suspension failure cited as the reason for the car leaving the circuit. The obliterated car saw the Scot killed on impact, leaving many to question their futures in the sport, if only briefly.


It would not get any better for Team Lotus later on in the break, with the British outfit loaning Mike Spence and putting him in a car to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. The Englishman had just set the second fastest time ever at the Brickyard when he hit the wall on the outside of turn one, destroying the suspension. The impact threw the right front wheel into the cockpit at speed, killing Spence on impact as he received huge head injuries, although he would officially be declared dead at the circuit hospital. Colin Chapman was heartbroken at the loss of his friend Clark, and the death of Spence a month later saw him go into a self-imposed period of mourning ahead of the Spanish weekend.


When the Spanish Grand Prix finally rolled around Chapman still refused to attend the race, sending only one car for Graham Hill to use. The Englishman, despite seeing two close friends buried in the space of a month, was in a relatively good position ahead of the weekend, being among the few to have tasted Jarama in the Formula 1 race back in October. A second Lotus would be in the hands of Jo Siffert and the Rob Walker Racing Team for the weekend, as the works team failed to get a second car prepared for Jackie Oliver to race. B.R.M. were also down to a single car effort with the demise of Spence, with Pedro Rodríguez their only driver but getting hold of the newest car, the P133.


This was one of a number of cars getting the new BRM V12 engine, as the factory team provided a second car for Reg Parnell Racing to run, with Tim Parnell entering Piers Courage as the driver. The factory Cooper team were also running the V12 engines, once again fielding Brian Redman and Ludovico Scarfiotti, recovered from his South African scoulding, while Bernard White Racing had managed to elbow in a V12 BRM into an old P261 for David Hobbs, although thy were delayed in arrival. Jo Bonnier was another with a different combination, having bought Hulme's McLaren from the start of the season with the developmental version of the V12.


Elsewhere, McLaren had a pair of freshly built cars for Bruce McLaren and defending World Champion Denny Hulme, with the latter proving just how good the new cars were. Victories in two pre-season races, the XX B.R.D.C. International Trophy and the III Race of Champions, had given the team a huge boost, with their Ford Cosworth engines also running trouble free. The engine had also been doing the rounds at Matra, although with Jackie Stewart out of action after breaking his wrist in a Formula Two race (ironically at Jarama), it was down to Jean-Pierre Beltoise to up hold the Matra International banner on his own, using their latest chassis.


Completing a rather depleted field were the Ferrari duo of Jacky Ickx and Chris Amon, both racing in unmodified cars. Brabham-Repco had a new car on display, the gaffer taking over the new BT26 for the weekend, leaving Jochen Rindt with the pick of the older cars. The Hondola was back in the hands of John Surtees, now featuring the updates that officially designated it as a RA301, while an official Lola could be found in the hands of a local, Jorge de Bagration entered as the driver of a ballasted up Formula Two car. Victory for Clark at Kyalami had seen him top the early standings, a performance that looked fairly ominous for the rest of the field before his tragic accident.


Hill had finished a healthy second and would have potentially been the only challenger to the Scot, having equal machinery, and only time would tell whether the Lotus-Ford Cosworth reliability issues from 1967 would return. Jochen Rindt, Chris Amon, Denny Hulme and Jean-Pierre Beltoise were the other first round scorers. There was a great deal of variety on the board for the Intercontinental Cup for Manufacturers after the opening round, although the advantage at the top was very much in favour of Team Lotus. They headed the pack with a five point gap over Brabham-Repco, with Anglo-Aussie effort opening a second title defence. Ferrari, McLaren-BRM and Matra-Ford Cosworth were the other scorers, the latter of that trio scoring their first points.


Practice/qualifying were scheduled for Friday and Saturday, with Friday getting two and a half hours of running split over two sessions, before a final two hour run on Saturday. The weather would be fairly consistent throughout, the extreme heat of the early Spanish summer being countered by a mountain breeze, meaning all three sessions were good enough to see quick times. Speaking of target times, Jim Clark held the Formula 1 lap record, a 1'28"8, although the circuit record of 1'28"2 had been set by Jean-Pierre Beltoise in a Formula Two race in April. What immediately became clear was the need for drivers to learn the twisty circuit, demonstrated by the fact that the quickest runners in the opening session had all experienced the circuit before in the non-Championship round. 


The other telling factor would be that the most powerful cars were not enjoying their usual advantage, as the low speed corners were immediately followed by low speed corners. The combination of these factors meant that Pedro Rodríguez ended up with the fastest time of the day, set during the first session. Indeed, the Mexican racer would be the only one to dip under the circuit record, a surprise given the fact that the B.R.M. he was driving was brand new. This was a stark contrast to the Cosworth engined contingent, who were all struggling with poor pickup out of the slow corners. The Ferraris were running marginally better, with Jacky Ickx struggling with his engine throughout the first session.


Brabham-Repco would not run at all during the first session, their transporter having had trouble getting to the circuit, leaving Jochen Rindt on his own in the paddock. Fortunately for the young Austrian, the team were ready to run the older BT24 as soon as the session opened, allowing him to get on with his usual programme, while the team could focus on setting up the new BT26 for the gaffer. Rodriguez, meanwhile, could not improve on his earlier time in the spare B.R.M., and when Chris Amon and Denny Hulme dead heated for the fastest time of the afternoon, some two tenths slower than the Mexican's morning time, many thought Rodriguez was destined for pole.


Saturday's only session would start late in the day, giving teams plenty of time to prepare their cars, with McLaren taking the time to replace the engines in both of their cars. Brabham, meanwhile, had completed the work on the new car, with Jack Brabham taking his team's latest creation for a shakedown the moment the session opened, while the rest of the field went to try and best Rodriguez. Most drivers would find time in the late afternoon sun, Rodriguez being one of the only exceptions, leaving Amon to find another half a second to snatch away pole position in the middle of the session.


Amon's lap was just in time, for any serious attempts at setting pole laps were ended by Piers Courage when his B.R.M. dumped oil through the first part of the lap. Brabham was one of the few to persist on running despite the lack of grip, and the Australian was duly rewarded when his new car dumped its own oil over the circuit in the same place, definitely ending any chance of running, let alone fast times. Unfortunately, Bruce McLaren was just behind the dying Brabham, and when the New Zealander hit the oil there was little that could be done to keep his new car out of the safety barriers. Brabham's weekend was over as the team did not have any race capable engines left to fit the car, while McLaren's mechanics would have to spend the whole night rebuilding the front end of their boss' car in time for Sunday.


Sunday would be another day of intense sun and mountain winds, with the only one track action scheduled to be the Grand Prix itself. The crowd size would be disappointing given the proximity to Madrid, matching a rather downsized grid once Jack Brabham officially withdrew his new car. Everyone else would be up and running after a warm-up session in the morning, before assembling on the grid for the start. When the flag fell, it was Pedro Rodríguez who stole the advantage, shooting through from the middle of the front row to lead into the first corner. His quick start opened the door for Jean-Pierre Beltoise to climb into second, as the Frenchman also took the other two front row starters leaving them to fight over third. By the end of the first tour it was Chris Amon who triumphed over Denny Hulme, to lead a chase group containing John Surtees, Bruce McLaren and Graham Hill as they chased down the fastest starters.


As Jochen Rindt joined the race after getting stuck on the grid, using his usual throttle driven technique to make ground, the top three were already beginning to pull away. Rodriguez and Beltoise were working hard to keep Amon at bay, who was handed a crucial advantage in the chase group once Surtees snuck past Hulme. Over the following laps, the defending World Champion would get past the Honda, while Bruce McLaren tumbled as he began to struggle with understeer, a problem caused by having to use narrower front wheels after his car was rebuilt. Time slowly saw Hulme and then Hill catch the back of the leading trio, with Surtees joining McLaren in the battle to be the best of the rest. 


At lap ten it was still Rodriguez leading from Beltoise, Amon, Hulme and Hill, and while Surtees keeping McLaren at arms length, it meant there were six different chassis and engine combinations in the top six. Elsewhere, Jo Siffert was shadowing McLaren in his older Lotus 49, Piers Courage lost eight laps with an overheating issue, while Rindt was carving his way through the order, until his engine lost all of its oil pressure. As the leaders started the eleventh lap there was finally a change for the lead, when a smoke trailing Matra-Ford Cosworth suddenly dived down the inside of the leading B.R.M. Beltoise snatched the lead into the first corner of lap twelve, with Rodriguez opting not to force the issue as it looked as if the Frenchman's sudden smoke trail was terminal. The Mexican was left to rue that decision, as Amon took Rodriguez's sudden drop in pace to snatch second away in the Ferrari.


The new status quo would be maintained until lap fifteen, when Beltoise's engine finally became a serious concern, with the team calling him in to find the source of the oil leak. A quick tighten of the oil filter only partially fixed the issue, and a stop on the next lap saw the car put onto jacks and the oil filter taken off, with the mechanics deciding to replace the sealing ring. Amon was therefore left at the head of the leading group, while Siffert dropped off the back of McLaren when his petrol tank sprung a leak which coated his pedals with fuel. It took a while for things to reignite once again, with Rodriguez taking until lap twenty five before he managed to wind himself up enough to have a go at Amon. For four laps the Mexican tried every trick in the book to try and get past the New Zealander, only to be denied by a lack of space and excellent defending on the narrow Jarama bends. 


Then, while trying to position his car for a strong exit out of one corner, the Mexican caught the edge of the edge of the dust, jerked left, and, after a trip through some poorly placed catch fencing, found himself climbing out of a ruined B.R.M. when it crumpled itself on the secondry safety barrier. With an unhurt Rodriguez out of the race, Amon was left with a huge advantage at the front of the field as the Mexican's attack had pushed the pair of them well up the road of Hill and Hulme. The latter had benefited from the former's lack of tow to get the more developed Lotus ahead of the McLaren, although he had been unable to re-catch the ongoing battle. The combined result was therefore a fifteen second advantage in favour of the Ferrari over the Lotus, with Hulme tagging onto Hill's back but unable, or unwilling, to attack. A rather processional race developed from that point, the only entertainment provided by the exuberant style of Beltoise, who had decided to just throw the Matra around the circuit now he had nothing to fight for. 


He looked likely to take a painfully slow Siffert, who was still struggling on with a gearbox problem, his leaking tank having been isolated in a mid-race stop. The two Cooper-BRMs were running together a lap down and well off the pace, Brian Redman doing a good job in keeping race winning teammate Ludovico Scarfiotti at bay, while McLaren and Surtees were the remaining runners on the lead lap while carrying their own issues. Yet, the leading New Zealander would be cruelly denied victory once again, this time caused by a fuel pump failure just moments after the Ferrari had passed the pits. Try as he might, Amon could not persuade the Ferrari to restart, as Siffert reduced the field down to just seven runners when his gearbox had cried enough. Amon was therefore left to take an agonising walk back to the pits, as Hulme began to wind himself up for a go at the lead that Hill had just inherited. On lap 64 the building pressure in Hulme's car was finally released, with the New Zealander beginning to show his nose to the Lotus. Hill, however, had the advantage of being a wily defender, aided by the fact that Jarama's narrow layout was not helpful for overtaking, as Rodriguez had found out to his cost. 


Hulme's best chance for the lead came five laps into the battle when the pair began to catch McLaren, whose wounded car was now limping around with a cracked exhaust. Hill prepared himself to get into a scrap with Hulme's new teammate, but rather than make things difficult, McLaren decided to do the sporting thing on lap 72 and wave the pair of them through, a move which ruined his team's chances of a first victory. The stalemate at the front of the field would continue to the flag, as Hulme's every move was predicted by a resilient Hill, who duly collected the first post-Clark victory for Team Lotus. Hulme was left in a frustrated second after a late gearbox problem, while both Surtees and McLaren would drop out of the race, the latter doing so just a few laps after he let the leaders by. The late retirements left just five finishers, and let Redman claim a maiden podium finish, with Scarfiotti and Beltoise claiming the final points.


Graham Hill took over control of the World Championship with his first victory in over a season, taking over from the late Jim Clark who had dropped to second. Denny Hulme was into third as the new McLaren-Ford Cosworth ignited his title defence, with Jochen Rindt slipping to fourth, level on points with Brian Redman. The luckless Chris Amon found himself level on points with Ludovico Scarfiotti and Jean-Pierre Beltoise, the latter rounding out the eight scorers. Lotus-Ford Cosworth were heading the charge in the Intercontinental Cup for Manufacturers, having scored maximum points at the first two rounds. McLaren-Ford Cosworth were up to second thanks to Hulme, whose work also left them ahead of his old employers Brabham-Repco. The defending Champions were tied on points with Cooper-B.R.M. and one ahead of Ferrari, with Matra-Ford Cosworth and McLaren-BRM (the old McLaren factory car) rounding out the table.


Anthony Quartey

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