On Sunday, June 9, 1963, the Belgian Grand Prix, second round of the Formula 1 World Championship, took place at Spa-Francorchamps. The championship opened with the Monaco Grand Prix where Graham Hill won at the wheel of B.R.M. and today, two weeks later, many questions are still pending. After Ferrari's defeat, people reflected on the Maranello team's real possibility to compete in the world championship against the English; the Italian single-seaters turned out to be up to the level of their competitors, and therefore the most reliable hypothesis for Surtees' drop in performance was that of a physical défaillance. The general attention is, however, mainly focused on the Hill-Clark fight and its actual regularity. A challenge that certainly wasn't lacking in spectacularity, given that on the one hand there was the incredible talent of a World Champion and on the other the impetuosity, verve and will of a driver who wanted to become World Champion at all costs.
The Spa circuit is the fastest in Europe, with averages of over 215 km/h and a layout that is completely different from Monaco. Therefore, the conditions in which the mechanicals are used and the drivers' preferences in terms of driving style and temperament will be very different. It isn't just a matter of pure heart and courage, it is also essential to consider when to let brains, composure and precision prevail. The fastest lap record on a 2.5-litre single-seater is 3'51"9, at a speed of 218.287 km/h, held by Brabham. The fastest lap time in a 1.5-litre car was 3'55"6, at a speed of 215.449 km/h, and belonged to Clark, driving the Lotus Climax V8.
The Belgian Grand Prix was run on the distance of 33 laps and had as protagonists three teams: Ferrari with Surtees and Mairesse, the latter was particularly expected as he was running in front of his public, Lotus with Clark and Taylor, and B.R.M. with Graham Hill and Ginther. While in a waiting position we have to consider the Coopers with MccLaren and Maggs and the Brahams, with the same constructor and Gurney at the wheel. Finally, in a secondary position we had to consider the other entrants: Bonnier in Cooper, Ireland in Lotus-B.R.M., Amon and Bianchi in Lola, the new A.T.S, Settember in Scirocco-B.R.M., Hall and Siffert in Lotus-B.R.M., De Beaufort in Porsche.
The Lotus team is using the same single-seaters for this new race weekend as they did in Monaco, with an extra Lotus 25 with an old Climax V8 carburettor. Clark and Taylor's cars feature the latest short-stroke fuel-injected models. In particular, on Clark's car you can see a new and experimental windscreen layout, at the height of which the Perspex is cut out. In addition, there is an opening at the front of the screen and the fibreglass porthole is shaped to deflect air upwards and deliver it at high speed over the driver's helmet.
Like Lotus, B.R.M. will run the race with the single-seaters already used in the Monaco Grand Prix, with the only exception of the six-speed gearbox on Ginther's car. This is a six-speed gearbox, controlled by a lever on the left-hand side of the cockpit, which operates a selection mechanism on the gearbox, while on the right-hand side there is a selection mechanism controlled by a lever with which reverse gear can be selected. The Ferraris of Surtees and Mairesse arrive at Spa with a novelty: the removable nose pads are now screwed onto the radiator cap. This small modification ensures a smaller air inlet and greater resistance at high speed. The interest in reducing resistance at high speed doesn't appear to be a prerogative of the Italian team, since in fact the Cooper presents some new features too: a new windscreen and an extremely thin Perspex windscreen with a wrap-around shape. Not only that, the sides of the single-seater are tilted sideways, almost to the point of touching the driver's helmet.
The two Brabham-Climax V8 cars have a difference in terms of gearbox: Brabham's single-seater is fitted with a 6-speed Celotti, while Gurney's is fitted with a converted VW Brabham unit. On this race weekend, interest is also focused on the debut of the brand new A.T.S. designed by Carlo Citi, former Scuderia Ferrari's technical director . The Spa race, marks the Bolognese marque's debut, and expectations, though born of genuine curiosity, are tempered by an awareness of the gradual technical progression that characterises the motorsport sector. A.T.S.'s presence at this race weekend must be considered as a simple first experience, indispensable for progressing in the long and difficult mechanical set-up. Basically, it would be illusory to expect a dazzling debut from the new Italian car.
The organisers have received a good number of applications, and most teams have been assured a start with both cars submitted. The same applies to A.T.S., which will enter the Belgian Grand Prix with two single-seaters to be driven by former World Champion Phil Hill and Italian Giancarlo Baghetti. Despite this, the Italian team is considering concentrating its efforts on just one car, that of American driver. This weekend will see the presence of two private drivers too, Siffert with the Lotus-B.R.M. and de Beaufort with the old 4-cylinder Porsche. After the Monaco exploit, the Swiss driver repaired not only the B.R.M. V8 engine but the crankcase where the rod had broken too.
The paddock is particularly buzzing when the first day of practice begins at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, 7 June 1963. The drivers are ready in their single-seaters and speeding their way around the track. It was a different story for Clark and Gurney, who were surely wondering what happened to all the power and speed of their cars after driving at Indianapolis. Clark, after Monaco, had problems with his ZF gearbox again and was therefore very upset, especially when he saw the internal parts of the gearbox being dismantled on the pit bench. Taylor, on the other hand, started this race weekend at his best, running steadily and without any kind of reliability problems. As well as Tony Maggs, Cooper's second driver, who incredibly turns out to be the first to go under the 4-minute limit.
Problems for the two Ferraris too, due to overheating in the oil circuit and a consequent drop in pressure with bearing problems. In the strange laps that Clark is able to make, the deflector mounted on his car seems to work satisfactorily. The sensation is one of totally unobstructed vision, but objects of various kinds, including flies, stones or raindrops can penetrate the barrier. The novelty presented on Clark's single-seater didn't seem functional with respect to the practical objective for which it was conceived. Slow and difficult tests for the B.R.M. too, that on Ginther's single-seater had problems with the new gearbox; the driver was obliged to drive with one hand only, in order to keep the gear lever in position. On the contrary, two quite different situations in the Brabham team: if the patron seemed to find the right rhythm on the track, Gurney had many difficulties that obliged him to unscrew the lower transversal arms of the car in order to reduce the incidence angle.
Practice went on with an excellent performance of Maggs, who for most of the session seemed to set the pace, but Brabham, once more familiar with the track, took the lead of the time classification. Mairesse, during the whole course of practice, pushed his single-seater to the limit, showing the great speed on which the Scuderia Ferrari's men could count on. Surtees, on the other hand, seemed very worried about the temperatures and small problems with the brakes, even though he declared he was happy with the driveability of his single-seater. Bonnier's performance was noteworthy, with Rob Walker Cooper showing a good pace. Clark, in spite of the problems found with the gearbox, tried to drive some laps using the spare car.
When the session was almost over a strange car arrived at pits, bringing with it a noise never heard before on the circuit. It was the new A.T.S. driven by Phil Hill, arrived on the circuit to test the single-seater with two exploratory laps, followed after a few minutes by the Italian Baghetti. The young Italian team arrived late at this first practice session, because of the traffic met by the trucks carrying mechanical means and spare parts along the Belgian roads. Finally, Settember, the second novelty of this race weekend along with the A.T.S, supports the test session on board the new Scirocco-B.R.M. The first day of practice ends, but not exciting for any team. Mairesse sets the fastest time of the session with a lap of 3'56"2, and only four other drivers manage to break the 4-minute record.
On Saturday 8 June 1963 the last practice session started after lunch and it was immediately evident the great work made by the teams in comparison with the previous day. B.R.M. presents the replacement of the 5-speed gearbox on Ginther's car, while the Walker team replaces the engine with the brand new Coventry-Climax V8, with uncrossed exhaust pipes and a new Colotti Type 34 Mark II six-speed gearbox. The bodywork features a raised engine bonnet end, with the gearbox and transmission completely exposed. This new single-seater would only be used in testing, as the team would use their 1962 Coopers for the race.
In this new practice day the best time was set by Graham Hill, 3'54"1, at an average speed of 216.830 km/h. Gurney started this session in excellent form, setting the second best time of the whole day, while Mairesse managed to improve his performance in comparison with the previous day, even if he remained below the performances of other drivers on the track. A different matter for Clark, still in the pits for the gearbox problems occurred on Friday during the first practice session; on the contrary Taylor, who recorded a great number of laps under 4 minutes. Maggs, even if he didn't set record laps, recorded faster times than his team leader; while Bonnier and Jim Hall, just like Taylor, couldn't go under four minutes.
During the tests Siffert set very good times, reducing the big gap that could have been imagined between a private driver and the most important professional teams. The low power of the single-seater shared the Scirocco and the A.T.S., even if Phil Hill said he was satisfied with the handling and road holding of his car. De Beaufort didn't have the opportunity to make the most of this practice session, as since the very first laps he started showing engine problems which obliged him to retire to the pits. Bonnier went down to the track to try the new Cooper, but the low performance of the engine suggested to go back to the previous model.
For Team Lotus the attention was totally focused on Clark's single-seater gearbox problems; thus Taylor's good performance seemed to pass into the background. During practice, the English driver, after having run a large number of particularly satisfying laps, arrived at Stavelot bend at high speed, but because of the breakage of a part of the rear axle, which the team didn't seem inclined to disclose, the car turned 360 degrees striking a wall. Taylor emerged from the destroyed Lotus car very shaken and dazed, but headed for the pits ready to take the spare car in order to run enough laps to qualify. In the meantime, Clark's gearbox was fixed just in time to ensure that the British driver could run enough laps to qualify, even though the Scottish was never able to set times competitive enough to reach the first positions.
After two practice days, the high level of competitiveness of the drivers fighting for the championship was evident: pole position was gained by Graham Hill, while in second position we found Dan Gurney. At the end of the second day De Beaufort went back to Stuttgart to change the engine, Lotus made sure that the spare car that Taylor was going to use for the race was in perfect condition and at the same time they devoted themselves to an analysis of the possible causes of the accident happened on the track. The Ferrari team didn't seem very confident about the race, due to tests that weren't too satisfactory for the men from Maranello and the drivers themselves. Cooper and B.R.M. seemed very optimistic and sure of their drivers' performance, while Brabham team celebrated Gurney's position on the first row.
On Sunday 9th June 1963 everything is ready for the Belgian Grand Prix, even though the weather conditions at Spa-Francorchamps seem to be anything but favourable. Early in the morning a heavy cloudburst hit the circuit, forcing the teams to carry out final checks, fill the tanks and adjust the tyre pressure under heavy rain. Around 2:00 p.m. the weather seemed to improve and the drivers were able to make the classic parade lap in sports cars and luxury Mercedes-Benz convertible seats.
The single-seaters were lined up on the starting grid, the track seemed to be dry enough for the race and at 3:30 p.m. the Belgian Grand Prix started. Clark, in his Lotus, mounted a normal windscreen while Taylor, his team mate, in spite of the serious leg contusions due to Saturday's accident, was ready to start with the old Lotus 25 with carburettor engine. The start at Spa is downhill, so this forces the teams to place small stones and pieces of rubber in front of the single-seater to avoid the drivers keeping the handbrake on constantly.
As the flag dropped, the cars took off. According to the common belief among the experts, Willy Mairesse with his Ferrari should be able to take the lead right from the start; however the situation was completely different. Surprisingly, it was Clark who made a spectacle of himself; the Scottish driver, who started from the third row, overtook everybody and took the lead before facing the Burnenville climb. Graham Hill and Brabham followed him and at the end of the first lap Clark and Hill imposed a 15-second gap over the rest of the group, with Brabham, Gurney and Maresse in a fight, followed by Jim Hall and Giancarlo Baghetti at the rear.
On the second lap Clark and Hill increased the gap to third, taking it to seconds. After only two laps, the performance of the rest of the group was already overshadowed by the competitiveness of the two leading drivers. Mairesse was in the third position and behind him there was a head-to-head among Brabham, McLaren, Gurney and Surtess for the fourth position. Ginther seemed extremely disappointed by the performance of his single-seater, in particular he seemed to have a lot of difficulty in the most humid areas of the track. Bianchi and De Beaufort collided, causing a serious damage to the Lola's fibreglass nose and forcing the Belgian driver to stop at the pits to repair it, while the Dutch driver had only a slight dent in the bodywork and could therefore continue the race. Bianchi manages to get back into the race, although he loses several positions.
On lap four Mairesse made a terrible mistake under braking, forcing him to go straight on. Chris Amon managed to recover the gap from Ginther but the oil coming from the rear bank bearing of his Climax engine was burning on the exhaust pipes, leaving behind him a strong smoke trail. Phil Hill, at the wheel of the A.T.S., looked extremely worried because of a blockage in the cooling water flow in the radiator, a problem that forced him to go back to pits to fix the single-seater. Once he was back on the track, the former World Champion still didn't seem satisfied, and complained that the single throttle spring had broken.
The beginning of lap six saw Clark in the lead with an eight-second advantage over Graham Hill, followed by Brabham, Surtees and McLaren. Mairesse lost positions after his mistake in braking and was forced to return to the pits for power problems on his Ferrari. Amon managed to overtake Ginther, while Siffert and Baghetti were also obliged to go back to pits, the first one for steering problems and the second one for gearbox problems. Same destiny for Taylor, returned to pits because of a problem of oil pressure, and Bianchi with a Lola by then excessively damaged. After working for a long time on Mairesse's single-seater, the Ferrari driver was ready to return to the track. However, the sound coming from the engine was not so comforting, so much so that after a couple of laps the Ferrari driver was forced to retire from the Grand Prix.
In the meantime, Clark, while maintaining a pace of over 4 minutes, managed to increase the seconds separating him from Hill. Due to the excessive humidity on the track, caused by the morning's heavy rain, the average speed was reduced to 200 km/h. At less than half the race the attention is entirely focused on the great work that the different teams have to face in the pits; in fact most of the drivers have returned for various problems. Surtees and McLaren overtook Brabham that, losing power and speed because of a problem with the fuel pump, on lap eight was forced to go back to the pits to try to fix the fault. Phill Hill was stopped at pits too, he came back to complain about the problem of the accelerator spring found a few laps before, and Baghetti with a transmission problem between the engine and the rear wheels, caused by the breakage of a shaft in the gearbox. It wasn't an easy race also for Amon, who had the only option to retire because of a problem with the oil, in order to avoid permanently damaging the engine of his single-seater.
On lap 12, Clark was still in the lead, 15 seconds behind Graham Hill. With such an advantage, the British driver could finally adopt a more conservative strategy to avoid excessive tyre wear. Surtees was in third position, but didn't seem to have enough power to catch Hill and fight for the second step of the podium. The lack power of the Ferrari engine was confirmed during the fourteenth lap, when Surtees was forced to return to the pits due to a malfunction. In the first laps of the Belgian Grand Prix, in wet track conditions, McLaren was the author of a good performance, but with the progressive reduction of the asphalt humidity they seemed to suddenly collapse, giving space to the power problems of his Cooper's engine.
In the middle of the race, on lap 16, the four-minute limit was finally broken. The fastest lap was obviously set by Jim Clark, who managed to go under the 4-minute limit with a time of 3'58"1. A little more than half-way through the race, the sky darkened again and in a few minutes a new rainstorm came to wet the track and slow down the race pace. The gap between Clark and Hill was by then 26.5 seconds, the hopes of the B.R.M. to reach the first place seemed by then completely disappeared. In third position there was the American driver Dan Gurney, who seemed to have a sufficient gap from the rest of the group to be able to finish the second half of the race in peace and quiet, without subjecting his single-seater to an excessive and risky pace as far as reliability was concerned.
Behind the first three drivers there were the most exciting challenges of this Belgian Grand Prix, among them the fight for the fourth position, disputed between Ginther and McLaren, and the exciting challenge between Maggs and Bonnier. The other six drivers in the race were all lapped, while Phil Hill - during the thirteenth lap - found himself stopped on the track because of the broken transmission on his A.T.S. On lap seventeen the rain was again pouring down, while black clouds were gathering on the track and strong lightning flashed across the sky. The point of the track most affected by the water is the one towards Malmedy, where the asphalt is now completely flooded. With this stormy background comes the most important twist of the race: Graham Hill's B.R.M. suddenly stops because of a gearbox failure.
Jim Hall and Bianchi went down towards Malmedy on a completely dry stretch of road, but once arrived at the point of the track most affected by the storm, the Lotus went off the track while Bianchi, even if losing the lead, managed to keep his Lola inside the circuit. Notwithstanding the two single-seaters lost the lead at the same time, it wasn't possible to attribute the blame to a contact between the two cars, but rather to an unlucky coincidence dictated by the bad weather conditions. Jim Hall's car was too damaged to continue the race and the driver was forced to retire just over mid-race. With Hill's car broken down, Clark led the Grand Prix by more than a minute and a half from his closest pursuer, Dan Gurney.
Even though the track is now flooded with more and more rain, the British driver manages to maintain an impeccable driving style, without making any mistakes. With such risky track conditions and extremely slippery parts of the track, Clark seems to achieve a real miracle. The track is now completely flooded, in some places the clouds have descended almost to ground level and the water seems to flow as if it were a river bed. Ginther's B.R.M. had a dry set-up that currently made it extremely difficult for him to continue the race, the driver was therefore forced to return to the pits. First, however, the B.R.M driver was obliged to finish the lap, during which the American was passed by the two Coopers of McLaren and Maggs, Bonnier with Cooper of Rob Walker, de Beaufort, and Settember in a Scirocco stable but not fast enough. During lap 19 Surtees also returned to the pits with a problem concerning the petrol pressure.
During lap 25 Clark overtook Maggs, positioning himself shortly after McLaren and waiting to continue with the overtaking of the lapped drivers. A few moments later the storm reached the peak of its action, and the single-seaters left behind them a trail of water that made them look like small speedboats. Obviously, performance suffers terribly: the time needed to complete a lap rises to 6'40"0, with an average speed of 80 km/h. During the twenty-ninth lap Clark succeeded in lapping McLaren as well and the latter, in his turn, was about to reach Gurney's Brabham, who had just returned to the track after the pit-stop. Settember, after changing his goggles and putting on a dry pair to improve visibility, returned to the track without completing the lap. The American driver, arrived during the twenty-fifth lap at the climb of Stavelot, loses control of the single-seater, going off the track.
It was a fate shared with Bianchi who, due to an excessively wet section of asphalt, lost control of his car on lap 17, drove through a hedge and hit the side of a house. Luckily Bianchi escaped unharmed from this heavy impact, but the car was destroyed. The rain didn't spare Siffert either, who on board the Lotus-B.R.M. went off the road too, one lap earlier than his Belgian colleague. Tony Maggs, after going off the track, on lap 27 returned to the pits to change his glasses and it was just on that occasion that he discovered he had a broken oil radiator. In this scenario of mistakes and retirements, the performance of a surprising McLaren stands out, remarkably at ease on wet track conditions. At the wheel of his Cooper, the New Zealander managed to split from Clark and overtake Gurney, moving up to second place.
In the meantime, in the pits there was an intense discussion between Colin Chapman of Lotus, Tony Rudd of B.R.M. and the organizers of the Belgian Grand Prix. The latter were asked by the teams to suspend the race, too dangerous because of the weather conditions that were by then unbearable. In the last two laps the rain eased off, giving a sigh of relief to the drivers who could now finally cover the last kilometres that separated them from the chequered flag. The crowd in the stands was still large, as the spectators hadn't been deterred by the storm and lightning, and were ready to welcome the tired and wet Clark to the finish line. Crossing the finish line at a very low speed, Clark stopped immediately, rather than continue to do the slowdown lap. The other drivers followed the winner of the Belgian Grand Prix, with the exception of De Beaufort. De Beaufort, remembering his penalty at Rouen last year, complied with the regulations and completed his slow-down lap. Only six of the twenty single-seaters from the grid reached the finish line, but the most surprising news of this race weekend was that, despite a cloudburst and terrible accidents, no one was hurt.
So, another English success in the second round of the World Championship. Jim Clark, on board of his Lotus Climax, seems unreachable this year. After losing last year's world championship by a few points, the Scottish driver seems to want to play for everything this year. Behind him, Bruce McLaren finished second, five minutes behind. The weekend was not so positive for the Ferraris, both forced to retire, as well as the new A.T.S. Clark recorded a mediocre average due to the heavy rainstorm that hit the track in the final part of the race, making the already difficult course extremely dangerous.
The Scottish driver completed the thirty-two laps of the race in 2 hours 27'47"6, for a total of 451.2 kilometres, at an average speed of 183.126 km/h. What immediately catches the eye is the Scottish driver's apparently dishevelled style, with his arms crossed over the steering wheel: but it is the very small diameter of the latter, adopted on all current Formula 1 cars, that forces drivers to make such manoeuvres in tight bends. Thanks not only to the driver but to the whole team, this year Lotus returned to the track showing immediately significant improvements both in terms of speed and reliability, on winding tracks like Monaco as well as on high speed tracks like Francorchamps. The car designed by Chapman this year seems almost perfect.
The expectations of the weekend were totally focused on the Clark-Hill fight, the performance of the Ferraris and the new A.T.S., in the hands of Baghetti and Phil Hill. Unfortunately, the spectators' and technicians' expectations were disappointed due to multiple malfunctions that forced both teams' drivers to retire. For Ferrari the retirement was slightly more bitter, as both drivers were fighting for third position. As far as the Scuderia Ferrari was concerned, despite the visible technical improvements compared to the previous year, the two drivers Mairesse and Surtees seemed to lack the flair to position them in the fight for the championship. The technical situation of Ferrari will probably become clearer when the new engines will be mounted, but it is necessary to be quick because the English teams continue to grow too.
Graham Hill, on the first row together with the Brabham driven by the American Dan Gurney, after a moment's hesitation saw his position taken away by an unstoppable Clark, and it was clear from the beginning the Scottish driver's will to set his own pace in this race. Not only the speed: Clark was able to keep an excellent control of his single-seater even in almost impossible track conditions, gaining constantly and at each lap the advantage over Hill. The Belgian Grand Prix marked the debut not only of the A.T.S. but of the Scirocco-B.R.M too, driven by the American Tony Settember, who finished the race in last position. For the young Italian team, Hill's retirement came as a cold shower on lap 17, and marked the most decisive twist of this Belgian Grand Prix. In any case, the next appointment is at Zandvoort, in a fortnight's time, for the Dutch Grand Prix, where we will be able to appreciate any evolutions of drivers and cars.