The French Grand Prix will take place on Sunday 30th June 1963 at Reims-Gueux circuit, in the Champagne region after last year’s short parenthesis in which we’ve seen it dispute the GP at Rouen circuit. The qualifying, as usual in this circuit, will begin on Wednesday 26th June1963 to continue on afternoons and evenings of Thursday 27th June and Friday 28th June 1963; but they won’t practice on Saturday, the day before the race. This is a consolidated and accepted practice, but the Holland Grand Prix, which took place on Sunday 23rd June 1963, give a little time to the teams to get organized. A few years ago the FIA established a rule with which imposed that between Grand Prixes there were at least a free week-end; however, it was the FIA itself that allowed the Holland Grand Prix, disputed at Zandvoort, to be just a week before the French Grand Prix.
The French Grand Prix is an important event and almost all the teams count to participate, but at the last minute the team ATS is forced to retire entry of both of its cars. Even though they have spent the day after Zandvoort, and improved their performances from the point of view of the grip and control, the cars have not enough power against their rivals. And being Reims a circuit where power is fundamental, the team has wisely opted to go back to Bologna to keep working in the engines. The British Motor Racing team also spends some time in Zandvoort, the Monday after the Holland Grand Prix, to test the new car, doing experiments on the suspensions and control of the vehicle, allowing Graham Hill to gain confidence with the different driving technique asked by this new and different car. The results are so encouraging that Graham Hill arrives at the Reims circuit with the new car, while the older is designated as test-car.
Richie Ginter will use the same car he used in Holland, again with the 6 gears gearbox which ended up being more than worthy of the situation. Having the B.R.M. three officina cars, the 1962 car is given to the Scuderia Centro Sud to let Lorenzo Bandini try it. The Brabham team seems in excellent shape after the encouraging performance in Zandvoort, Jack Brabham and Dan Gurney will use their cars without any change. Dan Gurney’s car has been repaired and both cars have been improved where necessary. The team Cooper opted to use the same cars already used by McLaren and Maggs in Zandvoort, with the openings on the nose a little bit widen in the eventuality that this was the cause of the overheating of the engine occurred on Maggs’ car; however it has been found an internal hydraulic loss. Both the Ferraris of John Surtees and Ludovico Scarfiotti are the same used in Holland, in exception for the bonnet in which they added air inlets which stick out of both sides of the cockpit.
The entry tubes are surrounded by aluminum collector plates, so that all the air taken in will then be pushed down. Scuderia Ferrari’s techniques believe that the power increase can widely compensate the aerodynamic resistance, but since they are 14 horses more, the answer will be given by the track. The team Lotus comes directly from Holland with the same three cars, in exception for some changes on the engines. Jim Clark will drive his car with ZF gearbox, Trevor Taylor his car with Colotti gearbox, while the previous car will be driven by Peter Arundel. All three cars are Lotus 25 with V8 Coventry-Climax engines, of these the first two are the last short stroke 8 cylinders injection engines. Team Parnell looks in shape: Reg Parnell takes a Lotus Climax V8 given to Maurice Trintignant, and a Lola-Climax V8 for Chris Amon. Tim Parnell also brings an additional Lotus-B.R.M. V8, with an injection engine and a six gears Mark II Colotti gearbox, to let Masten Gregory drive it.
British Racing Partnership also stays in Holland in order to develop the BRP stressed skin car for Ireland, the eight cylinders (V8) Lotus-B.R.M. for Jim Hall, and the Lotus-B.R.M. V8 for JO Siffert. Scirocco- Powell team enrolls two Scirocco-B.R.M. cars, one for Tony Settember and one for Ian Burgess, but just one car will be ready to on track, and it will be driven by Settember. Team Walker has again both cars put in place in order to let Jo Bonnier choose one of them. Filipinetti buys a new Lotus 24 with B.R.M. V8 engine and six gears Mark II Colotti gearbox, which he enrolls to be driven by the American driver Phil Hill. Originally, this entry was thought for Ludovico Scarfiotti, but Enzo Ferrari, at the last minute, was able to hire the Italian driver to substitute the injured Willy Mairesse. Filipinetti, afterwards has found an agreement with ATS’ Billi to borrow Phil Hill, since the team from Bologna had to retire. Many people, instead, were working to let Masten Gregory tests the new team Filipinetti car. At the end the misunderstanding was cleared and so it will be Phil Hill the one who will test the new car of the Swiss team.
Beyond the French Formula 1 Grand Prix, during the weekend there are in program a race for GT Prototype cars, GT cars and Sport cars, and a race for Formula Junior cars; most of the enrollments for this last race come from the great Junior festival of Rouen which took place the weekend before. Formula Junior teams has little time for maintenance and reparation as well. These two groups of cars practice with covered and cloudy sky, with occasional showers; very different conditions to the ones we were used to here in Reims. The Scuderia Ferrari takes one his Le Mans 250P prototype with back engine, in which is build a V12 4 liters engine, so it’s right to refer to the car as a 330P, to distinguish it from the 330/LM which is the Ferrari 4 liters coupé. This car is expected to be as fast as a Formula 1 car and it can also go near the absolute record of the circuit still hold by Jack Brabham with a 2.5 liters Cooper-Climax in 1960 with a time of 2'17"5, even though he has done a time of 2'16"8 in qualification that year, which is the fastest lap time ever done at Reims circuit, with an average speed of 218.467 km/h.
However, we can catch a glimpse of moodiness in Ferrari, late in the preparation for the qualification. When Mike Parkes takes out of his garage the Ferrari 330 P to begin the practice, the session for the prototype cars is almost ended and the Juniors are about to start their qualification. At 6:30 p.m. of Wednesday 26th June 1963, at the circuit of Reims-Gueux, the qualification for the grid at the French Grand Prix starts. Surprisingly, even though the little time to prepare the cars, almost all the teams are ready to begin the practices. Teams Cooper, Lotus, B.R.M. and Ferrari are ready and begin the practices as soon as the circuit is free. Jo Bonnier is ready to drive the 1962 Cooper for the Rob Walker Racing Team; the number on his car is #44. The timekeepers record a lap time with an average speed of over 111.11 km/h, but it will be found out later that there was still a Formula Junior driver on track, whose stayed over the allowed time for qualification of his category and his number was also #44.
In the B.R.M. garage there is a mess, because Graham Hill had just begun his first lap with the new car, when the lateral electrode of the K.L.G. candles fell going under the valve, forcing the British driver to end the practice for this day. The team Lotus, differently than usual, seems in good shape and Jim Clark finds the pace right away; in fact it doesn’t take him long to go down Graham Hill’s record of 2'24"0 done during the practices of the 1962 French Grand Prix. As if it wasn’t enough, Clark can even improve his personal last year’s best time in practice, taking it from 2'22"9 to 2'21"0, an incredible time of reference and target to achieve for all the other teams. Bruce McLaren has to face the problem to the gear shifter plate again which, while he was in third place following Clark and Hill, forced him to retire the car during the Holland Grand Prix, disputed in Zandvoort.
Tony Maggs registers the fastest lap for team Cooper, finishing right in front of Bruce McLaren. During the practices Jo Siffert is the author of great progresses, and Jo Bonnier with the Cooper also, improves lap after lap, registering times around 2'26"0. Peter Arundell does a quick test drive on the Lotus’ T-car, but the organizers contest him the entry at the competition, because he is enrolled at the Formula Junior race and the FIA regulations impede to a driver to compete in both categories. Scuderia Ferrari, despite the develop of the exhaust systems and the growing number of laps, isn’t able to preoccupy the team Lotus, which with his second driver Trevor Taylor seem very competitive, doing the second fastest lap (after Jim Clark’s) with a time of 2'23"7, with an interval of 0.27 seconds from the teammate.
John Surtees tries both Scuderia Ferrari cars, even registering a better lap time with Ludovico Scarfiotti’s car. A little before the end of the practice session, with a dry but not hot track, arrives at the circuit the new team Filipinetti’s Lotus-B.R.M. V8, and just to verify that it was ready before it was officially delivered, Colin Chapman lets his first driver try it. The car, however, has some problems and Jim Clark does just one slow lap before he goes back to the garage, with the team Lotus mechanics to bring it away to have the possibility to prepare it for the start of the race. At the Reims circuit not everyone agrees; some say that the driver style of driving doesn’t influence the speed of the lap and that everything depends on the car. This would reduce everything to the engine and its setup. However, today all the best Formula 1 cars use Dunlop tires, and so they all have the same steering force and the same control in turn, and since they use patented disk brakes there shouldn’t be brake difference.
But to the ones wondering why not every car which have a Coventry-Climax V8 or B.R.M. V9 engine register the same lap times, o why Surtees and Scarfiotti do different lap times with the same car, the most suitable answer seems to be that it’s note the engine that makes the difference but the driver. The simple answer to all this for the ones who say that the Scottish is an exceptional driver, is Jim Clark. Thursday is a quite dull day for the usual weather in Reims at the end of June. It rains a lot and it keeps raining at 4 p.m. when the practice of the Prototypes begins. Arrive to the paddock, which is usually composed by green grass fields, turns into insidious driving practice in a sea of mud, and it’s difficult to believe we are in Reims where, usually, it’s so hot that the drivers have to lay down for a while after the race.
The practices in the evening turn out to be a completely waste of time, in exception for the completely atmosphere of uncertainty around the French Grand Prix. A lot of teams decide to study some strategies in the event of a wet race on Sunday. Scuderia Ferrari prepares the 330 P in time, and Parkes does a lap of the circuit giving the impression that he is at the helm of a speedboat because of the way he divides the water and the mud on track, doing a great lap time anyway: 2'31"2, which for some Formula 1 cars would be a great lap time even on the dry. Parkes is almost seven seconds quicker than Jo Schlesser whose driving an Aston Martin 4 liters Prototype, the 215 coupé which raced in Le Mans. Once the time is over for the prototype cars, it’s. time for the Formula Junior cars which literally wallow in the rain.
At 6:00 p.m., the Formula 1 cars are taken to the boxes to take part to the second day of practices, which take place under a light rain and a damp asphalt. Team Cooper is present, but just to see the competitor’s practice, since they left the cars in the boxes. Team Lotus’ cars don’t stand out on the circuit, but after all they don’t have any reason to replicate the same times done on Wednesday. Otherwise, team Brabham show up at the Reims circuit, just like British Racing Partnership team and team Parnell, which have all their cars in position, ready to start the practices. Jo Bonnier is driving again the Cooper 1962 and Tony Settember is in the only Scirocco-B.R.M., while Siffert doesn’t go on track. Neither the new Lotus Filipinetti nor the B.R.M. are ready for Bandini. Obviously fast times are not registered, with the rain which continues to loom. However, it is John Surtees the one who did the best time during the practices on Thursday, with a time of 2'33"8 at an average speed of just 194 km/h. a slow time for Reims standard.
Just a little before the time for quali comes to an end on Thursday, Ludovico Scarfiotti proceeds to a decent speed and regular pace, bur at some point the tires of his car slip, going straight on the fast Muizon corner. The Ferrari, even because of the slippery asphalt, goes out of the track, and impact on a telegraph pole facing serious damages. An applause goes to the medical equipe which quickly aid Ludovico Scarfiotti and take him to the Maison Blanche Reims hospital. Despite some indiscretions said Ludovico Scarfiotti had a leg seriously injured, but then the official Scuderia Ferrari representative declares to the media that Scarfiotti has just some bruises and scratches on the shoulders, according to the report of the x-rays. It’s a relief not only for Ferrari’s tifosi, but also for the rivals and for the sympathizers’ fans of the other teams, since Scarfiotti, despite being a Formula 1 rookie, was able to let the others appreciate him not only for his driving skills, but also for his elegant manners, the authenticity and the humility.
Ludovico Scarfiotti owes his debut in Formula 1 not only to Willy Mairesse accident, but mostly to his recent win in the Twenty-four Hours ho Le Mans paired with Lorenzo Bandini. Without any doubt Scarfiotti curriculum is bombastic and his entry in Formula 1 can’t be questioned: from the Mountain European Champion title in 1962 to the win at the 12 Hours of Sebring paired with Surtees, his career is constantly rising. After only five years from the mortal accident in which Luigi Musso passed, in the same Reims circuit, which has always been characterized by high speed, the Ferrari fans’ anxiety is absolutely understandable. During the Friday, the last day of qualification, it seems that the usual climate of Reims peeps out and the last session of the quali could be done on dry asphalt, even though there is no trace of the summer heat we almost always found in this place.
Mike Parks is able to fully demonstrate the potential of the Ferrari 330P and does his fastest lap in 2'20"2; almost all the pilots can fully push and register fast times. Mike Becwith is extraordinary, with a Lotus 23 with a 1600 cc cylinders engine, double overhead cam, registers a time of 2'31"8, with the little sport car going over 240 km/h in the down of the Thillois hill. All Formula Junior drivers have the last opportunity to register some good times and to gain a good position for the race on Sunday. After them Formula 1 drivers are ready to do their last quali session. All the contestants are present, except for the injured Scarfiotti, still aching for the accident of the day before. Graham Hill has a new engine in his B.R.M., and has the intention to set some good times, while Phil Hill is still trying to understand his new Lotus-B.R.M. V8.
The Lotus team is happy of his first day of quali, to the point that they lose some time to test of the Formula Junior cars, but the organizers don’t let Clark try the Junior car between the others Grand Prix cars. Likewise they don’t let Arundell do some other laps in the Formula 1 supply car, however this one can still complete a lap before he gets noticed. Just to complete the chaos, Clark can also complete a few laps in the Formula Junior car, doing an absolutely respectable time of 2'24"0. Masten Gregory uses Micke Thompson’s car to better comprehend the Parnell Lotus-B.R.M. V8 characteristics, while the mechanics of the team Scirocco cannot complete the car in time to participate to the last session of practice and so Burgess has to assist as a spectator.
Jack Brabham is busy resolving some power issues on his car, and Ireland asks to have much more power in the back of his BRP. Bonnier goes on track with his new Walker Cooper, with a flat crankshaft, while Gurney tries with a similar powertrain he has in his Brabham car. Clark, after a pair of laps, improve his time taking it from 2'21"0 to 2'20"8, followed by 2'20"4, ending with an incredible time of 2'20"2. The same time done by Mile Parkes in the Ferrari Prototipo GT. Graham Hill car has a malfunction on the gear caused by some problems at the hydraulic cylinder; in fact, the clutch pedal remains down when the driver arrives at the Thillois turn, and so he begins to push the car in the pits to get it repaired, and at the same time he begins to practice with the reserve car. The mechanics stick Hill’s #2 on the forklift and take it at the area of the boxes to meet him, while another mechanic run to help him with the damaged 1963 car.
Graham Hill is quickly back on track with a car in good conditions, while in the meantime, the clutch mechanism gets repaired; after, the British driver goes to the box to go back on his repaired car again. B.R.M. team has some more troubles because they presented the 1962 car with two lateral red strips to let Bandini drive it; unfortunately the car destined to the Italian drive doesn’t start, and consequently an intense work is done in the garage. In the meantime, Bandini tries to remain calm and staid, while he sees his opportunity to do five laps as requested by the regulations vanish. John Surtees, on a long nose Ferrari, is working to go faster and improve his times, while Jim Clark completes his first laps with a new more aerodynamic windscreen. But before the end of the qualification, the Scottish opts for the usual one. Clark also tries new back tires, instead of the 6.5 inches, but after some bad results he gets them changed again.
As soon as the quali are about to finish there is nobody with enough close times to Jim Clark, since the Scottish is going 1.5 seconds faster than Dan Gurney, who is in second place. Determined to keep his status World Champion, Graham Hill hasn’t already said his last word, and as soon as the cool temperature of the night come down the British driver goes faster and faster on board of his new B.R.M. When the quali are coming to an end, Graham Hill does a lap time of 2'21"0, but at the end ha able to finish with an incredible 2'20"9; so, just him and Clark have a time under the 2'21"0. This is not a news, considering that these drivers have many times demonstrate that they are on another lever that the others, like in Spa. At the last minute, with great surprise and enthusiasm of a resigned and heartbroken Bandini, his car is ready just in time, and the Italian driver is able to complete the minimum number of laps requested to be qualified.
For the teams than have to prepare the car for the race, the whole Sunday is available. Sunday will be a day full of events, given that there will be the race of: prototype cars, GT and sport cars. These events should happen during the morning, with the Grand Prix right after lunch and the Formula Junior race after the Grand Prix. A lot of people arrive at the circuit early in the morning, in good time, but the most important thing is that, finally, the rain has stopped; however, the field and the paddock are still extremely wet, even though the Automobile Club of Champagne spent a great amount to put down sand and gravel nearly everywhere, to absorb the mud. The Prototype, GT and sport cars’ races will be interesting, with Parkes in the Ferrari 330P, Schlesser in the 4 liters Aston Martin Type 215, Simon in the 5 liters Maserati V8 which drove in Le Mans, Salvadori in the super-fast 2,7 liters Cooper Monaco with Climax engine which Tommy Atkins drove, Abate with the three liters Ferrari Testa Rossa in which there is a front Ferrari del Conte Volpi engine, numerous Ferrari GTO, including the new one of David Piper, and a lot of other little sport cars such as the Lotus 23, Elva and Brabham.
However, the race will almost be a representation, since the great Ferrari has malfunction on the clutch right after the start and Simon goes out of track in the fields dragging Piper with him; despite these inconveniences, they are both able to go back racing. Schlesser destroys his Aston Martin, Salvadori the Cooper prototype, Simon the great Maserati and is spontaneous asking who would have finished the twenty-five laps of the race. Casner in the old Maserati Type 61 is in second place right after the old Abate’s Testa Rossa, when the Maserati stops and Gardner is second behind Abate, since when the Brabham’s sport car has an issue. The 330 Ferrari disappears from the start of the race, going really slow with a slipping clutch; Parkes can make it work for a great part of a lap, but when the race gets to the heart, he pushes the car straight at the Thillois turn in the box.
This in flagrance of violation of the FIA regulations, which prohibit to any car to be pushed while on track; this rule has been confirmed in the regulations for this race also. Despite this, the Ferrari mechanics can repair the clutch and Parkes car go back racing, even though he is behind of few laps. The stewards, to justify this choice, say that the Ferrari engine was still on even when the driver was outside the car, and was just slouching and with a lower gear with a slipping clutch; nevertheless, it looks like Parkes was doing a great effort and was sweating a lot while walking alongside his car, in a way that would let us think that he was giving the car most of the driving force by his physical force. In the meantime, Abate drives in a serene way and wins the race, with Prothroe in second place driving a Jaguar E-type with the special hood in excellent conditions. Bianchi and Noblet fight until the last lap for the third position with their Ferrari GTO, but the Belgian can precede, and so can defeat, the French.
Jim Clark, is the leader of the drivers’ championship after his win second in Holland, and is currently looking forward to his third consecutive win. And it’s precisely the flying Scottish the enemy to beat for the Ferrari cars which are fast, resistant and have a reliability almost as good as the Lotus cars have. If Clark is the man to beat, also the current champion Graham Hill doesn’t seem to be willing to get the title took away from him by the Scottish and he demonstrates that he is still dangerously in competition. The Ferrari is not living a great moment, with his second driver Willy Mairesse, who got injured during the 24 Hours of Le Mans and replaced by Ludovico Scarfiotti, an excellent driver but still a rookie in Formula 1. The Italian driver is also coming off a serious accident during the qualification session of Thursday 27th June 1963, in which he has destroyed his car also. The team from Maranello would for sure need a confidence boost.
And so all the hope is put on John Surtees, who seems to be in excellent shape and whose specialty are precisely the fast circuits like Reims. It is not to underestimate that Surtees cannot count on a team strategy and his only goal is not to lose Jim Clark, without however starting his chasing right away, precisely because he can only count on his own strengths. Interesting, in this context, is the opinion of Lorenzo Bandini, winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Scarfiotti on a Ferrari 250 P and who’s in Formula 1 is driving for the Scuderia Centro-Sud B.R.M., about the moral importance that a Scuderia Ferrari win could have on Lotus and on Clark. Not just because after the win they could say goodbye to the International Drivers and Constructors’ Championship, but because allowing a hat trick to Clark would mean a surrender to the unquestionable superiority of the couple Clark-Lotus.
Beyond Surtees and Graham Hill, determined not to be more far away from the first Lotus driver, the drivers to check are McLaren on a Cooper, Ginther on a B.R.M., Brabham and Gurney on Brabham and Phill Hill exceptionally on a B.R.M. (because the ATS had to retire, in need of a careful inspection). All eyes on the Italian youngster Lorenzo Bandini, driving a B.R.M. of the Scuderia Centro-Sud. At this point all is ready for the start of the 49th Grand Prix of the French Automobile Club. Graham Hill, differently to what was declared by the British Popular Press a week before, is driving his new B.R.M. car with a reinforced liner, Ginther is driving his new 1962 car, with a 1963 engine and clutch; and the two Brabhams are ready to fight, as well as the Coopers with McLaren’s selector, which had some issues, repaired just in time for the race.
Just Ferrari mounted some bulkheads to convey air in the engine. Clark’s Lotus is equipped with an old type of windscreen just not to risk that it could break on Reims circuit. Taylor is driving a car with Colotti clutch, while the third Lotus has been retired. Siffert’s mechanics are doing a last-minute reparation at the fuel tank of his Lotus. Bonnier’s mechanics pour Wondarweld in the cooling system of the Cooper 1962, which doesn’t look like a good start. Everybody else is ready and, before they line on the grid for the start, they can do some laps to warm up the tires and get more confidence with the car and with the circuit. The race will last fifty-three laps, on a track that is long about 8.301 kilometers; so the drivers will drive along about 440 kilometers in total.
The current record on distance is owned by Bruce McLaren on Cooper, with an average of 203.302 km/h; the record on a lap is owned by Graham Hill on B.R.M. with a time of 2’24’’0 and an average speed of 207.543 km/h. Will Jim Clark be able to equal or overcome one of these two records? The tanks are full to the brim, but some teams keep some cans ready just in case their calculations are incorrect. In first row we have in order: Clark (Lotus with Coventry-Climax V8 engine and cross exhaust system), Graham Hill (V8 engine B.R.M.), Gurney (Brabham with Coventry-Climax Mark II A with flat crankshaft and separated exhaust systems), in second row Surtees and Brabham, in third McLaren, Taylor and Maggs, in fourth row Ireland and Siffert, in fifth Bonnier, Ginther and Phil Hill, in sixth row next to each other Trintignant and Amon, in seventh Hall, Gregory and Settember; close the grid in last place Lorenzo Bandini with the Scuderia Centro-Sud B.R.M.
Raymond Roche, the race director, gives the signal to everyone- except for the drivers- to clear the track and to start their engines. Less than a minute before the start, Graham Hill, in second place on the grid, between Clark and Gurney, raise his arm sign that his engine didn’t start. Following the regulations the World Champion should have stayed in the middle of the grid, and the other drivers should have avoided him; after all the other drivers overtook him his mechanics could have pushed the car back in the box, restart it thanks to the started motor and just after that he could have go back racing. However, Roche decides to interpret the regulations in a different way and orders to the B.R.M. mechanics to push Graham Hill’s car and put it back on position in the middle of the first row. While the atmosphere is full of confusion, smoke and noise, Roche kick start with the flag and goes away from the track in order to not to be swept up by the cars.
Looking better, Roche holds a red flag all the time, it means that all the nineteen drivers except for two on the grid, have broken an international rule, since the red flag match to the order to stop immediately and without hesitation. However, the only two drivers who didn’t infringe the order of the race director, Masten Gregory and Phil Hill had to stop because of engine issues. Roche, interpreting the FIA regulations with creativity again, let Masten Gregory and Phil Hill to be pushed until the start of the engine as well and so they are able to follow the starting group, with Jim Clark leading, despite Gurney was on his tail and force him to push on the accelerator. Jim Clark, since the first lap looks like he wants to win in France, unless unexpected mechanics issues.
The battle for the second place in expected to be more engaging with Gurney (Brabham), Hill (B.R.M.), Brabham (Brabham) and Ginther (B.R.M.) which are an unpredictable group in which one overtake the other, just to be overtaken again; it is almost impossible to remember all the overtakes that happen, because in the time needed to write it down the order has already changed again. In an almost incredible way Jim Clark is able to create a distance of 4 seconds from the rest of the group after just two laps. In his second lap the Scottish driver runs in 2'21"0 (average speed 221.061 km/h) with new tires and above all, more incredible thing, with a full tank, taking in this way form Graham Hill the record for the fastest lap in this circuit before done in 2'24"0 (average speed 207543 km/h).
Since the third lap the group is already divided: the group fighting for the second place is formed, in the order, by Ginther, Gurney, Brabham, Surtees, McLaren, Taylor, Graham Hill e Maggs, and after these a bit far there is the second group formed by Ireland, Masten Gregory e Phil Hill, started after all, closing the cheque. The view in Clark’s rear mirrors should be, without any doubts, the most interesting, since there are eight cars in a compact group, each of which lead the group alternately, and sometimes even three cars are side by side, and no driver is willing to give the position to the rival. Unlikely these fast-paced overtakes will not last long because Richie Ginter in the first to retire, because a stone punctures the radiator of his car during the fourth lap. After three laps is the turn of Gurney to go back to the box because of a broken gear shift. In the meantime, Graham Hill and Tony Maggs start to show signs of fatigue, plodding a not being able to maintain the race pace.
Dan Gurney is about to go back racing with a new gear shift in his Brabham, right after Jim Clark. The American driver restarts the race in the same position he stopped, but with a lap late. Meanwhile Clark continues his race almost without any disturb, and after ten laps he is leading with 15 seconds of vantage. In the meantime, Surtees takes the lead of the second group, but not for a very long time, since he must drag himself to the box because of an obstruction of the fuel pump, with the hope to be able to go back in the race, even though outside the battle for the top positions. Clark does another fastest lap of 2'21"6 during the twelfth lap, but after a little while the engine starts to do strange and alarming sounds; the driver understands that he is starting to lose speed, and so he can’t maintain the same lap pace.
Taylor’s Lotus is starting to give sings of cracking and releasing smoke from the back of the car as well; maybe due to a leaking of oil, which dissipates on one of the header pipes. Jack Brabham is ready to take advantages from Taylor’s problems. After, with the Australian driver steadily in second place, the heart-pounding overtakes of the group fighting for the second place seems to be just a remote memory. Jack Brabham and Dan Gurney proceed together, but with the difference of a lap, and are trying to help each other with the concession/ exploitation of the tow. Unfortunately, the team strategy doesn’t work as hoped, since their engines have different characteristics so what they hardly gain on the straights they lose on acceleration, with the result that they run more slowly than what they would separately. This is a good advantage for Jim Clark, whose engine is no more able to do maximum speed laps and his advantage goes down to 12 seconds.
The Brabham- Gurney deadlock is a great news for Taylor also who takes advantage to close the gap with the two Brabhams, to the point that Jack Brabham decides to leave Gurney and go on by himself, a little before he is overtaken by the Lotus’ driver. A worried Jim Clark, now, lap after lap sees all his hardly gain advantage vanish, but he tries everything to maintain the same speed in the laps. After some attempts, in fact, he finds that his times improve if he changes gear at 8000 rpm instead at 9200-9500 rpm, since to a lower engine speed it still works well. In a short time, the Scottish driver comes up with a series of actions to obtain the best from his compromised engine and starts to get away from Jack Brabham again. All these happen while in the box everyone works frantically, because Bonnier often goes back with the new Team Walker’s Cooper. Phil Hill and Jim Hall have the same fate, both driving a Lotus 24 B.R.M. This, while Tony Settember’s race ends prematurely, during the fifth lap, because of a broken back tire bearing.
At the half of the race Clark maintains the lead with an advantage of 15 seconds, but he’s not happy about the sounds of the engine and of the feelings the car is giving him and he is not sure he’ll be able to finish the race. Taylor is helping him, as a great teammate, and now he is wheal to wheal with Jack Brabham. The British is about to take the second position, while Bruce McLaren is in fourth position, followed a little behind him by Graham Hill in his new B.R.M. who has Maggs in his tow all the time. In seventh place there is Jo Siffert with his new Lotus- B.R.M. doing great; the Swiss driver has not already been lapped by Jim Clark, who is comfortably leading the group, including Bandini (B.R.M.), Amon (Lola- Climax V8) and Trintignant (Lotus- Climax V8), involved in a close battle. Innes Ireland is forced to do a pit stop because of a gearbox issue so he has to say goodbye to all the eventual dreams of glory, being forced to race without the first and second gears.
At the end of the thirtieth lap it starts raining. This, obviously is an advantage to Jim Clark’s driving style, because the rain forces all the drivers to slow down. Thanks to this, even though the Scottish have slowed down in a consistent way because of the issues at the engine, his margin starts to grow again. At the same time Taylor starts to slow down more than needed, not because of the leaking of the oil like we could have thought, but because the alternator is not working properly, and the battery is running low. The British driver goes back to the box, his battery is changed and goes back racing, but he won’t help Jim Clark in team strategy because he is a lot behind, among the last. Bruce McLaren engine’s has a loss of power as well, and the New Zealander driver is caught by Graham Hill and Tony Maggs. At the thirty-seventh lap the rain is still falling at a constant rhythm and nobody is really comfortable, bun Jim Clark is benefiting from it the most.
The Scottish, in fact, is 27 seconds away from Brabham, and despite of all the technique inconveniences he is trying to maintain the gap hardly conquered, more than increasing it risking to finish the race prematurely because of an engine issue. At the end of the fortieth lap, Jim Clark has an advantage of 20 seconds on Brabham, who also have a great gap from Graham Hill and Bruce McLaren. The last two, next to each other, are fighting for the third position; behind them a little more far away follows Tony Maggs. The other contestants have all been lapped by Jim Clark. Dan Gurney is the leader of the lapped ones, with Jo Siffert a little behind him. The Swiss driver has done a great race by now, solid, regular and without any stop at the box. While the race goes on, the stewards discuss about the chaos at the start of the race and decide that they will give a one-minute penalty to all the three cars that have been pushed.
This decision, by most accounts, it’s defined indulgent to say at least, since it’s an infringement of a rule of the FIA regulations. The three teams involved in this decision are directly informed, unlike the other teams which find it out in a non-official way. This is a good news mostly for the team Cooper, because at this point it is no more necessary that Bruce McLaren fights with Graham Hill on track and, provided that Tony Maggs keeps an eye on the B.R.M., the two Coopers will have the third and fourth position for sure. While the decision of the stewards in discussed and criticized, Jack Brabham suddenly stoops with the engine off at Muizon turn. It will take a bit to the Australian driver to understand that it the electric part was simply disconnected. When he restarts, he is in sixth position, a lap behind Jim Clark; his second place which seemed safe, is vanished at this point.
This means that Graham Hill’s B.R.M. is virtually in second place on track, but it is actually behind the two Coopers, if we count the one-minute penalty inflicted for the pushing start. After two laps, it is said that Bruce McLaren has not completed the lap and it is said that he had to stop, but then he proceeds again for a little distance and after he has to stop definitely. The progressive loss of power became total because of an issue of the transistor and to the Lucas ignition system. As soon as the engine is cold the mechanics try to turn it on again, but the car stops after a few meters and so Bruce McLaren is out of the race at the end of the forty-third lap, when there are just ten to go. Fortunately, it stops raining and a shy sun starts to come out between the clouds, but Clark is strongly leading and, engine allowing, it’s almost mathematically impossible for him to nit win his third consecutive Grand Prix.
In the final laps the Scottish slows down the pace, giving the chance to Jack Brabham and Dan Gurney to get unlapped, partly to preserve the engine exceedingly compromised, partly, maybe, to nourish his fame of gentleman driver. Graham Hill is behind him on track, but as we know, if we count the additional one-minute penalty, Tony Maggs is actually in second place and Graham Hill is third, even though Jack Brabham is going really fast and overtake Dan Gurney taking the fourth place. After that, the Australian driver rapidly gains on Graham Hill and Tony Maggs. At only five laps to the checkered flag, the new B.R.M. driven by Graham Hill starts to have a slip at the clutch which is considerably slowing it down, and it’s clear that in just a few meters Maggs will reach him to take his second place. By the way the gap between Graham Hill’s B.R.M. which is heavily compromised and the efficient Jack Brabham’s Brabham Climax V8 is dangerously reducing.
At one lap to go, Tony Maggs overtakes the B.R.M. which proceeds slowly. Roche, at the end, waves the checkered flag a long time after Jim Clark passes the finish line, final act of a questionable race direction which will also be questioned. All eyes om the gap between the arrival of Graham Hill, the B.R.M. conquer the third position for 1.3 seconds, or we can also say that Jack Brabham’s Brabham lose it for 1.3 seconds. Jim Clark is clearly happy while completing his slow lap and he is welcomed by the Team Lotus, where there is the typical party atmosphere for the third consecutive win: the Belgian Grand Prix, the Holland Grand Prix and now the French Grand Prix. It cannot be unnoticed that the Scottish driver leaded all three races from the first corner to the finish line.
This race, that from the outside could seem an easy race, it actually was one of the most insidious and complicated races for Jim Clark, since he had to constantly work to take the most from his car and especially from an almost dead engine, dosing it without making it excessively under effort to avoid breaking it more. Again he proved his mastery, of his talent, of the deep knowledge of his car and its delicate mechanism, of his control on the wet, of his nerve and of his fair play (when, for example, he let Jack Brabham and Dan Gurney unlapped themselves). After the French Grand Prix the drivers’ standing sees leading Jim Clark with 27 points, in second place Graham Hill with 13 points, Dan Gurney in third with 12 points, Richie Ginter with 11 points, Bruce McLaren in fifth with 10 points, Tony Maggs whose with his second place conquered in Reims follows with 8 points in total, and in the end John Surtees, who had to stop prematurely because of an issue at the fuel pump at this track, has 7 points.
It is clear that Jim Clark is considerably detached from the other drivers, much closer to each other’s; this thanks to his talent and to the constructor Colin Chapman who designed a reliable car like the Lotus 25, which is defined as a masterpiece by many. The question that reporters, journalists and drivers themselves arise is: who or what will stop Clark to his ride to the World Championship? We are already in the middle of the championship, four out of nine races have already been disputed: the second, third and fourth (Belgian Grand Prix, Holland Grand Prix and French Grand Prix) have been dominated since the first turn and won by Jim Clark. In the first race of the season, in Monaco, Graham Hill did a spectacular test in fact he won, Jim Clark just because of a brake failure he could not go over the eighth place. At this point Jim Clark is compared to Juan Manuel Fangio. However, many complain about the lack of competitiveness of B.R.M. and Cooper.
The French Grand Prix is almost like an already seen Grand Prix, Clark leaves right after the first meters, progressively moves away, lap after lap he gains a consistent advantage, not caring about the efforts more or less resigned of his contenders, does the fastest lap grinding historic records and cross the finish line ready to receive a laurel crown again. The thing that amazed the most wasn’t his artistry with which Clark was able to push his car with a damaged engine to the win, adapting, listening and being at the service of his car and managed to bring the maximum from it, but his chronometric clarity and regularity also, considering that since the arrival of the rain hie times were almost consistent of 2'23"0- 2'24"0 per laps. John Surtees fought with courage, but despite his efforts il looks like the pair Clark- Lotus is a step above. If the Drivers and Constructors’ World Championship is not already mathematically given to Jim Clark and to team Lotus, somebody is already saying that for Scuderia Ferrari everything is over for this year.
Carlo Maria Abate cheered up the souls in Ferrari with the unexpected win in the International Trophy of speed reserved to the Sport cars and Gran Turismo Prototype, which took place before the French Grand Prix. For Abate, who had bad luck during the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in which he went out of the track and lost a third, if not even of a second place overall, this has been the redemption race. The day before the competition the favored were: Parkes, Salvadori, Simon e Schlesser, but in a race signed by a lot of technical failures, almost in silence and quietly, Carlo Maria Abate conquered the win with his Ferrari 250 TRI. It was a fought race, and Abate did an excellent race, intelligent and prudent, going in an average speed of 197.686 km/h. after this race nobody will doubt the authentic style of the Italian driver. All eyes in Ferrari were on Mike Parkes who was driving the Ferrari Prototipo 4000 cc which won in Le Mans with the pair Scarfiotti- Bandini, but in which there were a 12 cylinders and four liters engine.
Honestly, during the qualification session, Parkes’ Ferrari did incredible lap times especially for a Prototype, and has equaled the 213 km/h of average speed of Jim Clark’s Lotus 25. Everything gave hope until the starter dropped the flag and the Ferrari is blocked because the clutch collapsed. The man of the moment doesn’t seem to be Jim Clark, but Colin Chapman, defined as a wizard of racing cars. If most of the Lotus’ successes are owed to Jim Clark, who has been defined by Stirling Moss in his recent autobiography- All about my life- the best driver in these days, we have to recognize that the biggest credit for Lotus’ success has to go to Colin Chapman: Lotus’ owner, director and designer. Chapman is just 34 years old, but it could be said that he thinks and is as wise as an old man. About the exceptional performances of the Lotus 25 he says:
"The season is long, the practices of the Championship are many. The B.R.M. will present its new model in a few days. It will not take long until Ferrari presents its as well. Both could be superior compared to mine. There is no certainty in motorsport. We are always at the begin of something, never at the end".
Colin Chapman’s priority in not the engine, like for others designer, he focuses on the chassis and on aerodynamics. Here are his words about the Lotus 25:
"The Formula 1 Lotus quite accurately reflect the idea I have about the modern racing cars. I chose the main frame because I wanted to have more structure rigidity and consent a great reduction of the front section, obtaining like this the most possible aerodynamics. The chassis is composed of duralumin sheets united by steel crossbars bearing housing in the sideways. The front suspensions are double triangles with a counter spring going in the body of the car".
We can see Colin Chapman genius to the fact that the counter spring groups took its name from the motor racing. His humility also strikes, since he did not mention this particular while talking about the Lotus 25 suspensions. The biggest ambition that Chapman has is to make his racing cars as much aerodynamics as possible, giving them a tube-like shape:
"If the Lotus will be able to look like a tube one day I’ll be happy".
Stirling Moss, talking about Colin Chapman, says:
"He is a genius, who is always close to the limit of the impossible. The is no other technician in the world that can take from the car what Chapman can".
And talking about the Lotus 25, Moss says:
"The Lotus is an incredible delicate car because of the fragile balance on which it is, that the smallest mistake from the driver, provokes the collapse".
If we listen to Stirling Moss’ words we can once again recognize to Jim Clark, the merit to be able to listen, know and take the best from his car and it is even more amazing the way he took it to the victory despite the issues at the engine.