#178 1969 French Grand Prix

2021-11-17 14:36

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#1969, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Monica Bessi, Beatrice Comuzzo,

#178 1969 French Grand Prix

Sunday, June 22, 1969, is a great day for motorsport. The same day, in fact, the drivers are racing in the eleventh Monza Lottery Grand Prix. But the


Sunday, June 22, 1969, is a great day for motorsport. The same day, in fact, the drivers are racing in the eleventh Monza Lottery Grand Prix. But the proximity between the Dutch Grand Prix and the Monza Lottery comes at the expense of the Italian race. Hill, Rindt and Stewart, who are willing to try and race in Formula 2, don’t go to the Monza circuit to race on the Zandvoort circuit. On Saturday, June 21, 1969, in Monza - while in Holland the Formula 1 Grand Prix is held - Nanni Galli, on Tecno, is the fastest with a record lap time of 1'35"5, equivalent to an average of 221,390 km/h, and therefore exceeds the record set last year by the Englishman Derek Bell, on his Dino 166, of 0.2 seconds. The first Ferrari is that of Tino Brambilla in fourth place, preceded by the two Brabhams of Widdows and Westbury. The street circuit race, which will be 45 laps long, for a total of 258,750 kilometres and which will start in the afternoon at 4:30 p.m., sees the participation of all the twenty competitors who have practised. Instead, the motorcycle champion Bill Ivy will not participate because he hit the face of the marshall Giuseppe Berselli.


It’s a muggy weekend that pushes people to leave the city to reach cooler destinations. So few people come to Monza and the enthusiasm fades in the desire not to get too hot, and perhaps also in the disappointment of not seeing among so many nice, singular, extravagant characters, the real champion. Only around the garages there is a bit of a crowd, and many faces are glued to the safety nets, to try to discover something. Inside, journalists also try to find out something and someone, and there are two main topics: the crisis of the Ferrari team, which was in the air and was punctually confirmed in the race, and the interview with the two real characters of the day in Milan, two next champions. These are Bill Ivy and Johnny Servoz-Gavin, who both have only completed some laps on track. Ferrari has three drivers: Brambilla, Bell and Regazzoni, an Italian, an Englishman and a Swiss driver from Ticino. They get along quite well at the beginning, then there are defeats, poor performances that cannot be attributed to those who drive these cars, but rather to those who build them since the teams can’t bring the necessary updates in time. Let’s skip a few weeks and here we are in Monza, on the historic day of the Fiat-Ferrari agreement, with all the distrustful group even before racing. Regazzoni stands aside:


"I don’t know. I think I won’t be able to finish the race. With the mechanics we have set up the car, but the others are quicker".


Bell, sitting in a chair in a corner, does not say a word. Only Brambilla, finally on his home track, seems a little more relaxed. As Scuderia Ferrari failed to develop the new four-valve engines, Bell, Regazzoni and Brambilla drive the three single-seaters of the same model of last year. In the fight of the first lap Regazzoni ends up spinning at the Parabolic curve and becomes last. On the fifth lap the two Italians, Enzo Corti and Carlo Facetti, touch at the Parabolic curve. The Tecno of Facetti slides on the inside of the curve while the Brabham of Corti flies on the outside stopping on the sand of the safety zone after having porticoed twice on itself with the wheels detached from the ground. Fortunately, both drivers remain unharmed as well as Patrick Dal Bo and Xavier Perrot, who went off the track in the same spot. Nanni Galli, on Tecno, who started on pole, retires on the nineteenth lap because of a blown head gasket while Peterson moves away from the leading group to examine the front suspension and a tyre. In the Tecno team only Cevert is left to fight for second place. On the twenty-first lap, on the straight of the grandstands, Regazzoni has to retire while his teammate Brambilla, after remaining in the top four, stops in the pits for an engine check. The Italian driver also retires shortly after due to an alternator failure. On the twenty-ninth lap, while leading the group, Widdows spins badly on the second corner of Lesmo, dropping to seventh. On the thirty-first lap, Jo Williams, who after the unheard solicitations to his team to put a new Ford-Cosworth engine finds himself racing with an old type engine, manages to take the lead. Unfortunately, he is then forced to stop in the pits due to the breakage of a bolt of one of the injectors. The driver explains:


"The bolt of one of the injectors has broken, a piece that costs 8 lire".


Meanwhile, in five laps, Widdows manages to recover his position and overtake the Brabham of Westbury, the Tecno of Cevert, the Ferrari Dino of Bell, the Brabham of Guthrie and Birrell and the De Tomaso of Williams. Widdows' lap is the fastest in 1'33"1. The 27-year-old London driver is starting to get noticed. He started in 1964 with an MG and then switched to Formula 3 and 2 cars, taking part in a British Formula 1 Grand Prix, and the cars of the World Championship for Makes. At the 24 Hours of Le Mans he teamed up with Nanni Galli in a Matra. In addition to motor racing, Widdows dedicated himself to bob by taking part with the English national team at the World Championships in Cortina. However, the English driver said:


"I prefer car racing, at the wheel you are alone, to win or lose depends on you".


After regaining the lead, Widdows has to fight Westbury and Cevert again. Then, on lap 39, he starts to break away from his rivals, gaining two/three tenths of a second with each lap. The battle for second place sees Westbury, Cevert and Guthrie fighting, while Derek Bell is fifth on the only Ferrari-Dino left in the race. Robin Widdows, on Braham-Ford, is the first to cross the finish line, completing the 258 kilometres of the race in 1 hour 12'3"4, at an average of 215,435 km/h. Second place goes to Westbury, followed by Cevert, Guthrie, Bell, Birrell, Peterson and Frey. At the end of the race Clay Regazzoni leaves the circuit before Widdows crosses the finish line. Derek Bell changes quickly, doesn’t say hello to anyone and leaves, too. Tino Brambilla remains to pay for drinks to mechanics and to relax his nerves playing with a big bike behind the pits. Ultimately the Ferrari team isn’t the same anymore and at this point it will not be enough to equip it with better technical means to return to success. Meanwhile the third race of the European Hill Climb Championship takes place on Mont Ventoux. The victory of the Swiss Peter Schetty, over Ferrari, is triumphant.


The Swiss driver breaks the record set last year by the German Meitter, on Porsche, with a time of 10'12"1. The heat and stuffiness are an additional challenge for the cars and drivers, but Ferrari manages - at least in this field - to prove its efficiency by racing to an average of 129,492 kilometres per hour. The Italian Merzario, on his Abarth 2000, gets second place while his teammate, the Austrian Ortner, finishes third. The official announcement of the agreement between Fiat and Ferrari, made at Zandvoort, also deserves attention. After the financial support from Fiat to Ferrari between 1955 and 1959 and the help in the construction of the Dino engine designed in Maranello to allow Ferrari to take part in Formula 2 races - for which it is necessary to adopt engines derived from production cars produced in at least 500 copies - the technical collaboration between Fiat and the Emilian company is transformed into equal participation. During the race held in Monza, to draw attention was the performance of the French driver Johnny Servoz-Gavin, who has already established himself in Formula 2, while with Matra in Formula 1 wants to grow.


"I would like to win at Le Mans any year, so I could retire soon after. I promised my mother: a French victory at the 24 Hours and I’ll stop with the cars".


After the Dutch Grand Prix, drivers, technicians and managers of the various teams are together in an old hotel in Zandvoort for a semi-official lunch waiting for the award ceremony. At the table, Jackie Stewart, fresh winner of the race on the Matra-Ford of Ken Tyrrell’s team, is next to the men of Ferrari.


"Do you see it? The long-haired man was one step away from coming with us and for an amount that then seemed huge and now is ridiculous".


Says one of Maranello’s men smiling before calling Jackie Stewart.


"Did you hear about the agreement with Fiat? Would you like to move to Italy?"


Stewart replies with a big blink of his eyes: yes, he would have been happy. It is likely that Jackie’s desire to drive a single-seater in Maranello can be achieved next year, if it has not already materialised in those negotiations of the market-drivers that begin towards the middle of the sports season. These are negotiations that do not have their own Hotel Gallia, as it happens for footballers, but they go on from one competition to another: moreover, if the tracks change, the drivers of the circus of the Grand Prix are the same. Two words inside the box, a chat at the end of the race are enough to sketch an agreement that will be then concretised by a - very secret - visit to the boss, regardless of whether his name is Enzo Ferrari or Colin Chapman. And the agreements are signed only after having clarified the financial issue. Drivers are accountants, they say, attentive to money and little to sentiment. Actually, they are professionals, doing dangerous work, from which it is logical to try to take the greatest advantages. How much is Jackie Stewart worth? The Scotsman is about to win the world title and is considered the heir of Jim Clark, so it is difficult to cost less than a hundred million dollars. But for Ferrari, which has started to develop its staff, it would be a valuable purchase, able to maximise the performance of the cars. Another driver could form with Stewart an exceptional pair: Jochen Rindt. In the Netherlands it emerged that the relationship between the Austrian and Lotus is worn out. Colin Chapman has not yet digested the accusations made by Jochen Rindt in the aftermath of the Barcelona crash at the Spanish Grand Prix. Rindt talks about the lightening desires of some constructors, first of all his constructor, and at Zandvoort, Rindt even refused to drive the new all-wheel drive Lotus.


Sunday, July 6, 1969, will be held the fifth round of the 1969 World Championship at the Clermont-Ferrand circuit, in France. Unlike the Monaco, Dutch and Italian Grand Prix, the French Grand Prix does not seem to have a regular circuit. Races went from one place to another: from Reims, to Rouen, to Clermont-Ferrand with a detour to Le Mans. The last time the French Grand Prix was held at Clermont-Ferrand was in 1965, with Jim Clark dominating the scene. The 1965 French Grand Prix was important for several reasons. First, a young Scottish driver established himself at the wheel of a B.R.M. but, unable to maintain Clark’s speed, was able to detach the other great drivers, including Gurney, Brabham, Surtees and Hill. His name is Jackie Stewart. When asked what he was doing, the Scottish driver replied that he was rather embarrassed because he couldn’t keep up with Jim Clark, but he didn’t understand where all the other drivers had gone. Another important element of the 1965 Grand Prix was the location. They were racing for the first time in the hills above Clermont-Ferrand, so all the drivers were on the same level. Since the circuit gives the idea of being a miniature of the Nurburgring, the driving ability was fundamental. In 1965 the circuit was well built, but the structures such as pits and paddocks, junctions and service facilities were insignificant. With the exception of the sad loss of Jim Clark, little has changed. The track, 8055 metres long, has many uphill and downhill curves and hairpins. 38 laps of the circuit are scheduled in which the driving ability is key; the track involves continuous changes of pace for the drivers and a constant tension, and is a severe test bench for the cars, in which traction and suspensions are particularly stressed.


Similarly, services have remained virtually non-existent. Dan Gurney has retired, while the absence of Surtees, Brabham and Oliver reduces the opposition to the leadership of Jackie Stewart. The night after the Dutch Grand Prix, there was an intense discussion about what had gone wrong. In Britain, this discussion continued to cause a reorganisation of the staff, the dismissal of Tony Rudd, a member of the team since 1950, and the retirement of cars from the French Grand Prix. Following the forced retirements of John Surtees and Jackie Oliver, of course there are now fewer competitors who can stop Jackie Stewart’s run to the title. The lack of Jack Brabham from the entry list is another problem, because even if he is not the winner’s rival, the Australian driver is more than capable of keeping some of the youngest drivers on their toes and always adds a touch of seriousness to any race. His absence is due to a broken ankle following an accident at Silverstone during a private test. That accident will keep him off track for a few more weeks. Not even Pedro Rodriguez will take part in the race. In line with all manufacturers' new regulations on ailerons (Ferrari, Lotus, Brabham have wings, McLaren and Matra wedge-shaped aerodynamic elements), the surprise is Lotus, which has decided to race, alongside the two traditional models of Graham Hill and Jochen Rindt, with an all-wheel drive car. The car will be driven by John Miles. Colin Chapman claims that Miles, having followed the evolution of the Lotus 4WD from the beginning, knows it perfectly. On the contrary, the British driver claims:


"I only did four practice laps in Snetterton, Great Britain, and that’s it".


Despite the hype from the Italian press, Enzo Ferrari still insists on entering only one car at the Grand Prix races. The possibility of a V12 car beating all cars with a Cosworth V8 engine is so remote that it is ridiculous. Chris Amon does his best with the Ferrari, but it doesn’t seem to be enough. In addition, the New Zealand driver is reluctant to convince the team to bring two or even three cars, since the Maranello team has difficulty getting a good one. This could be the big mistake that many call bad luck. Three Ferraris driven by less experienced drivers than Amon could arrive fourth or seventh with a retirement. Definitely a better result than a car and a retirement. During the afternoon of Friday, July 4, 1969, the first series of practices for the French Grand Prix takes place. With no B.R.M. at Clermont-Ferrand, not even the one of the old Parnell team, Ferrari is the only one to break the monopoly of the efficient Cosworth V8 engines used by Matra, McLaren, Brabham and Lotus. Matra has the two MS80 cars, for Stewart and Beltoise, and the 4WD that Stewart will use once the pace with the old car is established.


In the first free practices Jackie Stewart confirms that in each circuit is the fastest, breaking Jim Clark’s record of 1965 of 3'18"9, driving in 3'02"4, at an average of 158.980 km/h. Although Clark was at the wheel of a car of the previous Formula 1 of 1500, the record of Jackie Stewart is still very relevant. In addition to Stewart, there are Hulme on McLaren (3'04''7), Beltoise on Matra (3'05''0), Amon on Ferrari (3'06''3), and Rindt on Lotus (3'06''4). Miles, on Lotus, gets the third last time out of twelve riders on track (3'17"0). Chris Amon gets a fourth time after an eventful practice session. In fact, after two laps in the single-seater sent by Maranello, he gets out to adjust the suspension considered too soft and climbs on the other. Two kilometres and it goes off track. The New Zealand driver thinks it might have been:


"An oil stain, maybe some sand or the new tyre, I don’t know, the fact is that the car slipped towards a protective barrier next to the track and hit the nose. I don’t think that the suspension has suffered serious damage, I rather think that the radiator has broken".


That’s what the mechanics will find out during the night. Amon, with big breath for the quick walk, sits on the first Ferrari and starts again, but Piers Courage, with his Brabham, cuts his way back to the box. Conclusion: with the right rear tyre, Courage demolishes a whisker and the team has to replace the nose of the Ferrari. Finally, when there are only a few minutes left to practise, Chris Amon can get back on track and angrily records a time of 3'06"3. It is likely that he will do better on Saturday. Practices on Saturday, July 5, 1969, are divided into two afternoon sessions. After the accident on Friday, Amon’s car is irreparable, as it has more serious damage than expected to the front suspension and radiator. The New Zealand driver will then drive the other car. In Saturday’s practice, Amon drops from the time of 3'06''3 set on Friday to 3'04''2. In the first session Jackie Stewart, who has been training for a week at Clermont-Ferrand on the circuit, tries the 4WD Matra and his best lap is in 3'06''6 while Miles, with the Lotus 4WD, drops from the time of 3'17"0 on Friday to 3'12"8. In the last practice session, Hulme, Rindt and Beltoise try to challenge Stewart’s fastest first time, but a serious effort in the final practice sees the Scottish driver setting a record lap time of 3'00''6, at an average of 160.564 km/h.


Almost two seconds faster than Hulme, who was his closest rival. On the starting grid there will be thirteen cars since the Swiss Moser has also tried. Chris Amon first raced for Ferrari in 1967 at Daytona, teaming with Lorenzo Bandini. Since then, he has raced for the Scuderia Ferrari twenty-six Grands Prix: ten in 1967, twelve in 1968 and four this year. He has never won one, although he has had better or at least equal cars as the others on several occasions. On Sunday, July 6, 1969, in the French Grand Prix, the fifth round of the Formula 1 World Championship, he will try again to break this absurd situation, which is the result of a bit of bad luck, a bit of lack of authority on his part in the fight of many races, a bit of mechanical trouble, often banal. Amon was criticised and praised at the same time for his performance at the recent Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort. First he was overtaken by a group of rivals, then he made an aggressive chase, finishing third, behind Stewart and Siffert, and ahead of Hulme. But, everyone knows, who runs for Ferrari has to race for the win, not for third place. In a moment of bad mood, Amon let it slip some negative opinions towards the car, and - as is often the case in Italy - some of his words were exaggerated, so much so that, in the end, Amon seemed about to leave Ferrari at any moment, and Ferrari to give up his contribution.


Now, in Clermont Ferrand, the tension seems to have decreased, nor did the incident on Saturday, in which Amon, going off of the road, hit one of the two cars at his disposal, seem to have impacted on it. The car is irreparable, the damage (to the front suspension and the radiator) proved to be more serious than expected. At Ferrari the gear ratios and the exhausts were changed, but Amon did not improve. It is clear that the New Zealand driver has a desperate desire to establish himself. He is twenty-six years old, he began racing in 1961, for fun. Two years later he arrived in Europe, he drove Lolas and Coopers, switching from sports cars to Formula 1 cars. In 1966 he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Ford, but his best achievement - he says - was his success last year with Dino Ferrari at his home track in Auckland in the Tasmanian Cup. He is a quiet young man in appearance, but with a strong character. He has the hobby of flying (and together with a friend has set up a company for the sale of airplanes), but today he would gladly give an aircraft as a present to somebody to win a Grand Prix. On Sunday, his task will be very difficult, as always. In front of everyone there is Stewart, who has been training for a week at Clermont Ferrand. The Scottish driver also tried the all-wheel drive Matra, getting an excellent 3'06"5 (while Miles, with the four-wheel drive Lotus, dropped from 3'17"0 on Friday to 3'12"8), but the blue single-seater will remain in the pits. Jackie does not trust it, he prefers - given that he has to fight for the world title - to focus on the proven traditional model that in a year (Zandvoort 1968 - Zandvoort 1969) gave Matra six victories. Then there are Hulme, Rindt, Beltoise, Ickx (with a good 3'02"6) who will try to get a surprise success. All, more or less, have lowered yesterday’s lap times today and are preparing to take advantage of a possible crisis of Stewart’s Matra.


The Swiss Moser has also practised, so the drivers will be thirteen. Thirty-eight laps of the circuit are scheduled for a distance of 306.090 kilometres. Three hundred kilometres of difficulty; the track involves continuous changes of pace for drivers and a constant tension, and is a severe test for cars, in which traction gear and suspension are particularly stressed. The start will be at 3:00 p.m. Race day would be another bright and warm affair, with no rain expected during the two-hour battle around the mountain side. Yet some drivers are not looking forward to the race, complaints of motion sickness having arisen during practice, on runs which were only a fraction of the race distance. Regardless, all thirteen qualifiers would have their cars wheeled out onto the grid, awaiting the fall of the flag. Given his form throughout the weekend, there is no surprise when Jackie Stewart snatches the lead at the start, reacting fastest to the starter's fluttering flag. He pulls into the first corner with a clear lead, leaving Denny Hulme and Jacky Ickx to battle for second, the two leaping clear of fourth placed Jochen Rindt. Home hero Jean-Pierre Beltoise is another to make a poor get away, losing out to Chris Amon and Graham Hill before the field disappeared around the mountain. The opening lap concludes with a second long wait for Hulme to appear after Stewart, the Scot having taken a cautious approach to the first lap to maintain his lead. Hulme himself is under pressure, with Ickx, Rindt, Amon, Hill and Beltoise in close attendance, coming across the line in a long line. Next there are Jo Siffert and Bruce McLaren, before another gap to Piers Courage, Vic Elford and Silvio Moser, who are already falling into isolation. The last man across the line is John Miles in the 4WD Lotus 63, although the Brit had to stop in the pits with a broken fuel pump as he completed the opening lap. The following laps see the field spread out even further, with Stewart's lead seeming to grow exponentially out front.


The only significant change comes when Beltoise takes sixth place away from Hill, before beginning to close on Amon, who had pulled a couple of seconds clear. It takes another lap before the Frenchman catches the New Zealander, as Ickx begins to defend from Rindt just a few yards ahead. As Beltoise pulls away to join the leaders, Hill's pace continues to disappoint, the defending Champion soon falling into the sights of Siffert. The Swiss racer has quickly shaken the attentions of McLaren after the opening lap, and is soon attacking the sister car of Hill, although the Brit provides little resistance. Released to catch the leaders, Siffert is soon beginning to draw in Beltoise and Amon, only to run wide and strike a barrier, damaging his nose. Another quiet period follows as Siffert disappears to have his nose repaired, allowing Hill and McLaren to go back ahead. Hill, for his part, is still losing time, McLaren soon blasting past him for his reclaimed sixth. Ahead, Beltoise moves past Amon after a few laps of pressure, and is now moving towards Rindt as the Austrian stays a few seconds behind Ickx. Beltoise provides the only entertainment over the following laps, the Frenchman quickly catching and passing Rindt as the Austrian's engine begins to misfire. The only other change comes when Hulme is forced to stop to have his front suspension repaired, an anti-roll bar having come apart. The New Zealander loses five minutes during the repairs, while Courage stops for a third and final time with loose bodywork. Just after half distance, Beltoise is right on Ickx's tail, the Belgian having to defend for all his worth to keep the Frenchman at bay. Stewart, meanwhile, is over three quarters of a minute ahead, and cruising, while Amon trails the second place battle by a minute, a few seconds ahead of McLaren.


Yet, all is not well with the Ferrari, and just eight laps from the end the V12 engine has cried enough and expires in a cloud of smoke. The crowd throws their entire weight behind Beltoise in the closing stages, although no matter how hard he tried, Ickx remained stubbornly ahead. Every time the Frenchman tried to force his nose up the inside of the Brabham-Ford Cosworth, the Belgian managed to cover the move, or beat the Matra-Ford Cosworth. Time is running out, and as the field starts the final lap, it seems as if Beltoise will never get past. Ickx is still ahead as the pair disappears into the first corner, and have a small advantage as the pair barrel through turn two. Yet, the battle had been as draining mentally as it had physically, and into the Belvedere hairpin Ickx misses his braking point and ran wide. Having finally forced the Belgian into a mistake, Beltoise duly takes over second, although it will take another couple of minutes before the fans respond to the move. Arguably the biggest cheer at the French Grand Prix for several years would greet Beltoise to the flag, the home hero having successfully defended a last ditch move from Ickx into the penultimate corner. Euphoria over the second place man rather overshadows the rest of the field, all of whom had been trounced by a dominant Stewart. The Scot led every lap of the race and set the fastest lap to win by almost a minute, but was almost completely ignored by the fans as they awaited the arrival of Beltoise. Elsewhere, McLaren came through in fourth ahead of Elford, who had taken the struggling Hill in the closing stages. The defending Champion came home in sixth after a disappointing race, with Moser, Hulme and Siffert also taking the chequered flag.


Chris Amon and Ferrari didn’t do well this time either. In the French Grand Prix, the fifth round of the Formula 1 World Championship, the usual Jackie Stewart triumphed, followed by Matra’s teammate, Jean Pierre Beltoise, while Amon, now ruled out from the fight for the top positions, stopped at the thirty-second of the thirty-eight laps scheduled for an engine failure. Amon, who seemed determined to test his will, had a disconcerting start: he did not keep up with Stewart and Hulme, who started from the front row, nor with Ickx and Rindt, who were fighting for many laps behind the leading pair; the New Zealander, on the contrary, let himself be reached and overtaken by Beltoise, unleashed in front of his crowd. Amon ended up in a solitary race, moving into fourth place after Rindt’s retirement (the Austrian driver suffered from nausea and dizziness, probably due to the violent G-forces generated on the Clermont-Ferrand circuit and finally retiring for diplopia) and a long stop at Hulme’s box for some problems to the front suspension. Then, when all ambition was gone, the final stop came.


"In the downhill stretch on Clermont Ferrand I felt something break in the engine, maybe a piston, I don’t know".


The New Zealand driver is more than ever discouraged; even the recent controversy must have affected his morale. However, it must be acknowledged that his car was not in the best conditions, especially with regard to the tyres, which were not suitable for the particular characteristics of the Auvergne circuit, with numerous curves, challenging climbs and descents, and a very smooth asphalt. After all, even the Lotus, which have the same type of tyres, have found themselves in serious difficulties. Apart from the four-wheel drive of John Miles, whose debut lasted just one lap (the eight-cylinder Ford-Cosworth has seized), the two single-seaters of Graham Hill and Jochen Rindt appeared immediately clearly inferior to the ones of the rivals. Graham Hill said in the pits:


"It was very difficult to stay on track. I couldn’t do anything more".


In the standings Graham Hill is in sixth place, preceded by Vic Elford and his McLaren. For Matra, for Stewart and Beltoise it was of course a triumphant day. The Scotsman is truly the heir of Jim Clark. This is his fourth victory of the year in the Formula 1 World Championship (South Africa, Spain and Holland, and now France); who will be able to stop him? Now, the title seems to be his. The Scottish driver has proven its value. Starting in the lead, after being the fastest in qualifying, Stewart fought a short, hard duel with the always tenacious Hulme. There were two-three thrilling laps, then Stewart began to progressively detach from his rival. From the top of the grandstands that dominate a stretch of the track (a straight, two hairpin bends, four curves between the green of the meadows and woods and the whiteness of the crowd under the sun), it is possible to see the voiture bleu of Stewart leaving more and more behind the yellow McLaren of Hulme. The Scotsman, every time, puts the wheels in the same spot, never giving the impression of being in trouble. His is a clean driving style, without smudges, as Clark had, but also with a lot of determination. Another Matra driver, Jean-Pierre Beltoise, shared the joy of success with Stewart. The Frenchman (favoured also by the fact that the Matras had the right tyres for the race) made an excellent race, leaving behind first Amon, then Rindt and, at the last lap, Ickx.


Indeed, being the race dominated at will by Stewart, Hulme and Rindt who have disappeared from the scene, Hill who was behind, only Beltoise and Ickx brought some emotion in the French Grand Prix. The two, from the fourteenth lap forward, fought wheel to wheel. The Frenchman did everything to pass the Belgian, and at some point he arrived along the hairpin bend that leads into the finish straight. Beltoise touched the escarpment of the mountain, managing in extremis to put back on track his Matra. At the same point, the Swiss Siffert, on his private Lotus, touched on the fifth lap with the nose and the left wheel, stopping four minutes later in the pits to make repairs. Finally, in the last thousand metres of the race, in an uphill curve, Beltoise managed to overtake the rival, among the applause of thousands of spectators. But the man of the day is Jackie Stewart, 30, with a wife, two kids, a Scotsman from a small town in the whisky zone. Since 1965, the year of his debut in Formula 1, he has won nine Grands Prix and now he is about to win his first world title. After Fangio, Moss and Clark, the sport of the steering wheel has found its new champion, who dominates from above the other drivers. This season, Stewart has established himself in four races out of five (South Africa, Spain, the Netherlands and France) and in Monaco he was blocked by a failure at his very valuable Matra-Ford. At Clermont-Ferrand he left little room for his opponents, almost immediately extinguishing the interest in the race. It is said in the pits, with admiration:


"He is Jim Clark’s heir, not Jochen Rindt".


Stewart, who is an intelligent man, has also been able to build his character. Little guy, a face that vaguely resembles that of Rascel, he has grown his hair, walks around with incredible pink pants and a white shirt, and has a black velvet cap student on the head bought in Piccadilly. He is part of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association and has become the bugbear of the competition organisers. If a circuit is not safe, he says so and is also able to reject a Grand Prix, as happened this year for the Belgium Grand Prix.


"After all, it is we who risk our lives".


Behind the boxes, in an open space on the side of the mountain, there are the vans on which the various teams carry the cars, the spare parts, all those thousands of things that can be useful. The Matra van also represents the private living room of Jackie Stewart, the only place a little quiet to talk or wear the double woollen suit treated with fireproof substances before getting in the car.


"It’s not as comfortable and fun a job as people think. I have two children, Paul, three years old, and Mark, who is one and a half. Between competitions and practices, I’m able to see them once a month. Luckily, my wife Helen likes racing, and she follows me, at least we can spend some time together. The curious thing is that I started racing almost by accident. I was Scottish Clay Pigeon Shooting Champion and I also took part in the Rome Olympics. I shot well. Then, I approached motorsport following my brother, who was a good driver. I liked racing, so I gave up the gun for the steering wheel".


Stewart started with Ecurie Ecosse, then Ken Tyrrell gave him a Cooper with a B.R.M. 1100 engine, then he was hired by B.R.M.. Stewart made his Formula 1 debut in January 1965 at the South African Grand Prix, and in September won the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Now, does he consider himself a champion?


"No, I don’t feel perfect or arrived. In racing you learn something every time. Rather, I think I have the necessary skills to be a good driver: natural ability, self-control, concentration, and recognition of my limits. What is not needed is courage. On the contrary, it can be dangerous. It is not a bad thing to have a little bit of fear, it makes you think".


Jackie Stewart had a bad incident in Spa, in 1966: he flew off the track in the escarpment, remained ten minutes imprisoned in the car, with the gasoline that was pouring on him. At the end of 1967, Stewart switched from B.R.M. to Matra International, the team created by Ken Tyrrell in support of the all-French Matra. Is it true that now that he doesn't get along with Tyrrell, he is going to change team?


"It’s still too early to say if I’m leaving Matra International. If I do, I would like to move to Ferrari or Lotus or Cosworth, which is getting ready to enter the Formula 1 races on its own. I want to point out that I said the names of the three teams, but they are not in a preference order".


Two years ago, Stewart was one step away from getting into Ferrari. It is clear that now, to do so, he will want a lot of money (not less than 300.000 dollars?) and be sure to receive a competitive car. But how much does he value himself?


"I don’t know, but I know that in Italy they rate football players very well".


Jackie Stewart has a sacred fear of the British tax authorities, so much so that he moved his residence from London to Vaud, Switzerland. He is a wise guy, his earnings have been invested in various activities. Who are his most dangerous rivals?


"Rindt and Amon, who is not esteemed enough for what he is worth".


Why doesn’t he compete in races like Le Mans?


"They are too long and dangerous, the winner is not the driver that goes quicker but the one that resists more, there isn’t the fight of a Grand Prix. And I drive to have fun and to fight".


Which are the safest circuits?


"Jarama and Barcelona; Monza is discreet, but could be improved".


What does he think of the all-wheel drive single-seaters?


"I would say that so far it is not proven that they are better than conventional ones. They are driven in a completely different way and for now I have a lot more difficulty driving the Matra four-wheel drive than the usual one. I think we will make our debut at Silverstone, in the British Grand Prix, on 19 July".


What are his hobbies?


"Swimming, hunting, salmon fishing in Scotland, and going out with friends, who are the same age as me and my wife. Even if I drive at 300 km/h, I’m a normal guy".


He’s probably the only one who thinks so. The French Grand Prix is the turning point of the 1969 Grand Prix season, and all the omens shown by Matra last year and since the beginning of this season have followed a clear progress. The French company has been deeply involved in the construction of a French single-seater (and the State has helped this company, whose main activity is to build missiles and space equipment, giving a contribution of almost a billion Italian lire). Now it remains to be seen if they can keep up the pace for the rest of the year. This competition has also seen the beginning of the era of 4WD cars, but the time that will pass before new techniques dominate Grand Prix racing is yet to be determined.


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