On Sunday, June 23, 1968, a miracle saved seven drivers during the Lottery Grand Prix. During the twenty-third lap the cars of Otrek Boll, Giancarlo Baghetti, Ernesto Brambilla, Kurt Aherens, Vic Elford, Peter Westbury and Jean Pierre Jaussaud collided with each other at a speed of 130 km/h causing a frightening carambole at the exit of the parabolic curve. The accident fortunately sees no driver seriously injured, only the French driver Jaussaud ends up in the hospital with a fractured left knee. The world of motor sports is going through a very delicate moment, due to the too many tragedies that have occurred on international tracks, sometimes caused by the exuberance of competitors, sometimes by the inadequacy of sporting regulations, and sometimes by the desire of manufacturers to establish themselves, which lead them to adopt dubious technical solutions in terms of safety. During the Lottery Grand Prix in Monza, another aspect of the issue emerges, namely that of the track. The 5,750-meter-long street circuit does not allow drivers to distinguish themselves based on skill or grit. The track has only one corner of real commitment, the parabolica, for the rest it consists of straights or fairly easy points, such as the Lesmo corners themselves. The managers of the Autodromo are well aware that human and technical values are equivalent, but they have not implemented any changes, although they have taken measures to protect the public and have tried to improve safety and the readiness of the help in case of accidents. And, indeed, for twenty-three laps on Sunday, June 23, 1968, seventeen single-seaters with 1600 cc engines battled wheel-to-wheel. It then seems to pass in second place who was the author of the mistake that gave rise to the carambole at the exit of the Parabolica curve. Paying the price are the seven drivers who go off the track left and right in a tangle of sheet metal. Scuderia Ferrari sees three of the four cars that started the competition destroyed in one fell swoop. The Maranello team had loaned two single-seaters to the National Racing Association, which chose Baghetti and Casoni as drivers; another was given privately to Brambilla. Finally, the fourth was given to Bell, a revelation in British motor racing. Only Casoni was saved from the accident, finishing the race in seventh place but with many problems. The accident overshadows the further events of the millionaire race; British driver Jonathan Williams wins the Lottery Grand Prix for the third consecutive time. It is a positive success that helps him boost morale after the difficult months that led him to end his contract with Ferrari and Abarth. After the race, Williams comments:
"The elimination of Bell, Elford and the other drivers, the putting out of the race of Pescarolo and Regazzoni decided by the stewards made it easier for me. However, in the early laps, when everyone was still there, I fought well".
Williams proved to be very good in the final sprint, in which, with one of his usual deft darts, he managed to edge out Rees, Widdows and Schlesser by a small margin. Williams finished the forty-five laps of the Lottery Grand Prix at an average of nearly 210 mph, while Jaussaud completed the fastest lap on lap nine at an average of 217.894 mph. During the winter of 1967, the FFSA took control of the sport from the ACF and declared that there would not be another Grand Prix de l'ACF. Therefore, many people had thought that there would never again be a French Grand Prix; but later the FFSA issued another statement in which it said it would organize the first French Grand Prix. Thus 1968 saw the end of the oldest Grand Prix in history, the Grand Prix de l'ACF, and the beginning of the Grand Prix de France. Previous races have always been called the Grand Prix de France, so the new name is translated with the same words in English. It is, therefore, merely a change of government and title, but the event remains the same.
The les-Essarts circuit, is south of Rouen, is located in a dense forest and is one of the best European road racing circuits. It is a very fast, spectacular and exciting circuit to drive, but there is a time limitation for which the roads can be closed. Free practice is never held at les-Essarts on Saturday; therefore, Grand Prix practice is held on Thursday, July 4, and Friday, July 5, 1968. The first session was supposed to take place from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., but it starts at 5:20 p.m. and ends at 6:10 p.m. This fact leaves everyone very unhappy, so much so that the circuit is used until almost dark by Formula 3 drivers. Lotus, Ferrari, McLaren, Brabham mount special ailerons, along the lines of those used last year by the famous American Chaparral car. The ailerons, placed above 11 engine, are intended to increase the car's stability and decrease braking distances. This is the first time 3-liter cars have faced the French circuit, and the existing lap record is held by Rindt, in a 1.600 cc Brabham F2, in 2'02''0. So drivers should be able to lap under 2 minutes, and the fastest cars should run at an average of over 210 km/h. In recent years only Formula 2 races have been held, in which Rindt, Ickx and Stewart have competed several times. Other drivers, such as Amon, however, last raced at Rouen in 1964, and many others have never raced there. Amon states:
"I think I can run the same times as Rindt. Training these two days should be enough".
The main interest is in the new Honda from Japan, which is different from Slough's Honda. It is the car with V8 cylinders, air-cooling and several different approaches to Grand Prix car design. The Japanese manufacturer has given up motorcycle racing to focus on Formula 1 single-seaters. The car has a 120-degree V8 engine, with a power output of about 380 horsepower, at 8000 rpm; it is fanless, being cooled by air conveyed through two side intakes from the windshield and other ducts. The body frame is composed with new criteria; previous Hondas have always had a weight problem, but the new one is at the regulatory minimum of 500 pounds. It has magnesium bodywork that helps dissipate engine heat. John Surtees had already tested the car at Silverstone, and said it was not ready to race and that he wanted to get one of his development and testing programs going, saying that in the meantime he would continue to race the water-cooled Honda V12. On the day of testing, Mr. Honda delivered the new car to Jo Schlesser, to be driven on behalf of Honda-France, which is grappling with trying to overcome embargoes on the importation of Honda minicars into France; Mr. Honda had made a personal appearance in Paris earlier in the week to assist with his venture, and to enter his new car in the French Grand Prix. Gurney and his Eagle are not present; the progress of the Anglo-American drivers is rather unstable since they left Weslake Engineering; the Honda-France entry takes the Eagle's program number, and this confuses many spectators. While this new car is being run on an experimental basis, the entry of an Alpine-Renault grand prix car does not materialize, although the car is being tested in Belgium at the Zolder circuit; the car is powered by the Gordini 3-liter V8 engine like the one used by the Alpine at Le Mans. Shortly before practice began, John Surtees states, speaking of his Honda:
"The new car has about forty less horsepower than the model I will drive tomorrow, but in the first test laps it seemed much more agile and responsive".
The list of participants in the French Grand Prix includes Brabham and Rindt, who will drive the Repco-powered Brabhams, with the BT24 model as a spare; Beltoise driving the last of the two Matra V12 models, which incorporates numerous titanium parts, a repositioned oil tank and aluminum fairings over the upper front suspension rockers, which deflect air and exert a downward force; Hulme and McLaren driving the M7A McLaren cars, both of which have airfoil stabilizers above the engine, like the Ferraris, and mounted directly on the engine; Hill and Oliver are entered with the Lotus 49B, 49/5 repaired after the accident at Zandvoort, and the 49/6 with much wider front winglets, while both cars have large airfoils at the rear of the car, mounted directly on the hub carriers as done by Chaparral in 1967. The winglets, placed above the engine, are intended to increase the stability of the car and reduce braking distances. Surtees is busy with the Honda V12, the RA 301 model, has lower and slightly neater exhaust pipes, and Schlesser drives the Honda V8 RA302; Rodriguez and Attwood with the BRM V12 cars have new nose fairings, in which hot air from the radiator escapes upward through large openings on the upper surface of the fairing, like the McLaren cars, and they also have a third car as a spare. Amon and Ickx drive the official Ferraris: the New Zealand driver has two cars to choose from, while the Belgian driver has only one to choose from, being the same three cars used at Zandvoort. These have two small air intakes on the protection bar that direct air over the central exhaust manifold.
Stewart is driving the Ken Tyrrell Matra-Cosworth V8 in which he won in Holland; it has aluminum baffles on the front upper rockers as on the Matra V12. The Cooper team has a new Type 86B with a B.R.M. V12 engine, driven by Elford making his debut, and the original Type 86B driven by Servoz-Gavin on temporary loan from Matra, and Siffert in the Rob Walker Lotus 49 and Courage in the Parnell P126 B.R.M. V12 complete the grid. Being the lap record holder and having won the Formula 2 race in 1967, Rindt sprints the moment free practice begins and immediately sets a very high pace with his Brabham-Repco, coming in under the 2-minute mark. The Austrian driver manages to set a lap almost immediately, and his 4-camshaft Repco V8 engine works very well. Surtees is not happy with the way Honda handled the introduction of the new V8 and proves that the V12 is race-worthy by setting the second fastest time ever under 2 minutes. The Lotus' large airfoils make the Ferraris, McLarens and Brabhams look somewhat ineffective with their mini wings, and with these in place the Lotus' wedge tails are not fitted. They are not happy, however, because the right drive shaft on Oliver's car overheats the outer universal joint. Elford has a bad start for his first Grand Prix, because the fuel pump on the back of the Hewland gearbox seizes and breaks the transmission. Brabham also has fuel system problems and his Repco 4-cam V8 does not work, Rindt, however, compensates for his partner's difficulties by staying in the lead and finishing practice with a time of 1'56"1 at an average speed of 202.852 km/h. The two McLaren drivers are very happy with their cars, as considerable improvements have been made to the handling since the last race, and the airfoils are working properly, which gives the drivers confidence, and they manage to lap under 2 minutes; Amon and Ickx are equally happy with their Ferraris, and they set almost identical times and half a second faster than the McLarens. Stewart breaks the 2-minute barrier, still driving with a bandaged wrist.
The Honda V8 seems to have no mechanical problems, but Schlesser still has to proceed carefully, as he has never driven a car with so much potential, and while trying to figure out the car he goes into a spin, but still considers himself quite happy. Although eight drivers drop below the 2-minute mark, none of them manage to come close to Rindt's time; at the end of practice the track is left to the Formula 3 drivers, who are unhappy, however. On Friday, July 5, 1968, practice is scheduled to run from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., but in a feeble attempt to make up for the time lost the previous evening, it is extended by about 20 minutes. Fortunately, both practice sessions take place in dry weather, albeit with a few clouds covering the sky, but the second session does not turn out so excitingly. Rindt is unable to repeat the time set in the previous session since his Repco engine is malfunctioning and difficult to start; at one point the Brabham staff pours gasoline into the air intakes from a bottle, but a backfire occurs that is more impressive than dangerous, but it does startle the entire team. Hill has problems with the gearbox of his Lotus. Oliver, on the other hand, is the protagonist of a peculiar accident; suddenly, without a logical explanation, the car goes up on the grass just before the pits and hits a guardrail, which rips the entire gearbox and rear suspension from the car. The British driver is very lucky to get out of the car unharmed, but the car is beyond repair. The Matra single-seater appears to have aluminum foil wrapped around the car, which forms an air deflector on the rear of the engine, and mounts additional fuel tanks attached to the sides of the cockpit on the outside. Elford is still in trouble, because after setting competitive times his engine is damaged; first a loud bang is heard and then a large hole forms in the lower part of his Cooper's B.R.M. engine. Servoz-Gavin's engine in the other Cooper also malfunctions, and later the problem is traced to valve mismatch. Stewart improves his time but cannot get close to Rindt's fastest time, while the time lckx set on the first day of practice puts him in third place, on the front row, although Hulme manages to match it in the second session. Beltoise and Hill also join the group of fastest drivers.
The entire day of Saturday, July 6, 1968, is put at the disposal of the mechanics, intent on preparing the cars for the race, and on Sunday, July 8, 1968, at 8:00 a.m., the final practice session is held. The race does not start until 4:00 p.m., partly because the entire day is occupied by two national races, a Formula 3 race and lunch. This Festival of Speed is unfortunate because the weather forecast calls for rain before the end of the afternoon and the sky is threatening throughout the morning. Before the cars come out of the pits and onto the starting grid there is a large parade consisting of about twenty rear-engined Matra 530 coupes with removable soft tops, and in each one is a driver entered for the French Grand Prix, sitting in the passenger seat, and his team manager or some other team member driving the car. Tyrrell takes a lap with Stewart, Forghieri with Ickx, Le Guellec with Beltoise, and Rob Walker with Siffert. On this occasion Jacky Ickx, who is not particularly happy with the set-up of the car and the circuit, which is not to his liking, instead of greeting the audience takes advantage of the time and opportunity to scan the sky, convincing himself that it would soon rain. While the parade is being held, a problem is found in the Brabham pit box on Rindt's car, a gasoline leak. In the Cooper pit box, one of the flexible rubber tanks in one of the cars has a leak. With a race distance of 392 kilometers, some cars are close to the limit of their fuel capacity, and a 2½-gallon cylindrical tank is mounted on the McLaren car at the rear, next to the cylindrical oil tank, while Hulme's car has a slightly larger capacity slab tank strapped to the right side of the pit.
The Matra still mounts side tanks, and Courage's B.R.M. has the side tank strapped in, as in Holland. Amon uses the newer of his two Ferraris, the 0011, although the engine is not as sharp as it should be because there was no time during free practice to tune the 0007 for the circuit. Oliver cannot participate in the Grand Prix since there is no spare Lotus; Rodriguez drives a P133-01 and Attwood a P126-03; all the other drivers, however, have the same cars they used during free practice. Back in the pits, Ickx impugns and demands that his car be fitted with wet weather tires, the hand-sculpted Firestone R125s. Both Scuderia Ferrari's technical director, Mauro Forghieri, and the sporting director, Franco Gozzi, try in vain to gare a change of heart from the Belgian driver, who insists and forces his mechanics to obey his request. Amidst the hilarity of the drivers and mechanics present along the main straight, the 312 is deployed. After a warm-up lap, made well past the scheduled starting time for the race, the seventeen cars line up on the false grid, while a battery change is made on Siffert's Lotus. Meanwhile, the rest of the group lines up on the main grid. As the drivers line up, about fifteen minutes late, a light rain begins to fall; Jacky Ickx was right. In one of the most haphazard starts ever seen, due to poor marshalling and flag control, sixteen cars start erratically, leaving Siffert stranded on the dummy grid.Shortly thereafter, the Swiss driver is able to get going but only after the other drivers are busy down the fast, winding descent to Nouveau Monde.
It is Stewart's Matra-Cosworth that took the lead in the race, but in the part already away from the pits of the circuit Jacky Ickx took the lead by taking advantage of the wet tires on the section where the track was wet. With the uncertainty of the weather conditions before the start there was a lot of hesitation about which tires to mount, and as mentioned Ickx is the only driver on the track with full rain tires; now, however, as the intensity of the rain increases the Belgian driver is able to make the most of the full rain tires. Coming up the hill from Nouveau Monde, through Sanson Corner on the left, Servoz-Gavin is the victim of a spin that drops him to the back of the pack. The French driver still manages to get ahead of Jo Siffert, who almost manages to get close to the Cooper. All seventeen drivers pass the finish line at the end of the first lap, and Jacky Ickx leads the pack, followed by Stewart, Rindt, Surtees, Rodriguez, McLaren, Hill, Beltoise, Amon, Hulme, Servoz-Gavin, and Siffert. On the second lap Rindt overtook Stewart and took second position, while Hill overtook McLaren, Amon passed Beltoise and Courage overtook Elford. After that, the group continues its race down the wet hill, and tackles the narrow Nouveau Monde hairpin bend. At this stage, however, Jo Schlesser loses control of his Honda in the fast right turn near the bottom of the hill. The car has a snap to the left and goes off the road, climbing up the bank. The car flips over and catches fire, the gasoline tank explodes and parts of the burned car end up on some spectators, fortunately without serious consequences. The fire spreads down the track and unfortunately Schlesser is trapped inside the car. Firefighters on duty at the turn try to approach the wreckage of the Honda, but are repelled by the flames, which envelop the remains of the car and rise up to ten meters in height. After about five minutes, a group of firefighters in special asbestos suits finally manage to approach the blaze and extract Schlesser's charred body from the wreckage.
By the time the lead group finishes the third lap, the drivers do not have much information about the tragedy, but as they come down the hill they realize what has happened. During the third lap both Surtees and Rodriguez pass Stewart and Rindt, but find themselves three seconds behind Ickx, and when they get to the accident corner they all have to slow down and make their way through the debris. Rindt picks up a piece of metal with his left rear tire, which deflates as a result; the Austrian driver completes the rest of the lap very slowly and stops in the pits. Brabham passes with a malfunctioning engine and pits at the end of the fourth lap, and shortly thereafter Rindt also arrives. The left rear tire is removed from Brabham's car and is mounted on Rindt's, so the Austrian driver manages to get back into the race, but with a large gap to the leaders. The problem related to the engine of Jack Brabham's car lies in the fuel pump and fuel system, so the Australian driver remains in the pits for a long time. With ambulances on the track, firefighters and marshals at the scene of the accident, all drivers have to reduce their speed; but in doing so Surtees and Rodriguez manage to get closer to Jacky Ickx, remaining all three close by lap five. The accident upsets Jean-Pierre Beltoise, who loses positions and finds himself at the back of the leading group. Jo Siffert is still far behind and driving without a clutch, while Rindt follows the group a lap behind. The pace is relatively slow, 2'14"0, but the average is 173 km/h. Once the track is settled, Ickx begins to pull away from the rest of the pack again, and on lap 7 Rodriguez overtakes Surtees, but cannot get away. One of the Mexican driver's B.R.M. rear tires picks up a hard object as he passes the Honda V8 and unintentionally throws it toward Surtees, hitting him in the glasses and causing him to lose a lens, which does not make the British driver's job any easier. At the end of lap 10, Jacky Ickx had almost a seven-second lead over Pedro Rodriguez, who had John Surtees behind him.
More distant, Jackie Stewart follows in fourth place. The Scottish driver precedes Graham Hill, and next comes Bruce McLaren. Not far behind follows Piers Courage, who in turn precedes Vic Elford, Richard Attwood, Chris Amon, Denny Hulme and Johnny Servoz-Gavin. Chris Amon and Denny Hulme struggle to keep up with the leaders, being drivers who prefer to race in dry track conditions. Jean-Pierre Beltoise is lapped by Ickx and pits on lap 11 to fit wet tires. Ickx hopes to gain more confidence driving his Matra, but the situation does not improve and he finds himself in last position, behind Jochen Rindt. Meanwhile, Jack Brabham restarts his car and makes a lap to check if everything is working properly; however, the test will not be favorable to his expectations. Graham Hill strives to close the gap with Stewart, and succeeds on lap 13. Piers Courage maintained a steady pace and left Elford and Attwood behind, simultaneously catching up with Bruce McLaren and moving into sixth place on lap 14. The joy Graham Hill experienced after passing Jackie Stewart was short-lived, for as the Lotus accelerated on the downhill Nouveau Monde the left drive shaft broke and the British driver ended his race by parking his car on the grass. Further back from the front of the race, Servoz-Gavin stars in a spin and ends up in the woods with his Cooper-B.R.M., fortunately remaining unharmed. Jacky Ickx gradually laps everyone, while John Surtees continues to close in on Pedro Rodriguez and pulls away from Jackie Stewart. Amon and Hulme are lapped by Ickx, who then also laps Attwood and Elford. As the lead group faces the nineteenth lap, the intensity of the rain increases and Pedro Rodriguez and John Surtees move into first and second place, holding these positions until the end of the twentieth lap, while Rodriguez manages to set the fastest lap of the race, turning 2'11"0; Surtees is only a fraction of a second slower. Then, however, down the hill Ickx regains traction and takes the lead again. Meanwhile, much activity develops in the pits, as Denny Hulme stops with a punctured left front tire.
As luck would have it, while the tire is being changed the storm also reaches the pits, so the mechanics decide to change all four tires on the New Zealand driver's car, fitting a full wet set. Under the downpour Richard Attwood and Chris Amon also stop to change tires, and at the end of lap 20 Bruce McLaren also stops. None of these drivers has a chance to win the race, and they don't even seem to have a leading role in the results, so they have nothing to lose. As Ickx drives past the pits to complete his twenty-first lap, the Belgian driver's Ferrari almost loses grip as it crosses the white lines of the dummy grid; this episode gives a better idea of what level of water is present along the circuit at this stage of the race. Jackie Stewart loses fourth place by stopping in the pits at the end of lap 21 to fit wet tires; this allows Piers Courage to move up to fourth place. However, the joy for the British driver is marred by the lapping suffered by the irrepressible Jacky Ickx on lap twenty-second. At this point only Pedro Rodriguez and John Surtees were on the same lap as the leader, but they were no longer a problem for Jacky Ickx. On lap twenty-five Piers Courage feels something dragging under the cockpit, and fearing it might be an oil or water hose slows down, letting Stewart pass, before stopping in the pits. The problem turns out to be one of the side tank support straps, which is attached to the bolts of the seat harness. The problem is not overly serious, as the tank is held by two other straps, but the damaged one is repaired anyway. When halfway through the race is reached, Jacky Ickx leads by about 7.5 seconds over Pedro Rodriguez, who in turn has a 3.7-second lead over John Surtees, who follows in third place. Jackie Stewart, Bruce McLaren and Vic Elford are all one lap back; Jochen Rindt, Denny Hulme and Richard Attwood two laps back, while Chris Amon, Jo Siffert, Piers Courage and Jean-Pierre Beltoise are three laps behind the race leader. Shortly thereafter Bruce McLaren's car was slowed by a puncture of the right rear tire.
The New Zealand driver stops in the pits, which causes him to finish in last position. The race average is just 160.909 mph, which is about 32 mph below what it would have been in dry track conditions, but still it is a very fast race given the poor weather conditions. Meanwhile Jack Brabham makes another lap and runs some tests to try to get the car running, while John Surtees tires of squinting through his damaged goggles and on lap thirty-four makes a quick pit stop to get another pair of goggles. Surtees maintains his position, but pulls away from Rodriguez. For a short time the rain stops falling on the circuit and we begin to catch a glimpse of the sun: this happens as Jack Brabham continues his practice by coming out of the pits again, subsequently completing an impressive seven laps. Jacky Ickx leads the race flawlessly and at the end of lap 41 catches up with John Surtees and doubles him on lap 42. At this point only Pedro Rodriguez is within full laps of the race leader. However, the Mexican driver is two minutes behind the Belgian Ferrari driver. At the back of the pack Piers Courage does not give up and after a long pit stop he reaches Richard Attwood, passing him on lap 44. By the time Jochen Rindt and Chris Amon finish the forty-fourth lap, the leader is on his forty-seventh lap; having completed the forty-fifth lap, both drivers stop in the pits. Jochen Rindt is forced to retire because a fuel tank suffers a fuel leak, so much so that the Austrian driver exits the car wet with water and gasoline, while Chris Amon restarts but loses a position and finds himself behind Jean-Pierre Beltoise.
On lap forty-six, Pedro Rodriguez's B.R.M. slows its race, as the Hewland gearshift lever gets stuck in second gear. As the Mexican driver slows down, Ickx's Ferrari laps him. When Rodriguez reaches the pits John Surtees also overtakes him and takes second place. As the B.R.M. team mechanics check the condition of the gearbox, they notice that the right rear tire is deflated and a fuel line is damaged, so repairs will take longer than expected. This allows Jackie Stewart to move up to third place. The gearbox failure cannot be located, so he is put into fourth gear and the Mexican driver is told not to touch the gearshift and to try his best to get the car to the finish line. With ten laps to go the sun comes out from among the clouds and Jacky Ickx proceeds by inertia, not even bothering to keep up with the Honda. Jackie Stewart follows counting laps behind. Two laps behind, Vic Elford runs very steadily and fast for being in his first Grand Prix; the British driver is ahead of Denny Hulme and Pedro Rodriguez with his B.R.M. slowed by the gearbox remaining fixed in fourth gear. Behind this group of drivers follows Piers Courage, who in turn is ahead of Richard Attwood and Bruce McLaren, while Jean-Pierre Beltoise, Chris Amon and Jo Siffert struggle among themselves at the back of the pack. On lap 51 Pedro Rodriguez pits again, this time with his gearbox stuck in second gear, and once again re-enters the race, but finds himself in last position. As the race draws to a close, Brabham mechanics repair the car and Jack Brabham suddenly manages to get it running, completing three more laps. After leading the entire race with the exception of the first half of the first lap, and for a brief moment on lap nineteen, Jacky Ickx is cheered enthusiastically as he crosses the finish line at the end of the scheduled sixty laps.
The Ferrari driver thus compensates for his poor performance given at Zandvoort. Ferrari thus returns to victory in the French Grand Prix, the sixth round of the Formula 1 World Championship. Belgian driver Ickx, in his first Grand Prix success, asserts himself, completing the 390 kilometers planned in 2 hours 25'40''9 at an hourly average of 161 km/h. John Surtees comes in second with his Honda V12, and Jackie Stewart finishes third, quite disgruntled because if the race had been run in the dry he could have fought for victory. In fourth place, author of an excellent performance, is Vic Elford with his Cooper-B.R.M. in his first Grand Prix. Closing in fifth and sixth place were Denny Hulme and Piers Courage, respectively. Graham Hill, leading the World Championship standings, on the other hand, is again forced to retire. At the end of the Grand Prix, walking through the pit box, Scuderia Ferrari's technical director Mauro Forghieri hears a clanking noise coming from Chris Amon's motorhome, and curious he looks inside. There he finds the New Zealand driver there, who, in despair, hits the wall of the camper with his head, since he cannot explain how it is possible that his teammate has managed in such a short time to win a Formula 1 Grand Prix, while he has sometimes been the recipient of several disappointments despite having been leading the race on several occasions. Cursing, and probably cursing the fact that Jacky Ickx is even a driver disinclined to development work, which is done almost mainly by Chris Amon within the Scuderia Ferrari, the latter exclaims:
"It's not possible, I put my soul into it and I still haven't managed to win a Grand Prix. A rookie comes along and has such luck".
Unfortunately, one must record the tragic debut in Rouen, in the French Grand Prix, of the new Formula 1 single-seater Honda: the car overturned on the third lap and exploded. The driver, 40-year-old Frenchman Jo Schlesser, was burned to death in the blaze, and five spectators were slightly burned by the glowing fragments thrown into the air by the Japanese car. The accident happened almost at the entrance to the curve called Six Brothers, at the end of the straight on which the 6532-meter-long circuit's grandstands and finish line are located. The white Honda was seen skidding on the concrete-bottomed track, made slippery by the rain. Schlesser tried in vain to correct the trajectory of his single-seater, which crashed with extreme violence (the speed must have been around 200 km/h) against the public protection embankment on the left side of the track. The Honda bounced into the center of the track, flipped over two or three times, then the fuel tanks and magnesium bodywork exploded, turning the car into a bombshell. By a miraculous chance, the damage to the public, who crowded to the edge of the track, was very limited. Firefighters on duty at the Six Brothers turn tried to approach the wreckage of the Honda, but were repelled by the flames, which enveloped the remains of the car rising up to ten meters high. After about five minutes, a group of firefighters wearing the special asbestos suits finally managed to approach the blaze and extract the charred body of poor Schlesser from the metal sheets. Some engineers who witnessed the accident believe that the rain, which was of some intensity at the time of the crash, and the wet track surface did not have a major influence on the sudden skidding of Schlesser's Honda. A witness recounts:
"At that point the track is slightly downhill. The car crawled with the bottom on the concrete, made like a little leap, and the wheels lost grip. Among other things, in the blow and related recoil, it may be that a suspension broke".
The news of Jo Schlesser's death spread very quickly among the public, although the organizers long maintained an incomprehensible silence about the accident. A lively controversy was immediately ignited over the condition of the car involved in the tragedy. The single-seater, named Ra 302, was in its race debut. John Surtees, the Japanese manufacturer's test driver, had verbatim stated during practice
"The car is not right, racing it in Rouen is crazy".
Clear words, terrible in light of what happened on the circuit. The single-seater, powered by an air-cooled eight-cylinder engine, weighed 503 kilograms, just three above the minimum limit set by the sporting regulations for Formula 1. It had arrived from Japan a week ago. Surtees had tested it at the Silverstone track in England, where Honda has its European racing center. The former World Champion had driven it for about twenty laps, stating that the car was behaving quite well, but that it needed a further period of testing and acceptance. At this point Mr. Soichiro Honda, head of Japan's big industry and a tenacious advocate of racing, had intervened. Honda ordered the team's technical director, Nakamura, to get the car on the track equally, entrusting its driving to Jo Schlesser. The reasons for this decision were purely commercial. The Grand Prix was being held in France, and Schlesser was French, A success, or a successful debut, would help launch Honda's new hatchback, the Mini 360. Thus, the new eight-cylinder had been entrusted to Schlesser, a favorite of motoring enthusiasts in France. Many feel that this choice was not too happy either. Schlesser was forty years old, hardly a young age for a Formula 1 driver, and what is more, he did not have much experience with such delicate single-seaters, in which one races on the edge of delicate balance.
In practice, for example, Schlesser had made a spin without consequences, following which he stopped to adjust the rear suspension. A bad decision, then, is probably behind yet another tragic accident. It is certain that if motorsports is to continue, it will have to, above all, guard against the enemies it has within it: engineers who draw up regulations that seem to be made on purpose to incite manufacturers to make not cars but, as Ferrari said, coffins surrounded by gasoline; manufacturers who are willing to do anything to get a success to claim; drivers who are unprepared or overly gritty. Jo Schlesser's death in Rouen, however, does not arouse any particular controversy in France. Everyone, however, points out that Surtees, Honda's test driver and official driver, as mentioned expressed reservations about participating in the race of the new Formula 1 car. Surtees, on the other hand, declined to make any statements after the deadly accident. Jean-Pierre Beltoise, Matra's first driver, does not accuse anything or anyone, but very firmly declares himself against the use, in the construction of racing cars, of magnesium material, which is very dangerous precisely because it is combustible.
"Magnesium is a cursed metal, it is above all this metal that must be put under indictment. It was already once at the origin of a disaster: that which occurred in 1955 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with the explosion of Levegh's Mercedes. It lightens racing cars considerably, but is extremely dangerous in case of accidents because of its flammability".
What's more, the choice of driver was not a happy one. Poor Schlesser was on his fourth experience in a Formula 1 race; his last run in such a car was two arms ago. In a hurry, the Japanese engineers had not been able to adjust the driver's seat to the measurements of his physique, and he had complained. It fits me tight, he had said in practice. If the sport of driving is to continue, and if, above all, an end is to be put to these misfortunes that so cruelly occur from Sunday to Sunday, it will be necessary for organizers, manufacturers, drivers, race commissioners, that is, the protagonists of the racing world, to make an examination of conscience. Enough with races where they allow for souped-up cars, unprepared or notoriously incorrect racers, where the stewards turn a blind eye or both. Enough, too, with the current regulations that seem tailor-made to create trap cars. Only in this way, perhaps, will the ever-present risk in motor racing be diminished. On this day of mourning, Ferrari returned to victory in the tragic French Grand Prix, the sixth round of the Formula 1 World Drivers' Championship. The young Belgian racer Jacky Ickx asserted himself ahead of John Surtees' old-fashioned Honda and Jackie Stewart's Matra-Ford.
Ickx, in his first Grand Prix success, completed the 390 kilometers on the program in 2 hours 25'10"9 at an average of 161.622 km/h, inflicting on Surtees a gap of about two minutes. Ickx ran a masterful race, remaining in command of the race from the start, apart from a brief period when he was overtaken by Mexican Pedro Rodriguez, on B.R.M. The race began at 4:30 p.m. in fairly heavy rain. Ickx was the fastest at the starter's signal and took the lead of the race. Only one rider, Rodriguez, managed to keep up with him, while the terrible accident of Schlesser happened. On the thirtieth pass, halfway through the race, Ickx is one minute ahead of the Mexican, followed by Surtees, Stewart, McLaren, Hulme and Elford. Graham Hill, leading the World Championship standings, is once again forced to retire. Surtees overtakes Rodriguez, who has to stop in the pits with an engine in disarray, and tries to decrease the gap to Ickx. But the Belgian, who seemed to be at ease on the still slimy surface, repelled the Englishman's attack and victoriously ended the competition. Elford, making his Formula 1 debut, has the luxury of overtaking Hulme and McLaren.