A spot in the distance
- Mattijs Diepraam
- 8W July 2000 issue
- Lotus - The rise of a phenomenon, by Mattijs Diepraam/Felix Muelas
1962 Belgian GP (June 17, 1962)
The first of many and the first in a series of four straight wins at Spa for Jim Clark, the Scotsman made full use of the monocoque Lotus 25 to make up for a disastrous qualifying session, storming through for his first World Championship victory. With this win, Clark symbolically took over the mantle of best racing driver of the world from Stirling Moss, whose crash earlier in the year during the Glover Trophy at Goodwood had left him unconscious for a month and paralysed down his left-hand side for another six months.
The race before, at Monaco, Clark had taken his first pole, and he would do so in all of the remaining races of the season, bar the Nürburgring. That he managed to convert those five pole positions in just two more wins is testimony to the typical Lotus fragility that kept Clark from taking four straight World Championships. Notwithstanding its frail character, the Lotus 25 was the class of the field until its very last Championship appearance at the 1965 French GP - another one of the those races acting as a complete Clark and Lotus benefit, Jim taking pole, win and fastest lap - but by then the follow-up 33 design was Clark's main car. Did that 1965 win at Clermont-Ferrand prove the strength of the original Lotus monocoque? Or did it show that Clark was also able to dominate in a four-year old car at a time the other manufacturers had - or should have - caught up with monocoque design? That will always remain one of the big mysteries of 1960s Grand Prix racing, as the well-to-do farmer's son never saw the need to cut himself free from his mentor Colin Chapman. The competition age of other successful Lotus cars such as the 49 and the 72 would favour the theory of inherent Lotus design superiority. But then there are the whole number of emphatic wins, remarkable come-back races (the 1967 Italian GP immediately comes to mind) and the stunning results in the years he unusually was the underdog, having to handle inferior machinery such as the awkward BRM H16-powered 43. And of course there is the unparalleled 1963 and 1965 dominance that would speak in favour of anyone's inane ability. Jimmy's rivals would certainly agree on that…
Perhaps the best way to illustrate that Chapman's technical prowess didn't take anything away from Clark's class, was their rival teams indeed failing to master the monocoque principle, which left Clark and Lotus free to dominate the Grand Prix scene at will for as long as the car would hold together. For instance, take a look at the BRP outfit which ran the customer Lotus 24 during 1962. It went off to construct its Lotus 25 copy for 1963 but never got it going. What the concept needed was a special driver to give the feedback necessary to fully exploit the potential suspension advantages - and a great technical mind to translate that feedback into further improvements. Together, Clark and Chapman were the only ones to make full use of the monocoque concept for years, so on a good day the Clark/Chapman combination would mean everybody else was fighting for second place from the start.
The 1962 Belgian GP, for once held in sunny conditions, gave first sign of that. On the track he truly detested because of being the first-row witness to Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey's horrifying accidents the year before and being there as well when Archie Scott-Brown got killed in 1958, Clark had started 12th after encountering engine trouble during qualifying but surged through the field to take the lead on lap 8 before cruising to the win by a comfortable margin of 44.1s over Graham Hill, the later World Champion. The Ferraris of Phil Hill and Ricardo Rodriguez were over half a lap down, with the rest of the runners lapped once or more. Tellingly, Clark's fastest lap was from a man possessed, as he ducked 1.4s below Graham Hill's pole time.
In contrast, Clark's 1963 win at Spa was a touch less emphatic, to say the least. It was dominated, almost to the line, by Dan Gurney in the first Brabham F1 car. Ironically, this was still a spaceframe car, using outboard front springs and dampers. So this rolling thing from the past would be uncompetitive, would it not? But then the aerodynamic sophistication put in by Jack's design magician Ron Tauranac should not be underestimated. Old-fashioned or not, at Spa the car certainly worked for Dan the Man. On lap 30 he had opened up a huge gap when suddenly he crawled into the pits, the engine stuttering, the driver screaming for fuel. Totally unprepared, the mechanics hurriedly scrummaged around for some drops of petrol and finally sent Dan along the way, dozens of seconds after Graham Hill and Bruce McLaren had gone past. But at least the American had stayed ahead of Jim Clark, who had taken to the pits as well, two laps earlier, to cure an enduring overheating problem on his Lotus 33. So on the last lap Hill was leading McLaren, Gurney and Clark. It wasn't to end this way, however, as Dan came to a halt at Stavelot, discovering that his mechanics had not put enough fuel on board to last him the distance. Amazingly, the same happened to Hill a few yards further up the road. So now McLaren was cruising to an outsider victory. No, he was not! As the Cooper also coasted to a standstill, its battery flattened, Clark passed them all and took the most unlikely win of his career. In the paddock, all the protagonists were still unaware of who the winner was, as they commisurated with each other. Then somebody came up to tell that Jimmy had won. Curiously, the same events would take place in the 1968 event, but this time justice was done: Bruce McLaren was the one who came up trumps unknowingly.
Not so in 1962, when Clark's first Grande Épreuve win showed all the signs of total dominance. Of course, the car helped. Launched with typical Chapman cunning, who fooled his customer legion in thinking the spaceframe Lotus 24 was the latest thing coming from the Hethel shops, the 25 swept all before it by applying a technique that was seen before but never used in such a smart and practical way: the monocoque. At Zandvoort, Jack Brabham and the BRP (UDT Laystall) team had been happy to take receipt of their new 24s. (At the time, Chapman had a healthy business running here: counting all Lotus chassis taking part in title events and other major F1 races during 1962, you could organize an entire championship for Lotus F1 cars - and with a B class next to that!)
But then the Lotus 25 came rolling out of the transporter. Suddenly, the design parameters of Grand Prix racing had shifted. Rob Walker remembers that John Cooper had Chapman covered. At Zandvoort the rival team owner looked down the cockpit of the new 25 and said: "Oh yes, I see what you mean; they're exactly the same - you just forgot to put in the chassis in this one."
The monocoque concept had been seen in sportscars, notably with the Jaguar D-type, the Marcos and the Lotus Elan, while there was word that Rodney Clarke had been planning a Connaught monocoque during the time the marque was still alive. The story might well be that erstwhile Lotus designer Frank Costin proposed a rear-engined monocoque to Chapman as early as 1957. His boss rejected the idea at the time but then in 1960 Costin made some more sketches on the basis of his newly acquired Marcos. This time, Chapman gave it some more thought. And suddenly, over a year later, with the Lotus Elan experience also growing on Chapman, the 25 appeared with a layout very similar to the Marcos…
It wasn't very sophisticated, though. It was just that no-one else had thought of the much improved structural rigidity a monocoque 'bathtub' would create. The 25 design basically consisted of two stressed pontoons, held together by the undertray. It had a front and rear bulkhead and a stressed panel carrying the instruments. The monocoque itself went the full length, the Climax engine cradled in it. (The engine working as a stressed member was a revolution to come by later in time - also pioneered by Lotus of course.) Not only was the structure lighter than a 24, it was also much more torsionally rigid. With chassis flexing greatly reduced, this created more leeway for a refined, slightly softer suspension set-up, which in turn gave better traction out of slow corners. It particularly showed at Monaco where Clark put the thing bang on pole but had his thunder stolen at the start when "Wild Willy" Mairesse barged his way through into the lead, only to trip up half the field after sliding off at the Gasometer hairpin.
At Spa, Clark was unable to show the strength of the Lotus 25 in qualifying as his Climax engine gave him all sorts of trouble. But in the race, Clark and the car were something else. The consummate Lotus superiority was underlined by Trevor Taylor who took the second fastest lap of the race - in the 'old' 24. The only one to come near the pace of the Lotus runners was home boy Mairesse in the Ferrari, fresh from his Monaco havoc, while the rest of the field were more than two seconds adrift.
Taylor was a huge talent himself those days, who would regularly give Clark a run for his money. Indeed Clark and Taylor had shared Formula Junior title honours before Colin Chapman decided to ditch Innes Ireland in favour of the two youngsters. At Spa, after lining up on the front row, Taylor did the early running as Clark came through the field, taking the lead from Mairesse on lap 4. This after the Belgian, who had made a flying start from the third row of the grid to take second, had gone past pole man Hill on the second lap. Then Taylor and Mairesse had a huge scrap for the lead, which evolved into a battle for second once Clark had passed them both.
On lap 25 an accident occurred which almost certainly blighted Taylor's racing spirit, as he was never to regain the sparkling form we had seen him put to good use during those early 1962 races. As it happened, Wild Willy hit Taylor's Lotus from the back, which caused the car to jump out of gear. Left with no drive, it got thumped by the Ferrari once more, the pair going off in a big way. Mairesse's 156 rolled and caught fire but luckily Willy escaped with minor injuries (which was infinitely better than what he did to himself later on, in 1969). Taylor wasn't badly hurt, as he was able to continue his season unabatedly, even getting his hands on Clark's R1 tub from Rouen on. But following the Spa weekend he was firmly in Clark's shadows, even more so during Jim's monster season of 1963. And so, for 1964 there was some irony involved when Taylor was left to sign for BRP, the same team the ousted and ever-unforgiving Innes Ireland had sought refuge with after being replaced at Lotus by one Trevor Taylor.
Meanwhile, R1 had suffered more woe in the Reims GP, Clark retiring with an overheating Climax. With R2 at his disposal for the Rouen race, he took pole yet again but was soon out of the race with a ball-joint at ill will with the rest of the car. Dramatically, Taylor suffered another monumental crash, and to make it worse, it happened after the chequered flag was shown! It was all a stupid coincidence: with John Surtees' barely making the finish, Trintignant had to take avoiding action and swerved in the path of Taylor's Lotus, which was catapulted in the air. Again, Taylor survived without a scratch, but now his confidence was truly shattered.
Then, at Aintree, the Lotus 25 finally showed the sort of domination we came to take for granted in 1963, Clark taking a pole-to-flag victory.
At the 'Ring we saw Jim drive a stupendous come-back race as he stalled his car at the start, causing him to get away dead-last. Taking fourth at the line was a fine performance, but the story of the race was Trevor Taylor unable to shake off his jinx. This time his engine momentarily shut off and while Trevor was busy trying to get the coughing machine back in working order it suddenly fired on all eight cylinders. The accident-prone Taylor was caught out by the sudden blow and his car went straight through a hedge, down a bank and into a tree. For the third time, he lived through the ordeal but with three bad omens hanging over him Trevor was never the same again.
Clark's end-of-season races saw one more dominant win, at the US GP, followed by a barnstorming victory in the non-championship Mexican GP after taking over Taylor's car, while the other races - invariably started from pole - went to waste for various reasons, the fragile German-built ZF gearboxes taking most blame. In the South African title decider the dreaded Lotus reliability struck again, with something as stupid as the bolt holding the jack-shaft working itself loose. It resulted in loss of oil pressure and thus the lead - and the championship - was lost to Graham Hill. For BRM it not only meant the title, it also meant continuity. At the beginning of the 1962 season Sir Alfred Owen had put BRM's fate in the hands of Hill winning at least two Grands Prix, or else. As it was, Graham winning three and the coveted title meant a slightly more prolonged existence of the BRM marque (see below)…
They had failed at their first serious shot at the title but Lotus were back in 1963. That story doesn't need to be told: it was Jimmy's year, as he took 14 wins from 20 starts and the World Championship by a landslide. Never before had a single man shown such dominance. With the recurring reliability woes of 1964 behind him, he did it all again in 1965: he dared skip Monaco to win the Indy 500 but then took six consecutive wins to seal the title by August. We are still awaiting the legend to better those achievements.
Reader's Why by Greg England
The revolutionary new monocoque Lotus 25 and the legendary Jim Clark win their first race, the 1962 Belgian GP at Spa. Colin Chapman had built the first monocoque chassis made of sheetmetal boxes riveted together which gave a more compact design with better torsional rigidity. This was a considerable inprovement over the tubular space frame cars of the other F1 builders. Behind the wheel of this new car, Chapman put one of the greatest talents in racing, the Scottish driver Jim Clark.
Clark was the son of a farmer who had started racing in 1956 at the age of 20. In 1959, Clark won 12 times in 20 starts in a Lister Jaguar. Then Chapman signed Clark to drive Lotus cars in Formula 2 and Formula Junior. After winning races in the lower formula Lotuses, Clark made his first F1 start in Zandvoort. He qualified eleventh but failed to finish with transmission problems. Clark finished fifth in his next two races at Belgium and France. He later added a third place finish in Portugal. Clark would run a full season for the Lotus F1 team in 1961. Clark scored 11 points in 8 starts but could not match the dominant Ferraris. He did win four non-championship GPs.
Then for 1962, Chapman produced the Lotus 25 with a Climax V-8 engine. Clark qualified third at Zandvoort in the new car and led the first 11 laps until a slipping clutch slowed him. At Monaco, Clark claimed his first pole position, but he got involved in a tangle and lost positions on the first lap before a clutch problem took him out. At Spa, Clark qualified a lowly twelfth, but took the lead on lap nine and ran away to post his first WC victory. Clark added five poles in the last six races of the season. He converted the poles at Aintree and Watkins Glen into dominating victories. But six DNF's let the championship go to Graham Hill in his BRM with Clark the runner-up.
The 1963 season was dominated by Clark and his Lotus. Clark sat on pole in seven of the ten races. Clark failed to finish at Monaco after starting on pole and leading 61 laps. But then Clark won the next four GP in a row, leading 244 of the 247 laps competed. In the last five races of the season Clark won three times, and had one second place and one third place finish. Clark easily took the drivers championship. Clark and Lotus also went to Indianapolis and scored a second place finish.
In 1964, Clark jumped to a big championship lead with three wins and a third in the first five races. But in the second five races, Clark managed to score only two points. He finished third in the championship to Surtees and Hill. Clark again dominated F1 in 1965, winning the first six races he entered, leading all but five laps in those races. Clark posted six poles and three second place starting positions. The Lotus team skipped Monaco to go to Indianapolis, where Clark won the 500. Although he failed to finish the last three races, Clark had won his second championship.
The change to the 3.0 liter formula for 1966 left Lotus and Clark underpowered. Clark won at Watkins Glen in a Lotus 43 with the BRM H-16 engine. After two rounds of the 1967 season, Chapman introduced the Lotus 49 with the new Cosworth DFV engine to F1. Clark made it a winner in its first start at Zandvoort. The combination won poles at 6 of the last 8 races. Clark added three more victories and a third place finish in those races. Clark suffered five DNF's for the season and wound up third in the championship behind Hulme and Brabham and the Repco powered Brabhams.
In the first race of the 1968 season, Clark sat on pole and led all but one lap in winning in South Africa. Then on April 7, 1968, Clark was killed instantly when he crashed into the trees in a Formula 2 race at Hockenheim. Clark had set the standard for drivers scoring 25 wins, 33 poles, and 28 fastest laps in his 72 championship starts.