The Day The Music Died In F1

This is not to detract from a few other similar dates, Von Trips and Senna come to mind (see here for background on Von Trips at the Italian at Monza and Senna at the closely related venue of Imola).

They are dark days, but bookend maybe the greatest loss in F1, that of Jim Clark, on April 7, 1968. Fifty years ago today. At Hockenheim. I was reminded of this this morning by the great Paul Henri Cahier.

It is fascinating how, now, when discussions of “the greatest driver ever” militate towards people like Hamilton and Schumacher, excellent drivers both, but with ridiculous relative equipment advantages, both, in their era of dominance. Too short of shrift is given to the lions of a different, more competitive, age like Jim Clark.

So, on the eve of the Bahrain Grand Prix, a beautiful location, but a shit show that F1 and Ecclestone should have never agreed to or tolerated for human rights reasons, raise a toast to Jim Clark. The man won two World Championships AND the 1965 Indianapolis 500. That is something you will never see again, and he was special.

37 replies
  1. bmaz says:

    FWIW, make this an open thread for any and all thoughts. It was just kind of a personal thought I had to make after the reminder by Paul Henri.

  2. Nigel says:

    He also scored the maximum possible points in one season – unlikely to be seen again, too.

    Fangio (who has more of a claim to the description than just about anyone), called him the greatest driver of all time.

    And by all accounts, a thoroughly decent guy.

    • bmaz says:

      Fangio did say exactly that. So too did Sterling Moss and Phil Hill and many, many, others. The best considered Clark the best. Other than, perhaps, Senna, that is really unique and telling in F1 lore.

  3. cat herder says:

    Random thoughts/criticisms of the current state of F1…

    If you want to see an economy demonstration, then give the cars a maximum fuel weight but then let them start with as little fuel as they want, like they do now. However if you want to see a race, give them a MINIMUM, say 115kg, more than can possibly be used in the race distance. No more fuel saving, no more of this driving just fast enough to not get passed by other cars who are all doing the same bullshit. Make them carry the fuel and make them burn it by going as fast as they can.

    The endless aero development has to come to an end. It’s silly, and makes the cars ugly, and makes the on-track racing worse, all of which makes me not want to watch. And I really don’t want to watch an hour of discussion about the latest winglet design concepts that have sprouted from the cars overnight.

    The new engines don’t sound nice? Well no shit, they are 90* V6s. No 90* V6 has ever sounded nice, ever. They just don’t and never will. Odd-fire/even-fire makes no difference, they all sound like a bag of rocks falling down some stairs. 90* V6 is the third worst sounding engine layout ever, after the Subaru flat-4 (why do they all sound like a plug wire fell off??) and the 45* V-twin (offensively bad, which is why the Harley guys love it). Now, a 60* V6, that’s completely different. Sounds not a whole lot unlike a V12. A V4 also sounds really nice. The fact that the smart guys picked this engine over the initially proposed inline-4 and didn’t know it would sound like ass makes me really doubt that they know what they’re doing, in a big-picture kind of way. It’s like the difference between intelligent and clever. They are very clever.

    • Snake Doctor says:

      May I suggest a cure for high-tech pro racing extremism?  Moto GP. As a kid, I followed all the F1 battles via printed medium and Jim Clark was my hero. On the date of his demise I was preoccupied with trying to keep myself alive in the Republic of Viet Nam so didn’t get the news until after my discharge. Anyway, there’s not anything aerodynamic about the human body perched on two wheels and nothing sounded nastier than Honda’s RC211V GP 990 cc V5 engine. Just my two bits.

    • Pete says:

      Gosh…I think it’s Infineon Raceway now but back in the late 90s I visited Griggs Racing at Sears Point looking for a Fox body suspension setup for a streetable twin turbo Mustang Corba. Bruce Griggs drove me in their demo mule and then let me drive. Not on the track but in the wild. Like it was on rails. Unfortunately the TT project never came to fruition. I think they are still there.

  4. Mike Trant says:

    The afternoon of April 7th was grey and dull, the racing was good but the prototype Ford P68, beautiful to look at but flawed beneath, failed to perform at the BOAC 500 at Brands Hatch. When Clark’s accident was announced over the PA the crowd was suddenly hushed, the excitement sucked out of the air and shock, disbelief, and sorrow swept into the vacuum. Fifty years gone and it all comes back so vividly. Thanks for refreshing the memories.

      • bmaz says:

        You know, that was what was so cool about Fernando Alonso going to drive the Indy 500 last year. And he was more than competitive when the equipment gave out. I honestly hope Alonso makes another stab, but he has his team in the mix in the second tier of the Constructors race, so they may not so easily allow this time.

  5. Rapier says:

    The US is fallow ground for F1 and open wheel racing. Same thing for motorcycle road racing. MotoGP is the trademark name of the highest class in the world and may have more US fans than F1, which isn’t saying much. There have been 2 MotoGP races each year in the US for some time now, at Indy, and Texas Speedway. currently Both with road courses laid out in them, not ovals.

    Neither here nor there. It has been dominated by 4 or 6 riders called aliens for almost 20 years. It is surprisingly safe. Only 1 racing death and 1 practice death in over 20 years (I think) It is interesting to see at any rate.

  6. quebecois says:

    My first forays in reading english was with motor Sport magazine when I was seven years old in 66. I was a fan of Jimmy then, still am today. The issue that talked about the accident made it here in september, my parents couldn’t understand why I was crying so much, sitting at the top of the stairs. Villeneuve and Senna are the two others that moved me as much.

    Nice shots on that MotoGP vid, but the music…

  7. Trip says:

    Sorry, sports fans. I guess this is as good of a place as any to post this, since it’s sort of an open thread:

    emptywheel‏ @emptywheel 9h9 hours ago
    emptywheel The same dude who didn’t think his 50 story building needs a sprinkler system was just bitching at Dems bc they’re not good at safety and security.

    Also, @Marcy, a guy dies in a fire at Trump Tower, 4 FFs are injured, and Trump tweets about how well his building is built.

    BTW, a trip down memory lane with Rudy and Donald and the consideration of sprinkler systems:

    New Requirement for Sprinklers In Apartment Buildings Is Likely
    DEC. 30, 1998

    Archie Spigner, the chairman of the City Council’s Housing and Buildings Committee, said yesterday that he received a telephone call this week from Donald J. Trump, the real estate developer, who expressed concern about the high cost of installation and other problems that he had with sprinklers. Mr. Trump confirmed yesterday that he had ”received and placed calls” from and to various city officials. It is that kind of easy access to city leaders by the opposition that proponents of sprinkler legislation fear. ”It is a hard battle, because real estate interests make political contributions,” said John A. Viniello, the president of the National Fire Sprinkler Association, which has also made contributions and whose members stand to profit from laws requiring sprinklers. ”If they are financially supporting the City Council and the Mayor, it is difficult for politicians to take action that is unpopular with them.”…Any bill is likely to face opposition, however. Last year, a Council-sponsored bill calling for sprinkler systems in high-rise apartment buildings died quietly because it was opposed by the Giuliani administration, ignored by the Council leadership and lobbied against by the real estate industry, whose ability to make sizable campaign contributions has historically made it a force to reckon with in city politics.

  8. tjallen says:

    In 1968 I was a 9 year old Formula One fan, having been baptized by the movie Grand Prix just two years before. I read every racing book in the public library, and was in the process of becoming Jim Clark’s greatest fan, when I learned he had already died in an accident the month before. After crying about that for awhile, I latched onto another driver, Jochen Rindt. You fans will know how that one went.

  9. bmaz says:

    About 12 laps into the 57 lap Bahrain GP. It is on ESPN2. Pretty good racing so far. No clue how people in front have so easily let Hamilton through the field. Depressing that nobody defends anymore in the early stages of races.

    • bmaz says:

      And the closing laps, with Vettel trying desperately to hold on to failing tires, and the Mercedes of Bottas and Hamilton closing relentlessly, was everything that is good about F1. Fantastic racing.

      • SOElse says:

        Good racing, but I think Bottas choked on the last lap. I can’t help thinking that if it had been Hamilton in Bottas’ position, he would have passed Vettel. Having said that, Hamilton is such a jerk. If he had only one-tenth of the class of Jim Clark, I might even get to like him. A nice article in the Guardian on Jim Clark, which I can’t seem to attach with my iPad.

        • bmaz says:

          Dang, and I would like to see that article. I’ll see if I can find it. Also, welcome to Emptywheel. It is not always consistent week to week, especially during football season, but we have long done F1 here.

        • bmaz says:

          OMG, this must be it. A fantastic article.

          Jim Clark was almost certainly the only Formula Oneworld champion as comfortable with a shepherd’s crook as with a steering wheel. Had he not been killed in Germany 50 years ago this coming weekend, his family’s farm in the Scottish borders is the place to which he would have returned when his days on the globe’s racetracks were done.

          His death stunned the world as profoundly as that ofAyrton Sennaa quarter of a century later, and for much the same reason. The two champions shared a virtuosity that lifted them to a level above their rivals and made them seem invulnerable.

          Both accidents also left behind them a sense of mystery. When Clark died on a forested section of the Hockenheim circuit during a Formula Two race on 7 April 1968, leaving the track on a fast curve at 160mph, there were no spectators or TV cameras in attendance. The only witness was a German track official who reported seeing the driver’s efforts to take control of the car before it left the track and plunged straight into the trees, where it was torn apart. Clark, his neck broken by the impact, died instantly…….

          His gravestone in a village churchyard a couple of miles from the family home describes him, before any mention of his racing activities, as a “farmer of Chirnside and of Pembroke, Bermuda”.

          The second address was added by his executors in order to ward off the Inland Revenue, whose initial claim to 91p of every pound he earned had led to him to take refuge first in Paris and then in Bermuda. The taxmen never believed him and pursued his estate for several years after his death. They couldn’t catch Jim Clark, either.

          A not all that long, but truly fantastic piece. Well worth the read.

        • Nigel says:

          No, I think Bottas missed his chance a lap or two earlier my missing the DRS activation by about a tenth of a second – had he got it then (as, I agree, Hamilton would), he’d almost certainly have been able to take Vettel before the finish.

  10. quebecois says:

    Went back to Motor Sport magazine, some really nicely written articles and videos to watch.


  11. Trip says:

    Apropos of nothing, Michael Avenatti has ‘jumped the shark’ with his sketch and reward, dog and pony show.

  12. Nahant says:

    I was in Germany then and a couple of my fellow soldiers were there to watch the racing when Jim Clarke died at Hockenheim. I had duty or I would have been there with them. They came back in mourning at his death.. I did get to the 68 Grand Prix where they raced in the rain.. Sure was fun.

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