Brands Hatch

THE BRITISH GRAND PRIX alternates between Silverstone and Brands Hatch, one in the center of England and the other only 25 miles south of London. Personally, I prefer the former, probably because I am on the committee of the British Racing Drivers' Club that runs Silverstone. This year it was the turn of Brands Hatch and as it was to be our second race there this year, I sincerely hoped it would be a more cheerful one. Last March 17th there was a non-championship race for Formula 1 cars and I had entered Siffert in what to me was a brand new car; in fact, it had actually been raced before by Jim Clark when he won the South African GP.

Siffert was out early for the first practice as we wished to get some laps in before the threatened rain. He was, in fact, the only car out and had just completed one warm-up lap and was on his second when it happened. He passed below the pits, disappeared around the long left hander, then suddenly there was a deathly silence and my head mechanic remarked to me that things had gone rather quiet. I tried to persuade him that when the cars disappeared around the back you could not hear them but it did not sound very convincing.

Then Siffert appeared running down the road and I ran to meet him. Apparently he had got on the marbles, the loose stuff at the edge of the circuit which collects when it has not been raced on recently, then he got one wheel over the edge and the car just slid straight for a concrete marshal's post and that was the end of it. We had pinned all our hopes on this car and now it was a mass of wreckage. No wheels, the monocoque badly bent and fuel pouring out of tanks. Fortunately Jo Siffert was alright although terribly depressed.

He was wearing a Porsche anorack which had a little writing. pad on elastic in the pocket; you could pull it out and when you let go, it shot back into his pocket. Whenever anyone came up and asked what happened, he would pull out this pad which had written on it "Merde alars" and let it flick back into his pocket. It is good to have a sense of humor at such times.

That night my mechanics took what was left of the Lotus back to our racing stable and began dismantling it. I decided to go to watch the practice the next day and the F 1 cars had just started when the loudspeakers announced that there was an urgent telephone call for me. When I got to the phone it was my manager who said, "I have bad news, Guvnor, the whole of the racing department has been destroyed by fire!" This meant my priceless 1927 Delage, a Type 52 Bugatti, what was left of the Lotus 49 plus the brand new £7500 Ford engine, a Cooper-Maserati and a host of spares-about £ 50,000 worth in all and not a thing left. But worst of all, so many treasures and mementos such as the tire on which Stirling Moss won the Argentine GP with only two plies of fabric left out of five. Also many autographed photos and albums and wreaths, all gathered over 34 years of motor racing. That was my last visit to Brands Hatch and I hoped this one would be more cheerful.

FOR MANY YEARS I have competed in most of the World Championship races in Europe and North America and always, the one I like least is the British GP. This is partly because it is about the most difficult to get to and from because of the traffic jams and partially because a prophet is proverbially without honor in his own country. Not that I consider myself a prophet but before the race I stuck my neck out a bit and picked Amon to win, if it were dry.Practice started at 10:30 AM on Thursday and lasted for two and a half hours with a further hour in the afternoon and then another two hours on Friday. This was a welcome relief after the bare two hours total at Rouen, and I am sure no one felt it was too much. I for one certainly did not as we had our new Lotus 49B which was still having the final touches during the first hour of practice. My mechanics had worked all through the night trying to complete it as we had been building it ourselves at the factory for the past three weeks.

The first remarkable thing about the practice was that the weather stayed fine for both days with the temperature in the 70s much to everyone's surprise. The organizers had attempted to produce a really representative field and there was an entry list of 23 cars, the largest field yet seen in an F1 race this year. But three of these did not appear. Tom Jones from America with Rindt's Cooper-Maserati from last year (because the organizers declined to pay all expenses to bring car and driver from America), Bianchi with the Cooper-AIfa as the engine was not yet quite ready and a third BRM as they could not spare one. It was good to see Dan Gurney back with the Eagle, this time with an engine entirely made by his own people and a chassis which had first raced at Zandvoort in 1967.

Stabilizers were well to the fore and now only two teams were not using them, BRM and Cooper. They both reckon they can get along without them as they both use the system of ducting air through the nose to hold it down. There are various ways of attaching the stabilizer wing but the only sensible one would appear to be that used by Colin Chapman on the Lotus. He attaches the struts directly to the suspension uprights and reckons he gets 400 lb of down thrust on the rear wheels. Honda also uses this method but everybody else has it attached to the chassis inboard somewhere with the result that the springs are being compressed and there is much less shock absorber action. Chapman had also raised his wing by a further foot to a height of five feet so that it would be out of the turbulance of other cars and thus avoid another accident like Jack Oliver had at Rouen. Beltoise had a self-adjustable spoiler on the Matra but he did not think it helped very much.

Brands Hatch is a course that takes a lot of adjusting a car to suit it and it also gives the shock absorbers a terrible pounding. After the first practice many people were in trouble on this score and changes were made by McLaren, Ferrari and Brabham, and the Honda was bottoming both ends.

Vic Elford was joined on the Cooper team by Robin Widdows who did not start too auspiciously by making an inspection hole in his engine from a thrown rod. Various improvements had been made to overcome previous faults. Graham Hill had new axle shafts derived from Mercedes and we had them fitted on the second day. They were the same ones that Lotus used with the BRM V-16 engine. Brabham mounted their Repco engines on rubber to overcome vibration which had accounted for Rindt's cracked tanks at Rouen. Also the fuel pump had been moved down to the side of the gearbox to overcome Jack's trouble both at Zandvoort and Rouen.

GRAHAM HILL started off by setting the pace and kept this up throughout both days, always holding the fastest lap time. There was a prize of 100 bottles of champagne for the fastest lap in practice and as Graham was holding a party on Saturday night he reckoned he must have it. It was advertised to be Veuve Clicquot but eventually they gave Graham a less expensive brand, to which he remarked,

"What a crummy joint, I shall not come back here again and I'll ask for the difference in price." Typical Hill humor.

Chris Amon in the Ferrari kept to second fastest time until the final session when he was pipped by Jack Oliver in the works Lotus by a tenth of a second. After the first day's practice his Ferrari had a bolt come loose in the water pump and engineer Forghieri was very upset because it was in such an inaccessible place he had to change the engine. Apart from this they had no complaints. They did try megaphone exhaust pipes for a better power range but abandoned them and Chris had a water header tank split which caused a lot of steam and mess, but otherwise no problems.

Jack Oliver had now been given my oId Lotus, as Colin Chapman very sportingly decided, to speed up the work on my new 49B so that he could take back the old car to replace the one Oliver crashed at Rouen. Lotus completely renovated the car and fitted it with the latest modifications.

With the spoilers and stabilizer, few people recognized it for anything but a 49B, especially as Jack Oliver did it full credit by putting it on the front row of the grid. He was third-fastest on the first day and then second fastest during the final practice, only half a second slower than Graham's very fast 1 min, 28.9 sec. The Brabham team did not have a happy two days practice. First, Jack had a roller bearing on the throttle slides jam and this put him out for the first day. Then on the second day, a bolt fell out of the cylinder head and oil poured out and he was black flagged. He plugged the hole with a wooden peg but it was not very successful and he was black flagged again. Rindt had one of his new rubber engine mounts break in the first session and the next day he was complaining of too much braking on the front. Jack took the car out, rammed on the brakes down the straight and the back wheels locked. End of complaint. BRM had an unhappy time throughout. Pedro complained of lack of power in the engine but liked the practice car.

But while driving the practice car, the front suspension collapsed, so finally they took the engine out of the practice car and put it in his own. The mechanic driving Attwood's car to the pits hit a gate post doing it little good so Tatty Atty had a tatty car too.

Beltoise got Jackie Stewart to try his Matra V-12 and Jackie said it did not handle too badly but had a tendency to understeer. Beltoise says that it is really too heavy as it weighs 580 kilos (1280 Ib) which is too much over the 500 kg (1105 lb) weight limit to give away.

Poor Silvio Moser in the Brabham had an unhappy time. The engine blew up in the first practice then, having changed that, he had a minor accident the second day which prevented him from getting a good time. There was a regulation that if a time of five seconds slower than the 3rd fastest car was not reached, the organizers had the right to exclude the entrant. This affected both Moser and Bonnier, who had been suffering from lack of engine power, but after discussion, the organizers decided not to invoke this rule as both drivers had failed, not through lack of competence, but from unfortunate circumstances.

John Surtees found that both his front shock absorbers were worn out but even after these were changed the car was not handling well. At the end of the final practice, I asked him how it was going, to which he replied, "It is going bloody lousy," which seemed to be to the point and sum the situation up in a nutshell. However he was eighth fastest with a time of 1 :30.3.

The McLarens were not having much trouble except for shock absorbers and Denny Hulme broke a drive shaft. Jackie Stewart was also having to change shock absorbers on his Matra-Ford but he was mainly complaining about tires, as was everyone who was not running on Firestone. Firestone had produced a new tire known as the YB 11 and though this was originally intended as a rain tire it turned out to be a first class dry one and about a second a lap faster than the previous one. So we were laughing.

The new Lotus 49B that Jack Durlacher and I had entered for Jo Siffert was not completed by the beginning of the first practice although my three mechanics had worked all night at Lotus trying to complete it. When they tried to start it, the electric pump would not work. As this was about 6 AM, they simply bundled the car into the back of the truck and drove the hundred odd miles to Brands Hatch. When practice started they were still putting the finishing touches to it in the back of the transporter. We still didn't have the right gear ratios or the new Firestone tires but as we had missed an hour and a half of practice we thought we ought to give it a try in the last hour and it really did not go too badly. In the interval before the last one-hour session, we put in the right gear ratios and changed to the YB 11 tires but after about 10 laps the car began smoking badly. We were worried that it would mean an engine change and another all-night session but it turned out to be only a screw fallen out of a plate in the head and the maestro Keith Duckworth was there to replace it himself. As head of Cosworth he is a tower of strength, always knows with certainty the answer to everything and is a great help to us. We replaced the screw, refilled the oil and away for the last 10 minutes of practice to get 11 th fastest.

ON THE SECOND day, we were all set to go and right away knocked about a second off our previous time. Siffert then said could I ask Graham Hill if he would mind showing him around for a couple of laps which Graham very kindly agreed to do as he really is the greatest sportsman and a tremendous friend also. Siffert followed him for two laps then missed a gear which would have sent the revs soaring and broken the engine if it were not for the wonderful rev limiter which cut the engine before the danger point. Siffert lost Graham at this point but he had got the idea and soon knocked another second off his time. Then, on the penultimate lap, when just finishing scrubbing his tires, he put in a quick one of 1:29.7 which was fourth fastest overall, much to our delight.

In the evening there was a final practice which was unofficial and not timed and I consider this a very good idea as it gives everyone a chance to make last-minute adjustments and corrections. We went out and tried the car with full tanks and found it bottoming badly. I told Colin Chapman and Graham Hill about this as they had not tried theirs with a full load on board and I thought it might repay their help besides getting their advice. They said we must alter the position of the rear shock absorber and go slowly. So we took the former advice.

BEFORE THE START of the race some very dark clouds rolled up and 15 minutes before the off some large drops fell and we were back to the old pattern of Rouen, Zandvoort and Spa should it be rain tires or not? Ferrari stuck to their routine of Ickx with wet and Amon with dry like they did at Rouen, but this time it worked in Chris's favor. Rindt, Rodriguez and Bruce McLaren joined Ickx with the rain tires and Stewart was a mass of indecision, first he changed on to wet tires and then at the 3-minute signal he went back on to dry ones, completing the maneuver just before they moved from the dummy grid at the one-minute signal. For once I had played it right and asked Jack Durlacher the night before to make last minute checks with the local RAF weather station and get the very latest report before the start. They had assured us that although there would be heavy cloud, probably clearing later, there would be no rain. They were dead right although the few spots that fell shook me a bit but I stuck to a decision for dry tires.

I walked up to the start with Chris Amon and as it was his birthday I wished him well and told him he must win to uphold my prediction. Little did I know then what an effect it would have had on me had my good wishes come true.

The start was precisely on time and went off well except for VicElford in the Cooper who had difficulty in starting and Dan Gurney who was most unfortunately late away due to fuel pump trouble. Poor Dan, he has the luck of the devil.

Sepi Siffert in our car got away to a beautiful start, slipping into third spot behind Jack Oliver, who had made a tremendous start, and Graham Hill. So it was three Lotuses in the lead at the end of the first lap, followed by Amon's Ferrari, Stewart in the Tyrrell Matra-Ford, Surtees' Honda V-12, Rodriguez in the BRM V-12, Bruce's McLaren-Ford and Rindt in the Brabham-Repco. Then came Attwood's BRM V-12, Ickx in the second Ferrari, Hulme's McLaren, Beltoise's Matra V-12, Courage in Tim Parnell's BRM, Widdows in the Cooper-BRM, Moser's older BrabhamRepco, Bonnier's McLaren-BRM and then the two who had been left at the start, Elford's Cooper-BRM and Gurney's Eagle. At the end of the first lap Brabham came in to retire with a broken camshaft timing chain. The second lap remained the same but Oliver was leaving a smoke trail and oil must have been leaking from somewhere or the tanks overfilled.

On Lap 3 Graham Hill overtook teammate Oliver, Siffert remained in third and McLaren passed Rodriguez for seventh place. On Lap 4 Dan Gurney came in for a pit stop of 54 minutes to change his fuel pump. On Lap 8 Bonnier came in and retired with no brakes and Moser then stopped for a long time with gear selector problems and only four gears.

By Lap 10, it was still the three Lotuses in the lead followed by Amon's Ferrari. These were in a fairly tight bunch but Oliver's car was throwing out so much oil that Siffert was having difficulty in seeing through his goggles. Consequently, each time he went past the pits he tried to wipe them clean. At first we were worried by this strange gesture he was making but my head mechanic, Tony CleverIey, got the message and realized he was being troubled by Oliver's oil. Otherwise, the order remained the same with Stewart being followed very unwillingly by Surtees who was spending much of his time waving his fist at Stewart while trying to get by. Lap 11 and Attwood came in to retire his BRM having had a stone through the radiator and Beltoise came by very slowly with a very sick Matra engine which on the 12th lap decided it would go no more. On Lap 13 Surtees, with a final wave of fist, got past Stewart and began pulling away. Throughout the race, I have never seen anybody trying harder than John Surtees and the car looked horrible.

On Lap 14 Lotus got worried about the continual stream of oil from Oliver's car and gave him a signal to watch his oil pressure. On the same lap, Rodriguez came in to put on dry tires and Piers Courage came in to investigate boiling problems. By Lap 15 the order was much the same with Hill only having a 1.5-sec lead over Oliver, then came Siffert and Amon. They were a little further back trying to keep out of the oil spray but running fairly close together with never more than a second between them.

On Lap 26 Graham Hill had one of the new driveshafts let go. The right hand rear suspension collapsed and his race was run. I became anxious in case our driveshafts would behave the same way but I was slightly reassured when I was told his had done 200 miles testing and ours were only fitted half way through practice. Now Oliver was in the lead 2.2 sec ahead of Siffert with Amon right behind. Widdows brought a very sick sounding Cooper in for a minute to investigate a misfire caused by overrevving. At the same time, Vic Elford with the other Cooper had a rod peep out to see what was going on, spilling oil everywhere with the result, exit Elford.

The continual oil on Siffert's goggles had been troubling him very much and by Lap 37 Oliver had a l0-second lead. At this point, Sepi let Chris Amon by and really took time off to wipe his goggles properly. He lost 4 sec on that lap and gave the owner a very anxious few moments. After that, however, his lap times came right down and he began to recatch Amon and close the gap on Oliver who, on Lap 34, had made a new lap record of 1.30.3. Now with his goggles clear, Siffert closed right up on Amon, breaking the lap record on the 42nd lap and leaving it at 1 :29.7. On Lap 43, Oliver's car began spewing oil out from a broken seal and both Amon and Siffert slid on it.

Then Sepi outbraked the Ferrari and was back into second place. On the very next lap, Oliver's Lotus came to a grinding halt. A bearing had gone and the con rod had broken so that was the end of his excellent race which was very hard luck after such a brilliant drive. Now we were left just in the lead with the might of Ferrari breathing down our necks. It had always been like this in our past victories, just us against the complete Ferrari team. We seem to give of our best in these circumstances as they are such worthy opponents to beat. On Lap 43, Surtees rear air foil came adrift and the car, which had been handling like a pig, became an absolute beast and was weaving all over the road. So Jacky Ickx managed to get past the Honda and was now lying behind his teammate Amon albeit a long way back. So Chris could really have a go and if he overdid it then Ickx was still there to uphold the Ferrari placing.

On Lap 44, Siffert was half a second ahead of Amon, then came Ickx about 60 seconds back followed by Hulme, Surtees, and Stewart. Further back came McLaren, Rindt, Rodriguez and Courage, a lap behind. I wondered how I could stand. the tension of being in the lead by less than a second for another 36 laps. The loudspeakers kept saying that Amon was playing a waiting game, that he had passed Siffert once and knew he could do it again. I decided not to think what might happen to the car, whether it might come around or not, but just concentrate on my job of keeping accurate lap times and gaps and sending him good pit signals. The lap chart is kept by my wife and Harold Theyer of Ferodo, who has been doing this most accurately since Stirling's days. Lap after lap the gap wavered around the one-second mark. It was sometimes less, sometimes more, but I noted with satisfaction that when Chris closed a bit, Sepi would always put in a faster lap next time and draw away which showed me he had a little in hand.

On the 50th tour they lapped Jackie Stewart, leaving just five cars on the same lap. On Lap 52 Rodriguez fell from his ninth position with a broken timing chain and then on Lap 55, just 25 to go, the loudspeakers announced that Ferrari had hung out the "Faster" signal to Amon. Always in the past, I had considered this a most welcome sign as whenever it appeared in the old days, it had meant victory to us.

It stands to reason when a chap has been doing his nut for over 50 laps and is then told to go faster, it must just break his heart. On Lap 56 Rindt began losing fuel from a cracked pump on the side of the gearbox. This was duly set alight by sparks from the commutator and after going around with a small fire behind he was black flagged and the conflagration put out. On the next round, Hulme was lapped, Surtees having suffered a similar fate four laps before, and this left only. ourselves and the two Ferraris on the same lap.

With 12 laps to go, Siffert and Amon came up to lap Ickx. I wondered if he would hold up Sepi, who then had a 1.2 second lead over Amon. I spoke to Siffert afterwards about this and he said he did not intend to give him a chance to but Ickx had behaved very sportingly and let them both
through. It was anxious moments waiting to see if the gap had closed up but it was still a second, which is about 50 yards.

Now we were down to 1 a laps to go and Chris Amon put in his big effort in the Ferrari. He cut the lead to seven tenths of a second, or about 30 yards, but Sepi gallantly responded by gaining a tenth the next lap.

He held it the same on the next and then very gradually began gaining about ten yards each lap. With 5 laps to go he had a 100yard lead and he began to breathe more freely. Then Tony Cleverley brought the fuel can and funnel out on the pit counter and I began to have misgivings. It is always difficult to be sure about fuel consumption, especially when the car has been pushed to the limit throughout the race, even though we had started with full tanks. It took me a whole lap to pluck up the courage to ask Tony whether this was a necessity or merely a precaution and to my relief he answered it was the latter. He was just acting as every top rate mechanic would, and being ready for every eventuality.

Suddenly, it was just 2 laps to go and Sepi had a 150-yard lead. By this time the announcer was talking about Rob Walker not having won a World Championship since Niirburgring in 1961 and I wished he would shut up, we hadn't won yet, but at least we had been in the lead for 35 laps.

Then I heard the announcer say Siffert had one wheel in the dirt, he is sliding badly but he has held it. Actually, it was Amon who did this and in a moment Siffert came by and started his last lap. There were feverish efforts by the announcer to keep the excitement up with remarks like "I don't think Amon can quite make it," but he was 200 yards behind and Siffert came safely over the line with a 4.4-sec lead over Amon with Ickx in the other Ferrari a lap behind in third place. I just could not believe it, to win the British Grand Prix was like a dream and after all the disasters of the last Brands Hatch meeting, it was almost a fairy tale.

Signor Forghieri of Ferrari was one of the first to congratulate us, they are such worthy and sporting rivals. Colin Chapman was just delighted in spite of his misfortunes. Herr Schmitz of the AvD and Niirburgring, the toughest and most honorable negotiator, offered us more starting money for the German GP although we had agreed to a figure already.

Then they drove us around the circuit on a trailer towed by a Ford tractor with the car, Sepi, his wife Sabine, the mechanics, Jack Durlacher and myself on it. The crowd gave us a tremendous ovation, almost blocking the road in places. I think they appreciate the David and Goliath act with the private entrant against all the works teams. Earl Mountbatten presented the prizes and Prince Charles and the Duke of Kent were at the meeting so royalty was fully represented. The Duke told' me he had also been at our last victory in Germany in 1961. Seven years seems a long time to wait for another win, but it is worth it when it comes.

It was Siffert's first World Championship win, my ninth and I have always had an ambition to make it 10. The last time a Swiss driver won a GP was in 1949 when Baron de Graffenreid won the British GP.

It was a triumph for Firestone with their new YB 11 tire getting the first three places. Our tires had plenty of tread but one of Chris Amon's rears was very worn and I think this is what slowed him in the last few laps.

It was a most convincing win of Sepi Siffert's as he took the lap record, his average for the race was faster than the previous lap record and he never fell below third place. It is interesting to compare this victory with that of Stirling's at the Ntirburgring in 1961. They both had Lotus cars but Sepi's was brand new whereas Stirling's was a year and a half old with a revamped body and an engine which was 30 hp down on the Ferraris. Siffert's engine was at least as good as the Ferrari. Stirlin'g's victory was all driver but this was a combination of car and driver.

My prophecy of Amon to win was almost correct, I just forgot one car, our own! I take back all I said about disliking the British GP; from now on I shall love it, and there wasn't one traffic jam or I didn't see it as I drove straight in and out. The crowd certainly demonstrated you can be a prophet in your own country with honor!

races index

'68 French GP

Author: ArchitectPage

60's F1 RACES - written at the time
The British Grand Prix 1968
Starting lap
Siffert and

Rob Walker owner