THE FRENCH GRAND PRIX was held this year at the Rouen-Les-Essarts Circuit, some five miles outside the city in the direction of Paris. I think it is one of the most beautiful circuits, situated as it is among lovely woods. It is a true drivers' circuit with some very difficult fast bends and barely adequate width to pass in. The only fault I have ever found with it is the rough surface (particularly at the hairpin at the end of the straight) which is a real car breaker:

Rouen might be called Dan Gurney's course. This is probably because it is a real driver's circuit and Dan is just that. In 1962, when Dan was driving the rather ill-fated works Fl Porsche, he won his first World Championship race here and the first and last for Porsche. Gurney again won the Grand Prix here in 1964 driving a Brabham, so it was all the more disappointing not to see him this year as he had hoped to have a modified Eagle engine ready but it did not transpire. 

The greatest interest in practice was the arrival of the new aircooled V-8 Honda which was very revolutionary and had been kept secret until the week before the race. John Surtees tested it at Silverstone the Tuesday before the race and told me it was coming along very well. He was feeling somewhat disgusted about the whole affair when I spoke to him at Rouen before practice because it had already been announced in the French press that the car was to be given to Honda of France for J 0 Schlesser to drive in the GP and the first John knew about it was at 7:30 AM the first day of practice.

Practice was supposed to be for an hour on Thursday starting at 5 PM. This is little enough in all conscience but it started 20 minutes late because the television people were going around the course. As Jo Siffert said to the organizers, this is not being serious for a World Championship race. Television is in enough trouble in Europe with the complaints about advertising on racing cars without mucking up the practice periods as well. In the end we had 45 minutes of practice. This was insufficiept for the less experienced drivers to learn the course properly and also made it impossible for anybody to make adjustments and have a chance to try them out.

Rindt in his 4-cam Brabham set the pace (as might be expected as he held the lap record) and very soon recorded the fastest time of the day in 1 min 56.1 sec. Next up was Ickx Ferrari with 1:57.7 and teammate Amon a tenth slower. Surtees reported the older Honda handling well and he and Denny Hulme (McLaren-Ford) equalled the next time in 1 :58.2. Jackie Stewart told me his wrist was even more painful after winning at Zandvoort than it was after Spa earlier and I said I thought this was natural as he must have had to work harder. But he said in fact he took it easy at Zandvoort and thought this was why he went faster. However, he came up with seventh fastest in 1 :58.7 in the Tyrrell Matra-Ford.

The Lotuses and BRMs were not handling well on the bumpy surface. Pedro Rodriguez-in the BRM was the best of them with eighth place, which was very creditable considering he did not know the course well. Graham Hill was having trouble with an extra large stabilizer across the tail of his Lotus. They said it was very susceptible to the least change of angle and had to be got exactly right. Jackie Oliver broke another drive shaft in the other Lotus 49B and they put it down to an experimental grease they were using which was supposed to be better but obviously wasn't. Beltoise on home ground in the Matra V -12 put in his best effort so far in the dry and managed 11 th fastest with 2:01.

Cooper fielded two entirely new drivers, Johnny Servoz Gavin, the French Matra driver on loan and Vic Elford, that versatile driver who had won the Monte Carlo Rally, Daytona, Targa Florio and Nurburgring all for Porsche this year and now was having just his third drive in a single seater. Servoz, knowing the course, soon managed to get down to a very respectable 2.0J.2 making him 12th fastest. Elford broke a drive to the fuel pump and only managed to get in three laps at the end. Jo Schlesser was next but last with 2:07 as he not only had to get used to the new Honda but the car had to be sorted out as well.

Owing to the short practice on Thursday it was to be increased on Friday from an hour to an hour and 35 minutes but even then they started 15 minutes late and only gave 1 hour 20 minutes. I believe this resulted in the total time for practice being less than specified in FIA regulations for World Championship races. This was brought up at the Grand Prix Drivers Association meeting but the French are a law unto themselves.

THE WEATHER had been hot and sunny in the morning but Saturday practice did not begin until 5 PM and by then it had clouded over and spots of rain were falling which were insufficient to wet the circuit but looked ominous. Much to everyone's relief (except Rindt, who already had fastest time), the rain held off.

The stabilizer craze had spread to the McLarens and Denny Hulme told me that they really were a must, the improvement was so great. Even so he was not entirely happy with the handling after practice was over.

The first excitement of practice was when Jackie Oliver had what looked to be a very nasty accident along the straight, about 200 yards before the pits and in full view of everybody. He was slipstreaming Siffert and Attwood doing about 135 mph in 4th gear when the tail suddenly began to wander and the next thing the car had swapped ends and then swiped a wall on the left and distintegrated. There were bits of car in the road and everywhere and Oliver stepped out of virtually nothing to walk across the track and back to the pits. I was simply amazed and very relieved to see him get out of this mess unhurt nobody knows the reason for the accident, least of all Oliver, and it is a great mercy it did not happen 200 yards further down where it would probably have killed about 20 people around the pits. The first theory was that the bell housing had broken in half but on examination this was found to have been done in the accident. Later it was thought that the huge stabilizer he had on the tail had got a cross draft from the two cars he was slipstreaming and so unstabilized him.

I think that the circuit was not quite so fast as the first day and those people who improved on their previous times did so because they were getting more accustomed to the circuit or their cars (in the cases of Schlesser and Elford) or that they had made overnight improvements to the handling.

This was certainly the case with Jackie Stewart who put in an excellent 1 :57.3 to give him second-fastest time overall. He told me that he had hoped to put in an even faster lap but he got balked causing quite an ugly moment.

Rindt did little practice as he hung on to his pole position on the grid which he proudly told me was the first time in a Formula 1 Grand Prix that he had made fastest time. His engine had done 300 faultless miles at Goodwood before coming here and then had a brief strip when everything was found to be in perfect order. Jack Brabham; on the other hand, was having the same engine fuel pump trouble that he had at Zandvoort. This time it packed up altogether and he could only manage 14th on the grid.

Jo Schlesser circulated regularly with the new Honda and brought down his time but his position remained as 17th. This was also the case with Vie Elford in the Cooper-BRM who was 18th and last, which was not surprising being his first Formula 1 drive. Eventually, he had the bad luck to blow up the engine with a suspected rod gone. Chris Amon, who did not improve his time in his Ferrari, broke his engine at the end of practice and was stranded out on the circuit. On the last lap Denny Hulme did a quick one to ease himself into fourth spot ahead of Amon with a 1 :57.7.

John Surtees with the older Honda suffered from ignition wires breaking, the same complaint that he had at Madrid. This seems an extraordinary fault to me but is obviously a real problem. Piers Courage put a spoiler on the front of his BRM with the obvious result that it became tail happy. I suggested he put one on the back but he said he did not think BRM would agree with such innovations. 

Graham Hill slightly improved his time to give him ninth fastest with 1 :59.1 but he had many tribulations. First, he had gear selector trouble, then Colin Chapman held up his practice to examine Oliver's car to see that nothing vital had broken which might affect Graham's car and finally when he was ready to get on with it, the black ignition box failed so he only got a few laps in the end.

Siffert, still with Jack Durlacher and my oId Lotus-Ford, steadily improved his time although the car was very twitchy through the esses after the pits, and finally finished in 12th place. We were suffering from a flat spot in the engine and Keith Duckworth, paying one of his rare race visits, came along and immediately offered the remedy. I can only describe Keith as a genius and up to this race his Cosworth engines had won every World Championship race of the season. Personally, I have never worked with a better engine nor nicer people. At the end of practice Servoz-Gavin in the Cooper, who had not improved on his previous day's time, ran out of fuel on the circuit.

After having seen the circuit with 3-liter cars on it, I could not be of any other opinion than it was mighty dangerous, especially in the pit area during practice. The circuit is narrow at this point, taking just two cars abreast, and the pit lane is just a widening of this road with a yellow line dividing it from the circuit. As this pit lane is only about one-and-a-half cars wide, when many cars are in the pits at the same time, they practically encroach on the yellow. line. The cars are going past at 160 mph and there's no safety barrier, or anything, for protection. I think they will be very lucky if they don't have a Le Mans type accident sooner or later.

THERE WAS AN unofficial practice at 8 AM Sunday and many of the Fl teams took advantage of this. As a result, Attwood in the BRM had water pouring out of his exhaust and had to change his engine, Stewart had his metering unit pack up and had to change his engine, Graham Hill had a crack at the top of the support to his large staqilizer and this had to be strengthened at the joint, and lastly, Rindt had a leak in a fuel tank which needed some careful Aralditing in the pipe curing it.

After a bright morning, it clouded over and an hour before the start it began spitting with rain. There was a threat of worse to come but everybody hoped it would hold off as in the second day's practice. Seventeen Matra Sports cars were provided to take the drivers around the course and display them to a large crowd. A novel idea was that they were to be chauffered by their entrant or team manager. I don't think this caused the Fl drivers any worry as it was no race but a slow low-gear procession, so I had no opportunity to show Siffert how it should be done, fortunately.

For some unknown reason they had someone dressed up as Johnnie Walker on the starting grid and I tried to tell him that he was my great, great, great grandfather and had no right to be there, but I didn't catch him.

Twenty minutes before the start it was still spotting with rain but the clouds were quite high and with what appeared to be lighter skies on the way. Now was the time to make a decision on the tires and as Graham Hill put it, we all boobed. All except one and that was Ferrari who made a very wise decision. They put one car on dry Firestones and the other on wet, so at least one had to be right. They sensibly gave the rain tires to Jacky Ickx as he excels in the wet.

The warm-up lap started five minutes after the race should have begun. Our car would not start as Keith Duckworth had advised us to weaken the mixture and after it turned over and over on the starter, eventually they had to push it. After the warm-up lap everyone topped up their fuel tanks and the rain began to come down in earnest.

When the cars were restarted, ours would not start again. The very small starter must have overheated the first time we tried. When the flag fell, a quarter of an hour late, Siffert was left on the grid but the mechanics changed the battery and it fired up and shot off 42 seconds behind the field.

First time around and Ickx's Ferrari with the rain tires was leading Stewart's Matra Ford by three-tenths of a second followed by Rindt's Brabham-Repco, Surtees' Honda, Rodriguez' BRM and Hill's Lotus-Ford. Then came McLaren in his McLaren-Ford, Beltoise in the Matra V-12, Amon in the dry-tired Ferrari, Hulme's McLaren-Ford, Attwood in the other team BRM, Brabham's Brabham-Repco, Courage in the Tim Parnell BRM, Elford's Cooper-BRM, Schlesser in the aircooled Honda, Servoz-Gavin's Cooper BRM and finally Siffert who was fast catching up the last two in our Lotus-Ford. The next lap found Ickx still in the lead but Rindt had taken Stewart for second and Amon had moved past Beltoise for eighth.

Then at the beginning of the third lap tragedy struck as the new Honda with poor Jo Schlesser went out of control at the second of the esses going down to Nouveau-Monde. The car climbed 10 feet right up the bank to the spectator fence, which it broke. Then, spraying burning fuel and flying bits everywhere, it rolled down the bank and lay on its side, a burning furnace. Schlesser was on his side but could not be got out. As there were no foam extinguishers handy, the firemen eventually used water, which increased the fire, and the smoke could be seen far away. Poor Jo Schlesser died in the fire and 12 spectators were injured from burning fuel or flying pieces. I understand one or two even fell through the fence into the fire but fortunately none of them was very seriously hurt. Siffert, who arrived at the accident some 25 seconds afterwards, told me it was impossible to go down the road without going through the flames.

At the end of Lap 3 Ickx had increased his lead to eight seconds and John Surtees had brought the Honda into second place closely followed by Pedro Rodriguez. Then on Lap 4 both Brabhams came into the pits, Rindt with a puncture from a piece of metal picked up from the burning Honda and Jack had a faulty fuel pump which continued toplague him throughout the race. Eventually, after doing many things, he changed the pump and the car went beautifully.

By this time he was so far behind he decided to treat the race like a practice, and to make sure that it was the pump that was causing the trouble he proved his point by putting the old one back and the engine began missing again.

By Lap 10 Ickx had a lead of 7.5 seconds over Rodriguez who was followed by Surtees and these three were drawing away from Stewart, Hill and McLaren. On Lap 11 Beltoise came in because he had a miss in the engine, probably damp electrics, and at the same time they changed his tires to wet weather ones. During this stop he learned about the death of his colleague and from now on he, rather naturally, had little enthusiasm for the race. He ran in last place throughout although the organizers somehow managed to place him 10th in their final order. The official lap scoring, admittedly under very difficult conditions, was not the greatest, and at the end Tim Parnell had to use our chart to persuade them that Courage was sixth in his BRM.

By Lap 12 Graham Hill had closed right up on Stewart and by Lap 13 he had taken him to gain fourth place. But by Lap 15 he was out with a broken drive shaft and as he said to me afterwards, "How a drive shaft breaks in these conditions beats me." The same lap Servoz-Gavin did an almighty spin or six spins, to be exact, over about 200 yards and eventually hit a tree and demolished the Cooper-BRM, without personal injury fortunately.

The rain had begun to ease a little and then stopped. As the track dried out a bit, Pedro Rodriguez in the BRM began catching Ickx's Ferrari at a pace. On Lap 19 he did the fastest lap in 2: 11 and both he and Surtees passed Ickx to take first and second place. But the glory was not to last long as the rain came down heavier than ever and by the very next lap Ickx not only regained his lead but led by 7.5 seconds as he had gained over 8 seconds in that lap alone.

Denny Hulme had a puncture and came in for a tire change and then on the next lap there was a whole spate of tire changes. By this time, conditions were so bad that rain tires were essential.

Chaos reigned and positions were changing all the time.

First Attwood and Amon came in for rain tires, then McLaren had a puncture and changed to rain tires and on Lap 22 Jackie Stewart brought the Matra in to change to rain tires as well. All this time Ickx was pressing on hard and sometimes increasing his lead by as much as 10 seconds a lap. At this time Siffert in our Lotus found himself in sixth position because we did not bring him in to change tires as we feared the engine might not start afterwards. One lap he took over 4 minutes and I was getting very anxious but it turned out he had stopped to borrow Graham Hill's visor and he had to put the car against a bank so that he could roll back and start in reverse. Some journalists who saw this jokingly told me he should be disqualified for getting outside assistance from Graham and for starting the car without using the starter. I told them it would be more than I could bear to lose the 11 th place we finally finished in.

Surtees had been following Rodriguez very closely and then going through the accident area some foam that was eventually put down was thrown up by Pedro's rear wheel and knocked the lens out of John's goggles. For the next 10 laps he struggled to put it back and finally on Lap 34 he came in for new goggles. He did not stop his engine and he did not stay very long. He had also been troubled by the engine running on 10 cylinders but it dried out and finished going better and better. McLaren had to make a further pit stop as one of his rain tires had a leaking valve.

By Lap 24 Piers Courage, who had been driving splendidly, had climbed to fourth place. But on the 25th he had a strap come loose from his saddle tank so he came into the pits to fix it and changed tires at the same time which put him back to 12th spot.

By half way, Ickx had stretched his lead to 69 seconds over Pedro with Surtees still in third and Stewart back to fourth.

With 14 laps to go, the gallant Pedro came into the pits after a really superb drive. III fortune had struck when he ran over some of the Honda debris resulting in a puncture and also a fuel line being torn away and leaking. This took some time to repair and then when he did go out he found that the gearbox stuck in 2nd gear. Although he made two more pit stops, it could not be cured. He kept going slowly but could only complete 52 laps which was not enough to qualify. Such hard luck after so superb an effort.

On the same lap Rindt finally came in to call it a day with his fuel tank leaking so badly he could not continue. When Rodriguez pitted, Ickx led Surtees by more than a lap. Ickx in the Ferrari began easing up a bit and at the same time John, now with new goggles and the Honda going well, was pouring it on and gaining some seven seconds a lap. With just 11 laps to go Surtees unlapped himself and drew slightly ahead of the Ferrari but Ickx did not let him get too far away.

The last 10 laps were quite uneventful with Surtees continuing to pull back a little of the Ferrari's lead but Ickx took the checkered flag a comfortable two minutes ahead Qf the Honda after a wonderful drive. At times Ickx had looked very much on the limit but I suppose to win under such conditions one is bound to have some frightening moments. John Surtees must have felt truly vindicated in his row with Honda and I gather some harsh words passed that evening. Jackie Stewart brought the Matra-Ford into third place one lap behind having had an uneventful run except for changing from dry to wet tires. Vie Elford was fourth in the Cooper and this must have been one of the most astounding drives of all as he was on dry tires throughout the race, started from last position and kept going non-stop. Truly a phenomenal performance for his first Fl drive. Fifth and sixth were Denny Hulme and Piers Courage, both having come in to change to rain tires.

Tires must again be the crucial point in this race and the fact that Ferrari chose the right type for Jacky Ickx made the whole difference. Nobody else chose the rain tires although rain was forecast for later in the day.

For the record it was Ickx's first F1 World Championship win, the tires were wet weather Firestone and Surtees was on Firestone dry tires throughout.

Ferrari had not won a Fl World Championship race since Monza 1966. It is the first defeat for Cosworth Ford this year. The general story going around which was told to me by John Surtees was that a well known driver had been killed on the 7th day for the last 4 months; Clark in April, Spence in May, Scarfiotti in June and now Schlesser in July. But - I make it that Scarfiotti was killed on June 8th so that breaks the sequence.  


1 Jacky Ickx.......... Ferrari 009

2 John Surtees.......Honda RA 301

3 Jackie Stewart. . . . Matra MS 10 /02.

4 Vic Elford.......Cooper BRM

5 Denis Hulme......McLaren M7A2..Ford

6 Piers Courage....BRM 126.01..BRM

7 Richard Attwood...BRM 126.03  BRM

8 Bruce McLaren..McLaren M7A3 Ford

9 J-P Beltoise....Matra MS 11/02..

10 Chris Amon..... Ferrari 0011

races index

British GP

Author: ArchitectPage

60's F1 RACES - written at the time
French Grand Prix 1968