1968 GERMAN GRAND PRIX
The daunting Nurburgring was at its most capricious this particular weekend in 1968. Rain and mist rendered the track treacherous and visibility virtually non-existent. And in these conditions the world's best drivers had to tackle the most challenging racing circuit in the world all 14 miles and 187 corners of it almost blind. In this soaking version of hell Jackie Stewart produced what many people believe was the greatest drive of one of the great careers.
What gave the Nurburgring its reputation was not just that it was difficult, but that it necessarily brought out the best in the greatest racers. Juan Manuel Fangio's drive in 1957 was one illustration of this, Stewart's 11 years later was another. The fact that he drove with a broken wrist made his achievement all the more remarkable. Stewart was not on pole, that honour going to Jacky Ickx's Ferrari. But it was obvious within seconds of the start that Stewart: who lined up sixth - was fastest on race day. He was up to fourth as the field piled into the North Curve. By Adenau Crossing he was on the tail of Chris Amon's Ferrari, and just a little further on he was in a lead which he extended to eight seconds by the end of the first lap. After another 14-mile tour he was a further 25 seconds in front. After five of the 14 laps that gap had increased to over a minute.
Graham Hill, who would soon be crowned world champion, was second for Lotus, holding off a determined Amon and, although the dreadful weather conditions would punish any mistake, things looked set to stay that way until, with three laps to go, a differential problem caused Amon to spin, ending up on top of an earth bank.
That should have left Hill unchallenged in second, but since he could see only spray in his mirrors, he did not realize that Amon was out and continued to press on - until he spun. The car would not restart and he had to climb out and bump-start it. With Amon gone he retained second place with Rindt closing quickly.
Stewart had been over three minutes in front before Hill's spin, and he crossed the line almost four minutes up, giving him time to climb out and accept congratulations before the others came in sight.
Nothing sums up Jackie's achievement better than this: "Had I not won a Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, there would have been something missing from my career - but wasn't it a ridiculous place? Leaping from one bump to another, 187 corners or whatever it was! The number of times I thanked God when I finished a lap. I can't remember doing one more balls-out lap of the 'Ring than I needed to. It gave you amazing satisfaction, but anyone who says he loved it is either a liar or wasn't going fast enough. I like that place best when I'm sitting by a log fire on a winter's night. Clear in my mind are all the braking distances and gear changes, and that's surely the only way I've ever lapped it without a mistake!"
The post-race photographs showing an exhausted Stewart clasping his injured arm are confirmation that there can have been few times in his career when Jackie wanted to be by that fireplace more. It was not, Stewart says, his greatest drive. That was the 1973 Italian Grand Prix, when he unlapped himself on an entire field. But this takes nothing away from our appreciation of one of the sport's greatest drives ever.
Quote" With 3 laps to go I entered an S-bend and in a deep river I lost the car the engine stalled and I hurtled toward a marshal, he froze, not knowing which way to jump. Just as I knew I was going to hit him the car found a little grip ......"