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Formula 1's greatest drivers. Number 3: Jim Clark

BBC Sport - Formula 1's greatest drivers. Number 3: Jim Clark
FORMULA 1
30 October 2012 Last updated at 08:39 GMT
Formula 1's greatest drivers. Number 3: Jim Clark
This year, BBC Sport is profiling 20 of the greatest Formula 1 drivers of all time. The BBC F1 team were asked to provide their own personal top 20s, which were combined to produce a BBC list. Veteran commentator Murray Walker provides his own reflections in a video of their career highlights, and chief F1 writer Andrew Benson profiles the driver. This week, number three - Jim Clark
Jim Clark hated Spa. Even in its truncated modern form, the Belgian Grand Prix track is an extreme examination of man and machine, but back in Clark's era it was something else again.
At nine miles, it was more than twice its current length, with an average speed even in the early '60s of more than 130mph.
Then as now, it included some of the most testing corners on the planet. Eau Rouge was a far greater challenge than it is in the modern era, when the cars take it flat out, downforce ruling all.
But even Eau Rouge paled compared to the Masta Kink - a left-right between houses, flat-out at 160mph for only the very brave and very skilled.
It wasn't that Clark could not handle Spa; far from it. He was the greatest driver of his era by far. But he thought it dangerous in the extreme.
In the 1960 race, only Clark's second grand prix, Stirling Moss - whose mantle as the best of his time Clark would soon inherit - was badly injured in a crash in qualifying at the fast Burnenville right-hander.
Jim Clark factfile

Born: 4 March 1936 in Fife, Scotland

Died: 7 April 1968 aged 32

Races: 73

Wins: 25

First race: 1960 Dutch Grand Prix

First win: 1962 Belgian Grand Prix

Last win: 1968 South African Grand Prix

Last race: 1968 South African Grand Prix

In the grand prix the next day, Clark very nearly ran over the beheaded body of Chris Bristow, killed in a crash at the same corner. Later in the race, Clark's team-mate Alan Stacey was killed at Malmedy.
These memories never left Clark, but a sense of his skill and commitment can be seen in the fact that he never let it affect his driving. Despite his aversion to the place, he won at Spa four times on the trot from 1962-5.
Among those victories was one that counts among his very best - and therefore, because of Clark's stature, among the greatest drives of all time.
Starting the 1963 Belgian Grand Prix only eighth in horrendously wet conditions, Clark quickly moved to the front. By the end of the race, only Jack Brabham had managed to stay on the same lap - and he was nearly five minutes behind.
In 1967, the Lotus 49, its powerful Cosworth engine in a league of its own, was the fastest car. But it was far from easy to drive. Yet at the German Grand Prix that year Clark was on pole by nine seconds.
Performances like that left no doubt in the minds of Clark's rivals about his status. He was out on his own, and they knew it.
"Jimmy was a demi-God," says Jean-Pierre Beltoise. "He was the best driver among us at that time."
Jackie Stewart, remembering a string of races in which he finished second to Clark, says: "We became known as Batman and Robin. And there was no doubt who was Batman and who was Robin."
It is worth taking a little time to appreciate the statistics of Clark's career.
His tally of 25 victories was a record at the time. It has since been surpassed by several other drivers, but none in so few races. Clark's came in just 72 starts, a win ratio surpassed only by Alberto Ascari and Juan Manuel Fangio.
Likewise, his tally of 33 pole positions was recently passed by Red Bull's Sebsatian Vettel, with only Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna ahead. But in percentage terms, Clark is ahead of them all. He was on pole for 45.2% of his races - only Fangio, on 55.8%, did better.
Those numbers give a sense of how Clark towered over his era, a period when he made many grands prix mind-numbingly boring, so completely did he and his Lotus dominate them. Yes, the Lotus was often the best car, but Clark's supremacy was not in doubt.
His two titles in 1963 and 1965 were exercises in crushing superiority, and he would have won in 1964 and 1967 as well had it not been for the notoriously poor reliability of Lotus's cars.
And if it had not been for Clark, Lotus may well not have won as many races as they did. Alongside his speed, Clark also had a rare ability to drive around problems. His smooth style took so little out of the car, a crucial skill with machinery as fragile as his.
The son of a farmer in the Scottish borders, Clark was a humble, quietly spoken man. But he had a dry wit, and he was well aware of the level of his ability.
A favourite anecdote is of a time Stewart was telling of a terrifying moment he had had when his throttle stuck open at Monza's Curva Grande - now just a bend in a straight and easily flat out; then a properly challenging high-speed corner.
Stewart related to his audience how he had somehow just made it around. There was a chorus of appreciation. Then, with immaculate timing, Clark said: "Are you saying, Jackie, that you normally lift off there?"
Clark's status among his fellow drivers was such that his death hit them particularly hard. The late 1960s was an era when driver fatalities were commonplace, but Clark was so good no-one thought it could happen to him.
It did, though. He won the first grand prix of 1968, in South Africa, but there was a four-and-a-half-month break between it and the next race in Spain. As was common in those days, Clark filled it by competing in other races.
That is how he ended up driving in a Formula Two race at a wet Hockenheim on 7 April 1968.
The Lotus, on Firestone tyres that were poor in the rain, was uncompetitive, and unusually for him Clark was neither a front-runner nor making ground on those who were.
Then something went wrong at the fast Ostkurve. There were no barriers and Clark's car plunged at full speed into the trees, where he was killed instantly.
For the other drivers, it was more than a shock.
"As well as the grief, there was another dimension altogether," said the New Zealander Chris Amon, who was behind Clark when he had his fatal crash, although he did not see it. "If it could happen to him, what chance did the rest of us have? I think we all felt that. It seemed that we'd lost our leader."
For Stewart, the pain was worse than for most. Even today, when he speaks about it, the anger and sense of monumental loss is barely disguised.
"Jim Clark died almost certainly because of a vehicle failure of some kind," Stewart told the BBC programme, 'Grand Prix, The Killer Years'. "There was no barrier, no fencing in front of a forest. And Jim Clark died violently in a forest, being hit by young trees and big trees alike, and his car was almost totally destroyed. And Jimmy died. It just was inconceivable."
Stewart had by then already started his campaign for increased safety in F1, and the death of his friend underlined to him just what an important task it was.
In the most tragic of circumstances, then, Clark helped define the future of the sport, as well as bestriding like a colossus part of its past.
Number 4 - Michael Schumacher
Number 5 - Alain Prost
Number 6 - Sir Stirling Moss
Number 7 - Sir Jackie Stewart
Number 8 - Sebastian Vettel
Number 9 - Niki Lauda
Number 10 - Fernando Alonso
Number 11 - Alberto Ascari
Number 12 - Gilles Villeneuve
Number 13 - Nigel Mansell
Number 14 - Mika Hakkinen
Number 15 - Lewis Hamilton
Number 16 - Nelson Piquet
Number 17 - Emerson Fittipaldi
Number 18 - Jack Brabham
Number 19 - Graham Hill
Number 20 - Jochen Rindt
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post #2 of 7 (permalink) Old 10-30-2012, 01:45 PM
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Clark was one of the best and he was taken from us too soon.
Interesting that Vettel is ranked in front of Alonzo.
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post #3 of 7 (permalink) Old 10-30-2012, 02:12 PM
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Originally Posted by gsjohnson View Post
Clark was one of the best and he was taken from us too soon.
Interesting that Vettel is ranked in front of Alonzo.
I noticed that too. I would disagree, but that's the fun of these rankings. So who do we have left? Fangio and Senna. This will be interesting!
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post #4 of 7 (permalink) Old 10-30-2012, 04:44 PM Thread Starter
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+ 1 on ranking Alonso ahead of Vettel.
I liked Jackie Stewarts honest Jim Clark comment
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post #5 of 7 (permalink) Old 10-31-2012, 01:31 AM
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In April this year I bought a motorhome for one of my sons from a lovely chap called Johnathan Williams.

I had to go to his home to collect paperwork for the motorhome, and I noticed a photo of Jim Clark standing next to Johnathan, both dressed in racing overalls.
When I commented on the photo, Johnathan mentioned he was once an F1 driver for Ferrari in the 1960's.

He showed me many photos of him and other famous (many now gone) racing drivers.
He still has contact with the two Jackies i.e. Ickx and Stewart, and his namesake, Frank Williams.

No trees were harmed creating this message, however some electrons were very inconvenienced.
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post #6 of 7 (permalink) Old 10-31-2012, 10:21 PM Thread Starter
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The man must have great stories to tell.

I got to know Juan Manuel Fangio's mechanic in a roundabout way as well. The youngster he took from his hometown in Argentina to Europe, and Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati & Mercedes.
At Daimler Benz he was involved in the developement of the first fuel injection system.
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post #7 of 7 (permalink) Old 11-01-2012, 02:03 AM
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Great tribute piece for a terrific driver. I can still recall the reports of his death, young as I was.

And a nice story, too, Redliner.

Thanks...all the way 'round.

Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy; its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery. (Winston Churchill)
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