Forty years ago today Formula One, motor sport and the world lost a very great man. A remarkable man whose career, although short, was filled with records, wins and titles. A man who demonstrated such a supreme level of skill and control, who could wrestle a car around the most dangerous of circuits and still come out on top. A man who developed life-long relationships with those around him, but who rarely spoke out of turn or seen to be towing scandal with him as he went. Unlike some of Formula One’s modern-day drivers, Jim Clark was a true gentleman, a true racer and a true world champion.
Jim’s final lap came at the Hockenheim circuit in Germany. It was during a Formula 2 race in which he was competing alongside Graham Hill in the Lotus 48. Originally, Clark was meant to be in England that day, competing in the BOAC 500 at Brands Hatch, but due to contractual obligations he ended up in the middle of a drizzly circuit in mainland Europe.
The practice session for round two of the Deutschland Trophy hadn’t gone well for Clark and the Scot lined up seventh on the grid. On-lookers stated that the car didn’t look good, and by lap five the car gave way. The actual cause of the incident has never been conclusively determined, but suggestions of a deflating tyre may have contributed to Clark’s Lotus leaving the circuit, twitching a little while traveling at 140mph. Impacting with a tree, Clark was killed instantly.
Colin Chapman said he lost his best friend, Graham Hill said he would miss Clark’s smile.
Jimmy was not only a famous driver, he was an international personality, loved by all his fiercest rivals. Jackie Stewart, speaking in 1968.
I don’t think a world champion has ever been loved so much by the racing fraternity, remembered so fondly and never spoken bad of. Clark was unassuming, quiet and gentle. He fell into motor racing and couldn’t understand why his rivals weren’t as fast as him. Totally dominant on the track, but almost a recluse away from it. Never afraid to show elation in victory though, I can see why Hill would miss his friend’s smile, and I understand why Chapman replaced the green and yellow colours on the Lotus badge with black during the month following Clark’s death.
Formula One has changed immeasurably in the last forty years, but one thing will never alter; Jim Clark’s memory lives on not just in the record books, but also in the hearts of all who truly value what a great champion should be.