Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler BlackJack’sBriefs
Such a list is not easy to compile, and it is even harder to be objective.
The way I reduced 830 F1 drivers to 20 is detailed in Part I. I wanted twenty top drivers (top No.2’s who might have been a team leader.) who had proved their ability to win – not drivers who showed talent but were unable to realise their potential, including drivers whose career was brought to an untimely end, for whatever reason.
. . . was born in 1945, in Brussels. His competition career ran from early 60’s to the early 90’s, with a spell in F1 from 1966-1979, considerable success in sports-cars, and latterly in the Paris-Dakar event.
Ickx started competing in 50cc motorcycle events and won three titles before moving to four wheels with a Lotus Cortina, becoming BelgianTC Champion in 1965, and then won the Spa 24hr race in 1966. Ken Tyrrell then offered him a drive in the German GP, with a F2 Matra, but he retired on the first lap.
Nevertheless he had another go in I967 – and qualified third, behind Denny Hulme’s and Jim Clark’s F1 cars – 21 secs. faster than the next F2 car, but had to start 18th, behind all the F1 cars, After just four laps he had overtaken twelve of them to place fifth… when his front suspension broke. And that is what is meant by motor-racing…! That he was ‘noticed’ is an understatement… Jacky Ickx had arrived.
Cooper now offered him their second (F1) car for Monza, alongside Jochen Rindt, where he finished sixth, recording his first Championship point, and also at Watkins Glen, where he retired. In the F2 Tyrrell/Matra Ickx also won the inaugural European F2 Championship… After just this one sixth-place finish in F1 (and of course his performance in Germany) Ickx was offered a full-time Ferrari drive for 1968 – as No.2 to Chris Amon – another largely un-sung hero, usually regarded as the best driver never to have won a GP…
After retiring from the first two races, Ferrari missed Monaco (allegedly unhappy with safety precautions), and for the first time before his home fans Ickx put his Ferrari firmly on the front row of the Spa grid, and went on to finish third. This was the first F1 GP where wings were fitted to cars – on Chris Amon’s Ferrari and Brabham’s Brabham. Jack Brabham also became the first driver to compete in 100 GP races… and McLaren had his first win, in his own McLaren.
At Zandvoort Ickx came fourth but, in France, in heavy rain, Ickx qualified third and went on to win… In his first seven F1 GP races Ickx had three retirements, one 6th place, one 4th, one 3rd, and a win… which had him running second in the Championship…
At Brands Hatch Ickx could only qualify twelfth, but scored another third in the race – as Jo Siffert became the first Swiss to win a GP, and Rob Walker recorded the last GP win for a non-works car.
The Nurburgring was very wet and foggy. Many people wanted the race cancelled but 1968 was only the early days of the ‘Safety Era’ – Ickx was on his first pole position, and finished fourth, after losing his visor.
At Monza Ferrari fielded a third car, for Derek Bell, but both he and Amon retired in the opening laps, leaving Ickx to uphold Maranello honour, in third.
After breaking a leg in a practice crash in Canada Ickx had to miss that race, and the US GP, dropping to fourth in the Championship, but he returned in time for Mexico – perhaps too soon, qualifying fifteenth, and retiring after three laps – and finished the season in fourth place.
An odd thing happened over the winter of 1968/9 – Ickx was offered a Le Mans seat in a Gulf Ford GT40, by John Wyer, who had been friends with Ickx for some time, and Ickx really wanted to win at Le Mans. Not surprisingly Ferrari were not happy… and Ickx simply pulled out.. He managed to pick up an F1 seat in the Brabham team, alongside Jack who, to the surprise of some, was still driving – and still driving well.
Meanwhile Ickx won at Le Mans, as desired – and went on to garner five more victories there. In twelve starts at Le Mans, between 1969-1983, Ickx retired three times, was placed second three times, and was victorious six(6) times… but in F1 his season started poorly – the Brabhams were still unreliable.
For the fifth race at Clermont Ferrand Ickx got it together, qualified fourth, and came home third and, at Silverstone, also qualified fourth and finished second – albeit a lap down on Stewart – which got him a ‘mention in dispatches’ as he rose to fifth in the Championship – 32pts. behind the dominant Stewart.
Back to the Nurburgring, and Ickx excelled again, posting pole position… but got bogged down at the start and dropped to ninth. After three laps of this most challenging of circuits Ickx had passed the field to put him on Stewart’s tail, setting fastest lap in the process. It took Ickx another four laps to gain the lead and he then led the rest of the race and finished nearly a full minute clear of Stewart… putting himself second in the Championship, though a long way behind – even if Ickx had won the four remaining races, Stewart would only have needed a second and a third place to take the Championship.
At Monza Stewart wrapped it up, Ickx ran out of fuel and dropped to third in the Championship, Ferrari parted ways with Amon, and entered just one car for Rodriguez… which must be pretty rare for an Italian GP. Amon was known at the time for being one of the quickest, but unluckiest drivers in F1. Andretti once joked that “if Amon became an undertaker, people would stop dying.”
On to Mosport where Ickx did it again – pole, fastest lap, and victory, in a 1-2 finish for Brabham but, at Watkins Glen it was Jochen Rindt’s turn to be favoured by Lady Luck, taking his first victory, as Ickx’ engine expired.
In the final race at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez Ickx led a Brabham 2-3 behind Denny Hulme’s McLaren. Nevertheless Ickx finished runner-up in the Championship, in his second full season in F1. Ferrari finished sixth in the Constructors Championship, with just seven(7) points, and as Ickx’ season had not been too successful until the second half, he had been enticed (mid-season) by a deeply troubled Ferrari, to return ‘home’…
In 1969 Ickx had been fairly beaten by the all-conquering Stewart and now he suffered from the rapid ‘coming of age’ of Rindt, who won five of the first nine races before tragically losing his life during the Monza qualifying. Of the other four races one each was won by Brabham, Stewart and Rodriguez, all of whom had otherwise mediocre seasons, and the fourth by Ickx, who also, in Rindt’s absence, won two of the remaining four events, to place second to Rindt in the Championship… Ickx later stated that he would not have wanted to win the Championship from a man who was unable to defend himself.
During 1970 Ickx also posted four pole positions, and five fastest laps. In normal circumstances it might have been Ickx’ year… but… Jochen Rindt was no normal driver.
Strangely (to this writer…) Ferrari again entered only one car for the first three races, before trialling 29-year-old Ignazio Giunti, who had been successful in Ferrari sports-cars, and then Clay Regazzoni who helped Ickx drag the team into second place in the Championship, with three 1-2 finishes.
And that seemed to be Ickx’ lot with Lady Luck. I have found, compiling this list, that so many drivers have had just one or two bites at the Championship cherry. Many of these drivers have risen rapidly in their first couple of seasons, but didn’t quite make it to the throne (for different reasons), followed by a slow(ish) withdrawal. After finishing second in the Championship two years running, Ickx stayed with Ferrari for two more years, placing fourth on both occasions, with just one win each year, but usually out-performing Regazzoni (see Part 16).
Ickx’s only 1972 victory (and would be his last), at his favourite circuit, Nurburgring, was another of his classic performances – a Grand Slam: from pole to chequered-flag, with fastest lap on the way… Ickx also posted pole and fastest lap in Italy and in Spain – in Italy falling out with electrical problems, and in Spain having to take second place to Fittipaldi… whose year it was…
Ickx stayed with Ferrari for another year but they just didn’t get it together: with Lotus and Tyrrell taking turns to win, and McLaren bringing up the rear, Ferrari were sadly out of it, frequently arriving with just one car, and sometimes not turning up at all. Even when Ickx was able to get the car to the finish he didn’t score worthwhile points and, after announcing they would also miss the Dutch and German GP, Ickx called it a day… and negotiated a McLaren drive for the Nurburgring, where he immediately qualified fourth, and finished on the podium, in third… unable to touch the Tyrrells but well ahead of Lotus, and also his McLaren teammates.
Missing the Austrian and Canadian events, Ickx had a final, frustrated drive for Ferrari at Monza, and then found a one-off drive in a Frank Williams’ Iso (and who didn’t, that year…? – Nanni Galli, Howden Ganley, Jackie Pretorius, Tom Belso, Henri Pescarolo, Graham McRae, Gijs van Lennep, Tim Schenken…) at Watkins Glen, where he qualified 23rd but managed to haul the car up to seventh at the finish.
From then on everything went pear-shaped… While Ferrari emerged, phoenix-like, with Regazzoni and Niki Lauda, Ickx moved to Lotus, alongside Peterson, because Fittipaldi had wisely (or coincidentally…) moved to McLaren – ‘wisely’ because this was not to be the year of the Lotus, and who could have foretold that…? unless Fittipaldi knew something… Maybe Emerson felt Chapman was more supportive of Peterson…
After two 2nd and three 4th Championship places in his five years in F1 Ickx must have felt this could be his best chance yet but… the Lotus 72 was up to version ‘E’, and too long in the tooth to give Ickx more than two third places, although Peterson, when he finished, managed three wins… Additionally, the Lotus 76 was a disaster – and Ickx finished the year down in tenth place…!
For 1975 Lotus were still using the 72E… and one might be entitled to wonder if they were really serious… Ickx finished sixteenth, and even Peterson could do no better than thirteenth. After the French GP Ickx again ‘walked’, apparently with Chapman telling him to wait until Lotus could sort themselves out. How long should any driver, desperate to be crowned Champion, be expected to wait…? All the real champions were primarily loyal to themselves.
In 1976, after retiring in the first race, Peterson also departed…
Ickx spent the first half of the year with Wolf, before moving to Ensign, with just five more races in the following two years (1977-78) with Ensign, without scoring a single point for three years. At Watkins Glen in 1976 Ickx had a very bad shunt, hitting the barrier, the nose went underneath, the rear half of the car broke away in flames, and Ickx miraculously got out of the wreckage and hobbled away before collapsing with both legs and ankles broken – incredibly lucky to be alive. Fittipaldi, who had been following, said it was one of the worst accidents he had ever seen, and that he heard the impact above his engine and through his helmet and earplugs.
Ickx joined Ligier for half a dozen races, scoring a fifth and a sixth before bidding farewell to F1. I feel this was as much a motivational problem as anything else – after F1 Ickx had two wins, and two seconds in the next four Le Mans races – he wasn’t ‘past it’, but perhaps gave his best when the car was doing the same… Picking the right team, at the right time, sometimes makes a champion – ask Fangio…
When Fittipaldi left McLaren Ickx had been in line for the 1976 drive, but apparently the sponsor favoured James Hunt who, as we all now know, Rushed (rather haphazardly, in fact…) to glory…
Also in 1979 Ickx won the Can-Am series, and was World Endurance Champion in 1982 and 1983, retiring at the end of 1985. In 1983 Ickx won the Rally Paris-Dakar. In 2000 he was the first sportsman to be declared, Honorary Citizen of Le Mans.
Writing in Motor Sport, 2011, Simon Taylor quotes Jacky Ickx: “In those days I was always thinking about myself and about winning. That is what it is like when you are a racing driver: mentally you are not very grown-up.”
After his crash in America: “They decided to take me to hospital in Elmira, but on the way they had to stop at a gas station to put petrol in the ambulance. We were in the amateur days then.”
On Jackie Stewart: “I was not against the idea of improving motor-racing safety: that would have been foolish. My problem was with Jackie’s methods. I was conservative; I accepted the risks without argument or discussion. You have a steering wheel in your hands, you are happy. You win, you are even happier. Can you imagine, back then, stopping a race because the conditions were too wet? No driver would think of such a thing for a single moment, it was part of the job. And the job is not meant to be easy. If you win without difficulty, you win without glory.”
For over forty years the Le Mans race had used a distinctive start procedure where the cars were lined up on one side of the track, angled towards the direction of travel, and the drivers started from the opposite side of the track. When the tricoleur fell drivers ran across the track, jumped into their car, started the engine, and drove away… Quite why there were no major accidents with this ‘Le Man Start’ I have never understood.
By the late 60’s most drivers were using seat belts but few were fastening them properly in their haste to get away. In his first Le Mans, in 1969, Ickx protested by ambling across the track, properly fastening his seat belts… was the last car away, and went on to win. On the first lap John Woolf crashed and was killed, with his belts unfastened. Whether Woolf died because he wasn’t belted, or whether he crashed because he was trying to fasten the belts while driving, is unknown but, from 1970, drivers started from inside the car and a teammate would do the run, carrying the ignition key.
“In fact I did have to run the last few metres to my car, or I would have been run over! A lot of people were upset with me, because that start was a great Le Mans tradition.”
“The most satisfying competition of my life was the Paris-Dakar. It’s the hardest, most complex race in the world. Flat out for nine hours at a stretch, 130mph on sand. And the sand is unpredictable. If something goes wrong, you have to find a solution by yourself, out there in the silence.”
“I thank all the people who helped me, who shared it [my career] with me. Ten years with Porsche, five years with Ferrari, all fantastic people. The father figures: Enzo Ferrari, Jack Brabham, John Wyer, Carl Haas, and of course Ken. And the people who worked with them, who were almost more important: David Yorke and John Horsman at JW, Ron Tauranac at Brabham, Peter Warr at Lotus, and all the people in the chain whose names I barely knew.
After two years of intermittent drives in F1 Jackie Ickx competed at the top level for four seasons, with Ferrari and Brabham, and finished 2nd, 2nd, 4th, & 4th in the Drivers Championship. This was followed by another four years (with Ferrari, McLaren, Frank Williams, and Lotus, during which he showed he had lost none of his speed but… with only four podiums, he just wasn’t in the right car at the right time. Ickx’ determination and dedication kept him going for a further three years (with Ensign and Ligier) – but with just thirteen races, nine retirements, and three Championship points to show for three years effort. For one of the most talented drivers not to win the Championship it was a disappointing farewell… after 8 wins, 17 additional podiums, 13 poles, and 14 fastest laps.
Jackie Ickx: “Even the spectators [I thank]: I do not think they are always well-treated. They should not be like lemons, squeezed for their money to the last drop. Their hearts beat with the passion of racing, and without them there would have been no racing for me to do.”
to be continued, next week…
4th – Carlos Reutemann
5th – Ronnie Peterson
6th – Gerhard Berger
7th – Juan Pablo Montoya
8th – Giles Villeneuve
9th – David Coulthard
10th – Felipe Massa
11th – Mark Webber
12th – Tony Brooks
13th – Rene Arnoux
14th – Rubens Barrichello
15th – Dan Gurney
16th – Clay Regazzoni
17th – Didier Pironi
18th – Richie Ginther
19th – Francois Cevert
20th – Peter Collins