Clark’s Spa breakthrough – a look back at first F1 victory of legendary Scot

For 1962, Jim Clark was running the all new Lotus 25, at the time a revolutionary car due to its monocoque chassis, making it lighter and nimbler than the rest of the field. As so often the case when introducing ground-breaking technology, while the potential was apparent, frustrating mechanical issues had prevented the car achieving early results in the opening two rounds of the season, with clutch issues hampering Clark and seeing him arrive at the third round of the championship in Belgium without any points to his name, despite having secured his first Formula One Pole position in the previous round in Monaco. It looked like Belgium would be another lost weekend when during Friday practice Clark had to stop early, his engine damaged. Clark’s car would not be ready until Sunday as a new engine had to be delivered and installed, and Clark was forced to sit out most of Friday and Saturday, hardly the preparation required for driving around the daunting track. Towards the end of the day Clark did put in a few laps in his team mate Trevor Taylor’s car (Taylor was running the old Lotus 24), but he would have to start well down the field in 12th place on the grid.

The front row was occupied by the winner of the first two Grand Prix of the season, Graham Hill (BRM) and Bruce McLaren (Cooper), and Clark’s Lotus team mate Trevor Taylor. At the start of the 32 lap race everyone got through the first bend cleanly, with Hill leading from McLaren, followed by Taylor and Belgian driver Willy Mairesse in the sharknose Ferrari. From 12th on the grid Clark wasted no time showing what the Lotus 25 could do in his hands, and by the time they made it all the way around the 14.1 km circuit to start the second lap Clark had managed to climb up to fourth position ahead of Mairesse! These five pulled away from the rest of the field, with positions swapping back and forth over the length of the circuit. Taylor took the lead by the end of lap two, but by lap 4 it was Mairesse’s turn in front. The lead train of 5 cars continually swapped position with each other down the long straights of the track, with Taylor back in the lead on lap 5 and Mairesse regaining the lead on lap 6. On lap 8 Clark started to impose himself, moving up into second place and then into the lead on lap 9. Clark had Taylor behind him, followed closely by Mairesse, Hill and McLaren. Clark slowly began to pull away as the four cars behind fought each other for position, with Taylor and Mairesse in particular having plenty of battles for position as they exchanged position time and again. McLaren was forced to retire on lap 20, by which time Clark was well clear of the battle for second, and seemingly cruising to his first Grand Prix victory as Taylor and Mairesse lost ground as they fought for position. After battling hard for position for so long, on lap 26 it all went wrong as the pair collided, the Ferrari nudging the Lotus and knocking it out of gear, with the Lotus snapping sideways out of control and being collected by the Ferrari. Both cars flew off the road, smashing a telegraph pole and leaving Mairesse’s Ferrari upside down in a ball of flames. Taylor escaped with minor injuries, while Mairesse would be hospitalized with burns, fortunately able to return to racing within months. With Graham Hill suffering a misfiring engine and dropping back, there was nothing standing between Clark and his first victory but reliability, and this time the Lotus 25 held up, Clark crossing the line some 40 seconds up the road from Hill with Phil Hill leading Riccardo Rodriguez across the line in the two remaining Ferrari’s over a further minute back. It was the start of something big, Clark’s first Grand Prix win and the first of four consecutive Formula One victories at Spa for the talented Scot, and also the first of many victories for the Lotus 25, which would go on carry Clark to his first world title in 1963.

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4 responses to “Clark’s Spa breakthrough – a look back at first F1 victory of legendary Scot

  1. I cannot imagine actually arguing against other top choices for the greatest of all time, but my vote goes to Jim Clark. was fortunate to see him race at the ’64 and ’65 Indy 500 and the ’67 Canadian GP @ Mosport. thanks for the memories.

  2. “Both cars flew off the road, smashing a telegraph pole” Bloody hell! Those were the days… and the drivers faced this sort of thing every race.

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