The Mexican Grand Prix was the last round on the 1964 World Championship calendar, and it served up a thrilling battle for the title.
Coming into the race 3 drivers stood a chance at winning the title. Graham Hill led the way for BRM, holding a 5 point cushion over Ferrari’s John Surtees, with 9 points being awarded to the winner. Hill’s position wasn’t so secure though, as with only the driver’s best 6 results counting towards the championship standings, he was already losing points (having his seventh best result, 2 points for a fifth place in Belgium already not counted).
For Hill to add points he would have to score a third place or better, as his last counting score was 3 points earned for fourth place in the Dutch Grand Prix. Surtees had only recorded 5 scoring results to date, which meant he would gain any points here earned in the race, so for Hill to be guaranteed the title he had to either win, or place third if Surtees came home in second place. A Surtees victory with Hill in second would hand the title to Surtees, so everything was to play for. In third place, Lotus Jim Clark was a full race win, 9 points down on Hill, but like Surtees he would take any points he would earn as he had only scored in 4 races, and with Clark having already won 3 races in the season compared to Hills two, Clark would be champion if he could win and Hill could finish no better than fourth, and Surtees didn’t finish better than third.
Coming in to the race Ferrari had taken the unprecedented step of racing under the blue colours of America at the preceding round in the United States, Ferrari having refused to race under their Italian racing licence over a dispute over the refusal to allow homologation of the new 250LM for GT racing (at least 100 cars would have to be produced to meet the criteria). Ferrari in protest entered the cars of Surtees and Lorenzo Bandini racing under a new banner, the North American Racing Team. The Briton was second in the new colour scheme at The Glen, and with the dispute still rumbling on, he would race with it again at the all-important season finale in Mexico
In qualifying Clark took pole position from the Brabham of Dan Gurney. Lorenzo Bandini in the Ferrari was third ahead of team mate Surtees, while Graham Hill could only manage 6th place behind the second Lotus of Mike Spence. Despite being a long shot for the title, things looked up for Clark at the start, as his title rivals dropped back down the field at the start while Clark converted pole position and led away cleanly, with Hill getting away badly as he was adjusting his goggles as the field started, the elastic having given way at the worst possible time! Clark seemed to be comfortable up front, racing out to a lead, with Hill 10th at the end of the first lap and Surtees back in 13th.
For Clark to win he needed his rivals to stay down the order, but Hill and Surtees started to make their way through the field. Hill looked to have things under control as he moved through the field, working his way up to sixth place by lap 6, and over the following laps he made moves on Jack Brabham (Brabham) for fifth, then passing Mike Spence for fourth and finally on lap 12 he passed Bandini’s Ferrari to take third place. Surtees too was moving up, and he got onto the tail of his teammate Bandini. As it stood on the track Hill would be crowned champion, but disaster struck on lap 31, well, a Ferrari struck, as Bandini barged into Hill at the hairpin as he attempted to regain his position. Both cars were sent into a spin, allowing Surtees through into third place, with Hill having to pit with a broken exhaust. This would drop Hill down the order, and with only a third place good enough to add points to his tally, effectively ruled him out of scoring points in the final round.
Bandini repassed Surtees for third place, but if Clark and Gurney could hold station that position change would be academic, as Surtees would have to finish ahead of Gurney to take the title should Clark win. Up front Clark continued to power clear and with Dan Gurney holding second place it looked like Clark would earn an unlikely title. But disaster struck for Clark however, as the Lotus starting losing oil. Clark tried to bring the car home, and nearly made it, but his Lotus came up a lap short, crossing the line for the last time on the penultimate lap. Gurney flew past to take the victory, with the Ferrari drivers switching position on the last lap to allow Surtees through into second place to claim the title by a single point from Graham Hill (Hill actually finishing the season with one point more than Surtees, but his two points from Belgium did not count in the final standing) – Surtees, already a world champion on motorbikes, was now champion on four wheels in F1 – and done in a blue Ferrari!
This isn’t clear to me:
“…so for Hill to be guaranteed the title he had to either win, or place third if Surtees won. A Surtees victory with Hill in second would hand the title to Surtees,”
sorry Bill, bad writing, I’ll correct it, should have said Hill would be champion if he came third and Surtees came no better than second, not won!
Both Hill and Surtees started knowing a win would make them champion, If it was a Surtees -Hill 1-2 then Surtees would be champion, error on my part.
It is all to do with the dropped points, as only the drivers best 6 results would be counted.
Surtees had only scored in 5 previous rounds, so he would gain every point from the Mexican race.
Hill on the other hand had already scored in 7 rounds, so could only gain points above his worst counting result.
So even though Surtees was 5 points back on Hill (with the points going 9-6-4-3-2-1), Hill was already dropping points while Surtees would gain every point he won on the day. So for Hill, he would only gain whatever he scored – 3 (the 3 points from the next worst race result he currently had counted to his score, which was fourth in the Dutch Grand Prix), so second place would give him only an additional 3 points, whereas if Surtees won, he would gain 9, so he’d be champion by a point.
So despite his 5 point lead, coming home second was no good to Hill if Surtees won.
Again, apologies for any confusion
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