// Dividends of Downforce
Hailing from the Fifeshire village of Kilmany, one of the world’s greatest Formula One drivers, Jim Clark, was a Scot through and through, bringing with him that slightly serious edge, allied to a warmth and joie de vivre that only imbibers of the finest eau de vie (Scotch Whisky, to the uninitiated) could begin to comprehend. Not, of course, that I am suggesting that the subsequent Borders farmer would ever have over-indulged in such florid booziness, although some less well-oiled tales of his derring-do were occasionally the stuff of legends.
The two-times World Champion (in 1963 and 1965) was born in 1936 and, typically, against family advice, he became a teenage racer in local club events, just prior to taking to the wheel of a German DKW Sonderclasse (a front-wheel-drive, two-stroke, triple-cylinder family car) in a 1956 race held at Crimond, Aberdeenshire. The circuit was fairly rough and ready and based on the perimeter roads of a former RAF airfield.
Displaying astonishing natural talent, at a level that differentiated him from many of his contemporaries, he progressed into Jaguar D-Types and Porsches, driving for the Border Reivers team. Barely two years later, he was finally confronted by the man destined to propel him to superstardom, as the pair raced Lotus Elites at Brands Hatch circuit. Colin Chapman, of Lotus fame, had been impressed and a victory for Clark in a Formula Junior race confirmed that his confidence was not misplaced. F1 was next.
It needs to be remembered that even contracted GP drivers of the era were notionally ‘free’ to drive in other classes, an aspect that Clark exercised throughout his career. However, his aspirations were helped by Chapman riding the cusp of his own changing fortunes as a carmaker. Although exported to other countries in modest numbers, Lotus cars were typical of the home-grown type of the period.
// RACE PERFECTION
Produced predominantly from glassfibre, attached to a fairly substantial chassis, usually donated by another vehicle altogether, a sizeable ‘cottage industry’ of UK carmakers proliferated from the late-1940s, a period of post-WW2 austerity, until the late-1990s, when crash safety legislation put the final nails in several of their manufacturing coffins. Chapman’s company had always considered itself to be ‘one above’ most of its rivals, like Marcos, Fairthorpe, Ginetta and TVR, although some of them have survived today, pursuing the Chapman ethos of ‘Race on Sunday. Retail on Monday’.
A most fortunate association was forged by Lotus with Ford Motor Company, in the UK. It led to a useful engine supply and even a shared engineering situation, which was to the substantial benefit of both companies. One of its most fruitful tasks resulted in the remarkably capable Lotus-Cortina, a family sedan powered by a Cosworth re-engineered 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine (eventually bored-out to 1558cc) carrying its renowned ‘twin-cam’ cylinder head.
Despite developing only a modest 105bhp in stock form, it could be encouraged to produce closer to 170bhp in race trim. In typical Chapman style, the adding of lightness enabled a remarkable turn of speed and there are innumerable photographic images and monochrome films of the period showing Clark three-wheeling his Cortina at various circuit bends, usually culminating in glorious victories that only added to the mystique of Lotus road cars.
Clark would drive many of Chapman’s racing cars as part of his deal and he was used actively, despite an inherent shyness, in most of the company’s new model advertising of the time, including that for the new Lotus Elan. Of course, this was the model that inspired Mazda’s Japanese engineers to create subsequently the world’s most successful two-seater, the MX-5, although the unique originality of the Chapman car inspired a great number of other sports cars over the years.
For whatever reason, a factor never made clear, much like the crash that took his life at Hockenheim, Clark forewent a chance to drive in the BOAC 1000 kilometres race to be held at Brands Hatch on April 7th 1968. Instead he drove a Lotus 48 Formula Two car in the German Trophy race, probably due to a tyre contractual arrangement with Firestone.
Racecar aerodynamics were only starting to increase in relevance and sophistication in the late-1960s. It was suggested that his car lifted off the tarmac on a slight rise, just prior to crashing through the trees at the circuit edge. However, some sources believed that his car had suffered from a rear-end puncture, while others insisted it was a mechanical failure and seizure of the Cosworth engine.
No matter. It was devastating. Clark died before reaching hospital. Chapman was shattered by the news. He had lost his best friend. However, contemporary racer, Chris Amon, was wont to say, “If it could happen to Jimmy, what hope exists for the rest of us?”. Clark could do things with a racing car, in fact almost any car, that bamboozled his rivals but grew his adoring fan-base. If there is any modern F1 equivalent, it must be Kimi Raikonnen, as the former Champion Finn is a dab hand in rallying, as well as F1 racing. Yet, Clark’s legacy of being involved in just four major incidents during his entire career remains a record of sorts.
Interestingly, should you ever visit the Jim Clark Memorial Room in the local council space allocated to the great driver, in the small Scottish Borders town of Duns, you may be as amazed as I was, with his visual similarity to that other racing phenomenon, Ayrton Senna. One of a number of portrait photographs on display is a head-shot of Clark and this pair could have easily been brothers in another arena.
// GALLIC GEM
Racing is a dangerous game. Every polite advice notice posted on circuit perimeter fences declares it to be so. While there had been other tragic deaths and terrible accidents taking place on circuits around the world, at least the sport’s organising body was starting to pay heed to its drivers and Hockenheim soon gained Armco crash barriers in the post-Clark period.
However, they were not enough to stop a testing incident involving an Alfa Romeo 179, during a session at the German track, just over twelve years later. Skidding off the circuit, near the Ostkurve, the car flipped over the Armco, after having barrelled along the tops of the barrier for several hundred feet. Patrick Depailler succumbed to his resultant terrible head injuries.
Inspired from an early age by the exploits of Jean Behra, another sensational French racer, Depailler was hugely talented and exceptionally charismatic, descriptive factors that are often overlooked in a career that produced only a pair of GP victories, a solitary pole position and 19 other podium visits from just 95 Formula One races in total. Much of his success actually arose from a series of non-Championship F1 races.
It was often suggested that Depailler missed out on driving better and more competitive machinery. His career was accompanied by massive changes and advancements in formula racing aerodynamic developments. His late-1973 F1 debut with Tyrell came at a time when Jackie Stewart, having been declared as that year’s World F1 Champion, had announced his retirement from the sport and François Cevert, the Scot’s supportive team-mate, had been killed unfortunately during a qualifying session for the US Grand Prix, held at Watkins Glen that October.
Depaiiler would be the 1974 team leader. Tyrell had endured a lot of headaches in the preceding few years and losing two of the sport’s leading lights was not conducive to further success. Yet, Depailler, accompanied by Jody Scheckter from South Africa, played a fair game and, despite long odds at the ‘turf accountants’, he piled in a run of top five finishes over the course of next couple of years, although the Watkins Glen ‘curse’ witnessed a rare Depailler crash into the barriers in 1975.
The popular Frenchman remained with the declining Tyrell until 1978, joining French equipe, Ligier, for the 1979 season and the era of the ‘wing cars’. To his outstanding victory at Monaco in the previous season, he added a great win at Jarama, in Spain. However, a hang-gliding accident that resulted in both legs being fractured sidelined him for the balance of the year, at a time when he was lying in the runner-up title slot to the Canadian, Gilles Villeneuve. With expensive driver contracts these days, it is little surprise that participating in other ‘dangerous’ sports is now seriously frowned upon.
The 1980 season was heralded in with a fresh contract to drive for the revitalised Alfa Romeo team. Whether or not the leg injuries he sustained the prior summer were part of the cause of his accident at Hockenheim has never been confirmed. Yet, he was said to be driving ‘in pain’ at every race he contested. The Alfa 179 was quick but temperamental, which meant that he usually qualified strongly but the car would not survive a race, without incurring one failure or another. A series of non-finishes was hardly a satisfying way to terminate a promising career and it was a suspension breakage that caused Depailler’s Hockenheim crash.
// LAPPING THE H-RING
Substantially altered since the five miles flat-out blast through the trees that existed in 1932, the Hockenheimring had been used by bikes for racing purposes, although both Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union also used the facility as a test track. It was renamed Der Kurpfalzring, from 1938 to 1947.
By 1965, the new A6 Autobahn separated the village of Hockenheim from the circuit and a new track was created of just 4.24 miles in length. Following Jim Clark’s fatal accident, a couple of chicanes were added. However, the venue was becoming increasingly difficult for the bewinged cars that were being developed. The engineers were increasingly uncertain of set-ups. Would they dial in maximum downforce for the long, high-speed straights, or go for greater grip in the main stadium section, where the majority of the spectators were? It posed a quandary but public appeal decided the outcome.
Hermann Tilke was commissioned for the redesign and a shorter 2.84 miles circuit resulted by 2002. Bernie Ecclestone determined that, from 2007, Germany would only host only one GP a year, the venue being alternated with the Nürburgring. However, he was eminently satisfied that the new Hockenheim circuit would serve purpose for the 120,000 spectator capacity, thanks to shorter lap times and more chances to see the cars circulating per race.
The start-line is on the main straight, which takes a fast 100-degrees right-hander at Turn 1. It is wide enough to accommodate several cars adrift and it continues along another high-speed straight to the first hairpin right at Turn 2, into a gently curving Turn 3, which opens to a fast left (Turn 4). The Parabolika section is a very fast left curve that demands maximum driver concentration, before braking hard for the right-hand hairpin at Turn 6, a fairly typical Tilke-engineered feature.
A medium length straight follows towards Turn 7, a fast right-hander. Another brief straight sees the drivers lining up for the 90-degree left-hand bend (Turn 8) in front of the Mercedes-Benz stand, which is also the first complex at the circuit that leads into a gentle left (Turn 9) and a double-apex right-hander (Turn 10), to which the approach speed and angle are crucial to ensuring a decent approach to the Stadium section.
Turn 11 is scarcely a deviation at all and the drivers certainly do not lift at that area, however, the exceptionally fast-right entry (Turn 12), also known as the ‘Mobil 1 Kurve’, is followed by an extended hairpin (Turn 13), immediately in front of the banked and usually capacity-filled stands, into a flick left-right (Turns 14 and 15), before braking quite firmly for Turn 16, a right hander into the infamous Sudkurve (Turn 17), another right-hand bend, before reaching the start-finish area.
Sudkurve also marks the end of the drag-strip zone, used by that sporting discipline, as well as the drift fraternity that seems to like the stadium effect, as the venue has several uses away from the Formula One scene. Many of the drivers report that the clamour from the stadium area can be heard even above revving engines and, while the circuit redesign did lose much of Hockenheim’s former character, it is a venue now enjoyed by both drivers and spectators. The lap record of 1:13.780 was established by Kimi Raikonnen in 2004, so it should be interesting to see which drivers can breach that time, with the latest Pirelli tyres, this year.