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The Death of Jim Clark

April 9, 2008

Monday was the 40th anniversary of the death of one of the greatest Formula 1 drivers of all time – his name was Jim Clark. He was killed on lap 4 of the opening race of the Formula 2 championship race at the Hockenheimring in Germany (this was, of course, during the days when Formula 1 drivers would also take part in other racing series’ when they had weekend’s off).

It was ruled that he suffered a massive tyre failure (following de-pressurisation after he’d picked up a shard of metal), but there are those that dispute those series of events (see Michael Clarke’s PitPass article here). At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter – the result of the accident was the same.

Clark was a two-time Formula 1 world champion from Fife in Scotland and was also a past winner of the Indianapolis 500 race. Before F1, he met and developed a close relationship with his future Lotus team boss and designer Colin Chapman that was rarely seen beforehand and hardly since in the sport (or any sport for that matter) – a friendship that was genuine and not played for value.
Whereas I saw the likes Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell (et al) on BBC television in the late-1980’s and early 90’s, for years I never saw anything of Clark. Occasionally you might see clips of Jackie Stewart or James Hunt, but seeing footage of 1960’s Formula 1 was a rare treat indeed! I remember being a young teenager and first reading about Jim Clark in Nigel Roebuck’s weekly Autosport columns – it was also where I came across other greats such Gilles Villeneuve and Ronnie Peterson amongst others.

However, it wasn’t until Jaguar entered F1 in 2000 (buying out Jackie Stewart’s team) that I finally got to see Clark in all his glory. That week in Autosport, a free issue of the Jaguar team magazine was attached to Autosport as well as a free video. Curious as to what this was, I was stunned when the first five minutes was on board footage of Jim Clark driving at Oulton Park in 1963 (see video below). I have never in my life seen anyone so smooth and so in control of something that was so obviously out of control. A sight made all the more thrilling purely because the edges of the roads consisted not of steel fences, tyre barriers or gravel traps, but was made up of grass verges and trees.

A short video of Jim Clark at Oulton Park is below – just watch the suspension travel on the car and if you can, check out his hands and the front wheels too!!

From → F1

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