The 1968 Belgian Grand Prix, officially known as the XXVIII Grote Prijs van Belgie, was the fourth round of the 1968 FIA Formula One World Championship, staged at Spa-Francorchamps on the 9th of June, 1968. The race would be won by Bruce McLaren on the penultimate lap, after race leader Jackie Stewart ran out of fuel while holding a thirty second lead.
Qualifying/practice had seen Chris Amon put an updated Ferrari through its paces, claiming pole by almost four seconds over Stewart. There was a shock as the Lotus-Ford Cosworths of Graham Hill and Jackie Oliver failed to break the four minute barrier, leaving the privateer entry of Jo Siffert as the only representative of the Norfolk manufacturer in the top ten.
It was a dull but otherwise dry day in the Ardens forest for raceday, and it would be Amon who leapt into the lead, joined at the front of the field by Belgian teammate Jacky Ickx. Their time in charge of the race would, however, be short lived as John Surtees barged his way into the lead on the second lap, just before a series of retirements culled the field.
A nasty accident on lap seven saw Brian Redman escape with a broken arm and minor burns, after a suspension failure in his Cooper-BRM caused his car fly over a concrete wall and smash into a parked car. Back out front and Amon dropped out of the race with radiator damage, while Surtees retired with suspension failure.
As the retirements struck the leaders, Denny Hulme and Stewart had been busy working their way through the order, and when Surtees dropped out it was Hulme who inherited the lead. An excellent battle with Stewart lasted for seven laps until the New Zealander tumbled out of the race with a driveshaft failure, leaving Stewart to lead by over half a minute.
It looked to be a certainty that the Scot was going to win the race as the field started the penultimate lap, only for the Matra-Ford Cosworth to splutter and cough around the back of the circuit. Stewart had to pit for fuel, and it was McLaren, having fended off a challenge from Pedro Rodríguez for most of the race who swept home to victory. The Mexican finished a few seconds back in second while Ickx claimed a maiden podium, leaving Stewart to cruised home to a disappointing fourth.
Just before the start of the race, the drivers were informed of the death of Ludovico Scarfiotti, who had missed the race to take part in a hill climb. Sadly, the Italian crashed his car heavily during the event and died, just as the Formula One drivers were practising for the Grand Prix.
Spa-Francorchamps was unchanged from previous seasons, although there was a slow growth of safety barriers stretching out from the pit complex. The F1 circus would also be a steady stream of equipment and personnel arriving for the annual flatout blast in Belgium, with all of the major teams invited to take part. As for the drivers, a fair few had been to the Indianapolis 500, where Dan Gurney, Denny Hulme and Graham Hill had all taken turns to lead.
For some the Belgian Grand Prix arrived simply too soon for their plans, and it was Championship leaders Lotus who were among the sufferers. The Norfolk squad were down to just one car across all of their programmes after wrecks at Monaco, Indianapolis and in Formula Two. Only Hill's race winning car from Monte Carlo had survived into June, although the team were hard at work building a second car for Jackie Oliver, with the chassis only being completed on the boat over the channel.
In stark contrast, McLaren-Ford Cosworth had two immaculate orange cars ready for the Belgian race, despite Bruce McLaren's accident in Monaco. The boss had had the spare car built during the break, while Hulme's car had received a full rebuild when he was out battling in North America. Both cars had updated bodywork too, with fixings ready to install wings on the nose and above the engine.
Elsewhere, the two Matras were back, with Jackie Stewart leading the line for Ken Tyrrell's Matra International effort. The Scot was making his return from injury earlier in the year, with his wrist in a small plastic corset to support it, as the team brought two cars for Stewart to use. The "official" effort of Jean-Pierre Beltoise was also back in action, with the Belgian Grand Prix representing the first time that the Matra V12 had been used on a proper Grand Prix circuit.
BRM brought a trio of V12 cars for their drivers, Pedro Rodríguez getting the updated car while Richard Attwood continued on in the second seat. Reg Parnell Racing were also back, deciding to reinforce their pseudo-factory car so that Piers Courage could race, the Brit looking set to replace the injured Chris Irwin on a permanent basis. BRM also had interests in the entries of Cooper and the McLaren of Jo Bonnier by providing engines.
Speaking of Cooper-BRM, they had a changed driver line-up once again as Ludovico Scarfiotti had Porsche duties to complete at a hillclimb. Lucien Bianchi was therefore called upon to fill the second seat again, with Brian Redman back in action after missing Monaco. Spa also looked set to be the last race of the Cooper-BRM combination, as the British manufacturer had secured a deal with Alfa Romeo to supply engines for a new car.
Ferrari were back in action, with Chris Amon and Jacky Ickx returning to action in the same cars that they had raced in Spain. That said, Amon's car had been fitted with a spoiler/aerofoil mounted over the gearbox, the Italian firm copying the style of CanAm manufacturer Chaparral. Brabham-Repco also had a "wing" mounted on their cars, with Jack Brabham having the newer car while Jochen Rindt continued on with the reliable 1967 car.
Completing the entry list was Honda, as John Surtees entered the Hondola once again as part of Honda Racing, who had also entered Irwin in an older car. Eagle-Weslake had also entered a car for Gurney, but the chances of the New Yorker actually racing were slim as they had burned through all of their available engines. The final entry on the list would be the Rob Walker Racing Team effort of Jo Siffert, who was set to get the newest of the Lotus 49Bs in Holland, provided that the factory team avoided writing off another car in Spa.
A second consecutive victory, combined with a second place at the season opener, left Hill with a daunting advantage at the top of the World Championship standings, the Englishman having left Monte Carlo with a fourteen point lead. Hulme proved to be the closest challenger, and the only other man in double figures for the season, just a point ahead of the late Jim Clark. Scarfiotti found himself in fifth, tied on points with fourth placed Attwood, while Bianchi found himself tied with fellow third placed finishers Rindt and Redman.
It had been, points-wise, a perfect start to the season for Lotus-Ford Cosworth, with three wins out of three starts to lead the Intercontinental Cup for Manufacturers. Cooper-BRM and McLaren-Ford Cosworth were level on eight points, the New Zealand backed effort ahead through Hulme's second place earlier in the season, with the pair of them already nineteen points off of the Norfolk squad. BRM found themselves ahead of Brabham-Repco, while Ferrari were level with new comers Matra-Ford Cosworth outside of the top five.
The full entry list for the 1968 Belgian Grand Prix is outlined below:
The familiar combination of practice and qualifying running as one would be retained in Belgium, with two sessions scheduled on the afternoons of Friday and Saturday. Both days were expected to see a lot of experimentation, largely due to the sudden growth of wings among the field, while drivers would have to reassess the entry to some corners due to the removal of flag poles near Malmedy. Otherwise, the best of the best would be aiming for the circuit record set by the late Jim Clark back in 1967, when the Scot took pole with a 3:28.1.
As soon as the pits opened on Friday afternoon the circuit would be a hive of activity, the majority of the field getting out in the first moments of the session. Graham Hill would not be among them, his Lotus 49B requiring a gearbox rebuild, while teammate Jackie Oliver had to sit around and wait for his car to be delivered. Also stuck in the pits were the Brabham-Repco drivers Jack Brabham and Jochen Rindt, who would have to wait around until the team finally arrived at the circuit.
Out on the circuit the pace would be far from spectacular, with most of the field opting to wind up their pace gradually throughout the weekend. Jackie Stewart was among those going steady, battling with his wrist injury and the pain resulting from it, while de facto teammate Jean-Pierre Beltoise tried to learn the circuit. Brabham, meanwhile, had finally got out on the circuit, only to have a valve seat failure that totalled the engine, while Hill would only complete a couple of laps before the end of the session.
The outright pace refused to drop until the final hour of Friday, when Chris Amon pushed the "(aero)-foiled" Ferrari round to record a 3:28.6 to become the first man to get under 3:30.0 in the session. As it turned out, the New Zealander would be the only man to record a sub-3:30.0, Stewart ultimately ending up as his closest challenger after a single flying lap. Ickx put the second Ferrari onto the provisional front row by setting the third best time, over five seconds slower than Amon, while John Surtees got the "Hondola" ahead of the two McLaren-Ford Cosworths, led by defending Champion Denny Hulme.
Ultimately, Friday would prove to be the day that settled the grid as Saturday dawned with a steady stream of rain that prevented any quick running. Most of the field decided to stay in the dry, leaving Surtees and Pedro Rodríguez to dominate the timesheets in the spray, while Oliver went out to shakedown the latest Lotus. Brabham would be away for the day, personally going to pick up a new set of Repco engines, meaning the Australian racer failed to record a time at all, although he would be allowed to start the race.
The full qualifying results for the 1968 Belgian Grand Prix are outlined below:
|1||22||Chris Amon||Ferrari||3:28.6||No Time||—|
|2||7||Jackie Stewart||Matra-Ford Cosworth||3:32.3||No Time||+3.7s|
|5||6||Denny Hulme||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||3:35.4||No Time||+6.8s|
|6||5||Bruce McLaren||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||3:37.1||No Time||+8.5s|
|9||3||Jo Siffert||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||3:39.0||4:36.8||+10.4s|
|11||12||Richard Attwood||BRM||3:45.2||No Time||+16.6s|
|13||10||Jean-Pierre Beltoise||Matra||3:52.9||No Time||+24.3s|
|14||1||Graham Hill||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||4:06.1||4:48.1||+37.5s|
|15||2||Jackie Oliver||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||No Time||4:30.8||+62.2s|
|16||17||Jo Bonnier||McLaren-BRM||No Time||4:34.3||+65.7s|
|17||19||Jochen Rindt||Brabham-Repco||No Time||4:46.7||+78.1s|
|18||18||Jack Brabham||Brabham-Repco||No Time||No Time||—|
After the Saturday washout a meeting between the officials and teams was arranged to decide what to do if the rain returned for the race on Sunday, as had been predicted by the weather reports. If it was raining heavily at the 3:30pm start time then there would be a one hour delay until the rain either stopped or a Targa Florio style system would be used. In that case, each driver would be released at ten second intervals to complete the race distance, with the finishing order to be determined by their total time.
Fortunately Sunday proved to be dull and overcast, but without the downpours which had ruined Saturday and had threatened the weekend entirely. A capacity crowd had also turned out to watch a fortunately dry race, with the drivers whisked away for a parade ahead of the race while the teams prepared the cars. All seventeen qualifiers, and non-practicer Jack Brabham were soon lined up for the start, with a warm-up lap permitted before they assembled on the grid to wait for the flag.
After a difficult crawl onto the grid proper, the field were underway with Chris Amon streaking through Eau Rouge ahead of teammate Jacky Ickx, the Belgian benefiting from a slow starting Jackie Stewart. Indeed, Stewart's poor start had seen him plummet down the order, with John Surtees the man to chase after the two scarlet Ferraris up the hill, with many of the fans, and journalists, predicting the Englishman to be leading when the field returned. Elsewhere, Graham Hill and Brabham were making ground as they attempted to make early gains from lowly starting positions, while Jo Bonnier was in trouble, ultimately retiring with a loose wheel.
Upon the field's return to the pits to complete the opening lap it was Amon leading from Surtees and Ickx, with Denny Hulme leading the chase with Stewart and Pedro Rodríguez in close attendance. Bruce McLaren was some way back already and on his own, a few yards ahead of Jackie Oliver who was driving around Spa in the dry for the first time. Hill and Brabham were up behind the lower reaches of the top ten, Jochen Rindt would stop for a check, while Jean-Pierre Beltoise appeared to be taking the race at a cruise, aiming to keep the V12 Matra intact for the time being.
Come the end of the lap two and it was Surtees who slammed onto the brakes at La Source first, the Hondola having taken the lead on the run back from Blanchimont. Amon and Ickx, however, were refusing to go away as the top three pulled even further up the road, Hulme coming under increasing pressure from Stewart as time went on. Hill, meanwhile, was on the verge of breaking into the top six, battling with McLaren for seventh, while Brabham's charge had faltered once he had got caught behind Brian Redman, the Brit putting up a ferocious defence to keep the Australian World Champion at bay.
It soon became clear that Surtees was out to win the race, fending off any attempts by Amon to get past, although both were under-threat from Ickx who was still hanging on in the early stages. That was until the Belgian's engine decided to whine on the exit of La Source at the end of lap four, just after Amon tried an unsuccessful dive down the inside of Surtees. Elsewhere, Hill would have to call time on his race when a joint failed in the suspension, fortunately while the Englishman was slowing down, while Rindt was out after another visit to the pits, his Repco engine having destroyed a valve.
There was a moment of worry when the circuit ambulance streaked off onto the circuit, with news filtering to the pits that Redman had gone off into the trees through Malmedy. Yet, there was still drama to be had at the front of the field, and when Amon began to slow at the end of lap eight to get into the pits and forced Hulme to take avoiding action, Stewart was able to sneak through to take second. Amon's race had been ruined by a punctured oil radiator, caused by a stone thrown by Surtees' car during their scrap, and with Ickx already limping down the order it seemed that Ferrari's race was run.
Two laps later and Surtees was suddenly in trouble, the Hondola surprising everyone when it swooped towards the pits, before the Englishman decided against it and roared on to Eau Rouge. It was a poor decision by Surtees, for the Englishman would have to limp the car around from the back of the circuit when something broke at the rear, promoting the intense duel between Hulme and Stewart into the lead of the race, while the Englishman tried to get his car back in action. His demise also gave extra impetus to the intense brawl for third, as youngster Piers Courage diced with Jo Siffert and a slightly improving Ickx, a truel that would become a duel when a clutch problem robbed Siffert of some pace a couple of laps later.
A crabbing Hondola would return a few laps later to reveal that a suspension failure had ended Surtees' race, just as Stewart took hold of the lead with an excellent move through Blanchimont. Hulme was just hanging on by this stage, well ahead of the new third place battle involving Courage, whose pace had dropped once Siffert disappeared, McLaren, Rodriguez and a determined Ickx, the former trio swapping places all time in a terrific display of slip-streaming. The excitement of their battle was enough to see the halfway point in the race breeze by, just before Hulme retook the lead from Stewart on the run through the Masta Kink.
Indeed, the lead duel was becoming even more tense as the race progressed, and on lap sixteen it would be defending Champion Hulme who showed the strain, locking up badly at La Source and sliding down the escape road. Stewart snuck through to take the lead once again, but before Hulme could get the Scot back in his sights, the McLaren-Ford Cosworth suffered another driveshaft failure, leaving him to limp the car back to the pits. His teammate McLaren was duly promoted to second as he took over the lead of the chase group, although Stewart's advantage was so large that the Scot could effectively coast to the flag.
As the race ticked on the battle for second became the main focus, with Rodriguez and McLaren monopolising the position despite brief interludes by Courage. Sadly, the Brit would suffer an engine failure a few laps from the end to drop him out of the running, while Ickx continued to hang on despite the fact his Ferrari engine was sounding rougher and rougher. He would eventually lose touch as the field began the final few laps, just as Stewart lost a chunk of time for no obvious reason. The Scot was still leading by almost half a minute with two laps to go, but the Cosworth powered Matra was not as healthy as the Scot's driving made it appear.
Ultimately, just as the Stewart opened the final lap he came slithering into the pits, the Cosworth engine just about to drain the rest of the fuel, a fate shared by Jackie Oliver who came coasting in some time later. The Scot's advantage should have been enough for a quick splash and dash, but when he hit the throttle the engine died and refused to restart, just as McLaren and Rodriguez came screaming past. A new battery partially cured the problem and a frustrated Stewart streaked out of the pits, just as Oliver set off with a badly smoking driveshaft, an issue that would fall before the end of the final lap.
The final lap dice saw McLaren emerge with a twelve second lead, largely down to the fact that Rodriguez had just begun to run out as the two climbed through Blanchimont. The New Zealander was surprised to have won, only finding out when team manager Eddy Mayer told him upon his return to the pits, while Rodriguez was a jubilant second. Ickx was also happy in third, having limped his V11 Ferrari to the flag ahead of a frustrated Stewart classified in fourth. Oliver's car failed to appear after his driveshaft failed on the final lap leaving him in fifth, while Lucien Bianchi had a quite run to sixth ahead of Siffert, stranded out on the circuit at Stavelot, and the slow but steady Beltoise.
The full results for the 1968 Belgian Grand Prix are outlined below:
|1||5||Bruce McLaren||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||28||1:40:02.1||6||9|
|4||7||Jackie Stewart||Matra-Ford Cosworth||27||+1 lap||2||3|
|5*||2||Jackie Oliver||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||26||Transmission||15||2|
|6||15||Lucien Bianchi||Cooper-BRM||26||+2 laps||12||1|
|7*||3||Jo Siffert||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||25||Oil pressure||9|
|8||10||Jean-Pierre Beltoise||Matra||25||+3 laps||13|
|Ret||6||Denny Hulme||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||18||Transmission||5|
|Ret||12||Richard Attwood||BRM||6||Oil line||11|
|Ret||1||Graham Hill||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||5||Joint||14|
- * Both Oliver and Siffert were still classified despite retiring as they had completed 90% of the race distance.
- Jack Brabham entered his 100th World Championship Grand Prix.
- BRM recorded their 100th start.
- Fourth and final victory for Bruce McLaren, his first since the 1962 Monaco Grand Prix.
- McLaren recorded their first victory as a constructor.
- Pedro Rodríguez earned BRM their fiftieth podium.
- Maiden podium finish for Jacky Ickx.
- Tenth fastest lap for John Surtees.
- It was also the second, and final, fastest lap for Honda as a constructor.
Despite a poor display from Graham Hill and Lotus-Ford Cosworth, it was still the Englishman who led the way after four rounds, and still by the same margin as he had after the Monaco Grand Prix. Race winner Bruce McLaren was up to third, level on points with the late Jim Clark, while Denny Hulme remained in second as Hill's closest challenger. The now deceased Ludovico Scarfiotti had slipped to seventh as Pedro Rodríguez leapt into the top five, with fifteen drivers now on the scorers list for 1968.
Team Lotus had had to rely on Jackie Oliver to add to their tally in Spa, as they left Belgium with a twelve point lead in the Intercontinental Cup for Manufacturers standings. McLaren-Ford Cosworth, fresh from their maiden victory, had closed the gap down from nineteen points, while BRM were into double figures for the season. Cooper-BRM were best of the rest in fourth, ahead of Ferrari, the debuting Matra-Ford Cosworth and defending Champions Brabham-Repco.
Images and Videos:
- ↑ 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 'GRAND PRIX RESULTS: BELGIAN GP, 1968', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 2016), http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr165.html, (Accessed 05/09/2016)
- ↑ 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 2.20 2.21 2.22 2.23 2.24 2.25 2.26 2.27 2.28 2.29 2.30 2.31 2.32 2.33 2.34 2.35 2.36 2.37 2.38 2.39 2.40 2.41 2.42 2.43 2.44 D.S.J., 'XXVII BELGIAN GRAND PRIX: The Fastest', motorsportmagazine.com, (MotorSport Magazine, 01/07/1968), http://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/july-1968/14/xxvii-belgian-grand-prix, (Accessed 06/09/2016)
- ↑ 'Belgium 1968: Entrants', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1968/belgique/engages.aspx, (Accessed 05/09/2016)
- ↑ 'Belgium 1968: Qualifications', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1968/belgique/qualification.aspx, (Accessed 19/09/2016)
- ↑ 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 5.12 5.13 5.14 5.15 5.16 5.17 5.18 5.19 5.20 5.21 5.22 5.23 5.24 5.25 5.26 5.27 5.28 5.29 5.30 5.31 5.32 5.33 5.34 D.S.J., 'Francorchamps Monologue: The Belgian Grand Prix', motorsportmagazine.com, (MotorSport Magazine, 01/06/1968), http://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/july-1968/15/francorchamps-monologue-belgian-grand-prix, (Accessed 27/09/2016)
- ↑ 'Belgium 1968: Result', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1968/belgique/grille.aspx, (Accessed 27/09/2016)
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