Masters of Monza

Lewis Hamilton’s virtuoso performance at the Italian Grand Prix was like Jim Clark’s fifty years ago. Clark didn’t win but gave a masterly demonstration. The field was close, not quite hundredths of a second apart like now, with 5sec between the front row of the grid and the back.

I took this picture of the start at Monza from the press tribune at the top of the grandstand. Start flag marshals dither in front of Clark (Lotus-Ford 49) on pole this side of the track, Brabham (Brabham Repco V8) in the middle, Bruce McLaren (McLaren BRM V12) on the outside. (Chris Amon (Ferrari V12) and Dan Gurney (Eagle-Weslake V12) on the second row. John Surtees (Honda V12) is on row 4.

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Monza starts were often muddled. Jack Brabham set off straight from the dummy grid so everybody followed, leaving officials not much choice but agree. Clark took the lead by lap 3, then suffered a puncture.

His pit crew changed the wheel but he lost a lap. The entire field overtook. In the course of the next hour or so he overtook every other car, some of them twice. It was almost beyond belief, unique in modern grand prix racing. Effectively he made up a full lap on everyone else up till the final Parabolica when his engine faltered. It was an astonishing display on a circuit famous for close racing and yards-apart finishes. He displayed enormous self-control: outwardly calm, inwardly burning with a source of energy that made him faster through indignation or frustration at the delay in the pits. It was an occasion when he showed just how much capacity he always held in reserve.

Monza was nearly a famous victory for Clark, until his fuel pumps failed to collect the final gallons in the bottom of his tanks. He blamed Colin Chapman for miscalculating the fuel required although in fairness driving for so long at the very limit of the Lotus-Ford probably led the fuel consumption arithmetic astray. The crowds mobbed the winner, John Surtees in a Honda.

The tongue-lashing Clark gave Chapman revealed a side of the apparently shy Scottish Borders farmer rarely seen in public. Ten years before when the Berwick and District Motor Club had, as he saw it, cheated him of an acknowledgement of his skill, he had had to defer to it. Now a twice world champion the authority was his and Jim Clark was very, very cross.

Jim Clark: Tribute to a Champion now available in hardback and Kindle ebook editions.

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