Born in 1936 and raised in the Scottish Borders, James Clark Jr was a quiet and unassuming man, so it comes perhaps as a surprise that instead of following in his fathers profession of farming, Jim would eventually go on to become one of Formula One’s greatest champions and to this day, still hold the record for the most number of British Grand Prix wins to be won by a Briton. Jim Clark was a driver I particularly admired, and today is his turn in the British Winners series.
Clark’s first success on home soil came in 1962 when, in a Lotus 25, he challenged Graham Hill for the world championship for most of the season. Jim would eventually finish in second, twelve points adrift of Hill, but his second career win at Aintree would stand out as a superb romp from start to finish. Jim took the pole position, the fastest lap of the race and of course, the victory in a momentous weekend in his racing life. By the 75th and final lap, Clark was 49 seconds clear of second-placed driver John Surtees.
British Grand Prix win number two would come just a year later in 1963. Driving the same Lotus-Climax, Clark won the event at Silverstone, once again beating John Surtees to the victory. The ’63 race also saw Graham Hill complete the podium, and Clark took the pole position while Surtees claimed the fastest lap. By the end of the 1963 season, Clark had amassed 54 points and was awarded with his first world title, beating rival Hill by 25 points and taking seven wins from a possible ten.
In 1964, Clark was on a roll and the Lotus 25, although getting old, was still reasonably competitive. In the hands of Jim it was once again steered to British success, this time in Kent at the Brands Hatch circuit. Again, Clark took pole position and fastest lap and stood on the podium separating Hill and Surtees. 1964 wasn’t to be a championship winning year though, his main rivals in the BRM (Hill) and Ferrari (Surtees) got the better of him. Clark finished the season in third, seven points behind Hill who was in turn only one point behind Surtees.
With a new car in 1965 though, the Lotus 33, Clark was back on winning form and, as if the repetition wasn’t getting too much, he won the British Grand Prix for a fourth time. The event had returned to Silverstone for that year, but the result was just the same; Clark separating Surtees and Hill on the podium. A further five wins ensured Clark had taken his second title, 14 points clear of Graham Hill.
The duck was broken in 1966 though, and Clark was unable to complete his simply stunning run of British Grand Prix success. Britain may have won the football that year, but the Formula One went to Australian driver Jack Brabham. Clark finished fourth at Brands Hatch in his Lotus 33, a lap down on the leader. However, in 1967 Clark would return to his winning habit and in a Lotus 49 with a Ford V8 driving the wheels, Jim took his final British win at Silverstone from pole position.
Clark’s record of five British Grand Prix victories is only matched by Alain Prost to date, and although Nigel Mansell threatened the record in the early-nineties, he could only manage four. The most successful British driver at the British Grand Prix could have made it even more had he not tragically died before his time.
At the start of the 1968 season, Jim took the first race in South Africa comfortably, beating now-team mate Graham Hill by 25 seconds. In the time between the South African event and the next race in Spain, Clark took part in a Formula Two race at Hockenheim. On lap four he lost control of his Lotus 48 and crashed into the trees lining the track. Officially, Jim Clark died en-route to hospital.
To read more in this series of articles, click the tag ‘British Winners’.
Image © Victor Blackman.