The XLIX Grand Prix de l'A.C.F., otherwise known as the 1963 French Grand Prix was the fourth round of the 1963 FIA Formula One World Championship, held at Reims in eastern France. The event as a whole would go down in history for a comedy of errors made in both the scheduling and conduct of the week, many caused by the organisers.
Many FIA rules were broken during the weekend, including the rule about having a clear weekend between Championship Grand Prix. Furthermore, a red flag was used to signal the start, although Jim Clark immediately swept into the lead from pole position. There was also controversy on the grid when Graham Hill stalled, with the usual procedure abandoned and the BRM allowed to be restarted and wheeled back into position.
Despite having his biggest rival get a break in the rules in their favour, Clark produced a second dominant display in a week. The Scot had virtually won the race by the end of lap one, dancing the Lotus 25 round the circuit without issue. It was a second Grand Chelem in as many races when the Scot took the chequered flag, having taken fastest lap and led throughout for over two hours. Tony Maggs and Hill completed the podium.
The few days turn around between the Dutch and French Grand Prix was handled very well by the teams, considering that it was a breach of FIA rules. Tradition in the Champagne region dictated that practice would start on Wednesday evening, but with the cars having raced in the Netherlands on Sunday, many pressed to have the weekend shifted back a day. The entry list had already been submitted and the race approved so there was little the FIA could do to change the schedule, with a busy programme featuring the World Sportscar Championship, a GT and Sports car race and Formula Junior to support the Grand Prix.
Many teams made it to France before Wednesday, although the mechanics were hard pressed to get the cars ready in time for the first session. ATS stayed an extra day in the Netherlands, using the twisting Zandvoort circuit to tune their chassis. With Reims a power based circuit, and the small Italian outfit's major weakness being their engines, it was unsurprising when both cars were withdrawn. Lead driver Phil Hill, however, would still be in action in France, agreeing to drive for the Swiss Ecurie Filipinetti outfit.
BRM were another to stay among the dunes for a day of testing, although they would race in France. The time had been well spent, for the new car built for lead driver Graham Hill reflected the "monocoque" design in use by Team Lotus, and required a slight change in the Englishman's driving style. This was set to be Hill's challenger at Reims, meaning his old car would be the reserve car.
Lotus themselves led the charge straight from the Netherlands, linking up with third driver Peter Arundell, who was entered as a third driver after his Junior car was delayed. BRP-BRM arrived with their new car set to race with Innes Ireland, fresh from scoring his first points of the season, while Lola-Climax would be on the grid with Chris Amon at the wheel. Both outfits fielded second drivers with Lotus 24s, which was a common sight according to the entry list.
Straight out from Holland too were Cooper-Climax, who also had a set of engines being shipped from England as they arrived, while Ferrari maintained Ludovico Scarfiotti as their second driver despite Willy Mairesse's release from hospital. Scirocco-BRM managed to get one car ready before the first practice session for Tony Settember, while the RRC Walker Racing Team got Jo Bonnier to the circuit without issue. Brabham-Climax also arrived without a problem for their two cars.
The Championship battle had become rather spread in the Netherlands despite it only serving as the third round of the season, for Clark arrived in France with a seven point lead. Richie Ginther came to Reims in second place after his consistent points finishes, while Bruce McLaren and Dan Gurney sat level on ten points. A second retirement in as many races left Graham Hill in fifth, while Ferrari's new driver Scarfiotti rounded out the scorers in twelfth.
It had also been a profitable Dutch weekend for Clark's team Team Lotus in the Intercontinental Cup for Manufacturers, with the British constructor getting to Reims with a five point lead. BRM had made way for them at the top of the standings, while Cooper and Brabham came into the Champagne region level on ten points (the doing of McLaren and Gurney). Ferrari were next up in fifth, while BRP and Porsche rounded out the scorers.
The full entry list for the 1963 French Grand Prix is outlined below:
Practice began on Wednesday evening, just after a near miss in the Formula Juniors when a Prototype was released onto the circuit. Thursday saw heavy rain prior to and during the session, with limited running for most of the teams. The final session on Friday was dry, but unlike the familiar Reims summer weather, the day was very cold.
The Wednesday session opened with the major works teams set to go, although Brabham-Climax were still on their way to the circuit. At Team Lotus there were no issues, Clark immediately setting a time under the fastest lap from 1961, before breaking the 1.5 litre circuit record of 2:22.9. That was until car #44 in the hands of Jo Bonnier set a time with an average speed of over 400 kph (250 mph), almost twice the average speed of a standard lap. The time keepers were confused by this, until it was revealed that a Formula Junior car was still on circuit.
Peter Arundell ran for a time in the third Team Lotus entry before being removed by the circuit officials, FIA rules stating that no driver can compete in two separate events over a Grand Prix meeting, with Arundell the start attraction in Formula Junior. Ecurie Filipinetti arrived with their brand new Lotus 24, although a quick instillation lap by Clark, whose best time now stood at 2:21.0, revealed an issue. With Thursday resulting in a washout, the rest of the runners were ready to go for the final session on Friday evening after having completed a small amount of running in the wet.
All bar one of the leading drivers were out on a cool Friday afternoon, Ludovico Scarfiotti having had an accident in the rain and badly bruised his legs. Ian Burgess also remained on the sidelines, the Scirocco-BRM mechanics failing to get his car ready, while Arundell was banned from running despite his times being good enough for the top ten. Clark, meanwhile, was setting a stunning series of times early on, one run ending with a 2:20.2, the same time as Mike Parkes in the V12 Ferrari Prototype which was significantly more powerful.
Jack Brabham and Dan Gurney were putting the new Brabham cars through their paces, getting within two seconds of Clark's time with impressive laps. John Surtees improved throughout the session to split them, while Graham Hill had continued to suffer problems with the new BRM. A late run in the new car saw him steadily close on Clark's time, becoming only the second man in the F1 field to get under 2:21.0, although he would run out of time to beat the Scot's time.
The full qualifying results for the 1963 French Grand Prix are outlined below:
|WD||50||Nasif Estéfano||De Tomaso||Withdrawn|
- * Scarfiotti and Arundell would not start the race.
Once the dust had settled on an exciting Prototype race, the Grand Prix cars were pushed onto the circuit, with Peter Arundell and Ludovico Scarfiotti the only non-starters. Otherwise, the entire field was mechanically sound and ready to go in the mid-summer evening, the issues of the schedule almost forgotten. Or so it seemed as with a minute to go Graham Hill signalled that his car had stalled, with race director deciding to abandon the start rather than follow normal procedure. The BRM mechanics swarmed onto the circuit to give the car a push start, before wheeling the car back into its second place grid slot, further breaking FIA rules.
There was little time to protest the decision, with director Raymond Roche deciding to start the race the moment the BRM was back in position. He raised and then quickly dropped the flag to signal the start, except that he had used a red flag, meaning all drivers had to stop immediately without question. This, however, was not obeyed and the race started, only Masten Gregory and Phil Hill remaining in their grid slots, but only because they had both stalled amid the confusion.
With the two Americans push started, another breach of FIA rules, and conformation that the rest of the field would not be punished for technically ignoring the red flag, the race quickly settled into a stable rhythm. Jim Clark hooked up the best launch to take the lead from pole, while Dan Gurney out dragged Graham Hill for second. They came through at the head of a swarm for second at the end of the opening lap, which also featured Jack Brabham and Richie Ginther, before a short gap to the rest.
Clark was pulling out a strong lead in the early stages, claiming two seconds a lap out of the group behind, which saw Ginther take all four of the cars ahead to lead the battle for second by the end of the third lap. Hill, in contrast, had tumbled, slipping behind the two Brabhams, John Surtees, Bruce McLaren and Trevor Taylor, while Tony Maggs tagged onto the back of the Englishman in the eight car scrap for second. Soon, however, the exciting brawl was to be broken up, mechanical issues arising as a result of the flat out pace.
Ginther was out first, his car taking a stone to the radiator that proved fatal to the engine, while Gurney limped into the pits with a broken gear lever. Hill and Maggs were dropping away, the two entering a private duel that cost both of them time as Surtees hit the front of the group, only to suffer a problem with the fuel pump that forced him into the points. Gurney was back among them by this stage but a lap down after repairs, and set about helping team mate Brabham to escape from the remains of the group.
With a quarter of the race gone Clark had set fastest lap, but the Climax in the back of his car was beginning to sound rough, prompting him to ease of his stunning pace. Team mate Taylor was also in trouble, the Englishman being followed by a blue haze from the back of the car caused by a small oil leak. Brabham was now left clear in second, with Gurney helping him along by providing a slipstream ahead.
Experimentation in the leading Lotus cockpit saw Clark begin to work a way around his engine issue, changing a gear around 1,000 rpm lower than normal to keep acceleration constant. Brabham, meanwhile, was losing time by running in the wake of Gurney, the slipstream effect being countered by his attempts to stay behind, allowing Taylor to inch closer every lap. Clark's lead was now growing again as half distance approached, with Jo Bonnier and Phil Hill taking turns to enter and leave the pits with various issues.
Taylor now caught Brabham and began to challenge for second, allowing the still struggling Clark to escape a little further up the road. McLaren was a lonely fourth well ahead of Graham Hill who was left to battle with Maggs for fifth, with Jo Siffert in seventh as the last man on the lead lap. A fair distance back from the Swiss privateer came an interesting three way battle, featuring Lorenzo Bandini, Chris Amon and Maurice Trintignant.
A slight drizzle drifted over the circuit at the 30 lap mark, enough to slow the pace of the rest of the field and aid Clark, although his reduced pace was still being caused by the engine issue. At this point his team mate Taylor came in, although he was duly sent out again with a new battery, an alternator failure meaning his battery was flat and the ignition failing. McLaren suddenly suffered a general loss of power, allowing Hill and Maggs to catch as the rain steadily became heavier.
The following laps saw McLaren begin to fend off Hill as Maggs dropped away with an unknown problem, while Brabham slipped ever further away from Clark who still believed his engine issue would be terminal. With the order settled the organisers discussed the race startm with the two Hills and Gregory all handed one minute time penalties as a result. This seemed like a very small penalty for a severe breach of FIA rules with the other teams not informed directly, until Cooper signalled to McLaren and Maggs to simply keep the BRM in sight, for they would inherit third and fourth.
Yet, that was to change quickly as two retirements in two laps drastically changed the podium. Brabham was the first to fall, his second placed car having a dead engine though the run at Muizon. Ever the engineer, the Australian probed the engine, discovered and reconnected a lose lead and rejoined a lap down in sixth just in time to see McLaren cost to a stop ahead, the Cooper's ignition having failed.
Brabham now ran a few seconds behind team mate Gurney, and as the rain eased both went by Clark, who had decided to nurse the car even more to the flag, over a minute clear of Hill and Maggs. They were now running fourth and fifth, the pair swapping with Brabham the quicker of the two as he sought to catch Hill, who suddenly appeared behind Maggs with a few laps to go. The BRM had developed a slipping clutch to lose an increasing amount of time, and duly lost second to the South African on the penultimate lap.
With that, the race was done, with Clark flashing across the line to claim a third victory in the row with Mr. Roche completing the comedy of errors by waving the chequered flag after Clark had gone past. Maggs was a safe second, while Hill clinched third, Brabham's charge to get within the one minute window behind the Englishman just falling short by 1.3 seconds. After the race, the FIA decided to apply a bigger penalty to Hill, allowing him to keep his third place finish, but at the expense of the four World Championship points.
The full results for the 1963 French Grand Prix are outlined below:
|6||36||Jo Siffert||Lotus-BRM||52||+1 lap||10||1|
|7||30||Chris Amon||Lola-Climax||51||+2 laps||15|
|8||28||Maurice Trintignant||Lotus-Climax||50||+3 laps||14|
|9||32||Innes Ireland||BRP-BRM||49||+4 laps||9|
|10||46||Lorenzo Bandini||BRM||45||+8 laps||19|
|11||34||Jim Hall||Lotus-BRM||45||+8 laps||16|
|Ret||42||Phil Hill||Lotus-BRM||34||Fuel pump||13|
|Ret||16||John Surtees||Ferrari||12||Fuel pump||4|
|WD||50||Nasif Estéfano||De Tomaso|
- * Hill was handed a one minute penalty for a push start but retained third place, although the Englishman was not awarded points.
- † McLaren and Taylor still classified despite retiring before the final lap.
- First entry for Peter Arundell.
- 50th World Championship start for BRM.
- Climax claimed their 25th pole position.
- 25th win for Climax.
- Third and final podium finish for Tony Maggs.
A third victory of the season for Jim Clark saw the Scot pull an impressive fifteen points clear at the head of the World Championship standings after only four races. The decision not to award points to Graham Hill meant he remained in fifth, now an incredible eighteen points away from Clark, the equivalent of two race wins. Dan Gurney now emerged as Clark's closest challenger, a point ahead of Richie Ginther as the latter's scoring run came to an end, with Bruce McLaren dropping to fourth.
With BRM failing to score, Lotus-Climax opened out a twelve point lead at the top of the Intercontinental Cup for Manufacturers. Cooper-Climax also benefited, rising to second to become Team Lotus' nearest challengers, while Brabham-Climax held their own in fourth. Ferrari also held station at the bottom of the top five, while a Lotus-BRM entry claimed points for the first time in 1963 to round out the scorers.
Images and Videos:
- 'GRAND PRIX RESULTS: FRENCH GP, 1963', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 2016), http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr115.html, (Accessed 04/06/2016)
- D.S.J., '49th French Grand Prix: Clark and Lotus again', motorsportmagazine.com, (Motor Sport Magazine, 01/08/1963), http://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/august-1963/26/49th-french-grand-prix, (Accessed 04/06/2016)
- 'France 1963: Entrants', statsf1.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1963/france/engages.aspx, (Accessed 05/06/2016)
- 'France 1963: Qualifications', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1963/france/qualification.aspx, (Accessed 05/06/2016)
- 'France 1963: Result', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1963/france/classement.aspx, (Accessed 05/06/2016)
|V T E||French Grand Prix|
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