The XXI R.A.C. British Grand Prix, otherwise known as the 1968 British Grand Prix, was the seventh round of the 1968 FIA Formula One World Championship, staged on the 20th of July, 1968 at Brands Hatch. The race, which was the first since the death of Jo Schlesser at the French Grand Prix, would go down in history as the last Grand Prix to be won by a privateer team.
That privateer effort would be the Rob Walker Racing Team, whom had just obtained a brand new Lotus 49B from Team Lotus for Jo Siffert to use. The 49 would be the dominant force at Brands Hatch, with factory drivers Graham Hill and Jackie Oliver finishing first and second in qualifying, while Siffert would just fall shy of a front row start as Chris Amon claimed third.
The start of the race would see Oliver leap into the lead of the race on a damp circuit, the Englishman using Siffert's old 49 with extensive bodywork changes to beat teammate Hill into Paddock Hill Bend. Unfortunately for Oliver his car was smoking by the end of the opening lap, and by the end of the fourth tour Hill had slipped through into the lead.
Hill's pace drew both himself and Oliver away from the rest of pack, being headed by a fantastic duel between Amon and Siffert for third. That changed on lap 27, when Hill suffered a suspension failure to leave Oliver with a fair lead over the now second placed duel, although Siffert would gradually gain superiority over Amon as the race wore on.
The next twist came just after the halfway mark, when Oliver was denied a shot at victory by a transmission failure, handing Siffert the lead. The Swiss racer was left to hold on for victory, being stalked by Amon for the rest of the race to win by a little over four seconds. Amon's teammate Jacky Ickx claimed third, a lap down, with Denny Hulme, John Surtees and Jackie Stewart completing the points.
The British Grand Prix was one of the most anticipated dates in the racing calendar, and in 1968 it would be the turn of Brands Hatch to host Britain's biggest motor race. Having already hosted the III Race of Champions, the organisers at Brands Hatch were keen to build on their hosting success assembling a huge support package for the Grand Prix, with the British Saloon Car Championship headlining the support action. It would also be a moment of reflection for the F1 paddock after Jo Schlesser became the latest driver to die that season, joining Mike Spence, Ludovico Scarfiotti and Jim Clark on the dreaded list of fatalities.
It had been a busy couple of weeks for Lotus-Ford Cosworth since the French Grand Prix, with the factory finally completing work on the newest 49B, destined for their customers, the Rob Walker Racing Team. The car would be completed in the paddock during practice, while the factory team had to use Rob Walker's old 49, Jackie Oliver having written off his car back in Rouen. Oliver's new (old) 49 would have a full set of winglets and aerofoils bolted on ahead of practice, with those modifications all that Lotus could do to bring the year-old car up to spec with Graham Hill and Jo Siffert's new 68 machines.
Wings were the order of the day for several teams ahead of Brands Hatch, John Surtees bolting a huge spoiler on the back of his Hondola as the division between Team Surtees and Honda deepened. The Japanese firm were in the process of building a new RA302 despite the horrible accident that had claimed the life of Schlesser, but Surtees' effort in Britain refused to aid the process. The Englishman thought the design was dangerous, a fact proved by the fireball in France, and there were rumours that Honda would remove their backing from Team Surtees as a result of his protests.
Elsewhere, Antipodean engineers Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren both had their familiar pairs of cars, with both designs featuring extended wings. The pair of orange McLaren-Ford Cosworths for McLaren and Denny Hulme were unchanged from France, while the two Brabham-Repcos for the "gaffer" and Jochen Rindt both had new engines. Both constructors would also have older machinery on show, with Jo Bonnier using his red-yellow McLaren after obtaining a new engine, while Silvio Moser returned after missing out on the French Grand Prix.
Dan Gurney returned having had his Anglo American Racers effort rebuild a set of old Weslake engines, having also decided to join the winged brigade by bolting a spolier over the exhausts. BRM, in contrast, had decided to go in the opposite direction, deciding to delete any aerodynamic devices that had gradually grown on their cars. They had a trio of factory efforts on offer for Pedro Rodríguez, Richard Attwood and one-off racer Tony Lanfranchi, although the latter was unlikely to race due to his BSCC committments. A fourth car was also on the entry list, with Reg Parnell Racing once again loaning the car for Piers Courage to race.
Cooper-BRM had brought a trio of cars to Brands Hatch, with Vic Elford and Olympian Robin Widdows as their drivers, although the third car had been entered for Lucien Bianchi. The Belgian's entry would not arrive however, as engine builders Autodelta, who made engines under the Alfa Romeo banner, refused to let Cooper have the engine, deeming it not race worthy, despite Cooper's satisfaction in the power output. A fourth Cooper was entered for an unknown Tom Jones, who had supposedly obtained one of the original Maserati engined cars.
Completing the entry list were the two Continental constructors Matra and Ferrari, both of whom had some minor revisions to their cars. French Grand Prix winner Jacky Ickx and teammate Chris Amon had their revised air ducts moved, with Brands Hatch not as renowned as Rouen for high summer temperatures. Matra, meanwhile, had their two sister efforts of Matra International and Matra Sports in action, with Jackie Stewart going for a home win for Ken Tyrrell's operation, while Jean-Pierre Beltoise pushed on with the Matra engined effort.
Victory for Ickx in France had meant that he became the latest driver to leap up into second place in the table as the Championship reached the halfway mark, with Hill still leading the charge. The Englishman had an eight point advantage despite his failure to score once again, with Ickx level on points with Stewart. Defending Champion Hulme had slipped down to fourth ahead of Rodríguez, with nineteen drivers now on the scorers list as Surtees, Elford and Courage had all joined in the fun.
As with their lead driver Hill, Lotus-Ford Cosworth were still leading the Intercontinental Cup for Manufacturers standings at the halfway point, despite failing to score once again. McLaren-Ford Cosworth, Ferrari and Matra-Ford Cosworth were all level on nineteen points, ten away from the Norfolk squad as all three took points off of each other. BRM sat in fifth ahead of the Cooper-BRM squad, with Brabham-Repco level with Honda and the second Matra effort in seventh.
The full entry list for the 1968 British Grand Prix is outlined below:
Three sessions of practice were scheduled on the flowing curves of Brands Hatch, with the first official run starting at 10:30am on Thursday, lasting for three hours. A second session would be scheduled for the afternoon, lasting from 4:30 to 5:30, ahead of a two hour run on Friday morning. The target time for the fastest drivers would be Bruce McLaren's fastest lap from the Race of Champions meeting earlier in the season, set at a 1:31.6.
There was little sign of a Grand Prix at the start of the Thursday morning session, with the entire field completing their preparations at a steady pace. The peace would only last so long, however, with a fair chunk of the field going out as one after ten minutes of a quiet circuit. And, once they were on the circuit, it seemed as if no one was willing to hang around, Jackie Stewart and Dan Gurney only taking a couple of laps to get into the 1:31.0s.
Yet, those two would not be the early pace setters, as Graham Hill put together a strong series of laps to get under the 1:30.0 mark, despite a furiously waving rear wing, towering over the back of the car. His pace showed that the wings were working, a fact proved when teammate Jackie Oliver, using the older but highly modified Lotus 49 went into second, less than half a second slower than the Championship leader. Chris Amon would get ahead of Oliver before the end of the session as the entire field went hunting for extra pace, as Denny Hulme highlighted by removing his rear wing, only to have it reattached after a couple of laps.
The second Thursday session passed without issue as the field largely focused on completing some long runs rather than seeking outright pace. The only major incident would happen in the paddock, where Richard Attwood's mechanic managed to rip off the front right suspension on a gate post while driving the car to the pits. Amon ended the session with the fastest time, but it would be no threat to Hill who ended the day on provisional pole.
Friday morning would run almost exactly as it had on Thursday morning, with Attwood's car repaired, Robin Widdows getting a fresh engine, and Pedro Rodríguez having a new front end after a failure late on Thursday. The heat was on for pole as the pace rose, with the organisers announcing that the prize on offer for the best time would be 100 bottles of champagne. The prize would ultimately go to Hill after he found another half a second late in the morning with Oliver slotting into second while Jo Siffert put the freshly built 49B (which was still being constructed on Thursday) into fourth. Amon had briefly looked set to challenge for pole late in the day, only to get baulked by Jo Bonnier on the run onto the Grand Prix loop.
The full qualifying results for the 1968 British Grand Prix are outlined below:
|1||8||Graham Hill||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:29.5||1:29.8||1:28.9||—|
|2||9||Jackie Oliver||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:29.9||1:30.7||1:29.4||+0.5s|
|4||22||Jo Siffert||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||1:32.9||1:31.5||1:29.7||+0.8s|
|7||14||Jackie Stewart||Matra-Ford Cosworth||1:30.2||1:30.7||1:30.0||+1.1s|
|8||3||Jack Brabham||Brabham-Repco||1:37.7||No Time||1:30.2||+1.3s|
|10||2||Bruce McLaren||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:31.2||1:30.4||1:21.9||+1.5s|
|11||1||Denny Hulme||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||1:31.2||1:30.4||1:30.7||+1.5s|
|15||11||Richard Attwood||BRM||1:31.7||No Time||1:33.3||+2.8s|
|18||16||Robin Widdows||Cooper-BRM||1:35.4||No Time||1:34.0||+5.1s|
|19||19||Silvio Moser||Brabham-Repco||1:36.3||No Time||1:35.4||+6.5s|
|20||23||Jo Bonnier||McLaren-BRM||No Time||No Time||1:36.8||+7.9s|
|WD||17||Lucien Bianchi||Cooper-Alfa Romeo||Withdrawn|
- T Indicates a driver set their time in a test car.
Racedays in 1968 had appeared gloomy with a distinct threat of rain, and the British Grand Prix proved little different as the field was assembled for the 3:00pm start time. Indeed, after a morning of furious support races and air displays in the dry, the first spots of rain were falling on the circuit as the Grand Prix cars were pushed onto the grid twenty minutes before the start. Yet, the circuit would only be slightly damp when the field were released to complete their warm up lap, before going through the usual dummy grid to proper grid transition.
It would be a picture-perfect start for Lotus-Ford Cosworth when the flag fell, as the red-gold factory cars of Graham Hill and Jackie Oliver surged into the lead of the race, joined by Jo Siffert in the Rob Walker Racing Team effort. Oliver had the better line into Paddock Hill Bend and so swept ahead of Hill, with the trio quickly pulling clear of Chris Amon, Jackie Stewart and John Surtees. It had been a clean start throughout the field, despite the fact that Dan Gurney's engine had cut out, forcing the New Yorker to quickly pull off to the right as the rest of the field charged past.
Come the end of the opening lap and Jack Brabham was already confirmed as the first retirement, his Brabham-Repco destroying its engine as the field swept onto the Grand Prix loop. Gurney was back in action but well away from the pack, while Vic Elford, who had been stranded on the dummy grid, was putting together a ferocious drive to catch the backmarkers. Yet, this would be of little concern for the leading trio, with a smoking Oliver leading Hill and Siffert across the line as the Lotus trio broke away from the rest.
The following laps saw the pack shuffled on the basis of tyre choice, as those who started on dry tyres climbed through the order at the expense of those on intermediates. The Lotus trio were all happy on their slicks, Hill eventually easing into the lead by virtue of having a seemingly healthier Ford Cosworth in the back, while Amon, Stewart and Surtees stalked them a few seconds back. This was in stark contrast to the two orange McLarens, with Bruce McLaren battling with teammate Denny Hulme on the wets, while Jochen Rindt was having to work furiously at the wheel of the sole surviving Brabham as his wets burned away at an alarming rate.
The strong early pace of the Lotuses began to tell on the rest of the pack, with Stewart and Surtees slowly falling back to leave Amon as the only pretender to the Norfolk triumvirate up front. There were also a fair number of early casualties to join Brabham on the sidelines, with Jo Bonnier suffering an engine failure, while Gurney's fuel injection system finally gave in when the fuel pump failed. Richard Attwood would only last a couple of more laps than Gurney before his water system failed, while Jean-Pierre Beltoise decided to use a siezing engine as an excuse to retire from the race, the V12 Matra struggling to cope with Brands Hatch's sweeping curves.
Stewart's future in the race was to be put in doubt after his left exhaust pipe broke, allowing Surtees to cruise past down to Paddock Hill Bend, although the Hondola was already too far back to catch up to the leaders. BRM, meanwhile, were busy in the pits on lap 14, servicing Piers Courage's overheating car while also changing Pedro Rodríguez onto slicks, just as Attwood walked back to report his lack of water. Hulme also looked to be in trouble, his illness affecting his driving enough that he could not cope with teammate McLaren despite the fact that his boss was still on wets, presenting an easy opportunity for Jacky Ickx to progress up the order.
In truth there was little action to be had on the circuit, with the Lotus trio clearly the class of the field, despite the fact that Oliver had officially set a new lap record at 1:30.9, two seconds slower than Hill's pole time. That would change, however, when Hill had to retire with a driveshaft failure, which would also manage to bend his right rear suspension, leaving Oliver's now smokeless 49 in the lead. The Englishman set about trying to drop Siffert once his pace setter disappeared, with Oliver ultimately setting a 1:30.3 as he pulled a second clear of the Swiss privateer.
The casualty list would further grow when the two Cooper-BRMs expired within a couple of laps of each other, Elford the first to go when a connecting rod tore his engine to pieces. The rookie had put together an excellent display to catch the pack, and had been leading new teammate Robin Widdows when his expensive engine failure ruined his race. Widdows, for his part, had been keeping up with the marginally more experienced Elford, with his BRM engine ultimately dying off with an ignition failure.
Another man who looked to be in trouble was Stewart in the Matra-Ford Cosworth, whose wrist was still bound up after his injury. The Scot had lost contact with Amon, who had taken Hill's retirement as a sign to push on and finally harass the surviving Loti, and as the race passed the halfway mark was beginning to fall into the hands of Ickx and Hulme, the latter using the Belgian as a means to move back past McLaren. In between the emerging scrap for fifth and the podium spots was Surtees in the Hondola, whose lonely fourth place looked certain, until his oversized wing went for a flight on its own.
The Stewart-Ickx-Hulme fight would draw the attention of the crowd for a fair while, Ickx putting a superb move on Stewart through Dingle Dell, only to lose the back end through Hawthorn's and slip back behind the pair of them. Their excitement almost overshadowed an intense duel for second, with Amon getting some good runs through Clearways to beat Siffert into Paddock Hill Bend, only for the Swiss racer to sling back past on the run through Pilgrim's Drop. The two battles on the circuit were keeping the crowd entertained, almost to the point where no one noticed the disappearance of Oliver.
The Brit was just coming into South Bank Corner to start a run on the Grand Prix loop when his car suddenly started smoking, although not the blue tinged oil smoke of before. This time it was grey, accompanied by a horrid grinding noise as Oliver's transmission failed, leaving him to coast to a stop a few yards up the road. Siffert duly swept past a few moments later to take the lead, having just managed to battle back past Amon who had held onto second for a brief couple of laps.
The rest of the race would see an inch perfect display of defensive driving from the Swiss racer, with Amon following the privateer Lotus like a shadow. The pair were setting an incredible pace, weaving their way through traffic as if it was standing still, just as Ickx and Hulme managed to clear Stewart and close down Surtees. That left Ickx in third with Hulme fourth in the closing stages, ahead of a lonely Surtees in fifth, Stewart cruising home to sixth ahead of McLaren, while Rindt had been in eighth, until his fuel injectors decided to spray fuel onto his exhausts, although the Austrian took time to notice the resulting fire.
The race would ultimately be decided four laps from the end, when Siffert completed an excellently timed dive down the inside of Druids to lap Stewart, with Amon unable to follow through. It took the New Zealander the rest of the lap to get past the Scot, and once the scarlet Ferrari was clear Amon was over five seconds off of the sole-surviving Lotus. That gap would only come down to four seconds when the chequered flag waved, allowing Siffert to claim his maiden victory ahead of Amon, with Ickx a lap down in third. Hulme never managed to challenge Ickx properly once they cleared Surtees, so finished fourth, a lap ahead of the fifth placed Englishman, with Stewart claiming the final point ahead of McLaren, Courage and an unclassified Silvio Moser.
The full results for the 1968 British Grand Prix are outlined below:
|1||22||Jo Siffert||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||80||2:01:20.3||4||9|
|3||6||Jacky Ickx||Ferrari||79||+1 lap||12||4|
|4||1||Denny Hulme||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||79||+1 lap||11||3|
|5||7||John Surtees||Honda||78||+2 laps||9||2|
|6||14||Jackie Stewart||Matra-Ford Cosworth||78||+2 laps||7||1|
|7||2||Bruce McLaren||McLaren-Ford Cosworth||77||+3 laps||10|
|8||20||Piers Courage||BRM||72||+8 laps||16|
|Ret||4||Jochen Rindt||Brabham-Repco||55||Fuel injection||5|
|NC*||19||Silvio Moser||Brabham-Repco||52||+28 laps||19|
|Ret||9||Jackie Oliver||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||43||Transmission||2|
|Ret||8||Graham Hill||Lotus-Ford Cosworth||26||Joint||1|
|Ret||18||Jean-Pierre Beltoise||Matra||11||Oil pressure||14|
|Ret||24||Dan Gurney||Eagle-Weslake||8||Fuel pump||6|
|WD||17||Lucien Bianchi||Cooper-Alfa Romeo|
- * Moser could not be classified as he had failed to complete the minimum race distance.
- Debut for Robin Widdows.
- Widdows became one of only six drivers who had also competed in the Olympic Games.
- Jack Brabham made his 100th Grand Prix start.
- Thirteenth and final pole position for Graham Hill.
- Maiden victory for Jo Siffert.
- This was the first race win by a Swiss driver.
- Siffert also claimed his first fastest lap.
- The Rob Walker Racing Team earned their ninth and final race victory.
- Last win for a privateer team in a World Championship race.
- Also Rob Walker's first win since the 1961 German Grand Prix.
- Thirty-third victory for a Lotus built car.
A fourth non-score in a row was still not enough to see Graham Hill displaced at the top of the World Championship standings, although Jacky Ickx had closed the gap down to four points after his third podium. Jackie Stewart was sat in third, seven away from the Championship leader, with Denny Hulme two points further back in fourth. Pedro Rodríguez was in fifth, level on points with Chris Amon, while Jo Siffert's victory put him in a group of four drivers with nine points apiece.
Lotus-Ford Cosworth had managed to build up a larger gap at the top of the Intercontinental Cup for Manufacturers thanks to Siffert's victory, leaving their home race with a thirteen point advantage. Ferrari were their closest challengers, three points ahead of McLaren-Ford Cosworth, with Matra-Ford Cosworth two points further back. BRM, Cooper-BRM, Honda, Brabham-Repco and Matra completed the factory blessed efforts, with the privately entered McLaren-BRM effort of Jo Bonnier still propping up the table.
Images and Videos:
- 'GRAND PRIX RESULTS: BRITISH GP, 1968', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 2016), http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr168.html, (Accessed 02/10/2016)
- 'D.S.J., 'THE BRITISH GRAND PRIX: Win for a Sportsman', motorsportmagazine.com, (MotorSport Magazine, 01/08/1968), http://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/august-1968/18/british-grand-prix, (Accessed 02/10/2016)
- 'Britain 1968: Entrants', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1968/grande-bretagne/engages.aspx, (Accessed 02/10/2016)
- 'Britain 1968: Qualifications', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1968/grande-bretagne/qualification.aspx, (Accessed 02/10/2016)
- 'Britain 1968: Result', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1968/grande-bretagne/classement.aspx, (Accessed 02/10/2016)
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