FEATURED – A Brief History of the Flying Scot, Pt.1

The Spectacular Scot.

By Ian Bruce, Edited by Aiden Hover

As a Scot myself, I have always been proud of what my fellow countrymen have achieved in F1 over the years. Unfortunately, we haven’t had a Scotsman in F1 since 2017, so let’s have a look back at the legends our wee nation has produced!

First off, a genuine heavy hitter and a true legend of the sport. The man that many drivers call their hero, Jim Clark.

Jim Clark is without a doubt, one of the finest talents to ever step in a racing car, let alone an F1 car. He notched up 5 titles over various series between 1960 and 1968, put him in anything and he was fast. It was F1 where he really made his name. Starting 72 races and finishing 25 of them on the top step with a further 7 on the podium. Clark was an outstanding driver from the outset, competing in hill-climbs and rallies using his own ‘Sunbeam-talbot.’ 

It was Boxing day in 1958 when Clark first worked with the man, of whom he would form one of the most powerful partnerships ever known to Formula 1, Colin Chapman. What you might not know is, that in their first meeting, Colin actually got the better of Jim, beating him to the win of a GT race held at Brands Hatch!

Following a 10th place finish at Le Mans the next year, driving a Lotus Elite, Clark impressed Chapman enough to earn a drive in his Formula Junior team for 1960. 

Having won the first race of the new Formula Junior series, he was promoted to the Lotus F1 Team for the Dutch Grand Prix in place of John Surtees. Surtees had decided to enter the Isle of 

Man TT instead, so Chapman saw his chance to try his young charge out. He only made it to lap 49, before a gearbox failure forced him out.

Jim Clark, Lotus-Climax 18, Grand Prix of the Netherlands, Circuit Park Zandvoort, 06 June 1960. Jim Clark’s first Formula One Grand Prix race driving the Lotus-Climax 18 in the 1960 Grand Prix of Netherlands in Zandvoort. (Photo by Bernard Cahier/Getty Images)

His second race was at the frightening Spa-Francorchamps, where two drivers were unfortunately killed. Despite driving ‘’scared stiff’’ throughout, Clark managed to obtain his first points in F1. Clark was then involved in one of the worst accidents the sport has ever seen. 

It was at the 1961 Italian Grand Prix that the Ferrari of Wolfgang Von Trips collided with Clark’s Lotus, which caused Von Trips’s car to take to the air and crash into a side barrier. The impact killed Von Trips and fifteen spectators.

He won his first World Drivers Championship in 1963, driving his Lotus 25. During the season he won 7 out of the 10 races, which also gained Lotus their first constructors crown. His record of 7 wins was not equalled until 1984, by Alain Prost and then it would take an MP4/4 McLaren driven by Ayrton Senna in 1988 to break it again! The stats behind Clark’s record are even more impressive when you take into account that the season was much shorter, meaning that Clark had a 70% win rate compared to Senna’s 50%.

Jim Clark in his Lotus 25

Also in 1963, Clark entered the Indianapolis 500 for the first time, finishing second and picking up the ‘Rookie of the Year’ award. This was another event that was mired in controversy. Before the race, teams and drivers were warned by the United States Auto Club (USAC) that any oil leaks would result in a driver receiving the black flag. The car of lead driver, Parnelli Jones, developed an oil leak from his engine which resulted in several accidents around the track. The officials were set to black flag the driver, until his team principal sprinted down the track to downplay the leak, telling them that it had now stopped. This caused Chapman to claim a bias towards the American-based team, suggesting that they did not want his British team to triumph in such a historic, American event. He did not take the claim any further, because, if Jones had been disqualified, it would have been after leading 167 of the 200 laps and after setting the lap record speed. This would not have been received well by the public.

It was an oil leak on Clark’s own Lotus that stopped him from retaining his title in 1964, conceding it to John Surtees. Heartbreak followed in Indianapolis of that year too, with tyre failure causing damage to the suspension of his car.

1965 was set to be Clark’s most impressive year, however. Not only did he triumph again to win his second Formula 1 World title, but he achieved so much more. He finally achieved his dream of winning at the historic Brickyard circuit, becoming the first man driving a mid-engined car to do so. His achievement made him the only driver to win the F1 title and win at Indianapolis in the same year. Others have won both events, but not in the same year, these include Graham Hill, Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi and Jacques Villeneuve. If this wasn’t enough, he was also competing in the Tasman series, an Australasia based series where drivers used older Formula 1 cars. He also won this series in ‘67 and ‘68, winning a total of 14 races, a record for the time.

The list of various incredible Jim Clark performances is endless, but he was much more than an incredible driver.

He was a very unassuming man, one time arriving at the house of a fellow driver in Sydney for the Tasman Series, only to be instructed by the driver’s mother that the lawnmower was in the shed and he could get it started! She had mistaken him for the new gardener who was starting that day! When his friend arrived, he was shocked to see a topless Jim Clark mowing his mother’s lawn!

Jim was probably the most naturally fast driver the sport has ever seen, he was fast in whatever he drove and was always smooth. His mechanics would often remark when the cars were being stripped after a race week, that he had put no wear on any of the car parts at all. He truly loved racing, he couldn’t get enough of it, this would, unfortunately, contribute to his death.

Jim Clark in his Lotus 48 FVA F2 car, on the damp-morning of the ill-fated race in Germany, 1968

It happened during a Formula 2 race at the Hockenheimring in April 1968. The race took place during the 4-month gap between the first F1 race and the second. It was commonplace for drivers to take place in multiple different disciplines during these extended breaks. The accident happened on lap 5, with Clark’s car veering off the track into some trees. The cause was never clearly identified due to the damage, but it was said that it was due to a deflating tyre, which caused damage to the rear suspension.

We will never know to what heights Jim Clark could have risen to. He was already wildly successful and well-known within the racing community. There is no doubt that, had he survived, he would have achieved many more records.

Next up on our history of the flying scot will be Sir Jackie Stewart, a legend also, but for far more than just driving! Check back here, on DIVEBOMB, to read more about the history of the ‘Flying Scot.’

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