LAP­PING THE OLD SPA WITH LEWIS

“It’s just so fast. I can’tn’t be­lieve they used to race round here”

F1 Racing - - FRONT PAGE - WORDS PETER WIND­SOR PIC­TURES STEVE ETHER­ING­TON/LAT

There were, of course, plenty of rea­sons why it wouldn’t hap­pen. The race-week­end life of to­day’s front-line F1 driver is care­fully reg­i­mented, strictly con­trolled. The old Spa cir­cuit on a Thurs­day af­ter­noon? It ex­ists some­where in the mists of time, where de­briefs were sand­wiches by the pit­wall and the team garage was a lling sta­tion in down­town Stavelot.

I there­fore feared the worst. Lewis wouldn’t show. I re­called Nigel Roe­buck’s con­ver­sa­tion with Juan Pablo Mon­toya a few years back. “Have you been out to look at the old cir­cuit?” “No. I must do that. Must nd the time…” “Well, it’s prob­a­bly not far from where you’re stay­ing. What road do you take to get there?”

“Turn right out of the car park, then right again. Up the hill and down the other side.”

“In which case you’ve been driv­ing the cir­cuit ev­ery day. That’s what it is. The pub­lic road…” “What? Que? Are you se­ri­ous?” Ap­pear, though, the sil­ver Mercedes did. I call our meet­ing point ‘Red­man’s gulch’. It’s what hap­pens next at Spa when you don’t turn right at the Mika Häkki­nen chi­cane at the top of the hill on the new cir­cuit. In­stead, the road goes on into the Bel­gian coun­try­side, peel­ing into a very fast left-han­der, fol­lowed by a per­ilously quick down­hill se­ries of lefts and rights. The road tears be­tween elds. Cows graze, and grazed, on the left. White marker posts ca­su­ally mark the shape of the as­phalt strip. It is nar­row. It is, to­day, peace­ful. Neat cot­tages line up on ei­ther side. Peo­ple wash cars on Sat­ur­day morn­ings here. Post­men de­liver let­ters.

And bot­tom wish­bones break on 1968 Cooper-BRMs. I show Lewis a photo of Brian Red­man’s car, the right-front sus­pen­sion arm in the process of snap­ping as he arcs the big Cooper

into the at-out left-han­der. Lewis doesn’t see it at rst. He doesn’t un­der­stand what I’m say­ing. ‘Bro­ken wish­bone?’ He’s look­ing for some slight de­for­ma­tion, a stress load­ing, 2014-style. The ac­tual break is so bla­tant, so vi­o­lently in-your­face, that you can’t see it for the smoke. His jaw drops in hor­ror. “This is of course a fa­mous pho­to­graph,” I ex­plain. “Cooper as­sumed, as teams usu­ally do, that Brian had made some sort of mis­take. It wasn’t un­til this photo, taken by Peter Burn, was pub­lished a week later in Au­tosport, that Brian was ab­solved of all blame.” “What hap­pened to him?” I show Lewis the photo of the wrecked Cooper, amid the parked mar­shals’ cars, where nally it stopped, hiss­ing and steam­ing but thank­fully not ablaze. It was only be­cause it came to rest among peo­ple who knew what they were do­ing that Brian was able to be lifted, still con­scious, onto a stretcher. Mean­while, the race went on, and on…

We walk down the hill. “I just can’t be­lieve that they raced F1 cars here,” says Lewis. It’s so fast. It’s so nar­row. What a sec­tion of road!”

“Could you have done it?” I ask, con­scious of the fash­ion among cur­rent For­mula 1 driv­ers to ap­pear to be some­what non­cha­lent about the her­itage of their sport.

“If this was it? If this was the Spa on which we raced? Yes. Denitely. I’d love this bit. So fast….” He nar­rows his eyes. He’s pic­tur­ing the scene. Lewis in open-face hel­met. Lewis in a Lo­tus 49…

I’m con­scious of not want­ing to punc­tu­ate our time with just the mem­o­ries of ac­ci­dents. I can’t, though, let an even faster sec­tion pass with­out men­tion­ing that race week­end in 1960. “This is where Stir­ling lost the left-rear wheel of his Lo­tus 18 dur­ing prac­tice. He ended up over there, by the road­side. It was a huge ac­ci­dent, as you can imag­ine. It brought prac­tice to a halt. This was Stir­ling Moss. The great­est driver of his time. All the res­cue ve­hi­cles were there and plenty more cars be­sides… “…I was do­ing per­haps 140mph when the car sud­denly went into a very vi­o­lent over­steer con­di­tion,” Stir­ling would later say in Ken Purdy’s book, All But My Life. “First, I thought I had hit oil. Then I saw the wheel go past me. I knew I was go­ing to crash. I jumped on the brakes and tried to spin the car around. It’s best to hit go­ing back­wards. It dis­trib­utes the shock

more evenly over your body. Also, you can’t see what you’re go­ing to hit! I took 50mph off it be­fore I hit. I hung on – you’d bet­ter be­lieve I hung on – un­til I felt the tail start to come up. I knew the car was go­ing over, so I let my­self go limp and I went out. Next thing I knew, I was on my hands and knees be­side the road and I couldn’t see and I couldn’t breathe. And that fright­ened me. I was in great pain around my chest, and I was afraid I had bro­ken ribs and that they would punc­ture my heart or my lungs. That was how Bobby Baird died, at Snet­ter­ton in 1953. He got up and walked around af­ter the crash and then he died.

“Other driv­ers kept run­ning up. Bruce McLaren and Gra­ham Hill and Phil Hill and oth­ers. I think I asked Bruce to help me breathe by giv­ing me articial res­pi­ra­tion. I was con­fused. He wouldn’t do it and of course he was right not to, be­cause I could have had bro­ken ribs. As it was, my back was bro­ken with three crushed ver­te­brae…”

“Poor Mike Tay­lor,” I add, “who was driv­ing his Lo­tus 18 back to the pits to try to get more med­i­cal help for Stir­ling, went off on the other side of the cir­cuit when the steer­ing col­umn broke on his car. No one dis­cov­ered him for well nigh 30 min­utes. He was paral­ysed by his in­juries, but Stir­ling made a rapid re­cov­ery and was rac­ing again by the end of the year. Af­ter he won at River­side, at the US GP, he was amused to see a del­i­cately made rac­ing car atop the tiered cake at the vic­tory din­ner. He sliced off the left-rear wheel and said, “Here, Colin [Chap­man]. This is for you…”

We climb back into the Mercedes. “Is this really the track?” asks Lewis. “It’s just so hard to pic­ture. It’s just an open road…”

We ap­proach Bur­nenville, where the road plunges even more steeply down­hill. The right-han­der is slightly banked, blind and con­stant-ra­dius. There are walls and houses on ei­ther side – not to men­tion a sheer drop on the right. It’s where Jo Bon­nier’s Cooper-Maserati sat, tee­ter­ing, at Spa in ’66. “I spoke to Brian Red­man a few days ago and asked him what sort of en­try speed he had at this point in the Gulf Ford GT40s. He said he was do­ing about 140mph when he nearly lost it on his open­ing lap in the 1968 Spa 1,000km. It would have been faster for Jim Clark in the Lo­tus 49 in 1967. And re­mem­ber that Jim had no down­force, apart from nose bib-spoil­ers in prac­tice, and that he wasn’t wear­ing seat belts. Jim’s pole lap here that year av­er­aged well over 150mph, and even then he was slowed by a fuel is­sue and a slight misre. On his stand­ing lap in ’67 he av­er­aged 144mph – and that in­cluded the 30mph La Source hair­pin!”

There’s lots to talk about here, lots of sad­ness. It is in­evitable at Spa. “Chris Bris­tow. You would have liked Chris. Very fast. Very brave. A raw racer who was al­ways stretch­ing the limit. This is where he lost his Cooper in 1960 – and his life. Hit a wall and also the marker posts. His Cooper som­er­saulted. Chris was thrown out.

“…I was the rst to ar­rive on the scene at Bur­nenville when Chris was killed,” Jim Clark would re­call in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Jim Clark at the Wheel. “I heard Chris got on the out­side com­ing into the cor­ner. He tried to get the car across but lost con­trol. The car rolled over

and over be­fore throw­ing him out onto the cir­cuit. I came bustling down be­hind him and there were no ags to warn me of what was around the cor­ner. I saw a mar­shal sud­denly dash out on to the road, wav­ing his arms and try­ing to stop me and then next thing I saw was an­other mar­shal run from the far side of the road. I re­mem­ber think­ing, ‘where is he go­ing?’ and then he bent down and grabbed this thing by the side of the road. It looked just like a rag doll. It was hor­ri­ble. I’ll never for­get the sight of Chris’s body be­ing dragged to the side. I re­mem­ber at the end of the race nd­ing that my car was spat­tered with blood…” “Not much has changed,” I add, point­ing to the build­ing on the in­side and the pe­riod photo in my hand. This is just how it was.”

We pause. So many young lives. Alan Stacey, the ge­nial, tal­ented Nor­folk farmer-cum-works-Lo­tus driver also died at Spa in 1960.

“Let’s head to the Masta Kink,” I say, to change the mood. That was the real cor­ner at Spa.”

We drive on. And on. Slowly. Lewis looks at both sides of the road, pon­der­ing the trees. “Is this it?” he asks, as the road sweeps to the left.

“No. This was just a part of the straight. This lit­tle kink didn’t even have a name.”

We trickle through the new road junc­tion to the nearby mo­tor­way. “Is this still the cir­cuit? I never knew it was so long – so far from the pits. Amaz­ing.”

Fi­nally we see the row of trees di­rectly ahead. From 500 me­tres we ap­pear to be ap­proach­ing a sharpish left-han­der.

“Here. This is the Masta Kink.”

Al­ways I’m amazed by its tight­ness. As a cor­ner it’s ul­tra-fast. As a at-out kink in one of the world’s long­est straights it was out­ra­geous. I tell Lewis about the time, in 1962, when Jim Clark lost his fa­mous white hel­met peak. “It was the rush of air through the Masta Kink. The peak fell over his gog­gles and he had to rip it away with one hand on the wheel. From there it was a log­i­cal pro­gres­sion to the fol­low­ing year, when his Lo­tus 25 kept jump­ing out of top gear. He’d hold the gear lever with his right hand and put his left hand at the bot­tom of the steer­ing wheel in case he needed to ap­ply a dose of op­po­site lock in the mid­dle of the kink. It was wet, of course…”

Lewis smiles at the thought. He’s heard a lot about Jim Clark but, on this Thurs­day at to­day’s Spa, with au­to­graph hun­ters clam­our­ing at his sides, he can per­haps iden­tify a lit­tle more. “The good news,” I say, try­ing to be up­beat, “is that I don’t re­call too many ac­ci­dents right here. Com­pared with Bur­nenville, the Masta Kink was his­tor­i­cally a rel­a­tively safe sec­tion of road. Per­haps it’s be­cause Bur­nenville was invit­ing. The Masta Kink com­manded noth­ing but re­spect.” Lewis nods in agree­ment. He looks up the track, from where we have just driven. Then he looks away, to­wards the exit. He is judg­ing the dis­tance be­tween the left and the right. He is com­par­ing the radii of the two curves. “They were at through here?’ “Not al­ways. It was al­ways a thing. At Spa, in 1970, Chris Amon spent the clos­ing laps be­hind Pe­dro Ro­dríguez’s oil-spray­ing BRM, con­vinced, as ever, that the BRM en­gine was about to blow. It didn’t. As they came up to the last lap, Chris de­cided to take the kink at. Bear in mind he was driv­ing one of the most awk­ward F1 cars of all time – the March 701 – and you get the pic­ture. And if Chris Amon said he was at, he was at. In ’67 Jim Clark was timed at 193mph on the Masta straight in the Lo­tus 49. Dan Gur­ney, who won, was clocked at over 200mph in the Ea­gle.

“This,” I say, point­ing to where an old barn used to sit, “is where Jackie Ste­wart ended up in his BRM in 1966, when the race started dry de­spite rain on the south side of the cir­cuit. Half the eld aqua­planed. Jackie was trapped in the car, soaked in fuel. His team-mate, Gra­ham Hill, plus Bob Bon­durant, res­cued him. They had to nd some­thing in an old tool set to re­move the steer­ing wheel. Jackie there­after in­sisted that a span­ner be taped to his steer­ing wheels and that all his race cars be tted with seat belts. The safety rev­o­lu­tion, if you like, started right here. Right where we’re stand­ing.”

Lewis is silent. He’s tak­ing it all in. You meet Jackie in the pit­lane. You see the odd video clip. You hear some sto­ries. It’s there – but it’s vague. It’s dif­fi­cult to pic­ture. It’s only now that you see the scale of the road and its bound­aries. Only now can you sense what it was really all about.

We drive on to­wards the old Stavelot. I tell Lewis that the track went straight on here, past Bill Hol­low­ell’s memo­rial, into a hair­pin on the out­skirts of Stavelot town. “They got rid of the hair­pin be­cause they thought it ru­ined the ow of the cir­cuit. They built this cor­ner in­stead.”

We’re stand­ing on the out­side of the fa­mous, banked, up­hill right-han­der – the cor­ner, as now, that her­alds the re­turn run of the lap. “This wall used to carry all those ad­ver­tise­ments.”

Lewis looks around, as­ton­ished. “So this wall was on the out­side of the cor­ner?” It’s over­grown now and dif­fi­cult to pic­ture in its prime.

“Sure is. And this is where Dan Gur­ney cruised to a halt on the last lap of the ’64 Bel­gian GP. He’d led from the start. He ran out of fuel. Then Jim Clark cruised to a halt along­side him. They had a laugh about their joint mis­for­tunes. Then the PA an­nounced that Jim had taken the che­quered ag and had there­fore won the race. Right here. This is where the news broke.”

“I like the bank­ing here,” says Lewis. “Very cool. Why did they do that?”

“Be­cause they had the chance to do some­thing dif­fer­ent. Amer­i­can ovals were pop­u­lar. Spa brought that avour to Stavelot. Ac­tu­ally, they put in a coned chi­cane here in 1970. Peo­ple love to say the 3-litre sportscars were quicker than the F1 cars in the early 1970s but, for the most part, they for­get that chi­cane. The driv­ers didn’t like it – and they were still at-out on the ap­proach to Blanchi­mont – but at least the or­gan­is­ers were tak­ing more pos­i­tive steps to­wards safety.”

It’s time to head back to the new pad­dock. The old Spa track gives way to UBS hoard­ings, neat, man­i­cured run-off ar­eas, TV cam­era stands and newly painted kerbs. It’s nearly dusk. “So. Lewis. Is it how you imag­ined it to be?” “Yes and no. It’s an eye-opener. When I look at the old track, I see that we’re lucky to be rac­ing to­day. I see what they went through. Be­cause of that, it’s safer to­day. I feel grate­ful. I love the cir­cuit, too. I would have raced there. I prob­a­bly would have hurt my­self but I would have al­ways raced there.”

We walk down the hill. “I just can’t be­lieve that they raced F1 cars here,” says Lewis. “It’s so fast. It’s so nar­row. What a sec­tion of road!”

The front-right sus­pen­sion on Brian Red­man’s Cooper-BRM snaps at Spa in 1968, be­fore send­ing him over the bar­ri­ers

At Bur­nenville, where Chris Bris­tow lost his life in 1960,the road plunges steeply down­hill. It’s banked, blind and con­stant ra­dius

Stir­ling Moss lost the left­rear wheel of his Lo­tus in prac­tice at Spa in 1964. He was trav­el­ling at 140mph

A flat-out kink on one of the world’s long­est straights, the Masta Kink was the scene of Jackie Ste­wart’s 1966 ac­ci­dent in his BRM

Chris Bris­tow died when he was thrown out of his Cooper at Bur­nenville af­ter hit­ting the wall

“When I look at the old track, I see that we’re lucky to be rac­ing to­day. I see what they went through. Be­cause of that, it’s safer to­day. I feel grate­ful”

Dan Gur­ney and Jim Clark stop for a chat at Stavelot, hav­ing come to a halt on the last lap in

1964. Clark was then an­nounced the win­ner

Lewis drives the old Stavelot cor­ner (above) and Richie Ginther does the same in 1964 (top)

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