he accident at Spa in 1966 changed my life. Suddenly I was aware of the lack of safety in F1, and I had to act.
Spa has always been a T-shirt and raincoat track: a place where one moment there is warm sunshine and then, without much warning, torrential rain. The beginning of the race was dry and I was on the front row, but I made a terrible start. Heading up the hill through Eau Rouge I was in about ninth place. Back then we were racing on the old circuit, and as we approached the descent to Burnenville we hit the rain. Suddenly all hell broke loose.
I drove through the spray and chaos where half a dozen cars had spun, then slowed and thought: ‘Idiots; they should have seen the rain.’ But Spa was not a race track. It was a normal road with manhole covers, dips and holes. In extremely wet weather, the camber would create rivers of water where you could aquaplane.
As I was heading towards the Masta Kink – one of the greatest corners in the world at that time – I hit a river. Then I hit a telegraph pole. Then I dropped a great height and crashed into the corner of a farmyard building, which bent the car around me. I was trapped.
Graham Hill and Bob Bondurant also hit the same river of water that I did and crashed as well. Graham managed to get a tool kit from the boot of a spectator’s car and took my steering wheel off, so I could be pulled out of the cockpit. I must have been drifting in and out of consciousness because I don’t remember being taken out of the car. But I do recall being laid on my back in the hay barn of a farm. There were no marshals. No ambulance. Nothing.
In those days we were using petrol that was known as jungle juice, it was more like aviation fuel. I remember my overalls were covered in this high-octane petrol and it was starting to burn my skin. My ribs were damaged and I’d broken a collarbone. It had been a hell of a whack on the side of the car that had knocked my internal organs about, too. As I was lying in this barn, I don’t think I was dreaming, but out of nowhere three nuns opened the large barn door, saw me naked and started putting my clothes back on.
I was transferred back to the pits and to a room in Race Control. I’ll never forget it. I woke up on a canvas stretcher on a concrete oor, surrounded by cigarette ends. This was supposed to be the medical centre. Then I recall being in a Cadillac ambulance with my wife, Helen, plus Jim Clark and BRM team boss Louis Stanley. We had a police motorcycle outrider and – can you believe it – they lost the ambulance. Then the ambulance driver did not know how to get to Liège Hospital. There was no communication; it was just chaos. Things needed to change.
In 1965 we had 1.5-litre engines in Formula 1 and they were beautiful little cars. But the following year, engine capacity doubled. And not one thing was done to change the tracks. Somewhere like Copse at Silverstone was an incredibly quick corner, but there was no runoff. There were only grass banks with wooden sleepers that were designed to stop you reaching the crowd if you went off.
At Monte Carlo there were telegraph poles, lampposts and no Armco. Between the chicane and Tabac there were capstans at the side of the road that four people couldn’t lift – you’d need a crane to move them. A straw bale in front of them wouldn’t have helped very much. Suddenly with the increase in power for 1966, where we were once approaching a corner at 135mph we were now arriving at 165mph. Nobody wanted to change anything because of the costs involved.
Drivers were frightened to boycott races because they were worried they would lose