T

F1 Racing - - INSIDER -

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

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