1962 South African Grand Prix
: 1962 South African Grand Prix By Jeremy McMullen
The season had come down to just one last race on one last day. A little less than two years prior Alfred Owen had threatened to close down the entire racing team. But on the 29th of December, just three days before the start of 1963, BRM and Graham Hill would be on the verge of its first World Championship. However, each of them would need a lot of things to go right.
At the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix, just five years after teaching himself how to drive and passing his driving test at the age of 24, Graham Hill would take part in his first Formula One World Championship race.
Hill would come into Formula One with a very young and very green Team Lotus captained by Colin Chapman. Over the course of two years with the team, Hill would endure more retirements than race finishes and would fail to earn even a single championship point throughout his experience with the team.
After two frustrating years with Lotus, Hill would make what certainly appeared to be a bad career move heading on to British Racing Motors (BRM) for the start of the 1960 season. BRM had been around since before the 1950s but would only make its first official start in 1950. From that moment on, BRM had suffered from a case of underachievement and embarrassment. Touted much too highly in its early days, the team would just continue to hemorrhage around the middle of the pack.
Poor reliability and rather scary cars would lead to Hill, Dan Gurney and Jo Bonnier protesting. Anthony Rudd had come to BRM around the mid-1950s and would, with a lot of hard work, help BRM finally score its first World Championship victory in the Caen Grand Prix in 1957. However, the team would continue to flounder.
Despite the team's continual struggles, it was clear Rudd's influence was paying dividends, especially with regards to reliability. Then, in 1960, the team would go through a terrible bout of unreliability. It would be at this time that Hill, Gurney and Bonnier would protest wanting Rudd to be firmly placed in charge of the racing team.
Rudd really didn't want to be in the middle. However, Alfred Owen would recognize the team needed such a change if it was going to reach its potential. Owen, however, would be remiss if he didn't make it clear his position in the situation. Therefore, Owen would respond to Rudd, 'Knife 100 other people in the back—the entire staff at Bourne'. Responding to Rudd's desire not to be in the middle of the controversy, Owen would make it clear that he would give Rudd control but would demand success. Were the team to continue to underachieve, Alfred would close the whole team down.
Ever since Owen made his comments to Rudd the team had been under pressure to perform as it was capable. Rudd would set about starting afresh. The new regulations for the 1961 season would enable him to do this.
Rudd knew time was running out, but he needed time to design and build a whole new car. 1961 would see Hill actually end up worse off in the championship than the year before when he protested. But thankfully for Hill, Rudd and the whole of the BRM team, Owen would give them a little more time. The extension would be aided with the addition of a brand new in-house V8 engine designed and built by Peter Berthon and Aubrey Woods.
The team would work hard leading up to the start of the 1962 season. Rudd and his team would be busy finishing the new car that would be built around the new 1.5-liter V8 engine. When finished, Rudd presented his drivers, Hill and Richie Ginther with a sleek, low-profile single-seater that had good performance and much better handling than the nightmares of the seasons leading up to 1962.
Armed with the new P57, BRM would head to the Netherlands toward the end of May for the first round of the Formula One World Championship. The 2.60 mile Zandvoort Circuit would be the site of the 80 lap first round.
Over the course of the previous couple of seasons there would be only two occasions where a BRM would manage to end up on the podium. And in those two cases, both results would be 3rd place finishes. So, while the team headed into 1962 confident with its new P57, there still had to be some apprehension concerning just what the team could expect.
However, at Zandvoort, Hill would put his P57 on the grid in 2nd place. Ginther would also start in a very respectable 7th place position. John Surtees would end up taking the pole with his Lola-Climax.
In spite of losing out on the pole to Surtees, Hill was still in a good position to get the year off to a good start. It would end up getting better once the race got underway.
Surtees would end up suffering an accident after 8 laps. This would hand the lead of the race firmly within the grasp of Hill and his P57. Though the car was brand new and untested, the confidence and renewed faith it would provide to Hill and the team would make up any deficiencies. Hill would go on to take a convincing victory defeating Trevor Taylor by a little more than twenty-seven seconds.
The 1962 season would start out on a very high note. Not only would it be the first victory for BRM in a very long time, it would also be the very first victory of Graham Hill's career. Just like that it would seem the P57 had renewed the team's confidence and faith. Over the next four races that confidence Hill and the team would have would be dampened slightly.
After starting out the season with a victory in the Dutch Grand Prix, the next four races would see BRM's cars end up on the podium a couple of times, but ultimately, winless. The one thing the team would take away from the four race period would be the fact that both of its cars remained competitive and suffered very little in the way of mechanical maladies.
Despite going four races without a victory, especially after starting out the season with a demonstrative victory, Graham Hill would still find himself in the championship lead by a single point over Jim Clark. BRM would be in 2nd place behind Lotus-Climax. The difference in the Constructors' Championship would also be a single point.
All of a sudden, BRM would go from deadbeat mid-pack runners to the head of the field. Now, if the team wanted meet Owen's demands it needed to close out the season as the champions they showed themselves to be throughout the first half.
Hill and the team would help themselves. At a rain-soaked Nurburgring on the 5th of August, Graham would take his second victory of the season, and his career, beating out John Surtees by just two and a half seconds. But, a victory on such a demanding track, in such demanding conditions would just confirm the confidence everyone in the team had at the time.
The momentum and the confidence would continue to roll into the next race of the World Championship. At Monza on the 16th of September, BRM would finally look like the team Mays promised back in the late 1940s.
In steadily worsening weather, it would seem like everything was sunny and warm with BRM as Hill would take his third victory of the season. It would be made all the better when Richie Ginther followed Hill across the line about thirty seconds behind but in 2nd place. Finally, a BRM one-two!
As the team headed out of Monza, Hill enjoyed a fourteen point lead over Bruce McLaren. BRM, as a team, had firmly moved into first place in the Constructors' Championship having a ten point margin over Lotus-Climax.
Heading into the penultimate round of the World Championship it seemed BRM was on its way to a surprising sweep of both championships. However, as the team left, the team wouldn't be so confident.
Jim Clark would start the United States Grand Prix from the pole. Graham Hill would start 3rd. Richie Ginther would be in 2nd place on the starting grid. It seemed very likely Hill and BRM could sew up the championship with one race still to go.
Over the course of the 100 lap race a great duel would develop between Clark and Hill as Ginther would retire with a blown engine. Clark would be fast but would give up the lead at times to Hill. This would be one of those moments in grand prix history where the determination of Clark would come to the forefront.
Clark would lower the track record setting a time even lower than his own pole effort. This would enable the Scot to take the lead and build up a safe margin over Hill. At the end of the 100 laps, Clark would take the victory in a very determined drive.
The victory for Clark and Lotus-Climax meant BRM would leave Watkins Glen by no means the destined winners of the World Championship. Hill's lead was down to 9 points and BRM's lead in the Constructors' would shrink to just three points. This would set up a drama-filled final round to the 1962 Formula One World Championship season.
It would be a long time between the penultimate and final round of the Formula One World Championship. Over the course of the two months in between the two races tragedy would strike when Rocardo Rodriguez lost his life in a crash at the non-championship Mexican Grand Prix.
BRM and Graham Hill had earned two-straight victories before heading to the United States. Everyone thought the team could end the championship early. Instead, Graham, and the team, would have to endure two agonizing months waiting for the first South African Grand Prix as part of the Formula One World Championship. And while Hill certainly had achieved the better season, the points system, being what it was at the time, left the door wide open for Clark. In fact, all he would have to do was earn victory and the championship would be his. The same could happen to the team in the constructors' title chase. Therefore, the team goes from virtually holding the championships in its hands to being threatened to have them snatched away at the last moment.
The teams would arrive at the Prince George Circuit and set about preparing for the race on the 29th of December. Dry conditions would greet the teams and drivers as they set about practice around the 2.43 mile circuit.
At the end of qualifying, it was clear the South African Grand Prix would host a real battle of the titans. Jim Clark would take the pole for the 82 lap race. Clark's time around the circuit would be 1:29.3. Graham Hill would also prove to be fast in qualifying. His best time would be just three-tenths of a second off of Clark's time and would put him on the front row with Clark. As it should be, the two championship contenders would start alone on the front row.
The field would roar off on the first lap. Fully aware that all that Clark needed was a victory to take the championship, both drivers would push for the lead. Clark would end up taking the point and would hold onto the position for the next nearly 150 miles.
Lap after agonizing lap, Hill would follow Clark around the 2.43 mile circuit unable to get by and prevent Clark from taking the championship. Clark was determined. By just the 3rd lap of the race Clark would set the fastest lap of the entire race with a time of 1:31.0. Coming down to the final 20 laps of the race, Hill would become somewhat desperate and would increase his pace. His best lap would end up being a second slower than Clark's fastest lap but would help the Englishman to claw back some of the distance between himself and Clark.
It seemed evident Clark would snatch the championship right out of Hill's hands just when it seemed firmly within his grasp. Clark continued to lead and looked to be in formidable form. For Hill and BRM it seemed they would have to start looking toward the following year to earn the championships they seemed destined for before heading to the United States.
Clark was averaging nearly 4 mph more than Hill. Hill was unable to haul him in. But just when it seemed all hope was lost, Clark's engine would begin to smoke. Just a couple of laps later Clark would have to pit for an oil leak. Almost instantly, the large lead he had managed to build up over Hill would disappear. Disappearing with his lead would be the Driver's World Championship. Once Hill took over the lead of the race Clark's hopes for the championship would die.
As the teams arrived for the South African Grand Prix, BRM feared the Championship would be snatched out of their hands just when they had them within their grasp. As Hill took over the lead with about 20 laps remaining, it would be Clark and Team Lotus that would be feeling the championship slipping through their fingers. A small nut, which would easily slip through one's fingers, would be the difference allowing the title to slip through Clark's grasp.
Taking over the lead of the race, Hill would disappear into the distance with the Driver's Championship and would help BRM take the Constructors' Championship. Crossing the line to cap the season off with his fourth win, Hill would help BRM fend off Owen's ultimatum, though only for a little while. The victory would also serve to cap off a year that would see him not only take his first victories in Formula One, but that would also see him achieve the first leg of motor racing's Triple Crown. One down, two to go.