Today on the top ten list we move from the first ever World Championship race in the 1950s and head into the 1960’s. This race is not one of the classics in terms of on track action but it was a pivotal moment in Formula One history.
The 1966 Belgium Grand Prix was hosted at the Spa Francorchamps circuits on the 12th of June. It was round two of that seasons championship and Scotland’s Jackie Stewart, driving for BRM, was leading the championship coming into the event after winning the opening round in Monaco. Spa was a track unlike what we know it as today. Although some of the track today incorporates some of the original track design, mainly at La Source up to Le Combes and the final part around Blanchimont, the track was much longer in length at 8.761miles through dense forest. This included the famous Masta Kink, a corner that had as much a reputation as Eau Rouge and Blanchimont do today. It was a track for the brave and one that drivers did enjoy but were also a bit frightened of as well.
The Masta Kink was a fearsome section of track that seen drivers arrive at top speed of around 190mph for a left right high speed chicane. Drivers had to carry the speed through as the following run to Stavelot was a long one. To show just how dangerous this section of track comes from a 1972 24 hour touring car race. During one pit stop during the night Hans-Joachim Stuck shouted to his co-driver Jochan Mass to ‘look out for body parts at the Masta Kink’. Mass assumed that he was talking about car body parts and was shocked and appalled to discover the remains of a marshal that had been hit earlier on.
Race day was overcast. The start line was dry but due to the length of the track, and the strange mini climate that seems to hover around Spa, other parts where soaking wet. The race was due to last 28 laps, a distance of 245.56 miles around this fearsome track. However half the field would not complete the first lap, most crashing out around the Burnville and Masta kink sections of the track. Jo Bonnier’s Cooper T81 was one of these cars. He slid of the track and came to rest in someone’s house after the car went through an upstairs window of a house at the track’s edge at the Burnville section of the track but was perfectly ok.
Others to crash out on the first lap including Graham Hill and Bob Bondurant, both at Masta and both of whom would come to the rescue of the next driver in this list and possibly one of the most important and prominent crashes in the history of the sport.
Jackie Stewart was driving for BRM during the 66 season. He would arrive in the appalling conditions to the Masta Kink at around 165mph. He would run off the track, crash into a telegraph pole and a shed before coming to a rest in a farmer’s outbuilding. Stewart was unable to move, trapped in the car due to the steering column pinned against his leg. To make matters worse the fuel tanks had ruptured and this meant he was sitting in his cockpit, unable to move and sitting in a bath of fuel.
There was no track side crews about to extract him from the wreckage and even if there was they would not have the correct tools to help. It took Stewart’s team mate Hlll and Bondurant to rescue the Scot from the car using a spectator’s tool kit. 25 minutes passed from the crash happening before they could get Stewart out.
It showed the connection between the drivers that Hill stopped to help Stewart after his own crash. Hill’s car was ok to continue and he could have continued in the race. Hill did mention looking over after his crash, which seen him only hit some straw bales, that Stewart looked ‘very second hand’.
Even at this point his ordeal was not over. Stewart was placed on the bed of a pickup truck in the barn, still in agony due to the fuel burning at his skin through his race suit. He asked Hill to remove his race suit due to the burning. This made for interesting viewing when a group of nuns entered the barn to find three races drivers, one naked in Stewart.
He would eventually be taken by ambulance, after Hill managed to flag one down, to the track’s first aid centre as there was no doctors or proper medical facilities that we know of today. While at the first aid centre he remained on the stretcher and was placed on the floor which was covered in rubbish and cigarette ends. Eventually another ambulance arrived to take him to hospital in Liege but the driver lost the police escort and thus got lost on the way to the hospital.
Inside the ambulance with Stewart was his wife Helen and Jim Clark, who had retired when his Climax engine was flooded due to the amount of rain fail and standing water. The end result was Stewart got a private jet to take him home to the UK for treatment. As well as the burning he also had broken ribs and shoulder injuries but was racing again within a month of the accident. From then on Stewart would tape a spanner to his steering wheel and bring a private doctor to all races with him.
The race continued on around all the crashing with only eight of the 15 drivers made the end of lap one. It was a race that would be won by John Surtees in the Ferrari from Jochen Rindt taking his first ever F1 podium and Lorenzo Bandini in the second Ferrari who would inherit the championship lead with the final podium place. Footage from the race was also used in the film Grand Prix including footage from Phil Hill’s car which had a nose camera fitted for the first lap of the race before it was removed. He also managed to avoid the first lap carnage and get pictures from the scene as well. Live footage of the race was also used as well while Surtees and Nino Barlini used as stunt doubles for two of the films main characters.
But the race will always be remember as the catalyst for Jackie Stewarts safety campaign. It was a campaign that would polarize the motorsport world with tracks dismayed at the cost of the changes and even drivers outraged as well with race boycott’s . But it would see drivers go from having a 1 in 3 chances of dying to no deaths in the sports for almost 20 years when Senna and Ratzenberger passed away at Imola in 1994. In fact from the race in 1966 five would die in accidents in the preceding five years – Bandini (Monaco 1967), Clark (Germany 1968 in a F2 race), Mike Spence (Indianapolis 1968), Jochen Rindt (Monza 1970) and Jo Siffert (Brands Hatch 1971) showing how long it took for Stewart’s campaign to take effect.
Without the pandemonium of this race how many more would have died before sweeping changes to the cars, tracks and clothing were made? Stewart didn’t make himself popular with his crusade but he did make the sport much safer for those involved on all counts and for that he will always be remembered in the motorsport world and not just as a three time World Champion.
Main Photo Credit: Forum-Auto.com
Secondary photo: F1technical.net
Rindt and Ginther in Maserati’s: Forum auto
Track picture: Wikipedia