- March 04, 1936
- April 07, 1968
- United Kingdom
- Not Active
- Team Lotus
James Jim Clark (1936-1968) was the British racing driver and one of the biggest stars of Formula 1 World Championship during the 1960s. He won two championship titles, in 1963 and 1965, driving for Team Lotus. In 72 Formula 1 starts between 1960 and 1968, he scored 25 wins and 32 podiums, what was one of the biggest percentage of podiums ever.
Outside Formula 1, Clark participated five times at Indianapolis 500, winning the race in 1965 and finishing second in 1966. He also climbed to a podium two times at Le Mans 24 Hours, finishing second in GT class in 1959 and then finishing third overall in 1960 with Aston Martin DBR1/300.
Torn between personal and family wishes
James Clark was born on March 4, 1936, in Kilmany, a village in Fife County in Scotland. After he left the school, Jim began racing his own Sunbeam-Talbot, even after his parents were against the will of their only son. Since the first day, Clark was the uncompromising and fearless driver. He won many local events and club races with a support of many wealthy enthusiast friends.
At that moment Clark was torn between his desire to be a sports car driver and opposing wish of his family. However, after a couple of victories, Jim was reluctant to develop his natural talent and to have a successful racing career. He won numerous races in the mid-1950s driving a Jaguars and Porsches.
Formula 1 debut with Lotus
Probably the most important moment in his career was on Boxing Day of 1958 at Brands Hatch. Clark was behind the wheel of Lotus Elite coupe and excited the winner of the race who was driving the same car. That was Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus who immediately invited Jim to join his Formula Lotus junior team.
Clark didn’t stay long in the lower tier after Chapman promoted him to Formula 1 Team Lotus in the middle of 1960 season. Jim debuted in Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort, driving a Lotus 18 but retired on lap 42 due to a gearbox failure. In his second race, Clark finished 5th at demanding Spa circuit, but that race was marked by the deaths of Alan Stacey and Chris Bristow.
It was followed by another 5th place in the French Grand Prix and with his first podium finish – the 3rd place in Grand Prix of Portugal. At the end of the season, Jim was 10th in the standings. Chapman was happy with Clark’s performances, so he stayed with the Lotus Team as a full-time driver in 1961.
Two podiums in three starts at Le Mans
Jim Clark appeared in the world’s most prestigious race three times. His first Le Mans 24h was in 1959 when he was driving Lotus Elite Mk 14 alongside Sir John Whitmore. They finished second in the GT class and 10th overall.
In the following season, Clark’s co-driver in Aston Martin DBR1 was Roy Salvadori and they finished 3rd overall, behind two Ferrari cars. The last appearing at Circuit de la Sarthe in 1961 was the worst one. Jim drove alongside Ron Flockhart but they had to retire on lap 132.
Jim almost retired after horrible crash at Monza
Driving a Lotus 21, Clark finished 7th in the 1961 Formula One season after having two podium finishes, the 3rd places in Dutch Grand Prix and French Grand Prix. Sadly, that year was marked with a huge accident at Monza in which Clark was involved.
His car collided with Wolfgang von Trips’ Ferrari which went airborne. The poor German driver was thrown out of his car and killed, as well as 14 spectators. Though Clark was innocent and unhurt, the death of his colleague and spectators left him devastated and Jim seriously considered retiring, but Chapman quickly persuaded him to stay.
Seven wins for the first Formula 1 Championship title
In his third year in Formula 1, Clark was among frontrunners driving the Lotus 25. He was a serious title contender in 1962 but after four retirements, including one in the final race due to an oil leak, Clark lost the battle with Graham Hill and finished the season as a runner-up. However, Jim won the races in Belgium, Great Britain, and in the US, announcing what he is capable of.
Finally, in 1963 Clark stepped up to the highest step of the podium. He won the title in an impressive way, winning 7 out of 10 races and having other two podiums. The only Grand Prix in which Clark failed to score points was the season-opening race in Monaco where he started from pole position.
Third place in the 1964 F1 season
The start of the following season was very good. Still driving the Lotus 25, Scotsman won 3 out of 5 races and topped the standings with a small advantage to Hill. For the second half of the campaign, the team introduced new car Lotus 33 what proved to be a bad moment for experiments.
Clark retired from the following two races, as well as from the Italian Grand Prix in which he was running old Lotus 25. It was followed by 7th place in the US Grand Prix but before the last event of the year in Mexico, Jim still had a chance to defend his crown but again had engine troubles and finished 5th in the race. John Surtees won the title that year, in front of Hill and Clark.
Formula 1 title and Indianapolis 500 victory in 1965
For the second time in his career, Clark won the Formula 1 World Championship in 1965. ’Flying Scotsman’ scored six consecutive wins and secured the title after the victory at Nurburgring. The final three races of the season were just a formality for Jim, so he finished 10th in Italy before retiring from the last two events.
Interestingly, Clark missed Monaco Grand Prix that year in order to drive in Indianapolis 500 driving a Lotus 38. He won the race at Brickyard and to date (2017) he is the only driver who won both F1 title and Indy 500 in the same year.
The season 1966 was disappointing
Lotus was less competitive in 1966 and Clark was so unhappy with the results that he almost left the team but Chapman again persuaded him to stay. That year was really poor, marked by many retirements and only one victory, in the US Grand Prix, and another podium finish, the 3rd place at Zandvoort. Jim finished 6th in the standings that year what was far below the expectations.
In 1966, Clark scored again good result at Indianapolis 500, starting second and finishing second after he spun twice during the race. The race winner was Graham Hill.
A special connection of Jim Clark and Colin Chapman
Clark and Chapman were very close, almost like father and son, and their relationship probably was one of the best in the history of Formula 1. Jim wasn’t technically-minded but Chapman knew how to prepare cars for him. However, even if the engineering solutions weren’t perfect, Clark’s natural talent enabled him to resolve all the potential troubles during the race.
Chapman admired Jim’s kindness and sincerity saying that Clark was as impressive as a human being as he was the driver. Despite being one of the best drivers of the time, Clark never was a star. He was timid and hated publicity. On the track, he was the perfect example of controlled aggression and thoughtful actions, but off the track, he was the shy guy with a lack of confidence who dreamed of life in the Scottish countryside. That’s why he never signed long-term contracts. He always went from year to year so he could leave free when he wanted.
Recovery in 1967 with Lotus 49
Lotus prepared the better car for the new season. The Lotus 49 was more competitive and faster but still not so reliable. However, the results improved a lot. Clark scored four race wins and also finished 3rd at Monza, but again had too many retirements what proved to be decisive in the championship battle. He finished the season at 3rd place, behind Denny Hulme and Jack Brabham.
With a lot of optimism, Clark entered the season of 1968. The mood was even better after he won the season-opening race in South Africa. That was his 25th Grand Prix victory, so Jim eclipsed the previous record held by Juan Manuel Fangio. Many were thinking that only bad luck can stop Scotsman of winning his third title. Sadly, they were right.
Fatal crash at Hockenheim
On 7th of April 1968, Jim Clark died in a crash during Formula 2 race at Hockenheimring. Originally, he was not even supposed to be there as the plan was to race in BOAC 1000 sportscar event at Brands Hatch. On the lap 5, Jim’s car skidded off the track and hit the trees. The poor driver broke his neck and had a fractured skull. He died on the way to the hospital.
The fans and other drivers were shocked, Colin Chapman was devastated. Nobody could believe that Clark can make a mistake, especially on the gentle turn, which would lead to his death. Probably they were right. The first opinion was that the rear tire deflated and caused the accident. Some sources said that suspension failure caused the crash, while another theory says that the mechanical metering unit on the Cosworth FVA engine had seized and led to the accident.
Jim Clark was buried in the village of Chirnside, Berwickshire. On the tombstone is written that he was a farmer before racing driver, as he had wished.