1968 German GP: Stewart, a master under the universal flood


By Paul Fearnley
Dunlop #GreatFightBacks Campaign

Although he would eventually win 27 Grands Prix, the Scottish rider acknowledges that the fourth remains, to this day, the best of all.

The standard bearer of the fight for safety, with his right wrist broken and immobilized in a plastic splint, was unwilling to venture out for a lap around a foggy, rain-flooded Nürburgring circuit. He saw no reason to risk his car and himself within hours of the race, and he hoped his crew chief would agree with him. However, good old "Uncle Ken" Tyrrell didn't want to hear about it.

Jackie Stewart refers to this period in her career as "the rocket" - exciting, but dangerous and difficult to control. Jim Clark's fatal accident in April had removed some of the illusion and magic, and the one that Stewart subsequently suffered (also with a Formula 2) at the Jarama that same month, reaffirmed once again that he could have suffered the same fate. .

In May, the death in Indianapolis of Mike Spence, his former teammate on the BRM team, provided another incentive to think about another way of life. Having missed the Spanish and Monaco Grand Prix, a resentful Stewart was returning to the Formula 1 fray at Spa, the scene of his crash under a worldwide flood two years ago. He had not been victorious since then (nor was he equipped with Dunlop) and this time his Matra MS10-Ford was running low on gas and falling to fourth on the final lap.

The frustration lasted only a fortnight. Despite missing Saturday's very wet practice session at Zandyoort so his swollen arm could recover, Stewart secured an excellent rain win on Dunlop's 970 compound, with a tread that benefited from its wide tread. and handcrafted central drainage channel.

In the middle of the tire war, Firestone's last compound won the next wet battle at the French circuit of Rouen, a race marked by the death of Honda rider Jo Schlesser, engulfed in a fireball, and in which Stewart was the best positioned of those equipped with Dunlop.

Firestone won again at Brands Hatch, where a mangled Stewart had to be lifted from the booth after finishing sixth. The additional physical strain on his wrist on a dry and bumpy track cast doubt on his participation in the German GP. Just in case, his potential replacement Johnny Servoz-Gavin spent days at the controls of a Matra 530, learning the 22 kilometers of the Nürburgring.

Stewart flew to Germany on the Piper Aztec in Graham Hill on Thursday and, as usual, visited a local doctor to cut his cast, coat his forearm in petroleum jelly and put a plastic splint on him.

Friday and Saturday were mostly dedicated to shelter from the rain. Conditions were so bad that an additional three hours of practice was arranged for Sunday morning, where it still rained a bit more.

Stewart acknowledges that Tyrrell's decision to send him off was totally successful. The confidence gained by setting the fastest time of the session (22 seconds apart) and taking some extra risk to his photographic memory made him feel better mentally.

Meanwhile, his car was inferior in shock and steering, something that Stewart felt better when the front wheels locked with the addition of a rear wing that, while not as big or as evolved as others, handled well in those conditions. . When he took off his Rolex and gave it to Tyrrell, a pre-race ritual born out of safety and perfected to give him a marketing point, Ken told him: "You clearly don't get paid enough."

Scheduled for 2pm, the race started 50 minutes late, and solely because Cooper's decision to warm up worryingly cold engines triggered a Pavlovian reaction on the starting grid. Ironically, a new and unnecessary delay caused some to overheat. Stewart, whose morning time placed him sixth on the grid, swerved toward the concrete wall to skirt pole-owner Jacky Ickx's hesitant Ferrari and into the first corner behind Hill's Lotus and teammate. by Ickx, Chris Amon.

With no high-intensity taillights to identify his next target, Stewart consoled himself with the idea that any upcoming brake lock would serve to mitigate the relentless rain. Searching and straining for some visual clue, he felt the Ferrari's tires arching deeply and, with an undeniable element of hope, he launched himself for second position near the Adenau Bridge.

Hill was similarly hit just before they reached the long, rolling home straight. At the end of it, Stewart was already 10 seconds ahead. In the second lap he increased the distance to 24 seconds.

Refusing to give up his pace and to increase the advantage gained from the extra-large grooves on his tires, he set the fastest lap just before losing control on lap 10 (of 14). After that, a chastened Stewart convinced himself that he had to be more cautious.

Their margin of advantage was over 4 minutes, but the initial feeling at the end of the race was one of relief rather than victory, especially when it was confirmed that the rest of the drivers were safe. Thanks god.

Stewart claims that this was the most outstanding performance of his career. He insists, however, that it was also a triumph for Ken, the hard work of his mechanics, as well as Dunlop.

 

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Automundo is the blog about news from the automotive industry, motorsport and the culture of the region. Director: Diego Durruty.

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