“Katie, who is your favourite Formula 1 driver of all time?” I have honestly lost count of the number of times I have been asked this throughout my time writing. The expected response is Ayrton Senna and understandably so.
Indeed, drivers that I have spoken to have said the same, Senna and Schumacher are the obvious names to list when discussing heroes and hopeful career emulation. This is a standard response and one that anyone not Motorsport literate will understand.
My answer often creates a puzzled face, a startled pause and is usually followed by the question “why?”
My response is often simply, “why not?” Here is a more detailed response for those who are equally as puzzled by my choice.
Jim Clark grew up nestled in the quiet countryside of Scotland, a long way from the world of Formula 1 he would later enjoy. Not only did his background make his career success more impressive but it also kept him firmly grounded.
The statistics are incredible and only possible to beat in the current format of Formula 1. Clark won 25 races from 72 Grand Prix starts; obtained 33 pole positions and set fastest laps across 28 different races. Yet somehow he is the sometimes forgotten driver of that era.
I recently discovered a Grand Prix that has become my favourite of all time; my jaw was on the floor when watching it and my heart in my mouth. If you are not familiar with the 1963 Belgian Grand Prix, I seriously suggest you watch at least some of it for yourself.
What made that race most extraordinary was the modest dominance on display by Clark, who incidentally hated the infamous circuit of Spa-Francorchamps.
The scene is foggy, wet and windy, not ideal for open cockpit racing. Jim Clark starts eighth on the grid and with ease he glides past the pole sitter, Graham Hill.
By lap 17, his place in history was cemented forever. Clark lapped the entire field, excluding Bruce McLaren, in a display no longer seen in this era of racing. McLaren’s Cooper would finish five minutes behind Clark.
Statistics can help me to detect trends and patterns in performance as I strive to do the impossible – predict Formula 1’s future. However Jim Clark is more than the statistics; he had a modesty that does not suit the corporate world we see now. Jim Clark was the reluctant racer, somebody who accidently became a two-time World Champion.
1963 and 1965 were his glory years. Three years later, his career and life was cut prematurely short depriving Formula 1 of any more classic races from the Scot and beginning the ever-increasing snowball of safety improvements.
When asked what he would miss the most about Jim Clark, Graham Hill brought a tear to the eye of many by simply stating “his smile”.
To be that highly regarded and acknowledged by your peers is perhaps the most impressive feat of all.
Jim Clark is buried in Chirnside and his grave lists him as a farmer first followed by a racer, as per his request. Jimmy from Fife in Scotland became Jim Clark the humble hero.
My hero. My favourite Formula 1 driver of all time.