With Donington Park announcing a 17-year deal to host the British GP and Bernie Ecclestone claiming that Formula 1 has little interest in returning to Silverstone, this year’s race might have become the last Grand Prix held at the Northamptonshire circuit.
Silverstone hosted the first ever world championship race in 1950 and has been the venue for the British GP for the last 23 years. But, F1 races were held at other British tracks on many occasions.
John Webb and Brands Hatch
It all started in 1955, when Aintree was chosen as the venue for the British world championship event. But while the Liverpool track hosted five Grands Prix between 1955 and 1962, before disappearing from F1 for good in 1963, Silverstone did not regain its monopoly on the British GP following Aintree’s demise from the world championship calendar.
In 1964 the honour of hosting F1 in Britain went to Brands Hatch. Built as a cycle track in the 1920s, after WWII the track was repaved and attracted single-seater racing in the form of Formula 2 and Formula 3.
Brand Hatch’s reputation was enhanced by the fact that it was one of the few circuits in Europe which were able to meet the strict safety requirements introduced after the 1955 Le Mans disaster. John Webb’s appointment as the Brands Hatch boss only contributed to the venue’s growth, as the Formula 1 non-championship race – The Silver City Trophy – was held at the Kent track in 1960.
Four years later, Webb persuaded the RAC to hold the British GP at Brands Hatch once in two years. The golden chapter of the Kent circuit history was about to begin.
Formula 1 45 years ago
Arriving at Brands Hatch, the venue for the fifth race of the 1964 season, reigning world champion Jim Clark was well in the lead in the title race. Having triumphed at Zandvoort and Spa, the Briton was also considered to be a favourite for the home event.
Nevertheless, Monaco Grand Prix winner, Graham Hill, had other ideas. Hill had not enjoyed the best of luck in the Dutch and Belgian rounds, but returned to the podium in France. This proved insufficient to eclipse Clark’s mark in the championship race and the Scotsman was still the one to beat with 21 points after four races.
Hill arrived at Brands Hatch with a clear task: to beat Clark and re-take first place in the series standings.
But Hill was not the only contender to dethrone Clark. Others included former motorcycle champion, John Surtees at the wheel of a Ferrari, and Dan Gurney in a Brabham-Climax. The American, fresh from his sensational French Grand Prix triumph a fortnight earlier, threatened to produce another surprise.
The surprise did not come during practice, although Gurney did manage to put together a lap time which was good enough for third place, 0.3 of a second off the best mark. Hill also failed to dethrone Clark, trailing the Lotus driver by 0.2 of a second. The Lotus driver proved untouchable, stopping the clocks at the 1’38.1 mark, which also was a new track record.
While the front row occupied by Clark, Hill and Gurney, twice world champion Jack Brabham became the best of the rest, putting a car with his name in fourth place, with Ferrari’s John Surtees a spot behind, in fifth.
Action at the back
After an intense battle in qualifying, which saw the top five separated by 0.6s, around 135,000 spectators flocked to the track on a chilly and cloudy Saturday afternoon to witness a duel between the two local heroes, Clark and Hill.
Nevertheless, it was Gurney who stole the show early on when the green flag dropped. The American challenged Clark for supremacy around the outside, but the Scot managed to resist, slipping by his foe at Druids. The American was left with no immediate answer and had to settle for second.
But, keen to repeat his French GP result, Gurbey set a new lap record – 1’40 – on the following round and was getting bigger and bigger in Clark’s mirrors, before limping to the pits with a burnt transistor ignition unit. Much to his disappointment, the American was out of contention.
Gurney’s demise elevated Hill back into second and soon the Londoner set his sights on Clark. Meanwhile, behind the two leaders, Ferrari’s John Surtees deposed Jack Brabham from third spot and after setting a new lap record, started to pose a threat to those at the front. Nevertheless, maintaining the pace of Clark and Hill proved to be difficult and soon the scarlet Ferrari dropped back.
Missed opportunities for ‘Black Jack’
Brabham was not having the race he had hoped for. After losing a spot to Surtees on lap three, the Australian tried to re-pass the Englishman and had a spin. Believing he had damaged the suspension, Jack visited his mechanics in the pit-lane, asking them to examine the car, but they found nothing wrong.
He rejoined the race but returned to his pit stall on lap 18, the car still was not handling right. After the end of the race it emerged the overseer was caused by a faulty fuel tank, which was dropping petrol onto the tyres. But nobody was aware of this problem during the race and Brabham decided to continue, coming out of the pit-lane in seventh spot, behind Bob Anderson (Brabham-Climax BT11), Phil Hill (Cooper-Climax T73) and Lorenzo Bandini (Ferrari 156 Aero).
Infuriated, Brabham immediately set his focus on getting back into the top-four, passing Anderson and Phil Hill by lap 30. Getting ahead of Bandini proved a difficult undertaking, as the Ferrari driver successfully resisted all the attacks until lap 61, when the double world champion made a move at Hawthorn bend. But by that time the leaders were out of reach for the Australian.
As was often the case in the sixties, the win was disputed between Clark and Graham Hill. As usual, the Scotsman was in the lead, but the Englishman was shadowing him, threatening to pounce. Clark’s Lotus was faster on the straights, while Hill’s BRM appeared to have an advantage around Brands Hatch’s challenging curves.
The two were more or less equal, which made the showdown even more nail biting. But with 50 laps remaining Clark managed to pull away from Hill, as the latter started to experience oil-feed problems. However, even with a seven second gap, the Scotsman showed no intention of settling down, breaking the lap record on the 61st round with a time of 1’39.4, before improving it by another 0.6s some 11 laps later.
Hill succeeded in cutting Clark advantage in the closing stages of the race, but that made no impression on the Scotsman who, after an immaculate drive, clinched his thirteenth career victory, strengthening his lead in the world championship standings.
After two hours and fifteen minutes of spectacular racing Jim Clark and Graham Hill were joined on the podium by John Surtees, another Briton. This was the golden age of British talent in Formula 1, and all three drivers either had won or would go on to win championship.
1964 British Grand Prix result
Brands Hatch – 80 laps
80 laps, 4.265km each
|2h 15min. 7 sec
|+ 1 min. 20.6
|+ 1 Lap
|Ferrari 156 Aero
|+ 2 laps
|+ 2 laps