The Honda Challenge

Honda, Spa-Francorchamps

During practice for the 1968 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps John Surtees sits in the Honda RA301 as his mechanics attend to the big V12 behind him. “Big John” qualified on the second row but was still almost 7 seconds behind the Ferrari of Chris Amon with its new rear wing. In the race Surtees would be up to second place right away and then into the lead for several laps until he retired on the 11th lap when a rear suspension mounting bracket broke.

This was also the race where Brian Redman had a huge accident when the front suspension of his Cooper-Maserati collapsed. After Surtees’ retirement Jackie Stewart took over with his Matra MS10, dicing back and forth with Denis Hulme’s McLaren M7A for a few laps. It then looked like clear running for Stewart until the Matra ran out of fuel on the next to last lap and had to stop for a splash, to eventually finish fourth having been docked a lap because his final lap, with the pit stop, took too long. This left Bruce McLaren to win his first Grand Prix with his own car with Pedro Rodriguez second with his BRM 133 and Jacky Ickx third with his Ferrari 312.

The Spa race was another of the retirements that characterized Surtees’ 1968 Honda season. The rather heavy RA301 was never properly developed as Honda was always pushing their RA302 with its magnesium monocoque chassis and its problematic V8 air-cooled motor. Surtees steadily refused to race the RA302, believing it unsafe, especially after Jo Schlesser’s fiery fatal crash with that car at the French Grand Prix at Rouen-les Essarts. After these and other continuing disappointments, Honda retired from F1 at the end of the season.

Photo by Nigel Snowdon ©The Klemantaski Collection –

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One comment

  1. Surtees gave them win at Monza by out foxing Jack Brabham
    on final lap of that race in 1967, with help of Eric Broadly design.

    Ginther also gave the final chance to win in 1965 which under scores
    that Honda was not capable of building a complete car to win
    They would provide engines for cars in future, but history would repeat
    when another firm, Toyota failed to win against the European Teams.

    jim sitz


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