The Beginning of Safety in Racing

BRM, Jackie Stewart, klemcoll

Jackie Stewart in his BRM 61/2 in the pits during practice at Spa-Francorchamps for the Belgian Grand Prix which took place on June 13, 1966. Stewart would qualify on the outside of the front row, albeit 3.5 seconds behind poleman John Surtees in the Ferrari 312 with Jochen Rindt’s Cooper 81-Maserati between them but only three tenths quicker than Stewart. Surtees’ time came out to an average speed for his lap of 145 mph, this on an 8.7 mile public road circuit and featuring the tight hairpin at La Source.

Spa-Francorchamps, Jackie Stewart, klemcollThis would be an important high speed test for the new and far more powerful three liter cars under the new Formula 1 regulations with Ferrari (V12), Cooper (Maserati V12) and Brabham (Repco V8) having full three liter motors while BRM was making do with their 2 liter V8 units. Stewart was already thinking about the risks of racing as its was then. In the prior ten years there had been over 50 drivers killed in racing accidents. The problems lay in cars which offered no protection from a crash and no protection from fire, drivers with clothing and helmets which also offered no real protection, circuits which were actually or nearly public roads, such as Spa-Francorchamps, with trees, walls and houses right at the edge of the racing surface, often no medical care or facilities for it at the circuits and limited ways to transport a driver to a hospital.

All this was no doubt in the back of Stewart’s mind as he awaited the start with dark clouds gathering over the long Spa course and initial reports of rain along the Masta Straight. Rain was already at Burnenville after the descent from Les Combes where six cars (Bonnier’s Cooper, Spence’s Lotus, Bondurant’s BRM, Siffert’s Cooper, Hulme’s Brabham and Hill’s BRM) spun off although Bondurant and Hill managed to continue. Then came the famous kink at the end of the Masta Straight. Here Rindt spun but stayed on the road and continued, Stewart aquaplaned off and crashed into a guard post and his car slid off the road, trapping him inside with fuel gushing over him. Hill then spun in the same spot into some hay BRM, Spa-Francorchamps, Jackie Stewart, klemcollbales and ran to help Stewart. Bondurant joined Hill having wiggled out of his car which had spun and overturned into a nearby roadside ditch.

Stewart’s car was not a pretty sight (left) and with the fuel pump now shut off by Hill they tried to get the steering wheel off but it took a spectator’s tool kit to allow then to finally extract Stewart who was painfully if not seriously injured. Then there was a dark comedy of trying to get medical attention for Stewart who was initially left in a nearly barn while Hill went for an ambulance. Stewart was then taken to the old Spa “medical center” where he was left lying on a stretcher on the cold and filthy floor, no doctors in attendance. An ambulance was then found and on the way to a hospital in Liège the driver got lost.

All of this got Stewart started on his multi-year campaign to improve racing safety.

Photos by Günther Molter, Robert Daley and Ami Guichard ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com

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