Title Decider Gold - Mexico 1964


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It's difficult to come up with a historical parallel for this year's forthcoming title showdown, but if we get one half as dramatic or controversial as 1964's we can consider ourselves very lucky.

The 1964 season had been highly unpredictable, with fluctuating performances amongst the leading runners. Reigning champion Jim Clark's Lotus-Climax Type 25, with its advanced monocoque design, was now coming under threat from rivals' updated machines; BRM's new P261 scored a 1-2 result at Monaco in the opening race of the season, and proved to be reliable, while the Brabhams also showed good pace, Dan Gurney taking back-to-back poles at Zandvoort and Spa, and winning at Rouen. Ferrari, meanwhile, were characteristically focussing on power output, and team leader John Surtees shared a mixture of V8- and V12-powered machinery with regular team-mate Lorenzo Bandini across the season.

Clark was the dominant force in the first half of the ten-race championship, winning at Zandvoort, Spa and Brands Hatch, and suffering engine failure while leading from pole at Rouen. Graham Hill followed up his opening Monaco victory with five consecutive points-scoring finishes, including successive second places at Rouen, Brands and the Nürburgring, but the scoring system mandated that only a driver's best six scores from ten would count towards the final standings.

Ferrari only really got up and running once Le Mans was out of the way - the company being at least as interested in sportscars in those days - and Surtees could only record one finish before the British Grand Prix in July. Following a third place at Brands, however, there followed a sequence of circuits on which the Italian cars were able to utilise the latest engine developments and stretch their legs, and three wins followed - one for Bandini in a race of attrition at Zeltweg Airfield sandwiched by wins for Surtees at the Nürburgring and Monza. A second place to Graham Hill at Watkins Glen in the penultimate race of the championship left things finely-balanced for the decider in Mexico City, with three British drivers from three teams in the reckoning:

1. Graham Hill (BRM) 39 (41)
2. John Surtees (Ferrari) 34
3. Jim Clark (Lotus-Climax) 30

Hill's position looked strong, but having already recorded seven points finishes, any score in Mexico would be worth three points less to him than to his rivals, obliged as he was to drop his fourth place finish from Holland. With five and four scoring finishes respectively, Surtees and Clark had no such concerns. Clark was the outsider, and with 9 points for a win he needed Hill to finish out of the points to have any chance, but with three wins under his belt already he would come out on top in the event of a tie.

Clark duly came out of the blocks explosively, setting an unbeatable pace in qualifying to take pole position by almost a second from Dan Gurney's Brabham in second. Championship leader Hill could do no better than sixth, while the Ferraris lined up in third and fourth - Bandini running the V12 engine this weekend and benefitting from a slight power advantage on the long straights over his V8-powered team leader behind.

Immediately from the start Clark's chances took a major boost as both rivals hit problems. Hill was hampered at the start by damage to his goggles and dropped four places to tenth on the opening lap. Surtees' problems seemed even more grave, his V8 spluttering ineffectually off the grid and leaving John back in thirteenth position. Both were able to continue, however, the Ferrari coming on more strongly as the laps reeled off, and with no scheduled pitstops gradually picked off the runners in front. Clark, however, was asserting a position of dominance at the front, and this meant Hill needed a finish of at least third to become champion; Surtees second.

On lap 12 Hill eased past the Ferrari of Bandini to take the third position he needed. At this stage Surtees was back in the pack in sixth and though he passed Jack Brabham on lap 18, looked unlikely to trouble leaders Clark and Gurney. Meantime Hill appeared to lack the pace, or inclination, to make a break from Bandini's Ferrari in fourth. As the laps went by the gap closed and on lap 31 Bandini made his move. The two cars collided and both spun. Though they were able to rejoin, the BRM had sustained damage to the exhaust, necessitating a lengthy pitstop for repairs that dropped Hill to 13th and out of contention. After the controversial collision with the number two Ferrari, Graham now needed misfortune to strike his title rivals.

Surtees had inherited third with Bandini's spin, but with Clark looking uncatchable, the Englishman needed to relieve Gurney of second place to take the championship. The recovering Bandini quickly closed up on his team leader, and Surtees elected to let him pass and carry the fight to the Brabham ahead. Even with a straightline speed advantage, however, Bandini could not close sufficiently over the entire lap to put Gurney under pressure, and with the race now looking set it seemed Clark would retain his crown.

It was very unusual, though, for a Lotus to run trouble-free from flag to flag, and so it proved again on this occasion. With only seven laps remaining, a loss of pressure alerted Clark to an oil leak. He continued to press on as best he could, and crossing the line with one lap to go he remained at the head of the pack and on course for the championship. Tragically, however, it was on the very last lap that the Climax engine cried 'enough' and the Lotus rolled to a sickening halt. Gurney flashed past to head for the chequered flag and victory, pursued by the two Ferraris. With no time for a pit signal, Surtees was relying on Bandini moving aside to give him the second place he needed to become champion. Fortunately, Bandini had seen Clark expire and duly moved aside before the line, giving his team mate the six points needed to overhaul Hill at the top and add a four-wheeled world championship to his many motorcycle titles.

The result secured Ferrari the constructors' title from BRM by three points, with Lotus and Brabham third and fourth. At the time it would have been unthinkable that, having fallen out with Surtees at Le Mans in 1966, the Italian giants would then go through financial crises, a change in ownership and another eleven years before again winning a title.
Cracking stuff!
It almost felt like I was there watching the race :D

We can only hope for anything like as dramatic this weekend.
Sadly I have a feeling it will all be a bit of a damp squib with the Red Bulls making a break at the start and Alonso trying desperately to keep up with them.
I can only echo Brogan's words. Also managed to find this short video on Yout Ube. Unusual colour scheme on Surtee's Ferrari (Assuming he is car No. 7)

Great stuff there Galahad. Three champions in waiting over the course of the remaining laps - if only that were to happen this weekend.

Sadly, I can't see that happening this weekend but the 2010 season has been one of the best in recent memory so it would only be fitting for such drama to take place. Vettel's car-breaking could cost him; Alonso's engine might blow; Webber may even make another mistake. And Hamilton is still mathematically there - although fans of Lewis may need to get their voodoo dolls out!

Just a climax to fit this season would make me a happy spectator.
FB said:
Unusual colour scheme on Surtee's Ferrari (Assuming he is car No. 7)

Yes, the blue and white are the colours of the North American Racing Team, run by US-based Ferrari importer Luigi Chinetti. At the time Ferrari were in dispute with the Italian authorities over the homologation of the 250LM as a racing car - GT rules at the time meant manufacturers were supposed to produce a minimum of 100 cars, but Ferrari clearly were not going to manage that (and didn't).

So the colours were a political message/threat to the officials back home- unheeded.
I love reading old race reports... fantastic work Galahad.
Bandini... a gentlemen... another tragically taken away from F1 in flaming wreck @ Monaco '67.
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