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How the 1964 World Championship was lost

A Championship in the bag.
A Championship lost.
A Championship in the bag again.
A Championship lost.
A Championship in the bag (again!).
A Championship lost (this time for good).
A Championship in the bag (but rules are rules).

Setting the scene

1962 was the year that things finally worked out as intended. After a yearlong struggle with Jim Clark in Colin Chapman's Lotus 25, BRM won the constructors and drivers World Championships. 1963 was not such a good year. Anyone would have had problems stopping the Clark/Lotus steamroller. BRM suffered trying to develop a monocoque car to match the groundbreaking Lotus 25 whilst still running the reliable but outdated 1962 spaceframe car. The new 1963 P61 car was only an interim mixture of old and new and not the answer. Due to delays in the development of the centre exhaust V8 a spaceframe engine, gearbox & rear suspension unit that was tacked on to the back of the car caused more problems than it solved.

1964 was much better. Lotus had lost their advantage and four cars had proved to be winners - Lotus - Brabham - Ferrari - BRM. After another solid victory for Graham Hill in the P261 in the American GP the BRM team had the edge over the opposition. The Championship would finally be decided in Mexico between Graham Hill, Jim Clark and John Surtees in BRM, Lotus and Ferrari. Hill & BRM had a safe lead in the Championships – it was up to the others to find a way ahead.

 A Championship in the bag.

Race Hill Surtees Clark
Monaco 9 points 0 points 3 points
Holland 3 = 12 6 = 6 9 = 12
Belgium 2 = 14 0 = 6 9 = 21
France 6 = 20 0 = 6 0 = 21
Britain 6 = 26 4 = 10 9 = 30
Germany 6 = 32 9 = 19 0 = 30
Austria 0 = 32 0 = 19 0 = 30
Italy 0 = 32 9 = 28 0 = 30
USA 9 = (41–2) = 39 6 = 34 0 = 30

 At 7,400 feet above sea level the Mexico City circuit made life difficult for engines which suffered a power loss of about 25 b.h.p.

 BRM had a new chassis with the latest top exhaust engine Hill and minor front suspension changes, team-mate Richie Ginther used the older low exhaust engine and a third car as a “spare”.

 Ferrari had a four car Championship challenge. Surtees had two V8s (should prove reliable), Bandini had one of the new flat-12s (still with reliability worries but the deep breathing 12 should have an advantage in the thin air), and local hero Pedro Rodriguez had an old V6 (no longer a competitive car but bound to please the enthusiastic locals).

 Lotus had a choice of two cars for Clark. His Lotus 25B-Climax V8 that had won the previous year's race and the Lotus 33-ClimaxV8 with improved exhausts that was entered for Mike Spence.


Friday practice.
Teams were overcoming the high altitude problems with differing amounts of success. Clark was ahead. Gurney was 0.9 sec. behind followed Bandini 0.1 sec. further back and Surtees another 0.2 sec. further back. Hill was suruggling to match the top times

Saturday’s practice.
Lotus decided that Clark would use the 33 and Spence the 25B. Surtees tried both cars but did not beat his previous day’s time. Hill could not join the under 2 minutes group. He was not helped by his new car suffering a broken valve and then the spare car had falling oil pressure. After practice, BRM replaced Hill’s engine with an new unit.

Starting Grid

1 Jim Clark Lotus 33-Climax V8 1 min. 57.24 Sec.
2 Dan Gurney Brabham-Climax V8 1 min. 58.10 sec.
3 Lorenzo Bandini  Ferrari flat-12 1 min. 58.60 sec.
4 John Surtees Ferrari V8 1 min. 58.70 sec.
5 Mike Spence Lotus 25B-Climax V8 1 min. 59.21 sec.
6 Graham Hill BRM P261 V8 1 min. 59.80 sec.
8 Richie Ginther  BRM P261 V8 2 min 1.15 sec.

19 starters

All of the three Championship contenders were in the top six on the grid – but in reverse order to their Championship standings. All signs pointed to a nail-biting finish to the season – but who would have guessed just what an amazing race it would be.

The Race

From the beginning the Champion hopefuls had very good news or very bad.
Surtees must have wondered if his challenge was over as his car started the first lap with a serious misfire.
Hill saw the grid around him get under way whilst still getting his car into gear. His goggles fell apart as the race was about to start and the delay getting them sorted out lost the advantage of his sixth place on the grid.
And Clark? He made one of his trademark lightning starts to take the lead.

At the end of the first lap, the order was Clark, Gurney, Bandini, Spence, Bonnier, Brabham, Rodriguez, McLaren, Ginther, Hill(Graham), Siffert, Hill(Phil), Surtees, Amon, Ireland, Solana, Taylor, Hailwood and Sharp.

 A Championship lost.

  Hill Surtees Clark
Total after USA 39 34 30
Provisional final score 0 = (41–2) = 39 0 = 34 9 = 39(more wins than Hill)

Clark was leading an ever more distant Gurney and Bandini. Hill and Surtees (with the his misfire cleared) started cutting through the mid-field in an attempt to salvage their Championship hopes. After half a dozen laps Hill was chasing Spence & Brabham in fourth & fifth place, with Surtees close behind.

Hill passed Brabham, Spence and then Bandini to take third place on lap 12. By lap 18 Surtees was in fifth behind his teammate Bandini. The order was Clark, Gurney, Hill, Bandini, Surtees, Brabham and Spence, Rodriguez, McLaren, Ginther (BRM) and the rest.

 A Championship in the bag again.

  Hill Surtees Clark
Total after USA 39 34 30
Provisional final score 4 = (45 –2 –3) = 40 2 = 36 9 = 39

Bandini made several detemined dives into the hairpin to pass Hill, earning the Championship no-hoper a shaken fist from the Championship leader. It all ended in tears at the hairpin on lap 31. Enacting the classic racing blunder of two drivers trying to occupy the same piece of track at the same time, the front wheel of Bandini’s Ferrari hit the rear wheel of Hill’s BRM as they negotiated the hairpin. In the opinion of the closely following Jack Brabham, Bandini had tried to overtake at a point where it was impossible. Both BRM and Ferrari spun and recovered. Bandini resumed in fourth place behind his team-mate Surtees. Hill, however, was in big trouble. The BRM had been pushed backwards into the barriers and would not run properly due to bent exhaust pipes choking the engine. A pit stop was required to deal with the mangled exhaust pipes. Any chance of holding third place, and so beating Clark to the Championship seemed to fade completely.

Bandini, in the faster 12-cylinder car, soon re-passed Surtees. The order was Clark, Gurney, Bandini and Surtees. Thing got even worse for Hill as he dropped back to 11th due to throttle problems, probably due to the earlier accident.

 A Championship lost.

  Hill Surtees Clark
Total after USA 39 34 30
Provisional final score 0 = (41–2) = 39 3 = 37 9 = 39(more wins than Hill)

The race appeared to be closing to a rather dull conclusion. A few laps from the end Clark had a shock. He had seen an oil-streak at the hairpin and (having driven wide) saw second oil streak on his wide line - the oil was his own! An oil pipe had split and the question was “will the oil run out before the final laps do?” At the start of the last lap Clark chugged slowly past the pits as Gurney took the lead. It looked like a last lap, last gasp Championship win for Hill. Clark was not going to get the win he needed for the World Championship. If Clark could limp in before Surtees, Hill would gain his second Championship for BRM. (Surtees could rely on his team-mate Bandini letting him past, as had been planned previously, but if Clark could get home before Surtees third place would not be enough.)

A Championship in the bag (yet again!).

  Hill Surtees Clark
Total after USA 39 34 30
Provisional final score 0 = (41 –2) = 39 4 = 38 6 = 36

 Within seconds things were turned upside down yet again as Clark’s car came to a halt with a seized engine. Surtees took second as Bandini gave way to his team leader at the last monment. Gurney added to his growing list of wins but was overshadowed by Surtees coming second to claim his World Championship.

A Championship lost (this time for good).

  Hill Surtees Clark
final score 0 = (41 –2) = 39 6 = 40 2 = 32

 The Results


1st......Dan Gurney.........(Brabham-Climax V8)......2 hr. 9 min. 50.32 sec.
2nd ....John Surtees........(Ferrari V8).....................2 hr. 10 min. 59.26 sec.
3rd....Lorenzo Bandini....(Ferrari flat-12)................2 hr. 10 min. 59.95 sec.
4th....Mike Spence.........(Lotus 25B-Climax V8)....2 hr. 11 min. 12.18 sec.
5th.....Jim Clark..............(Lotus 33-Climax V8)......1 lap behind
6th.....Pedro Rodriguez...(Ferrari V6).....................1 lap behind

8th...Richie Ginther.........(BRM V8).......................1 lap behind

11th...Graham Hill..........(BRM V8).......................2 laps behind
12th...Innes Ireland........(BRP-BRM V8)...............4 laps behind
13th...Hap Sharp...........(Brabham-BRM V8)........5 laps behind

19 starters – 14 finishers


A Championship would have been in the bag (but rules are rules).

The standings counting all points (10/6/4/3/2/1) as used in 2001would give :-

Hill Surtees Clark
10+3+2+6+6+6+10=43 6+4+10+10+6+6= 42 3+10+10+10+2 = 35

If all of the points scored during the year were to be counted, Hill would still have been Champions for BRM again.

Motor racing “if only” tales abound but the record books give the cold hard facts of history.

The inquest

Ferrari number 2 driver rams main team opponent out of contention. Ferrari number 2 driver lets team leader through to collect enough points to beat the opponent to the championship.

If that scenario had occured over the last few years most people would have had no doubt that it would have been a cunning and evil plan. Things were different in 1964 and I have found no indication in that the events of the race were considered "foul play". BRM and Hill just shrugged their shoulders and said try again next year. Sadly for the team there would not be another World Championship year.

Director of the BRM team Louis T Stanley from “Behind the Scenes” :-
“After the race accusations were slung around. Some said that Bandini had deliberately crashed the BRM as part of Ferrari tactics. I was reluctant to agree. By temperament Bandini was fiery and impulsive, a fearless driver but never guilty of doubtful tactics. To win a driver has to be on the razor-edge that separates success from disaster. Before we left the circuit Dragoni, Ferrari team manager, Forghueri chief engineer, and Bandini came to the pit and apologised. Bandini was in tears. Everyone shook hands. As far as BRM was concerned, the incident was closed……”

 BRM Chief Designer Tony Rudd from “Tony Rudd:It Was Fun!” :-
“By quarter distance Clark was leading comfortably, Graham was third, Bandini fourth and Surtees sixth, which was fine for the Championship, but on lap 31 Bandini ran into the back of Graham’s car going into the long curve at the back of the pits and pushed him off. Brabham, in fifth place, who saw it all, said overtaking at this part of the circuit was totally out of the question. Jack’s comments were confirmed by the experienced Bernard Cahier and also the TV films. Graham limped into the pits, with the rather vulnerable exhaust tail pipes bent down around the gearbox. Willy levered them up with a jack handle. The other damage seemed to be cosmetic, so we sent him out again in 13th place. It looked as if the Championship had gone to Clark who was pulling away from Gurney and Bandini, with Surtees now fourth. Graham worked up to 10th but the incident had damaged the throttle-cross shaft, which eventually broke and that put him out of the race and the Championship. It looked as if Clark and Lotus were 1964 World Champions. Graham and I agreed that it was no good lodging a protest, it would not change anything and it was not the way we liked to go racing……………
Mauro Forghieri, Ferrari’s Chief Engineer came to commiserate and apologize. We were absolutely besieged by the Press. I said I did not think Bandini did it on purpose, he was just a bit stupid. All I wanted to do was to forget about it and prepare for 1965. Nearly all the journalists pointed to his tactics against Richie (Ginther, Hill’s BRM team-mate) at Monza, which could have caused a major crash. On my way up to my room in the hotel, who should I share the elevator with but Bandini, who was very apologetic and said we had been good to him when he drove the Centro Sud BRM; the last thing he wanted to do was to deprive us of the Championship. There were numerous phone calls to and from England; including Sir Alfred, and Mr and Mrs Stanley, who were unable to come to Mexico. They all agreed it was best to forget it, even though according to the regulations we had until 9 p.m. to lodge a protest but, as I said, what difference will it make? At the Prize Giving the mechanics plied me with whisky as its effect of making me quarrelsome was well-known!”

Graham Hill from his book “Graham”
“……….. But I lost the whole World Championship in 1964, one of the years when I was runner-up, through another driver making a mistake and running into me during the final Championship race in Mexico. You could say it was bad luck — but I suppose you could say I shouldn’t have been there at that particular spot at that precise moment. However, I was there and he was trying to overtake me in a hairpin. He’d had a couple of goes at it, but the last time he just overcooked it — went out of control and thumped me. It bent my exhaust pipes up and I had to come into the pits. I lost so much time that I finished well down in the race - which was won by Surtees with a one point lead.
That was that. It had happened and nothing I could do or say would alter it. That’s the way I tend to see things when they have gone wrong. There’s no point in worrying about it, or all the other things that happened time and time again to rob me of winning races. I don’t look back and, this way, I have few regrets. Hopefully, I learn from these setbacks but I apply them forwards. Basically, if you look forward things tend to get better. Because we all live in hope and if there’s no hope there’s no life and no point in living.”

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David Hodgkinson 2001-2015. All rights reserved.