Every season has its stars, every decade has its heroes. But few of the motor racing greats from recent decades have been featured on the cover of the legendary Time magazine. Since first appearing in 1923, Time has served as as an indicator of world fame (or a sign of global contempt). According to our research, only three Grand Prix drivers have had a cover dedicated to them: Lewis Hamilton (December 2016), Michael Schumacher (September 2001), and Jim Clark (July 1965). The byline to Clark's portrait read 'The Quickest Man on Wheels - Champion Driver Jim Clark'. Fifty years ago, on 7 April 1968, the two-time F1 title winner was killed during an otherwise unimportant race at Hockenheim.
The portrait showed Clark sitting in the cockpit, remote from the world, concentrating deeply, but calm as he waited to start a race. Sally Stokes, Clark's girlfriend of several years, once observed that he had two totally separate areas in his life. As soon as he sat in a racing car, he was in charge of things. He didn't need to think about the decisions he made. He drove using his instincts, feeling the car with every part of his body. But as soon as he got out of the car, he returned to the real world. He pulled back, became indecisive, inconspicuous, almost invisible.
Clark's win rate in Formula serves as proof of his talent and success as a driver. He took part in 72 Grands Prix and won 25 of them - every third race. He started 33 races from pole and set the fastest lap 28 times. He also won the Indy 500 in 1965 - we'll have more on that later.
In August 1965, German news magazine Der Spiegel praised Clark's extraordinary driving ability: 'He masters high-speed tracks like Indianapolis, where you spend 200 laps only turning left, just as easily as winding circuits like the Nürburgring (174 corners) with its hairpins, steep rises, and constant requirement for changing speed. Clark also copes with different road and weather conditions better than his rivals.' The same article also featured a quote from another British great, Stirling Moss: 'He has more natural ability than anyone else.'
Moss wasn't alone in that opinion. Clark's fellow Scotsman Jackie Stewart once said: 'I've studied Jim's driving style. He drove with absolute precision, in a way that was almost gentle and never deviated from the ideal line. His style was unspectacular, but it was bloody fast.' New Zealander Chris Amon said: 'Clark was on another level.' Frenchman Jean-Pierre Beltoise: 'Jimmy was a demigod.' Perhaps the highest praise came from five-time world champion Juan Manuel Fangio, who in April 1968 offered an obituary to Clark that included the line 'he was better than me'…
More in the current issues!
by Jörg-Thomas Födisch und Graham Gauld
Photographs: Sutton, Sammlung Graham Gauld/Jörg-Thomas Födisch, Gunther Asshauer - Kollektion Etienne Bourguignon, The Cahier Archive, Bernhard Völker, LAT, Ford, Ferdi Kräling