The 9th International RAC Grand Prix of South Africa was the finale of the 1962 Formula One season, and was held unusually late in the year. The previous race at Watkins Glen was held on October 7th, but the South African Grand Prix was not held until December 29th, over two and a half months later.
It was the first Formula One World Championship race to be held in South Africa, and attracted 90,000 spectators to the Prince George circuit in East London.
Both the Drivers' and Constructors' Championships were undecided as the teams headed into the final race. Graham Hill had an advantage of nine points in the Drivers' Championship, meaning that Jim Clark simply had to win the race, nothing else would be good enough to win the title.
But because of the way the points system worked at this time, Graham Hill also knew that nothing short of a victory would add any points to his total. In those days, only the best five results of the season were counted, and since Hill already had four wins and a second place, another second place or lower would add nothing to his tally. It might sound odd nowadays, but those were the rules.
To put it simply, with nine points for a win, a victory for Clark would have put him equal on points with Hill, and he would take the championship through having four victories to Hill's three. Clark had to win, and Hill had to make sure that his rival didn't.
Practise & Qualifying
The first practise was on Boxing Day. The weather was fine, and Hill set the fastest lap, whilst Clark's Lotus struggled. The second practise was interrupted by filming, and rain, but when the third and final session arrived, conditions were perfect.
Fittingly, Clark in his Lotus 25, and Hill in his BRM P57 would both start on the front row, with Clark pipping Hill by just 0.3 seconds. The two protagonists in the race for the championship would start the race side by side.
Prince George Circuit
Prince George Circuit, also referred to as East London, was originally a huge 15 mile long street track, which was shortened in 1934, again in 1936, and finally in 1959 to the configuration which was raced in 1962.
Racing at the East London circuit began in 1934 when Brud Bishop, a newspaper editor, instigated the first South African Grand Prix. The race was held on December 27th of that year, on a 15 mile road circuit to the west of the city, and proved to be a huge success, attracting 65,000 spectators.
The event continued from 1936-39 and began to attract top European drivers, including Bernd Rosemeyer, Dick Seaman, and the 1939 winner Luigi Villoresi. These races took part on a shortened 11 mile track, which was thereupon named Prince George Circuit.
The first post war South African Grand Prix took place in January 1960, on the modernised, and much shortened 2.4 mile track utilising a only small part of the original Prince George Circuit. In 1962, the South African GP was given World Championship status, and East London played host to the title decider. The circuit went on to host further Grands Prix in 1963, 65 and 66 after which the race switched to the newly constructed Kyalami circuit near Johannesburg, never to return to the Prince George Circuit again.
Prince George Ninco Track Plan
Footprint :- 3.72 x 1.63m
Lanes :- 2
Lane Length :- 9.12m
Track :- Ninco
From the moment the starter's flag dropped Clark had the advantage. He got away perfectly, whilst Hill spun his wheels and left the start line in a plume of smoke.
By the end of the first lap Clark had a lead of nearly a second. Behind the leading two came Maggs, Surtees and McLaren jockeying for position, Ginther came next on his own, then Ireland and Brabham were very close together.
There were plenty of scuffles further down the field, with McLaren, Surtees, and Maggs swapping places, and Brabham passing Ireland, while Ginther dropped back with a rough sounding BRM.
But of course, all eyes were on Clark and Hill.
By lap 10, Jim Clark had established a clear lead of 10 seconds over Hill, and he was still pulling away steadily. Hill was also pulling away from Maggs in third place, but this was not enough for Hill to win the championship.
By lap 41, the halfway stage, Clark had taken a commanding lead of 27 seconds over Hill, who had a similar lead over McLaren who had taken third place from Maggs. Surtees in the Lola had dropped out with engine problems, and Ginther in the BRM was gaining after a pit stop.
The order remained fairly settled for the next ten laps or so, but huge drama was about to engulf the leaders...
At this point it looked as though Clark would complete the remaining laps to win this last Grand Prix of the year but on the 61st lap Clark went by with blue smoke pouring from the rear of his Lotus. For two laps Clark maintained his speed but on his 64th lap he pulled into the pits as the oil pressure had been surging in the corners on this lap.
The Lotus team scrabbled around frantically trying to find the problem, which eventually turned out to be a 2 inch bolt which had fallen out, allowing oil to spray out onto the exhaust. By the time they'd found the problem it was too late.
Of course the Lotus 25 was a very quick car, but this was Clark's fourth, and no doubt most painful retirement of the season. Reliability problems had dogged the car all season.
Meanwhile, Hill in his BRM P57 had finished every race, and all but one of them in the points.
Graham Hill would now become the World Champion, no matter where he finished. Nevertheless he went on to win the race comfortably by nearly fifty seconds from Cooper team mates Bruce McLaren and Tony Maggs.
Hill won the Drivers' Championship by 42 points to Clark's 30. That 42 points incidentally was only three short of the maximum available. With only the best five results counting, Hill had won four Grands Prix and finished second twice.
BRM also claimed the World Constructor's Championship, beating Lotus by six points.
BRM would go on to have a successful few years, finishing second in the championship in 1963, 64 and 65, but this was undoubtedly their finest hour.
As the year drew to a close, with only a couple of days left of 1962, BRM had finally achieved it's aim. British Racing Motors had set out in 1947 with the aim of being world beaters, and now, fifteen years later it had succeeded.
Whatever else you might say about BRM, you can't take away the title of "World Champions".
So we leave this part of our journey with BRM at a high point, but that's not to say we leave the rest of BRM's history untold. It's just that with Dennis Perkins' original photos running out, we'll tell the rest of the story through the remaining BRM cars, rather than the individual races.
9th International RAC Grand Prix of South Africa Results