Forty years ago today, the world of motorsport was shattered when the great Jim Clark was killed at Hockenheim.
At the time, and even today, the fact that he was running for Team Lotus in a Formula Two race tends to get derided, but Clark was doing what he always did: racing, and being loyal to his friend, team boss Colin Chapman.
Not until Gilles Villeneuve died at Zolder in May 1982, and Ayrton Senna was killed, together with Roland Ratzenberger, at Imola in May 1994, did tragedy of such magnitude strike the sport again.
With a record 25 victories in 72 starts, two world championship titles (and two more lost to mechanical failures in the final races) records for pole positions and lap records, and victory in the Indianapolis 500, Clark was head and shoulders above his peers in the era that followed Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss.
His close friend and compatriot, Jackie Stewart, inherited his mantle. “Jimmy’s death was to motor racing what the atomic bomb had been to the world,” he said. And he paid him the highest accolade any driver can pay a rival. “Jim Clark,” he said, “was everything that I aspired to be, as a racing driver and as a man.”
Great words, from a great man. The sort that leave you bathed in the warmth of genuine humanity.
Lewis Hamilton is very much as a modern-day Jackie Stewart in his manner and self-conduct. He had his worst race in F1 at the weekend and, yes, he hightailed out of Bahrain as fast as he could. But it’s not difficult to imagine his thoughts as he all but stalled at the start, compounded that error with another a lap later, and then stayed mired in the midfield for the next hour and a half. Yet he left television interviews for the media to pick over in which, far from trying to blame his old rival Fernando Alonso for a brake test, he simply took it all on the chin, raised his hands in mea culpa, and vowed to do better next time. And we know that he will.
Clark, Stewart, and now Hamilton. What great examples all three continue to set across the spectrum of a wonderful sport.
And what stark contrast to the behaviour of beleaguered Max Mosley, the president of the sport’s governing body, the FIA, who was competing for the first time in Formula Two all those years ago in the race in which Clark was killed.
Clark did not have to do the decent thing – he was the decent thing. His standards of behaviour were the highest, the legacy he left his sport utterly untarnished. But what will we say of Mosley, whose every extra day in an increasingly untenable position merely serves to undo the undoubted good he has done for the safety cause during his presidency?
The calls for him to stand down on moral grounds far outweigh the meagre public support he has received since the allegations in a Sunday newspapers, last weekend and the weekend before. No matter what he might claim to the contrary. He might not be able to tear himself away from a base of power which he has never hesitated to use ruthlessly, but in the name of all that is credible and decent about the sport the time has come for him to bow to majority opinion and step down. Even if he were to brazen his way through the current scandal, which seems increasingly less feasible, a president who is fast becoming a pariah surely cannot command the respect that the role demands.