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In one of the most exciting finishes I have ever seen, Dan Gurney won Sunday's Grand Prix of Mexico and John Surtees became the world champion driver for 1964. This was astonishing, because Jimmy Clark, Scotland's defending champion, led for 63 laps of the 65-lap race and seemed to be unassailable. Those of us familiar with the complicated scoring system by which the championship is decided knew that a victory for Clark would also make him champion. Neither Graham Hill of Britain nor his countryman, Surtees—the only other men in the running—was in a position toward the end of the race to gain enough points to catch Jimmy.
But with 10 laps to go, Jimmy's Lotus began to leak oil. "I saw it on the track," he told me later, "and thought 'My gosh, somebody's losing oil.'" Next time around the 3.2-mile Mexico City circuit he realized it was from his own car. Gurney and Jimmy were wheel to wheel as the last lap began, but Jimmy's car was slowing down—and out. Surtees, who had regretted that he could not give Jimmy a real light, came on to finish second and win six points, thus defeating Hill for the title by a single point, 40-39. Hill needed only to place third to be champion, but he finished far behind.
This nip-tuck finish was characteristic of the whole season, and what it has proved to me is that we are in a golden age of drivers. The decade before the Hitler war was an age of heroic cars—cars like the Mercedes and Auto Union that were tremendously powerful and immensely difficult to drive. Now the cars are not as exciting, but never has the level of driving skill been so high or the sport so competitive—certainly in the 17 years that I have been close to Grand Prix racing.
John Surtees is deservedly the champion for 1964—and a man improving so rapidly that he will be extremely difficult to beat in years to come—yet I would not say that he is clearly superior to the-others in the top four. To me Surtees, Hill, Clark and the Mexican race winner, America's Gurney, are approximately equal. Dan, of course, had the bad luck to have an unreliable car during much of the season and, despite his brilliant performance last Sunday, was not in the championship fight.
The three still in the running right up to the Grand Prix of Mexico are totally different types. They got to the top by totally different routes. John Surtees did not win merely because Jimmy Clark had bad luck. He won because he is the most dedicated man in racing. He has simply willed himself to be excellent. He is the kind of man who sees a thing done by others and makes up his mind that he can do it, too; he is that keen.
Graham Hill, the champion for 1962, has less natural driving ability than either of the others. He had his chance because of his intelligence, determination and a profound understanding of how do adapt his BRM to each different circuit. He is the most professional of all the drivers.
Clark is the perfect example of the born driver. His instinctive natural ability made him champion last year and a very dangerous contender again this season. But this year the fragility of his engines too often let him down.
Three years ago, when I was driving against him, Surtees was as hairy a driver as you would ever pray not to encounter. He had been a world-champion motorcycle racer and was making the transition from two wheels to four. I imagine that motorcycling must be as competitive in its own way as motor racing. But the techniques arc evidently quite different. Knowing nothing, really, about motorcycle racing, I am perfectly free to say that it requires stupidity to get on a bike. I frighten myself on a motor scooter.
In those days John was in a position in Grand Prix racing where he was one of the fastest drivers but not one of the men to beat. He would qualify in the front row for a race, but he was unlikely to finish it. I would not say he was wild, because that implies stupidity. He was not stupid. He was very intelligent. But, oh, he was hairy. He would drive so close to the limit that he would often not quite get around the corner. He was trying with four wheels what he could do with two. He was becoming acquainted with four wheels in a rather tatty way, if you like. It wasn't a clean sort of thing. But he did it very fast. Man, I mean he did it very fast.
It was a chilling business for one who came up behind him on a circuit. John had a tremendous number of accidents, the most incredible accidents. Following him through a corner you could at times practically read the name on the front of his car. Suddenly you would see one side of the car, and then the other, and then the front, and then the back, but his brilliance saved him. He had such ability that he could almost always catch the car. I have seen him have minor accidents that looked as though they were going to be tremendous. They started off in the biggest possible way, but John, because of his quickness of mind, managed to lessen them.