French GP 1968

French GP, 1968

After races at Clermont-Ferrand, Reims and Le Mans in 1965, 1966 and 1967, the French GP returned to Rouen. The entry was little changed from the field which had raced in the wet at Zandvoort two weeks earlier with the one exception being the new air-cooled Honda RA302 chassis. This had been tested by John Surtees who declined to race it, as it needed to be developed. Soichiro Honda was visiting France to try to boost European sales and so it was decided that the car should be entered by Honda France for the popular 40-year-old racer Jo Schlesser, who had competed in two previous GPs in F2 Matras. Cooper fielded Vic Elford and Matra's Johnny Servoz-Gavin to replace the late Lodovico Scarfiotti and the injured Brian Redman while Dan Gurney was missing because of a lack of engines for his Eagle.

Qualifying saw Jack Oliver walk away from a 125mph accident which heavily damaged his Lotus. The car could not be repaired in time and so Oliver was forced to miss the rest of the meeting. Jochen Rindt set the fastest time in qualifying in his Brabham with Jackie Stewart's Matra-Ford and Jack Ickx's Ferrari sharing the front row of the grid. Denny Hulme (McLaren) and Chris Amon (Ferrari) shared the second row while Bruce McLaren (McLaren), Surtees (Honda) and Jean-Pierre Beltoise (Matra-Matra) made up row three. Championship leader Graham Hill was ninth.

Light rain was falling when the race began but most of the drivers decided to start on intermediate tires. The exception was Ickx who chose full wets. As a result the Belgian was in the lead at the end of the first lap. Stewart and Rindt were battling over second place with Surtees fourth. In the downhill sweepers after the start on the third lap Schlesser lost control of the new Honda and crashed. The car overturned and caught fire. The full fuel tank and magnesium chassis burned so intensely that nothing could be done to save Schlesser. He became the fourth F1 driver to die that season (after Jim Clark, Mike Spence and Lodovico Scarfiotti).

The race went on. Rindt suffered a puncture from wreckage at the scene of the crash and had to pit, dropping to the back of the field. Surtees has moved ahead of Stewart and so ran second until he was overtaken by Rodriguez on lap seven. Further back Hill overtook Stewart for fourth place but then retired with a driveshaft failure. Ickx went off on lap 19 and dropped behind Rodriguez and Surtees but he caught and repassed both men within two laps and stayed ahead for the rest of the afternoon to score his first victory, in only his ninth Grand Prix. Rodriguez had to pit with gearbox problems and he dropped away, leaving Surtees second (although the Honda driver also stopped to replace broken goggles). Third place went to Stewart with Cooper-BRM driver Vic Elford fourth on his Grand Prix debut.

26 Jacky Ickx Ferrari 312 60 2h25m40.900s  
16 John Surtees Honda RA301 60 2h27m39.500s  
28 Jackie Stewart Matra-Cosworth MS10 59  
30 Vic Elford Cooper-BRM T86B 58  17 
Denny Hulme McLaren-Cosworth M7A 58  
36 Piers Courage BRM P126 57  14 
22 Richard Attwood BRM P126 57  12 
10 Bruce McLaren McLaren-Cosworth M7A 56  
Jean-Pierre Beltoise Matra MS11 56  
10 24 Chris Amon Ferrari 312 55  
11 34 Jo Siffert Lotus-Cosworth 49 54  11 
nc 20 Pedro Rodriguez BRM P133 53  10 
Jochen Rindt Brabham-Repco BT26 45 Fuel Tank 
Jack Brabham Brabham-Repco BT26 15 Fuel Pump 13 
32 Johnny Servoz-Gavin Cooper-BRM T86B 14 Accident 15 
12 Graham Hill Lotus-Cosworth 49B 14 Drive Shaft 
18 Jo Schlesser Honda RA302 Fatal Accident 16 
ns 14 Jackie Oliver Lotus-Cosworth 49B  Accident 18