The engine that rewrote F1 history

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Fifty years ago on Sunday, the Lotus 49 appeared in public for the first time. Had you been present at the Dutch Grand Prix that weekend, it would not have seemed credible that this was the debut of a car, and particularly an engine, capable of rewriting F1 history. Low key does not make a start.

When Mercedes and Ferrari arrived in Spain to begin the European sector of the current season, every additional aerodynamic nuance, no matter how tiny, was recorded, examined and discussed in mind-numbing detail. No surprise, perhaps, because these two teams are championship contenders.

Back in 1967, Lotus was hardly unknown thanks to having won 25 grands prix and two world championships. You would think, with the introduction of a totally new car from the pen of the mercurial Colin Chapman, plus a brand new engine, their arrival in Zandvoort might have caused a stir. By today's standards, it would be the equivalent of Red Bull turning up in Baku with a Mercedes engine in the back of a revolutionary Newey chassis.

In 1967, the pace of life in F1 was, shall we say, more relaxed. There was no fanfare; not a single press release. Having backed Cosworth to the tune of £100,000 (not a vast sum, even then) to design and build the DFV, Ford did not want negative publicity should the engine with their name on the cam cover fail at its first attempt.

This was a journey into the unknown in every sense. The car, in the hands of Graham Hill, had completed a few laps up and down the runway at the Lotus test track in Norfolk. Then it was loaded, along with another new chassis that had not even turned a wheel, onto the truck and taken on the short sea crossing to Holland, ready for Hill and Jim Clark to compete in the third round of the 1967 championship.

Even more absurd, the first time Clark saw the car was when he arrived in Zandvoort, his new status as a self-imposed tax exile having kept him away from the factory. Seat fitting? Don't be daft. Having been with the team for seven seasons, Lotus were familiar with a slim stature that, in any case, was smaller than Hill's. Graham was comfortable in the car. So the feeling was, with a few adjustments to the pedals and the addition of a bit of foam here and there in the cockpit, Jimmy would be right as rain.

In the aforementioned imaginary scenario of an all-new Red Bull, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen would scarcely be able to drive out of the garage thanks to a wall of cameramen and photographers tripping over themselves in desperation to get the first image.

In 1967 -- and this takes some believing -- Clark's car was wheeled from beneath the awning alongside the Lotus transporter and pushed to the back of the paddock. There, Clark climbed on board and began to adjust his mirrors. There were two Lotus mechanics, a Firestone technician and a slave battery on hand to start the car. Nothing else.

A schoolboy and four blokes looked on from the other side of a barrier just behind the Lotus. One of them had a camera around his neck. But he wasn't using it. The double world champion pulled up his facemask, lowered his goggles and eased onto the track. Enter, almost unnoticed, one of F1's greatest combinations of man and machine.

Mind you, it didn't feel that way to Clark. His initial impression was that there were two engines in the back of the green car with the signature yellow stripe. There was very little power below 6,500 rpm, at which point it arrived so abruptly that the rear would kick out and spin the wheels. So much for Clark's preference for an even response all the way through the rev range. "When the power comes in at 6,500 rpm, it does so with such a bang that the car is almost uncontrollable," said Clark. "You either have power or you haven't."

Clark was actually more concerned about something "not feeling right" with the handling. A check by the mechanics found nothing amiss. When Clark experienced the same feeling on the second day of practice, he refused to continue.

Given that the mild-mannered Scot was not bolshie by any means, this said much about his unspoken concern over the occasional fragility of Chapman's designs. Tearing the car apart, the mechanics discovered that Clark's sensitivity had been acute enough to feel the effect of a ball-race beginning to break up inside the right-rear hub.

Hill, meanwhile, had been untroubled as he put his Lotus 49 on pole. The fact that he had been 6.2 seconds inside the lap record was a sign of what was to come.

At the end of the first lap, Hill led by several car lengths. Clark, having started from the third row, moved into second place when Hill's car coasted to a halt with broken timing gear. Feeling more comfortable with each lap, Clark took the lead not long after and won by 27 seconds.

It would be the first of 176 F1 victories for the Ford-Cosworth V8 in its various forms during the next 18 seasons. Clark was destined to be around for just nine more months. Had this quiet genius survived that terrible F2 accident at Hockenheim, the story that began so unobtrusively on 4 June 1967 might have been even greater.