We’re so used to Formula 1 seasons kicking off in March that the very notion of a championship season starting much earlier in the year would seem completely foreign to many F1 fans. But there were twice – back in 1965 and 1968 – a World Championship Grand Prix on New Year’s Day…
The races in question were the South African Grand Prix, which acted as the curtain-raiser for the new championship season, with 1965’s race (which this article focuses on) a mere five weeks after John Surtees famously clinched his Drivers’ Championship at Mexico in a dramatic finale.
This race would be the last held at the high-speed East London circuit, and a field of 32 drivers – of whom half would be either local drivers or from the formerly-known colony of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) – would take to the track in 1964 machinery, it being too short a period of time to create new cars.
One driver making his Grand Prix debut would be a young Scot called Jackie Stewart, who would make his first championship start in a BRM, partnered alongside Graham Hill. A young Austrian called Jochen Rindt would also make his first start for the Cooper team, having made a one-off appearance at the previous year’s Austrian Grand Prix.
Qualifying saw Jim Clark (Lotus) claim pole position by over a second, sharing the three-car front row with Surtees (Ferrari) and Jack Brabham (Brabham).
Clark led the race from the off, shadowed closely by team-mate Mike Spence, who would spin on the 43rd lap and fall into the clutches of third-placed Surtees.
Spence would spin again before the end of the race, allowing Surtees and Hill through to complete the podium.
Clark was shown the chequered flag one lap earlier than scheduled, but he correctly ignored it and still went on to claim his fourteenth win from Surtees and Hill.
Spence finished fourth, ahead of Bruce McLaren and F1 debutante Stewart.
The sport’s last New Year’s Day race, in 1968, would also be won by Clark. It would be the Scot’s last World Championship success, for he would be killed at Hockenheim in April before the European leg of the championship season got underway.
1965 South African Formula 1 Grand Prix – Final Classification (85 laps):
[Image via NS Auto Forum]