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From the archives: Jo Siffert's Independent's Day

Sunday, December 30 2018

The past summer marked the 50th anniversary of one of Formula One's last genuine privateer victories, when Jo Siffert won the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch in the summer of 1968 in a Lotus 49B entered by the Rob Walker Racing Team.

The Rob Walker Racing Team really was a product of its time, and as far flung as you can possibly imagine from the goliath F1 teams of the modern era. Owned and founded by the heir to the Johnnie Walker whisky empire, the team enjoyed a great amount of success in the late '50s and '60s with no fewer than three Monaco Grand Prix victories achieved by its drivers; Frenchman Maurice Trintignant, and a certain Stirling Moss.

Moss achieved a further five world championship victories during his time with Rob Walker, and the team remains the only outfit to have won an F1 race with four-wheel-drive, owing to Moss's victory at the 1961 Oulton Park Gold Cup in a Ferguson P99. All this success, without the team ever manufacturing its own car - such an idea is alien by modern F1 standards.

Such an approach would see diminishing returns as the sport became increasingly innovative in the 1960s, and it endured a long wait for a podium between Siffert's third place at the 1964 USA Grand Prix and the Brands Hatch victory.

Siffert was a real firecracker of a driver, perhaps best known for his bravado behind the wheel of a Gulf-liveried Porsche 917 alongside Pedro Rodriguez, but a fine Grand Prix competitor too. Even with his ability though, the Cooper-Maseratis run by the Rob Walker Racing Team were relatively uncompetitive by the standards of the day, and results were scarce.

For 1968 however, Walker persuaded Lotus boss Colin Chapman to allow Siffert to drive a Lotus 49, the game-changing F1 car of the day. Equipped with state-of-the-art equipment, and a Cosworth DFV 'Seppi' Siffert was a front-runner that year and cashed in at Brands Hatch when the official Team Lotus cars gave up the ghost.

After inheriting following the retirements of Graham Hill and Jackie Oliver's Lotuses, Siffert was impeccable for the remainder of the raise, absorbing constant pressure from the Ferrari of Chris Amon which loomed behind - another runner's up spot for the perennially unlucky Kiwi, who somehow conspired to finish 10th in the championship despite arguably being the quickest driver for much of the year.

By this point, the era of privateer teams running customer cars to success with a good engine and a bit of strong mechanical nous was darwing to a close. Indeed, Siffert's victory is sometimes cited as the last true privateer win, though Jackie Stewart won the Spanish Grand Prix in a customer March for Tyrrell Racing just a couple of years later.

The Rob Walker Racing Team continued for another season with Siffert picking up further top-three finishes at the Monaco and Dutch Grands Prix. Graham Hill, by then past his best, raced for the team in 1970, before Walker shut the operation down and became involved with the Surtees Team and Mike Hailwood.

Siffert's F1 career continued with a point-less campaign with March in 1970, before he returned to the winner's rostrum with BRM in 1971. He was tragically killed at Brands Hatch later that year in the non-championship Victory Race. We prefer to remember him though, for his greatest of days, with Rob Walker in 1968.