I suspect the 1968 Italian Grand Prix may have been a mundane affair to watch, unless you were Italian. Of the 20 F1 cars that took the grid, only six made it to the finish (Only 12 made it past the halfway mark). Let’s put it another way. Imagine if you went to Manfeild Park to watch the New Zealand Grand Prix earlier this year and only 30% of the field finished the race and only half of them on the lead lap.
It is reported that 90,000 people were there on 8 September 1968. What seemed to keep the Italians enthralled was the possibility of a Ferrari coming second in the hands of Belgian driver Jacky Ickx. And he almost did.
It was Kiwi Denny Hulme who won the race ahead of #5 Johnny Servoz-Gavin (Matra-Ford) and Ickx (Ferrari). They were the only three cars that completed the full 68-lap race.
Fourth home and a lap down was Piers Courage (BRM) followed by Jean-Pierre Beltoise (Matra) another lap down and Jo Bonnier (McLaren-BRM) four laps behind the winner.
It was the ninth of twelve Grand Prix that made up the World championship. A total of 24 cars had entered making this the biggest race of the season. Only 20 would be able to take to the grid.
Included in the field were American drivers Mario Andretti (Lotus) and Bobby Unser (BRM). While they were quick in practice they didn’t make it onto the grid as they chose to head back to the States to compete in the Hoosier Hundred at the Indiana State Fairgrounds (a 160km dirt track race). Their intention had been to fly back to Milan and compete in the Italian Grand Prix. However, officials announced that they would not be allowed to compete as under an ACI ruling it forbade any driver competing in another event within 24 hours of the start of the Grand Prix. No lenience was given.
Hulme was the current World champion at the time having won the title in 1967 driving a Brabham-Repco BT. Starting from seventh position the Italian Grand Prix was to be dominated by Hulme while much of the rest of the grid fell by the wayside as the race progressed.
By lap 50 Hulme had a lead of 5.8 seconds back to Jo Siffert (Lotus-Ford) with Ickx 39.4 seconds behind and rapidly closing.
Siffert’s race became undone when on lap 59 he retired with suspension damage. With a Ferrari now in second, there was always the possibility of a win with so many retirements.
Two laps later it was the turn of Ickx to make a splash and dash into the pits for fuel, allowing French driver Sevoz-Gavin up into second. With a lap up his sleeve, Hulme was able to cruise to the finish allowing both Sevoz-Gavin and Ickx past and to continue the fight for second.
Ickx’s Ferrari should have come home second but the Matra of Sevoz-Gavin pulled out of his slipstream on the final straight to finish ahead by a fraction of a second. While this enthralling finish took place, Hulme’s earlier taking of the checkered flag seem to go unnoticed. He had fought his battles earlier in the race allowing him to dominate the second half.
Hulme would go on to win the next race as well, the Canadian Grand Prix. It was the third victory of the season for McLaren with Bruce McLaren having won at Spa in Belgium earlier in the season.
Graham Hill won the 1968 F1 title driving for Team Lotus who took the constructors title ahead of McLaren and Matra. Stewart finished second with Hulme third.