Jo Siffert (1936 - 1971) - Motor Racing's Most Fearless
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Jo Siffert

Jo Siffert with Von Hanstein at Le Mans
Jo Siffert with Von Hanstein at Le Mans.
While few would dispute that Jo Siffert was one of the fastest Formula One drivers of his time, it was in the exacting and exhausting field of endurance sports-car racing that he excelled. Siffert was born in Fribourg, Switzerland, on 7 July 1936. He started racing motor cycles in 1957 and by 1959 was the Swiss 350cc champion.

Shortly afterwards he switched to four wheels using a Formula Junior Stanguellini. In 1961, he exchanged this machine for a Lotus 22 and soon began to make his mark on the European circuits. At the end of the year he was declared joint European Formula Junior champion with Trevor Taylor and Tony Maggs.

The Swiss Ecurie Filipinetti Team

For 1962, Siffert bought a Formula One Lotus 24 and his World Championship F1 debut was made at the Belgium GP but with little success. The following season he joined the Swiss Ecurie Filipinetti team, driving their F1 Lotus-BRM. Apart from a win in the non-championship Syracuse GP and a second in the Imola GP, he again had a frustrating season.


Having broken with the Filipinetti team during the 1963 season, he bought a Brabham-BRM for the following year. Although not ultra-competitive, the car enabled him to take a fourth place in the German GP. By this time his talent had been spotted by entrant Rob Walker who drafted the slim, mustacheod Swiss into his team alongside Swede Jo Bonnier. He immediately repayed Walker's confidence in him with a third in the United States GP behind Graham Hill and John Surtees.

For the following year, 1965, Rob Walker retained both Siffert and Bonnier. Siffert began the season well by winning the Mediterranean GP at Enna, beating Jim Clark in the process. He also finished fourth in the Mexican GP but the rest of his season was punctured by mechanical failures and retirements. 1966 saw the pattern repeated. Driving Rob Walker's heavy and uncompetitive Cooper-Maserati he could manage no better than fourth in the United States GP; 1966, however, was the year that Siffert began his sports-car racing career. It was the start of a very successful period that would establish Siffert as one of the greats.

Driving Ferraris and Porsches in 1967 he finished fourth at Sebring and Daytona, fifth at Monza, second at Spa, sixth at the Targa Florio and fifth at Le Mans while in World Championship Formula One events he finished fourth in both the French and US Grands Prix. It was obvious by now that sports-car racing was Siffert's forte yet his 1968 season is best remembered for a spectacular win in the British Grand Prix driving the privately-entered Rob Walker Lotus 49 Cosworth. Apart from being perhaps the highlight of Siffert's career, it was also one of Rob Walker's proudest moments.

The Works Porsche Team

Siffert followed this success with a fifth in the US Grand Prix and a sixth in the Mexican Grand Prix. In the field of sports-car racing he was now a member of the works Porsche team and provided them with some remarkable successes. He won the Daytona 24-hour event, the Sebring 12-hour race and the Nurburgring 1000 kms and, single-handed, the Austrian 1000 race. In addition to these successes, he had also set fastest lap times in the British, Canadian and Mexican GPs. In F1 in 1969 he took fourth in South Africa, third at Monaco, second in Holland and fifth in Germany.

In sports cars, Siffert proved unbeatable. Sharing a works Porsche with British sports-car ace Brian Redman, Siffert won the BOAC 1000 kms, the Monza, Spa, and Nurburgring events and the Watkins Glen 6-hour race. Co-driving a Porsche 917 with Kurt Ahrens, he also won the Austrian 1000 kms. Apart from being his most successful season, 1969 was also his most varied. Driving a Formula-Two BMW he finished second at the Eifelrennen and fourth overall in the Can-Am sports car series. For 1970, Siffert signed to drive for the much-publicised new March Formula One team. Alas, Siffert's year proved to be a disaster with retirement after retirement.

In sports cars, however, he continued to excel. Sharing with Brian Redman, he drove a Porsche 908/3 to victory in the demanding Targa Florio. He followed this with a win in the Spa 1000 kms, seconds in the Daytona 24-hour and Watkins Glen 6-hour events and victory in the Austrian 1000 kms race. Unhappy with his year at March, Siffert signed for the BRM F1 team in 1971. He finished sixth in Holland, fourth in France and then led the Austrian GP from start to finish to take his second World Championship Grand Prix victory. Later in the year he finished second in the US GP thus gaining enough points to finish joint fourth with Jacky Ickx in the World Championship table.

In sports-car events he was also successful, gaining a win in the Buenos Aires rooo k.ns, seconds at Monza, Spa, Nurburgring and Watkins Glen and a third in the BOAC. At the end of 1971, the Mexican GP was cancelled. To replace it, a non-championship FI race was organised at Brands Hatch to celebrate Jackie Stewart's World Championship title victory. The event was held on 24 October 1971 and it proved to be Jo Siffert's last race. At over 130 mph, the BRM left the track, cannoned into an embankment, overturned and exploded into flames, killing its driver. The race was halted and slowly the stunned spectators made their way home, mourning the loss of one of motor racing's most fearless and popular drivers.

Jo Siffert driving the Formula One Yardley-sponsored BRM in 1971
Jo Siffert driving the Formula One Yardley-sponsored BRM in 1971.
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