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Fifty years on: Jackie Stewart's legendary Nürburgring triumph

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At the time, it seemed barely credible. Fifty years on, the story of Sir Jackie Stewart's win on the Nürburgring Nordschleife defies belief.

On the first weekend of August 1968, the Tyrrell-Matra driver added a unique chapter to the already powerful history of this exceptional race track when he won the German Grand Prix by four minutes. And he did it in pouring rain, in mist and fog. The 29-year-old Scotsman averaged 85 mph in conditions that would be considered insane today.

The 14-mile Nordschleife was not one to be treated lightly, not even when the sun shone and made the majestic surroundings in the Eifel Mountains look inviting. When the F1 teams arrived on the day before practice began in 1968, the Nürburgring was at its most forbidding. It was raining -- and would continue, almost without let-up, for the next three days.

With visibility down to 200 yards on the first day, Stewart had decided against venturing onto the full circuit, using a loop around the pits to bed in his brakes and tyres in the hope that the conditions would improve on Saturday.

The second day was worse. Stewart had no option but to go out. He was fastest in that session, his overall time beaten by five others who had been more adventurous the previous day (times from both sessions counting for the grid).

With official practice having been badly affected by the weather, the organisers laid on an extra session on race morning. Stewart did not want any part of it.

"Ken Tyrrell said I should go out," recalls Stewart. "He argued that I would find out where the rivers of water were, and that it was better to discover that now than during the race. Of course, he was correct. When I went out, I found the conditions to be absolutely terrible. It was raining heavily, the fog was pretty bad in places, and that just made the problems associated with driving at this circuit even worse. Few of us liked the idea of racing under those conditions, but the drivers didn't have a collective voice to say no."

There was another more chilling element feeding the drivers' collective subconscious that day. During each of the previous four months, an F1 driver had been killed, the grim catalogue starting in April with Jim Clark (F2 at Hockenheim), then Mike Spence (Indianapolis), Ludovico Scarfiotti (European Hillclimb) and Jo Schlesser (French Grand Prix). Each of these terrible tragedies had occurred on the 7th, or thereabouts, of each month. This was Sunday, 4th of August. At the Nürburgring. In rain and fog. It seemed to be tempting providence to a dangerous degree.

Starting from the inside of the third row on the 3 x 2 x 3 grid, Stewart knew it was imperative to get out of the spray. Jacky Ickx obliged by spinning the rear wheels of his pole-position Ferrari. By the first corner, Stewart was behind the Lotus of Graham Hill and Chris Amon's Ferrari. But third may as well have been thirty-third.

"I couldn't see anything. I mean, nothing at all. Zero," says Sir Jackie. "You were driving blindly into this wall of water. I knew I simply had to pass Chris and Graham as quickly as possible."

Stewart took the Ferrari about 3 miles into the lap, on the tricky, adverse-camber, downhill run to Adenau Bridge. Then he caught Hill by surprise several miles later at the exit of Schwalbenschwanz, a tricky, banked curve leading onto the long final straight, where Stewart could use a clear track to stretch his advantage.

By the end of the first of 14 laps, the Matra-Ford driver was eight seconds ahead. After two laps, his advantage had stretched to 34 seconds, Stewart driving with an incredible mix of bravery, feel and intuitive genius.

"I don't think I had ever been more frightened sitting in a racing car than during that first lap," he recalls. "With three laps to go, it really started to pour and the track became even more treacherous. You would come over a crest and be confronted by a river that had not been there on the previous lap. At one point, I was sliding sideways across the track, but, somehow, the tyres found some grip.

"I kept thinking they would stop the race -- but they didn't. Each lap was a nightmare, and I wasn't helped by grit having worked its way into the throttle slides. Every now and then, the throttle would stick -- not what you need on any race track, never mind this one."

Stewart was in a different league to the rest. He had parked and was waiting on the podium when the Brabham of Jochen Rindt appeared through the gloom to take the chequered flag for third (behind Hill).

"When it was all over, you just wanted to know if everyone was alright," says Stewart. "There had been accidents, and the amazing thing was,\ no one was badly hurt. But when you think of the conditions we raced under that day, it was madness. Total madness."