The 1968 season had barely begun before it was rocked to its very foundations by the death of its biggest star, Jimmy Clark, in a minor Formula 2 race (ed. The circumstances surrounding Clark's death has already been covered in great depth. If the reader wishes additional information, Eric Dymock's recent book Jim Clark - Tribute to a Champion is an excellent source). Clark had won the season opener over Graham Hill in South Africa. The V8 Ford-Cosworth DFV which had shown so much promise last year would come to dominate Formula 1 for the next 14 years. But the biggest change would come from another source, the tobacco industry. The introduction of tobacco sponsorship would cause ramifications that are still being felt to this day. The insular world of Formula 1 and Grand Prix racing would never be the same. In 1967 two major oil suppliers, BP and Esso, withdrew from Formula 1 and Firestone, the American tire manufacturer would no longer offer free tires. The small British teams were put under tremendous financial pressure and petitioned the CSI to change their long standing policy restricting advertising on race cars. By the Grand Prix of Monaco, Lotus would no longer be painted green but would now display the colors of Gold Leaf tobacco and would hence forth be known as Gold Leaf Team Lotus. In 1972 Philip Morris joined the fray with its Marlboro brand and in the years that followed Gitanes (SEITA), Camel, Rothmans, Mild Seven, Benson & Hedges, West and Lucky Strike all became major players. Formula 1 is one area where the tobacco companies have been able to gain huge exposure and as a result they have been willing to pay a lot more than other sponsors for space on Formula 1 cars. The influence of this new "foreign" money would in due time alter the balance of power and spell the end of privateers. A new type of driver, with their own private financing, would be able to make the jump to the pinnacle of motorsport. On some teams the second seat would become just another "revenue stream". Louis Stanley would later remark that one of his biggest regrets was introducing Marlboro to Formula 1.
Matra supplied cars to two teams in Formula 1. The works team led by Jean-Pierre Beltoise and the Tyrrell team led by Jackie Stewart. Encouraged by its successes in the 'lesser' classes, Matra had its eyes strongly set on Formula 1. The ultimate goal was to become a dominant force with a completely French car, so work was started on a suitable engine. Following Ferrari's example, the engineers decided to develop a quad-cam, 60 degree V12 engine. Even though the engine was announced early in 1967, it was quickly obvious that it would not be ready for the opening race of 1968. Thanks to Tyrrell's British contacts, the team managed to source the Cosworth DFV V8 engines that had shown great promise in the Lotus 49. Dubbed the MS9, Matra's first Formula 1 car was little more than an upgraded F2 racer and served mainly as a test bed, but also raced in the opening Grand Prix of 1968 where it qualified on the front row.
At Belgium Stewart took the early lead only to run out of fuel giving the race to a surprised McLaren driving one of his own cars. Stewart would not be denied at the next race, the Dutch Grand Prix where he was followed by the works Matra of Beltoise. For the French Grand Prix, Lotus used the 49B which had a tall rear wing mounted directly to the suspension which offered much greater efficiency. Honda brought a brand new car, the Type RA302 that used an air-cooled V8 motor. Former World Champion John Surtees was slated to drive the car but backed out because he considered the new car unsafe. The car was given to newcomer Jo Schlesser who tragically suffered a fatal accident on the third lap. The race run in driving rain was won by Jackie Ickx in a Ferrari 312. The race at Brands Hatch saw more of the cars sporting rear wings with the exception of BRM and Cooper. The Lotuses of Hill and Jackie Oliver looked to dominate the race, alternating the early lead before both had to drop out due to mechanical failures. Another Lotus, this one entered by Rob Walker and driven by Jo Siffert won the race after an exciting duel with long time bridesmaid Chris Amon.
The next race, the German Grand Prix was run under atrocious conditions with many of the drivers reluctant to drive in such whether. No one more so than Jackie Stewart who had to be ordered by Ken Tyrrell to start the race. Ironically many would later consider this his greatest race. Actually it was more like two races, The one that Stewart was driving in and the one that contained all of the others. Nursing a broken wrist suffered in a Formula Two race he started the race from the sixth position. As soon as the flag dropped he began his charge to the front reeling in the other cars and by the end of the first lap he was 8 seconds clear. After the second lap he was more than 30 seconds in the lead. Behind him Graham Hill and Chris Amon struggled to maintain this blistering pace. Many of the other cars spun out including eventual second place finisher Hill. At the flag Stewart's winning margin was almost four minutes giving him enough time to extricate himself from his car to accept congratulations, before Hill's Lotus crossed the line.
The Italian Grand Prix at Monza was another wild slipstreaming affair with the lead changing no fewer than 16 times. Denis Hulme in a McLaren-Ford sans rear wing was the eventual winner. The World Championship was wide open with any of four drivers, Hill, Ickx, Stewart and Hulme capable of taking the prize. The next race, in Canada, saw the end of any title hopes for Jacky Ickx when he crashed his Ferrari and broke his leg. Hulme continued his late season charge and won his second consecutive race. Watkins Glen was up next and saw Jackie Stewart take the prize. That left it up to the season closer in Mexico to decide the title. Jo Siffert dominated the early part of the race only to suffer mechanical problems that cost him two laps. The winner and now double World Champion was Clarks teammate Graham Hill. Fittingly Lotus also won the Constructor's Title. At the end of the season the team that more or less started the rear-engine domination of Formula One and helped many a future star learn his craft was forced to quit. Cooper, which made a name for itself with its 500cc Cooper-JAP Formula Three, could no longer find the funds to compete in the increasingly expensive sport.
If 1967 marked the introduction of Cosworth, 1969 marked its total dominance of Formula 1. Now available to any team, the Cosworth V8 found itself at the rear of cars by Matra, McLaren, Brabham as well as Lotus. The engine would go on to power every winner in 1969.
The Matra entered by Ken Tyrrell and driven by Jackie Stewart won the season opener, the South African Grand Prix. Stewart also won the next race in Spain while the Lotus 49s of Hill and Rindt both suffered wing failures. The ruling organization took action and banned the tall movable wings for the Dutch Grand Prix. Before that race came the Monte Carlo Grand Prix and the fifth and final victory at the famed circuit for Graham Hill. The Dutch Grand Prix had arrived and all of the cars now used low permanently mounted wings.