Formula 1, in its infancy, was unfortunately inherently dangerous. Jim was involved in several spectacular accidents during his career but had never suffered serious injury until 1968. Tragically, on 7th April, competing in a Formula 2 race at a wet Hockenheim during a break in the Formula 1 season, his Lotus 48 in Gold Leaf livery left the track at over 150 mph, somersaulted and collided with a tree, killing him instantaneously. He was 32. There were no witnesses. Time catastrophically stood still.
Colin Chapman and his team mate Graham Hill were devastated. The world was shocked by his death. Jim was considered to be one of the safest, most skilled and naturally gifted drivers and his peers did not think that driver error had caused the crash. A deflated rear tyre was widely blamed and accepted as the cause for the incident. Hill would go on to claim the Formula 1 World Championship in 1968, which he dedicated to his friend’s memory. Fellow racing driver Chris Amon summoned up the sentiments of many others at the time: “If it could happen to him, what chance do the rest of us have? I think we all felt that. It seemed like we’d lost our leader.”
In 1963 and 1965 huge crowds, family and friends had celebrated Jim’s World Championship victories and welcomed him home to Chirnside and Duns. The reaction to his death was one of shock and disbelief. Just a few days after the tragedy, Formula 1 stars from around the world flew to Scotland and gathered with his family and the local community at Chirnside Parish Church to pay their respects at his funeral.
His memory and inspiration endure and, to this day, he is cherished by many, around the world.