The 1964 season was one of the hardest fought in the history of Formula 1. Four very strong teams, Scuderia Ferrari, BRM, Lotus and Brabham fought for the title over much of the year. The championship started in Monaco, where the specialist Graham Hill (BRM) took his second consecutive victory in the principality. In Holland, it was Clark with the Lotus who dominated, while John Surtees, with the new Ferrari 158 F1, finished second. Clark also won in Belgium, while in France Dan Gurney in the Brabham came out on top. The Ferrari was always very competitive but in Spa-Francorchamps, Surtees was running first before having to retire due to reliability issues, leaving the driver stuck on six points in the championship.
In Maranello they were working hard to ensure that that new V8 engine was reliable as well as extremely fast. The first signs of the hard work being done at the factory came in Great Britain: Clark won but Surtees was third behind Hill, even though at that point the reigning champion in the Lotus seemed to be the favourite to regain the title. The sixth race was in Germany and the Scuderia finally managed to reap the rewards of their hard work in the factory. Surtees dominated the race, while Lorenzo Bandini in the second car came third. Clark’s retirement from the race allowed the Englishman in the Ferrari to relaunch a bid for the title, being at that stage 13 points from the leader, the ever consistent Hill, and 11 points off the Scotsman in the Lotus.
The Austrian Grand Prix saw yet another Scuderia Ferrari victory, this time with Bandini, whilst none of the top three in the championship managed to score points. Next came the Italian Grand Prix, where the Scuderia arrived riding a wave of enthusiasm resulting from two straight wins in the middle of summer.
Due to the rain that washed out the Saturday, the starting grid was decided on the Friday, when it was Surtees who had got the best time, so he started from pole. The Englishman lapped Monza in a time of 1.37.44, eight tenths ahead of Gurney in the Brabham and 1.3 better than Hill’s BRM. Lorenzo Bandini was seventh.
On Sunday 6 September at 15.25 everything was ready for the start. The cars were parked in a sort of pre-grid waiting to be called to their real positions. Ronnie Bucknum in the Honda started his engine and the others all copied. It was still too early and some of the cars started to overheat. Graham Hill, who at the time of the start was on the front row, paid the highest price and waved his arms so that all the other drivers would pass him. The BRM’s clutch had overheated and his race was over before it had even begun.
Three groups formed immediately. The front one was made up of Gurney, Surtees, Bruce McLaren with the Cooper, and Jim Clark; the one in the middle was a jumbled group made up of twelve drivers, one of whom was Bandini, while at the back came the privateer drivers who quickly lost ground.
A third of the way into the race, the first group divided into two pairs: Gurney and Surtees, who continued to swap positions for first place, taking advantage of each other’s slipstream, and McLaren and Clark, who fought for third place. The first to go out was the Lotus driver who stopped on the 27th lap with engine trouble. Behind McLaren, the group of twelve cars was reduced to eight: when the fans saw them round the last corner of the track, they couldn’t help but get to their feet. Sometimes they passed in a bunched-up group, on other laps they were more spread out, like a group of planes in the sky, in an attempt to gain position. Bandini was the main protagonist: if the red number 4 car was not at the head of the group, it was always second or third.
Surtees’ race became a lonely one on lap 62, when Gurney started to feel engine problems in the Brabham. He gradually lost positions and finished tenth. For the Scuderia, victory was confirmed, all that remained was to see if Bandini could manage to finish on the podium. On the last lap, the Italian driver exited the Parabolica ahead of the BRM of Richie Ginther: the American tried to pass him on the right, but Lorenzo anticipated the move and threw himself to the right. Ginther then tried to get past on the other side and used the slipstream to move alongside the Ferrari and the two raced to the finish line practically together. It took a photo finish to ascertain that Bandini had crossed the line first, albeit by a whisker. Surtees won and was back in the title fight as he was only four points off Hill, while the fans invaded the track to celebrate the winner - the Scuderia but especially Bandini, who many of the spectators predicted would go on to be world champion in the future.