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#89 1960 Belgian Grand Prix

2021-10-11 00:00

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#1960, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Carola Buzio, Martina Marastoni,

#89 1960 Belgian Grand Prix

At the end of the third weekend in June, the Belgian Grand Prix was run at Spa-Francorchamps, the fifth round of the 1960 Formula 1 World Championship

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At the end of the third weekend in June, the Belgian Grand Prix was held in Spa-Francorchamps, the fifth round of the 1960 Formula 1 World Championship. The characteristics of the track, the fastest on the calendar, should allow Ferrari to finally express their true qualities, if it’s true that the cars from Maranello boast a significantly higher engine power compared to the British cars. Ferrari's season could take a positive turn not only in Spa but also in Reims, where the French Grand Prix will be held at the beginning of July. Talking about the past, in 1959 the Italian team was left without victories at the end of the first three races of the championship, until the cars raced on a very fast track like Reims, since the Belgian Grand Prix wasn’t run. Either Ferrari will succeed on these two consecutive occasions, or their decline, at least for this season, will be difficult to stop. Last time the Belgian Grand Prix was held, in 1958, the organizers underestimated the performance of the cars, scheduling a 300 kilometers long race, which was finished in one hour and thirty-seven minutes at an average speed of 209 km/h and won by Mike Hawthorn. In 1959, due to financial issues, the Belgian Grand Prix wasn’t held but in 1960 the extraordinary 14.1-kilometre track, located in the Ardennes, was ready to host once again Formula 1 cars. Particular attention was paid to the organization to ensure that the same mistake from two years ago wasn’t made: the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium established a 500-kilometre race to ensure a longer duration of the event. We are not even halfway through the series of Formula 1 driver tests for the Title, so the situation still has to take a specific shape. After the first four races held in Buenos Aires, Monaco, Indianapolis and Zandvoort, the drivers' standings still doesn’t have a clear shape: the leader is the New Zealander Bruce McLaren with 14 points, followed by Stirling Moss with 11, Brabham (World Champion in 1959) with 8, Ireland with 7, Allison with 6. Wolfgang von Trips, Phil Hill and Willy Mairesse (a young Belgian driver with great skills) are entered for Scuderia Ferrari. Jack Brabham, Bruce McLaren, Tony Brooks, Olivier Gendebien, Chris Bristow and Lucien Bianchi will drive Cooper-Climax’s cars. Innes Ireland, Alan Stacy, Jim Clark with Lotus- Climax; Jo Bonnier, Dan Gurney and Graham Hill with B.R.M. team. 

 

And finally, Lance Reventlow and Chuck Daigh in Scarab. Whatever happens, the race on Sunday will certainly not decide the winner of the World Title. Practice began on Friday afternoon, 17th June 1960, and lasted until the evening, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. This time was chosen to avoid problems with local traffic, as the track covers a section of the local road system, although many turns are elevated. Twenty cars are entered, of which the fastest sixteen in qualifying will have access to the starting grid. However, the entry of a Vanwall is withdrawn at the very last moment, leading to only nineteen cars taking part in the tests. The cars of the British team Aston Martin, not interested in competing on a track which requires high speed, and Scuderia Centro-Sud, whose participation hasn’t been accepted by the organizers, are important absentees. Roy Salvadori, Maurice Trintignant and Masten Gregory, therefore, are left out from the list of participants; an unusual decision, considering the well-known experience of all three competitors. On the other hand, Michael Taylor, Willy Mairesse and Lucien Bianchi, who were taking part in an official race for the first time, were entered for free. Apart from this small detail, all of the other drivers are present. Dan Gurney still has his left forearm bandaged because of the injuries he sustained during his accident in Zandvoort, but he is still fit to race. Stirling Moss will be driving the Team Walker’s dark blue Lotus: his car was equipped with a long air duct starting from the nose, along the side of the cockpit ending up in the two big Weber carburetors with double choke, unlike those used on the Coopers of Yeoman Credit. Michael Taylor will also be driving a private rear-engined Lotus, while Ireland, Stacey and Clark will drive Lotus’ official cars. Scuderia Ferrari will have three front-engined Dino 246 S, driven by Phil Hill, Wolfgang von Trips and the Belgian driver Willy Mairesse, while the two Scarab will be driven by Reventlow and Daigh as usual. Lucien Bianchi will be driving a Cooper for the same team. Completing the list are the three Yeoman Credit’s Coopers, with Brooks, Bristow and Gendebien. Gendebien's car will be fitted with a new engine, as the damage reported on Bristow's car in Zandvoort turned out to be caused by a connecting rod screw sticking out through the side of the crankcase.

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The last time Spa hosted Formula 1 cars, in 1958, Hawthorn set the fastest practice lap in 3'57"1, the fastest race lap, and official track record, in 3'58"3 with an average speed of 213.068 km/h. After two years of development of the cars, incredible speeds were expected, even though many drivers had never raced in Spa or had never driven cars as fast as those of 1960. It was for that reason that Brabham and McLaren made slow warm up laps, while Yeoman Credit team let Bristow go out on track in a car equipped with a two-liter engine, given his lack of experience on the Belgian circuit. Brooks, who really loves Spa, is quick from the start, enjoying the high-speed corners. The two Hill drivers were also at their ease on fast turns, while Stacey and Clark were struggling, driving a Formula 1 car for the first time. Brooks immediately broke the old record of the track, as Moss, while Brabham was still running at 4 minutes, trying to get familiar with the track. The result of his efforts is a lap in 3'50"0, at an average speed of 220.695 km/h at the end of practice. Gendebien set his best time of 3'53"3, the fourth best of the day. Trips' Ferrari has problems and Mairesse is forced to give his car up. The Ferrari German driver drove in 3'56"9, while Phil Hill didn't manage to go under 4 minutes; a bad sign for the team from Maranello, which highlights the lack of progress after the hard work made in the previous two years. After getting familiar with the track, Bristow started running in his official car, obtaining a good result thanks to the huge physical and mental effort: the British driver set a time of 3’56"9. Ireland sets his best time with 3'55"4, even if his Lotus didn't exploit the engine power on the straights; the British driver was also slowed down by a problem with a pedal, forcing Clark to give up his car to his teammate. Stacey also struggled because of a steering wheel problem. 

 

It was expected that the old record of 1958 would have been beaten easily, but it wasn’t expected that Brabham could do it with a difference of seven seconds and with an average speed of 220 km/h. The fact that the top speed reached by the new cars on the steep Masta straight was not as remarkable as expected is interesting: just over 270 km/h, increasing the average speed of the entire track by only 8 km/h. The reason is clear: in the previous two years the teams concentrated more on tire development and better acceleration between 190 km/h and 260 km/h, rather than a higher top speed. On Saturday afternoon the sun is shining so bright that the tarmac looks like is melting. It’s the last opportunity for drivers to try and improve their position on the grid. Nineteen cars are ready for the last practice session. At Burneville corner, located on the fifth kilometre of the track, the Lotus #12 driven by Stirling Moss went off track, hitting the grass railing on the outer side; the driver was thrown out of the car violently while the car, after overturning, jumped onto the opposite railing crashing into it. All the drivers on track slowed down at the scene of the accident and returned to the pits to give their opinion. Most of the drivers' testimonies claim that Moss wasn’t seriously injured and that he went off track at the bottom of the Burneville fast downhill. Shortly before, Bristow stopped his car on the track due to a gearbox problem on his Cooper. Almost at the same time as Moss' accident, Michael Taylor also crashed at La Carriere. With a Lotus stopped in each sector of the circuit, the stories that arrive and spread through the pits are confusing. As activity on track is suspended, there is silence in the stands with the audience waiting for a confirmation of what happened. Sadness and a lack of interest in continuing the tests are spreading among the participants. Richard Maes, a Belgian race official who was at about 100 meters from the location of the accident, says:

 

"Moss' car slid, rearing up like a horse. A wheel came off the car and the driver was thrown into the field. I immediately ran over to him, as he was lying face down and moaning. The car looked like it had been reduced to pieces. It's a miracle that Moss is still alive after an accident at that speed".

 

The first details began to come together and the truth about what happened took shape:

 

"The left rear axle on Moss’ car broke, which led to losing a wheel. This happened while he was going over a bump on the exit of a turn".

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At Burneville corner, which was tackled at a 150-degree angle at over 209 km/h and sloped down the side of the hill, the left rear axle on Moss’ car broke, which led to losing a wheel. This happened as Moss hit a bump on the exit of the corner. With most of the car's weight on the left rear wheel, facing the outside of the corner, it’s easy to imagine what happened at the moment of the damage: the car spun, hit the barriers on the sides of the circuit, causing Moss to be thrown out of his seat, and then bounced back to the inside of the corner. The driver was rushed to the hospital in Malmedy, where his father joined him. On the way to the hospital Stirling Moss, more confused than unconscious, regained consciousness. The doctors proceeded to X-ray the injured driver and found two dislocated ribs. Initially, they were afraid that his nose and legs were fractured, but the X-ray ruled out the possibility of these injuries. Miraculously, Stirling Moss avoided serious consequences. A sigh of relief came from the audience when the driver's condition was announced over the megaphones. Michael Taylor, victim of the second accident of the day, had only a neck injury and a few broken ribs after being thrown out from the seat of his car. Mrs Taylor, who accompanied her husband to the hospital, said that the doctors weren’t concerned about the driver's condition. Taylor also didn’t lose consciousness. At kilometre 11 his Lotus overturned after a long braking manoeuvre at La Carriere, due to a broken steering column, and burst into flames. With two serious incidents happening simultaneously, the organisation got confused and there was a long wait before the track reopened for the continuation of practice. While the pieces of the two cars are collected, many drivers go around the track to check the seriousness of the situation. Colin Chapman makes some inspection laps with Ireland's car. At the resumption of practice Phil Hill in a Ferrari sets an excellent 3'53"5, while his teammate von Trips sets 3'57"8. Brooks didn't improve because of the wet tar at La Source and the dust brought on track by Moss' accident at Burneville. The Scarab were still too slow as they ran in 4'28"00, remaining extremely far from the results obtained in the first day of practice. At 5:00 p.m. practice ended, although they lost about an hour and a half due to the confusion. This is because it isn’t possible to catch up the time lost, due to the overlap in the use of the road between the Grand Prix organizers and the public road network. On Sunday 19th June 1960 it was overcast, but as the drivers made their usual drivers' parade around the track the sun came out and the fog disappeared. 

 

With Moss and Taylor unable to race, the organizers allowed the remaining seventeen cars to prepare to start, with the two Scarab ready to make their official debut in a European race. At Spa, the organization wasn’t optimal, so much so that while the start was being given, Clark's car hadn’t been set up by the mechanics yet. In the confusion that followed, Bianchi turned off the engine trying not to run over the Lotus mechanics. The fastest drivers at the start are the World Champion Jack Brabham and Olivier Gendebien, who takes the lead of the race, with the American Ferrari driver Phil Hill following in third position. Usually, in the first laps on tracks like Spa there are already separated groups of cars, but this time the seventeen single seaters were all lined up, with Brabham in the lead and Reventlow closing. On lap 2 Ireland overtook Phil Hill, while the first seven cars arrived at La Source separated by a minimum gap with Brabham leading the group, followed by Ireland, Phil Hill, Bonnier, Gendebien, Graham Hill and McLaren. Further back, they were followed by Brooks, Bristow, Trips and Mairesse; then again Gurney, Bianchi, Stacey, Clark and Daigh, who was last. During the first lap the other Scarab driven by Lance Reventlow, Barbara Hutton's son, suddenly caught fire. Luckily the young driver, showing an exceptional calm, managed to block the car and jump on the ground before the fire got to his racing suit. On lap three it was Bristow in the eighth position to separate the two groups, both compact, followed at a distance by the two Ferrari driven by Trips and Mairesse, while Brooks slowly returned to the pits and retired at the end of lap two because of the gearbox failure. Brabham, who was leading the race, didn't hint at slowing down, followed with by the Ferrari driven by Phil Hill. Behind the American driver follow respectively Gendebien, Bonnier and McLaren. During the following lap Phil Hill managed to overtake Ireland and Gendebien, while McLaren overtook Bonnier. At this stage of the race the group was still close to the point that, while Brabham set a new fast lap in 3'53"5, those who were following him were only a few tenths of a second away. Phil Hill was doing an excellent race, to the point that the American seemed to be able to catch Brabham on the Masta straight; the two leading drivers, engaged in a challenge, were distancing themselves from the five following cars, driven in respectively by Ireland, Graham Hill, McLaren, Gendebien and Bonnier. In the meantime, Trips overtook Bristow and Clark recovered his pace after a bad start. 

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The Scottish driver managed to close the gap on Stacey and Bianchi, while Daigh remained last. During the fourth lap Dan Gurney was forced to retire because of issues with the exhaust manifold, from which water was coming out of the engine. Shortly after, Ireland pitted at the end of lap six, complaining of a clutch slippage problem; the hydraulic issue was solved and the driver was able go back to racing, but the pace was so intense that he found himself in the last positions, ahead of Daigh's Scarab. With the sun shining the track is dry, the average speed of the race was 215 km/h, much higher than the fast lap recorded in 1958. Phil Hill set the pace even though he was a few seconds behind Brabham, who was forced to watch carefully in the rear-view mirrors. Brabham set a new track record: 3'52"9, with an average speed of 218.887 km/h. Phil Hill, who was racing at the same speed as the Australian driver, had a twelve second lead over the third driver Bruce McLaren, who was competing with Graham Hill, Gendebien and Bonnier for the runner up spot. McLaren was third on the eighth lap, Hill on the ninth and tenth lap and Gendebien on the eleventh. The small group ran at 3'53"0, but when Cooper signaled McLaren the time from pits, the New Zealander made a mistake and slipped to the back of the group. Behind him Trips and Bristow were fighting each other, with the driver of the Yeoman Credit taking the position at La Source, only to lose it coming back to the pits. Further back Ireland reached and passed his two teammates, while Clark tried to keep up with the Lotus leader and Stacey gave up the position without engaging in a duel. During the eleventh lap Brabham overtook Daigh's Scarab, shortly before the driver returned to the pits because of an oil leakage. Two laps later, while the Scarab was still in the pits, the pit lane was animated by the entry of Bonnier who, having lost a gear, wanted to check whether the gearbox problem had caused an engine damage. Ireland went back to the pits as well, while Bianchi occupied the pit lane with a broken internal cardan joint on the right side of the drive shaft of his Cooper. After a few minutes Bonnier left the pits hoping that the engine was fine, but after two laps - on lap 14 - he was forced to stop at the side of the track. Bianchi's mechanics identify the problem and start working to find a solution: a new drive shaft must be fitted. 

 

Ireland restarts after a long pit stop, but at Blanchimont he spins, turning five times in a row, and when he thinks he regained control of his Lotus he ends up off track, destroying the car without any injury. Clark was forced to make a long stop on lap 14 to cool down the carburetor, so that Stacey remained the only Lotus driver on track, in ninth position several seconds behind Mairesse. In the meantime, at the end of lap 15 the gap between Brabham and Phil Hill increased to 12 seconds, but the Ferrari seemed to be faster. Behind the leaders, Bristow managed once again to pass Trips at La Source and this time he managed to keep his position, but this duel favored Mairesse’s comeback, who in the meantime was getting closer to the two drivers. In the following laps Trips' car had sudden clutch problems, so the Belgian driver had the chance to pass his teammate and chase Bristow. Halfway through the race, Brabham still leads the group, but Phil Hill in Ferrari reduces the gap, getting to only nine seconds behind the Australian driver. Behind the American driver there’s a group of competitors formed by Gendebien, Graham Hill and McLaren. Fifty seconds behind Brabham there was Mairesse, then Bristow who tried to keep up with the Ferrari, while Trips lost ground because of an annoying vibration coming from the gearbox. Detached from the group, and last driver among those not yet lapped by the leader, was Stacey who tried to manage his race without taking risks given the already difficult situation of Lotus. Clark was among the lapped drivers, but it was Daigh, who closed the group, with a gap of five laps. The American driver was then forced to retire on lap 16 due to an engine problem caused by a fuel leak. Mairesse and Bristow were engaged in a very risky duel, as the two drivers didn’t know each other and didn’t intend to give each other space. On lap 19, at La Source, Bristow pushed the Belgian driver's Ferrari towards the outside of the turn, but Mairesse didn't lose his grit and the two drivers proceeded side by side along the Eau Rouge. In the middle of the green forest the Cooper was still in front, but going over the fast Burneville turn, where Moss crashed during practice on Saturday, Bristow used trajectory which was too wide and found himself on the outside of the turn. Trying to move to the inside, the British driver lost control of his Cooper and hit the concrete step that are placed along certain sections of the circuit. The car then crashed onto the driver, crushing him and almost decapitating him completely. 

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The audience and the drivers were shocked by Bristow's death and an investigation was immediately launched to find out what caused his Cooper to go off track. Meanwhile, Willy Mairesse, who managed to avoid the contact with the young rival's Cooper, finished the twentieth lap alone communicating the bad news to the mechanics present in the pits. In the meantime, Phil Hill increased the gap to Gendebien, but Brabham increased his pace keeping the American driver's Ferrari eight seconds behind and Lucien Bianchi re-entered the race following the intervention of his pit mechanics. As Phil Hill completed his twenty-third lap, Brabham's Cooper continued to remain eight seconds behind and preceded Graham Hill's B.R.M. by eight seconds. The British driver follows in third position after passing Gendebien. While Ferrari men were encouraging Phil Hill from the pits, another Scuderia Ferrari driver, Wolfgang von Trips, stopped at Stavelot because of an unusual noise: the problem was caused by a broken drive shaft. During the following lap, exactly the 23rd, Mairesse loses his pace and Stacey takes advantage of this to obtain the sixth position. Jim Clark and Lucien Bianchi also kept racing, both driving cautiously and with the only goal of finishing the race. Sadly, a Grand Prix that had already seen the death of Bristow extended its negative streak on lap 24, when Alan Stacey lost control of his Lotus at Malmedy, ran onto the grass on the outside of the corner, hit the barriers, bounced off to the opposite side of the track and then continued his run down the hill. Subsequently, the Lotus caught fire and burned, with its young driver losing his life in the incident. Stacey's death wasn’t communicated immediately to the audience and the competitors remaining in the race, as the body of the British driver was taken to the emergency room and the news of his death wasn’t made public until the end of the race. The causes of Alan Stacey's tragic accident are truly unusual: the driver lost control of his car when a bird flew over the track and perhaps confused by the roar of the engines, hit him in the face. It was only a moment, but it was enough for Stacey to lose control of his Lotus, which was racing at a very high speed. The unfolding of the events shocked especially one spectator, who testified with others describing the nature of the accident.

 

"I saw the bird take off at a low altitude and followed its flight with curiosity, without thinking of the possibility of an accident. Halfway down the runway the bird sprinted and at the same time a car, which I later learned was Stacey's Lotus, was coming at high speed. The car started to slide, overturned and caught fire".

 

In the meantime, Mairesse returned to the pits with a transmission problem and, at the same time, Gendebien overtook Graham Hill, taking the third position; Bruce McLaren began to lose his pace. On lap 29, the Ferrari mechanics in the pits despaired as Phil Hill stopped at the side of the track, so Brabham passed Graham Hill's B.R.M. on the main straight with an 18-second lead, regaining the third place. Phil Hill's Ferrari broke a small fuel pressure gauge tube: the cold petrol that has spilled onto the American driver's leg forces him to stop and investigate the damage. While the Ferrari driver investigates, the hose catches fire but the American manages to temporarily fix the problem and return to the pits, where with a stop of one minute and thirty-eight seconds the mechanics manage to fix the broken hose. However, the chance to win the Belgian Grand Prix is now lost as Brabham overtakes the Ferrari driver, who returns to the race in fifth position. Brabham was now sure of the victory and could proceed without taking further risks. Graham Hill moved up to the second position and increased the gap on Gendebien, who was forced to slow down because of a gearbox problem. As Brabham crossed the finish line and began the 36th and final lap, Graham Hill was tackling the Blanchimont turn when his B.R.M. engine lost oil. The British driver manages to proceed along La Source and takes advantage of the slope towards the B.R.M. pit, which is across the finish line. But the driver is so worried about the engine of his car that he doesn't think about the possibility to stop before the finish line to wait for Brabham to complete his lap, to gain the second position. In the meantime, the problem on Gendebien's car got worse, so McLaren took the third position, which became second with the misjudgment of the B.R.M. driver. Gendebien proceeded down the slope with only the first and second gears intact and stopped before the finish line waiting for Brabham to complete his last lap. Jack Brabham completed his final lap and won a race marked by tragedy but won deservedly, since he’s been lucid from the start to the checkered flag.

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His young teammate Bruce McLaren took the second place, earned both with merit and luck, as it came after the problems that affected his rivals. Gendebien crossed the finish line in third position, followed by Phil Hill who finished fourth; the American driver was disappointed at the end of a sensational race in which he would have certainly deserved the podium. The Lotus driven by Clark and the Cooper driven by Bianchi completed the ranking of the first and only six drivers, on a total of seventeen participants, who crossed the finish line showing once again the difficulty of driving in Spa and the uniqueness of the Belgian Grand Prix with respect to the rest of the races that are part of the World Championship calendar. The very fast track of Spa-Francorchamps was once again the scene of two serious car accidents today. On the smooth track, where on Saturday Stirling Moss and Mike Taylor had risked losing their lives during practice by going off track with their Lotus, which are fast but maybe too light, two other accidents caused the death of young British drivers Alan Stacey and Chris Bristow. The first victim was 22-year-old Chris Bristow, considered by the engineers and Stirling Moss - who was a close friend of his - as one of the most promising drivers of the new generation. Therefore, two more deaths are added to the long series of disasters that have hit motorsport in recent years. This season alone, eight drivers have lost their lives in different competitions on circuits around the world. Harry Blanchard, an American of Belgian origin, lost his life on 31st January 1960 in the 1000 Kilometre race in Buenos Aires when his Porsche overturned. The Italian-Venezuelan Chimeri died on 27th February 1960 for the same reason in Havana where he was taking part in the Cuban Grand Prix in a Maserati; the American Jim Hughes went off track with his Lotus (killing a photographer) at the 12 Hours of Sebring held on 28th March 1960; the Argentinean gentleman von Dory lost his life on 3rd April 1960 in the Riverside 200 Miles; Harry Schell died on 13th May 1960 on the English circuit of Silverstone; the Englishman Threefall died on 22nd May 1960 in the Aix Les Bains disaster, which also costed the lives of six spectators. To these six names are now added those of Bristow and Stacey. A cruel destiny, which was particularly harsh on the British Team Lotus team with a baffling persistence. The British team lost a driver (Stacey) in two days and two others (Moss and Taylor) will be unavailable for a long time. After today's Belgian Grand Prix, the fourth round of the World Championship and following the competitions held in Buenos Aires, Monaco and Zandvoort, the New Zealander McLaren keeps the first place in the standings with 20 points. Brabham, the former World Champion, follows him with only 4 points while in third place, with 11 points, remains Stirling Moss, who followed the race that costs the lives of two appreciated colleagues from the hospital in Malmedy - where he is hospitalized after Saturday's dreadful accident. The British driver doesn’t comment on the two fatal accidents, nor does he make any prediction about the length of his stay in the hospital and when he will race again. However, the doctors are satisfied with Moss' condition, who has his legs still plastered from the knee to the foot as a precaution against any fracture, which an initial X-ray examination luckily has revealed as not serious. Moss is constantly assisted by his father and almost certainly will have to wait at least two months before being able to race again.


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