The Monaco Grand Prix, scheduled for Sunday 14th May 1961 on the characteristic street circuit of the small Principality, presents a double coincidence: it is the actual first round of the World Drivers’ Championship, since the original first round scheduled for January in Argentina has been cancelled, and it officially marks the beginning of a new Formula 1, even though in the previous weeks many cars that had been laid down according to the 1961-1964 regulations have been confronting each other in preparatory races. The new Formula 1 establishes two limits: the engine capacity (which must not surpass 1500 cm³) and the weight of the cars (450 kilograms minimum, including oil and water but without fuel). Compared to the obsolete 2500-cm³ formula, a 40% reduction in displacement and a minimum weight that did not exist before have been introduced. The main goal is to improve safety for the vehicles by decreasing their power and speed.
Along the same lines, new accessory provisions are dictated, among them an obligatory on-board ignition (to avoid the mechanics pushing the cars on track), a metallic rollbar protecting the driver’s head in case of rollover, and fuel tanks, which are elastically connected to the chassis, with leakproof caps. At the Monaco Grand Prix twenty-two drivers are invited, twelve of them ex officio. According to a very unusual procedure, this complex mechanism ensures that two cars for each team are automatically qualified, in addition to the previous race winners and all the world champions. Therefore, Ferrari, Lotus, Porsche, Cooper and B.R.M. will each occupy two spots on the starting grid; they will be rightfully joined by Stirling Moss and Maurice Trintignant. Then, only four places remain available.
Porsche’s Bonnier and Gurney, B.R.M.’s Brooks and Graham Hill, Cooper’s Brabham, McLaren and Trintignant, Ferrari’s Phil Hill and von Trips, Lotus’s Clark and Ireland and Moss (who, during practice, will have the chance to choose from Cooper or Lotus the car to drive) all belong to this privileged group. Instead, those who will have to qualify on track are Ginther (Ferrari), Surtees (Cooper), Herrmann (Porsche), Gendebien and Bianchi (Emeryson-Maserati), May (Lotus), Gregory (Cooper), Allison and Taylor (Lotus). The only one left is Baghetti, who, according to his contract, this year is supposed to drive a Ferrari only in the rounds of the Italian Championship and, therefore, will be racing on Sunday in the Naples Grand Prix on the Posillipo Circuit, which will gather many drivers excluded from the Monaco race, among them Pirocchi, Botta, Bussinello, Alberti, Wall Ever, and the foreigners Campbell-Jones, Pilette, Parnell and Ashmore.
Old and new teams are at the starting blocks of the twelfth Formula 1 World Championship: among them, Ferrari, Lotus, Cooper, B.R.M. and Porsche. The latter, German, debuts in the world championship and, judging by certain elements, it should be the most dangerous rival for Ferrari. After two years of British superiority, Ferrari has completely renewed its manufacturing philosophy, building 1.5-litre cars, which are quite original and extremely efficient, as it was demonstrated fifteen days before by the young Giancarlo Baghetti in his victorious race in Siracusa, at the wheel of a privately-entered Ferrari, which was not identical either to the ones racing in Monte Carlo, but had the same new six-cylinder engine that seems to be much more powerful than those built in Britain and Germany.
The 1961 Monaco Grand Prix will be traditionally held on a 100-lap race distance on the twisty 3145 metres circuit, resulting in 314.500 kilometres in total. The record average over the race distance was set the previous year by Stirling Moss in his Lotus Climax with 106.599 km/h; the record average on a single lap belongs instead to Bruce McLaren with 117.694 km/h. Qualifying will begin on Thursday 11th May 1961 and will end on Saturday afternoon, right before the race reserved to Junior cars, which will compete in two 16-lap-long heats in the morning. Then the eleven fastest drivers in both heats will race in a 24-lap-long finale. This will be won by England’s Arundell at an average speed of 104.294 km/h after a lively fight with Love. Quite an interesting race, which however does not steal the attention from the battle between the aces of Formula 1 chasing the first championship points for the Drivers’ title, firmly held by Jack Brabham’s hands in the last two seasons.
On Saturday 13th May 1961 the preparation for the Monaco Grand Prix, first round of the World Drivers’ Championship, ends with the last session of official practice, valid both for the attribution of the places on the starting grid and the qualification of those four drivers that were added to the twenty admitted to the race ex officio by the organizers with an unusual and not rigorously sporting procedure. However, it is not the fight against the clock to liven up the day, but a scary accident occurred to Briton Innes Ireland (Lotus), which, according to early news, seems even more serious than it actually is.
Among the numerous pitfalls of Monte-Carlo street circuit there is also the tunnel which leads into a wide curve that precedes the infamous S (Chicane du port) that many times has caused memorable traffic jams. The Englishman seems to have particularly suffered the sudden transition from darkness to light, skidding heavily along the subsequent road diversion and then crashing against the sturdy lateral barrier made of straw bales. As the car tuns into a wreckage, Ireland is thrown out of the car, falling back on the tarmac. Subsequently, the driver is collected and carried away on a stretcher to an ambulance headed to the hospital. He is accompanied by Stirling Moss, who was doing some laps round the circuit too. The doctors diagnose Ireland with a left knee fracture and light contusions.
Before the long suspension of the official practice, briefly resumed after track clearance and the reconstruction of the protective barrier destroyed by the British car, the afternoon is animated by an intense activity on track, especially for those drivers who have to secure their starting position fighting against the clock. But even some of those privileged drivers do not hesitate to push their cars to the limit. And Moss, in his Lotus, comes out as the fastest, setting a time of 1’39’’1. The sixteen drivers that have qualified for the race are (from best to worst) Moss (Lotus), Ginther (Ferrari), Clark (Lotus), Graham Hill (B.R.M.), McLaren (Cooper), Trips (Ferrari), Brooks (BRM), Bonnier (Porsche), Ireland (Lotus), Gurney (Porsche), Surtees (Cooper), Herrmann (Porsche), May (Lotus), Trintignant (Cooper) e Brabham (Cooper). Allison will fill in for Ireland in the vacant Lotus seat.
The worst laptime belongs to Brabham, but for a reason: the defending world champion tested his car only on Thursday, as he came back from the testing that he had been conducting for about ten days in Indianapolis. On Friday morning the Australian was again in America to train on the Indiana oval, determined to qualify for the 500 Miles that will be held on 29th May 1961. He is awaited in Monte Carlo to take part in the Grand Prix. But this tour de force cannot be good for Brabham’s physical and psychic conditions. And it is actually incomprehensible how this kind of things can be permitted.
Predictions for the race on Sunday are very difficult: the new Ferraris work perfectly, and the three drivers do not hide their confidence. But there also is Moss who might be able to close the efficiency gap with the Italian single seater thanks to his unparalleled class, provided that his car can handle the gruelling Monaco race. As always, the severity of the race distance will be judge of the final result. On Sunday 14th May 1961 a huge crowd gathers round the twisty racing track, which winds across the streets of the Principality of Monaco. As always, the princes Ranieri and Grace cannot lose the show for anything in this world. As the green flag is flown by the starter, Ginther gets away better than anyone else and takes the lead, followed by Moss, Bonnier and Gurney.
For thirteen laps the Italian car driven by Richie Ginther keeps first position and gives the impression of being able to easily hold off the adversaries. But Moss stays close to the leader, while Clark is forced to pit because of a hydraulic problem that costs him time and positions. Bonnier follows the pair and as soon as Moss passes Ginther, he takes his chance too and overtakes Ginther, placing himself in second position. Meanwhile, Graham Hill is forced to retire on lap 11 due to a malfunctioning fuel pump.
Towards half-race Ferrari’s pit wall orders its three drivers - Hill, Ginther and von Trips - to increase their pace. And so they do, at least the first two, who succeed in cutting the gap from Moss down to 3.5 seconds between lap 40 and 60, when Bonnier’s Porsche gives up because of an injection problem. In the meantime, Jack Brabham (on lap 38, due to a malfunction in the injection system), Michael May (on lap 42, due to a gearbox issue) and Tony Brooks (on lap 44, because of an engine failure) have retired.
At this point, the British driver reacts brilliantly, as the average speed progressively rises. Soon Phil Hill gives up following Moss as Richie Ginther takes over (driving the most powerful Ferrari), in an outrageous effort to pressure Moss. On lap 68, Surtees is forced to retire as his Climax engine, mounted on his Cooper, blows up. On lap 84 Ginther sets the new lap record with a time of 1'36"3, at an average speed of 117.570 km/h, but soon Moss reacts with an identical performance, almost as if he wants to deprive the American driver of any illusion left, even though the latter does not give up and up until the last mile pushes himself and the car in the vain hope to catch his rival in a moment of distraction.
In the last few laps, the British driver is accompanied by the ovation of the crowd, who however was not short of encouragement for the Ferrari driver in the most heated phase of the fight. Stirling Moss crosses the finish line preceding Richie Ginther by just 3.6 seconds: the Ferrari driver cannot complete his comeback as requested by Ferrari management present in the pits. Phil Hill completes the podium, followed by von Trips with the third Ferrari, Dan Gurney with the Porsche and Bruce McLaren, clinching one point. This is the third time that Stirling Moss wins the Monaco Grand Prix, an accomplishment that no one was ever able to achieve. The Briton now leads the drivers’ standings with 9 points, followed by Ginther with 6, Phil Hill, with 4, von Trips with 3, Gurney with 2 and, as previously mentioned, McLaren with 1.
Ferrari management and drivers accept the defeat at the Monaco Grand Prix with a certain tranquillity, even though, ahead of the race, they were convinced of the superior capabilities of the Formula 1 car built by Modena technicians. This feeling was shared by all the insiders who came to the Monegasque circuit, who, in the three days of practice, have had the chance to realise the entity and the quality of the progress made by Maranello’s single seaters in comparison with the British cars.
The Ferraris built over the winter according to Formula 1’s new technical regulations appeared blatantly superior in comparison with the British and German cars in this very first race valid for the World Drivers’ Championship: as a matter of fact, the technical situation, which in the last few years has been in favour of the cross-Channel manufacturers, seems on its way to overturn. At least, this was the impression among those who have attended the Monaco race.
Even during the Grand Prix, the keenest observers noticed that Ferrari appeared superior than their rivals, and the final classification indeed proves such theory, with the Italian cars claiming second, third and fourth place. The problem is that Ferrari drivers – Richie Ginther, Phil Hill and Wolfgang von Trips – have had to deal with a real giant of motorsport: Stirling Moss. The British ace has always been (not just today) better than everyone else in terms of class and temper, although he has always been – rightfully – reproached for his chronic inability to nurse the car to the chequered flag; in other words, he causes his cars to break down too often. But this time in Monaco that did not happen.
Besides, with the new 1.5-litre engine required by Formula 1’s new technical regulations which has officially started its quadrennial cycle in Monaco, Lotus is not as successful as last year with the old 2.5-litre engine: at the moment, it seems that between Ferrari and Lotus there is a 30-horsepower gap. Nevertheless, the great racer from London was able to win the race, conducted authoritatively, firmly, always in control, and above all driving superbly, compensating his vehicle’s inferiority through the pitfalls of the twisty Monaco track: an authentic masterclass. A win clinched more by the driver and his class than the car.
The mechanical superiority of the Italian cars was not sufficient to avoid Moss’s victory: driving a well-prepared Lotus, once taken the lead after 14 out of the 100 scheduled laps, the Brit resisted the continuous attacks of the Ferrari drivers: first Hill, then Ginther in the last twenty-five laps. Every time the spectators had the impression that Ginther was going to catch Moss, the latter immediately set peremptorily fastest laps which maintained the gap over the cars behind unaltered. So, a win of the driver more than a win of the car, despite Lotus’s undoubted stability and handling capabilities that have always been a prerogative of the British cars. Now, the difference is made by the engines: Ferrari’s 6-cylinder has 20% more power than the engines of all the other cars.
However, this fact should not be humiliating for Richie Ginther because the American drove his Ferrari to second place after a very long, tenacious, and sometimes moving battle against Moss. A little more than three and a half second separate the two protagonists at the end of the Monaco Grand Prix, after two hours and forty-five minutes of furious chase: Ginther, who took the lead of the race at the start and held it for the first thirteen laps, found in Moss an unbeatable rival, but the classification reflects the scale of values: behind the British champion (although still without a title), the best is Ferrari’s driver-tester, who might be reproached just for one thing: having “relaxed” in the central part of the race, settling for following his teammate Phil Hill who had taken second place. When he decided to play offensive, it already was too late. However, it is hard to believe that he could have surprised the very careful Stirling Moss.
Among the drivers who delivered a good performance Bonnier should be taken into account: he maintained the lead of the race until the engine of his Porsche blew up; then, for long stretches, Phil Hill and Gurney, the latter at the wheel of the B.R.M. By contrast, defending world champion Jack Brabham was almost invisible: he had arrived the night before from Indianapolis, where he was participating in the qualifications for the 500 Miles: a proper tour de force which is certainly not the best training. Besides, Brabham’s Cooper was not perfectly balanced. Putting his vehicle’s inferiority aside, which caused a drop in performance in the second part of the race, John Surtees, proved his excellent skills also on four wheels. But the drivers defeated in the Monaco Grand Prix will not have to wait too long for a chance to have a rematch: the Dutch Grand Prix in Zandvoort is scheduled for Sunday 22nd May 1961 as the second round of the world championship. The circuit will be more suitable than Monte-Carlo for Ferrari’s characteristics, whereas it will be more difficult for Moss to defend himself.
In Italy the Naples Grand Prix is held simultaneously with the Monaco Grand Prix and witnesses Giancarlo Baghetti’s one-man show: the young Ferrari driver has stepped into the limelight of world automobile racing in a very short time. The Italian driver, who started sure of his abilities and of the capabilities of his car, increases progressively his margin and wins the race reserved to Formula 1 cars and valid for the Italian Overall Drivers’ Championship with an over one-lap advantage on his rivals. In the first half of the race only Roy Salvadori tries desperately not to lose contact, but then surrenders to the Italian.
Baghetti’s car, a Ferrari prepared specifically for this race, has responded perfectly. The Posillipo circuit is widely known to be very difficult for its numerous corners, many of which are hairpins, sweeping through roads with a remarkable gradient. To win in Posillipo drivers have to be expert and drive a good vehicle, because that devilish carousel wears down both men and cars.
At the finish line Baghetti precedes Englishman Ashmore (Lotus) and Italian Lorenzo Bandini (Cooper), beaten by just a few metres. The duel between these two drivers is perhaps the most exciting episode of race, after Salvadori stopped for a problem and then resumed racing with a huge gap. At a certain point it seems that Bandini can catch Ashmore but the Briton, who on Saturday set the best laptime in qualifying, holds off the Italian, crossing the finish line in second place with a minimum advantage.