#96 1961 Netherlands Grand Prix

2021-08-30 00:00

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#1961, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Carola Buzio,

#96 1961 Netherlands Grand Prix

The second round of the Formula 1 World Championship will be held in Zandvoort, on the occasion of the Dutch Grand Prix, scheduled for Monday 22nd May


The second round of the Formula 1 World Championship will be held in Zandvoort, on the occasion of the Dutch Grand Prix, scheduled for Monday 22nd May 1961. The second race of the year is held on a racing track located among the dunes of the North Sea. The circuit is 4200 meters long, it is medium-fast, and it’s often lashed by strong sandy winds that make the track very slippery. The drivers entered are Hill, von Trips and Ginther for Ferrari (who are allowed to bring three drivers); Moss and Clark for Lotus; Brabham, McLaren and Surtees for Cooper; Brooks and Graham Hill for B.R.M.; Bonnier, Gurney and De Beaufort for Porsche. The invitation has been extended also to the Italian driver Giancarlo Baghetti, who, however, can’t take part in the race. On the twisty circuit of Monaco, Moss’ unparalleled class beat Ferrari more than Lotus’ mechanical supremacy. But that track is among those created specifically to highlight the drivers’ driving skills. In Zandvoort, the technical factors become predominant once again and, since the new Ferrari Formula 1 cars turned out to be perfectly balanced and full of positive qualities, the hopes of the drivers and the management of the manufacturer from Modena for a fast revenge aren’t unfounded, although they shouldn’t underestimate the capabilities of both the British cars and the German Porsche.


The season has just started but there could always be some surprises. Furthermore, Stirling Moss is more determined than ever to chase that world title that he is yet to win, despite his obvious superiority over any other driver. A potential victory in the Netherlands for the British driver would seriously mean ensuring this achievement. Practice starts in the morning of Saturday 20th May 1961, with a freezing headwind blowing on the main straight and occasional downpours. After witnessing Ferrari’s competitiveness in Monte Carlo, all their rivals resigned themselves to fight for the second place on this faster circuit that should perfectly suit the characteristics of the cars from Maranello, but general relief spreads around the paddock when team Ferrari don’t show up at this first practice session in Zandvoort. The circuit in Zandvoort is never a festive place: there’s never some music to enliven the long breaks and the speakers don’t give any official information in terms of lap times: in fact, it seems that the cars go unnoticed to the stewards. Moss tests his Lotus with the old Climax engine, while Surtees has the standard Climax engine (the Mark II engine was repaired after it blew up in Monaco during practice). B.R.M. seem quite satisfied with their cars, both equipped with Climax Mark II engines, and Graham Hill seems to handle it quite well.


During lunch break Ferrari’s car transporter arrives from Maranello with three V6 120° mid-engine cars. Ginther will use the same car he drove in Monte Carlo, von Trips will be provided with a new car and Hill will race with the same chassis used in Monte Carlo, equipped with a new engine. Weather conditions remain unaltered for the afternoon practice, even though now the cold wind blows more across the main straight. However, all the drivers buckle down and set many lap times under 1’37"0. In the afternoon Surtees can choose whether to drive the standard Cooper or the one with the special bodywork, while Moss drives the Lotus with which he won in Monte Carlo, always powered by the Climax Mark II engine. The track in Zandvoort is very smooth and is characterized by banked turns, without bumps which are typical of a street circuit, therefore it’s possible to adjust the car settings to obtain roadholding and handling capabilities that aren’t required anywhere else. This leads most drivers to adjusting the camber and the toe of their wheels, as well as springs and dampers, in order to adapt them to their personal needs. Since they missed the morning session, Ferrari work feverishly to catch up, modifying tire pressure and wishbones, changing the springs as fast as they can. The Cooper drivers seem to be happy with their cars, and both Brabham and McLaren spend the first part of practice shooting a movie, rather than carrying on with their preparation for the race.


Meanwhile, Gurney tests a Porsche equipped with a long chassis and a wishbone front axle. The American driver turns out to be much faster than Bonnier, who has an identical car which he already used in Monte Carlo, while de Beaufort tests one of the cars of the previous year equipped with new carburetors. In the afternoon, lap times go significantly under 1’37"0: Stirling Moss stands out with his Lotus setting a time of 1’36"2, but he isn’t sure whether his driving skills or the new Climax Mark II engine should take credit for the performance. For sure, he can’t set the same lap time with the Cooper. Brabham, Graham Hill, Brooks and Surtees all set a time under 1’37"0, as well as von Trips who is not convinced of the behavior of his Ferrari. Ginther eventually improves to 1’36’’7 and von Trips to 1’36"6. The last practice session held in the afternoon of Sunday 21st May 1961 is characterized by a warm and sunny weather, although the cold headwind persists undaunted. Scuderia Ferrari came to the circuit in the morning for an unofficial test to catch up with their rivals, but by now it’s clear that the team based in Maranello has been able to set up their cars quite well. The Ferrari are now equipped with 6.50 x 15-inch rear tyres instead of the previous 6.00 x 15-inch tyres, which are very helpful to fix some drivability issues with the car in some turns.


In the initial minutes of qualifying the Porsche seem to be competitive and Gurney is able to increase his pace, lifting the inside front wheel in the corners: the speed of compression and rebound don’t look correct for both the front and rear suspensions, so the car develops a peculiar pitch under strong acceleration. Both Graham Hill and Tony Brooks are having fun because the B.R.M.s seem very stable and their engines emit a crisp sound, while Brabham doesn’t appear to be in great shape and McLaren’s car is far from being competitive. In the last thirty minutes the Ferrari show their real pace more and more blatantly, setting times which are abundantly under 1’36"0; Graham Hill is the one who gets the closest to the Ferrari drivers with his Climax-powered B.R.M. with a time of 1’36"3. Moss also improves from the previous day with a time of 1’36"2. Scuderia Ferrari’s crew are happy that their drivers have obtained the whole front row and call them back to the pits to prepare for the race, while the British team can’t understand what they could do to beat their Italian rivals. The Germans aren’t sure that this circuit suits their cars, as it seemed at the beginning of the practice session. At the end of qualifying Moss decides to go back to the set-up used in Monte Carlo, which was the 1960 Lotus equipped with Colotti gearbox and Climax Mark II engine: during another long night, his mechanics will be busy lifting the car up and changing the engine. Therefore, qualifying rewards the drivers of Scuderia Ferrari, who put three cars in the front row.


In second row, Moss and Graham Hill with B.R.M. and Gurney with Porsche will try to give the Italian team a hard time during the race. The British Stirling Moss is more determined than ever to win what would be his first ever world title, despite being superior to any other driver. But, if on the circuit in Monte Carlo the driver’s skills were the crucial factor rather than the mechanical supremacy, in Zandvoort the situation is the exact opposite, which seems to favor Scuderia Ferrari. On Monday 22nd May 1961 the weather improves tremendously: the sky is blue, and the sun is hot over Zandvoort, with the air temperature that has risen by several degrees, even though a strong headwind remains. The race start is scheduled for 3:15 p.m.: nevertheless, all the cars are towed into the paddock before lunchtime. As the weather improves, the aspiration sprinklers of the carburetors of some Climax engines are hastily widened, while Porsche are busy working with the settings of their fuel pump because, obviously, this sudden rise in air temperature requires some modifications not to strain the engine. However, being still quite unexperienced with their injection system, the German technicians aren’t sure how rich their mix should be. The organizers take the drivers on a tour of the circuit to please around 80.000 paying spectators. Afterwards, they are accompanied to the paddock to perform a sighting lap, before stopping on the starting grid. Right after leaving the paddock, Hill discovers that his clutch pedal doesn’t work and does a lap as fast as he can so that he can return to the pits and let the mechanics work on the problem: after removing the fairing, they discover that a pivot had fallen.


While the other fourteen cars are lining up on the grid, Ferrari mechanics find a suitable bolt and they use it to replace the missing pin, so that the pedal can work on the hydraulic cylinder, although rather precariously. Eventually, all drivers line up on the starting grid, where the solid Ferrari front row appears quite unusual to the current spectators but brings back the memories of a glorious past when Ferrari used to dominate the racing scene. As the green flag is waved to start the 75-lap race, Ginther almost switches off the engine making his clutch slip: the engine revs too high and the American driver does a burnout. Consequently, he reaches the first corner surrounded by green and silver cars, while von Trips and Phil Hill are side by side and are sandwiching Moss, who is trying to squeeze his Lotus between the other two cars. As the drivers consolidate their positions in the twisty section behind the pits, von Trips leads ahead of Phil Hill, although Graham Hill and Clark are running close behind. Trips manages to build a considerable gap from the first lap, but the B.R.M. and the new Lotus remain close to the other Ferrari, driven by Phill Hill. No changes for the lead in the second lap as von Trips sets a time of 1’36"0. On the following lap the development of the race begins to appear quite obvious. In a span of just three laps von Trips manages to build a gap of over three seconds over Phil Hill, who patiently lingers to avoid a potential attack from his rivals. Meanwhile, Graham Hill seems to have lost the initial momentum and Clark is ready to steal the third place from him.


Moss and Ginther are chasing Gurney in the first Porsche, as Bonnier finds Brabham, Surtees, Brooks, and McLaren pressuring him heavily, while Taylor leads the two remaining Porsche. On lap 5 von Trips holds a solid lead followed by Phil Hill, but Clark and Graham Hill get closer to the second position occupied by the Ferrari driver, while Moss and Ginther enter the hairpin after the main straight (Tarzanbocht) side by side. The rest of the group progressively loses ground, with the Porsches seriously lacking power because of their overheating engines, presumably because the setting of their fuel pumps was not adjusted correctly. On lap 7 Jim Clark sets the fastest lap of the race with 1’35’’5, probably motivated by the fact of racing against Graham Hill’s B.R.M. and trying to catch Phil Hill’s Ferrari. On lap 10 von Trips is still maintaining his three-second advantage comfortably, but Clark is about to distance the B.R.M. and approach Phil Hill’s Ferrari. Meanwhile, Ginther has problems with his engine, which is not performing at its best, but manages to stay ahead of Moss anyway, however without being able to pull away from him. Brabham climbs up to seventh place, followed by Gurney, Surtees, Bonnier, Brooks, and McLaren. The three remaining drivers led by Trevor Taylor, who are driving smoothly and safely, are now way behind while Hermann and de Beaufort are racing tightly together alternating in the last position.


Nothing changes in the lead until lap 20. Von Trips seems quite comfortable in first position and Phil Hill is doing his best to block every attack from Clark and his new Lotus. The gap between the leading Ferrari and the Lotus-Climax fluctuates between four and five seconds, but nobody seems capable of really challenging von Trips. Ginther’s Ferrari doesn’t look competitive because the engine loses power, probably due to some ignition issues. This allows Moss to overtake him again and, while the problem keeps getting worse, Brabham reaches and overtakes the red car. Meanwhile, Surtees precedes Gurney, after obtaining the eighth place, and McLaren overtakes Bonnier. On lap 21 Clark is four seconds behind the leading Ferrari, with Phil Hill’s car between them, but on lap 22 the young Scot overtakes the American and takes the second place. This totally disrupts Ferrari’s plan, because Hill should have settled on a slightly slower pace to block his rivals and allow von Trips to extend his advantage. Instead, now Clark is forcing Ferrari to speed up way too much and, although Hill does his best to keep Clark busy, he can’t control his pace and, therefore, von Trips can’t pull away.


However, it’s also true that there are a few chances that von Trips gets caught, although he isn’t as comfortable as he planned, and he can’t relax at all. In the meantime, Moss has overtaken Graham Hill, because the B.R.M. becomes increasingly slower as the race progresses, while Ginther’s engine works properly again and allows the driver to get past Brabham. On lap 35, von Trips increases his gap over his teammate Phil Hill. But Clark doesn’t give up battling the American driver, and every time Hill relaxes a bit, he immediately goes for it. The pace of the first three cars is fast, almost identical to the previous year. Graham Hill briefly runs wide on the grass and finds himself in seventh place behind Brabham. Phil Hill is slowly reaching his goal as he sees the gap between him, Clark and the leader increase, going gradually from the initial 6 seconds up to 6.5 and then to 8 seconds on lap 42. Clark keeps pressuring Hill’s Ferrari and for a lap he even overtakes his rival, but von Trips isn’t too worried about what is happening behind him, sure of having an engine that seems to be in perfect conditions. Ginther manages to overtake Moss but can’t shake him off. Furthermore, he sees two Ferraris in front of him, each of them followed closely (and worryingly) by a Lotus.


Cooper and Porsche aren’t competitive here in Zandvoort, and neither are the B.R.M., and it’s clear that the new Lotus can keep up with Ferrari only thanks to Jim Clark’s abilities, just as Moss with his old Lotus. However, both drivers’ effort seems vain, because there obviously is something strong and implacable about how the Ferraris are racing, with Trips carrying on in the lead unhindered. The valiant Lotus driver tries to do his best to make things difficult for the Italian team, although unsuccessfully. Ginther is in fourth position but can’t get rid of the resilient Moss: a very bad situation to be in, because one small mistake is everything it takes for Moss to get past. The gap between the five cars in the front and the rest of the field, led by Brabham, becomes enormous as time goes by. Graham Hill loses another position, ending up behind Surtees. In the last fifteen laps Phil Hill gets closer to von Trips again and the two Ferrari comfortably drive in formation, one behind the other, as Clark sees his gap reach twelve seconds. With four laps to go, Ginther’s task to bring his car to the finish line becomes more difficult after the spring of his throttle pedal breaks, forcing him to brake in every slow corner, unable to manage the power. While he and Moss are approaching the hairpin behind the pits on the last lap, Ginther misjudges the braking point and tackles the corner too fast, losing control of the rear of his car and running wide, allowing Moss - who was waiting for a mistake - to overtake him.


The British driver cuts on the inside and leads Ginther up the hill. Finally, Von Trips wins the Dutch Grand Prix, followed by teammate Phil Hill and Jim Clark with his Lotus. The British Moss (Lotus), who engaged a battle with Richie Ginther right from the start, manages to beat the Ferrari driver, who had the responsibility of defending the first two positions occupied by his teammates, claiming the fourth place. This triumphal day affirms the superiority of the Italian cars on the Dutch circuit in Zandvoort: thanks to more power and a better preparation, Ferrari have proven to be extremely competitive. By contrast, this is a day to forget for the defending world champion Jack Brabham: the Australian had some difficulties in trying to keep up with the Ferraris. It’s a triumphal day for Ferrari at the Dutch Grand Prix, second round of the World Drivers’ Championship. Finishing respectively in first and second place in the final ranking, Wolfgang von Trips and Phill Hill clearly show the blatant superiority of the Italian cars on the Zandvoort circuit. Initial predictions weren’t that bold after all: whoever said, even before Monaco Grand Prix, that the Formula 1 cars from Maranello would probably regain the supremacy lost in favor of the British cars in the last two years, wasn’t wrong. In Monte Carlo, thanks to the many pitfalls of the circuit rather than Lotus’ efficiency, Stirling Moss’ great class won but, after changing the situation, the bigger power output and the better preparation of Ferrari showed themselves clearly.


In fact, von Trips has dominated the Dutch Grand Prix from the beginning to the end, without even having to defend a little, with the rivals of British teams such as Lotus, Cooper and B.R.M. already busy battling for the podium. Phil Hill, after some tussle with the young and promising Jim Clark (who set the fastest lap of the race), managed to get rid of him quite easily. Stirling Moss wasn’t able to do better than fourth, after a lightning start, which allowed him to precede Ferrari’s third driver Richie Ginther right on the finish line. That American who, eight days before, had been his toughest rival. Winning this duel at the photo finish allows Moss to keep the lead of the world drivers’ standings with 12 points, tied with von Trips. Phil Hill has climbed up to 10 points, Ginther to 8 and Clark to 4. The defending world champion Jack Brabham, who will challenge fate in the infernal Indianapolis 500 on 30th May 1961, had to settle for sixth place and one single championship point. But judging by how things are going, it will be hard for him to defend his title: not because he’s lost ‘the touch’, but because of Cooper’s blatant difficulties in keeping up with Ferrari. At least until Coventry-Climax introduces its new eight-cylinder engine currently under preparation.


After all, it happens to be the same problem for Lotus (who have Climax as the engine supplier), for B.R.M. and for Porsche, who all have new engines in the pipeline, but the delay they have in this first part of the season could become unbridgeable by the end of it. Ferrari seem to be in great shape and things may get even better as the next races valid for the Formula 1 World Championship will all be held on very fast circuits, which perfectly suit the greater power of the 1.5-litre six-cylinder engine produced in Maranello. The next round is the Belgian Grand Prix in Spa-Francorchamps, but first Ferrari will have to face another two severe tests with their sportscars: the 1000 km Nürburgring and then the 24 hours of Le Mans, both valid for the World Sportscar Championship. This year, Ferrari showed up with new and very efficient vehicles both in Formula 1 and in the World Sportscar Championship and have the chance to win the two most prestigious titles in motor racing, repeating a result they had already achieved other times in the past. Going back to the race in Zandvoort, it should be highlighted that all fifteen cars that started also finished the race. This is an exceptional occurrence, and it shows the excellent technical preparation and the professionalism of the teams involved in this complex sport, which often gives more disappointments than satisfaction. In conclusion, motorsport is far from being unappealing for the spectators.


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