After just a one-week hiatus, the Formula 1 World Championship resumes with the fourth round of the season: the French Grand Prix at Reims Circuit, which is one of the fastest in world. In the three races that have been held up until now, Moss (Lotus) won the opening round in Monte Carlo; von Trips and Phil Hill (Ferrari) won in Zandvoort and Spa-Francorchamps respectively. At the moment, the score says 2 to 1 in favour of the Italian cars, and there are legitimate reasons to believe that the situation will furtherly improve: Ferrari seem to have reached a very high standard in performance, as engine power and a well-constructed chassis are perfectly complemented by a long-term reliability. It is sufficient to remind that in the first three rounds of the season the cars built by the Modena-based manufacturer have always finished a race. Until now, not a single retirement: in total, nine Ferraris started and nine crossed the finish line.
In Reims, a circuit that has almost always suited the Italian cars, even when other racing tracks saw the victories of British manufacturers, Ferrari should easily prevail thanks to their speed. Their rivals - Cooper, Lotus, B.R.M., and Porsche - are facing a difficult time, as their new engines, with which they claim to be able to increase their competitiveness against Ferrari’s superiority, are still not available. But, meanwhile, the weeks pass, and a Grand Prix follows another, and Ferrari drivers keep collecting championship points for the 1961 title.
This year everyone will probably have to kneel down before Ferrari’s supremacy. Ahead of the Reims round, the world standings see Phill Hill in the lead with 19 points, followed by von Trips with 18; Moss ties Richie Ginther with 12. When it comes to Moss - who even when defeated still remains the number one racing driver in the world - it is necessary to include him in that small group of men who aspire to be Brabham’s successor, but this year the title will very likely be a family business inside Scuderia Ferrari. Now, it is hard to tell who will be the chosen one (provided Enzo Ferrari has a scale of values): probably, a lot will depend on tomorrow’s result.
Talking about drivers, probably the most interesting event is the debut of young Giancarlo Baghetti in a round of the Formula 1 World Championship. The Milanese, chosen by the Federazione Italiana Scuderie to drive the Formula 1 single seater provided by Ferrari only for the rounds of the Italian championship, has literally skipped steps. He started two months before with a sensational win in Siracusa; he replicated the achievement at the Posillipo circuit. While he was enriching his experience in some big sportscar races - Sebring, Le Mans - Baghetti proved worthy of the trust put in him, so much that now Ferrari have rightfully decided to withdraw reservations on the participation of the car only for the Italian races and Baghetti will be teammate with the other Ferrari factory drivers. The event should be greeted with joy: too many years have passed since the deaths of Castellotti and Musso and Italian drivers in the Grand Prix have become an exception. If hopes put on young Baghetti will be concretely realized, this day should be remembered as historical, regardless of the result that Baghetti will be able to achieve in Reims.
After the race in Spa, where Ferrari dominated, everyone is resigned to an even bigger display of mechanical superiority on the fast Reims circuit. In the Belgian Grand Prix, the rear-engine Ferraris took the first four places easily, so, in the paddock, people - jokingly - believe that if Ferrari were to bring six cars to Reims, they would take all the first six places effortlessly. However, SEFAC enters only three factory cars for Phil Hill, Ginther and von Trips (in this order), but a last-minute entry with a Ferrari comes to FISA’s desk: it is that group of Italian motor clubs to which Ferrari loaned a 60°-V V6 rear-engine car for this season. As previously anticipated, their driver is Giancarlo Baghetti, a phlegmatic and slightly overweight Italian coming out of the rows of previous year’s Italian Formula Junior. Naturally, both car and driver are prepared by Scuderia Ferrari, so, as a matter of fact, four factory-entered Ferraris will be present at the start of the race.
The Champagne Automobile Club has not scheduled any pre-qualifying session for this race. Therefore, practically all Formula 1 drivers will be present at this World Championship event. Cooper shows up in Reims with Brabham and McLaren, who will drive their cars powered by the Climax-built four-cylinder engine, even though they hope that at least one V8 engine can be ready in time for the race and can be mounted on Brabham’s car. Colin Chapman fields his two brand-new 1961-spec Lotus-Climax which had already appeared in Spa, always driven by Ireland and Clark, who brings with him the old 1961 as a backup. Clark’s car has SU carburettors, while the others are equipped with the almost-universal Weber carburettors which have won countless Grand Prix almost unchallengedly. Porsche seems in trouble with the new project exactly like Coventry-Climax, since its exciting flat-eight engine is rumoured to have only 160 horsepower and to be not too reliable, while the new chassis with coil springs and front wishbone suspension seem to have completely disappeared, as well as the fuel injection.
Porsche brings the three old cars used in 1960, all with Weber carburettors, among which two for Bonnier and Gurney, while the third one should have been driven by Herrmann, but it is assigned last minute to de Beaufort. B.R.M. completely overhauls three cars, all with Climax engine, disassembling and reassembling the whole lot after Spa so that Graham Hill and Brooks can be provided with the best machines Bourne can produce, until the new V8 is ready, as it is momentarily under construction. These two drivers will be provided also with a spare car for practice.
Stirling Moss will be driving the Rob Walker Lotus Special used in Spa with the chassis from the previous year and equipped with current year’s rear suspension, a five-speed Colotti gearbox and an elegant new bodywork. The 1960 spare Lotus is left at the headquarters, waiting for the new Climax V8 engine, for which the car has been modified during preparation. UDT-Laystall brings three cars in Reims, all standard Lotus-Climax. Two will be equipped with their new bodywork, which is sleeker than Lotus’ production-spec, and will be assigned to Henry Taylor and Lucien Bianchi: the Belgian driver was hired to replace Allison, injured in Spa.
The third car - a production 1960 Lotus-Climax - is used as a backup. All three cars use old Lotus gearboxes with sequential manual transmission. Scuderia Serenissima enters two cars: the old Cooper-Maserati with the new squared bodywork driven by Trintignant, and a new car build by Alessandro de Tomaso in collaboration with OSCA. It is a Cooper-inspired chassis, with swinging bars and coil springs on the four wheels, and an OSCA four-cylinder engine in the rear combined with a five-speed gearbox, which is clean and compact. Since the engine built by OSCA is not as powerful as a Climax engine (with a limit set at around 140-145 horsepower), the car is a bit outdated, but it is entered anyway to be driven by Scarlatti. Casner’s Camoradi International brings to France a new Cooper and an old Lotus for Gregory and Burgess respectively. Yeoman Racing (managed by Parnell) brings three Coopers for Surtees and Salvadori. These are two normal Coopers built in 1961 and a modified Cooper equipped with a five-speed Colotti gearbox. All three have Climax engines, even though one of the production cars uses SU carburettors.
Another Cooper-Climax is the 1960-spec driven by Jack Lewis, privately entered, well refined and back from an excellent race in Spa, while Frenchman Collomb is provided with a 1961 Cooper-Climax. The long list of the participants is completed by two other cars for the Équipe National Belge, which should have been driven by Gendebien and Mairesse, but since both drivers are not so sure of the competitiveness of Emeryson-Maserati’s cars on such a fast track, they withdraw spontaneously, leaving Seidel the chance to show up with his two old Lotus Climax, hoping to enter Swiss Michael May and himself for the race. Luckily, since there is not a fourth Ferrari for Gendebien, Seidel Team succeeds in obtaining a single entry, which is granted to May. On the other hand, for the same reason the reigning Le Mans champion does not even bother to show up in Reims, while Mairesse arrives in France giving special attention to the spare Lotus.
Practice for the 47th French Grand Prix begin in the late afternoon of Wednesday 28th June 1961 at 6:00 p.m. The city of the Champagne region respects its tradition from the start of the racing weekend with a very hot climate. In the pits, a terrible feeling of despair is felt by the Coventry-Climax brigade, even though the cars of the most important teams are powered by the new Mark II engine, which is built in great numbers. When the three 120°-V-engine Ferraris and the 60°-V-engine Ferrari exit the paddock, emitting a beautiful sound that resonates through the concrete pits and the asbestos roofs of the grandstands, everybody understands that the ‘sporting massacre’ will be even worse than in Spa.
For many years people have been sceptical on the figures declared by Ferrari related to their engine power, even though sometimes the Maranello-based team has proven those figures true, like at AVUS in 1959, but now times have changed. Now, there is no doubt that the little rear-engine Ferraris are absolutely unbeatable on a fast circuit, and Reims is one of the fastest in the world. Brabham and McLaren hit the track to test their cars separated by a minimum distance, like Phil Hill and von Trips. But whilst Ferrari are happy with their results since the initial minutes, the two Coopers soon come back to the pits and disappear in the garage to change their gear ratios.
In this first practice there are no Porsches, nor cars of Serenissima and Seidel, while B.R.M., Yeoman Credit, Lotus and UDT are all using their test cars. However, these all have the same capital T on the sides, so the times are not attributed to any driver, since the timekeepers can only associate the drivers to the numbers on the list of entries in the racing program. Therefore, drivers like Surtees and Taylor, who sets his fastest lap driving Bianchi’s car, are not credited for their time. Rather strangely, instead, Bianchi will be credited for Taylor’s time while he is still on his way back from Rally delle Alpi.
While Ferrari factory team go on testing regularly, Baghetti proceeds more carefully, being his first time in Reims. The British cars, led by Brabham, set times slightly slower than 2’30"0: the best time set by Cooper Works drivers is 2’31"0, while Ginther begins to show Ferrari’s true potential, setting a time of 2’28"0. Moss is not happy at all about his Lotus’s handling, even though it is hard for his team to understand what to wark on to improve the car’s performance. The British driver, however, sets times close to 2’31"0. Moss also tries out briefly one of the UDT-Laystalls, before driving his car again. Subsequently, the Brit will be able to follow von Trips, who runs with a pace around 2’30"0, showing how the German driver has underestimated Moss’s guile and skills, and at the same time overestimated the potential of his Ferrari.
Trips tries to go full throttle on the straight, thinking that he can extend his gap over Moss’s Lotus, but the Brit is so aligned with the German driver’s trajectory that he is sucked into his slipstream. Therefore, von Trips is naturally surprised to see Moss still behind him and there is no way he is going to pull away from him through the corners or during breaking: instead of slowing down, he keeps on pushing, and he does not think that by doing so he will give Moss the chance to set a good lap time. Moss is able follow von Trips until he sets at a record time of 2’26"4: only then, the German drivers succeeds in pulling away from Moss, who, in the meantime, has set a time of 2’27"6.
This particular phase of practice involuntarily demonstrates Ferrari’s real potential. And much sooner than Romolo Tavoni, Ferrari team principal, wanted to show to their competitors. Back in the pits, von Trips tries to explain to Tavoni that he did not intend to go against the original instructions, saying that he had no idea he was going so fast, and he just wanted to get rid of Moss. But the German driver should have known that Moss notoriously clings to his rivals, trying to exploit the slipstream. At the same time, having set a time of 2’27"6, Stirling enters the pit lane smiling and directing a bad gesture to Ferrari’s garage, while he drives past the mechanics of the Maranello-based team. Moss is quite satisfied with his lap time, which is extremely quick, much faster than all the other drivers.
However, now that everyone has learnt Moss’s trick, every time Tavoni sees a British car about to use the slipstream of Baghetti’s car, he waves at the Italian driver telling him to enter the pits. However, Eng. Chiti does not notice the hand-sign given by the team principal; therefore, when Baghetti stops at the garage, the Tuscan engineer asks him what the problem was and why he returned to the garage. As he does not know the reason, it is Tavoni’s intervention that clarifies the situation. The team principal approaches the two men, telling Baghetti to restart, since in the meantime all the British cars, which have continued with their lap, are now on the other side of the circuit.
With von Trips involuntarily giving Moss his slipstream, Phil Hill is forced to hit the track and now Ferrari are heavily pressured; in the following laps the American driver sets an impressive sequence of fastest laps: 2’26"1, 2’26"0, 2’25"2, and 2’24"9, then he comes back to the pits. By demonstrating how to effectively exploit another driver’s slipstream, Moss makes everyone try to catch a Ferrari, but at the moment only Baghetti is on the track and, apart from being ‘protected’ by Tavoni, he is not fast enough to be useful in that sense. Baghetti sets a time of 2’32"0 and it is actually good, considering this the first appearance in an important race, but the best drivers with Climax engine can easily go under this time, and Graham Hill has already set a brilliant 2’29"1, which represents the absolute limit for a British car without using the slipstream.
On Thursday 29th June 1961 the temperature rises steadily. Practice is again held starting from 6:00 p.m., with the road surface that begins to show the first signs of melting because of the heat. Porsche arrives at the circuit just in time to take part in practice with its three old cars, one of them bearing a capital L because of a last-minute replacement of de Beaufort with Herrmann, which was not perfectly organized. Bonnier takes part in most of the practice in this car, even though it is destined to de Beaufort. Also in this case, lap times are assigned to the Dutch driver, at the expense of the Swede, who, in this way, does not set any official time. The cars of Scuderia Serenissima, as well as the two white Lotus of May and Seidel, hit the track together with the Porsches to perform some testing. During this practice session, Jim Clark’s new car suffers engine issues, so the Scotsman spends most of the time in the back-up car, which is not as fast as his main car, and Bianchi starts with UDT’s test car. The other company, HP, is in trouble: shortly afterwards, Surtees comes back to the pits with the engine broken on his standard Cooper, so he goes back on track with the modified car. However, this latter car also suffers some issues with gear selection on his Colotti gearbox.
After the first practice session, there is no point for Scuderia Ferrari in participating in the second session; so, neither Phil Hill nor von Trips do any test. Only Ginther does some laps to experiment new solutions. The only one to actually take part in practice is Baghetti, with the aim of learning the circuit and getting accustomed to the Formula 1 world. A skill which seems almost natural for the Italian driver, since Cooper, Lotus and B.R.M. drivers insistently look for him to exploit his slipstream. Despite driving around at a slow pace, Baghetti is able to set some laps close to 2’30"0, which the best drivers with Climax-powered cars can easily replicate. As time goes by, Baghetti progressively learns how to drive effectively and at the end of practice he gives his best performance. Towards the end of the session, the Italian driver is surrounded by McLaren, Brooks and Graham Hill, who all try to get in his slipstream. However, he knows his rivals’ intentions and increases his pace at Thillois corner and makes them take the wrong line.
Ginther drives his car with a normal set-up, which means with two Perspex bubbles covering the carburettors instead of gauze covers used at the beginning of the season, except, later, he gets a peculiar teardrop-shaped tail mounted on his car. This replaces the Perspex bubbles and covers the whole rear of the car up to the rollbar, so that instead of taking ai from under the bonnet the carburettors take it from behind the driver’s head. The American driver does some laps with this bolt-on cover and then stops again at the garage to make the mechanics remove it and replace it with the original twin Perspex bubbles, with which he does some other laps. But he will not find any significant change in the car’s performance, so the project is abandoned.
During practice there is a moment of extreme anxiety when at Thillois corner a black Peugeot 403 with a Paris plaque suddenly appears on the circuit coming from Reims and heading to Soisson, opposite to the Formula 1 cars which, in the meantime, are regularly circulating. A few minutes earlier, the driver was able to get past the barriers and take the way back home without being noticed by the sleepy gendarmes. The man driving the Peugeot 403 covers around 200 metres inside the circuit, while McLaren and Baghetti are coming at Thillois corner. While the Peugeot is subsequently moved onto the grass thanks to the intervention of the marshals, both McLaren and Baghetti decide to steer towards the run-off area, more for the huge surprise than anything else. Shortly afterwards, three gendarmes pounce on the indignant Peugeot driver who seems completely unaware of the fact that the road has been closed for the Grand Prix, then he is taken away to be arrested.
A new driver shows up at the wheel of UDT-Laystall’s test car: J.M. Bordeu, a young Argentinian from Formula Junior, who after a brief shakedown, shows that he can be as competitive as his teammates. A sort of preliminary test ahead of a possible access in the Formula1 circus. Moss is still quite unhappy of his Lotus’s handling, going full throttle in the corners and then being forced to lift, because the car does not handle how it should, and the manoeuvrability is undesirable. With the 1961 rear suspension that has a lower roll centre than the one used in 1960 and that shows different characteristics with its sliding-spline half-shafts instead of the solid ones, it seems that Moss needs a completely new front suspension to make the rear one work correctly. Practice ends with only a single driver being able to set a time under 2’30"0 and certainly not because nobody has tried: these have been two busy hours for all he drivers that will take part in the French Grand Prix. But, in the end, the one capable of such a performance can only be a Ferrari driver: more specifically, Richie Ginther, who sets a time of 2’27"0.
On Friday 30th June 1961 the heat is still increasing, and everyone prepares for another carnage like in 1959, while the climate becomes hotter and the air more suffocating. 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. is the timeslot dedicated to the cars of the French Grand Prix. In this session, Mairesse is provided with the back-up Lotus as Clark’s cars has been repaired, while Ferrari decide to send their drivers out on track to do some laps, with the aim of checking if everything is ok. Ginther sets the fastest lap with 2’26"8, but obviously Scuderia Ferrari drivers do not strain their machines because they do not really need to do so. The closest rival is Moss, with an ‘artificial’ time of 2’27"6, while the closest rival who did not exploit the Ferrari’s slipstream is Graham Hill with a time of 2’29"1.
The only driver at the wheel of a Ferrari who keeps driving around is Giancarlo Baghetti, who aims to increase his driving experience on Reims circuit. During this last session, the Italian driver’s rivals try to use the slipstream of his car. But since Baghetti cannot go faster than 2’30’’0, Tavoni is not worried and lets him practice freely, favouring the drivers at the wheel of British cars. At the end of this last practice session, McLaren, Clark, Ireland, Gurney, Brooks, and Surtees all go under 2’30’’0. On Saturday 1st July 1961 the drivers are given a day off. The organizers’ idea is to fix the road surface, but the sun beats hard on the asphalt and tarmac melts even more. While the mechanics are preparing the cars, the organizers cool off with Champagne.
On Sunday 2nd July 1961 drivers and professionals are relieved at the circuit when they discover that the temperature has not risen compared to the previous days. In the morning two heats are held on Reims circuit for the Formula Junior Championship race, while Formula 1 cars line up on the starting grid at 2:15 p.m. with the drivers reaching them on foot accompanied by their mechanics. Many drivers literally drench themselves in water trying to fight the heat and are applauded by the crowd out of appreciation. The chants are at their loudest when Moss appears with his drenched racing suit. The French crowd is undoubtedly on his side more than any other driver’s.
The three factory-entered Ferraris replace their Perspex carburettor covers with the old type made of gauze, while Team Lotus removes the lateral panels from the cockpit and many cars are equipped with holes and air intakes as a countermeasure against the tremendous heat they will face during the race. Porsche and B.R.M. also take precautions against the small rocks thrown by cars when they pass over the tarmac when this melts down, for which Reims circuit is famous, by mounting protections made of metallic net on vulnerable parts like the carburettors, the upper part of the windscreen and the oil radiators. The starting grid is one of the largest of the current championship, showing that the interest in Formula 1 races is extremely strong.
For once race director Mr. Raymond Roche does not make mistakes at the start and all the twenty-six cars get away regularly. The three Ferraris in the first row pull away side by side, but Moss squeezes right behind them and crouches behind the windscreen hoping to gain some speed. Needless to say, the three cars from Maranello lead the pack down the hill towards Thillois, but the blue Lotus is right behind them, and the end of the first lap sees the entire group of competitors roll past sticked to one another. Phil Hill is the leader of the race, followed by Ginther, von Trips, Moss, Surtees, Clark, Ireland, Graham Hill, Brooks, Bonnier and the rest of the field.
At the end of the second lap Phil Hill, von Trips and Ginther are still followed by Moss. Surtees and Clark are more distanced, and they are followed by the two B.R.M.s, Bonnier, Gurney, Ireland, Baghetti, McLaren and finally Salvadori, followed by Brabham and Mairesse. Lewis and Gregory instead go back to the pits to check their cars. On the third lap Ginther is close to von Trips and Moss but struggles to keep up with them. The leading group extends its gap on the pursuers from the start: in fact, Surtees follows behind, joined by a large group of cars that includes Clark, Hill, Ireland, Brooks, Baghetti, Bonnier, Gurney, and McLaren, who all quickly roll past the start/finish line. Collomb stops at his garage, as well as Henry Taylor, whose UDT car suffers a fuel leak.
On the fourth lap, while the drivers are at Muizon hairpin before the long downhill straight towards Thillois, Phill Hill leads the race followed by von Trips, while Ginther loses control of his car, which spins, letting Moss past. In the attempt of avoiding Ginther’s car, Surtees’s Cooper suddenly changes direction and hits the edge of the road, which bends a component of the rear suspension. Following these events, now the classification now sees Phil Hill in the lead, followed by von Trips, Moss, Ginther, while Surtees slowly drives towards the pits and retires at the end of the fourth lap. Brooks also goes back to the pits because a gasket of the head of his Climax engine has overheated by being so close to other cars. Lewis and Gregory also enter to try and repair their cars. These two drivers are circled by the mechanics, who intervene despite the sweltering heat.
On the fifth lap Moss is still in third place and huddled in his cockpit, trying to do everything not to lose contact with the leading drivers. However, the two leading Ferraris pull away easily and Ginther quickly reaches the Brit. Now the race begins to stabilize, with the first four places more or less defined, and the second group following the leaders composed by Clark, Ireland, Hill, Baghetti, Bonnier, McLaren, Gurney, who are all very close to each other. With one of those corrections that only timekeepers can understand, Moss is credited with the fastest lap on lap two, even though the Ferraris are steadily pulling away from the British car. Only thanks to the release of the official report it is discovered that it took 2’30’’4 to Moss to set the fastest lap. This means that Ferrari drivers are driving significantly under their limit and, since they are already widely in front, the race seems almost finished.
On the sixth lap Ginther manages to overtake Moss and go back to third place. Now, the only doubt regarding the race result is which Ferrari driver is going to win. In the back, the battle for fifth place is furious as always: no driver has a real advantage on the others, and on lap eight, when Phil Hill starts to slow down and wait for von Trips, Baghetti climbs up to the third place in the group that fights for fifth place, behind Ireland and Graham Hill. On the following lap the B.R.M. driver loses positions; therefore, the classification now sees Ireland, followed by Baghetti, Clark, Hill, McLaren, Bonnier, Gurney. The battle is so intense that this becomes more interesting than the race itself. On the tenth lap Phil Hill leads the race, followed by von Trips two seconds away. In third place, with a gap of eighteen seconds there is Ginther, with Moss ten seconds behind him. However, the battling group arrives on the start/finish line only six seconds later: evidently, they are closing the gap to Moss.
The order of the classification now sees Baghetti preceding Clark, Bonnier, Hill, McLaren, Gurney, and Ireland. This change is due to Baghetti’s action, who pushes Ireland on the grass at Muison, but after only a lap Ireland is right behind Clark and Baghetti. A splendid head-to-head duel follows, even though it is obvious that the Ferrari is the most competitive car, and it will be hard for the others to beat Baghetti. Behind them, Brabham will very unlikely overtake de Beaufort: The Dutch drives very aggressively, almost pushing Brabham on the grass. Scarlatti goes back to the pits with the De Tomaso-OSCA and Mairesse is struggling with his Lotus, while Lewis and Brooks retired at the end of lap four. In the following minutes Moss slows down visibly, allowing the group behind him to close up. On lap thirteen, while Phil Hill gives up the lead to von Trips, Baghetti reaches Moss.
On the following lap von Trips precedes Phil Hill, while Ginther is further behind. Baghetti follows in fourth place, with Clark, Ireland and the rest of the group on his back, while Moss is losing ground. His Walker-Lotus has some brake issues: the pedal is spongy, and the braking action is irregular, but despite this problem the Brit is still doing his best, keeping up with the youngsters that are battling for fourth place. On lap fifteen, Tavoni shows the two leading drivers a sign that says GINT, which means wait for Ginther or let Ginther take the lead. This sign will also be shown on the following lap, while on lap seventeen von Trips and Hill are requested to slow down. In fourth place Baghetti has no peace, because now Clark and Ireland are trying to overtake him. These three drivers involved in this battle have slightly distanced Bonnier, McLaren, Moss, Graham Hill, and Gurney, who now form a compact group. On lap fourteen, Brabham goes back to his garage due to low oil pressure, while Bianchi stops on lap twenty-one due to a principle of overheating. Trintignant also stops at his garage with his Cooper-Maserati, but he will restart shortly afterwards.
On lap twenty, having received the order to slow down, Ferrari drivers follow the instructions, but at the end of the lap it is Phil Hill who takes the lead, while von Trips enters the pits with water coming out of his right exhaust pipe. For Ferrari mechanics there is no need to search the problem because water in the exhaust pipe can only mean one thing: broken engine. So, the number #20 Ferrari is taken into the garage and the race suddenly becomes interesting again. Since their first appearance in Monaco, Ferrari’s 120° V6 engines have never showed any sign of failure. Therefore, the last thing one could imagine is a retirement for Ferrari, especially because the Maranello-based cars have never been driven near their limit.
Moss keeps struggling with the brakes and his braking problems worsen by the minute, so his Lotus is now at the back of the group formed by Baghetti, Clark, Ireland, McLaren, Bonnier, Gurney, and Graham Hill, all very close to each other. On lap nineteen, Phil Hill has a fourteen-second advantage over Ginther, feeling pretty pleased with being in the lead again, even though Enzo Ferrari’s plans were different ahead of the French race. Shortly afterwards, Moss goes back to the pits because the lack of braking power is becoming dangerous. In the moments that follow his stop the mechanics discover that the hose of the brake liquid of the right rear disc brake broke, letting all the fluid and the pressure out.
It takes four laps to the mechanics to install a new hose; meanwhile, however, a layer of melted tar that was mixed nearby drips in the rear wheels and solidifies unnoticed. Being alloy wheels, these hide the problem, and when Moss restarts, he finds himself dealing with a terrible vibration coming from the rear, so he stops on the next lap to check if the wheels were fitted correctly after the brake repair. Since the mechanics find everything in order, Moss restarts again, but the Brit still feels this vibration and, after some more laps, he goes back to the pits to carry on the investigation. It will take a while to discover the tar lumps that cause the vibration, but by that time Moss will have lost too much time to the rest of the field.
Meanwhile, Phil Hill is still preceding Ginther with a ca. ten-second advantage, while Baghetti carries on his battle against Clark and Ireland. A little further behind, Bonnier precedes McLaren, Graham Hill, and Gurney. At the end of the twenty-third lap Gurney suddenly manages to overtake the drivers that precede him and starts chasing the Ferraris and the Lotus. At the end of lap twenty-five, the gap between the leading Ferraris doubles when Ginther goes off the track. Nevertheless, the American driver still has a fifty-five-second advantage over Baghetti, who is now being attacked by Gurney and the two Lotus. The only other driver who has a constant pace and seems not to be in difficulties is Salvadori, but he has already been lapped by the leaders. On lap twenty de Beaufort’s Porsche breaks due to overheating, which causes an oil leak from the rear of the car.
Phil Hill is easily driving around with a 2’35"0-pace and on lap twenty-nine has Moss right behind his back, even though, obviously, the Brit has been lapped multiple times. On the previous lap Gurney had taken the lead of his group and Bonnier had climbed up to help him, so that the classification saw Gurney, Baghetti, Bonnier, Clark, and Ireland, with the young Italian still in trouble. Ireland starts losing power, probably because of a rock that has entered the engine through the air intake, and gradually loses ground. On lap thirty-two Gurney overtakes Baghetti’s Ferrari, and on the following lap Bonnier also manages to get past the car of the young Italian driver, who is having a hard time on his Formula 1 debut. Nevertheless, he remarkably stands up against all these experienced drivers, and, most of all, without making any mistakes in conditions where a mistake would be more than justifiable.
On lap thirty-four Baghetti regains the lead of his group, being now third behind Phil Hill and Ginther, and even though he keeps the position also on the following lap, he still has the two Porsches and the Lotus right behind him. On lap thirty-six a rock thrown by someone’s rear tyre hits Clark on the nose. Other than being very painful, the rock also breaks Clark’s glasses, making the Scotsman lose a lot of ground while he is busy wearing another pair which he had previously hung on his neck. Having lost both Ferrari and Porsche’s pace, Clark will never be able to close up on his rivals again. In the meantime, mechanics at Ferrari’s garage confidentially tell Hill and Ginther the number of laps remaining every time they pass on the start/finish line, convinced that the situation is under control. However, at the end of lap thirty-eight, only Ginther drives past the pits, since Phil Hill stopped at Thillois corner.
The American driver made a mistake, spinning on wet tarmac. This caused the engine to stall and the car to spin. Subsequently, there is nothing that poor Hill could do to restart his engine, and in the scorching heat, he decided to jump off the car and push it to make it start, despite a recent FIA rule which prohibits this operation in any circumstance. As if Ginther’s solitary passage was not bad enough news for Scuderia Ferrari, Gurney and Bonnier are side by side with Baghetti, with the American effectively being in second place now. On the following lap, Ginther heads towards the pits pointing at the oil tank in the front end of his car. His car is losing oil pressure; therefore, the American thinks the oil level is low, but like his teammate he forgets FIA rules and wants a fill-up, even though it is not allowed loading oil when the race is on. Knowing this, Tavoni waves at Ginther ordering him to exit the pits. The American restarts and goes back on track right when Baghetti appears with the two Porsches right behind him.
Clark and Ireland are far behind, but behind them McLaren and Graham Hill are still battling between them, while the rest of the field has been lapped multiple times. On lap forty-two Ginther is still in the lead, but keeps his fingers crossed because the oil pressure indicator shows a worrying scenario, to the point that, after completing the first half of the forty-first lap, the American driver is forced to stop at Muizon before the engine blows up. It is hard to imagine Baghetti’s thoughts while he - together with the Porsches - drives past the broken-down Ferrari after having already witnessed the pitiful scene of Phil Hill pushing his Ferrari. But Bonnier and Gurney’s thoughts are certainly much more imaginable: these two are now fighting for victory of the 47th French Grand Prix against the young Italian. Meanwhile, Phil Hill manages to restart his engine and exhaustedly resumes racing in ninth place behind Salvadori, one lap behind the leader.
Now all hopes of Scuderia Ferrari are put on young Giancarlo Baghetti, on his debut in the world championship. It seemed impossible that a young driver, just arrived in Formula 1, could fight against much more experienced drivers without committing mistakes in changing gears, while braking, or entering a corner too fast, and this man was even less likely expected to fight for victory. Bonnier and Gurney, now having a chance to win the Grand Prix, increase their pace with renewed strength, so that on lap forty-one Baghetti leads with the smallest of gaps, when only eleven laps remain till the end of the race. As times passes, the vast crowd surrounding the circuit comes alive; the pits and the grandstands are now in fibrillation. The signals from the pits become superfluous, as the three leading cars are separated by mere inches, and anyone of the drivers could be the winner of the race.
On lap forty-two the Porsches are side by side with the Ferrari and they manage to overtake Baghetti on lap forty-four, but on lap forty-five the Italian driver retakes the lead of the race. Both Porsche drivers attack and overtake the Ferrari driver on lap forty-six, but on the following lap Baghetti is back in the lead again, after having overtaken his rivals on Thillois straight. On lap forty-eight the three cars cross the start/finish line side by side, as they do on lap forty-nine, with Gurney overtaking the Ferrari on the finish line, and Bonnier almost touching his teammate and the Italian driver’s tailpipes, while the crowd cheers in excitement. On lap fifty, Baghetti retakes the lead, but Gurney is just a few inches away, to the point that the wheels of the two cars can almost get hooked together.
The American fights with great courage, but the imperturbable Baghetti manages to keep his position, giving the audience a demonstration of coldness and skill. Meanwhile, Bonnier loses ground. The reason of this delay will be cleared when the Swedish driver goes back to his garage with smoke and oil coming out of the rear of his car. On lap fifty-two, the Porsche engine blew up due to the furious pace imposed by Gurney and Baghetti. With only two laps to go, Bonnier is sent back on track, to try and reach the finish line and be still classified.
Meanwhile, Gurney overtakes Baghetti’s Ferrari at Thillois hairpin and takes the lead of the race. The American driver keeps the position also on the straight, while he is heading towards the finish line, which he crosses together with Baghetti, the two being just a few inches apart. The two drivers carry on together, going under Dunlop bridge to begin the last lap. The tension is high, while everybody is waiting for the two drivers to appear on the long straight towards Thillois. When Gurney and Baghetti come out of the wood and begin the downhill, the Ferrari driven by the Italian is in the lead. The silver Porsche slowly but inexorably gains ground, and when the two drivers approach the braking zone of the hairpin Gurney takes the lead.
Shortly afterwards, the two rivals approach the final straight, carefully observed by thousands of eyes from the pits and the grandstands. Around 300 metres before the finish line the Ferrari suddenly overtakes the Porsche and gets away as Baghetti performs one of the most perfect exhibitions of right timing in the history of the sport, which would have certainly honoured a champion like Fangio. The roar of the crowd is formidable when the young Italian crosses the finish line and wins the French Grand Prix by less than a car-length. Ferrari celebrate the victory, while Porsche team are still happy for having participated in such a splendid battle. Colin Chapman’s team are also more than satisfied with their third and fourth place.
Bonnier fights to finish the race in seventh place, while the duel between McLaren and Graham Hill resolves in favour of the New Zealand driver in the moment when both drivers cross the finish line. Phil Hill, understandably deeply unhappy, ends the race one lap behind. The Ferrari drivers deal with their unhappiness while the FISA protégé is lifted from his car and cooled off with some fresh water. The Italian driver experienced a tiring race, since he has been attacked by other drivers for all the fifty-two laps, without mentioning the three practice sessions.
Twenty-six-year-old Italian Giancarlo Baghetti (Ferrari) wins the 47th Automobile Club de France French Grand Prix, after a riveting fight with two Porsches that went on for about eighty kilometres. The young Milanese driver, whom all Italian hopes are now put on, took the lead on lap forty-one (which means eleven to go), after the three factory-entered Ferraris retired or suffered long delays. The two Porsches driven by American Dan Gurney and Swede Joachim Bonnier had been attacking the Italian’s Ferrari for a while before he took the lead of the race.
In the last few laps, the battle became raged on, with Baghetti and Gurney alternating in the lead. This situation of uncertainty resolved in a dramatic end, with the two cars crossing the finish line almost side by side. In the two final laps the overtakes between the two drivers are many. Gurney appears first on the final straight, closely followed by Baghetti’s red race car; Baghetti finds the right timing for the overtake, but Gurney zigzags, using the full width of the track to impede his rival. With 250 metres to go, maybe 200, while Gurney thinks Baghetti is on his left-hand side, he passes on the right and wins. A great show for a great champion.
Italy finds in Reims a new driving ace. The fall of the favourites (Hill, von Trips, Ginther) and a racing pace slightly slower than the normal average may have favoured Baghetti, but he still remarkably managed to find in his limited experience the strength and the skill to face and defeat the Porsche coalition: those cars, driven by experienced veterans, were for him a constant threat in the last ten laps. Baghetti overcame all the obstacles in the style of a true champion, and this will not be highlighted enough in a country like Italy - which has given the world many sports champions - which at the time was poor of real values. The circuit that witnessed the tragic death of the last great Italian driver - Luigi Musso - has marked the rise of the successor of the great aces of the past: Giancarlo Baghetti, a twenty-six-year-old young man.
The sensational victory of the young Italian driver in the French Grand Prix catches everyone off guard, including those who never doubted his abilities and his class. Comments on the classic French race are focused on Baghetti’s great achievement: the Italian driver behaved as an experienced champion, even though he was favoured by certain conditions which led him to win against craftier drivers. Because, at a certain point, how a victory was taken and not whether it was taken or not is all that matters in the evaluation of a racing driver.
It is hard to remember another driving ace before Baghetti who was able to impress and show his capabilities as rapidly as him. However, some time should be waited before announcing the birth of a new champion in its whole meaning. Baghetti should be carefully observed in the future not in his best conditions but also in troubled times. It is still to be seen if he can deal with adversities, if he can endure pain. Wrong are those who praise him excessively in a distorted manifestation of love for this sport.
Everybody knows the guy does not like the ‘diva’ behaviour: Baghetti has remained simple and modest even after the newspapers began writing about him. If Baghetti is an authentic champion, he will prove it soon. All that counts now is that, at last, the name of an Italian driver reappeared at the top of the classification of a Formula 1 Grand Prix. It had been a long time since that happened, so this event should be welcomed as a joyous sign for Italian motorsport, whose grand tradition could not have just faded away in the dullness of the last few years. And it is also meaningful that this rebirth coincides with the return of Italian cars - Ferrari’s cars - in a position of clear technical supremacy. On Saturday 4th July 1961 Giancarlo Baghetti goes back home to Milan by car with his little brother Marco. His parents are waiting for him in his via Borromei house, those parents who suffered and rejoiced in front of the television on Sunday 2nd July 1961.
"It was an indescribable feeling, I suffered a lot, but when I saw Giancarlo cross the finish line, I couldn’t hold back my joy. And I hugged my husband who was even more moved than me. We have never supported the passion for cars that Giancarlo has developed since he was a kid. But he managed to make it anyway. I don’t deny having spent sleepless nights when he took part in his first race. Now my Husband and I are getting used to it. But I can assure you that it’s a heart-pounding habit".
Giancarlo Baghetti, who will turn twenty-seven in December, born and living in Milan, quit studying after finishing high school for two reasons: to help his father, renowned businessman in the metallurgic field, and to devote his free time to motorsport. His father admits:
"Now he takes care of business in his free time because the rest of the day is dedicated to cars. Giancarlo is young and will have time to seriously devote himself to work. Now we let him have fun racing cars, since for him motorsport is really a hobby".