#98 1961 French Grand Prix

2021-08-28 01:00

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#1961, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Carola Buzio,

#98 1961 French Grand Prix

After a break of just one week, the Formula 1 World Championship resumes with the fourth round of the season: the French Grand Prix at Reims Circuit,

After a break of just one week, 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 is 2 to 1 in favor of the Italian cars, and there are legitimate reasons to believe that the situation will improve even more: Ferrari seem to have reached a very high-performance standard, as the engine power and a well-constructed chassis are perfectly complemented with a long-term reliability. It suffices to remind that in the first three rounds of the season the cars built by the manufacturer based in Modena have always finished each race. Until now there hasn’t been a single withdrawal: in total, nine Ferrari started and nine Ferrari crossed the finish line. In Reims, a circuit that almost always has suited the Italian cars even when other racing tracks saw the victories of British manufacturers, Ferrari should easily triumph 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 go by, and a Grand Prix follows another one, and the 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 round in Reims, the world standings see Phill Hill in the lead with 19 points, followed by von Trips with 18; Moss ties with Richie Ginther with 12. When it comes to Moss - who, even when defeated, still remains the number one racing driver in the world - it’s 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’s hard to tell who will be the chosen one (provided that 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 Federazione Italiana Scuderie to drive the Formula 1 car provided by Ferrari only for the Italian rounds of the championship, has literally obtained his first successes very quickly. He started two months before with a sensational victory in Siracusa; he repeated the same achievement at the Posillipo circuit. While he was increasing his experience in some big sportscar races – Sebring and Le Mans - Baghetti proved to be worthy of the trust that was put in him, so much so that now Ferrari have rightfully decided to withdraw the reservations on the participation of the car only for the Italian races and Baghetti will be the teammate of the other Ferrari factory drivers. The event should be welcome with joy: too many years have passed since the deaths of Castellotti and Musso, and Italian drivers participating in Grands Prix have become an exception. If the hopes put on the young Baghetti will be realized concretely, this day should be remembered as historical, regardless of the result that Baghetti will 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 circuit in Reims. 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 arrives on FISA’s desk: it’s from that group of Italian motor clubs to which Ferrari loaned a 60°-V V6 rear-engine car for this season. As mentioned previously, their driver is Giancarlo Baghetti, a phlegmatic and slightly overweight Italian who stood out in the Italian Formula Junior races of the previous year. Naturally, both the car and the driver are prepared by Scuderia Ferrari so, as a matter of fact, four factory-entered Ferrari will be present at the start of the race. The Champagne Automobile Club hasn’t scheduled any pre-qualifying session for this race. Therefore, basically all Formula 1 drivers will be present at this World Championship event. Cooper show up in Reims with Brabham and McLaren, who will drive their cars powered by the four-cylinder engine created by Climax, even though they hope that at least one V8 engine can be ready in time for the race and can be assembled 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 carburetors, while the others are equipped with the almost universal Weber carburetors which have won countless Grands Prix, almost unchallenged. Porsche seem to be in trouble with the new project exactly like Coventry-Climax, since their exciting flat-eight engine is rumored to have only 160 horsepower and to not be very reliable, while the new chassis with coil springs and front wishbone suspension seem to have completely disappeared, as well as the fuel injection. Porsche bring the three old cars used in 1960, with Weber carburetors, among which two are for Bonnier and Gurney, while the third one should have been driven by Herrmann, but at the last minute it’s assigned to de Beaufort. B.R.M. completely overhaul 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 cars that the manufacturer from Bourne can build, until the new V8 is ready, as it’s momentarily being produced. These two drivers will be provided also with a spare car for practice. Stirling Moss will be driving Rob Walker’s Lotus Special used in Spa with the chassis from the previous year and equipped with rear suspension of the current year, 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 bring three cars in Reims, all standard Lotus-Climax. Two will be equipped with a 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 1960 Lotus-Climax - is used as a backup. All three cars use old Lotus gearboxes with sequential manual transmission. Scuderia Serenissima enter two cars: the old Cooper-Maserati with the new squared bodywork driven by Trintignant, and a new car built by Alejandro de Tomaso in collaboration with OSCA. It’s 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’s entered anyway and is driven by Scarlatti. Casner’s Camoradi International bring respectively a new Cooper and an old Lotus for Gregory and Burgess to France. Yeoman Racing (managed by Parnell) bring three Coopers for Surtees and Salvadori. Two are normal Coopers built in 1961 and the other is a modified Cooper equipped with a five-speed Colotti gearbox. All three have Climax engines, even though one of the cars uses SU carburetors. Another 1960-spec Cooper-Climax is driven by Jack Lewis, who registered privately and just got back from an excellent race in Spa, while the Frenchman Collomb is provided with a 1961 Cooper-Climax. The long list of participants is completed by two other cars for 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 the Swiss Michael May and himself for the race. Luckily, since there isn’t a fourth Ferrari for Gendebien, Seidel’s 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 doesn’t even bother to show up in Reims, while Mairesse arrives in France giving particular 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 weather. In the pits, a terrible feeling of despair is felt by the Coventry-Climax team, even though the cars of the most important teams are powered by the new Mark II engine, which was built in great numbers. When the three 120°-V-engine Ferrari 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 it was in Spa. For many years people have been skeptical on the figures declared by Ferrari related to their engine power, even though sometimes the team based in Maranello 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 Ferrari 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 from the start, the two Cooper 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 Serenissima’s or Seidel’s cars, 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 allocated 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, aren’t given credit for their times. Rather strangely, instead, Bianchi will get credited for Taylor’s time while he’s still on his way back from the Alpine Rally. While Ferrari factory team goes 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 the handling of his Lotus, even though it’s hard for his team to understand what to work on to improve the car’s performance. The British driver, however, sets times close to 2’31"0. Moss also briefly tries out one of the UDT-Laystalls, before driving his car again. Subsequently, the Brit will be able to follow von Trips, who runs with a great 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 in the corners or during braking: instead of slowing down he keeps on pushing, and he doesn’t think that by doing so he gives Moss the chance to set a good lap time. Moss follows von Trips until he sets a record time of 2’26"4: only then, the German driver succeeds in pulling away from Moss who, in the meantime, has set a time of 2’27"6. This phase of practice involuntarily shows Ferrari’s real potential. 


And much sooner than Romolo Tavoni, Ferrari’s team principal, wanted to show to their rivals. Back in the pits, von Trips tries to explain to Tavoni that he didn’t intend to go against the original instructions, saying that he had no idea he was going that fast, and he just wanted to get rid of Moss. But the German driver should have known that Moss notoriously clings on to his rivals, trying to use their 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 team from Maranello. Moss is quite satisfied with his lap time, which is extremely quick, much faster than all the other drivers. However, now that everyone has learned Moss’s trick, every time Tavoni sees a British car about to use Baghetti’s slipstream, he signals to the Italian driver and tells him to enter the pits. However, engineer Chiti doesn’t 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 doesn’t know the reason, Tavoni’s intervention 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 and catch a Ferrari, but at the moment only Baghetti is on track and, apart from being “protected” by Tavoni, he isn’t fast enough to be useful in that sense. Baghetti sets a time of 2’32"0, which is actually good, considering this is his first appearance in an important race, but the best drivers with Climax engine can easily go below 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 held again starting from 6:00 p.m., with the track beginning to show the first signs of melting because of the heat. Porsche arrive at the circuit just in time to take part in practice with their three old cars, one of them has a capital L because of a last-minute replacement of de Beaufort with Herrmann, which wasn’t organized perfectly. Bonnier takes part in most of the practice in this car, even though it’s 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, doesn’t 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 do some testing. During this practice session, Jim Clark’s new car suffers some 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 team, Yeoman Credit Racing Team, is in trouble: shortly after, Surtees comes back to the pits with a broken engine on his standard Cooper, so he goes back on track with the modified car. However, this car also suffers some issues with the 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 test new solutions. Actually, the only one that takes part in practice is Baghetti, with the goal of getting to know the circuit and getting accustomed to the Formula 1 world. A skill which seems almost natural for the Italian driver, since the drivers of Cooper, Lotus and B.R.M. insistently look for him to use his slipstream. Despite driving around at a slow pace, Baghetti sets 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 performs at his best. Towards the end of the session, the Italian driver is surrounded by McLaren, Brooks and Graham Hill, who 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 trajectory. Ginther drives his car with a normal set-up, which means with two Perspex bubbles covering the carburetors instead of gauze covers used at the beginning of the season, but later, he gets a peculiar teardrop-shaped tail assembled 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 air from under the bonnet the carburetors 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 doesn’t 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 as a black Peugeot 403 with a Parisian plate suddenly appears on the circuit coming from Reims and heading to Soisson, opposite to the Formula 1 cars which, in the meantime, are regularly running. A few minutes earlier, the driver got past the barriers and took the way back home without being noticed by the sleepy gendarmes. The man driving the Peugeot 403 covers around 200 meters inside the circuit, while McLaren and Baghetti are coming towards Thillois. Subsequently, while the Peugeot moves 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 after, three gendarmes jumped on the indignant Peugeot driver who seems completely unaware of the fact that the road had been closed for the Grand Prix, then he is taken away to arrest him. 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 to 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 his foot, because the car does not respond how it should, and the maneuverability isn’t good enough. With the 1961 rear suspension that has a lower roll center 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 one driver being able to set a time under 2’30"0 and certainly not because nobody tried: these have been two busy hours for all the 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 weather becomes hotter and the air more suffocating. The timeslot dedicated to the cars of the French Grand Prix is from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. In this session, Mairesse is provided with the back-up Lotus as Clark’s cars have been repaired, while Ferrari decide to send their drivers out on track to do some laps, with the aim of checking that everything is ok. 


Ginther sets the fastest lap with 2’26"8, but obviously Scuderia Ferrari’s drivers don’t put a strain their cars because they don’t 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 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 his slipstream. But, since Baghetti can’t go faster than 2’30’’0, Tavoni is not worried and lets him practice freely, favoring the drivers who drive 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 burns and the 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 at the circuit are relieved 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 are lined up on the grid at 2:15 p.m. with the drivers reaching them on foot accompanied by their mechanics. Many drivers literally drench themselves with water trying to fight the heat and are applauded by the crowd out of appreciation. The chants are at their loudest when Moss appears in his drenched racing suit. The French crowd is undoubtedly on his side more than any other driver’s. The three factory-entered Ferrari replace their Perspex carburetor covers with the old type made of gauze, while Lotus remove 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 as it melts down, for which this circuit is famous, by putting protections made of metallic net on vulnerable parts like the carburetors, 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 the race director, Mr. Raymond Roche, doesn’t make mistakes at the start and all the twenty-six cars get away regularly. The three Ferrari 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 group down the hill towards Thillois, but the blue Lotus is right behind them and at the end of the first lap the entire group of competitors cross the line, one close to the other. 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 quickly go past the start/finish line. Collomb stops at his garage as well as Henry Taylor, whose UDT car leaks fuel. On the fourth lap, while the drivers are at the 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 go. 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 ranking 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 overheated due to being so close to the other cars. Lewis and Gregory also pit to try and repair their cars. These two drivers are surrounded by mechanics, who intervene despite the sweltering heat. On the fifth lap Moss is still in third place and huddled in his cockpit, tries to do everything he can not to lose contact with the leading drivers. However, the two leading Ferrari 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, which follows 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 Ferrari are steadily pulling away from the British car. Only thanks to the release of the official report it is then discovered that it took 2’30"4 to Moss to set the fastest lap. This means that the 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 goes 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 the eighth lap, 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 some positions; therefore, now the ranking sees Ireland, followed by Baghetti, Clark, Hill, McLaren, Bonnier, Gurney. The battle is so intense that it becomes more interesting than the race itself. On the tenth lap Phil Hill leads the race, followed by von Trips, who’s 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: clearly, they are closing the gap to Moss. The order of the ranking 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 one lap Ireland is right behind Clark and Baghetti. An amazing head-to-head duel follows, even though it’s obvious that the Ferrari is the most competitive car, and it will be hard for the others to beat Baghetti. Behind them, it’s very unlikely that Brabham will 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 the gap. On lap thirteen, while Phil Hill gives 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 behind him, while Moss lags behind them. 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 can’t relax because now Clark and Ireland are trying to overtake him. These three drivers involved in this battle have slightly distanced themselves from 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 overheating. Trintignant also stops in his garage with his Cooper-Maserati, but he will restart shortly after. On lap twenty, the Ferrari drivers follow the instructions, since they received the order to slow down, but at the end of the lap it’s Phil Hill who takes the lead, while von Trips enters the pits with water coming out of his right exhaust pipe. For the mechanics of Ferrari there’s no need to examine the problem because water in the exhaust pipe can only mean one thing: a broken engine. So, the #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 signs of failure. Therefore, the last thing someone could imagine is a retirement for Ferrari, especially because the cars from Maranello have never been driven to 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 very pleased with being in the lead again, even though Enzo Ferrari’s plans were different ahead of the French race. Shortly after, 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 brake fluid hose of the right rear disc brake is broken, this let all the liquid and the pressure out.


It takes four laps for 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, with nobody noticing it. Being alloy wheels, they 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 don’t find anything wrong, 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 then Moss will have lost too much time compared to the rest of the field. Meanwhile, Phil Hill is still preceding Ginther with a ten-second advantage, while Baghetti continues 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 track. Nevertheless, the American driver still has a fifty-five-second advantage over Baghetti, who is now attacked by Gurney and the two Lotus. The only other driver who has a constant pace and doesn’t seem to be in trouble is Salvadori, but he has already been lapped by the leaders. On lap twenty de Beaufort’s Porsche breaks down due to overheating, which causes an oil leak from the rear of the car. Phil Hill is easily driving around with a pace of 2’35"0 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 gained positions in order 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 went inside 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 manages to get past the car of the young Italian driver, who is having a hard time on his Formula 1 debut. Nevertheless, he fights remarkably against all these experienced drivers and, most importantly, without making any mistakes in a situation where a mistake would be more than understandable. 


On lap thirty-four Baghetti gets the lead of his group back, being now third behind Phil Hill and Ginther and, even though he keeps the position also on the following lap, he still has two Porsche and the Lotus right behind him. On lap thirty-six a rock thrown by someone’s rear tire hits Clark on the nose. Other than being very painful, the rock breaks Clark’s glasses as well, 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’s and Porsche’s pace, Clark will never be able to close up on his rivals again. In the meantime, the mechanics inside 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. 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 the poor Hill can 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 forbids this operation under any circumstance. As if Ginther’s solitary passage wasn’t a bad 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 that the oil level is low but, just like his teammate, he forgets the FIA rules and wants to refuel, even though it’s not allowed to do an oil refill during the race. 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 Porsche right behind him. Clark and Ireland are far behind, but behind them McLaren and Graham Hill are still battling, 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 predicts 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’s 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 on track. But Bonnier and Gurney’s thoughts are certainly much more imaginable: these two are now fighting for the victory of the 47th French Grand Prix against the young Italian. Meanwhile, Phil Hill manages to restart his engine and, exhausted, goes back racing in ninth place behind Salvadori, one lap behind the leader. Now all the hopes of Scuderia Ferrari are on the young Giancarlo Baghetti, on his debut in the world championship. It seemed impossible that a young driver, who has just arrived in Formula 1, could fight against much more experienced drivers without making mistakes in changing gears, while braking or tackling a turn too fast, and this man was even less likely expected to fight for the victory. Bonnier and Gurney, who now have 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, and only eleven laps remain until the end of the race. As times goes by, the vast crowd surrounding the circuit comes alive; the pits and the grandstands are now thrilled. The signals from the pits become unnecessary as the three leading cars are separated by mere inches, and any of the three drivers could be the winner of the race. On lap forty-two the Porsche 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 with 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 cross the finish line and still classify. 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, as they go under the 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 to tackle the downhill, the Ferrari driven by the Italian is in the lead. The silver Porsche gains ground slowly but steadily and, when the two drivers approach the braking zone of the hairpin, Gurney takes the lead. Shortly after, the two rivals approach the final straight, carefully observed by thousands of eyes from the pits and the grandstands. Around 300 meters before the finish line the Ferrari suddenly overtakes the Porsche and gets away, as Baghetti does one of the most perfect demonstrations of right timing in the history of this sport, which would have certainly honored a champion like Fangio. The roar of the crowd is impressive when the young Italian crosses the finish line and wins the French Grand Prix with a gap smaller than one car length. Ferrari celebrate the victory, while Porsche are still happy for participating in such an amazing battle. Colin Chapman’s team is 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 favor of the New Zealand driver in the moment when both drivers cross the finish line. Phil Hill, who’s understandably deeply unhappy, ends the race one lap behind them. 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 of the fifty-two laps, without mentioning the three practice sessions. The twenty-six-year-old Italian Giancarlo Baghetti (Ferrari) wins the 47th Automobile Club de France French Grand Prix, after a riveting fight with two Porsche that went on for about eighty kilometers.


The young Milanese driver, on whom all Italians put their hopes, took the lead on lap forty-one (which means eleven laps to go), after the three factory-entered Ferrari retired or suffered long delays. The two Porsche driven by the American Dan Gurney and the Swede Joachim Bonnier attacked the Italian’s Ferrari for a while before he took the lead of the race. In the last few laps, the battle becomes fierce, with Baghetti and Gurney alternating in the lead. This situation of uncertainty had a dramatic end, with the two cars crossing the finish line almost side by side. In the two final laps there are many overtakes between the two drivers. Gurney appears first on the final straight, closely followed by Baghetti’s red race car; Baghetti finds the right timing to overtake, but Gurney zigzags, using the full width of the track to impede his rival. With 250 meters to go, maybe 200, while Gurney thinks Baghetti is on his left side, he goes on the right and wins. A great show for a great champion. Italy finds a new driving champion in Reims. The fall of the favorites (Hill, von Trips, Ginther) and a racing pace slightly slower than the normal average might have favored Baghetti, but he still managed to find, in his short experience, the strength and the skill to face and defeat the Porsche coalition. Those cars, driven by experienced veterans, were a constant threat for him in the last ten laps. Baghetti overcame all the obstacles with the style of a true champion, and this won’t be highlighted enough in a country like Italy - that gave many sports champions to the world - which at the time didn’t have true 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 champions 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 about 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 favored by some conditions which led him to win against more skillful 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’s hard to remember another champion before Baghetti who was able to impress and show his capabilities as rapidly as he did. However, we have to wait before announcing the rise of a new champion. Baghetti should be observed carefully in the future, both when he’s in his best shape and also when he’s struggling. It still has to be seen if he can deal with adversities and if he can endure pain. Those who praise him excessively, in a distorted demonstration of love for this sport, are wrong. Everybody knows the guy doesn’t like the ‘diva’ behavior: Baghetti remained simple and humble even after the newspapers began to write about him. If Baghetti is an authentic champion, he will prove it soon. All that matters now is that, at last, the name of an Italian driver reappeared at the top of the ranking of a Formula 1 Grand Prix. It’s been a long time since that happened, so this event should be welcomed as a joyous sign for Italian motorsport, whose great tradition couldn’t fade away in the dullness of the last few years. And it’s 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 house in via Borromei, those same 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 developed since he was a kid. But he managed to make it anyway. I don’t deny that I spent some 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 habit that makes our heart pound".


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, who’s a renowned businessman in the metallurgic area, and to devote his free time to motorsport. His father admits:


"Now he takes care of business in his free time because he dedicates the rest of the day to cars. Giancarlo is young and will have time to seriously devote himself to work. Now we let him have fun with racing cars, since motorsport for him is really a hobby".


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