After the first round of Formula 1 tests with the Grand Prix of Monaco and the Netherlands, the attention of fans of motor sport focuses again on the world championship for cars in the sports category, that after Sebring and the Targa Florio continues Sunday 28 May 1961 with the 1000 Kilometers of the Nurburgring. The German circuit is one of the most tormented and dangerous in the world, as it winds through the hills of Eifel, south of Cologne. The book of gold, in which are engraved the names of Nuvolari, Caracciola, Lang, Farina, Ascari and Fangio and other steering wheel aces, shows that only a driver of rank can win at the Nurburgring. It goes without saying that this circuit also subjects the mechanical parts of cars to terrible wear and tear. The two previous races of 1961 were dominated by Ferrari, which also in the very hard German race are favored: their third victory would mean putting a big mortgage on the title. The crews of the House of Maranello, enrolled in the 1000 Kilometers of the Nurburgring, are Trips-Gendebien (the pair that has established itself in the Targa Florio), Phil Hill-Ginther and brothers Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez. These last two will be at the wheel of the powerful car with 12-cylinder engine, while the others will get on the cars equipped with 6-cylinder engines mounted at the rear, which on such a difficult track, full of curves and differences in level - and although very fast - like that of the Nurburgring, can fully reconfirm its great qualities.
Against the Ferraris race the Porsches of the official team, formed by Moss-Graham Hill, Bonnier Gurney and Barth-Herrmann, and the Maserati of the Scuderia Serenissima (Trintignant-Maglioli and Scarlatti-Scarlatti) and Camoradi (Gregory-Cassner). Of the machines in Stuttgart, the one entrusted to the British couple is the new model of two liters of displacement, fearful for handling and stability (but also because it has in the great Stirling Moss the usual inimitable guide). As for the Maserati, it is the type with rear engine, which so far has not given the expected results, but that - according to what is said - would be significantly improved compared to the previous performances of Sebring and Targa Florio. Of the seventy-six members of the 1000 Kilometers of the Nurburgring, there are numerous crews behind the wheel of large-scale cars, including Mairesse-Baghetti on an official Scuderia Ferrari sedan, and Abate Vaccarella, also on Ferrari, but registered by the Scuderia Serenissima, of which the Count Volpi di Misurata is a patron. The German fans rely on the Moss-Bonnier crew who drive the Porsche with a four-carburetor engine. Giancarlo Baghetti, the new star of Italian motoring, makes his debut abroad in a world-famous test. To live up to the situation, the Italian rider prepared himself with the utmost seriousness to the thousand kilometers, starting training the previous week. The circuit of the Nurburgring measures 22,810 kilometers: this will have to be covered forty-four times, for a total distance of 1003.640 kilometers. The average race record belongs to the pair Moss-Gurney on Maserati, with a speed of 133.200 km/h. Moss has won four editions of the 1000 Kilometers of the Nurburgring: twice on Maserati, and as many on Aston Martin.
To live up to the situation, the Italian rider prepared himself with the utmost seriousness to the thousand kilometers, starting training the previous week. The circuit of the Nurburgring measures 22,810 kilometers: this will have to be covered forty-four times, for a total distance of 1003,640 kilometers. The average race record belongs to the pair Moss-Gurney on Maserati, with a speed of 133.200 km/h. Moss has won four editions of the 1000 Kilometers of the Nurburgring: twice on Maserati, and as many on Aston Martin. Phil Hill, who runs with the German von Trips, is forced to retire following a dramatic accident that fortunately does not lead to serious consequences. At the beginning of the twenty-fifth lap the point driver of Ferrari, on the slippery ground of rain, skids in the curve. The car goes out of the way, bumps into the protective barrier and ignites. However, the driver is in time to get to safety. Later Hill, who had previously set the top record for the sports category with 9'18"4, got on the car of Ginther-Gendebien, rising from tenth to third place. As for Moss, the British driver is forced to retire during lap 23, while he is in second position, due to a mechanical failure. Behind Gregory-Casner, the Rodriguez brothers and Hill-Trips there is the surprising fourth place of the young Italian-English couple composed by Carlo Mario Albate and Colin Davis. The two, at the wheel of a Ferrari GT berlinetta, make an exemplary test, going up positions on positions. To notice that Abate-Davis detached for approximately two minutes the other Ferrari GT berlinetta piloted from the Milanese Baghetti and from Mairesse. Particular mention deserves the final race of the two young brothers Rodriguez. One lap from the end, the two Mexicans stopped at the pits due to a puncture.
The mechanics of Ferrari quickly changed the wheel and started again, keeping second place. The race, attended by 250.000 spectators, is hampered by bad weather: rain alternates even the fall of some snowflakes leading the first seven kilometers of the circuit, which has a development of 22,810 meters and includes 174 curves. Then Moss is overtaken by Phii Hill. Taking advantage of a momentary clearing, phii Hill, who appears in excellent shape conditions, lavishes himself in some laps at a very fast pace, setting a new lap record in 9'18"4; the previous one was held by Moss in 9'32"0.During the seventeenth lap a heavy rain starts to fall again, a circumstance of which Moss, a specialist of wet road races, tries to take advantage. However, the crew of Hill-Trips can keep intact its margin of advantage, rising in the meantime to 2'30"0. In the middle of the race, after twenty-two laps, Phil Hill’s car (who had given up the steering wheel at Trips for a few laps) was still in first position ahead of Moss and Gregory. A few minutes later, the drivers announced that Stirling Moss was down on the circuit for a breakdown, so it seems that phii Hill and Trips have definitely the success at hand in the seventh edition of the 1000 kilometers of the Nurburgring. During the twenty-fifth lap, however, the incident already described in the beginning happens to Hill. After the race, Moss and Hill, Masten Gregory, who has rarely given up the wheel at Casner, take the lead, while the Rodriguez brothers manage to secure the second place. Eleven laps from the end of the race, Scuderia Ferrari entrusted the Ginther-Gendebien crew car (in tenth position) to phii Hill. He threw himself into a furious chase, recovering seven positions and finishing third brilliantly.
After the 1000 Kilometers of the Nurburgring, the car manufacturers focus on the preparation of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, The great French car race that is unfortunately linked to the sad memories of that June afternoon of 1955 in which occurred the most frightening catastrophe that motor sport remembers. Nevertheless, the event has never lost the popularity and grandiose interest it has aroused for almost forty years. The 24 Hours of Le Mans is not only a technical and competitive event of the first order; for the French of the North and the West is the opportunity to participate in that great exhibition surrounding the race, which with the latter has nothing to see. But we come to the race, which will begin at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 10, 1961 and end twenty-four hours later. Fifty-five sports and grand touring cars will be at the start, including eighteen heels (eleven Ferrari, five Maserati, one Fiat-Abarth and one Osca). There are no doubts that the absolute victory of the race - also valid for the world championship brands, and probably also decisive - will be at stake between the Italian cars, the Ferrari and the Maserati. In fact, they are above all the first to start with the favor of the prediction: both the new model with rear engine, and the tried and tested 12-cylinder model triumphant in the previous year’s edition, are perfectly developed, powerful and fast, with good grip at the distance, decisive factor in a race lasting 24 Hours. Trips-Ginther is the pair to which the most recent model is entrusted, while Phil Hill-Gendebien and Mairesse-Parkes (a young, promising English driver) will drive the two official 12-cylinder Scuderia Ferrari, which will also align a new Berlinetta car, always with three-litre V-shaped front engine, with interesting mechanical changes and an aerodynamic bodywork specially designed by Pininfarina. This will be entrusted to the young Giancarlo Baghetti and the French driver Tavano.
In addition, unofficial Ferrari racers Stirling Moss and Graham Hill, who feature a less powerful but still fearsome model, a grand touring sedan, while brothers Pedro and Riccardo Rodriguez and Abate-Trintignant, both crews behind the wheel of three-litre sports cars. In short, such a massive participation, that of the Scuderia Ferrari, to legitimize the most optimistic predictions of his admirers. As for the Maserati - traditional rival of the compatriot brand - the most interesting element, but also rich in unknowns, is constituted by the presence of three new cars with 12-cylinder rear engine of about 2900 cc. As is well known, Maserati does not officially participate in racing, but through private stables. The three new models were purchased by the Serenissima, Camoradi and Homo stables (the last two are American).For now we know only the crew of the formation of Count Volpi of Misurata: Vaccarella and Scarfiotti still on Maserati, and the couple Gregory-Casner, winner Sunday 28 May 1961 of the 1000 kilometers of the Nurburgring. Among the non-Italian cars, the most fearsome at the distance can be the Porsche 2000 of Bonnier-Gurney and Barth-Herrmann, the Lotus 2000 of Arundell-Taylor and the Aston Martin gran turismo of Clark, Salvadori and Ireland. The organizers recall, among other things, that it is permissible to join in the field of any type of displacement, launched to the conquest of that statement that is considered the most important and prestigious in the world.A run-up conducted - for the fastest cars - on the line of 190 km/h, in the obsessive series of laps of the difficult French circuit, which in the night takes on a fantastic look, sabered by the lights of the headlights that chase each other, one round after the other, while the loudspeakers are constantly spelling out names, times, averages and sleepy people are hiding in some corner in the vain hope of some peace. Le Mans is a strain for everyone, even for the spectators; and those who must follow the stages for professional duty, it gets at least a powerful migraine.
But all this does not change anything about the technical and competitive meaning of the test, which involves the most modern sports cars and great tourism in the world. The intentions of the Houses, the Stables and the drivers are very determined, to conquer a place in eternal glory. After all, at the 24 Hours of Le Mans there is glory for everyone, since in addition to the overall ranking and those of the class, there are two other rankings: the one called the performance index, which takes into account the mileage traveled in the twenty-four hours in relation to the displacement of the engines, and that to the energy index, which is a ratio between the kilometers and the total fuel consumption. Logically, it interests above all the absolute ranking, for which it is expected to be a fierce battle between Ferrari and Maserati, which both present new mechanical means of extraordinary efficiency. The official tests did not confirm the predictions, bringing to the forefront in the ranking of the times the Ferrari six and twelve cylinders, as well as the new Maserati three liters with rear engine, whose times are practically equivalent. Even the Aston Martin 3000 sport was higher than expected, but far from the Italian cars in terms of absolute speed. After Le Mans, there will only be the 12 Hours of Pescara, on August 15th 1961. This means that Ferrari would only need a second place to secure the title once again, whatever the winning brand may be.The 24 Hours of Le Mans will therefore probably also be decisive for the brands championship. On Sunday, June 11, 1961, Ferrari triumphed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, occupying the first three places in the overall standings, respectively with Hill-Gendebien, Mairesse-Parkes and Noblet-Guichet (the latter at the wheel of a Gran Turismo sedan)after a race with practically no history, given the abysmal superiority shown by the Modena machines. The success, however, could have been even more striking without the banal accidents that put out of action, in the last part of the race, the cars of Ginther-Trips, the Rodriguez brothers (only animators of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, thanks to their generous combativeness, and holders of the fastest lap at over 201 km/h) and Moss-Graham Hill, who were behind the wheel of a less fast car from Gran Turismo.
However, nothing to do for the opposing cars: neither the new 12-cylinder Maserati (short of preparation), nor the Porsches have ever managed to fit into the fight, even if a good placement of the two has rewarded the regularity. Even the British Aston Martin, after a quite promising start, lost pace. From the moment of the start, at 4:00 am on Saturday, June 10, 1961, Ferrari took the lead: the brothers Rodriguez and Phil Hill-Gendebien alternated in the lead, followed as a shadow by the new 6-cylinder Ginther-Trips. At dusk it begins to drizzle and occur, one after the other, the only accidents of the race, victims of a commissioner of the route (broken leg) hit by the car of the Frenchman Vinatier, who loses control of the car cornering; the American Hansgen, who smashes his Maserati crashing against the protections of the track and reporting the dislocation of a cervical vertebra (and this is the most serious accident of all); the Irish Mac Kay, gone off the road (elbow fracture and various bruises); the English Halford, overturned with his Cooper (superficial abrasions on the face and arms). They are dramatic hours, especially for the intertwining of alarming news and the strange lack of official information. Only at dawn can we get precise information on the condition of the injured. At midnight, after eight hours of racing, five Ferraris were in the lead, driven by Hill-Gendebien and the Rodriguez brothers.
The first of the non-Italian cars, the Aston Martin of Salvadori-Maggs, is sixth with four laps; the first of the Maserati (Pabst-Thompson), seventh with six laps. Moss subsequently withdrew due to a failure in the cooling system, followed later by Abate-Trintignant (failure at the transmission) and from Baghetti-Tavano (boredom to the engine), all on Ferrari Gran Turismo, and until now authors of very regular races. At 7:00 a.m. on Sunday, June 11, 1961, the Rodriguez brothers were delayed by problems at the electrical system and went down to fourth position, spaced five laps from Hill-Gendebien. At 8:30 a.m. he left the Ferrari 6-cylinder Ginther-Trips, due to a fuel tank failure. The two Mexican brothers throw themselves in pursuit and slowly manage to return to second place just before noon. But two hours later the breaking of a water sleeve stopped Rodriguez's car for good, and the race started tirelessly at the end, between splashes of rain. A standing ovation of 200,000 spectators greets the arrival of Hill-Gendebien, who set the new record average of the 24 Hours of Le Mans at over 186 km/h, 4 km/h higher than the previous record that resisted since 1957. Note that the Belgian Olivier Gendebien is on his third victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, always at the wheel of a Ferrari: in 1958 still paired with Phil Hill and last year Along with fellow countryman Frère. As a result of these results, Ferrari secured for 1961 the title of World Champion brands. The last championship race - the 12 Hours of Pescara - will not in any way change the situation.
Just after the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the two drivers who took turns at the wheel of the victorious car - the American Phil Hill and the Belgian Olivier Gendebien - are beaming. Of the two drivers, Phil Hill is perhaps more complete, Gendebien is instead mainly a driver of great background, while in the Fformula 1 tests he has not yet managed to emerge. For this reason, for Scuderia Ferrari, the Belgian is only part of the training used for racing in the sports category. And this is the only concern of this skinny pilot with a clever face, who is related on his mother’s side to the royal family of Belgium. Impeccable and peremptory is the victory of the Ferrari of Phil Hill and Olivier Gendebien in the twenty-seventh edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the fourth round of the world championship for sports cars. Maranello’s cars, which also conquered the second, third and sixth place, are on their fifth affirmation (the second consecutive) at the famous French race, which for its severity has no equal in the world from a technical point of view. The Ferraris dominated the opposing cars in an even overwhelming way,and it is in a sense the fault of such superiority if the race was basically monotonous as few, sometimes even boring. The only interesting episodes were due to the combativeness of the Ferrari drivers, who did not hesitate to fight each other with a lively competitive sense. Phil Hill, Gendebien. Ginther, Trips, have certainly not spared themselves, although aware of the hard physical and nervous test that twenty-four hours of running would have subjected them.
But from the sporting point of view, the real triumphs of the day, those who more than any other have enthused the usual large audience of Le Mans for their generous swagger, were the two young Mexican brothers Pedro (21) and Ricardo (19 years old) Rodriguez, driving a Ferrari 12-cylinder sport belonging to the New York North American Racing Team. There was no clear competition between the Scuderia Ferrari and the American team (which only uses Modena cars), but the two ardent youngsters did not feel the slightest respect for the big names of the Maranello company, since they immediately started to give battle, alternating for a long time in the lead with the crew who then won the race, achieving the fastest lap of the day. The Rodriguez brothers, protagonists in this edition of the French classic, already last year they were third in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but on this occasion they revealed first-class skills in driving technique, in the tactical sense and especially in the indomitable combativeness. They could very well have won, but were first delayed by a banal fault in the electrical system; then, back in second position after a furious chase, permanently blocked by a failure at the cooling system. It is said that Enzo Ferrari intends to offer the two boys a place in his team: if the news is true, their behavior in the 24 Hours of Le Mans could hasten the decision of the manufacturer of Maranello. Bad luck also had Ginther and Trips on the only rear-engined Ferrari; then Stirling Moss, also at the wheel of a Ferrari, but of the type gran turismo, considerably less powerful and manageable than sports cars; and the good, regular Baghetti-Tavano and Abate-Trintignant, all stopped by mechanical failures not attributable to technical errors of the drivers. Of the brands beaten, honorable defense of the Maserati, fourth overall with the Americans Pabst-Thompson, and the Porsche of Gregory-Holbert.
Four days after the conclusion of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a chilling disaster occurs in the late afternoon of Thursday, June 15, 1961 at the Modena circuit. A racing car Cooper Maserati, at the wheel of which is the Italian driver Giulio Cabianca, comes out at the speed of 200 km/h from the service gate (at that time open) that is in front of the long straight opposite the pits and falls on the Via Emilia, which at this hour is congested with traffic due to the exit of the workers from the factories. The car leaves a frightening trail of dead, wounded, cars smashed and thrown tens of meters away. The toll of the disaster is four dead, among them Cabianca himself, and one seriously injured. The accident occurs at 6:45 p.m., while the great road is crossed by thousands of workers returning from work. The first rescuers are presented with a tremendous spectacle: the bodies of the victims, covered with blood, horribly torn, are scattered on the asphalt. The driver’s car, after hitting four cars and two mopeds, crashes into the wall of a factory across the street. The pilot is still imprisoned there. It will take many minutes to rescue the victims and to extract them from the wreckage of the machines. In the first minutes it is not even possible to ascertain which of the bodies stained with blood and covered with dust were still animated by a breath of life. Ambulances are transporting everyone to the hospital. Two of the investors, the fifty-five-year-old Gino Alboresi, who was traveling along the Via Emilia in a small car, and a cyclist, Eugenio Stefani, a fifty-year-old worker, are already dead. A third injured, the 29-year-old bricklayer Ivo Messori, expired a few minutes later. The agony of Cabianca is heartbreaking. The Italian pilot is torn by wounds throughout the body, with his face deformed by wounds, his pelvis and lower limbs fractured, but he still breathes.
Three directors of university clinics rush to the emergency room and operate it trying everything in their power to snatch him to death. He only survives three hours. At 10:00 p.m. it goes out. Cabianca, before dying, in a moment of lucidity, to the chaplain of Maserati, Don Mantovani, who assisted her, expressed the desire to confess and receive the sacraments. He also recognizes his 17-year-old son, who was in Modena with him and who was in the pits, about a kilometer away, when the disaster happened. When his wife arrives from Verona, a few minutes before 10:00 p.m., the Italian driver has already entered a coma: the poor woman arrives just in time to take her last breath. Rebuilding the disaster, given the terrible chaos that is created along the Via Emilia, in the first minutes was extremely difficult. Cabianca arrived in Modena during the morning, to test a single-seater Cooper Maserati that would have to fly on Sunday, June 18, 1961 at the Belgian Grand Prix, at Spa-Francorchamps. It has been turning since early afternoon, forcing more and more gait. At the time of the accident, after three hours of incessant testing, there are some technicians of the Castellotti team, to which the car belongs, and engineer Piero Taruffi with some students of the Centro-Sud team’s driver school. The car of Cabianca is launched, a few moments before the accident, on the long straight opposite the grandstands, the only stretch of the track that allows speeds above 200 km/ h. The straight, however, ends with a sharp curve at ninety degrees that imposes on the drivers a series of decelerations and braking. The Veronese driver’s car reaches the turn at 200 km/h (there is no braking trace on the track) and pulls straight.
The spectators who sit on the high wall of the enclosure (they are the workers of the car workshops and body shops that are located near the circuit and that, coming out of work, climb to watch the tests that take place almost daily)They understand he wouldn’t make it. They see the pilot operating the gearbox desperately; then the car slips the opening in the direction of the gate. By a tragic fate this, which is always closed, had been opened because some trucks were carrying inside the circuit earth and gravel for works of installation. The fireball slips the opening and passes like a bullet through the sixteen meters of the Via Emilia. The first obstacle the car encounters is a Belvedere driven by worker Gino Alboresi. The car, hit in full, is almost broken into two sections, which remain tied by the bodywork sheets, and flies through the entire Via Emilia going to crash into the wall of a factory. Alboresi is thrown out, but by a tragic fatality he is held by his feet by a sheet and thus suffers, horribly thrown on the asphalt, the trajectory of his car, dying instantly. The two cyclists Stefani and Messori are overwhelmed and crushed by the car of Cabianca or the Belvedere of Alboresi. The third rider, the eighteen-year-old bartender Franco Moro, is run over and has broken his legs and an arm. His condition is severe, but he doesn’t despair to save him. Cabianca’s car crashes into the walls of the Orlandi bodywork. The causes of the disaster are difficult to understand. An executive of Scuderia Castellotti, to whom the car belongs, will say:
"When the accident happened, he was on the last lap of the day of rehearsals".
There are two hypotheses: that of a brake failure and that of a driver’s illness. In favor of the first is the fact that the car did not skid (which would have probably happened if the pilot had been unconscious), but he put exactly the gate. Perhaps the driver tried as a last-ditch attempt to get out of there to gain space and to brake with the use of the gearbox. If the Via Emilia had been deserted, the maneuver would have succeeded, because in front of the gate opens a wide road across the state road, where the race would have died without damage. In this regard, however, an investigation is opened into the smashed machine, now under seizure. The tragedy arouses deep emotion in the city. During the evening, a very important meeting of the City Council was suspended as a sign of mourning. A large crowd crowds in front of the clinic where the runner struggles with death; and at the burial chambers where the bodies of the three victims are laid, an incessant pilgrimage of people is created. Enzo Ferrari, who immediately after the disaster rushes to pay homage to the body of the driver, declared during the evening:
"You can’t make a judgment, you have to question first. I wouldn’t attribute the accident to one cause instead of another. Of course there are gaps in the sports facility of Modena. If there had been a guardrail on the bend, if the gate had been closed, the accident would certainly have had less tragic consequences. But they cannot be blamed if a careful investigation has not been carried out".
The body of Cabianca rests next to those of the three workers victims of the mad bolide in the mortuary, where four years ago the body of Eugenio Castellotti was composed. Eugenio and Cabianca were friends and the Veronese driver had kept a very vivid memory of the great champion who died, so much so that he had wanted to enter (and had become the bishop) the stable named after Eugenio Castellotti. They both died on the same circuit, in exactly the same circumstances, both at the end of a day of practice, at the last lap, at the last corner. All of Modena followed in the afternoon of Friday, June 16, 1961 the solemn funeral, celebrated at the expense of the City, of the four victims of the disaster of the circuit. There are the greatest exponents of the world of racing, from Enzo Ferrari to representatives of all the car racing teams, many drivers, technicians, sports that Modena counts in thousands. The procession, after the funeral rite officiated by the Archbishop, goes to the outskirts, passing two hundred meters from the place of the disaster. Then it melts. The body of the pilot Cabianca is transported to Verona, those of the three workers to the urban cemeteries. The disaster leaves a trail of questions, on which an inquiry by the judiciary will now try to shed light.Infinite hypotheses continue to be made about the causes that led to the tragic road trip of the Cabianca bolide. In this regard, however, there will be a second testimony, that of the technician Ascanio Lucchi. The Veronese driver, arriving in Modena, had gone to the workshop of Ascanio Lucchi, who had in delivery and who assisted the Cooper with 3 liters of Scuderia Castellotti.
"Cabianca looked very changed from the last time I saw him. He had lost 30 pounds of weight with a slimming cure and seemed very depressed to me. I was worried when he got on the car. I knew that he had already driven it in a race in Monza, but then a two and a half litre engine was mounted on the chassis; the current three litre engine is much more powerful. Be careful, I told him when he was about to leave, with this stain na no joke... You kill yourself. He started to turn, slowly enough, then stronger and stronger. I saw that he immediately became familiar with the car. He had it in his hand perfectly. He started to turn stronger and went down to the minimum limits of the Modena track: 59" and a few tenths on the lap. It was very good. At one point I thought it was time to stop and I told the team manager.I feared that the car, turning too long, could wear out. He had to run to Francorchamps on Sunday. I waved the flags to signal Cabianca to stop and he nodded that he understood. The last lap began. From the pits we saw him coming to the big bend. I didn’t hear the sound of the change: I saw the car slip the gate at full speed. We immediately ran there, me and Cabianca’s son. It was an atrocious thing. I’ve been racing for 20 years, but I’ve never seen an accident like this. The engine of the car was still running: there were 140 litres of petrol in the tanks, which had remained intact; if it had exploded, an even more serious disaster would have happened. A mechanic promptly disconnected the contacts".
Another technician of the Lucchi workshop, Mr Mazzetti, will say that Cabianca, when he spoke with him a few minutes before rehearsals, made unusual speeches.
"Today I want to die - he told me - but he laughed and I didn’t give him any weight. Before getting in the car for the last series of track laps he had gone to the bar to drink a glass of milk; then he slipped into the driver’s seat and left like lightning".
The circuit keeper will make similar statements. The latter was next to the gate, which he had opened himself to let a truck in. He saw the car coming at two hundred an hour. He passed him like a reddish fluff. He didn’t hear any sound of a gear shift. The engine was at full speed. Another aspect of the story is the responsibility chapter. Friday, June 16, 1961 the Scuderia Castellotti, owner of the car, instructs a lawyer, the lawyer Ctioghi, to follow the story and take any position. Should the gate remain open or closed during rehearsals? Was there a specific provision in this regard?Was there a specific provision in this regard? In short, who is responsible for the damage caused by the accident, the lives of people who were invested on the road, who had nothing to do with what happened within the circuit, because they were not even spectators? These are difficult questions and the answer will take a long time and may have to be given by a judgment.
The Belgian Grand Prix, the third round of the Formula 1 World Championship is still under the impression of the terrible accident in Modena in which they lost the life of the driver Giulio Cabianca and three other innocent, in circumstances so unusual and dramatic to leave dismayed. The circuit of Spa-Francorchamps is at the antipodes of that of Modena, and yet both, like all the car tracks in the world, present dangers that largely cannot be predicted and prevented. The route unravels in the woods of the Ardennes, through places that have known the martyrdom of two wars; it measures 14,100 meters and is the fastest in the world among those of road type. Suffice to say that the average lap record (Brabham on Cooper 2500) is close to 219 km/ h, to realize how difficult and insidious. If there was a nicer Grand Prix circuit than this it would be difficult to give it a name. Grand Prix racing has always been that class of events and that kind of driving that goes beyond human capacity. The Francorchamps circuit, with its lap speed of around 130 mph and plenty of equally fast corners, gives the Grand Prix driver the opportunity to show his true abilities and how much more skilled he is than a regular driver. This time at the start of practice the conditions are optimal, being warm and dry and without wind and immediately after 5:30 p.m. on Friday, June 16, 1961 the cars start from the pits for the first test lap of the circuit.
At Spa, the protagonists of this annual and always tense championship are all present. The organizers register sixteen of them, but nine more must compete for the other three places available in the starting line-up: it is a procedure inaugurated in the Dutch Grand Prix, and not at all convincing. The sixteen elite drivers are Phil Hill and Wolfgang Von Trips on Ferrari, Gendebien, Mairesse and Bianchi for National Belgian Team, Moss for Equipe Walker, Bonnier and Gurney on Porsche, Surtees on Yeoman Aren, Tigtrinnant for Scuderia Serenissima, Brabham and McLsu Cooper Works, Clark and Ireland on Lotus, Graham Hill and Brooks on B.R.M.. As far as the contenders for the other three places are Ginther on Ferrari, Allison on UDT Laystall, de Beaufort on Porsche, Jack Lewis on Cooper, Marsch and Seidel on Lotus, Bandini on Cooper and Burgess and Gregory on the Camoradi team. Scuderia Ferrari brings the same three cars to Belgium that it used in the previous race at Zandvoort. All three have 120-degree V6 engines available. The Maranello team also paints an old car with a 60-degree V6 engine yellow, lending it to the Belgian National Team to be driven by Gendebien, although the mechanics of Maranello will still take care of it. Just three days after the 24 Hours of Le Mans, two cars leave from Modena for the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, where the Belgian Formula 1 Grand Prix is scheduled for Sunday, June 18, 1961. On a car are present the technical director Carlo Chiti, the engineer Mauro Forghieri and two mechanics.
On the other, the Scuderia Ferrari sports director, Romolo Tavoni, the chief mechanic Luigi Bazzi, the secretary Franco Gozzi and another mechanic. These two formations would have reached two trucks of Scuderia Ferrari, each with two drivers, departed the day before and on which they had been loaded four single-seaters, relative exchanges and various material. Arriving at their destination, the racing team, with two managers, two apprentices and eight mechanics, would manage four 156 F1, including the one painted yellow and specially prepared for Olivier Gendebien. At Maranello there was much discussion about whether or not to enter the fourth car at the Grand Prix, strongly wanted by the importer Ferrari of Belgium for advertising. The sales department had welcomed the proposal. The racing department was certainly not enthusiastic, as already to manage three cars would have to undergo exhausting shifts. Enzo Ferrari was against: he argued that satisfying the Belgian importer would arouse the jealousies of other importers and also, according to him, Gendebien was very good with Sports but was worth little on open wheels. As often happens, Ferrari asks Franco Gozzi for an opinion, waiting for a response in line with his thinking:
"But let’s give him this blessed car, so the sales people will be happy and it will be a nice prize to Gendebien who last Sunday won the 24 Hours of le Mans".
Gozzi’s opinion is decisive because Ferrari, albeit reluctantly, consents. Although victorious in only one of the two previous Grand Prix of the championship, that is to say at Zandvoort, Ferrari was quick to convince the technicians: the Italian House has boldly gone up the ladder also in the field of Grand Prix cars, and it is far from impossible to secure both world titles for the year 1961. Team Equipe Nationale Belge brings to Spa two of its Emeryson-Maserati for the other two drivers, Willy Mairesse and Lucien Bianchi, while Stirling Moss will drive Walker’s Lotus-Climax, with a new slimmer body, similar to that of the UDT-Laylotus-Climax. The Walker team has the chassis equipped with the Colotti five-speed gearbox, and has modified the rear suspension in line with the official cars of 1961. This means that a top connection is used on each side of the top of the hub mount to the chassis, removing all suspension stresses from the drive shafts. For a while, however, Porsche decided not to race the Belgian Grand Prix, especially after the bad performance at the Zandvoort circuit, but later changed his mind and came to Spa with his three 1960 cars, of the old front axle with rocker and four-cylinder engine, equipped with Weber carburetor instead of the fuel injector that had recently used.The Yeoman Credit offers two cars for Surtees, a normal 1961 Cooper with Mk II Climax engine, and the one modified with the streamlined bodywork and the rear of the chassis modified to accommodate a Colotti gearbox, but with only a Mk I Climax engine.
Trintignant has two cars available, its old Cooper-Climax F2, with Colotti gearbox and modified suspensions, with short torsion bars under each suspension unit, driven by a connection from the lower transverse arms (these torsion bars are an addition to the normal Cooper springs), and a 1960 Cooper chassis with 4-cylinder Maserati engine and Colotti gearbox, which presents a new body shape with a rather square-looking tail.Brabham and McLaren have instead the two normal Cooper cars, obviously with Mk II engines (McLaren had to straighten the chassis after the recent accident at Brands Hatch). In the first day of testing, which will be held on Friday, June 16, 1961, are not present on track the cars of Lotus Team due to the delay of the transporter, so both Clark and Ireland are limited to spectators. The two B.R.M. drivers will have a spare car to use for training, while Lewis has a brand new Mk II Climax engine in his 1961 Cooper. Marsh drives his modified Lotus-Climax, and Gregory has the Cooper-Climax of the Camoradi team at his disposal. Seidel has a 1960 Lotus-Climax, while Bandini drives a new 1961 Cooper, equipped with a four-cylinder Maserati engine. Before the opening lap was completed, Cliff Allison was the victim of a bad accident on the approach to the Blanchimont corner, causing injuries to his legs. Following the accident the road is covered with oil, water, mud and grass and the tests are interrupted for almost 40 minutes, the time needed to restore the track. The tests start again at 6.15 p.m. Brooks is competitive with his B.R.M. and is one of the first to establish the pace, with a time of just under 4'10"0, which is a good start for a 1500 cc car not supercharged. Bruce McLaren, however, is held in the pits for a long time, due to a repair of an oil pipe that leaks, and therefore needs repair, while Moss enters and exits the pits because his engine does not reach a good number of rpm along the straights.
Brabham instead seems quite happy, and manages to bring the engine to over 8,000 rev/minute, but without approaching the time of Brooks. After a while the Ferraris start to show their times, which are below 4'10"0. An easy task for Hill, Trips and Gendebien, but not so easy for Ginther who, having never raced before, is still knowing the circuit. Graham Hill is also very fast and the B.R.M. behaves well, proving very stable both in the fast corners and in some points where the asphalt begins to show the signs of time, presenting bumps and ripples. The Spa-Francorchamps circuit was once a pool table, but it is not anymore and, although still quite fluid, many years of racing and very harsh winters have left their mark. At one point Brooks stops on the track with the engine that seems to have problems, and teammate Graham Hill brings him back to the pits in precarious balance above the engine of his B.R.M. Surtees test both cars of the Yeoman Credit team, and discovers that the slight increase in power of the engine Mk II grants more competitiveness than the changes on the car, which is now more streamlined and improved.
Graham Hill is also very fast and the B.R.M. behaves well, proving very stable both in the fast corners and in some points where the asphalt begins to show the signs of time, presenting bumps and ripples. The Spa-Francorchamps circuit was once a pool table, but it is not anymore and, although still quite fluid, many years of racing and very harsh winters have left their mark. At one point Brooks stops on the track with the engine that seems to have problems, and teammate Graham Hill brings him back to the pits in precarious balance above the engine of his B.R.M. Surtees test both cars of the Yeoman Credit team, and discovers that the slight increase in power of the engine Mk II grants more competitiveness than the changes on the car, which is now more streamlined and improved. As the training draws to a close at 7.30 p.m. (no extra time is allowed for the delay caused by the Allison, Gendebien and Trips incident), drivers begin to increase the pace and show that engine power matters more than anything else. It is Wolfgang von Trips, with his Ferrari, to record the best time, but it is obvious that the drivers have just begun to take their pace. Saturday, June 17, 1961 the free practice takes place from 3.00 p.m. to 5.00 p.m., and again the weather conditions are optimal.
All the sixteen drivers already registered at the office immediately take to the track to compete for the positions on the grid, as well as the other competitors, who, however, will carry out the tests to try to be part of the list of starters at the Grand Prix. Finally the Lotus Team is present complete, and the drivers have at their disposal both the 1961 car used at Zandvoort, and two new cars that are on the same line as the previous one, but with small changes, of which the main ones are the use of very large ball joints on the front of the suspension instead of those with a rather fragile appearance of the first car of 1961, and solid U/J grooved drive shafts instead of the rubber shafts used at the beginning. All have a five-speed ZF gearbox and one of the new cars uses carburetors. The Walker Team mounts an air intake along the left cockpit, to try to force the air into the carburetors, while the Cooper mounts the vanes on the test cars to try to gain rev/ engine along the fast straights. On the last day of practice the Ferraris were trimmed to reach 10,000 laps/minute in fifth gear on the straights. On all the cars the ratio at the bridge is changed, but soon both mechanics and drivers realize that they have the wrong strategy, because the engines reach only 9000 laps/ minute instead of 9500 desired.
As for the drivers, Surtees continues to be very competitive with the Cooper-Climax of the Yeoman Credit team, equipped with Mk II engine, completely standard with regard to air intakes. The car obviously, benefiting from a first-rate preparation, runs the circuit on a motorcycle line, which means taking some of the fast corners in a seemingly unorthodox way, but its lap times turn out to be the fastest of the Climax brigade, even if not fast enough to challenge the Ferraris, apart from that of Ginther (the Californian driver with a freckled face is still learning to orient himself on this demanding path at very high speed). Ireland is driving for the first time since the Munich incident and is constantly spinning, while Clark’s pace doesn’t seem exceptional. Chapman experimented with the carburetor’s air intakes, which meant many pit stops on each single lap, which naturally prevented the appearance of fast times and, in addition, the gearbox required adjustment. After a few laps completed in about 4'05"0, the Ferrari drivers returned to the pits, giving the mechanics the opportunity to control the fuel consumption and to fill the tanks, leaving the opportunity for the other teams to try to get closer to their times. The Team Equipe National Belge is in serious difficulty after the chassis pipes break down quite badly during the tests, deciding to withdraw both cars.
Next, the teams look for more cars for Mairesse and Bianchi, approaching the Yeoman Credit team, Lotus and B.R.M., which have spare cars available. As a gesture of help, Chapman lets Mairesse do some laps on one of his cars, but postpones the decision to run it later, depending on the financial aspect. At 4:30 p.m. the Ferrari team returned to the pits, exiting from the bottom of the paddock and continuing straight for the circuit. In a very short time the drivers of the Maranello team circulate regularly and begin to animate the situation, as both Hill and Trips quickly approach the finish line of 4'00"00 per lap, while Gendebien drops to 4'03"0 and Ginther progresses constantly, getting a time of 4'06"01. With only fifteen minutes left, Hill and Trips show their true rhythm and score respectively two times of 3'59"03 and 4'00"01. The nearest British car is Surtees with a remarkable 04'06"0, scored thanks to his remarkable knowledge of the circuit. The two Porsches run in little more than 4'08"0, and before the end of the tests Moss has some tires worn on his Lotus to try a last desperate attempt to compensate for what he lacks in power, managing to tear a time of 04'08"02, slightly faster than Brabham. Of the qualified, Gregory and Lewis are well ahead of all the others and are evenly matched, having done a number of laps in close company during practice.
These two, along with Ginther are the lucky ones who qualify for the race. Another important day for the Scuderia Ferrari, which lined up four cars on track: the 156 F1 for the Hill-Trips-Ginther trio, and a yellow one for the Belgian driver Oliver Gendebien. The departure is scheduled for 3.00 p.m. on Sunday, June 18, 1961, in front of a rather large crowd. Although training has shown that the result is a foregone conclusion, after several parades the racing cars line up on the fictitious grid, with three Ferrari cars in the first three places. The Maranello team, which in recent years had found itself in difficulty in front of the British brands, seems to have now reversed the situation, being also the only one to have completely renewed its machines. However, the unqualified de Beaufort and Bandini chose to leave, thus bringing the number of participants to twenty-one, while Marsh, Seidel and Brugess gave up paying the registration fee for the Grand Prix. This is because the Team Equipe Nationale Belge finally manages to make deals with two private owners for the loan of cars for its drivers, putting Mairesse at the wheel of the Lotus-Climax of Marsch and Bianchi driving the Lotus-Climax of Seidel. Both cars are quickly painted with the Belgian national color, yellow. Surtees instead drives the standard Yeoman Credit Cooper with Mk II engine, as the modified car only has a Mk I engine. After talking to the race director, the drivers behave correctly at the start: In fact, no competitor skips the start and the whole group is really a beautiful sight as it rushes to the Eau Rouge Bridge, with the B.R.M. of Graham Hill leading the group on the climb that leads to the Burnenville Forest.
Of course the British driver does not stay in the lead for long and well before the end of the first lap the four Ferraris are leading the group. Gendebien has complete freedom to drive his Ferrari as he wishes, being controlled by the Equipe Nationale Belge box, which is next to the Ferrari box, and is placed in second place, mixing well with the official cars. With the 60-degree V6 engine less powerful, the Belgian driver has little hope of beating the official cars, but still has some chance of staying in the early stages of the race. At the end of the first lap most of the drivers have some competitors in sight in front of them, except Clark who slowly returns to the pits unable to engage properly the gears, and McLaren reaching the finish line long after the passage of the other competitors, with the engine turning off as soon as it overloads it a bit. It only takes the second lap for the four Ferraris to leave to start a triumphal parade, turning over times of 4'04"0, with Gendebien in tow. Phil Hill, Wolfgang von Trips and Olivier Gendebien increased the pace during the third lap by scoring a time of 04'03"0, causing a slight delay of Ginther, who was still not practical enough on the circuit to turn at the same pace. But even so, the American driver on board the Ferrari is equally far ahead of the rest of the group.
In the meantime, Graham Hill and John Surtees are the authors of an amazing battle for the fifth place, passing and passing each other. Bonnier, Brabham and Gurney then arrived at the finish line, also involved in a small personal clash for seventh place. Behind them Brooks runs alone, followed in the distance by Moss and Gregory, who in turn precede Lewis, not far from the two. Further away, Ireland, de Beaufort, Trintignant and Bandini come to the finish line. To close the group are the two Lotus borrowed from the drivers of the National Team Belge. A few minutes later Clark re-enters the race while the Ferraris complete the fourth lap, but then stops once again in the pits to make further adjustments to the gearbox and eventually joins the group with many laps of delay,while McLaren no longer participates in the race, simply doing exploratory laps from time to time to see if any improvements have been made to the carburetor, to finally discover that there is nothing more to do. Gendebien pushes as hard as he can and makes a lap in 4'01"07, but soon realizes he can’t keep up with Phil Hill and Wolfgang von Trips, so after this small demonstration of fighting spirit he decides to lower the pace, rather than risk breaking the engine.
Brooks returned to the pits after six laps, with the Climax engine jammed in its B.R.M.; the mechanics changed the magnet, making him lose almost six laps. Soon the two borrowed Lotus cars retired: Bianchi on lap seven, with a broken oil pipe, and Mairesse on lap nine, due to a spark plug problem. After ten laps the two Ferraris of Wolfgang von Trips and Phil Hill continue alone in the lead, alternating in the lead just as Hawthorn and Collins did a few years before, but this time there is Fangio to upset things. Both have a 12-second lead over Gendebien, who in turn has a five-second lead over Ginther; the American driver, however, begins to get familiar with the circuit and is getting closer and closer to the Belgian driver’s yellow Ferrari. In fifth place, thirty-four seconds from the first, follows Graham Hill (B.R.M.), who is only a few meters ahead of Surtees (Cooper). In the previous lap the positions were reversed. Fifty-one seconds behind the leaders of the group comes to the finish a close-up trio of competitors, consisting of Gurney, Brabham and Bonnier in this order, while with a gap of sixty-three seconds from Ferrari comes a lonely Stirling Moss with a car that simply would not have gone well with his driving ability. The next contestants to pass the finish line are Gregory, who returns to the pits to check the oil level of the gearbox, as the pressure gauge indicates problems, and Lewis, author of a solitary but fluid driving.
The Dutch driver de Beaufort precedes the two red Cooper-Maserati of Bandini and Trintignant, engaged in a personal duel. These are followed at a distance by Jim Clark in the new Lotus. Meanwhile, Gregory returns to the race, as the mechanics discover that the problem is related to the gauge that does not measure the pressure well, being defective. De Beaufort then sees two red cars in the mirrors, and thinking it’s Hill and Trips beckons them to pass, only to discover that in reality they are the Cooper-Maserati against which he should have run. Ireland fails to finish the tenth lap, because on the engine of his Coventry-Climax he breaks a connecting rod, and two laps later in Brabham he breaks a piston of his Climax engine: the car emits a puff of smoke and a shower of fragments as the engine flakes, forcing the Australian driver to stop on the grass in a cloud of smoke and oil, while the two Porsches overcome it. During the thirteenth lap de Beaufort sees two more red cars in the mirrors, but this time it is really the Ferrari that have to do the dubbing; in the next lap, Hill and Trips also pass the Cooper-Maserati. Ginther now earns quickly against Gendebien, as he has figured out how to tackle the curves by increasing speed. The American driver gained several seconds on Gendebien, getting closer and behind his teammates, not to disturb them but to keep the scene tidy, with the Scuderia Ferrari in compact formation. Between the sixteenth and the eighteenth lap, the American driver gains more and more ground and a few laps later he scores a time of 3'59"08, the fastest of the race.
On lap 24, Ginther is right behind Hill and Trips, and is able to match the driving skills of his teammates. By now, the three drivers of Scuderia Ferrari are so far ahead of anyone else that there is no point in rushing unnecessarily; the three long and thin red cars, with a truly magnificent sound, perform a beautiful parade as they climb the steep hill towards Burnenville, followed shortly after by the yellow car of Gendebien, quietly in fourth place. The Surtees-Graham Hill duel ends after nineteen laps, when the B.R.M. seems to go slow and stops in the pits, leaving Surtees safe in fifth place. On the B.R.M An exhaust pipe broke and the hot gases burned the spark plug cables, so these are promptly changed and repaired, allowing Graham Hill to continue the race, despite the sound of his engine being a bit flat due to the broken pipe. While Trips, Hill, Ginther, Gendebien all on Ferrari, precede Surtees (Cooper), Gurney, Bonnier (Porsche), then - with a long gap - Moss (Lotus), Graham Hill (B.R.M.), now very far from the fellow countryman who precedes him, Lewis (Cooper) and Gregory (Cooper). With a lap of delay Trintignant (Cooper) and de Beaufort (Porsche) cross the finish line, while during the twentieth lap Bandini returns to the pits with the beautiful new red Cooper without oil pressure inside his Maserati engine. Due to pit stops, Clark (Lotus) and Brooks (B.R.M.) were delayed. After twenty-three laps Trintignant slowly returned to the pits to retire with the damaged transmission, and carried Ireland standing on the back; at the end of the next lap Graham Hill stopped in front of the pits and retired with the oil coming out of the engine.
Starting from the twenty-fifth lap begins to fall on the circuit of Spa a very light drizzle, but not enough to wet the asphalt, while the three Ferraris round the young Lewis, who promptly slips behind them and is still a short distance in the course of the next lap, remaining with the top three until the end of the race. This is because the Ferrari drivers, given the clear superiority of their cars, decide to reduce their time by turning in 4'10"0. In the last laps Gendebien seems to unwittingly slow down in favor of Surtees but it is a false impression, as well as it seems that the latter is attacked by Gurney, who is very close but without putting him in danger. The Belgian Grand Prix ended with Phil Hill leading Wolfgang von Trips by a few metres to the finish line, thus marking the most convincing victory of the Scuderia Ferrari in Formula 1 in recent years. Ginther comes third and Gendebien fourth, proving that the Maranello technicians have built yet another first-class racing engine, the true heart of a true Grand Prix car. Also in this race the cars of the Maranello team confirmed their superiority with a triumphant podium all red, a nice redemption after years of attempts (the last victory of Ferrari on the Belgian circuit dates back to 1956, at the hands of the English driver Peter Collins). The Ferraris therefore respect the predictions of the eve, which saw the Italian cars as the best Formula 1 cars not only for speed but also for endurance, making the race almost boring in the eyes of the public.
But the spectators' interest is kept alive by the duel between Phil Hill and Wolfgang von Trips, fighting for the first place. Both had for a short time the Ferrari of the team mate Richie Ginther, but it was gradually detached. The exciting head-to-head of the two aces of Ferrari is resolved only at the last kilometer, when Phil Hill manages to detach for only seven tenths of a second the team-mate, and crosses the finish line first. First and second place for Phil Hill and Wolfgang von Trips, followed by Ginther and the fourth Ferrari driver in the race Gendebien in his yellow car. Fifth place for the former World Motorcycle Champion, the English centaur John Surtees, on Cooper. Surtees, after having made a great start and placed in first position, just two laps after the start he was overtaken by the four Ferraris. After the race, Franco Gozzi, euphoric, as usual calls Ferrari on the phone to tell him the good news, and as soon as he manages to connect shouts:
"First, second, third and fourth".
Even before knowing the name of the winner, Enzo Ferrari asks the name of the fourth arrived, and when he learns from Gozzi that it is Gendebien, he answers peremptorily:
"I told you that was not a Formula 1 canary".
Graham Hill was fifth, but he demanded too much from his car and was forced to retire. Sixth and seventh place are for the American Dan Gurney and the Belgian Joachim Bonnier, both on Porsche. Another unlucky competitor was the Australian Jack Brabham, world title holder for 1960, who retired after breaking a piston in the middle of the race. Eighth place only for Stirling Moss. At the end of the third Grand Prix, the Drivers' classification saw Phil Hill and von Trips in the top positions, with 19 and 18 points respectively, followed by Ginther and Moss with 12 points. Behind Clark with 4 points, Gendebien and Gurney with 3 points and Brabham and McLaren with 1 point.