Richie Ginther: Nigel Roebuck's Legends

Ferrari enjoyed a walkover in the 1960 Italian GP when the British teams boycotted the banked Monza. And Richie Ginther proved his 'supernatural' powers

Through the 1959 season John Cooper’s little company in Surbiton was still the only one building, and racing, rear-engined grand prix cars. Colin Chapman was running his ‘mini-Vanwall’, the Lotus 16, and Enzo Ferrari was implacable in his conviction that the right place for the driver was behind the horses. “During practice at Monza,” said Cooper, “he told me he would never ever build a rear-engined car…”

Not for the first time, the Old Man was being perhaps a touch disingenuous. By the beginning of the 1960 season, every other team had finally followed Cooper’s lead, but Ferrari wasn’t too far behind: at Monaco Richie Ginther made his Formula One debut for the team — and in a rear-engined car.

Somewhat bulky, it borrowed more from Cooper than Chapman — perhaps not surprising, since a Scuderia Centro-Sud Cooper-Maserati had been on the premises at Maranello for some time. The Ferrari’s initial showing was not, though, without promise, Ginther’s qualifying time identical to that of the front-engined Dino 246 of Phil Hill, a man of greater experience and one already familiar with Monaco.

Neither Hill nor Wolfgang von Trips so much as tried the new car, which finished sixth in the race and never raced again. Through the balance of the ’60 season Ferrari continued with what it knew best.

Hill loved this final expression of the Dino 246: “It was kind of the classic, orthodox Formula One car, and it marked the end of the racing car as it had been for decades. Of course we were being left in the dust by the Coopers and Lotuses through the turns, but by 1960 the Dino at least had independent rear suspension, and — for a car of that kind — was very manageable, like a Maserati 250F. Just a wonderful machine. I liked it probably more than any other single-seater I ever drove.”

In terms of competitiveness, though, Hill and his team-mates were right up against it in 1960. Somehow he finished third at Monaco, and at Oporto disputed second place, but in reality it was only at ‘horsepower circuits’ like Spa and Reims, where he valiantly took on the dominant Jack Brabham, that Phil and Ferrari were a true threat.

Another such was going to be Monza —where, of course, a Ferrari victory was earnestly desired. That being so, it seemed to the organisers a sound plan to allow Enzo’s cars every opportunity to capitalise on their power advantage and to run the Italian Grand Prix on the combined circuit, incorporating the legendary banking.

This had last been used for F1 in 1956, and many of the drivers had misgivings about it. With the cars pressed down into the banking, all suspension travel used up, they felt there was a high chance of failures, and at very high speed.

It was for that reason that the F1 brigade had boycotted the first Race of Two Worlds in 1957, thus allowing the USAC roadsters to gain a complete walkover. Against their better judgment, some did take part in the 1958 race, but a terrifying accident to Stirling Moss, caused by steering failure, did little to assuage their fears.

So, when it became known that the banking would be in use again for the 1960 Italian Grand Prix, the British teams voted to boycott the event. And that left the Monza organisers in something of a quandary: who could be found to fill up the grid?

Ferrari, not surprisingly, helped out as much as he could — or, rather, spotted an opportunity to give his new F2 car another run. This rear-engined creation, the forerunner of the glorious ‘sharknose’, had made its debut in the Solitude Grand Prix a few weeks earlier and comprehensively defeated four factory Porsches, to say nothing of the Coopers and Lotuses. As then, von Trips would drive it, alongside the Dino 246s of Hill, Ginther and Willy Mairesse. Following his debut at Monaco, Ginther’s only other F1 outing had been at Zandvoort, so Monza was important to him. It was during the build-up to the race that his reputation as a test driver — which became legend at Maranello — took seed. “I never could bring myself to abuse an engine,” Richie said. “If I felt the thing tighten, I’d shut it down rather than run another lap and blow it to hell. It was something the Ferrari people found hard to understand!

“How many senses do we have? Five, right? Well, the Ferrari people always thought I had six! That went back to a Monza test day, just before the Italian Grand Prix in ’60. I was supposed to do a number of laps, but I came in early because I could sense something was wrong. They got agitated and said, ‘It’s not time yet, don’t you know?’, that sort of thing.

“I said, ‘Wait a minute. This thing’s going to blow up — there’s a vibration in there that’s not right.’

But the mechanics fired it up again — wham, wham, wham — and then said everything was OK, and I should go back out. I said no, and so they put poor old wild Willy in…

“I said to all the guys, ‘Hey, that thing is going to blow in 12 laps.’ And, would you believe, it did! Not on the 10th, not on the 15th, but the 12th. I mean, I’d just picked a figure out of the air, but from then on they thought I was magic! They really believed that I had some sense that nobody else had…”

Only 16 cars went to the grid, and seven were F2 machines, the pick of them — von Trips’s Ferrari apart — a pair of Porsches for Hans Herrmann and Edgar Barth. On pace the only cars within shouting range of the Ferraris were Giorgio Scarlatti’s Centro-Sud Cooper-Maserati and a Cooper-Ferrari, entered by Scuderia Eugenio Castellotti, for sportscar ace Giulio Cabianca.

In point of fact, there was a moment during practice when it appeared that four of the 16 entries might be wiped. There may not have been many spectators on hand, but, as always at Monza, there were plenty of police, and one of them clearly hadn’t been briefed about the pitfalls of trying to keep Enzo Ferrari out of the pits…

The Old Man flew into a rage and ordered that his cars be loaded into their transporters. Only after a good deal of grovelling by the authorities was he persuaded to change his mind.

Given that Ferrari’s drivers had no one to beat, it wasn’t easy for Ginther to impress, but he did his best. After qualifying second to Hill, he took the lead from the start — and at the end of the first lap the pair of them came by 13 seconds clear of third man Mairesse!

In point of fact, Willy had been directed to hang back, to ‘tow’ the F2 Ferrari of von Trips away from the riff-raff, many of whom were in F1 cars, albeit of dubious quality.

After tailing Ginther for the first half of the race, Hill duly moved by, pulling away to win by a comfortable 25 seconds. Mairesse finished third, but Ferrari symmetry was ruined by Cabianca, who drove a really fine race to fourth ahead of von Trips and the little 156.

The following year, while testing for Scuderia Castellotti, Cabianca was killed in a bizarre accident at Modena — ironically the track at which Eugenio himself had died. The Cooper-Ferrari’s throttle stuck open and the car smashed through the circuit gates and out on to the road beyond, where it hit a taxi, whose three occupants also lost their lives.

Hill’s victory at Monza was the first by an American in a grand prix since Jimmy Murphy’s win in France back in 1921. It was also assuredly the last by a front-engined car. The following year, now in a rear-engined `sharknose’, Phil not only won the Italian Grand Prix again, but also clinched the World Championship. Once more the race was run on the combined circuit, complete with banking, but this time there was a full field of 32 cars, the Brits deciding perhaps they could race there after all…