Year of the shark

World title glory with the ‘Sharknose’ in 1961 was shaded by tragedy – and for one Scuderia man, personal turmoil

Whenever I am in Italy, I visit my old friend Romolo Tavoni at his home outside Modena. Tavoni is now 85, in poor health and in receipt of hospital treatment, but he still revels in talking about his years with Ferrari between 1950-61, the last four of which were spent as director of sport.

On this occasion we discussed Ferrari’s 1961 season, which Romolo describes as, “Very satisfying, but very dificult because of a range of problems. We won ive of the year’s championship races [with the 156], Stirling Moss won two with Lotus 18s for Rob Walker and we didn’t compete in the final round at Watkins Glen. The team’s satisfaction was marred by the death of [Wolfgang] von Trips of course and by the behaviour of [Enzo’s wife] Laura Ferrari.”

Enzo Ferrari sacked Tavoni and seven other senior members of staff in October that year. Romolo joined the ill-fated ATS team inanced by Count Volpi and others, but the Carlo Chiti-designed V8 proved dismally unsuccessful in 1963 and the team was wound up following disagreements between Volpi and his partners without any opportunity to solve the car’s shortcomings. Tavoni then became race manager at the Monza circuit.

The new formula and the first rear-engined Ferraris

For 1961 the FIA introduced a new Grand Prix formula limiting engine capacity to 1500cc, unsupercharged with a minimum weight of 500kg. Additional provision required the fitting of a self-starter and prohibited the taking on of oil during a race. The aim, as with so many regulation changes over the years, was to limit speed in the interests of safety. The rule preventing the topping up of oil finally stopped cars dripping oil all round the circuit and then coming into the pits for more so that they could continue this dangerous process.

ROMOLO TAVONI: “Although the British teams opposed the introduction of the new formula, Mr Ferrari favoured it, partly because the team’s performance had worsened in the last years of the old 2500cc formula and he had nothing to lose, and partly because we had developed a powerful V6 engine for the old 1500cc Formula 2. Technical director Carlo Chiti developed this further for 1961, and early in the season the team introduced a more powerful version with the cylinders angled at 120 degrees which developed around 170bhp.

“This was about 20bhp more than the four-cylinder Coventry Climax FVF MkII that the British teams were using, pending the belated development of new V8s by BRM and Coventry Climax. Chiti had been fighting an uphill battle to persuade Mr Ferrari to permit the development of cars with rear-mounted engines.

Ferrari had been in motor racing since the 1920s, he was very reactionary, but he eventually relented under Chiti’s gentle pressure. An experimental rear-engined Formula 1 Ferrari was driven by [Richie] Ginther in the 1960 Monaco Grand Prix.

“During 1960, however, the main emphasis was on the new rear-engined F2 car which was driven by von Trips to win at Solitude, and then again by him to ifth overall and first in the F2 category at the Italian GP. At the end of the season von Trips took third at Modena where he had brake problems. This car formed the basis of the 1961 F1 models, which were distinguished by a twin-nostril nose design and a reverse angle tail with inset grille.

“The V6 Ferraris were much heavier than the underpowered British cars and their handling and roadholding were inferior, but this didn’t matter in most races in 1961 because the Ferrari drivers were not under pressure and didn’t have to exploit performance to the full. In ’62, after I left the company, Ferrari was still racing these cars. By then the British were racing V8 cars that were as powerful as the Ferrari, but lighter and so much faster through the corners, and this made the Ferrari chassis’ shortcomings blatant.”

The British opposition

Stirling Moss’s 1961 victories against Ferrari at Monaco and the Nürburgring are rated among his very best. The Lotus 18’s Monte Carlo success must have shaken Ferrari, whose V6 cars had looked invincible.

RT: “Mr Ferrari was disappointed, but he recognised that Moss was the greatest driver of his era, a great tactician and also a great manager of his own affairs. He wanted Moss to drive for Ferrari, and they were planning to come to an arrangement for 1962, but of course this never happened because of Moss’s terrible accident at Goodwood. We recognised that if our V6 cars were to be beaten anywhere it would be at Monaco and the Nürburgring.

“Moss drove superbly at Monaco, but it was not that simple. Two of the cars driven by Phil Hill and von Trips had the older 65-degree engine, while the team’s chief tester Ginther had a car with the still not fully developed 120-degree engine. I liked Richie immensely and he was a superb test driver, but he was not as fast as Hill and von Trips. Moss won by 3.6 seconds from Richie, with Phil and ‘Taffy’ in third and fourth.

“Mr Ferrari should have kept Richie for 1962, but in the autumn of ’61 it was reported to him by Eugenio Dragoni (a friend of Mr Ferrari and my successor) that Ginther was seen talking to Tony Rudd of BRM in a restaurant at Modena. Mr Ferrari refused to renew Richie’s contract because he thought he was planning to join BRM. I learned that the meeting was purely social, but once he knew his contract was not going to be renewed Richie walked straight into a drive with the British team.

“The Nürburgring was another circuit where there were handling problems. Moss made a brilliant decision to use the latest Dunlop sticky wet-weather tyre on a dry circuit. He had calculated that they would be faster than the ordinary Dunlops used by Ferrari. It was not an easy win for Moss, his tyres were getting very worn, and although von Trips and Hill were closing on him a shower allowed Moss to extend his lead once more, and at the finish he was 21.4sec ahead of von Trips.”

Baghetti's rise and fall

One of the most memorable features of 1961 was the performance of Giancarlo Baghetti, who came from nowhere and was brilliantly successful. Then, as a works Ferrari driver in ’62, he achieved virtually nothing and disappeared into obscurity.

RT: “Baghetti was well-known in Italy as a successful driver of OSCA and Dagrada Formula Junior cars. He came from a family of wealthy industrialists and when he wanted to enter Formula 1 he paid FISA (Federazione Italiana Scuderie Automobilische), a team set up to encourage a new generation of Italian drivers, for his rides in the 65-degree Ferraris.

He started his F1 career by winning [the non-championship race] at Syracuse, defeating Dan Gurney and Jo Bonnier in their works Porsche four-cylinder cars. Baghetti was a very fast driver in the sense that he could exploit the power of a fast car and keep it on the road.

“After this he won the Naples GP held the same weekend as Monaco and with a small entry. Mr Ferrari wanted to see him in full works cars, but it was not the practice to field another official entry at most races. But after the team had won the Dutch and Belgian GPs, we fielded the usual three drivers with the 120-degree car in the French GP at Reims and also made available a 65-degree car for Baghetti.

“In practice the drivers complained about poor acceleration out of Reims’ tight hairpin corners at Thillois and Muizon. So we fitted a lower irst gear ratio to all the cars. The three 120-degree Ferraris were fastest in practice and set the race pace, until they ran into problems in the hot weather. Von Trips coasted into the pits with engine failure, Hill spun at Thillois as he lapped Moss and stalled his engine – Moss could not avoid hitting him and [effectively] putting both cars out of the race – and Richie retired because his engine started to seize up.

“So now Baghetti was battling for the lead with Bonnier and Gurney. It was remarkable how Giancarlo remained calm and collected and avoided making any mistakes. Then Bonnier pulled into the pits trailing smoke and on the last lap Gurney led Baghetti into Thillois. Thanks to the low first gear, Baghetti accelerated hard to pull out of the Porsche’s slipstream and he crossed the line 0.1sec ahead.

“It was the irst win by an Italian driver in a World Championship Grand Prix since [Alberto] Ascari’s victories during his second successful world title campaign with Ferrari in 1953. Mr Ferrari entered Baghetti with a 120-degree car in the British race at Aintree where he spun off in the wet and hit the guard rails. He was not included in the team in Germany as a punishment for this mistake and drove a privately entered 120-degree car on loan from the factory in the Italian GP at Monza, but retired because of engine problems.

“Baghetti drove alongside Phil Hill in 1962, but the V6 Ferraris were outclassed and I think he simply lost enthusiasm. We signed up both drivers for ATS, but the cars were never fully developed and Baghetti had no chance to do well. I thought Baghetti and James Hunt had much in common. Although Giancarlo was essentially a wealthy playboy, whereas James had limited means, both raced and played hard.

“Giancarlo would gamble, drink and womanise all night before a race; drunk or hungover in the morning he would go to a sauna and sweat out the alcohol before racing completely sober in the afternoon. I believe the explanation for his poor performances after 1962 was that he was brilliant at the wheel of a good car, but lacked determination when he had to drive anything that was uncompetitive.”

The 1961 World Championship and tragedy at Monza

Despite Moss’s wins, 1961 had been a successful season for Ferrari. Then came Monza, a race Tavoni still inds upsetting to talk about…

RT: “In Phil Hill and ‘Taffy’ von Trips we had two outstanding drivers, who worked well together with me and Richie Ginther. I don’t think that at the time we could have done better unless we had signed Stirling Moss and Jim Clark. Phil and Taffy were different personalities. Phil loved music, especially opera, and although he was always friendly he was introspective and a worrier, lacking confidence and prone to stomach problems. Von Trips was a more serious, aloof character from an aristocratic background who tended to think of himself as being superior to others in the team.

“We had no team orders about winning races, but the standing instruction was that the drivers should hold position as they were 10 laps before the finish. After the German race Taffy had 33 points and Phil was on 29. We knew that if either driver won at Monza then he would be World Champion. Everyone was content with this and the same 10-lap rule applied.

“The terrible accident happened on lap two of the race. Hill was in the lead. As the cars approached Parabolica Ricardo Rodríguez (brought into the team for this race) and Baghetti were bunched together, and both braked about 200 metres from the corner. Von Trips was behind, followed closely by Clark in his Lotus. Taffy braked early for the corner, about 230 metres before the apex, and he took Clark by surprise. Clark swerved to avoid a collision but his left front wheel hit the Ferrari’s right rear.

“The tyre delated and von Trips spun into the spectator fencing. He was killed along with 11 spectators who were pressed up against the wire fence, and another 14 were injured (three of whom died later). Clark was distraught and came to see us after the race to explain what had happened. There was no blame attached to him: it was a freak racing accident. Hill won the race and the championship. There was no question of him winning by default, we always knew that either driver could do it.

“Von Trips’s funeral was held in Germany and Phil, Richie and I all wanted to attend. Mr Ferrari said I could not go, Laura Ferrari would attend with two of his friends who had nothing to do with motor racing. She stayed with Taffy’s parents and later when I saw Huschke von Hanstein, the Porsche racing manager, he said, ‘Why did Laura Ferrari go to the funeral and not you? She behaved badly and seriously upset his parents.’ I never learned what had happened, but it was all part of a pattern.”

Domestic trouble at Maranello

Mrs Ferrari’s growing involvement in the Formula 1 team led to dissent in the ranks and a dramatic showdown with Enzo at Modena.

RT: “It took Mr Ferrari years to recover from the death of his son, Dino, in 1956. It badly affected his health – often he was ill. This gave Laura Ferrari the opportunity to interfere in the company’s affairs. Mr Ferrari never attended races, but Laura started to go to them with the team. Although she rarely interfered with my team management, it made us feel as though we were being spied on.

“The main problem was the constant nagging criticism, often vilification, of most of the senior staff in front of junior employees. She left me largely alone, but I was present when others were criticised. I remember one occasion when she attacked Carlo Chiti for failing to pay rent on an apartment, ignoring the fact that rent-free accommodation was a term of his employment. I am strongly of the opinion that she suffered mental problems.

“Her behaviour was affecting the factory operation and several of us spoke to Mr Ferrari about the situation. He said, ‘Listen, this is my problem, my life, it is nothing to do with you. You have sufficient authority to do your job without running to me.’ It was impossible to make him understand how Laura was undermining the organisation.

“One who was particularly affected was Ermanno Della Casa, the company accountant. He discussed the problem with the engineers Giotto Bizzarrini and Chiti, Fausto Galassi (factory manager) who had been involved in some serious and unpleasant arguments with Laura, Girolamo Gardini (sales director), Federico Giberti (director of production), Enzo Selmi (employment director) and myself. We agreed that he should consult a lawyer in Modena on our behalf. As a result we sent Mr Ferrari a letter setting out the problem, which we all signed.

“We received no reply, but we thought Mr Ferrari would discuss it at the next weekly staff meeting on the last Tuesday in October ’61. The meeting started at 5pm, nothing was said about the problem and Mr Ferrari ended it at 5.45pm, which was unusually early. These meetings were held on the irst loor and after we’d gone downstairs we saw my secretary waiting for us. He handed each of us an envelope and said, ‘This is your month’s salary, you must go through this door, leave the factory and never come back.’ We were horrified.

“We all pressed to see Mr Ferrari individually and he agreed to take back Galassi, Gardini and Giberti. I saw Mr Ferrari and said to him, ‘I have worked for you since 1950 and I have worked hard. You have had no cause for complaint. I am willing to come back on the same terms, doing a simple job, as when I joined you.’ I said this because I was worried how I was going to keep my family.

“Mr Ferrari replied, ‘I need you, but my position is clear. You have interfered with matters that are nothing to do with you and I want you out of the factory.’ I was lucky to be offered the position of team manager at the newly formed ATS organisation. This lasted about two years before ATS folded. I was then fortunate to become race manager at the Monza circuit, and I stayed there for the rest of my working life.”

Anthony Pritchard