Rob Walker, his team owner, always reckoned that Stirling Moss’s victory at the Nürburgring in 1961 was his greatest drive, but Moss himself opts for Monaco the same year: “Without a doubt, it was the hardest race of my life, and I consider it the best.”
Ferrari was dominant in this, the first year of the 1.5-litre Formula 1, its V6 engines way more powerful than the four-cylinder Climax and Porsche motors used by the opposition. But in the hands of a genius a Lotus – even an obsolete one run by a small private team – could have something to say at a true driver’s circuit. Moss’s victories bear comparison with any in history, and in each race he was the hare, pursued by the Ferraris of Phil Hill, Wolfgang von Trips and Richie Ginther.
At Monaco Stirling took pole position, from Ginther and the latest factory Lotus of Jim Clark. In the early stages he ran second to the Ferrari before taking the lead on lap 14. “I never thought I’d be able to stay there to the end,” he said, “but I wanted to lead as long as possible.”
By lap 26 team leader Hill had moved into second place, but by now Moss led by 10 seconds, and at the halfway point – lap 50 – was still seven seconds to the good.
Now, though, things began to look shaky for Stirling. By lap 59 Phil was only three seconds adrift, and Ginther, too, was right there. But this was Moss at his imperturbable greatest, and he began again to edge away.
Once it became clear that Hill had nothing for the Lotus, a Ferrari pit board ordered him to let Ginther through, another advising Richie to ‘give all’. He found that wryly amusing: “I don’t know what the hell else they thought I was giving…”
The last 25 laps distilled to a fight between Moss and Ginther. “That was certainly the best race I ever drove,” said Richie, “and when Stirling said it was his, too, I felt incredibly proud. He was the greatest driver I ever saw – by a long way – and if I was able to push him to the best drive of his life, that meant something, believe me.
“That son-of-a-gun… In the Monaco programmes they credit me with the fastest lap for that year, but he equalled it the very lap after I did it!”
In qualifying Moss and Ginther had lapped in 1min 39.1sec and 1min 39.3sec, respectively. In the race their average lap time – over 100 laps, let’s remember again – was 1min 39.5sec.
If that beggars belief, so also do their fastest laps, three seconds inside their qualifying times. On lap 84 Ginther, ‘giving all’, went round in 1min 36.3sec, and on lap 85 a peerless Moss duplicated it.
“That didn’t break me, exactly,” said Ginther, “but it was absolutely as quick as I could go – and he was able instantly to respond. You just felt, ‘Jeez, what can you do about this guy?’ And the answer, of course, was nothing…” NSR
About 100 Greatest Grands Prix | From the editor Damien Smith
The Grand Prix motor races we can never forget…
This was a special one-off magazine, dedicated to our love of Grand Prix racing and produced by the same team that brings you Motor Sport each month.
It seemed a good idea: whittle down 107 years of racing history to come up with 100 GPs that could be considered the ‘greatest’ – then rank them in meritocratic order. By week three, the old grey matter was beginning to ache…
Defining greatness was the first task. There were the obvious races – the wheel-to-wheel duels, the comeback classics. But there were also individual performances of supreme dominance, races that might not necessarily have been the most exciting to witness. Greatness goes way beyond thrill-a-minute, we decided.
Choosing which races should make the list was hard enough; ranking the top 100 in some sort of order was even tougher, especially when it came to the crunch: which should be number one? We never did agree unanimously on the ‘greatest’, but if the magazine was to be finished a decision had to be taken. And that’s what I’m here for!
Will you agree with our choice and order? Probably not. But if steam begins to issue from your ears, take a deep breath. In any exercise such as this, there is no definitive list – because there can’t be. Our top 100 is based on opinion, nothing more, designed to be a bit of fun and to spark good-natured debate among fans of the world’s greatest sport.
You can download 100 Greatest Grands Prix in PDF form in the Motor Sport app.