45 – 1961 French GP


A series taken from the 162-page Motor Sport special 100 Greatest Grands Prix (other specials are available here).

This debut victory remains perhaps the purest of all Formula 1 fairy tales – although Milanese driver Giancarlo Baghetti wasn’t quite the raw newcomer of popular perception. 

By the time he came to Reims for his first world championship GP start, he had twice represented Ferrari in F1, winning non-championship events in Syracuse (where he overcame strong opposition) and Naples (which was a bit more of a stroll). Despite his 100 per cent record, though, he wasn’t strongly fancied in France – not least because there were three other Ferraris, handled by Richie Ginther plus title contenders Wolfgang von Trips and Phil Hill. While Hill took pole ahead of von Trips and Ginther, Baghetti lined up 12th, on row five.

Hill led initially from Ginther and von Trips, but Stirling Moss took third for a period while Ginther recovered from a spin. Behind the leading quartet, Baghetti formed part of a slipstreaming group of seven drivers, with the Porsches of Dan Gurney and Jo Bonnier, the works Lotus 21s of Jim Clark and Innes Ireland, Graham Hill’s BRM and Bruce McLaren’s Cooper. Moss gradually slipped back into this maelstrom after slowing with fading brakes.

View the 1961 French Grand Prix on the Database

Ferrari had issued instructions that von Trips should lead, but a failed head gasket sidelined the German after 18 laps. Hill then took over until he spun and stalled, rejoining a lap in arrears, while failing oil pressure stopped Ginther.

The slipstreaming mob was now fighting for the lead and it eventually boiled down to a two-way scrap between Gurney and Baghetti. The American was ahead exiting Thillois for the final time, but Baghetti was handily placed in his tow and ducked out to complete a hat trick.

It was also his last major F1 success. SA

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.

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