Classic season opener: 1961 Monaco GP


1961 was Ferrari’s year. Between eventual world champion Phil Hill and team-mate Wolfgang von Trips, the factory won half of the season’s Grands Prix, with rookie Giancarlo Baghetti winning his first ever GP in an independently entered car.

The other three World Championship races were won by Lotus drivers Stirling Moss and Innes Ireland, Moss in the ageing 18 run by Rob Walker. His two victories that season, at Monaco and the Nürburgring, stand among his best.

Monaco opened the season as it often did in those days, and immediately Moss was giving the Ferraris trouble. He qualified on pole ahead of the Ferrari of Richie Ginther, with Jim Clark third in the works Lotus 21 and Phil Hill fourth. Ginther led into the first corner with Clark and Moss in hot pursuit, but ‘The Boy’ was leading by lap 14. Hill caught up with the leading duo and was waved through by his team-mate, but it was no use: “What I remember about that race,” he said, “was the frustration of busting my ass and not being able to catch Moss.”

Ginther’s Ferrari was equipped with an engine built to sit lower in the chassis, a design that was obviously working as he was now faster than his team-mate. Hill and Romolo Tavoni on the pitwall realised this and waved him through to chase down Moss, now seven seconds ahead. Ginther closed the gap to less than three, but Moss was untouchable, churning out one qualifying lap after another while waving to the crowd.

If it looked effortless, it wasn’t: “One doesn’t very often run a race flat out, ten tenths,” said Moss. “I was within a hair’s breadth of the limit for at least 92 of the 100 laps. Driving like that is tremendously tiring, just tremendously tiring, most people have no idea what it does to me.”

As Moss took off for his victory lap, smiling with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, you can see why the fans never saw how drained he felt after a race like this. And it was races like this that built the Moss legend, winning with consummate showmanship in a car that shouldn’t have been up there in the first place.

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