The 1961 Belgian Grand Prix was staged at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium as the third round of the 1961 FIA Formula One World Championship. It was the first visit to the circuit since the 1960 Belgian Grand Prix, which went down as one of the darkest days in F1 history after two fatal accidents.
Fortunately, the XXI Grand Prix de Belgique would not see a repeat of the previous year's events as Phil Hill led home a Ferrari one-two-three-four as he claimed his second career win. The American had initially lost the lead to Olivier Gendebien early on, with Richie Ginther and Wolfgang von Trips making it an exciting four way scrap for the lead, until Hill hit the front again to take victory. German von Trips and American Ginther completed the podium ahead of Gendebien, with John Surtees and Dan Gurney completing the scorers.
Three weeks had passed since the Dutch Grand Prix, enough time for Innes Ireland to recover from his fractured leg sustained in the season opener in Monaco. He was therefore able to take the wheel of a brand new Lotus 21 to battle alongside Jim Clark for Team Lotus, with Trevor Taylor returning to their sportscar programme. Elsewhere, a freshly built Ferrari 156 would arrive to support the Italian manufacturer, handed to Olivier Gendebien for his home race, while his seat at Equipe Nationale Belge was taken over by fellow countryman Willy Mairesse.
An initial entry list of 25 cars was submitted to the race organisers ahead of the weekend, presenting a problem for the awarding of starting money. They only had the budget to support 19 start prizes, 16 of which were guaranteed to the manufacturer backed entries or former winners, meaning only 3 of the remaining 9 drivers would be awarded start money, a vital lifeline for the numerous privateers that made up the field. Many would take part in practice, but would decide whether to race or not only after the qualifying results had been announced.
The Championship battle saw Stirling Moss and Wolfgang von Trips arrive at the third race of the season level on 12 points each, a win and a fourth place each in the opening two rounds. Phil Hill was next, the only other man in double figures, with team mate and countryman Richie Ginther sat in fourth. Jim Clark, Dan Gurney and the two Cooper-Climax drivers Bruce McLaren and Jack Brabham were the only other scorers with a quarter of the 1961 season already completed.
Ferrari, meanwhile, were leading the charge in the Intercontinental Cup for Manufacturers, bringing a two point lead over Lotus-Climax with the to Belgium. Cooper and Porsche were the only other scorers in that Championship, the German outfit ahead courtesy of Gurney's previous fifth place finish in Monaco.
The full entry list for the 1961 Belgian Grand Prix is outlined below:
The rather confusing starting money situation meant that, although there were 25 cars and 25 grid slots, effectively 9 drivers were having to fight for 3 money awarding places. 16 of the factory drivers and previous winners of the race would automatically be given starting money according to the organisers, while several teams opted not to enter cars after qualifying despite sending their cars out to practice, meaning there would be 22 cars expected to start.
Unaffected by fears of prize money, Ferrari dominated the combined practice and qualifying sessions to claim four of the five grid slots available on the first two rows. Phil Hill went fastest, lapping the Spa-Francorchamps circuit four fifths of a second faster than team mate Wolfgang von Trips, and was the only man to complete the lap in under four minutes. Olivier Gendebien claimed third to make it a clean sweep of the front row for the red machines, denying John Surtees a front row start for the first time all season. The Brit would start fourth, almost six and three quarter seconds slower than Hill, with Richie Ginther completing Ferrari's quartet in fifth, just a tenth off of Surtees' time.
Gendebien's usual team mates at Equipe Nationale Belge, however, both had torrid times on Saturday, writing off both Emeryson-Climax cars late in the final session, meaning they looked set to miss the start. Elsewhere, the single UDT Laystall Racing Team entry was being used by two drivers, as Cliff Allison and Henry Taylor competed for the chance to drive the car in the race. Ultimately, however, neither of them would get the chance, as Allison wrote of the car (and his career) in a huge accident that destroyed the Lotus 18, and left the Brit with severe leg injuries.
The full qualifying results for the 1961 Belgian Grand Prix are outlined below:
- * Mairesse and Bianchi set their best times in their Emeryson-Climax cars, but were registered as using Lotus-Climax machinery instead as they would start the race with the latter.
- † Marsh, Seidel and Burgess opted not to start the race on the grounds of not being paid starting money.
- ‡ Car #16 withdrawn after Allison's accident.
|Wolfgang von Trips||3|
|Carel Godin de Beaufort||15|
Dry and warm, albeit with a slight cross wind along the winding track through Eau Rouge, the Belgian Grand Prix of 1961 was set to start at three in the afternoon. The two Equipe Nationale Belge drivers Lucien Bianchi and Willy Mairesse managed to use the two Lotus-Climaxs of Wolfgang Seidel and Tony Marsh, both of whom opted not to start, and so would be on the grid for their home race. Innes Ireland, meanwhile, was wandering around the starting grid with a slight limp but was otherwise prepared to start, with the flag dropping just moments after 15:00 local time.
A stunning start for Graham Hill launched him straight into the lead of the race, by-passing all four Ferraris before the cars made it through Eau Rouge. Also starting well was John Surtees, who immediately found himself blocked by Phil Hill as Graham Hill screamed down the outside of the leaders. The two Hills and Surtees were then followed by the two other scarlet Ferraris of Wolfgang von Trips and Richie Ginther, while Dan Gurney beat home hero Olivier Gendebien in the yellow Fezza, yellow being the national racing colours for Belgium.
By the mid-point on the first lap Phil Hill was leading from Ginther, Graham Hill having struggled down the long full throttle run from Eau Rouge to Les Combes. Gendebien, meanwhile, was putting on a good display, climbing into fourth as he diced with von Trips and Surtees having dispatched with Gurney on the run out of Raidillon. Indeed, the Belgian's ascent would continue, as the yellow Ferrari steamed across the line at the end of the first lap in second having just been re-passed by Phil Hill on the drive out of the La Source hairpin. Graham Hill had tumbled sixth, suddenly in the sights of Jo Bonnier, while Surtees tried valiantly to keep the four Ferraris in sight as the cars started the second lap.
Unfortunately for Surtees, the Ferraris were in imperious form, and another reshuffle during the second lap saw Gendebien lead the quartet across the start/finish line, with a sizeable gap already forming behind them. Furtherback, an interesting fight was developing between Bonnier, Gurney and defending Champion Jack Brabham, the Cooper-Climax driver managing to use the T55s lightweight design to throw his car into the corners and keep with the more powerful Porsches. Further down Jim Clark and Innes Ireland were struggling to make their way through the field, Clark having had to make an early pitstop while Ireland struggled with his leg injury, while the other two Belgian drivers Bianchi and Mairesse were dicing at the lower end of the field.
A mistake for Ginther saw him lose valuable time after a mistake at the hairpin, sliding wide to leave the quartet as a trio for the time being, Gendebien standing out as he scrapped with Phil Hill and von Trips. Ginther would slowly close back to them, while Gendebien would lead on lap six through until lap seven, when he suddenly found himself under attack from von Trips, who had taken Phil Hill through the hairpin. A daring move through Malmedy put the German into the lead, swiftly followed by his American team mate who was able to take advantage of Gendebien making room. The two works drivers were also quick to gap themselves to the Belgian, leaving him to scrap with the resurgent Ginther.
Hill and von Trips were then off on a race long duel between themselves for the win, Gendebien slipping away by a handful of seconds a lap as Ginther cruised past just before half distance. Elsewhere an incredible battle was being carried out between Surtees and Graham Hill over fifth place, the two sliding around every corner of Spa just millimetres apart to be best of the rest. Their dice, however, would only be a short affair as Graham Hill pulled off with a third of the race still to go with a broken exhaust, joining Mairesse, Bruce McLaren, Ireland, Bianchi and Brabham on the side lines.
Graham Hill would manage to rejoin with a hastily repaired exhaust a few laps later, before ultimately succumbing to an oil leak on the final lap. His team mate Tony Brooks lost time early on after having to pit for a magneto issue, meaning he ended the race as the last finisher after a battle with Clark. Elsewhere, an enticing battle was developing for the final point, as Bonnier and Gurney diced for sixth just ahead of Stirling Moss, whose quiet race saw him hampered by the under powered Climax engine in the back of his Lotus 18. Try as he might, the Brit was simply unable to nose his car in front, and before long Gurney had dealt a decisive blow to his team mate with a handful of laps to go and sprinted away, with Bonnier also building a gap to the soon-to-be ex-Championship leader.
But the attention was at the head of the field, where von Trips and Phil Hill continuing to exchange blow and counter blow around the eight mile course, the pair starting the final lap glued together with the American just ahead. They would continue to exchange blow and counter blow through their final tour of Spa, before a last gasp attempt by von Trips was resisted by Hill at the hairpin, leaving the two scarlet Ferraris to cross the line less than a second apart. Ginther would cross the line almost twenty seconds later in a lonely third with Gendebien fourth as the only other man inside a minute of the winner. Surtees and Gurney completed the points, while Bonnier and Moss were the only other drivers to finish the race on the lead lap.
The full results for the 1961 Belgian Grand Prix are outlined below:
|2||2||Wolfgang von Trips||Ferrari||30||+0.7s||2||6|
|9||40||Jackie Lewis||Cooper-Climax||29||+1 lap||13|
|10||44||Masten Gregory||Cooper-Climax||29||+1 lap||12|
|11||22||Carel Godin de Beaufort||Porsche||28||+2 laps||14|
|12||34||Jim Clark||Lotus-Climax||24||+6 laps||16|
|13||38||Tony Brooks||BRM-Climax||24||+6 laps||7|
|Ret||36||Graham Hill||BRM-Climax||24||Oil leak||6|
|Ret||46||Lorenzo Bandini||Cooper-Maserati||20||Oil pressure||17|
|Ret||28||Jack Brabham||Cooper-Climax||12||Connecting rod||11|
|Ret||12||Lucien Bianchi||Lotus-Climax||9||Oil line||21|
|Ret||30||Bruce McLaren||Cooper-Climax||9||Fuel Injection||15|
|DNS||42||Tony Marsh||Lotus-Climax||Starting money|
|DNS||48||Wolfgang Seidel||Lotus-Climax||Starting money|
|DNS||50||Ian Burgess||Lotus-Climax||Starting money|
Victory for Phil Hill saw him take the lead in the Drivers' Championship, now leading by a single point from team mate Wolfgang von Trips. No points for Stirling Moss meant that he slipped to third, seven points off of Hill's total, and left him tied on points with Richie Ginther, while Scot Jim Clark completed the top five, eight points further back. Olivier Gendebien now sat above Dan Gurney for sixth, while John Surtees, Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren rounded out the points.
The clean sweep of the podium saw Ferrari extend their lead in the Intercontinental Cup for Manufacturers, as they denied any thing more than two points for Lotus-Climax. Porsche added a point to their tally but still slipped behind Cooper-Climax as the only other manufacturers to have scored in 1961.
Images and Videos:
- 'GRAND PRIX RESULTS: BELGIAN GP, 1961', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 2016), http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr097.html, (Accessed 27/04/2016)
- 'Belgium 1961', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1961/belgique/engages.aspx, (Accessed 27/04/2016)
- 'Belgium 1961: Qualifying', statsf1.com, (StatsF1, 2015), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1961/belgique/qualification.aspx, (Accessed 27/04/2016)
- scalex2000, '1961 Spa Belgium GP', youtube.com, (YouTube, 04/11/2012), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxOwxsob67Q, (Accessed 28/04/2016)
- 'Belgium 1961: Race Results', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1961/belgique/classement.aspx, (Accessed 28/04/2016)
|V T E||Belgian Grand Prix|
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