The 1961 Italian Grand Prix was the penultimate round of the 1961 Formula One World Championship, held at Monza, home to Ferrari's passionate fans known as the tifosi. The race was expected to see the first of two battles for the title between drivers Phil Hill and Wolfgang von Trips, both of whom were running for the Italian manufacturer, themselves Constructors' Champions.
Unfortunately, the title was decided in the most tragic of circumstances, as sixteen people were killed in an accident involving Jim Clark and von Trips. Heading onto the Parabolica for the first time in the race, the Brit and the German made contact, throwing both across the circuit, with Clark skidding to a halt a few metres away. For von Trips, however, the accident was infinitely more severe, as his car flew into the fencing at the edge of the circuit, before slamming into a group of spectators. Fifteen people were killed by the flying Ferrari, while von Trips was catapulted from the car after it hit the fence, dying as he hit the ground.
As von Trips became Formula One's latest casualty, Hill secured victory in the race and Championship, although his moment of glory was overshadowed by the tragedy. The race had run without interruption despite the accident, and Ferrari had been running one-two-three-four until mechanical troubles affected the latter three cars. That allowed Dan Gurney and Bruce McLaren to completed the podium on a day when von Trips became the first posthumous runner-up in F1 history.
Ahead of the weekend, the focus was, inevitably, on Ferrari after they secured the Constructors' Championship at the German Grand Prix a month earlier. Not only that, but both Hill and von Trips were in the title fight, with Hill needing to win both races to win the Championship to overcome his German team mate. Neither could be caught from the men behind them in the title hunt, although the Italian manufacturer still brought four factory backed cars to their home race. Joining Hill and von Trips were American Richie Ginther (already an established factory driver for the team), and Mexican Ricardo Rodríguez, making his début for the Italian team.
Elsewhere, engine builder Climax were set to unleash the latest update to their developmental V8 engine, handing their only functioning unit to outgoing Champion Jack Brabham in the lead Cooper. Stirling Moss was to run his familiar Lotus 18 in the race, but problems in the opening stages of the weekend saw him swap with Innes Ireland in the factory backed team, meaning Moss would run the newer Lotus 21.
The full entry list for the 1961 Italian Grand Prix is outlined below:
A dry couple of days before the race weekend played host to the combined practice and qualifying sessions, with warm temperatures sweeping the circuit too. The sessions also saw the major British manufacturers compete, despite concerns of a repeat of their protest in 1960 over the use of the banking.
Evident immediately was that the sheer power of the Ferrari 1.5 liter V6 engine was enough to give the tifosi the pole position they desired for their favored red colored cars. Wolfgang von Trips, Championship leader, claimed pole ahead of the débuting Ricardo Rodríguez, with Richie Ginther and Phil Hill completing the second row and a Ferrari quartet at the front of the field. The fifth race-ready Ferrari in the hands of Giancarlo Baghetti sat in sixth, using an older specification engine.
Climax, meanwhile, had brought their V8 engine to Monza, and although Jack Brabham was given priority to use it in the race, other V8s were used by several of the British teams. Graham Hill was one of those, putting his BRM into fifth with the new engine, ahead of Jim Clark, the first of the Team Lotus drivers in seventh. The other users of the new engine were Stirling Moss, who ended the session in eleventh but would use the familiar L4 engine in a Lotus 21 for the race after swapping with Innes Ireland, and Brabham who found himself in tenth.
As expected, the back of the field was populated by the privateer entries from Italy and Europe, with Lorenzo Bandini bringing a substantial following to see him qualify in 21st. Otherwise, 32 drivers qualified for the race, André Pilette the only man to fail to qualify after setting a time, with four other withdrawals.
The full qualifying results for the 1961 Italian Grand Prix are outlined below:
|1||4||Wolfgang von Trips||Ferrari||2:50.3||2:46.3||—|
|15||74||Carel Godin de Beaufort||Porsche||2:57.9||2:53.8||+7.5s|
|20||50||Nino Vaccarella||De Tomaso-Alfa Romeo||3:03.7||2:56.0||+9.7s|
|24||54||Roberto Bussinello||De Tomaso-Alfa Romeo||3:09.8||3:01.7||+15.4s|
|32||52||Roberto Lippi||De Tomaso-OSCA||3:27.7||3:08.9||+22.6s|
|115% Time: 3:11.36|
|DNS||46||Edgar Barth||Porsche||Driven by Gurney|
|DNS||58||Massimo Natili||Cooper-Maserati||Driven by Pirocchi|
|Wolfgang von Trips||2|
|Carel Godin de Beaufort||16|
Sunday was another warm and bright day in Italy, with the cars being pushed from the pits to their grid positions across the wide start/finish straight that included the run into the banked section later in the lap. There were also a number of famous faces on the grid, including Brooklands lap record holder Lord Howe, while there were discussions between the drivers as usual. There was little doubt that a Ferrari would win the race, the question was which one.
The Ferrari's secret to their Monza speed was to use high gear ratios, which meant that they were slow, and difficult, to get off the line. This proved to be significant as Graham Hill and Jim Clark pushed into the quartet of scarlet cars, with their order in complete reverse of their grid slots. Phil Hill and Richie Ginther now led the race, the title contender ahead, while Ricardo Rodríguez, the youngest ever front row starter, ran in third, as Wolfgang von Trips fell to fifth behind Clark.
The frantic first lap saw the Ferraris swap places amongst themselves as Clark defended from von Trips for fourth. They continued to battle through the second lap, until a fateful accident that would resinate in F1 history. With the pair coming down the back straight to the banked bend that served as the final corner, von Trips pulled alongside Clark, before moving across the Lotus. Clark's front right wheel rubbed against the rear left of the German's car, throwing both into slides, with Clark carried to the inside of the circuit and out.
For von Trips, however, the slide proved fatal, as his car carried him across the circuit and into the fencing that protected the spectators. The Ferrari flattened the fence, simultaneously catapulting the German from the car, while careening into the spectators behind, killing fourteen of them. The accident was also fatal for von Trips, with the German killed when he hit the ground. Clark, meanwhile, was shaken but unharmed.
The huge accident did not bring a stop to the race, with Phil Hill building a small gap to his team mates Rodriguez and Ginther, while Giancarlo Baghetti recovered from his poor start in the "privateer" Ferrari to make it a quartet of scarlet cars at the front. Jack Brabham had also been busy, climbing to fifth ahead of Graham Hill, as the order swapped every time the cars made their way along Monza's long, wide straights.
The following laps saw Jo Bonnier and John Surtees collide, with the Swede's Porsche put out of the race with damage, while Stirling Moss moved ever higher in the order. By this stage there was no news of the tragedy emerging at the back of the circuit, as the Ferrari quartet pulled clear of the rest of the field bar Brabham, whose V8 Climax engine was able to keep pace. It was not to last, however, as the Australian pulled the car in after eight laps with an overheating issue, leaving Ferrari untroubled at the front.
An all Ferrari podium seemed an inevitability from that moment on, until the "Sharknose" revealed it's fatal weakness to leave Phil Hill as their sole runner. Rodriguez and Baghetti were the first to fall, both out with engine failure on lap thirteen, with Ginther surviving another ten laps before his engine blew as well. Hill now led by twenty seconds, nursing his engine as best he could, while Dan Gurney and Moss battled away for second.
Moss and Gurney continued to battle until the closing stages, when the Brit's wheel bearings failed, leaving Gurney in a lonely second, while Bruce McLaren's quiet race saw him promoted to the podium. The top three was now settled, although there was still interest in the points positions, as Jackie Lewis, in a privately entered Cooper, went to battle with Tony Brooks for BRM. Lewis was defending resolutely in the final stages, and just held off Brooks for fourth, with Roy Salvadori a lap down in sixth.
Shortly before the trophy presentation the drivers were informed of the death of their colleague von Trips and the fourteen spectators, meaning a subdued podium. It also meant that Hill had won the Championship by a single point, although his greatest achievement would always be tinged by the death of his rival, team mate and friend.
The full results for the 1961 Italian Grand Prix are outlined below:
- Début for Pedro Rodríguez who became the youngest ever starter in Championship history, aged 19 years and 208 days.
- Third and final win for Phil Hill.
- Hill became the first American World Champion.
- Wolfgang von Trips became the first man to be awarded the runner-up spot in the Championship posthumously.
- First and only points finish for Jackie Lewis.
- Final race to be held using the banked circuit at Monza.
With the death of Wolfgang von Trips hanging over the circuit, Phil Hill was declared the 1961 Formula One World Champion, beating von Trips by a solitary point after dropped scores were counted. Stirling Moss remained in third, a similar fate for Richie Ginther whom held onto fourth, while a podium for Dan Gurney saw him became the third America racer in the top five. Jim Clark was the man to make way for him, the Scot visibly shaken by his involvement in von Trips' demise, despite it being a freak accident.
Ferrari had already been declared Constructors' Champions before the race, and with Porsche needing to win the season finale in the United States without a single Lotus-Climax scoring, it seemed that the latter was set to finish the season in second. Cooper-Climax were enduring an awful season given they had won the previous two Championships, set to end the season in fourth, leaving BRM as the only other scorers.
- 'GRAND PRIX RESULTS: ITALIAN GP, 1961', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 2016), http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr101.html, (Accessed 13/01/2016)
- 1958misterLotus1994, 'Italian G.P.(1961)Monza(race day)', youtube.com, (YouTube, 09/06/2011), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbk3813WPZg, (Accessed 13/01/2016)
- '1961 Italian Grand Prix: Qualifying', statsf1.com, (StatsF1, 2015), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1961/italie/qualification.aspx, (Accessed 11/01/2016)
|V T E||Italian Grand Prix|
|Circuits||Monza (1950 - 1979, 1981 - Present), Imola (1980)|
|Races||1950 • 1951 • 1952 • 1953 • 1954 • 1955 • 1956 • 1957 • 1958 • 1959 • 1960 • 1961 • 1962 • 1963 • 1964 • 1965 • 1966 • 1967 • 1968 • 1969 • 1970 • 1971 • 1972 • 1973 • 1974 • 1975 • 1976 • 1977 • 1978 • 1979 • 1980 • 1981 • 1982 • 1983 • 1984 • 1985 • 1986 • 1987 • 1988 • 1989 • 1990 • 1991 • 1992 • 1993 • 1994 • 1995 • 1996 • 1997 • 1998 • 1999 • 2000 • 2001 • 2002 • 2003 • 2004 • 2005 • 2006 • 2007 • 2008 • 2009 • 2010 • 2011 • 2012 • 2013 • 2014 • 2015 • 2016 • 2017 • 2018 • 2019 • 2020 • 2021 • 2022|
|European Championship Races||1931 • 1932 • 1935 • 1936 • 1937 • 1938|
|Non-Championship Races||1921 • 1922 • 1923 • 1924 • 1925 • 1926 • 1927 • 1928 • 1933 • 1934 • 1947 • 1948 • 1949|
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