ITALIAN GP 1961 : report from the time


Last year Phil Hill, won his first G.P. at Monza; this year: he: won too, clinching the World Championship, but both contests were clouded - this one by tragedy on lap two.

The tragic accident at Monza which cost the life of Wolfgang von Trips and fifteen spectators overshadows everything else now. Enzo Ferrari has gone into seclusion, the new World Champion, Phil Hill is giving consideration to quitting racing and the Monza track has been closed until the official inquiry now being organized is over. Italian newspapers have had a field day, not to mention the rest of the world's press, the inaccuracy and sensationalism of which make one's stomach go sour.

Trips was a friend. He was leading the World Championship at the time of his death and died doing what he loved most, Grand Prix racing. We regret most of all the loss of innocent lives that went with him; no one is to blame for the accident, least of all Jim Clark, who was said to have triggered the incident. Blame for such an occurrence can hardly be pinned on one person, unless sheer recklessness can be proven. Clark was not being reckless. He was tigering - having a go - with the Ferrari phalanx leading the race and it was sheer bad luck that he and Trips touched ever so briefly as they prepared to brake for the Curva Parabolica on the second lap. We'll miss Trips.

Phil Hill has won the Championship under less than perfect circumstances, yet this accident must never detract from Phil's terrific accomplishment - something he's been headed for since 1948.

Unofficial practice for the Grand Prix got under way at midweek with the B.R.M. team trying out its new V8 1.5-liter car. First of all it's the loveliest Formula 1 car to come along yet and it sounds great to boot. Nestled into the special chassis, it makes the Cooper-Climax and Lotus-Climax V8s for Brabham and Moss look like Rube Goldberg lash-ups. She's low and long; chief B.R.M. tester Graham Hill is more than just a little enthusiastic and the sooner they get rid of the four cylinder Climax engines, the happier the B.R.M. team will be, so that development on the V8 can move ahead. It's a 90-degree vee, utilizing Lucas low-pressure "spit and hope" fuel injection. Valve springs are coil and aside from this, few details of the engine are known. It revs to 10,000 plus and the red line on one of the practice cars sat ostentatiously at 10,5000. Horse power is more than they expected with about 185 already on tap. The whole car is slightly lighter than the four-cylinder machines used all season: suspension layouts are similar, but not identical. A five-speed gearbox is fitted; oil tank for the dry sump lubrication system is at the front. Four-wheel outboard disc brakes are standard.

They had troubles-teething troubles-with the new B.R.M. in practice; first one engine broke completely when an already suspect part gave up the ghost as expected. The one remaining V8 (two had been hurriedly prepared for Monza) was shelved until the final official practice session when Graham Hill took it out to have a go at the hot Ferrari practice times; Graham had to sit on the sidelines for too long a time while a loose distributor was refitted. Then the bell mouths on the fuel injection intakes began to shake loose; all this was eventually put right, however, and Graham was able to turn a 2:48.7 lap, fifth fastest and the best English time; in front of him on the grid were four Ferraris: front row: von Trips (2: 46.3) , Ricardo Rodriguez (2: 46.4) , second row, Richie Ginther (2: 46.8) and Phil Hill (2: 47.2). But a last-minute decision saw both B.R.M. drivers in four-cylinder Climax-powered cars in the race. With only one V8 left, and it not running perfectly Berthon and Mays, the B.R.M. bosses, decided to save the new power unit for further testing.

Climax was able to deliver a second V8 engine to Stirling Moss by the end of August. It was squeezed into a four-cylinder chassis and the result was the ugliest looking Formula 1 car of the season. It never was running right during practice and most of the time was spent trying to figure out where and how it was losing all-its water, which seemed to be blowing out around the radiator cap. Neither Brabham nor Moss could keep the temperature down and Moss found himself short on revs. In the end, Brabham elected to use the Climax V8 in the race while Moss gave up in disgust and borrowed a latest-type Team Lotus four-cylinder. With this bolide he and Dan Gurney had a neck-and-neck, wheel-to-wheel exchange for more than half the race until a wheel bearing on Moss's Lotus packed up and he retired.

Brabham eventually retired after only ten laps of battle; he said after the race that if it had not been for the solid Ferrari formation ahead of him on the opening laps he would have been able to make a real bid for the lead, knowing all the time, however, that his engine would undoubtedly not last long since the loss of water problem was still unsolved when the car was pushed onto the starting grid. For the 1962 season both Cooper and Lotus will have come up with new chassis for the Climax V8 and the cars will certainly be giving better accounts of themselves.

The B.R.M. four-cylinders did not distinguish themselves. Graham's engine gave up the ghost while -Tony Brooks finished in fifth position just nosed out by Jack Lewis. Brooks got himself into hot water with the organizers earlier in the week when he did not stop when they asked him to and tempers were at the boiling point more than once during the latter half of the Monza week. The usual hassles with police and Italian organizers did not help things and the driver's association formally decided to award a trophy to the organizer of the best race of the year.

Porsche came to Monza with four cars, one of which was the latest chassis sporting wishbone front suspension. Joe Bonnier tried ,this car out on the combined road and banked circuit and found the older conventional Porsche RS system more to his liking.

Dan Gurney did marvelous. things with his porsche at Monza, finally ending up second overall after his battle with Moss. Gurney could usually get by the Lotus coming off the banking but it was the contrary on the road circuit with Moss coming by the pits first practically every time.

Scuderia Ferrari came to Monza in full force; six cars including a rnuLetta and five drivers, including Ricardo Rodriguez who it seems will join the Ferrari factory team in 1962, though nothing official has yet come out. He astounded everybody by turning second fastest practice time and got himself onto the front row of the grid and into the limelight. Ricardo is obviously a good driver with considerable experience behind him, but it was also obvious that he has a lot to learn about Grand Prix racing as well as obeying team orders. His race car had a 65degree V6 engine while the rest of the team, including Baghetti had 120-degree engines. Phil had a brand-new car for the race and a new engine to boot, installed on the eve of the race. Valve spring trouble had begun to manifest itself and he yelled loud and long for a new engine.

As it turned out his suspicions were correct and his was the only Ferrari to finish the 266-mile distance. Rodriguez and Baghetti were the first to go, followed by Ginther shortly thereafter, all with defective valve springs. With the retirement of Moss and Brabham, Hill maintained his lead for the duration of the race. In the opening laps, however, he and his Ferrari teammates gave an exciting demonstration of power and speed as they sailed down the main straight and onto the banking, he and Ginther sometimes side by side to avoid Ginther connecting with him in the slip stream; "slipstreaming could have gotten dangerous" said Richie Ginther after the race, "it's too easy to relax and an accident could happen in an instant-so I motioned Phil to go on at his own pace. We drove to team orders."

Thirty-two cars started the race; a huge field lined up two-by-two stretched back practically to the end of the straight. The rate of attrition among these backrow boys was high with the de Tomaso cars (powered by Conrero-Alfa and Osca engines) being among the first casualties. There were few protests this year regarding the Automobile Club's insistence upon using the combined Monza circuit. Last year, the English stayed away en masse; this year they were all there ready and willing to race though not overjoyed at the prospect. The 130 mph average speed this year was only a shade less than 1960's average.

The actual start of the 32nd Italian Grand Prix was as exciting as any start can be. As the two lead Ferraris got off the mark, it was Rodriguez pulling in front of Trips, but by.the Curva Grande, Richie Ginther came sailing by both Trips and Rodriguez to lead the field into Lesmo and down the back straight. Coming out of the second Lesmo, Richie looked over his shoulder to find Jimmy Clark's Lotus at his elbow. Astonished, Richie vainly tried to shake Clark, but couldn't do so until after the Curva Parabolica.

The next lap around was the fatal one. The leaders roared down the back straight with Hill, Ginther, Rodriguez, Trips, Clark and Baghetti in that order.

Somehow Trips and Clark touched and the red Ferrari spun violently off the road. It sailed up the embankment on the outside of the track, smashed against the chain link fence and flew back onto the middle of the track. Clark's Lotus spun to a standstill and Jimmy climbed out, shaken but otherwise unhurt. Trips lay where he had been flung by the violent gyrations of the Ferrari. The race went on with no word passed out to the crowd that a serious accident had occurred. In the press office it was not known until practically the end of the race whether Trips was dead or alive, despite the ominous silence. Let us preserve the silence for Trips, and hope it doesn't bode ill for the whole of motor racing ......

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Monza '64

Author: ArchitectPage

Grand Prix in the 60's