The Complete F1 Season 1961

Last week there was discussion about the greatest ever racing year in history. Of course anyone under ten loves 2008 and Hamilton. Teenagers tend to like Kimi Raikkonnen and therefore are ignoring F1 for the next few years. Girls coo over retro images of James Hunt and men will argue about Moss, Clark, Senna, Prost and a few select others until the bar is drank dry. So naively and with no real insight, I’m bucking the trend; The most Complete season ever, 1961, the year of Phil Hill, the first American World Champion.

Phil; I feel, wouldn’t be at home in the modern day F1 where drivers can barely breathe for interviewers and engineers quiziing them out of the car. The last I heard of him visiting a GP was at Monza in ’06 as a guest of Ferrari. Hill quietly arrived watched the race and Schumacher’s [first] retirement, talked with Jean Todt then of Ferrari and walked away, never to return. A quiet dignified man, who’s battle with illness in his last few years robbed the world of a true gentleman, a true racer.

1961 then was possibly the year of his career, not only winning both Drivers and Constructors titles with Ferrari but also sparing time to win Ferrari the 24hr Le Mans aswell, a feat that will not be mimicked by Fernando Alonso or Felipe Massa.

So ends the limited knowledge of 1961 I have. Why do I love 1961? Because Hill let his racing do the talking, even Senna couldn’t manage that.

So let’s delve deeper. The story of the season is a three way battle. Hills competition consisted of Count Wolfgang Von Trips, his team-mate at a 3 car Ferrari, & Stirling Moss, now a Knight and then driving a woefully underpowered but comically named Coventry Climax.

Even at the opening season race in Monaco which Moss won, Ferrari where clearly fastest. Von Trips and Hill then traded the top spot until Stirling Moss again used exquisite skill and flair to beat a massive 40hp deficit in a dry/wet race at the old full Nurburgring. (Which sadly proved to be Moss’ last but possibly greatest victory in a F1 car.)

Within this Title battle, which as we all know ended in the most cruel circumstances at Monza, Ferrari’s home GP with the death of Von Trips and several spectators. Within this year nests two tales to show the brilliance and humanity of F1 even in these desperate and dark times.

The French GP was the one race that gave the also-rans of 1961 some hope. In France each of the three supremo’s had issues, including Hill and Moss colliding. And so, on his F1 championship debut driving the supreme Ferrari of a private entry, Italy no doubt went wild for the then young Italian, Giancarlo Baghetti who remains to this day, 50 years on, the only man to have won his very first F1 Grand Prix.

The season ended a race early for Ferrari. Supported by the fact both titles were decidedbut mainly out of respect for Von Trips and the crowd members Ferrari withdrew from the final round held in the USA. A deeply honourable gesture, and I can only remember one other gesture to match it. Again Ferrari, this time at the 2001 Monza GP, where they removed all sponsors and ran with black nose cones in respect of the Twin Towers disaster in America.

This respect and passion not only for racing but for life too is why the Italian still hold Gilles Villeneuve as a Prince of their hearts, but its also why when any driver receives a phonecall from the Scuderia, they don’t say ‘No, thanks’.

So 1961 had it all it seems. Drives of a lifetime from Moss. Records set by Baghetti. The Honourable Ferrari. Sadness and despair, not only with Von Trips but with others I’m shamefully remise to mention. And the glory of the victors, and lmost overlook that first humble American F1 Champion of the World.


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