The 1961 Formula One season opened at Monaco amidst a flurry of activity. Ferrari introduced it’s potent new Dino 156, powered by either a 60 or 120 degree V6 engines, to be driven by Phil Hill, Wolfgang von Trips and the newly promoted Richie Ginther . Porsche ran it’s highly successful F2 car from the prior season, the 718, with a new fuel injected variant of the same car equipped with disc brakes, the 787, with Dan Gurney, Jo Bonnier and Hans Hermann in the driver’s seats.
The British constructors, BRM, Cooper and Lotus, their noses still out of joint over their failed protest of the 1.5 liter formula, were all powered by Coventry Climax four cylinder engines. Of the three, only Lotus introduced a substantially new car, the 21. BRM soldiered on with it’s, to that point, unreliable P48 (essentially a front engined P25 chassis, hastily re-engineered to a mid-rear engine configuration). Cooper, defending it’s Constructor’s Championship, returned with a re-engined version of the prior year’s T-51, dubbed the T53/55.
In practice, the Ferrari’s showed their pace right away. Team manager Romolo Tavoni was impressed, but concerned that the twisting Monaco circuit did not play to the 156’s strengths. The new Lotus 21, driven by Jim Clark, also proved quick, ultimately earning a spot on the front row. The Porsches were not as rapid as anticipated, having gearbox and suspension difficulties. The 1960 F1 Champion, Jack Brabham, was splitting time between Monaco and the Indianapolis 500 qualifying sessions; the lack of focus led to Brabham starting at the back of the grid. The biggest surprise came from Stirling Moss, driving a year old Lotus 18 entered by Rob Walker, who blitzed the field to start on the pole. After qualifying, the starting grid lined up with Moss(Lotus), Ginther(Ferrari) and Clark(Lotus) on the front row, Phil Hill(Ferrari) and Graham Hill(BRM) on row 2; Row 3 had Tony Brooks(BRM), Bruce McLaren(Cooper) and Wolfgang von Trips(Ferrari), with the Porsche’s of Dan Gurney and Joakim Bonnier on the 4th row.
As former champion Louis Chiron waved the starting flag, Richie Ginther leaped out to an early lead with Moss, Clark and Bonnier, moving up from 9th place, in hot pursuit. Down the starting order, a terrific seven car battle broke out between Gurney, Brooks, McLaren, the Hills (Phil and Graham), von Trips and John Surtees. Clark’s Lotus, while fast, almost immediately began to suffer mechanical difficulties and fell back rapidly through the field.
On lap 14, both Moss and Bonnier caught and passed Ginther almost at the same time! Meanwhile, Phil Hill and Wolfgang von Trips had emerged from the gang of 7 to fall in behind Ginther. Moss, driving flawlessly, quickly opened a 10 second lead on Bonnier’s Porsche and the trio from Marinello.
At the halfway mark, Moss’s lead had been cut to 6 seconds as Phil Hill moved past Ginther to take up the chase against Bonnier and Moss. 9 laps later, the fuel injection in Bonnier’s Porsche gave up the ghost and dropped out of the race; The charging Ferrari’s continued to relentlessly cut into Moss’s lead, reducing his margin from 8 to just 3 seconds. First, Phil Hill charged after Moss, dogging his every more; then Ginther, having overtaken his team mate, applied the pressure. While the Ferrari’s had a 25 hp advantage over Moss’s Lotus, the Scuderia’s drivers could not match the skill with which Moss dispatched the back markers in the field. Over the last 10 laps, Stirling Moss repeatedly fending off the charging Ginther in a four-wheeled game of cat and mouse; when Richie turned in a lap record time on one lap, Stirling matched it on the next lap. In the end, Stirling Moss held off Ferrari’s crimson onslaught and gained one of his most celebrated victories.
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