1961: Moss’s Monaco
Later today, the High Court decision on the Lotus naming row will be revealed. In the 50’s and 60’s however, a multitude of Loti forming up on the grid was nothing unusual as privateers lined up with cars supplied by Lotus. Cooper, BRM and Maserati were other popular choices as customer teams filled out the grids of their day. However, fifty years ago, one of those privateers recorded a remarkable victory at Monaco, not that it was Rob Walker Racing’s only Formula One triumph, far from it. However, up against the powerful Ferraris, it was going to need a remarkable drive.
Then again, they did have the advantage of one Stirling Craufurd Moss behind the wheel…
The 1961 Monaco Grand Prix was the opening race of the World Championship season but it was also the first run to the new 1.5 litre formula. The weight of expectation was behind the new Ferrari 156, with The Scuderia having stolen a march in developing their new engine. Climax and BRM, meanwhile, had been late in starting work on their engines and for Monaco their customers would have to use interim engines based of their Formula Two models, putting out 150 bhp to Ferrari’s 185. Not that everything was plain sailing at Ferrari who would only risk their revised 120 degree V6 engine with third-choice driver, Richie Ginther. Team favourites, Phil Hill and Wolfgang von Trips would instead play safe and run the 60 degree version.
Despite, or perhaps because of the team pecking order, it was Ginther of the three who placed his car in the middle of the front row by the end of qualifying. To his left was Jim Clark in the new Lotus 21, the outstanding driver of the coming era. To his right was the outstanding driver of the current era, Stirling Moss, on pole despite being in the obsolete Lotus 18 decked out in the blue and white colours of the privateer, Rob Walker.
It was Ginther and then Clark who led the field away however, with Moss in hot pursuit in third, closely followed by Jo Bonnier in a Porsche. Then Clark’s Lotus started to have problems, costing him time in the pits. Despite giving away 35 bhp, on lap 14 Moss took the lead as Ginther began to slip down the order to fifth. Soon it was the Ferrari of Phil Hill that was whittling away at Moss’ lead. Ginther wasn’t through yet, though, and set about repassing von Trips and then Bonnier before closing on Hill. The two Ferraris battled it out until on lap 72, Ginther eventually found a way past and set off after Moss. The gap slowly closed but there was no way he was going to catch Moss, who was driving one of the greatest races of his illustrious career. Moss, who had driven flat out the whole race, and with the Lotus side panels removed to aid cooling, held on to take the flag by a mere 3.6 seconds.
Remarkably, Sir Stirling Moss had completed the race at an average lap speed that was within a just a few tenths of his pole time. Underpowered and in an outdated chassis, Moss had achieved one of those rare victories were sheer skill more than compensated for lower technical performance.