NOW THAT WAS A RACE
Peter Windsor recalls a peerless performance at the 1961 Monaco Grand Prix, in which Stirling Moss took his aging Rob Walker Lotus 18 to a breathtaking victory over Ferrari
The 1961 Monaco Grand Prix
Stirling Moss was at the peak of his powers in 1961. Behind him were the Mercedes days alongside Fangio and the dominant Vanwall years with Tony Brooks. Now, in the hype preceding the opening round of the new 1.5-litre F1, Moss was a professional athlete at the absolute pinnacle of his ability – a suntanned, global celebrity who travelled the planet as the greatest driver of them all.
He ew to Nice that year in a dark suit and tie; he zapped around Monaco on a new mini-bike; he was immaculate in the pitlane with his two-piece Dunlop blues, his Herbert Johnson helmet with the leather side covers, Westover moccasins and Mk 1 Pioneer goggles. And he drove, of course, for the small, privately run Rob Walker team. An English Lone Ranger.
Innes Ireland, in one of the new works Lotus 21s, crashed luridly in practice when he selected second instead of fourth in the tunnel. Stirling was rst on the scene, helping to load Innes onto a stretcher before organising the obligatory cigarette. Stirling’s Climax engine was for the rest of the day off-song; Alf Francis, Walker’s chief mechanic, was in a terrible mood.
Then it all came together. Moss took pole ahead of Richie Ginther’s much more powerful 120° V6 Ferrari 156. But there was still more drama before the start.
Stirling asked Alf to remove the chassis side panels of his Lotus 18 to allow better cockpit cooling. As Alf set to work he noticed a crack in one of the tubular chassis frames. Without hesitation, he lit up a welding torch and made good the fracture – full fuel tanks and all. Stirling stood calmly by, sipping a cup of water.
Ginther, with 15 per cent more power, won the drag down to the Gasworks Hairpin. Stirling headed the chase, taking time to wave to photographers and friends as he rounded the Station Hairpin. He was pacing himself, preparing for the punishing two-and-ahalf hours that lay ahead.
He began to race on lap 14, darting down the inside of the hairpin as Richie momentarily relaxed. Stirling then drove the next 86 laps of Monte Carlo on the limit. He pulverised his pole time; he perfectly played the back-markers; he maximised the 18’s handling. He was at through a tunnel that invariably induced a throttle lift; he was inch-perfect, lap after lap, through Ste Dévote – back then a very fast, fourth-gear right-hander. “At the start of each lap,” he said later, “I’d say, ‘Right. I’ll try to do the perfect lap from here. Then, a few corners later, I’d make a small mistake and start it all again…’”
He won it and beat the Ferraris against all the odds. And here’s the thing: had Stirling driven every lap at pole speed, his total race time would have been 40s slower.
Stirling’s parents were there at the nish (although Princess Grace and Prince Rainier were absent). Stirling stood in disbelief as he was embraced by Louis Chiron.… then ‘God Save the Queen’, back in the 18 for the lap of honour, cigarette aglow, garlanded by owers.
Stirling visited Innes in hospital that night. Then he partied deep into the morning.
Moss on his way to an epic Monaco win, the side panels on his Lotus 18 removed to assist cooling