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

F1 Racing - - CONTENTS -

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.

LAST-MINUTE AD­JUST­MENTS

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

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