The 1961 Belgian Grand Prix
61 years ago today, Scuderia Ferrari would produce one of the strongest performances ever seen in Formula 1, scoring a 1-2-3-4 victory in the Belgian Grand Prix. Phil Hill, Wolfgang von Trips, Richie Ginther and Olivier Gendebien all played their part, simply blowing away their competition at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.
Fresh from a Von Trips-Hill 1-2 victory in the Netherlands, Ferrari arrived at Spa-Francorchamps for Round 3. Considered one of the most demanding tests of a Formula 1 driver’s ability and courage, Spa presented a significant challenge with many high speed corners and little run off area before meeting dense forest in case of miscalculation. The cars from Maranello qualified in four of the top five places, as Hill took pole just 0.8 seconds ahead of Von Trips, breaking the four minute barrier in the process. Gendebien, his Ferrari painted yellow in the national colour of Belgium (as the car's entry costs were supported by the local Ferrari importer), was 3.7 seconds behind. The fastest non-Ferrari competitor, the Cooper-Climax of John Surtees, qualified 6.7 seconds off the pace in fourth but pipped Richie Ginter in the final Ferrari by just a tenth of a second.
Hill had the quickest reactions off the line, but courtesy of the long straight, Von Trips and Ginther soon got past. Gendebien, who had partnered with Hill to win the Le Mans 24 Hours just a week prior at the wheel of a Ferrari 250 TR, held back, not wanting to get involved in the wheel to wheel melee taking place at around 155mph (250km/h) ahead of him. This was understandable, considering this was going to be his only Grand Prix with the team that season and he did not want to interfere with the works drivers' title aspirations.
After an intense three lap battle, Hill managed to gain enough of a lead to pull his slipstream away from his teammates, while Von Trips was able to fend off Ginther's attempts at overtaking. The positions remained unchanged from then on and Hill was first past the chequered flag after 30 laps (423km) of racing, seven tenths ahead of Von Trips. Ginther was third, 19.5 seconds behind, and Gendebien brought his yellow Ferrari home 45.6 seconds after Hill, thus giving the team a clean sweep of the top four places. The closest competitor, future Ferrari World Champion Surtees, crossed the line an enormous 86.8 seconds behind the lead car.
This was the last time any team would would score a 1-2-3-4 victory. Ferrari remain the only team to score multiple quadruple wins, after a win at the 1952 German Grand Prix nine years prior. Maserati also achieved the feat in Argentina in 1957.
The 1961 Formula 1 season would go down as one of the best ever for Scuderia Ferrari, even if it ended on a heart-breaking note. The Maranello team dominated proceedings, getting to grips better than anyone else with the new technical regulations aimed at limiting car performance, which in the preceding years had led to an excessive number of accidents.
A Ferrari Racing Legend
Undeniably one of the aces of his era, Philip Toll Hill, Jr left university early to pursue his passion for motor racing. Remarkably candid about his personal demons that caused inner turmoil and made his racing life a bittersweet experience, Hill struggled with the risks associated with the sport and saw his fair share of trauma in one of motorsport's most dangerous eras. And yet, Hill still felt compelled to race. Once behind the wheel, he relaxed with notable composure and courage, especially given his admitted phobias. A mechanically sympathetic and careful driver, he often performed at his best in the worst conditions and on the worst circuits, particularly distinguishing himself at Spa and the Nurburgring.
Among his many other accolades, Hill remains one of only two American drivers to win the Formula 1 World Drivers' Championship, after Mario Andretti equalled his achievement in 1978. He is still the joint most successful American driver at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, tied with Al Holbert and Hurley Haywood, and at the 12 Hours of Sebring, another record shared with Andretti.
Ferrari 156 F1
The first Scuderia Ferrari first mid-engined Formula 1 machine to be driven in true competition, the evocative Ferrari 156 F1 stands tall in amongst the halls of Maranello racing legends as one of the most dominant cars in history. Dubbed the ‘Sharknose’, due to its distinctive front air intakes, the 156 F1 delivered Ferrari their first Constructors’ Championship and fifth Drivers’ Championship titles. Successful as it was, the 1961 season was blighted for Ferrari when Wolfgang von Trips was fatally injured along with fifteen spectators when he crashed at the championship-defining Italian Grand Prix at Monza.
Overall, the Ferrari 156 F1 ‘Sharknose’ earned five victories, nine further podiums, six pole positions and five fastest laps, scoring 40 points and winning the World Championship of Drivers and International Cup for Formula One Manufacturers for the 1961 Formula 1 season. Such was the strength of the 156 F1, that it still regularly contested and achieved victories and podiums into the 1963 and 1964 seasons.