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The 1961 Monaco Grand Prix – New Rules Make for Stellar Racing!

The 1961 Monaco Grand Prix – New Rules Make for Stellar Racing!

The date – Sunday, May 14, 1961; the place; well, it is found on the northern central coast of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s a small principality that is surrounded on three sides by its much larger neighbor, France. The center of this tiny place is also less than 10 miles from Italy. It covers less than a square mile. Monaco is the name of the place… both the country and it’s capital city. In fact, it’s only city. Best known for being a famous tax haven and favorite destination of the jet-setting rich, this one particular day in history, Monaco was host to the inaugural race of the 1961 Formula One season.

The race was the first World Championship event held under a new 1.5 litre engine displacement limit ruling. Basically this new set of regulations concerning car configuration made engines less powerful but the driving machine slightly more balanced from previous years. It would also demand of every driver that rather than muscling his way around the track, he’d need to be more skillful and strategic in his driving to remain competitive.

Even before race day, excitement and racing action fore-shadowed what was to come. Most notably, Innes Ireland crashed in the tunnel just before one of the fastest stretches of the course during the final session of practice. His Lotus was totally destroyed and his leg was broken, effectively eliminating him from competing.

Stirling Moss was to take the pole position driving number 20, an underpowered Lotus (using a Coventry-Climax engine), for the Rob Walker team. Moss shared the first row with Richie Ginther who was driving for the Ferrari team and Jim Clark who was also driving for team Lotus. Two “Hills” share the second row, Graham Hill drove for BRM and Phil Hill, who drove for Ferrari.

The Starting flag was waved and Richie Ginther quickly took the lead (followed closely by Clark and Moss) into the first corner. From there, Jim Clark quickly became plagued with mechanical difficulties and dropped back in the race. He was not to finish. In lap 14, Richie Ginther fell to third. Moss and Jo Bonnier (from a ninth position start) passed him at almost the same time. A quarter way into the race, Moss had blazed an impressive 10 second lead in front of the other racers. From behind, the more powerful Ferraris of Hill and Ginther found their way around Jo Bonnier (then in 2nd) and began to press the hard won gap of Stirling Moss. Half way through, Moss has only an 8 second lead. By lap 60 it has been pared down to only 3 seconds. At lap 75 Richie Ginther moved into second place and tried to close the gap, but Moss was prepared to do battle. They jockeyed for position for the remainder of this exciting race, giving race fans quite the spectacle to remember. Moss was to take the checkered flag in 2:45:50.1, just 3.6 short seconds ahead of second place competitor, Richie Ginther. Stirling Moss was to make this race his third such victory.

I was almost two months old when the 61 Monaco GP took place. Having seen old black and white footage of this dramatic piece of auto racing history, I can honestly say it is one of the most exciting Formula One events that I’ve watched. Even 50 years after it took place and knowing the outcome in advance, I can still watch and enjoy it again and again.