Races

In the second part of our series, we pay homage to a driver who achieved the first wins for both a mid-engined Ferrari sports car and a mid-engined Ferrari single-seater
Words – Gavin Green

Michael Schumacher was not Ferrari’s first German hero.

Four decades before the great Schumacher was winning world titles for the Scuderia, Count Wolfgang von Trips was on the verge of becoming Ferrari’s first German World Champion.
At the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in 1961, von Trips – the son of a noble Rhineland family – was leading the Formula 1 World Championship from his teammate, American Phil Hill. He started the race, the penultimate round of the 1961 season, from pole position. Hill was fourth on the grid. The omens looked good for von Trips.

Wolfgang von Trips finished fourth at the Monaco GP, the opening round of the 1961 Formula 1 World Championship. He was the third of the three Ferraris entered, but would go on to take the Scuderia's first win of the season and lead the title race going into the penultimate round

It had been a fine year for the charismatic German. At the Dutch Grand Prix in May, through the sand dunes of the coastal Zandvoort circuit, he’d become the first German to win a race since the inauguration of the F1 World Championship in 1950. What’s more, he led the race from start to finish, in what was the first World Championship victory for Ferrari’s first purpose-built mid-engined Formula 1 car.

(For the record, the first victory for the new 156 F1 came a month earlier at the non-Championship Syracuse GP, in the hands of another 'Unsung Hero', Giancarlo Baghetti. And the Scuderia also ran an experimental mid-engine F1 car, the 246 P, at two races in 1960.)

Two months later, the 33-year old count was in equally dominant form, winning the wet British Grand Prix at Aintree. A Ferrari victory was no surprise: the new 156 ‘Sharknose’ was the dominant car of that 1961 F1 season. But winning in the wet, and convincingly beating the great British champions Stirling Moss and Jim Clark on their home soil, was the mark of a special talent indeed.

Victory at the British Grand Prix was Ferrari's fourth win in a row during the 1961 Formula 1 season, and made von Trips the first driver that year to stand atop the podium twice

It wasn’t just in F1 where von Trips excelled. On the last day of April 1961, before the Formula 1 season started, von Trips and his Ferrari won the Targa Florio in Sicily, the most challenging and dangerous sports car race of its day. Here he was at the wheel of the 246 SP, Maranello’s first mid-engined sports car and one that had been developed in parallel with the new F1 car.

Not only did von Trips record the first victory for a mid-engined Ferrari sports car, alongside the first World Championship victory for the mid-engined Ferrari Formula 1 car, but he also took the first ever victory for a mid-engined Ferrari. On 24 July 1960, as part of the development work for the ’61 season (hence the experimental 246 P, too) Ferrari entered a prototype mid-engined Formula 2 car at the Solitude GP. With a grid full of stars like Jim Clark and Graham Hill in rival F2 cars, von Trips won, setting a new lap record in the process.

Photographed at the 1961 24 Hours of Le Mans, Wolfgang von Trips smiles for the camera with teammate Richie Ginther alongside. The pair would drive a Ferrari 246 SP, leading on multiple occasions and retiring from second only when a fuel miscalculation stranded their car on track in the 17th hour

The 1961 season was easily von Trips’ most successful. He’d had five relatively unfruitful years for the Scuderia, debuting for Ferrari at the 1956 Italian GP. It was an inauspicious beginning, with a crash in practice at the exit of Monza’s Curva Grande. He was ejected from his car on its first roll and would later recount smelling the rich aroma of moist soil, a welcome sign he’d survived. A year later, ‘Taffy’, as he was widely and affectionately known, scored third at Monza, his joint best result until his blossoming in 1961.

On the day of his widely anticipated coronation as 1961 World Champion, von Trips was dicing with Jim Clark’s Lotus on the second lap of that fateful Italian GP. The two cars touched at 150mph. Clark spun harmlessly off the road. Poor von Trips was not so lucky. His car somersaulted up the banking and struck the flimsy wire fence protecting spectators. He was gravely injured and would die before reaching hospital. Fifteen spectators, pressed against the fence, were also killed.

Hill went on to win the race and the world title. Yet he was in no mood to celebrate and nor was the Ferrari team. It pulled out of the next (and last) race of the season, the US Grand Prix.

Wolfgang von Trips (right) and teammate Phil Hill celebrate Ferrari's 1-2 at the second round of the 1961 Formula 1 season, the Dutch GP. The pair would contest for the World Championship until the penultimate round of the year, when von Trip's untimely death would see the title go to the American

Von Trips, like Schumacher, enjoyed most of his racing success in a Ferrari. There are other parallels between these great German drivers. They were born only a few kilometres apart, and in 1961 von Trips established a go-kart track near his birthplace, just west of Cologne. It was at this track that a young Michael Schumacher competed his first laps, at the wheel of a kart built by his father…