In 1961 John F. Kennedy was occupying the WhiteHouse in his gilded ‘Camelot’ presidency, and the Soviet Union’s Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. In Formula One, the World Championship came to Monza on the 10th of September for a hugely anticipated Italian Grand Prix.
Scuderia Ferrari boasted both the two drivers who were dicing for the World Championship: Wolfgang von Trips, a cavalier aristocratic German racer of natural talent, and Phil Hill, a technically minded American in his fifth season with the Scuderia. Von Trips’ four-point lead made him clear favourite going into what was the season’s penultimate race.
Phil Hill and Wolfgang Von Trips had already enjoyed considerable success by the time they arrived for the Italian GP
It had been a tumultuous year for the sport, dominated by the revolutionary new Ferrari 156 F1 that would leave its mark on racing history. Designed by Carlo Chiti and Mauro Forghieri in response to new F1 rules limiting engine sizes, its 1500cc naturally-aspirated V6 ‘Dino’ engine simply blew away the competition, helping the Scuderia to sweep up the first four placings in Belgium and the first three in England. The 156 F1 had a 5-speed transmission, Dunlop disc brakes on all four wheels, independent wheel suspension, as well as telescopic shock absorbers.
Watch how the Ferrari 156 F1 'Sharknose' helped Phil Hill win the 1961 World Championship
But it was the car’s sleek lines, dominated by the pointed shape of the front air intake, that endeared it to spectators, its ‘sharknose’ profile making it an enduring style icon. Five 156 F1s competed on that hot September Sunday when an enormous field of thirty-two F1 racing cars charged off the starting grid at three o’clock in the afternoon. Two hours, three minutes and thirteen seconds later Hill’s ‘sharknose’ blazed across the Monza finish line and the world title was his, making him the first-ever American Formula One champion. Ferrari had already clinched its first-ever Constructors’ title that season, thus that tenth day of September in 1961 became indelibly printed on the oily pages of motor racing history.
With its V6 Dino engine, disc brakes on all four wheels and independent wheel suspension, the Ferrari 156 F1 would leave its mark on racing history
Tragically, the dashing von Trips was killed in a gruesome crash on the second lap, which also took the lives of more than a dozen spectators. Despite its historic double championship, a heartbroken Scuderia withdrew from the season’s final GP as a show of respect for the widely admired German racer and all the casualties.