• Rewind to ... 1960

Lotus breaks its F1 duck

Martin Williamson May 28, 2010
Stirling Moss takes the chequered flag © Sutton Images

Fifty years ago this weekend Lotus wrote its name in motor-racing history when it recorded its first Formula One world championship win, Stirling Moss driving a Lotus 18 to victory in Monaco. Between 1958 and 1994, when the team folded, it won 79 grands prix, took seven constuctors' titles, and for a period in the 1960s and 1970s was the dominant force in F1.

Colin Chapman had founded the company in a stables in north London 1952, and within two years was producing cars for individuals to race. In 1958 Chapman entered a factory team into F1 with moderate success, but privateers continued to enter Chapman's cars.

One such privateer team was Rob Walker Racing, run by the heir to the Johnny Walker whisky empire, which achieved a place in history by being the first and last team to win an F1 grand prix without building a car.

By 1960 Walker had all but abandoned forays into various motor-racing formats and decided to concentrate on his one driver, Moss, and a Lotus 18 leased from Chapman. It was so new it arrived only a week before the Monaco Grand Prix.

Moss found himself in a rather odd situation. On April 14 he had been banned from driving for 12 months by a Shropshire court after being found guilty of dangerous driving following an accident the previous year. Without a valid licence, he would have not been able to retain the international licence he needed to race. Fortunately, aided by the RAC, he was able to acquire a US driving licence to circumvent the problem, although he was still unable to drive himself in the UK.

On the first day of practice in Monaco, Moss showed what the Lotus 18 was made of, unofficially smashing the lap record by four seconds despite mechanical glitches which left him soaked in petrol and an unreliable gear box.

Early stages ... Jo Bonnier leads Jack Brabham with Moss back in third © Sutton Images
On the second day Moss was again quickest, although others drivers, led by Jack Brabham in a Cooper, came within a second of his time.

On the Sunday the grand prix started in cloudy conditions, and despite starting from pole it was Jo Bonnier who led the early stages from world champion Jack Brabham with Moss in third.

On the fifth lap, Moss passed Brabham and then on lap 17 he caught and overtook Bonnier. But then rain started to fall, speeds plummeted and Brabham regained the lead, hotly pursued by Moss. On the 40th lap the pressure told and Brabham spun off.

"I was following him up the hill and he went off in the wet," he said this week. "I remember following him on purpose because if I'd tried to go round him he could have come back and banged into me, because the conditions were pretty treacherous. So I thought I'm just going to bide my time behind him and see how it unfolds, and then of course he went off and it was no problem."

Moss remained ahead until he was forced to pit on the 60th lap to replace a plug lead, allowing Bonnier to regain the lead.

Moss collects the trophy from Prince Ranier and Princess Grace of Monaco © Sutton Images
"The lead came off the spark plug and it started to sound terrible because it was only running on three cylinders out of four and as a result the power dropped very considerably," Moss said. "I thought I'd better go in and see what the problem was and I pulled into the pits and they opened the back and fortunately it was just a plug lead that had come off. Then we put it back and it was perfectly ok." He was back out within 12 seconds.

It took seven laps for him to catch and overtake Bonnier for the second time, and second later the Swede's suspension failed. The Times reported thereafter Moss "carried on serenely" until the end.

Moss recalled that while Lotus were delighted with the victory, that was tempered with the knowledge their own three entries - Alan Stacey, John Surtees and Innes Ireland, who had already won two non-championship F1 races that season - failed to finish.

"I think they would certainly be happy to have the win, but pretty disappointed it wasn't one of their cars," Moss admitted. He had no such qualms. "I certainly would have been very disappointed if I couldn't beat Lotus. Or any of the other drivers. That's what one is out there to do."