• Monaco Grand Prix

Moss withstands Ferrari pressure with supreme display

ESPNF1 Staff
May 14, 1961
Stirling Moss attacks the Monaco circuit © Sutton Images

Stirling Moss turned in what was considered to be one of the greatest drives of his career to win the season-opening Monaco Grand Prix in an ageing Lotus, holding off a trio of far superior Ferraris.

Rule changes reducing the engine capacity had been exploited to the full by Ferrari, and while the British constructors were delayed by arguing against the new regulations, the Italians quietly got on with developing a rear-engined 'shark-nose' car with a new V6 engine.

In practice, the supreme driving skills of Moss put him on pole with his old, under-powered Lotus 18, alongside Richie Ginther's Ferrari and Jim Clark's new Lotus 21. Unfortunately, Innes Ireland was unable to start after a crash in the famous Monaco tunnel, where he was ejected from the car like a cork from a bottle, breaking his leg. As he said many years later; "Ah, yes, '61 - that was the year when I came out of the f***ing tunnel without the f***ing car.'

On a hot Riviera weekend, Moss had cooling problems, so he simply removed the side panels of his car and doused himself in water before the race. Ginther led from the start but after 14 laps Moss and Jo Bonnier in a Porsche slipped past him. However, Bonnier's race was over a few laps later when his car crawled into the pits.

The race proved to be a classic, with Moss fighting off a strong challenge from Phil Hill who had manoeuvred himself into second place and reduced Moss's lead to just 3.5 seconds at the half-way point. In the closing stages Ginther re-passed his fellow American and closed further on Moss, with Wolfgang von Trips, also in a Ferrari, taking up fourth place. For lap after lap , the three Ferrari drivers constantly changed positions, harrying the little blue Lotus while Moss drove ever harder and with such consummate skill that the Ferraris never had a chance to overtake.

For the rest of the race the four cars were rarely more than 11 seconds apart, but despite repeated challenges, Moss's victory was never seriously in doubt. It had seemed impossible at the start that the year-old, hastily repaired Lotus could comprehensively thrash the entire Ferrari works team, but with Stirling Moss at the wheel, the impossible almost looked easy.

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