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Flashback: Germany '61 - Ferrari power no match for Moss 03 Jul 2013

Stirling Moss (Lotus 18/21-Climax) flies over one of the Nurburgring's many crests, 1961 German Grand Prix, 6th August 1961 L -R: Jim Clark, John Cooper, Innes Ireland, Jack Brabham, Stirling Moss, Graham Hill, Jo Bonnier, Bruce McLaren and Dan Gurney pose for a picture in the pits, 1961 German Grand Prix, 6th August 1961 The Start with Jack Brabham, (Cooper T58-Climax) leading from Stirling Moss (Lotus 18/21-Climax), 1961 German Grand Prix, Nurburgring, 6th August 1961 German Grand Prix, Nurburgring 6 August 1961 Wolfgang von Trips, Ferrari 156, finished 2nd, seen here at the Karussel corner. Race winner Stirling Moss (GBR) Rob Walker Lotus 18/21 dominated the race whatever the weather would throw at him. German Grand Prix, Nurburgring, 6 August 1961. Wolfgang von Trips leads the fellow Ferrari 156 of Phil Hill. They finished 2nd and third. 1961 German Grand Prix, Nurburgring, 6th August 1961 Graham Hill's afternoon ended with his BRM P48/57 beached in long grass. German Grand Prix, Nurburgring, 6 August 1961. Phil Hill (USA) Ferrari 156 took pole by over five seconds but could only finish third in the race. German Grand Prix, Nurburgring, 6 August 1961. Stirling Moss (Lotus 18/21-Climax) on his way to victory, 1961 German Grand Prix, 6th August 1961 Stirling Moss on his way to victory in the 1961 German Grand Prix, Nurburgring, 6th August 1961 Stirling Moss (Lotus 18/21-Climax) crosses the line to win the 1961 German Grand Prix, Nurburgring, 6th August 1961 Wolfgang von Trips (Ferrari Dino 156) and Stirling Moss (Lotus 18/21-Climax) celebrate on the podium, Nurburgring, Germany. 6th August 1961

They may have enjoyed a significant horsepower advantage going into the 1961 German Grand Prix, but when it came to negotiating the twists and turns of the Nurburgring’s infamous 22.8-kilometre Nordschleife circuit, Ferrari drivers Phil Hill and Wolfgang von Trips had no answer to the brilliant Stirling Moss and his nimble Lotus.

On the eve of the Formula 1 Grosser Preis Santander von Deutschland 2013 at the modern Nurburgring, we remember a Moss master class...

Enzo Ferrari always was an engine man, so when Formula One racing switched from a 2.5 to a 1.5-litre formula for the 1961 season, he made sure that his team were equipped with the perfect V6 unit for the occasion. He bolted the lightweight powerplant into the back of the gloriously pretty 156 ‘Sharknose’ and at almost every circuit on which they raced, the scarlet cars were the class of the field, with more than enough grunt to see off any challengers.

There was only one problem: whilst the 156 was nigh-on untouchable in a straight line, its mediocre handling made it vulnerable when power wasn’t such a factor. Enter Stirling Moss. At the season opener in Monaco, Moss proved that the overweight, underpowered and antiquated Climax four-cylinder engine in the back of his privately-entered Lotus 18 was no barrier to success given a good chassis and the right amount of talent.

Unfortunately for the British racer, the chances of a repeat success were few and far between as the calendar duly took in a host of power-friendly circuits and Hill, Von Trips and world championship newcomer Giancarlo Baghetti all took wins. But the unique characteristics of the daunting Nurburgring, venue for round six of the championship, always offered those with talent and courage the chance to excel, in spite of their machinery.

The ‘Green Hell’, as Jackie Stewart would later christen it, was an unforgiving 22.8-kilometre track that snaked its way through Germany’s Eifel forest, taking in 90 turns and over 300 metres of elevation changes. Power and handling were both important, but over such a long and demanding lap, so was concentration - a mistake here wouldn’t just cost you valuable lap time, it would more than likely cost you your life.

With practice complete, indications were that if Ferrari were going to be beaten, it was going to take something special. Not only did Phil Hill claim pole position, he did it in record-breaking fashion, becoming the first man to lap ‘The Ring’ in under nine minutes with a quite remarkable time of 8m 55.2s - over six seconds faster than Jack Brabham’s Cooper (the only driver to have Climax’s new V8 engine) and Moss’s Lotus, who were second and third fastest respectively. Home favourite Von Trips, who’d suffered several technical problems in practice, was fifth quickest in his sharknose, just over ten seconds back from his team mate and just behind Jo Bonnier’s ageing Porsche.

An hour before the race start the sky darkened and a short, sharp shower ensued. The field, on Dunlop’s advice, quickly scrambled to fit wet-weather tyres, but 45 minutes later - with the sun now shining brightly - they reversed that decision and advised on normal dry tyres. Most, including Ferrari, duly followed the advice, but several, including Moss, stuck with the extra-grippy ‘wet’ tyres, knowing from experience that they didn’t wear nearly as badly as many thought they did.

A little after 2.00 pm local time and the 15-lap race was underway, with five-time world champion Juan Manuel Fangio given the honour of raising the flag at the circuit on which he’d scored his most famous win in 1957.

Hill was swamped by green, blue and silver as he made a tardy getaway, Brabham jumping into the lead from Moss and Bonnier. The Australian’s lead was not to last long though - midway round the first lap he came across a damp patch of track and slithered straight on into the bushes. He extricated himself from the car unharmed, but was no doubt kicking himself at having wasted his chance to shine with the new Climax engine.

Moss now had a clear circuit ahead and, as a contemporary report had it, ‘began to drive as only he can.’ By the end of the first lap the Briton held a slight lead over the recovering Hill, with Hans Hermann and Dan Gurney third and fourth for Porsche. BRM’s Graham Hill was close behind the silver cars, but he was trailed closely by Von Trip’s Ferrari and going into the Sudkurve there was contact. Gurney ended up with a big ding in the side of his car, Hill vaulted a bank and became beached in long grass, and from the chaos Von Trips emerged in third ahead of Hermann. Bonnier, meanwhile, had suffered a left-rear puncture and came limping back around.

Up front Moss was fully settled in and utterly determined to hang onto his lead. His second lap - on a damp track with a heavy fuel load - was a remarkable 9m 13s and, by lap 3, the tenth of second or so that he’d been accumulating in each corner had given the Briton a 10-second lead over Hill, with Von Trips a further eight seconds back. The German, though, was ratcheting up his speed significantly and set consecutive lap records on laps 6 and 7, with 9m 8.1s and 9m 4.3s respectively. Moss responded with a 9m 2.8s on lap 8, only for Von Trips - who’d now passed team mate Hill - to pop in a 9m 1.1s.

On lap 10 Von Trips then became the first man to lap the ‘Ring’ in under 9 minutes in a race, only to see Hill follow him across the line in an even quicker time. The Ferraris were looking ominously fast - and Moss’s lead precarious. But then, as if to reward Moss for such a battling performance, the heavens opened.

Suddenly his decision to stick with the rain tyres was looking inspired and he comfortably pulled away from the now-struggling Ferraris. The two red cars were left with no one to battle but each other and it was eventually Von Trips who crossed the finishing line in second, albeit 21 seconds behind Moss. Hill took third with the ‘works’ Lotus of Jim Clark, a full minute and 17 seconds back in fourth.

Afterwards, Von Trips perfectly summed up Moss’s unerring ability behind the wheel, without which the German would surely have claimed a home victory: “On some laps I’d get as many as 15 corners really right,” he said, “but Moss, he gets them all right on every lap.”

It was to be the last of Moss’s 16 world championship wins, but undoubtedly one of his greatest.

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