One off Grand Prix winners: Giancarlo Baghetti France 1961
The start of the 1961 season marked a time of change in GP racing. Towards the end of the 50’s and into the new decade the British based GP teams had finally begun to get their collective acts together. First Vanwall and then Cooper had become the teams to beat and even the previously shambolic BRM and fragile Lotus cars had managed to win GP (all be it in private hands in Lotus’s case). So when the governing body (the C.S.I.) announced that a new Formula One based on the previous Formula Two would be introduced in 1961, the Brits smelled a rat. As far as the C.S.I. were concerned the introduction of the 1.5 litre formula was necessary in order to reduce speeds, but the British teams thought that (maybe) they could sense the influence of Enzo Ferrari who’s previously dominant team had lost ground – Enzo still insisted on putting the engine in FRONT of the driver for one thing!! While the Brits threatened a mass boycott of the World Championship, Ferrari concentrated on designing both a new car and a new V6 1,500cc engine to fit in the back (!) of it. The time was well spent and resulted in an all time classic F1 car – the Tipo 156, otherwise known as the “Shark Nose”.
The 1961 championship season had kicked off in Monaco in May, by which time all talk of a boycott had dissolved. Immediately the Shark Nose Ferrari’s of Phil Hill, Wolfgang von Trips and Richie Ginther had become the cars to beat. And beaten they had been, by Rob Walker’s elderly Lotus 18 – although much of this victory had been thanks to the sublime talent of the Lotus’s driver, Stirling Moss. However, at the next two GP Ferrari’s car and engine advantage proved to be unbeatable. Not only had they locked out the front row of the grid in both races, but von Trips and Hill had finished 1, 2 at Zandvoort and Hill, von Trips, Ginther and Gendebien had followed up with a 1, 2, 3, 4 finish at Spa. With the French GP (or the GP de l’A.C.F. as it was then known) taking place on the flat-out triangle of public roads that made up the Rheims GP circuit, few people were willing to bet on anything other than another Ferrari walk-over.
Giancarlo Baghetti had started racing in 1955 and built a reputation as a hard trier rather than an out and out ace as he moved into the cut and thrust world of Formula Junior by 1958. In early 61 he was selected to drive for the Italian FISA team who had done a deal to run a F.2 Ferrari 246 Dino fitted with the new V6 engine in the first non-championship races to be run to the new F.1 regulations. For an “average” driver the results were remarkable, Baghetti winning on his F.1 debut in the Syracuse GP and following this up with another win in the Napoli GP. Two wins in your first two F.1 races did not seem to be the record of a journeyman? FISA persuaded Ferrari to hire them a Shark Nose for their chubby faced driver to make his GP debut at Rheims.
Once again the works Ferrari’s locked out the front row of the grid, Hill comfortably taking pole from von Trips and Ginther. Meanwhile Baghetti was learning that a full blown GP was a different proposition to a non-championship race and would start the race from row 5 of the grid having set the 12th fastest qualifying time. As the tricolour fell, the 3 works Ferrari’s shot off in a race of their own, only Moss managing to stay anywhere near them. Even when a quick spin by Ginther dropped him behind the Lotus, he was soon able to re-pass Moss and retain the status quo. Meanwhile Baghetti had made his way to the front of the chasing pack and when Moss was forced to pit with brake problems, the four Ferrari’s held the first four positions – not that this situation lasted very long as von Trip’s engine cried enough in the searing heat.
In fact this heat did for race leader Phil Hill on lap 38 too as he came up to lap (ironically) the limping Moss and spun on the melting road surface. The American would re-join the race, but lost more than two laps as he tried to restart his red-hot engine. All of this left Ginther in the lead with Baghetti fighting with the Porsches of Dan Gurney and Jo Bonnier to hold on to second place, a battle that became even more significant a couple of laps later as Ginther pulled off the track with no oil pressure. Baghetti, the man with an average reputation and a 100% F.1 record found himself leading on his GP debut!! All he had to do was beat the Porsches driven by an experienced GP winner and the driver that Jimmy Clark would later rate as his closest competitor. This task became slightly easier after a few more laps when Bonnier dropped back with smoke billowing from the rear of his car. At the start of the last lap it was Gurney who led, but the Porsche and the Ferrari swapped places twice, Gurney leading again as they accelerated out of the last corner. Baghetti got his Shark Nose into the Porsche’s slipstream on the long, straight run to the line using every last ounce of it’s V6 horsepower to pull alongside and then nose in front. As the chequered flag fell, it was the red blur that led the silver one. Giancarlo Baghetti had become the first man in history to truelly win his first World Championship Grand Prix.
Sadly, this 100% record could not go on. Baghetti qualified in mid-field for the British GP, spinning off the soaking wet Aintree circuit during the race. Things looked better for his home GP at Monza where he qualified 6th – although the other four Ferrari’s were faster, including the one driven by highly rated Mexican Ricardo Rodriguez. This was the day in which most people thought that von Trips would wrap up the world title, but it was not to be, “Taffy” crashing to his death with his car flying into the crowd and killing 11 spectators on lap two. Baghetti raced at the sharp end of the field until his engine blew on lap 14 and Phil Hill won the race to seal the first F.1 World Championship for an American driver. Giancarlo had to be satisfied with the fastest lap.
For 1962 Baghetti joined the new champion in the works Ferrari team (with young Rodriguez driving a third car occasionally), but the year had begun with one of the team’s frequent bust ups which had resulted in team manager Tavoni walking out. Enzo sat back on his laurels thinking that the 156’s didn’t need modifying in order to continue their domination, but he was wrong. The Brits had caught up and BRM, Lotus and Cooper had all produced cars to beat the Ferrari’s. Baghetti scored points at Zandvoort and Monza, but the team was in total turmoil and for 63 he joined Hill in the mass exodus to Carlo Chiti’s ATS team – a decision that proved an unmitigated disaster. He returned to race in F.2, F.3 and touring cars, also making the odd appearance at the Italian GP including a drive in a works Lotus 49 in 1967. Retirement from driving saw him turn to Journalism and photography. Sadly cancer took his life in 1995 less than a month away from his 61st birthday.
Both Jacques Villeneuve and Lewis Hamilton have come close, but still no-one can claim to have had a better start to their F1 career than Giancarlo Baghetti.
by Mel Turbutt