The beginning of a legend: How Sir Stirling Moss changed Formula 1 forever
It's been exactly 60 years since the rain-soaked, three-hour race where Moss’ Lotus 18 won by almost a minute – the first of 81 Grand Prix wins for Lotus racecars
Anyone who follows Formula 1 racing has definitely heard of Sir Stirling Moss, perhaps one of the greatest drivers never to have won a Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship, who died just last month (April 12, 2020) aged 90 at his London home. Now, despite a relatively short racing career lasting from 1948 to 1962, Sir Stirling is remembered not just as a prodigious driver and holder of land speed records, but also because of his contribution to motorsport commentating and reporting. Today, however, we digress a little from the man, and onto the machine.
It was May 29, 1960, on the rain-washed streets of Monte Carlo, during the Monaco Grand Prix. The weekend had got off to a flying start with Moss leading the pack in a Lotus racecar. The Lotus Type 18, which Lotus founder Colin Chapman believed was the marque’s first proper Formula 1 car, was perfectly suited to the tight, twisting streets of Monaco.
Moss was driving for the privateer Rob Walker Racing Team, founded by the heir to the Johnnie Walker whisky empire, who decided for 1960 to concentrate solely on Moss and, starting with Monaco, switched to using Lotus cars. And the decision seemed to be paying off, as the lightweight aluminium-bodied racer, in the hands of an expert driver like Moss, had set new lap records in practice, and went on to claim the first ever pole position for Lotus in qualifying, taking a trio of entrants from Ferrari by storm.
With eight drivers not qualifying, only 16 cars made it to the track. Up the hill from the start, Moss was passed by Swedish racer Jo Bonnier in the rear-engined BRM, who led for 17 laps until his brakes began to fade and causing him to hand the lead back to Moss. A few laps later, the rain made its presence felt, and Jack Brabham, who had won at the same track last year (and went on to win the overall championship in 1960) overtook Bonnier for second place as the drivers slowed to cope with the worsening conditions.
By Lap 43, Brabham was right at Moss’ tail, before dropping out due to gearbox issues. With the rain now easing, Moss began to pull away from the pack, but had to pit in Lap 60 due to a loose plug lead, causing Bonnier to once again claim the top spot. By the end of the three-hour 100-lap race, only the top three drivers came in for the chequered flag, with Stirling Moss having won the race, handing Lotus its first Formula 1 victory, and beating his nearest competitor, Bruce McLaren, by 52 seconds!
After this first victory at the hands of Moss, the marquee would go on to win a further six times in the principality in the years to come, all with the same driver (Moss) at the helm. Additionally, Lotus racecars went on to take the chequered flag a remarkable 80 more times in Formula One, in the process accruing six Drivers’ and seven Constructors’ Championships, and exactly 60 years later, Lotus is paying tribute to the beginning of its truly remarkable Formula 1 history, which has gone on to see legendary drivers like Mario Andretti, Jim Clark, Jochen Rindt, Emerson Fittipaldi, Graham Hill, Ronnie Peterson and Ayrton Senna all claim wins for the Norfolk-based outfit.
Speaking on the occasion, Phil Popham, CEO, Lotus Cars, said, “Today we mark not just a legendary driver and a remarkable achievement, but the start of a defining period in the history of Lotus. Sir Stirling Moss is a name etched into motorsport folklore, and his skill at the Monaco Grand Prix exactly 60 years ago was the catalyst for our successful heritage in Formula 1. That overwhelming drive to defy expectations and explore the limits of what’s possible is still engrained within the Lotus DNA to this day.”
Clive Chapman, MD, Classic Team Lotus, and son of Lotus founder Colin Chapman, added, “Moss winning the 1960 Monaco GP was a classic David versus Goliath-type story, which was well-received and an important boost to the Lotus marque, still in its relatively early days. Moss was naturally quick, thoughtful and mechanically sympathetic – all characteristics of utmost benefit at Monaco, back when the race was three hours long.”
“Rob Walker and my father,” Chapman continues, “enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship which realised great success throughout the 1960s. Walker’s enduring relationship with Sir Stirling Moss was even stronger. Evidently, Walker, as privateer and sponsor, provided Moss with what he needed to realise his prodigious ability.The 1960 win came just two years after the first Team Lotus GP entry, at the 1958 Monaco GP with Cliff Allison racing his Lotus Type 12 into an extraordinary sixth place.”
Lotus has recorded a new US LOT Sessions podcast celebrating the 60th anniversary of its victory. It features an interview with motorsport journalist Damien Smith discussing the significance of the race for Lotus and Moss. Download and listen at iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and ShoutEngine.
Lastly, the Lotus 18 that Moss drove to victory in 1960 was one of many significant Lotus road and race cars included in the newly launched Heritage section on media.lotuscars.com. Also on offer is a newly written biography of Colin Chapman, and a history of the Lotus HQ in Hethel, Norfolk.