Forgotten heroes: Wolfgang Von Trips

Wolfgang von Trips

Wolfgang von Trips

Wolfgang Graf Alexander Albert Eduard Maximillian Reichsgraf Berghe von Trips  is another name that is rarely, if ever, mentioned these days. However, he came incredibly close to winning the 1961 World Championship, and become the first ever German F1 champion. His jinx for accidents came in the way of that though.

He was born on 4th May 1928 in Horrem, Cologne, as the son of a noble Rhineland family. It is very difficult to see how he entered F1, due to the complete lack of information about it, but he first entered the Formula 1 World Championship with Ferrari in 1956. He was on course to compete in the final race of the season in Monza, but a practice accident ruled him out.

Next year, in 1957, he started the first race with last year’s car, the Lancia Ferrari D50A. He finished 6th, driving the same car as Caesare Perdisa and Peter Collins. For Monaco, he was given the Ferrari 801 to drive, and shared the car with Mike Hawthorn, but retired in the race. Other drivers replaced him for all but the last race of that season, again at Monza. Here, he finally had a car to hmself, and impressed with a 3rd place finish.

In 1958, he started the second race of the season in Monaco, but an engine failure ruled him out after 91 laps, after starting 11th on the grid. He then competed in the French Grand Prix, with a very impressive result. He started 21st on the grid, but he fought up the field to get 3rd place, ahead of Juan Manuel Fangio (in his last ever F1 race). Ferrari decided to keep him for the rest of the season after this. In Great Britain, another engine failure took him out, after again starting 11th. In Germany and Portugal he finished 5th both times. In Italy, he started 6th, but was caught up in an accident on the first lap. He did not race at the last event in Morocco.

For the first race of 1959 in Monaco, he raced for Porsche, but was taken out on the first lap from a collision, after starting 12th. He took part in one other event that year, AVUS in Germany, but failed to qualify. 1960 was a much better year for Von Trips, as his Ferrari Dino 246 was now up to the job. He got one 4th, three 5th places, one 6th and one 8th place. He had a transmission problem in Belgium, and was 11th in France. For the last race that year, he competed in a Cooper T51 for Scuderia Centro Sud, and only got 9th.

1961 was the best season of Von Trips’ career, as he finally showed his potential. He got 4th in Monaco, followed by his first ever victory at the Dutch Grand Prix (the only race in F1 history where everyone finished and nobody pitted). He followed that up with a second position in Belgium, before retiring in France thanks to an engine failure. Another win then followed at Great Britain, and then a second place at Germany. At this point, Von Trips only needed one third place in any of the next two races to win the world championships. This was despite him handing over the lead to Phil Hill twice, who his team thought was more likely to take the title. But, events at Monza changed all that.

Here, Wolfgang took his first ever pole position. This put him well on course for victory and the championship. But, on Lap 2 approaching the Parabolica, he tangled with Jim Clark’s Lotus, spearing his car into the spectators, killing 14 people and Von Trips himself. The race was not stopped, and so Phil Hill took the win, and the championship with it. This was the last ever time that Formula 1 visited the full 10km Monza circuit layout.

For the final race at Watkins Glen, Ferrari decided not to compete, in repect for Von Trips, and the fact that they had already completely dominated the season, so there was nothing to compete for. Hill won the championship by a single point, but after such a tragic event at Monza, many people remember this season for what could have been for Wolfgang.

Before he died, in 1961, he established a go-kart race track in Kerpen, Germany. After he died, the track was leased to Rolf Schumacher, who allowed his two sons to have their first ever racing laps there. His sons just so happened to be called Michael and Ralf.

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4 responses to “Forgotten heroes: Wolfgang Von Trips

  1. pickle92 May 25, 2010 at 16:58

    He should have been champion in ’61, and then who knows what he would have won?
    I’ve never seen that much of the crash footage before, so well done for digging it out.
    I really like this series and have a few more names for you: Clay Regazzoni and Peter Collins. Also, how about making a parallel of this series called ‘Forgotten Teams’? For example: Ligier, March, Wolf, Eagle and Hesketh.

    • ciaranmor May 25, 2010 at 18:35

      Well I don’t think I’m limiting this series to just drivers, I’ll see how it goes. If I was to do teams (which is a very good suggestion), then maybe I’d do the post on the founder/runner of the team?

  2. Myriam December 17, 2011 at 13:42

    Wolfgang von Trips un pilote oublié? Je me le demande, il faut dire qu’il est mort il y a maintenant 50 ans. Je sais qu’il y a encore des fans, en particulier la Scuderia Colonia qu’il avait créé le 13 janvier 1960. Il y a encore son tombeau au cimetière de Kerpen-Horrem. Moi en tous cas personellement je ne l’ai jamais oublié. Lors de son accident je n’avais pas 20 ans, il était mon idole. La vie de tous les jours m’a éloignée de lui et je l’ai retrouvé en août 2005 en fouinant sur internet. Depuis, tous les jours je lui fais une petite visite. Pour moi en tous cas il est toujours dans mon coeur.

  3. stephen byrne April 1, 2012 at 17:58

    fond memories at aintree 1961 to see my hero only yards away.

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