The 1961 death of German driver Wolfgang von Trips, known as “Taffy,” really illustrates the dramatic change in values in Formula One racing over the decades.
Leading the World Championship (a third place would have been sufficient for the title) for Ferrari, von Trips tangled with then Lotus rookie Jim Clark in the Italian GP at Monza, vaulted over a dirt bern into the air and the crowd (before catch fences and retaining walls) and landed upside down in the middle of the track. In those days, with spectators mangled and the driver’s lifeless body being carried across the circuit, the race went on despite the gruesome accident, as it had always done. No safety, no red flag, no medical crew.
Clark put it behind him to win two Grand Prix championships, narrowly lose two more, conquer the American Indy 500 for the first time in a rear-engine car, and the perish himself at an inconsequential F2 race at a newly opened, rainy Hockenheim circuit, ironically in Germany.
And yet, reporting the Monza race, the correspondent of Motor Sport magazine would not mention the tragedy until two thirds of the way through his long article, after the usual meticulous description of the latest modifications to the competing cars. “For those in the grandstands and pits and around the rest of the circuit the race went on,” he remarked, “details of the accident being unknown and unannounced by the organisers.”
A victory for Von Trips would have given him the world championship. Instead the race and the title were taken by his team-mate, Phil Hill, a sensitive man who, unlike Mike Hawthorn at Le Mans six years earlier, found it hard to celebrate his good fortune.
How different things are today.