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Wolfgang von Trips

Full Name:
Count Wolfgang Graf Alexander Berghe von Trips
4th May 1928
Horrem, Kerpen, North Rhine-Westphalia
10th September 1961 (Aged 33)
Monza, Lombardy (I), Italian GP
Most recent race (in database):

Germany’s first Grand Prix winner since 1939, Wolfgang von Trips was killed on the day he was expected to be crowned world champion. That accident was also the Formula 1 World Championship’s worst loss of life and robbed the sport of a most popular gentleman as well.

Early racing career

Blessed by nobility, good looks and natural talent, von Trips began racing motorcycles in 1951 under the pseudonym "Alex Linther". He soon switched to sports cars and his Porsche 356 finished 25th on his international debut in the 1955 Mille Miglia. He then shared the third placed works Mercedes-Benz 300SLR with André Simon and Karl Kling in that year’s Tourist Trophy.

Mercedes withdrew from the sport at the end of the year so von Trips joined Porsche for 1956. A class winner at Sebring, the Nürburgring and Le Mans 24 Hours, a call from Ferrari proved irresistible. He finished second on his sports car debut for the Italian team at Kristianstad but did not start the Italian GP after crashing in practice when the steering failed.

Formula 1 with Ferrari

His F1 debut followed in the 1957 Argentine GP when sharing the sixth placed Lancia-Ferrari D50 with Cesare Perdisa and Peter Collins. He combined the two disciplines that year with second on the Mille Miglia and third in the Italian GP his best results.

The German, who had a reputation for being accident-prone early in his career, was popular among his peers. It was Mike Hawthorn who called him "Taffy" and the nickname stuck. 1958 European Hillclimb Champion with a Porsche, he broke his leg after crashing into Harry Schell at Lesmo on the first lap of that year’s Italian GP.

After a short-term return to Porsche in 1959, von Trips rejoined Ferrari in 1960. It was a time of rebuilding for the Scuderia and it faced a dearth of top-line drivers with Juan Manuel Fangio now retired and both Hawthorn and Peter Collins dead. Both von Trips and Phil Hill spent 1960 preparing for the following season’s new 1500cc F1 rules with the German’s Formula 2 wins at Syracuse and Solitude a glimpse of the future.

Challenging for the title

Ferrari were overwhelming favourites for the 1961 F1 World Championship with that race-ready F2 engine now powering the purposeful "shark nose" Ferrari Dino 156. Stirling Moss’s Rob Walker Lotus scored a surprise win in Monaco although that only delayed the inevitable Ferrari victories. Von Trips led all the way at Zandvoort and won the wet British GP at Aintree. Moss again upset the form-book in Germany but the local hero’s second place put the title within his grasp. However, then followed Monza and tragedy.

Von Trips only needed to finish third in the 1961 Italian GP to clinch the world championship and he qualified on pole position. However, he made a poor start and ran fifth approaching the Parabolica for the second time. Dicing with Jim Clark’s Lotus, the two cars touched under braking and his red Ferrari somersaulted into the crowd. Von Trips was thrown into the road and both he and 14 spectators were killed. It was the worst loss of life at Monza since 1928 and in the history of the F1 World Championship.