Italian Grand Prix
September 10, 1961: The worst accident in Formula One Championship racing takes place during the run of the Italian Grand Prix. Wolfgang von Trips came into the race in second place for the Grand Prix series. The German driver was in a Ferrari when he crashed with Britain’s Jim Clark, driving a lighter and faster Lotus. Von Trips’ Ferrari went air born, tossing the driver out as it rolled. The car then crashed into a chain link fence holding back the enthralled crowd. Eleven spectators were killed instantly with three more dying the next day and a final man succumbing to his injuries on September 15.
The rest of the cars racing that day managed to retain control and drive through the wreckage without becoming part of it.Clark walked away from the crash and immediately went to the now lifeless body of his fellow driver as he lay on the ground. In a daze, Clark walked to the Ferrari seemingly looking for answers to the horrifying spectacle.
Von Trips had been racing since 1956 having run 29 Grand Prix and winning two races. He had earned the coveting pole position once and had 56 championship points amassed. He had a reputation as a “crasher” and had been injured prior to this. He recovered and continued to drive. He began driving with Ferrari, switched to Porsche for a while, and then returned to his first sponsor again in 1960. Jim Clark would eventually also die in a crash during a Formula 2 race in 1968.
Racing cars has been a compelling sport practically since there were cars to race. Organized car racing was first seen in France in 1894. This eventually led to the Grand Prix which is the forerunner of Formula One racing. Each event of the Formula One World Drivers Championship is still called the Grand Prix. Today, every Formula One race counts toward the World Championship.
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