Wolfgang Von Trips was in a fierce competition against his Ferrari team mate Phil Hill during the Formula One world championship of 1961. Both drivers were close to securing the Formula One World Drivers Championship. For Wolfgang Von Trips it would secure Germany's first FI championship win, while for Phil Hill it would be a first for the USA.
There was just the 1961 Italian Grand Prix to go on the 10th September and if Wolfgang could finish third or better; the FI championship 1961 would be his. This was all he had worked for and like all F1 racers, who diced with death during every race, it was his dream to come true if he could clinch third spot or better.
Wolfgang Von Trips was born in Cologne Germany in 1928 and was of a well to do family. They owned a castle outside of Cologne. As a lad of 14, Wolfgang caught polio, and was treated. Once he had overcome this obstacle he was summoned and sent into the Hitler Youth. This was during WWII when Germany was under the rule of National Socialism. In 1944, he along with friends of the Volkssturm and Hitler Youth, had to try and defend Cologne from advancing American troops.
He was among the captured when the city fell. Once the war ended, he returned to the family castle to find it had been ransacked by allies. Obviously, his family had much restoration to do. He was motivated by occupying British and American troops to take up his interest in Motorbikes and cars. He had an obvious talent in this field. This was probably disappointing for his family because it was their intention that young Wolfgang Von Trips was destined to run the family farm. He did attend collage studies in agriculture and passed these in 1954. However he was buying cars and entering racing competitions and was talent spotted in 1956, by no lesser man then Enzo Ferrari.
Wolfgang began his F1 carrier during the 1956 season. All this effort and risk in the fast lane, like his fellow competitors, culminated in the grand standing of 1961's Italian Grand Prix of Monza. All he needed was third place or better and the much coveted championship would be his.
As the race started the duel between Wolfgang and Phil Hill got under way. This particular Grand Prix was a dangerous one of significance and had claimed lives before. This was also during an era of formula one racing when deaths were very often happening during every season. The drivers that do this sort of sport are great thrill seekers and it is argued that many are misfits in some way - speed merchants that need the buzz of dicing close to the edge of death. Perhaps Wolfgang Von Tripp was such a thrill seeker who was coming so close to glorious victory; that he could taste it - go that extra yard for the all desired prize.
There was a new up and coming young Scot named Jim Clark in this race and on an all important bend of the Monza circuit, Wolfgang turned his Ferrari in to the chasing path of Jim Clark's Lotus. At that moment Wolfgang's rear wheel clipped the front of the pursuing 'future British Champion' Jim Clark's car. The German driver went into a terrible spin off of the track and onto the verge. His car lifted as it hit the crash barriers and killed 14 spectators. Wolfgang Von Trip was also killed in the crash as he was thrown from the cascading wreckage.
He was a gallant racer, and like so many before and after him. Wolfgang Von Trips died tragically in pursuit of the sport he obviously had a passion for. The terrible legacy was the death of the Italian spectators too. It had shades of the horrific Le Mans disaster of 1955.
The USA's Phil Hill went on to take the Formula One trophy of 1961. Wolfgang went out in an explosive blaze of Formula One legend and gloried tribute. He is remembered with honour by those who love the sport.
Wolfgang Von Trips Crash 1961 Italian Grand Prix