The Palace Revolt

Holding a press conference on a winter day in 1961, Enzo Ferrari unveiled his new fleet of racing cars. Further reiterating his undying philosophy of unrivaled horsepower and high-end innovation, “I want to create a car with the greatest possible speed, the least weight, the least fuel intake, and all parts of equal durability,” he said. As racing was became more popular, the race engines involved became more sophisticated. Ferrari’s mission was to marry stability, speed, and center of gravity with his superior engine, never to be matched by other competitors.

Le Mans sensation Phil Hill knew the Ferrari team was waxing stronger than it ever did. He had to remain indomitable to keep his place as Ferrari’s flagship pilot. But something was going to becloud the season – a crack in the Ferrari dynasty. 

Hill had won at Sebring in March, and Le Mans in June. The Ferrari’s lined up first to third. Perfect dominance. However, in Formula One, a slight drama was to unfold. The Ferrari team had two senior drivers, but only one would emerge world champion. There was Hill, and West Germany’s Count Wolfgang Von Trips

The duo had powered Ferrari to wins across major competitions earlier in the season. Hill dominated the mechanical intellect department, and Von Trips was armed with instincts and grit. Von Trips rode the Dino to victory at the Dutch Grand Prix, Hill finished second. Hill won at the Belgian Grand Prix, and Von Trips finished second. Von Trips took the British Grand Prix, and Hill followed in second.

The two were allies. But they also knew no American or German had ever won the Formula One title. Ahead of them was a chance to rewrite that history. Back home in America, Hill was fast becoming an icon. Admired by all and sundry, he was dubbed the “Mickey Mantle in a Ferrari” by the Los Angeles Time. And, according to Esquire, “He is resolve, terror and courage all in one.”

The Italian Grand Prix at Monza was the season’s defining moment for Hill and Von Trips. The crowd was no less enthused about the chance of a Ferrari clinching victory on home turf. September 10, 1961 was the day. Thousands gathered to watch. Von Trips tucked into his Dino, as did Phil Hill, who would prefer to start the race wet. The 1961 Italian Grand Prix was broadcast, allowing everyone from across the nation to stay glued to proceedings. Enzo Ferrari found his seat in front of his television.

As the Italian flag was waved signifying the start of the race, the pack of red, silver and green race cars darted forward, leaving behind a cloud of exhaust. Hill’s was the fastest of all, the American guiding his car to first from the second row. Von Trips followed and young Scottish Jimmy Clark trailed in third in a lime-green Lotus. Firing their way into lap two, the pack headed for the tightest turn -the 180-degree Parabolica. Hill successfully entered, with Von Trips and Clark behind. At a blistering speed well over 100 mph, Von Trips headed the racing line direction, as did Clark. But that would ensure their wheels made contact, enough to spin Von Trip away from the race track into the gathered mass behind a wire fence. Not oblivious of the accident, Hill maintained his composure on the track and would eventually go on to win the race forty-one laps later. He was the new World Champion!

The accident was aired multiple times, and the sight of helpless Trips on a stretcher couldn’t be more frightening. He died in the accident, along with fourteen spectators. Another casualty recorded, Ferrari’s most historic year came to an unsavory end.  And back at the factory, the mood was anything but lively. Employees became increasingly dissatisfied. Things had never been the same since Dino’s death. Ferrari’s word was no longer final, and major figures were no longer in tune with his directives. What followed was the departure of eight key men two months after the Monza disaster. Defiant, Ferrari summoned his junior hires. “We got rid of the generals,” he said. “Now you corporals must take charge.” The company struggled to hold up, Ferrari had spent his profits on racing and the company was left in bad financial shape. The barrage of attacks from all quarters made things doubly devastating. It was a classic “Palace Revolt,” but irate Ferrari wasn’t giving in yet. His undying love for speed machines fueled another strategy.