• French Grand Prix

Baghetti makes history with debut win

ESPNF1 Staff
July 2, 1961
Giancarlo Baghetti in a Ferrari 156 leads the Porsches 718 of Dan Gurney and Jo Bonnier on his way to victory at the French GP © Sutton Images
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A sensational race at Reims saw rookie Giancarlo Baghetti win in his first grand prix - still the only man to have ever won on his debut. Driving a privately-entered Ferrari, he drove a remarkably cool race for a debutant, producing a breathtaking move at the death to snatch victory from Dan Gurney in his Porsche.

Baghetti benefited from a scheme to give young Italian drivers a Ferrari for non-championship races. He won the Syracuse Grand Prix in April and then a month later the Naples Grand Prix. His success, allied to Oliver Gendebien returning to Emeryson, freed up a car and Gendebien's yellow Ferrari was repainted red and handed over to Baghetti.

The Ferraris were expected to dominate at the very quick Reims circuit, set amongst the cornfields of the Champagne region. They once again took the front row of the grid, with Phil Hill, Wolfgang von Trips and Richie Ginther all set to crush the opposition, as they had done so effectively two weeks earlier in Belgium.

The race in searing heat - so much so it softened the tarmac and accounted for a series of mechanical failures - started according to plan with the three Ferraris pulling away from the rest and only Stirling Moss and John Surtees managing to keep in touch with them. Hill led for the first 12 laps until von Trips passed him, but six laps later he retired with a blown engine.

Hill continued ahead of Ginther and Baghetti, who had worked his way up into third place. Gurney was close behind, and more than once got his nose in front on the long pit straight, only for Baghetti to pull ahead again. On the 38th lap Hill spun on some gravel at the tight Thillois hairpin and stalled, which gave Ginther the lead. However, a lap later he came into the pits needing oil, forbidden under the new rules, and therefore had to retire.

Baghetti battled for the lead with the Porsches of Jo Bonnier and Gurney, the trio storming past the pits with no more than inches between them, constantly swapping places. With two laps to go, Bonnier's engine blew, so it became a straight fight between Gurney and Baghetti. They approached the last corner together, but Gurney managed to nose his Porsche in front, until Baghetti pulled out of his slipstream at the last minute and crossed the line just one tenth of a second ahead. His victory was greeted with wild and rapturous applause from both his pit crew and the delighted crowd.

It was a fantastic debut win, and although he drove another 20 grands prix, Baghetti never reached those heady heights again, failing to finish on the podium in any future race.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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