A landmark first for Lotus, 60 years on

31st May 2020
Damien Smith

It’s been 26 long years since a Lotus – a real Lotus, not another team just carrying the badge and piggy-backing history – started a Formula 1 grand prix. But such was the constructor’s prolific rate of success during its F1 lifetime between 1958 and ’94, Lotus is still fifth in the table of most victories, behind only Ferrari, McLaren, Williams and Mercedes. Its 79th and last win was delivered by Ayrton Senna on the streets of Detroit in 1987 – and its first by Stirling Moss, 60 years ago, at Monaco on 29th May 1960.


Wind back to that first breakthrough success for Colin Chapman’s company and a few fascinating nuggets stand out. First and most famously, it wasn’t Chapman’s team itself that claimed the first Lotus F1 World Championship race win. Moss was driving a newly purchased Lotus 18 to drive in the blue with white noseband colours of his friend Rob Walker. Thus Lotus’s first win came via one of its customers; it was a ‘privateer’ victory. Team Lotus itself would have to wait until the end of 1961 for its own first breakthrough points-scoring win, thanks to Innes Ireland at the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen.

Another point to recall about Monaco 1960 is that while Moss’s victory was historically significant, it has always been overshadowed somewhat by his mesmeric win a year later when he single-handedly defeated the new ‘Sharknose’ Ferrari 156s. That’s understandable: Stirling’s drive at Monaco in 1961 is among the greatest virtuoso performances in F1’s 70-year history. But even so, it would be wrong to overlook 1960, a notable performance in its own right and the second of Moss’s Monaco triple following his first win in 1956 driving a Maserati 250F.

Moss in the Lotus 18 Climax at the US Grand Prix at Riverside, 1960.

Moss in the Lotus 18 Climax at the US Grand Prix at Riverside, 1960.

Why Moss was driving a Lotus

By 1960 the F1 tide had already turned in favour of ‘funny little rear-engined cars’, but it was Cooper, not Lotus, that had led the revolution. Indeed, Moss had written another chapter of history in 1958 by scoring Cooper’s first world championship grand prix success, again driving a Walker-entered car to glory, in a sweltering race in Argentina. In 1959 the Cooper works team had swept to its first world title with Jack Brabham and at the dawn of the new decade looked well set to become the dominant force in F1. But then came a light, boxy little rear-engined rival from Cheshunt.

Cooper was alerted to the threat at the season-opening Argentinean GP when Ireland demonstrated the new Lotus 18’s turn of pace by briefly leading the early stages. On the return trip home, John Cooper and Brabham hatched a plan to respond, resulting in the ‘lowline’ T53 that would defend its hard-won title.

Back in Britain the threat from the new Lotus became all too real when Ireland sensationally beat Moss’s Walker-run Cooper at Goodwood’s Glover Trophy, then followed with victory at Silverstone’s BRDC International Trophy, after Moss had retired from the lead. Those non-championship wins heightened Moss’s instincts for action – plus a T53 ‘lowline’ was off limits because of a fuel sponsor clash. He and Walker ordered a Type 18, shook it down at Goodwood and took it to Monaco.

Moss in the Lotus 18 Climax, Monaco, 1960.

Moss in the Lotus 18 Climax, Monaco, 1960.

A wet-dry classic Monaco GP

Confirmation that Moss’s call was, as usual, on the button followed in short order on the streets of Monte-Carlo. He took pole position by a second from Brabham in the ‘lowline’. But on race day he was made to work for his victory in a race affected by rain.

Jo Bonnier was a fast starter in BRM’s own new rear-engined P48, leading until lap 17 when Moss passed the Swede having shadowed him with ease. But when the rain arrived around lap 30 Brabham kept his foot in and hit the front, only to spin out on the treacherous surface and hit a wall at Ste Devote on lap 41. But it was far from over for Moss. A loose plug lead forced him to stop, pushing the race back towards Bonnier. But on a fast-drying track, Moss wasn’t about to be denied, closing in quickly on the BRM to re-take his lead and drive to victory after nearly three hours and 100 laps. Bonnier was cruelly robbed of second place with a split rear suspension upright, but was classified fifth behind the only other finishers Bruce McLaren (Cooper), Phil Hill (Ferrari) and Tony Brooks (Cooper).

The start of the 1960 Belgian Grand prix at Spa, with Jack Brabham leading in his Cooper T53 Climax.

The start of the 1960 Belgian Grand prix at Spa, with Jack Brabham leading in his Cooper T53 Climax.

Why 1960 turned into a Lotus anti-climax

Bruce McLaren led the world championship after his runner-up finish in Monaco and preceding victory in Argentina, but Moss and Walker now looked a fair bet for title honours. Yet somehow a Lotus 18 wouldn’t win another world championship round until Riverside in November, by which time Brabham had long since clinched his second consecutive title.

At Zandvoort, Moss again took pole but was thwarted by a puncture as Brabham scored his first win of the campaign. Then tragedy struck at Spa: Moss incurred serious injuries, including a broken back, during a crash in practice; Lotus driver Mike Taylor was also badly hurt after his steering broke; then two Britons, Chris Bristow in a Cooper and Alan Stacey in a works Lotus, were killed in separate accidents in the race, the latter allegedly after hitting a bird. Winner Brabham had nothing to celebrate after one of the worst weekends in F1 history.

But now with Moss side-lined, there was little opposition to Brabham who won a further three rounds in a row, the French, British and Portuguese GPs – although he had some fortune along the way. Graham Hill looked set for a heroic victory at Silverstone, only to spin off at Copse with only six laps go in his BRM, while motorcycling hero John Surtees led in Oporto in only his third world championship start on four wheels, only for the street circuit’s tramlines to catch him out.

As for Moss, he sensationally returned to action less than two months after his Spa crash, but it was far too late to make up the ground lost to Brabham. After Phil Hill had won for Ferrari at Monza, Moss scored a convincing consolation win at Riverside in California to complete an F1 season that had promised so much more.

But Cooper’s best days were already run. At Zandvoort Jim Clark had made his F1 debut, then scored his first points at Spa and his first podium in Oporto. Increasingly impressive throughout the season, the 1960s would be centred around Clark and Lotus as Cooper faded and Moss was side-lined once and for all by his career-ending shunt at Goodwood in 1962. Stirling had started the ball rolling for Chapman, but it was a quiet Scot who would inspire the Lotus legend.

For another take on Moss’ win in Monaco, have a read of Andrew Frankel’s piece ‘How Stirling Moss conquered Monaco in a car he didn't like

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

  • Lotus

  • Lotus 18

  • Stirling Moss

  • Monaco

  • Formula 1

  • F1 1960

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