Progress and technical innovations led the Scuderia to win the F1 Constructors' Championship title. A tragedy, however, clouded celebrations for this milestone
1961 was revolutionary for Formula 1. A new regulation only allowed naturally aspirated engines with a maximum capacity of up to 1500 cc. This was essentially the same as the maximum volume adopted in Formula 2 from 1957 to 1960. The minimum weight of the single-seaters (with all liquids except fuel) was set at 450 kg. The English teams were on the warpath, dissatisfied with the regulatory change in spite it being communicated well in advance. They threatened to boycott but, in the end, the loud protesting subsided.
Scuderia Ferrari was busy preparing for the new season, taking full advantage of its experience in Formula 2. It proved from the get-go that it was the team to beat. The Ferrari 156 was introduced in the winter between 1960 and 1961. Carlo Chiti, the Technical Director, was certain he had done his best with Mauro Forghieri by his side, who was just starting out his career and had a bright future ahead of him.
Enzo Ferrari was convinced that he could "put the cart before the horse", to distort a quote from the founder, thus the Ferrari 156 was created. This car was built to accommodate two versions of the 1500 cc naturally aspirated V6 engine, which had banks set at different angles (65° and 120°). Both versions however had twin overhead camshafts, two valves per cylinder and Weber carburettors. The Ferrari 156 came with a tubular trellis chassis, Dunlop disc brakes on all four wheels, independent wheel suspension with unequal wishbones, coil springs and telescopic shock absorbers.
It had a 5-speed transmission and the weight was of the order of 470 kg. The sleek lines of the car were both aggressive and elegant at the same time. They underwent slight upgrades and adaptations during the season until it entered the collective imagination. The front was coined "shark-nose" due to the front air intake. It is and will continue to be one of the most significant and popular style icons in the entire history of motor racing.
The season was a success. Ferrari won its first World Constructors' Championship title in history, putting Lotus and Porsche in second and third place respectively. For the first time ever, the World Drivers' Championship title went to the United States of America thanks to Phil Hill.
A heavy price was paid for this blessing, however. A catastrophic accident at the Italian Grand Prix took the life of the other Scuderia driver, Wolfgang Von Trips, as well as 14 spectators. The 156 driven by the German ended up against the embankment and then in the crowd after bumping into Jim Clark's Lotus.
Mourning the loss, Scuderia Ferrari skipped the last race of the season in the United States.