The 1958 Monaco Grand Prix said goodbye to one of its legendary drivers, introduced the greatest king to its streets and gave one man his one and only shot at Formula One racing, who would go on and own it all. Louis Chiron, Graham Hill and Bernie Ecclestone.
[note: this post contains images and soundtrack that is not owned by me, but third parties, used with entertaining purposes only]
Monaco is a strange place to be. It is one of the most expensive places on Earth, also one of the most crammed and smallest, sovereign ones. Yet it has been bathing in motor racing history for nine decades, despite its less-than-able layout.
The 1958 edition of the race wasn’t particularly interesting on the surface, but did hold some very significant surprises. It was a full-blown battle between the Italian duo of Ferrari and Maserati cars versus the British invasion of the Cooper, BRM, Lotus, Vanwall and Connaught teams.
The season kicked off in Argentina earlier the year and started its European tour in Monaco on 18 May. Eternal legend, Juan Manuel Fangio missed a full-season drive and was off in Indianapolis testing for the 500-mile race, while the Texan car-builder and racer, Carroll Shelby was about to make his debut in Formula One only two months later, in July.
Despite the incomplete grid, the rest of the contemporary heroes did show up, such as Mike Hawthorne, Wolfgang von Trips, Stirling Moss, Jean Behra, Jack Brabham, etc. A really tight, 16-car grid started the 100-lap race after the qualifying sessions.
The three-car Vanwall-league - lead by Moss - called it a day before halfway through due to engine problems, so did the complete Maserati-running group. Half of the Ferraris, BRMs, Coopers and Lotuses didn’t make it to the end either.
The largely uneventful race was won by the French Maurice Trintignant in the Cooper-Climax, which was a massive, knock-out punch to the front-engined car designers. Cooper proved with its Formula 3-ish design - engineering a car around a motorcycle engine with chain drive in the back - that something wicked was coming F1’s way that would transform the face of the sport for good.
The race, however, was interesting for three drivers not meeting the checkered flag at the end of the day.
Louis Chiron - the most successful Bugatti driver back in his day - was making his last Grand Prix racing appearance in his hometown at the age of 58. ‘The Old Fox’ is most notable of driving the sky-blue French cars to victory all around Europe in the 30s, but he also ventured to places as Indianapolis, making rounds at the Monte Carlo rally, guest riding at Alfa Romeo, Mercedes-Benz, Talbot-Lago, Maserati, etc. He didn’t manage to qualify to what would have been his last ever race, but he was immortalized in some of Monaco’s landmarks and Bugatti’s next-in-line, world beating hypercar.
Another driver was making his very first start at the same event. Graham Hill was not unfamiliar with Monaco, he already dropped in during WWII. Driving the Lotus, the young Brit retired on lap 69 with a halfshaft failure, but this was far away from him being defeated. Hill wasn’t a natural driving talent per se, but very methodical and diligent in his craft. His driving was described somewhat angular and his unusual-for-a-driver height meant aerodynamic and weight disadvantage to his car. Yet he worked his way up, all to the top.
Graham Gill scored an unprecedented and - until Aytron Senna - unchallenged five wins at Monaco (over one third of all his wins!), became world champion twice and is the only person in history who managed to win the Monaco Grand Prix, the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 hours of Le Mans. Both his last F1 win and last race was bagged in Monaco.
The third driver cited is another non-qualifier to the 1968 Monaco Grand Prix in his Connaught B-type, one Bernie Ecclestone. Then-team owner and used car salesman Ecclestone didn’t wish to race his own car in F1 - discovering his limited racing capabilities - but upon arriving to the town he figured he would give it a shot. It didn’t work out, s he stayed with management. He went on to manage some future superstars, most notably Jochen Rindt, after whose demise Ecclestone purchased the Brabham racing team, and turned it into a lucrative project over the years. During this period he became increasingly active around the leadership of F1 and became the owner of the commercial rights. Due to his experience in negotiating, he ended up virtually owning all of Formula One, making it the third most watched TV-programme in the world.
We all love action-packed races on circuits around the world, but some of the details that make the show happen are often looked over. Perhaps it is not an exaggeration to claim that the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix - in a way - made Formula 1. One former king passed on the torch to the future, unbeaten king and introduced the omnipotent tyrant who would make this backstreet gentlemen’s club to the Greatest Show on Earth.
One for the history books, alright.