The 1961 season of Formula One came with new rules, mostly regarding new 1.5-litre engines. All manufacturers had to succumb to that decision. But that also opened the door for some other manufacturers to enter this class of racing. Most of the new teams were collaborations between manufacturers, like the DeTomaso-OSCA, Lotus-Maserati, JBW-Climax, Emeryson-Maserati…But, probably the most notable manufacturer that appeared on the F1 schedule that season was Porsche.
The famous German company was already competing in Formula 2, and when they heard about the new F1 regulations, the immediately started paving their path to the big league. For the 1961 F1 season, Porsche presented the Type 787 powered by a straight-4 engine. Only 2 units were made, and both entered the F1 1961 season…rather badly.
Hans Herrmann in the N0. 9 Porsche 787. Credit: Porsche Press
In fact, they were doing so badly that Ferry Porsche retired the cars after just two races in order to develop a new model. Both 787s were scrapped by the company, and Porsche was back on the drawing board.
New engine, new car
This time, they were aiming for a 180 HP air-cooled DOHC straight-8 engine with 4 Webber carburettors and 2 valves per cylinder. The most unusual thing was that Porsche was focusing mostly on the engine rather than removing weight and improving airflow. The new car was called 804 and the drivers were Joakim Bonnier and Dan Gurney.
Dan Gurney. Credit: Porsche
The first 1962 race, Dutch GP, did not go well for Porsche. Bonnier finished 7th, while Gurney had to retire due to a faulty gearbox. The following Grand Prix de Monaco was even worse, as only Gurney was able to qualify, but he crashed during the race. This unlucky streak carried on to the Belgian GP, when both cars were disqualified due to being “unraceworthy”.
Joakim Bonnier in his Porsche 804. Credit: Porsche
But, Gurney’s (and Porsche’s) luck turned around at the 4th race of the season-the French GP. The race was held at the Rouen-Les-Essarts, and what is interesting was the fact that Ferrari did not enter this race due to a metal workers' strike in Italy. Moreover, no one believed that Porsche would win, since there were some very notable names on the grid.
The 1962 French GP
The race took off with Graham Hill in BRM taking the lead (and setting a lap record), followed by John Surtees in Lola, Jim Clark in Lotus, Bruce McLaren in Cooper, Jack Brabham in Lotus and Gurney in his Porsche. On the 9th lap, Brabham’s Lotus suffered a broken rear suspension and was retired. At the end of that lap, McLaren lost the 4th gear in his Cooper, spun off the track and barely rejoined the race. On the 13th lap, Surtees went to the pits due to ignition problems and rejoined 3 laps later.
Gurney prior to the race. Credit: Porsche Newsroom
With 20 seconds ahead of Clark, Hill was still in the lead. But, in 30th lap, he tried to overlap Jackie Lewis and made contact, causing him to lose the lead to Clark. So, BRM’s driver put his foot down and regained the lead 3 laps later. Unfortunately, on the next lap, Clark suffered a broken front suspension and had to retire. Hill was driving as if his life depended on it. But his BRM showed fuel injection and throttle linkage problems on the 42nd lap. Hill lost few laps while in the pits, and even when he rejoined, he experienced more trouble when his engine cover fell off and was forced to retire.
And out of nowhere, Gurney came into the lead and drove perfectly for the rest of the race. This was not only his first GP win, but also the first and only win for the Stuttgart giant. Tony Maggs and his Cooper-Climax came in 2nd, while Richie Ginther placed 3rd in his BRM.
Gurney and his winning No. 30 Porsche 804. Credit: Porsche Newsroom
The next race was the German GP, in which Gurney and his Porsche finished 3rd after Hill and Surtees. For the rest of the season, Porsche continued to be very competitive, but there were no more victories in sight. Ferry Porsche retired the car and the company, due to insufficient resources, left Formula One.
As for Gurney, he went to drive for Brabham’s team, giving them their first victory in their first race. Later he drove for his own team Eagle, also coming first in their first race, creating an amazing record of bringing victories to 3 teams in their first year of Formula One. Gurney’s last F1 race was the 1970 British GP, after which he left this category to compete in American racing series.
Here are some photos from the 1962 French GP. All credits go to Porsche.