Birthday : 1928-05-04
Deceased : 1961-09-10
Nicknamed “Taffy” by Mike Hawthorn, von Trops had reputation for erratic driving early in his career however, hitting top form in1961, he won the Dutch and British Grands Prix and went into Italian GP at Monza on the verge of winning the World Championship. Tragically he collided with Jim Clark’s Lotus on the second lap of the race and was killed along with 14 spectators. Wolfgang Graf Alexander Berghe von Trips was born in Kerpen-Horrem, Germany. icknamed Wölfchen (little wolf) by his parents, the British crowds later named him Count Crash but ultimately he was know almost universally as Taffy. A name bestowed upon him by Mike Hawthorn. Taffy was the name Welsh immigrants to America gave to their bravest and most fearless men after the river Taff that flows through Cardiff.
The dashing young German count, descended from a 700 year old dynasty of knights, was raised on the family estates near Cologne.
He raced under the pseudonym of Axel Linther and his early career was beset with crashes. However Trips was a fearless and skilled driver, particularly in sports cars driving for Mercedes under the leadership of legendary team manager Alfred Neubauer in the mid-fifties. He finished third in the 1955 Tourist Trophy in a Mercedes 300SLR at Dundrod and in 1958 he won the European hill-climb championship in a works Porsche RSK. 1959 he took the small-capacity Porsche to second in the Tourist Trophy at Goodwood finishing ahead of Brooks’ Ferrari.
He taught Juan Carlos, laterly the King of Spain, how to drive despite having never passed his own driving test.
He made his Grand Prix debut in 1965 in the Italian Grand Prix. Enzo Ferrari had given himan opportunity in the Lancia-Ferrari. However he crashed heavily in practice. The car was later stripped down for examination and it was revealed that the steering had broken.
In 1958 he drove in three GPs for Ferrari. A sixth in Argentina was folled by a retirment in Monaco when his engine failed ten laps from the finish. Later in the year he drove in the Italian Grand Prix finishing on the podium in third place.
The following year he stayed at Ferrari. In six races he retired three times and posted three top five finishes. In the Italian GP he collided with Schell on the opening lap and ended up with a broken leg.
He switched to Porsche in the F2 class in 1959 but spun at Monaco and eliminated the rest of the F2 class.
Returning to Ferrari in 1960 season, he was a consistent top ten finisher with a best result of fourth in Portugal. He ended the season racing a Cooper-aserati in the USA. He also won the non-championship races at Syracuse and Solitude for Ferrari and finished second in the F2 German GP for Porsche.
Then in 1961 he hit top form. In sports cars he won the Targa Florio with Gendebien and driving the works ‘sharknose’ Ferrari 156 he finished fourth in Monaco followed by a dominant win in Holland. After a second in Belgium and a retirement in France, he then won the British Grand Prix. After another podium in German, finishing second he went into the Italian GP leading the World Championship and only needing a third to secure the title.
He put the Ferrari on pole but was not the quickest off the line. On the second lap he was under pressure from Jim Clark’s Lotus. However when Clark pulled out of his slipatream to attempt a pass, von Trips moved over as well. His Ferrari clipped the front wheel of Jim Clark’s Lotus sending him airborne and crashed into a retaining fence behind which spectators were tightly packed. von Trips was thrown out of the car landing back on the circuit. Tragically he died along with 14 spectators.
In a twist of fate, von Trips was scheduled to fly with a friend to the USA later on the day he died. The plane went down over Scotland with the loss of all onboard.
In 1961 he had opened a kart track in Kerpen, Germany which was later leased by Rolf Schumacher, whose son Michael took his first steps on the motor racing ladder there.