Some minor victories in 1953 would lead to some major troubles by 1954. Fielding cars more than a couple of years old, the Equipe Gordini team would be facing some serious issues heading into 1955, despite a former driver giving the team a second chance.
In 1952, when the World Championship switched to Formula 2 regulations, the most dominant team of that year, and that era, would be Scuderia Ferrari. One of the Italian team's greatest challenges during the 1952 season would come from the French team Equipe Gordini. However, by the end of that season, the threat would wane and Equipe Gordini would struggle every year following.
The trouble would get so bad for the team that the constant retirements would lead to Robert Manzon making the decision to leave the team as a result. This would leave Jean Behra as the team's principal driver with a number of other drivers coming and going.
The return of Formula One regulations prior to the 1954 season would not help the team any. The new Maserati and Mercedes-Benz threats meant the much older T16 chassis still being used by Gordini would be outclassed due to having reached its limits in development. This would end up being painfully obvious as the team would struggle to have a car finish a World Championship round.
Contesting all but the Indianapolis 500, Equipe Gordini would have a car finish in all but two of the rounds. However, in a majority of those rounds just one of three or four cars would finish, and that was not a good ratio to carry forward. In fact, the team would score just 4 points the entire season, and neither of those points would be earned by number one driver Jean Behra. Elie Bayol and part-time drive Andre Pilette would earn those honors.
This constant trouble to be competitive and to finish races would lead to Jean Behra leaving the team to go drive for the factory Maserati team. And who could blame him? One of the best performances he put in during the 1954 season would come in the Berlin Grand Prix. Taking on the might of three Mercedes Silver Arrows, Behra would shock the German crowd and would actually split the German machines for a number of laps before his engine expired. The Mercedes, however, carried on without a problem and took a one-two-three victory.
So it wasn't necessarily a problem with the drivers, it was a problem with the reliability of the cars; the very reason Robert Manzon had departed the team back during the Formula 2 era. Gordini was aware of its problems and was looking for a solution, at least one that it could afford.
The principals within the team took note of the success scored by Mercedes-Benz with its W196, particularly its straight-eight engine. This would lead the Gordini team to begin development of a new car based around the straight-eight engine. The only unfortunate aspect to this was the simple reality that Gordini didn't realize the innovations that went into the Mercedes engine that made it truly special. Nonetheless, Gordini would begin efforts toward building its first all-new car in years. This, and the fact that there were no other rides, would seem to be enough to attract Robert Manzon back to the team despite his rather sincere distaste for things a few years prior.
Motivated by the hope of a new car, the team would set about preparing for the upcoming season. Besides Manzon returning to the team there would be a couple of other principal drivers on the squad like Elie Bayol and Jacques Pollet. But, as usual, seats would also be offered to drivers with the means. This meant a number of drivers would compete in races behind the wheel of Gordini chassis throughout the year.
Heading into the first race of the season, the team would have more concerns than just new cars and drivers. The first race of the 1955 season would be the first round of the Formula One World Championship. And, as it had since 1953, that first round and first race of the season would be held across the Atlantic in South America. For the third year, Formula One teams would make their way to the Autodromo 17 de Octubre in Buenos Aires for the Argentine Grand Prix held on the 16th of January.
Built in 1952, the Autodromo 17 de Octubre would be a staging area for President Peron to host the finest drivers and teams in all the world in order to promote his grand social ideal to his fellow Argentineans and to the world. Built with an ability to conform to a number of different circuit layouts, the Autodromo would be able to be changed to ideally suit just about any kind of motor racing.
Arriving in Buenos Aires, Argentina for the race, the Equipe Gordini team would find the people excited and in a feverish pitch with Juan Manuel Fangio having taken the championship the year before driving for Maserati and Mercedes-Benz. Equipe Gordini, especially Elie Bayol, would look forward to the return to Buenos Aires for it had been here that Bayol had scored his 5th place result for the team the season before. The team, and Bayol, would be looking and hoping for a repeat performance one year later.
A lot would be on Bayol's shoulders coming into the race. Not only did he have the pressure of trying to repeat his performance from the previous year, but he would also arrive in Buenos Aires as the team's leader as Manzon would not be a part of the team at the time. Entering three cars, Equipe Gordini would turn to Bayol to be a team leader for a couple of Argentinean drivers, Pablo Birger and Jesus Iglesias.
This would be a tough task for driver and team given that the works Maserati team would enter no less than seven cars in the race. Mercedes would enter four cars, as would Scuderia Ferrari. Then there would be Scuderia Lancia. They would come to the race with three very strong D50s.
Relying on their 2.5-liter, longitudinal six-cylinder engines, the Gordini drivers would push hard in practice in order to garner the best starting spots possible on the grid. Using the 2.42 mile number 2 circuit, it would be an Argentinean that would prove quickest. Jose Froilan Gonzalez would take the pole by a half a second over Alberto Ascari. World Champion, Juan Manuel Fangio, would start on the front row as well, but in the 3rd position. Former Equipe Gordini driver, Jean Behra, would complete the front row with his Maserati.
Just seven-tenths of a second would separate the front row of the grid. Unfortunately, it wouldn't be that close given where the Gordini cars lined up. Pablo Birger would prove to be the fastest of the Gordini pilots. Lapping the circuit a little more than a second and a half slower he would be starting the race from the third row of the grid in the 9th position. This would be quite the accomplishment given the starting positions the rest of the drivers would garner. Elie Bayol would be second-quickest on the team lining up on the fifth row of the grid in the 15th position. Iglesias would be just three-tenths slower and would also find himself on the fifth row of the grid in the 17th position.
Being in the southern hemisphere, it was toward the later-part of the summer months. But on this particular day, it would seem like the middle. Incredible heat would consume the area. Temperatures would easily rise about 100 degree Fahrenheit. Besides the crowd watching the race, the incredible heat would certainly take a toll on the drivers. Gordini would have to be especially concerned given its history for unreliability.
Nonetheless, the race would get underway. Despite starting 3rd, Fangio would get the best start and would lead the field into the first couple of turns. He would be chased by Ascari and Stirling Moss, who had made an incredible start from the third row of the grid. Over the course of the first lap it wouldn't be the heat that would have the greatest impact on the field. Carlos Menditeguy and Jean Behra would come together. This would lead to Menditeguy retiring immediately. Unfortunately, Birger would also make a mistake on the first lap of the race and would crash out of the running. Just like that, Gordini would be down to two cars in the hottest race in World Championship history.
Jean Behra would not be able to carry on after his contact on the first lap. But the hits just kept coming when Luigi Villoresi left the race with a fuel leak and Karl Kling would suffer an accident knocking him out of the race as well. Therefore, before the start of the 3rd lap there would be five cars out of the running. Bayol, however, would make it through the first couple of laps and would be in 12th after the first lap. Iglesias, however, would be running dead-last.
By the 8th lap of the race, all hopes for the Gordini team would rest with last place runner Iglesias. Bayol had started out the race well, but, would soon begin to fall down the running order. Struggling with transmission issues, Bayol would be finally forced to retire after completing just 7 laps. There would be no repeat of the 5th place performance, not this year.
Though motor races are already hectic affairs, this day would earn the title as the World Championship's ‘busiest' race, and for obvious reasons. The heat would play a tremendous role. Fuel problems, driver exhaustion and accidents would all decimate the field. It would also lead to drivers leap-frogging from car to car in order to keep a fresh driver behind the wheel.
Iglesias would continue running but would soon come into some trouble. Amazingly, none of the troubles the Gordini cars would run into would be the result of overheating. Instead, like Bayol, transmission failure would lead to Iglesias' eventual retirement on the 39th lap.
There would only be two men that would remain behind the wheel of their cars by the end of the 96 lap race. Roberto Mieres would be one. The other would be the man that would be out front and pulling away from the rest of the field. Sheer endurance would help promote Fangio back into the lead after periods with Gonzalez and Ascari leading the way. However, prior to the halfway mark in the race Fangio would take over the lead of the race and would never look back from then on. While some teams would have cars with three or more drivers by the end of the race, Fangio would stay put in his Mercedes and would power his way to a dominant lead.
The performance by Fangio would be incredible. Fending off a car having three fresher drivers, the Argentinean would be out front and untouchable. Only one car would remain on the lead lap with him. Everyone else would be at least 2 laps back. It was incredible. And, after three hours and thirty-eight seconds, Fangio would come across the line to take the first victory of the season. The crowd would erupt with praise and cheer as their countryman held off all to take yet another victory. It would be the 14th win for Fangio; a new record. Jose Froilan Gonzalez, Giuseppe Farina and Maurice Trintignant would share the 2nd result. Giuseppe Farina, Umberto Maglioli and Maurice Trintignant would partner to finish in 3rd as well.
Unfortunately, because of the unreliability problems of the T16, the Gordini drivers didn't even have a chance to try and combine their efforts for a race result. It certainly seemed to be more of the same. Most unfortunate would be the fact that the unreliability problems had been going on for years. As a result, there would be little confidence of the issues being rectified by the next race of the season, which, thankfully, wasn't coming for another couple of months.
Packing up and heading back to Europe in preparation for the start of the grand prix season in Europe, the Gordini team would have some reason to be confident and to look forward instead of back. Upon arriving back in France, the Gordini team would set about preparing its cars for its next race of the season. This next race would be a non-championship affair but of no less importance to the team. It was the Grand Prix de Pau and it would be held on the 11th of April.
In 1954, while Jean Behra was still with the team, he and Maurice Trintignant would become locked in a titanic battle for the victory in the Grand Prix de Pau. It would end with Behra taking a somewhat surprise victory beating Trintignant by a margin of just two-tenths of a second! Unfortunately, that was the previous year. Behra was now gone. Still, he managed to take the victory with a T16. So it still had some life to it. Or at least that is what everyone at Gordini was holding onto coming into the race.
There would be a difference heading into the 1955 edition of the race. The year before, besides three cars from Scuderia Ferrari, the only other real competition Gordini would face would come in the manner of three cars entered by the Maserati factory. One year later, however, things would look rather different. The entry list would be bigger with Scuderia Lancia taking over the biggest threat from Scuderia Ferrari. Lancia would enter three cars, as would Officine Alfieri Maserati. But then there would be single car entries from Ecurie Rosier, Andre Simon and Marquis de Portago. It wasn't going to be easy to repeat that victory.
The Gordini team would have some hope, however. Robert Manzon would be back with the team for his first race of the season. Elie Bayol and Jacques Pollet would provide a solid supporting cast.
The presence of the Lancias would be felt right away when Alberto Ascari would set the fastest lap in practice and would lead to the Italian taking the pole with defending winner Jean Behra lining up 2nd. Robert Manzon, not surprisingly, would be the fastest amongst the Gordini team drivers. His best lap time of 1:38.4 would be four seconds slower than Ascari and would lead to the Frenchman starting from the fourth row of the grid in the 7th position. Right alongside Manzon would be Bayol, just one-tenth slower than Manzon. Jacques Pollet would be Gordini's third driver and he would find himself down on the seventh rank in the 13th spot.
An incredible crowd would assemble on the steep hillsides of the city of Pau. The incredible crowd was not all that surprising as they truly love motor racing in the small city, but it was also further bolstered by the presence of the Lancias making their first appearance in Europe outside of Italy.
The site of the original grand prix held just after the turn of the 20th century, the 1955 edition of the Grand Prix de Pau would be rather different. Instead of a race contested over a couple of hundred miles of French countryside, the race would consist of 110 laps of the twisty 1.71 mile city circuit.
As the cars streaked around the bend toward the tight right-hand hairpin, it would be Ascari on the inside with Behra somewhat out ahead, but on the outside heading into the corner. Despite being on the outside, Behra would be far enough ahead to take the lead into the hairpin. The three Gordinis would be running nearly nose-to-tail toward the later-half of the field.
All three Gordinis would remain quite close together on the circuit fighting with the Maseratis around the middle of the field while Ascari challenge Behra at just about every turn. After a few laps, it would still be Behra holding onto the lead with two of the Gordinis running 7th, 8th and 9th.
As the race approached the 20 lap mark, Mario Alborghetti would make a mistake in the Anzani in the Scuderia Volpini entry and would end up losing his life as a result. Luigi Musso would be next out of the race losing the engine in his Maserati after 32 laps.
Ascari would maintain his pressure on Behra. This would push the pace of the race up even further and would put the others, like the Gordinis, in a bad situation. To keep touch meant pushing even harder. To do this also meant more of a toll on the car. Unfortunately, for the Gordini team, that meant the car's reliability would be stretched to the absolute limits.
Sure enough, the increase in pace, as well as the nature of the circuit, would exact its toll. Elie Bayol would fall out of the race after just 35 laps with engine failure. Just 13 laps later, Manzon would be reacquainted with the unreliability of the Gordini suffering a retirement due to failing brakes. Then, with just 30 laps remaining in the race, the final nail in the Gordini coffin would be nailed into place when Pollet retired due to rear axle failure.
Ascari would have the lead and would eventually begin to draw away ever so slightly as the race wore on. Each and every lap Ascari would add to his advantage. Being careful and precise going through the tight, twisty circuit with the numerous hairpin turns, Ascari would hold onto the lead by a few car lengths over Behra.
Less than 30 laps remaining in the race, Ascari would still be in the lead ahead of Behra while Castellotti was holding onto 3rd place in the running order. But, some time later there would be some cheers of excitement that would rise up along the start/finish straight. The cause for the reaction would be due to the unscheduled presence of Ascari and his Lancia in the pits. It was clear there was something wrong with the car.
While Ascari sat in the pits having the issues with the car's brakes looked after, Behra would come streaking by to take over the lead of the race. And, having maintained at least loose contact with Ascari throughout the race, it meant Behra would be in a strong position for the remainder of the race.
Still, Ascari wasn't about to give up, not with many laps left in the race. Ascari would push hard lap after lap in an effort to get Behra to make a mistake or to have his car break before the end. However, with a lap in hand, Behra would not allow Ascari to apply too much pressure to distract him from the task at hand.
Being a lap down, it would be Castellotti that actually posed the greatest risk to Behra. But for the man that had won the year before, he was more than comfortable in the lead and would carry on across the line one final time to take the checkered flag and the victory. The crowd would erupt with mighty cheers as the Frenchman brought it home in 1st place. Castellotti would also complete the 110 lap distance and would end up a minute and a second behind by the end of the race. Roberto Mieres would complete the top three finishing a minute and a half behind.
The 1955 Grand Prix de Pau would be a stark contrast from the previous season. While it would be Behra coming through to take yet another victory in the grand prix it certainly would not come at the wheel of a Gordini. The race would only further highlight the problems the team was in when each of the cars would be out of the race before the end of the race. After two races, the team had yet to have a single car complete a race. It was going to be a long season if the team couldn't get some reliability out of the T16.
The debacle at Pau would leave the Gordini team just two weeks to prepare its race cars for the next race of the season. On the 24th of April there would be another non-championship race on the schedule. The next race would take place just about three hours to the north. The capital of the wine industry, Bordeaux was to be the site of the next race. It was the 4th Grand Prix de Bordeaux.
Having been a major base for German U-boats during the Second World War, Bordeaux would resume its more famous role as being the capital of the wine industry in the years following the war. Famous for more than just the wine industry, Bordeaux boasts of some truly tremendous architecture and an intriguing history dating all the way back to well before Roman rule.
Equipe Gordini would come to Bordeaux with just two cars. These two cars would go to the team's two main drivers, Robert Manzon and Elie Bayol. They would be part of a rather small field but the field would be filled with anything but amateurs. The factory Maserati team would bring three cars to the race to be entered for Jean Behra, Luigi Musso and Roberto Mieres. Stirling Moss would also be in the race in his own Maserati 250F. And then there would be Scuderia Ferrari. They would come to the event with two cars to be driven by Giuseppe Farina and Maurice Trintignant. In all, 12 cars would be entered in the 123 lap, 188 mile, race.
Following up his victory in Pau, Behra would be fastest in practice and would take the pole for the race. Starting beside Behra in 2nd would be his Maserati teammate Luigi Musso. Stirling Moss would complete the front row posting a time just six-tenths of a second slower than Behra.
Both of the Gordini pilots were to be found on the third row of the grid. Robert Manzon would post a fastest lap that would enable him to take the 7th starting spot on the grid while Elie Bayol would capture the 8th place starting spot. As with Pau, the two Gordinis would be found together.
Equipe Gordini would be in desperate need of a good result in Bordeaux. Not only had the season been a terrible experience to that point, but it was also a race on home soil. If there was a way to boost morale, then a strong finish on home soil had the potential of providing just that.
At 123 laps of the 1.53 mile circuit, the race would be more a war of attrition than of out-right speed. Still, the Maseratis in the field would do their best to prove otherwise. Stirling Moss would be quick in his Maserati and would go on to set what would end up being the fastest lap of the race. His fastest lap time would be nearly a second quicker than Behra's pole-winning effort but it would end up doing very little to help the Brit as he would fade as the race wore on.
Giuseppe Farina would start the race from the second row of the grid in one of the 555 Super Squalos. However, his race would come to an end rather early on when the gearbox failed on the car after just 14 laps. Though the car's day would be over, Farina's would not. Proven by the race in Argentina, drivers were more than capable of switching rides. Therefore, after a number of laps behind the wheel of his car, Maurice Trintignant would have to give up his ride in favor of the former champion Farina.
Boasting of just one main straight and short blasts around the Esplanade des Quinconces, the engines on the cars would not be pushed as hard as some of the ultra-fast circuits like Spa, but the constant accelerations and decelerations certainly had the potential of being more deadly. And to the Gordini team, just about any scenario proved deadly. Elie Bayol would find Bordeaux to be tough enough when his engine let go after just 22 laps. It seemed a given the Gordini team would suffer yet another race without a finisher. But, thankfully, Manzon was still in the race, and, that gave the team at least some hope.
The second Ferrari would break after 70 laps. Meanwhile, Behra continued to carry on with his teammate, Musso, right behind challenging for the lead. Right behind them would be their other Maserati teammate Roberto Mieres. These three Maserati teammates would be hooked up and running like a runaway train leaving everyone else in the field well behind, including Manzon.
Out of the seven 250Fs that started the race, five would still be in the running. And, four of them would be leading the way. Manzon would be thoroughly unable to keep up in the aged T16. He would consistently lose ground over the course of the long event but would keep it to manageable levels.
It would be an incredible finish. Lining up in abreast formation, it would be Behra leading the way across the line to take the victory by two-tenths of a second ahead of Musso. Mieres would finish in the 3rd position just seven-tenths of a second behind.
Gordini would finally do it! Robert Manzon would manage to hold on to finish a race. Despite being nearly three hours in length, the Gordini would hold up surprisingly well losing only a rather small amount of ground given the amount of trouble the car and the team had been experiencing throughout the season to that point. Manzon would hold on to finish the race in the 5th position some two laps behind Behra and the other factory Maseratis. However, he would finish the race some two laps up on Prince Bira in another Maserati.
The monkey would be off the team's back finally. Just about any kind of race finish would have been accepted by the team at that point after a couple of absolute debacles. So, while the 5th place would be a rather bittersweet result, it would still be a welcome result. And, given that it was against some of the best teams, drivers and cars in the world, it would certainly be all the more welcome by the team.
It wouldn't give the team an incredible amount of confidence. Put it this way, it wasn't as though the team now had to worry about being over-confident. But, it was still a strong result upon which the team could build for the remainder of the season. And, with the hope of a new car being in the works, the team certainly could have felt as though it was just a matter of time before things really turned around.
In early May, the new Gordini chassis was far from being finished. Therefore, the team would pack up its aged machines and would head to the northern French coast. Just two weeks existed in between races for the team. Therefore, not long after leaving Bordeaux the team would make its way across the English Channel and on to the Silverstone Circuit. The team would be on its way to Silverstone to take part in the 7th edition of the BRDC International Trophy race.
Held on the 7th of May, the International Trophy race was usually a rather popular non-championship race drawing a number of the best teams and drivers from all over the world. The 1955 running of the event would see a mostly British field, but that field would be strong with Italian Maseratis and some other strong Formula One cars.
The 1955 edition would see a number of changes that would have a direct impact on the running of the race. The first change would be the change of venue for the British Grand Prix. The British Grand Prix round of the World Championship would move from Silverstone and would end up at Aintree. Therefore, those that would normally come to Silverstone for the International Trophy race to use the event as practice and testing for the British Grand Prix would not make the trip to Silverstone for the non-championship race in 1955. Additionally, the format of the race would change.
The year before, rain would reduce the non-championship race into something of a questionable affair. Therefore, in order to overcome such intrigue and controversy the format of the race would be changed. Gone would be the two heat races and a final. Instead, a format identical to World Championship rounds would be adopted.
Silverstone was anything but new for either Equipe Gordini or Robert Manzon. Both would be first at the former World War II bomber training base together for the 1952 British Grand Prix. In that event, Manzon had started from 4th on the grid. Unfortunately, a rather predictable result would befall the Frenchman. Clutch failure would lead to his retirement after just 9 of the 85 laps.
When it came to the International Trophy non-championship race, the team would have loved to see a repeat of the previous year's race happen for 1955. In the 1954 edition, two Gordinis would end up finishing the race. Jean Behra would finish in 2nd place while Andre Simon kept the good feelings coming by finishing in 3rd.
Manzon would do his best to keep the good vibrations going when he posted the six-fastest lap time in practice. Therefore, he would start the race from the second row of the grid; a rather strong position. Jacques Pollet, Manzon's teammate for the race, would not fare anywhere close to that of his countryman. His best lap time of 2:20 would be some 32 seconds slower then the man on pole and would leave him all the way down on the sixth row of the grid in the 20th position overall.
The man on pole would be Roy Salvadori in the Gilby Engineering Maserati. Mike Hawthorn would be in 2nd on the front row in one of the new Vanwalls. Stirling Moss would start 3rd in yet another Maserati while Jack Fairman would complete the front row in a streamlined Connaught.
The cars would all line up on the grid preparing for the start of the newly-formatted 60 lap International Trophy race. In rather breezy, but sunny, conditions the race would get underway with Mike Hawthorn taking over the advantage. The two streamlined Connaughts would look good at the beginning and would also be right up there with Moss, Salvadori and others.
The Gordinis teammates would be having a rough go of it. Despite starting from the second row of the grid, the Gordini of Manzon would be rather slow accelerating and would lose places right at the start. Pollet, starting the race at the back would remain at the back throughout the early going of the race.
Where Pollet was at the start wouldn't matter after 6 laps as he would be the first one out of the race with a broken clutch. Stirling Moss wouldn't last much longer, however, retiring after just 10 laps with a blown engine.
A lot of trouble for cars and drivers would happen throughout the first 20 laps of the race. The 10th lap would be particularly detrimental to a number of teams. Moss, Parnell and Brown would all fall out of the running after just 10 laps. Manzon, thankfully, was still running, trying to recover from his slow getaway off the line.
Hawthorn continued to lead the race and would streak away with the lead. Manzon would be doing his best to give chase but would be unable to stay with the British driver in the British car. However, this fact would also matter very little. After just 16 laps, Manzon's race would also come to an end when the rear axle failed on his Gordini. This fact would be little noticed at the time for the leader, Mike Hawthorn would garner a lot of the attention. All of a sudden, he too would be out of the race with a broken oil line. This would lead to a battle between Collins and Salvadori for the lead of the race.
With both of their cars out of the running, Gordini was free to distract itself with the task of packing up and preparing to head back across the English Channel. However, while the team was busy packing to leave, the race would take an even more dramatic turn.
Collins would overtake Salvadori for the lead of the race and would begin drawing away. Not long afterward, Ken Wharton would be busy trying to make his way around a slower car. He would get out of position and would end up sliding off the side of the circuit and clipping one of the oil barrels used for marking the sides of the circuit. This would cause a rupture in the fuel lines and would end up spinning him right around off the circuit. The car would immediately burst into flames and Wharton would be quick to try and get out of the raging inferno that ensued.
The battle between Collins and Salvadori had been a good one with each matching the fastest lap time of 1:47. Still, it would be Collins that would get the better hand dealt to him and would end up leaving Salvadori behind by the time he was heading around on the final lap of the race.
Averaging nearly 96 mph, Collins would streak home to the victory with Salvadori finishing 39 seconds behind in 2nd place. Prince Bira, who would retire after the race, would wind up finishing in 3rd place a little more than a lap down.
The race would prove to be yet another great disappointment for the Equipe Gordini team. Travelling all the way to Silverstone for the race and coming away with absolutely nothing would be incredibly gut-wrenching. Neither of the two cars proved capable of completing even 20 laps. What made matters worse would be the fact the team would have to turn around, head back across the English Channel and keep going south all the way to the Mediterranean coast for its next race. The only blessing the team would have would be the fact that there would be a couple of weeks in between races. This would be good for the team as they would need the time to try and keep the ship afloat until the new car came on the scene.
After a few weeks off to prepare their cars, the Equipe Gordini team would be making its way to the Mediterranean coast. There were only a few possible stops along the Mediterranean coast for a motor race and the most likely stop would be, in fact, the team's destination—Monaco.
For the first time since the inaugural Formula One World Championship season, the Monaco Grand Prix would be on the World Championship calendar. The race would be sorely missed. It would be very evident, even within the first few years of the World Championship, that the Monaco Grand Prix was certain to be the series' crown jewel. And so, being back on the World Championship calendar for 1955 would lead to thousands upon thousands making the trip to the south of France to the tiny principality to witness the return of Formula One to Monaco.
The second round of the Formula One World Championship in 1950, Monaco would again be the second round of the World Championship for 1955. And many of the same drivers that would take part in the race at Monaco that first year of the World Championship would be entered in the field for the 1955 edition of the race set for the 22nd of May. Drivers like Juan Manuel Fangio, Giuseppe Farina, Maurice Trintignant, Alberto Ascari, Luigi Villoresi, Harry Schell and Robert Manzon would be a list of just some of those that would have the distinction of being in the Monaco Grand Prix the first year and upon its return in 1955.
Similar to Pau in average speed and character, Monaco's reputation, however, would make the circuit and the venue entirely different. Yes, both circuits would be tight and twisty, boasting of numerous hairpin turns and short straightaways. But, Monaco's reputation would far eclipse the site of the first ever grand prix. And as such, the Monaco Grand Prix in 1955 would attract all of the best and most notable teams and privateers in all the world.
Equipe Gordini would come to the event with three cars for Robert Manzon, Jacques Pollet and Elie Bayol. Scuderia Lancia would bring four cars to the race, with one even being entered for the veteran Louis Chiron. Daimler-Benz would have four entries with Fangio and Moss headlining the team. Officine Alfieri Maserati would have four cars. Vandervell Products would enter two Vanwalls while Scuderia Ferrari would be the most numerous of all entrants bringing five cars for the race.
On the tight and twisty circuit it would be Juan Manuel Fangio that would lead the way in practice setting the fastest lap with a time of 1:41.1 around the 1.95 mile circuit. Alberto Ascari would hustle his Lancia around mere hundredths of a second slower than Fangio, but still, would have to be content with starting 2nd. Stirling Moss would keep the front row very tight posting a time in practice just a tenth off of the time posted by Fangio. Thus, the Mercedes teammate would complete the front row in 3rd place. Just one-tenth would be the difference of the entire front row!
With the competition so tight at the front, being slower by so much as a second would have severe consequences on one's starting position. And for the Equipe Gordini team, it would be Robert Manzon that would set the pace around the street circuit. His best effort around the circuit would be a lap time of 1:46.0. This time was some five seconds off that of Fangio and would lead to Manzon starting from the fifth row of the grid in 13th. Still, he would out-qualify Ferrari drivers Giuseppe Farina and Piero Taruffi. So this would offer some confidence. Elie Bayol would be the next-quickest around the circuit for the Gordini squad. His best would be some five and a half seconds slower than Fangio and would lead to him being relegated back to the seventh row of the grid in the 16th position. Pollet would struggle around the circuit. His best would be more than eight seconds slower than Fangio and would lead him to starting the race from 20th on the grid, dead-last in the eighth, and final, row.
A beautiful day would break all around Monaco on the day of the race. An incredible crowd would assemble around the circuit preparing to watch the best teams, cars and drivers in the world battle it out for 100 laps. The cars would be assembled on the grid and the incredible roar of the engines would fill the harbor. The flag would drop to the start the race and the cars would roar away from the grid toward the all-important tight right-hand hairpin known then as Gazometre.
Despite Moss' best effort to drive around the outside, Fangio would hold onto the inside and the lead of the race. Moss being on the outside would open the door to allow Castellotti to move up to 2nd place overall behind Fangio. Manzon would make an incredible start way on the outside. By the time the field filtered its way through the tight station hairpin about halfway around on the first lap, Manzon would be sitting an incredible 7th right on the tail of some of the Lancias, Ferraris and Maseratis. Bayol would hold steady through the first lap and would maintain his 16th position. Had it not been for a misstep by Farina over the course of the first lap, Pollet would have been bringing up the end of the train. Instead, he would be in 19th looking to steadily improve as the day wore on. At the end of the first lap of the race it would be Fangio leading the way with Castellotti 2nd and Moss in 3rd.
Although he would start out massively well, Manzon would begin to lose places to the faster Lancias, Ferraris and Maseratis. Before long, Robert would find himself back down in 12th position and fighting with everything he had just to maintain that position in the running order. Bayol would lose ground for a couple of laps before recovering to stay right around 16th and 15th in the running order. And though Farina would regain his composure and would begin to work his way back up through the field, Piero Taruffi would be struggling and would allow Pollet to stay out of dead-last.
It wouldn't take too long for Moss to dispatch Castellotti and take over 2nd place behind Fangio. The two Mercedes would then join together to begin to stretch out a lead over the remainder of the field. Manzon would remain around 12th until he would run into some trouble. As a result of the trouble, Manzon would drop well down in the running order and would be forced to push even harder in an attempt to regain the lost ground.
Trouble would also hit many of the other drivers in the field. Musso would be out after 7 laps with transmission failure. Louis Rosier would last 8 laps before a crash would take him out. Because of Manzon's trouble and resulting gearbox issues, he would end up falling down the running order until he would be behind his fellow Gordini teammates who were still running nose-to-tail at the back of the order.
The three Gordinis would be running together at the back of the running order while Fangio and Moss would be leading at the front of the order. The two Mercedes drivers would be drawing away steadily. The three Gordinis remained in the race, that is, until lap 40 when Manzon would finally retire with gearbox failure. Despite Manzon's troubles the other two Gordini pilots carried on seemingly without any trouble whatsoever, except having little to no out-right speed to be able to compete with the rest of the competitors.
The biggest help they and the rest of the field would receive this day would come as a result of attrition. On the 50th lap of the race, Fangio would not appear. It would take some time and then he would finally show up, but on foot. His Mercedes had broken the transmission and was without any drive. This handed the lead to Moss. On the 64th lap, the second Gordini retirement would hit. Bayol would be forced out of the race with rear axle failure. Roberto Mieres would retire one lap later with the same problem.
Monaco was really beginning to claim its victims. But the most unkind hit, and dramatic one at that, would come with just 20 laps remaining in the race. Rounding the left-hander just before the start/finish line, Moss would be seen with smoke pouring from underneath the car's engine cowling. He would pit and would be out of the race. This would have handed the lead of the race over to Alberto Ascari. However, at the same time Moss pitted with the failed engine Ascari would be busy plunging his Lancia into the harbor at the chicane. Just like that, the lead would be handed to Maurice Trintignant driving for Scuderia Ferrari.
This would be a surprise for Trintignant, but also, for Ferrari as they struggled all throughout the weekend. Chased by Castellotti, but with a comfortable margin, all Trintignant needed to do was avoid making a mistake and the victory would be his.
While everyone's attention would be focused on Trintignant at the head of the field, and rightly so, another impressive performance was being put in toward the tail of the field. Pollet had started the race from dead-last. But while everyone seemed to be having trouble, despite being much faster, it was Pollet still in the running toward the later-part of the race. It seemed true, from the head of the field on back, the tortoise could beat the hare.
In a little more than two hours and fifty-eight minutes, Trintignant would come across the finish line to take what certainly had to be a surprise victory. Being French and that the principality butted the country, Trintignant's victory would be greeted with tremendous shouts of joy and praise all over the circuit. Eugenio Castellotti would finish the race in 2nd place about 20 seconds behind. Jean Behra and Cesare Perdisa would partner to finish the race in 3rd place, just one lap down.
About the time Trintignant was approaching the line to take his victory, Pollet was rounding the hairpin to complete one more lap. In the end, Pollet would finish the arduous test. Though he would finish nearly 6 laps behind, he would, nonetheless, finish in 7th place. Pollet would follow along behind the great Chiron.
The race would be a mixture of two different feelings. The loss of Manzon after such an incredible start would be difficult. The fact the team lost two of its cars would not make things any easier. However, the steady performance by Pollet to finish in 7th place would still offer the team some valuable confidence. Unfortunately, it too was clear that they had problems with being able to push hard and maintaining reliability. This certainly posed a liability going forward.
With the Monaco Grand Prix over with, the Equipe Gordini team would remain in the southern part of France to take part in its next race. The next race on the team's calendar would be a non-championship affair. And, thankfully, due to some changes in the circuit, the 17th Grand Prix d'Albi didn't seem to pose as much a threat as it had in the past.
Held on the 29th of May, the Grand Prix d'Albi would be just one week after Monaco, but, the circuit had changed dramatically, and therefore, seemed a plausible fit for the Gordini team. Therefore, the team would make the 6 hour journey across the southern part of France to Albi to take part in the race.
Straddling the River Tarn, Albi had been first settled during the period of the Bronze Age. Over the centuries, the city would go from Roman rule to a period of unrest that would include the Albigensian Crusade against an apparently heretical form Catholicism that was practiced by a group known as the Cathars. This would be indicative of the region throughout its existence. This particular version of Christianity would develop from an allegiance of the Pope and the French king. This mixture of cultures in architectures, thought and every other facet of life would remain on obvious display even well into the 20th century.
What wouldn't be so obvious about Albi come 1955 would be what the Grand Prix d'Albi once had been. Albi used to host a motor race that would take place on a circuit measuring more than 5 miles in length and with a vast amount the triangular-shaped circuit being flat out boasting of some tremendous average speeds. However, by 1955, the circuit would change to become a pale comparison of its former glory. Measuring just 1.86 miles, the circuit would become nothing more than a rectangular-shaped circuit with average speeds some 20, or more, mph less than just a couple of years prior.
This waning in the prominence of the race would lead to a field of just 11 cars with Equipe Gordini and Ecurie Rosier forming the strongest team presence. Gordini would bring the three cars that had been used at Monaco and would enter all three in the race for Manzon, Bayol and Pollet.
Andre Simon would still end up the fastest in practice having a Maserati at his disposal. However, his best lap would prove to be just a tenth of a second faster than Manzon in one of the Gordinis. Louis Rosier would complete the front row being just another couple of tenths slower than Manzon. Elie Bayol would keep things tight as well posting a time just a tenth slower than Rosier, and therefore, just mission out on an opportunity to start from the front row. Instead, he would start the race from the second row in the 4th position. Pollet would also look much more comfortable in Albi taking the 6th starting spot, or the first position on the third row.
Although the circuit would be quite different than its previous iteration, the circuit would still take its toll on the 11 car field during the 105 lap, 195 mile, race. Michael Young would barely make it past a dozen laps before he would suffer a crash and would be out of the race. Ted Whiteaway would make it past 17 laps before his Alta engine blew ending his event.
Starting up at the front of the field, Manzon would certainly be the Gordini team's greatest hope. And, throughout the first half of the race, Manzon would remain up near the front of the field. However, after having completed his 50th lap, it would all come to an end when the transmission in the T16 failed yet again bringing about the end of the race.
Andre Simon would start the race from the pole and would be fast all throughout the race. Turning in the fastest lap of the race with a time a full second quicker than his own qualifying effort, Simon would leave the rest of the field well behind, even his Ecurie Rosier teammate, Louis Rosier.
When Manzon retired from the race, Gordini's hopes turned to Bayol and Pollet. However, compared to the pace of Simon, there was absolutely no chance of the Gordini drivers catching him unless attrition played a part in the course of events.
Attrition would continue to play a part in the course of events, but it would be Equipe Gordini that would pay the heaviest price. Besides Manzon's retirement on the 51st lap of the race, Equipe Gordini would lose Elie Bayol. Bayol would follow Manzon retiring from the race after 68 laps due to another failed rear axle. This would leave just Pollet to uphold the team's honor. Of course, that is, if he could.
Pollet would run another conservative race, and therefore, would not be challenging for any step of the podium at any time. But, with the help of attrition, he would continue to avoid trouble and would find himself climbing up the running order.
Heading into the final lap of the race, Simon would be well in control of the race having a large lead over the six cars still running in the race. There really would be no contest as Giorgio Scarlatti would be the last car still running in the race and he would be more than 25 laps behind.
Andre Simon would have been able to get out and push his car the last mile and still earned the victory. Finishing in a little more than two hours and twenty-three minutes, Simon would take an easy victory beating his Ecurie Rosier teammate, Louis Rosier, by a margin of more than a lap. Horace Gould would complete the top three by finishing the race two laps behind.
A further lap behind Gould would be Pollet in the sole remaining Gordini. Finishing in 4th place, it would be the best result of the entire season. Still, finishing three laps behind the victor on a 1.86 mile circuit meant there were still some obvious concerns with the Gordini team.
The struggles at Albi and at other races prior had exposed those lingering questions of reliability being unanswered. Constantly retiring race after race would leave the team with the need to take serious stock of its situation. Any circuit longer than 2 miles and boasting of any kind of speed seemed to spell disaster for the French squad. Unfortunately, that would leave very few races left in which the team would be able to compete. The next round of the Formula One World Championship, the ultra-fast and long Spa-Francorchamps circuit, would be the very picture of the type of circuit in which Gordini needed to avoid.
Unfortunately, the next race on the calendar would be the Belgian Grand Prix. Held on the 8.77 mile circuit, the Spa Circuit was certainly all speed with little to no technical aspects. This spelled disaster for the Gordini team. As such, the team would not attend the race. Originally, the team had entry in the race for Belgian Jacques Swaters. This entry would be withdrawn. The other two cars entered in the race, it would be said, would not arrive for the race due to not being ready. This would be partly true. The cars were certainly not ready to compete on such a circuit at the speeds expected. But, it would be this unreliability and lack of competitiveness that would have had to been the foundation for the team's failed showing.
Principally focused on grand prix racing, Equipe Gordini would be one of the very few that would not be present for the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans. Despite being a French team, Gordini would not put any resources toward the 1955 Le Mans. However, the tragic events that were to take place during the race would still impact the team.
The terrible accident during the race would lead to a number of countries and race organizers to cancelling events. This effect on Formula One would be rather profound with the loss of the French, German, Swiss and Spanish Grand Prix. There would be a number of non-championship races that would also be cancelled as a result of the tragic events at Le Mans. This would affect the calendar throughout the whole of the season. However, one of those events that would remain on the calendar would take place just one week after the terrible Le Mans. On the 19th of June, the Circuit Park Zandvoort would prepare to host the Dutch Grand Prix.
In spite of the truly tragic events that would take place the week before at Le Mans, Zandvoort would be ready, just one week later, to host the fifth round of the 1955 Formula One World Championship.
The Dutch Grand Prix would be an opportunity to get everyone's minds away from the terrible events of just the previous weekend and would be an opportunity to help move on. The circuit to which the teams would be arriving would not be some sedated venue, however. In many respects, the Zandvoort circuit would be every bit as dangerous as Le Mans or any other. Still, this fact would not deter the crowds from coming to the circuit to witness the best drivers and cars in the world.
Originally planned before the outbreak of the Second World War, the Zandvoort Circuit wouldn't be completed until after the war. Situated right along the North Sea coast, the greatest danger or threat to any of the drivers wouldn't necessarily come from the circuit itself, but from the location of it and the conditions at any given time of the year.
Gusty winds, blowing sand, stormy weather and just about everything else in between was always entirely possible at the circuit. It would, therefore, make handling difficult and races quite difficult. Just one week after what is possibly the worst motor racing accident that will ever take place, the Formula One teams and spectators would be at a venue offering just as much danger.
Equipe Gordini would arrive at Zandvoort with its usual three-car entry. Robert Manzon and Jacques Pollet would be present to drive for the team. However, Hermano Da Silva Ramos would replace Elie Bayol as the driver of the third car. The death of Alberto Ascari at the end of May, and the financial problems Lanica had been experiencing beforehand, would lead to the team being absent from the entry list. This would leave just Scuderia Ferrari, Daimler-Benz and Officine Alfieri Maserati as the main factory efforts. Each of those three factory efforts would bring three cars to the race. All in all, there would be 16 cars in the field for the Dutch Grand Prix.
As the cars took to the circuit for practice, it would become quite clear that the quick circuit perfectly suited the more powerful cars, like the Mercedes Silver Arrows, Maserati 250F and others. However, one of those that would find that the circuit wasn't exactly to their liking would be Equipe Gordini. All three of the Gordinis would find themselves at the back of the grid.
Hermano would be the slowest of the Gordini drivers. His best lap time around the 2.60 mile circuit would be 1:50.2. Compared to the 1:40.0 that Juan Manuel Fangio would post to earn the pole for the 100 lap race, Hermano would find himself left down on the sixth row of the grid in the 14th starting position. Jacques Pollet would be a little faster. His best effort would be a second and a half quicker than Hermano's time and would lead to Pollet starting from the fifth row of the grid in the 12th position. Robert Manzon would end up right beside Pollet in the fifth row. His time of 1:46.0 would be nearly a second and a half faster than Pollet but would lead to Manzon only being able to start from 11th on the grid.
The front row would see Mercedes lock out every other car and driver. Beside Fangio on pole, Stirling Moss would be starting from the 2nd spot. Karl Kling would complete the front row sweep posting a time just a little more than a second slower than Fangio.
As the cars took to the grid in preparation for the start of the race, the weather would not look all that inviting. Dark, overcast skies would blanket the area and it seemed more than evident that there was a chance of rain at some point during the race.
The Dutch flag would drop to get the race underway. Fangio would pull away getting a great start off the line. Luigi Musso would be incredibly quick off the line as well and would actually hold onto 2nd place through the first turn. However, by the end of the first lap it would be Fangio and Moss running 1st and 2nd. The obvious deficiencies of the aged Gordini would see Manzon the highest-placed of the French squad at the end of the first lap. He would be barely holding onto 9th place over Castellotti. Da Silva Ramos and Pollet would be running together at the end of the first lap down in 12th and 13th position.
Manzon would lose a couple of positions over the course of the next couple of laps but would manage to improve by one when Peter Walker retired with a bearing problem in Stirling Moss' Maserati. Still, it would be more than obvious the Gordinis were overmatched on this quick circuit. Despite this, da Silva Ramos would be hanging on quite well right around 11th and 12th place. Pollet, on the other hand, would start out strongly right behind da Silva Ramos. However, he would quickly lose positions and would soon find himself running in last place.
Fangio and Moss would be joined together like a mighty silver train. The two Mercedes teammates would begin to steadily pull out an advantage over Musso holding onto 3rd place. Still, Musso would do his best and would maintain sight of the two Silver Arrows leading the way.
Lap after lap, Fangio and Moss would lead the way. Amazingly, despite being a very quick circuit, the Gordini cars would remain in the running looking rather strong considering all of the reliability issues the team had been having throughout the year. With the help of Karl Kling's retirement, due to a spin, and his own efforts, Manzon would find himself holding onto 8th place much past the first-third of the race. However, on the 43rd lap he would run into trouble. One lap later, Manzon would be out of the race. Once again, the Gordini T16 suffered from rear axle failure and ended what had been a truly splendid performance by the Frenchman. Still da Silva Ramos and Pollet were in the race and were looking quite comfortable despite not being all that fast.
The pace of the race would pick up as the threat of rain loomed ever-closer. The track record would be broken a number of times during the race. This meant Pollet and da Silva Ramos would also have the opportunity to see the two Mercedes quite a bit over the course of the race as they came by to put the Gordini drivers another lap down.
It was proving to be Mercedes' day. Coming off a victory in the Belgian Grand Prix, Fangio looked entirely in control of the race having Moss right on his tail. Musso would continue to fight with everything he had. And while he would stabilize the gap at times, he would be unable to shrink it hardly at all.
Pollet would continue to drive the race as he had the others he managed to finish. Instead of pushing, Pollet would rely upon the race coming to him. Unfortunately, with factory efforts entering so many cars in a race it was highly unlikely that a top five result would ever come his way. But that would matter rather little to a team that needed race finishes more than spectacular drivers that ended in failure. Hermano would follow a similar pattern. He would be faster than Pollet but would never really put the car in harm's way at any point during the race.
Toward the later-third of the race the rains would come and would dampen the circuit sufficiently enough to make the circuit rather treacherous. Luigi Musso would find this out during his bid to keep things tight with the Mercedes. Musso would push harder and harder in an attempt to reel in the cars of Fangio and Moss. However, Musso would be caught out by the damp conditions and would spin out. All of the time, plus more, would be lost. And though he would not be under any pressure from behind, Musso would now find himself too far behind to be able to mount any kind of challenge against the two Mercedes. All that was left for Musso was to hang on and finish and to pray for attrition to provide the opportunity.
No such event would take place. Fangio and Moss would streak to victory after having been told by Neubauer to back off when it was clear Musso had lost out on his bid to challenge when he spun in the rain. Separated by just three-tenths of a second, Fangio would lead Moss across the line to take the top spots in the finishing order. Having a lap in hand over Roberto Mieres, Musso would get a hold of himself and would carefully complete the final laps of the race to finish in the 3rd position.
It would be a rather impressive performance for Hermano da Silva Ramos. In spite of driving a quite fragile Gordini in his first World Championship race, Hermano would go on to finish the race in 8th place, 8 laps behind Fangio. And, for the first time all season, Gordini would manage to have two of its cars finish a race. Pollet would drive a rather sedated and careful race. This would result in Pollet finishing in 10th place, some 10 laps behind.
Considering that the Gordinis were certainly outclassed, the fact the team would bring two cars across the finish line in a World Championship race would be certainly encouraging for team. Still, the obvious lack of performance and reliability was hurting the team's chances at challenging some of the bigger factory teams. Sticking to their own outclassed chassis was leading the larger team to be running down in the field where the privateers without the funding would be found. So while the team would be pleased with two cars finishing, the reality certainly would not invigorate the team too highly.
Following the Dutch Grand Prix there would be a break of a few weeks for teams. This was due to the fallout of the Le Mans disaster that would see the French Grand Prix and a number of other non-championship races cancelled as a result.
During this time, work would continue on the proposed new Gordini chassis. Unfortunately, the car would not be near enough to being ready for the sixth round of the Formula One World Championship. And so, once again, the Equipe Gordini team would be forced to make due with its aged man o' war.
On the 16th of July, nearly one month after the Dutch Grand Prix, the last race in which many teams would participate, the Equipe Gordini team would be in the western part of England preparing for the sixth round of the Formula One World Championship, the British Grand Prix. But, unlike the previous five years, the British Grand Prix would find itself at a new home, Aintree.
For the previous five years of the Formula One World Championship, including the inaugural season, the British Grand Prix had been held at the former bomber training base known as Silverstone. However, the 1955 Formula One season would see a change. The grand prix would be moved to a site famously known for the Grand National steeplechase.
Aintree Racecourse, located in Merseyside near Liverpool, would first host steeplechase horse racing all the way back during the early part of the 19th century. Soon, the famous Grand National would be drawing entries from all over the world to test their horses abilities over such famous fences as The Chair, Beecher's Brook and others. Interestingly, Alfonso de Portago, a privateer motor racing driver, would actually compete in the Grand National.
Annually drawing tens of thousands of fans for the famous Grand National, Aintree would be drawing a very sizable crowd for the British Grand Prix in July of 1955 as well. The incredible size of the crowd would be helped by the presence of the Mercedes-Benz team making its first appearance anywhere in England other than at Silverstone. The fact that Stirling Moss was one of the Mercedes drivers would also help to bring in a few more people as well.
The Equipe Gordini team would arrive with three cars. Robert Manzon and Hermano da Silva Ramos would be a couple of the drivers. The third driver would be another newcomer. The third driver would be another Frenchman by the name of Michel Poberejsky. He would go by the name 'Mike Sparken'.
While Spa and Zandvoort would draw relatively small numbers in entries, the British Grand Prix would attract the big factory teams in force. Officine Alfieri Maserati would be the biggest in numbers. They would bring four cars to the race. Daimler-Benz would bring three cars but would add a fourth rather late. Scuderia Ferrari would bring three cars to the race while smaller privateer teams like Vandervell, Connaught and RRC Walker Racing would each bring two. Additionally, the field would consist of a handful of single-car privateer entries that would bring the entire number in the field up to 26 cars.
Being at home, in arguably the best team of the period, Stirling Moss would have the perfect setting to achieve his best work. Therefore, it was only right that he would set the fastest lap time in practice and would grab the pole. Moss' effort of 2:00.4 around the 3 mile circuit would end up being two-tenths of a second faster than Fangio. Mercedes would not be able to sweep the front row as they had at Zandvoort, however. Jean Behra would prevent that while at the wheel of a Maserati.
Manzon, again, would be the quickest of the Gordini drivers. His best lap in practice would be some four and a half seconds slower than Moss around the 3.0 mile circuit. This would leave Manzon starting from the fifth row of the grid in the 11th place starting spot. The other two Gordini drivers had nary the experience of Manzon and it would show during practice for the British Grand Prix. Hermano da Silva Ramos would be the second-quickest amongst the Gordini squad. His best efforts would end up being more than five and a half seconds slower than his own teammate. This, inevitably, would lead to Hermano starting the race from the seventh row of the grid in the 18th spot. Despite his incredibly inexperience, Mike Sparken would only be two seconds slower than Hermano. This would lead to the newcomer starting from the ninth row of the grid in the 23rd starting position.
Unlike most races held at Silverstone, the weather on the day of the race at Aintree would be greeted with bright sunny skies and some rather warm conditions. This heat would have some of the teams nervous heading into the race. Cooling of the engine and the components would be of utmost importance and caused many to worry about reliability.
Jack Fairman's entry would be withdrawn. Therefore, after the drivers completed a parade lap in front of the incredibly large crowd assembled around the circuit, 25 cars would take their places on the grid. The engines would be brought to life and the final start warnings would be issued throughout the whole of the field.
Waiting for the drop of the flag, the engines would roar. Then the flag would drop and the race would be underway. Totally caught off guard at the start, Behra would lose his 3rd place starting position and would be well down in the running order heading into the first turn at Waterway. Fangio would end up getting the better jump off the line and would hold onto the lead through the first couple of turns.
Manzon would make what looked to be a great start but would lose out heading around on the first lap. This would lead to the Frenchman losing a couple of positions over the course of the first lap. However, he would recover to mount a charge over the next couple of laps. Hermano would jump up the running order at the start of the race and would be running inside the top-fifteen at the end of the first lap. Sparken would also make an incredible start off the line and would find himself in 17th place by the end of the first lap.
Manzon had left the Gordini team a few years earlier because of the constant, nagging unreliability of the team's chassis. He would return in 1955 to find the situation had not changed. And, on the 16th of July would barely last 4 laps before he would be out of the running due to transmission failure. Sa Silva Ramos and Sparken, however, would be holding strong in their positions.
Moss would take over the lead of the race from Fangio and the crowd would erupt with great cheers. Race distance being 90 laps, Moss would have a long day ahead of him trying to keep the great Fangio behind him.
Many a driver would be left behind this day. Behra would overcome his terrible start to be back up to 3rd place by the end of the first lap. However, by the 10th, he was out. Harry Schell, Andre Simon, Eugenio Castellotti and four others would all be out of the race before reaching the 25 lap mark. Both of the Gordinis, however, would remain in the running and would be looking quite good considering they were still toward the later-half of the grid.
The attrition would keep coming. The heat would not help matters any and it would end up taking out another of the Gordinis. Da Silva Ramos would be looking strong early. However, a problem early on would see him drop well down in the running order. This would put pressure on him to try and regain what he had lost. Unfortunately, it would be pressure the Gordini would not be able to handle and the engine would let go in the car after 27 laps.
Not all would be well with the remaining Gordini either. Early on in the race, Sparken would come into the pits complaining of a problem with the right-rear suspension. The issue would be checked and Sparken would return to the race. Due to the incredible rate of attrition, Sparken, despite the stop, would continue to rise up the running order. It wouldn't be a case that slow and steady would win the race, but it certainly seemed possible slow and steady would result in a finish.
After another brief period with Fangio in the lead, Moss would retake the point and would begin to draw away ever-so-slightly from the Argentinean. It would be an incredible performance by Moss in his home grand prix. Leading lap after lap, it seemed that nothing, or no one, would be able to stop him on this day.
Many of the other competitors could not say as much. Even before the race had reached the halfway mark three more cars would retire from the race leaving just 11 cars still in the race out of 25 starters. Amazingly, one of those 11 still in the race would be Mike Sparken in the Gordini. Despite the fact it was his first World Championship race, he was performing at a very mature level and was continually climbing up the running order.
Stirling Moss was intent on winning the race. He would turn the fastest lap of the race with a lap time matching his effort in qualifying. This would help him pull away from Fangio, but not for long.
Heading into the final couple of laps it seemed as though Moss would achieve a runaway victory. However, his car was rather spent and Fangio would mount a late charge to snatch the victory away from the Brit on his home soil. In spite of the Argentinean's late efforts, Moss would hold on to take the victory by a tenth of a second over Fangio. Karl Kling would come home in 3rd place a little more than a minute behind and Piero Taruffi would ensure it would be a Mercedes sweep by finishing in 4th place.
Mike Sparken would not be at all concerned with who won the race. About the only concern he would have for those at the front of the field would come when they made their way around to put him another lap down. Sparken was out to finish, plain and simple. And, despite an incredibly fragile car, he would do exactly what he set out to do. And, because of the heavy attrition, he would finish the race well. Coming across the line a little more than 9 laps behind, Sparken would manage to finish the race in 7th place in his Formula One debut!
Though he would finish in 7th place, Sparken would not ‘barely' miss out on the points. In fact, the difference between he and Luigi Musso in 5th place would be no less than 8 laps. Still, a finish in his race debut would still be impressive. It would be all the more impressive that it happened at the wheel of the all-too-fragile Gordini.
The completion of the British Grand Prix meant there would be a long gap in between Formula One World Championship rounds. The German and Swiss Grand Prix would be cancelled and they constituted most of the month of August. Therefore, teams, like Gordini, would have about a month and a half to wait before the Italian Grand Prix in early September.
This break would be a blessing for the Gordini team as it rushed to complete its new chassis. Despite Sparken's good result in the British Grand Prix, it was more than evident the T16 had long since out-lived its usefulness. But, while the team would be hard at work preparing the new chassis, it was also becoming quite clear that Equipe Gordini was in its last period of World Championship life. This new chassis certainly represented one last attempt for the team to get off the back foot. Unfortunately, this meant the team had just about one season in which to do it.
There would be a number of non-championship races contested between July and the end of August, especially throughout England. Had the Equipe Gordini team remained in England after the British Grand Prix at Aintree it could have taken part in some of the non-championship events and fought for some dearly needed prize and starter money. But the team would decide against this and would return to France to continue work on the new car in order to get it ready for the final round of the 1955 Formula One World Championship.
The new car, the Type 32, would be finished just in time. Though just one example would be built at the time, the team would pack it up and would head off to Italy for the Italian Grand Prix set to take place that year on the 11th of September.
The switch of venue for the British Grand Prix meant the Italian Grand Prix held at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza and the Belgian Grand Prix held at Spa would be the only rounds on the 1955 calendar that had remained or remained unchanged since the inaugural season in 1950. Interestingly, both circuits were similarly comparable, at least in speed.
Built amidst the Royal Villa of Monza, the Monza circuit would be quite different from Spa in one way—it is flat. When it was built during the 1920s, the Monza circuit would include a form comprised of essentially two different parts. One portion of the original 6.2 mile circuit would be comprised of an oval circuit measuring just under 3 miles in length. Then there would be a more traditional road course layout covering a little more than 3 miles in length.
The oval section of the circuit would continue to be used throughout the later-part of the 1920s and into the 1930s. Unfortunately, a number of deaths would cause the days of the slightly-banked oval to be numbered. And, when the Formula One World Championship began in 1950 the circuit used for the race would be a 3.91 mile road course totally void of the oval.
This would change heading into the 1955 season. Many of the deaths and dangers that had taken place during the late-1920s and 1930s had come as a result of cars leaving the circuit. The Monza circuit, even when just the road course would be in use, was all about speed. Therefore, steps would be taken to reintroduce the 2.8 mile oval back into the overall layout of the circuit. To be able to do this while maintain the speeds the circuit had become known for, construction would begin on increasing the banking on each end of the oval. This steepening of the banking would enable the cars to run flat-out around the banking but would help to secure the cars on the circuit. Finished in time for the Italian Grand Prix, teams would be greatest by the sight of the 6.2 mile monster when they approached.
Equipe Gordini, as usual, would approach the race with a three-pronged attack. However, Robert Manzon would not be behind the wheel of any of the three cars. Maurice Trintignant had driven for Gordini in the past and he would describe that time this way: 'Like Manzon, Behra and I raced gritting our teeth, taking risks to try and follow the leaders and, when our position was good, we feared retirement. It is morally exhausting to race in such conditions and at the end of the day you do not believe in miracles any longer.' Such difficulties would weight heavily on any driver. And, perhaps certain of the outcome, he would not make the trip to compete in the Italian Grand Prix with the team. Instead, Hermano da Silva Ramos, Jacques Pollet and Jean Lucas would get the starts.
While Gordini would arrive with a rather inexperienced driver lineup, the team would arrive with one of its new chassis, the Type 32. Jean Lucas would be the one given the opportunity to take it into competition for the first time. It would be a daunting task given the sheer fleet of Italian cars in the field, let alone the dominant Mercedes-Benz team.
Juan Manuel Fangio would take to the wheel of an update streamlined version of the W196. Streaking around the ultra-fast circuit, Fangio would post the fastest time in practice with a lap time of 2:46.5 around the 6.2 mile circuit. Stirling Moss would be just three-tenths of a second slower and would take the 2nd place spot on the middle row. The final spot on the front row would go to Karl Kling in one of the open-wheeled W196s. And so, for one last time, Mercedes-Benz would sweep the front row.
Giuseppe Farina would end up setting a time good enough for a second row starting spot but his D50 Lancia would end up being withdrawn after he and Luigi Villoresi suffered tire failures on the banking. This would leave spots open on the grid heading into the race.
Equipe Gordini certainly would have hoped to have been able to fill those gaps in the grid. However, the team needed to face reality. And the reality in practice wasn't the most enjoyable experience. Despite being behind the wheel of the new Type 32 with an engine based upon the very Mercedes occupying the entire front row, the new car would struggle in the hands of Lucas. Proven to be a bit big and heavy, the Type 32 just couldn't achieve the kind of performance comparable to that which it had been taken from. In fact, Jean Lucas' best effort in practice would be an absolutely disappointing 3:15.9. This obviously slow time would lead to Lucas being relegated to the 22nd, and final, starting spot on the grid. This was not good for a team believing and hoping in the Type 32 to hold the answer for the team's ascendance to power. The fact the car would be out-qualified by the older Type 16 certainly wouldn't help the team's confidence. Worse yet would be the fact that neither of the T16s would fair much better.
Hermano da Silva Ramos would be the fastest of the Gordinis. He would end up on the seventh row of the grid in the 18th starting spot. Jacques Pollet would be just a tenth slower in practice and would end up on the eighth row of the grid in the 19th starting position.
It would be a long way to the front from the tail-end of the field. But, how ironic it would be that the W196 would be stationed along the front row while the car it would help foster and give inspiration for would find itself holding guard at the back.
As usual, the weather would be sunny and bright the day of the race. The temperatures would be warm but not unbearable. There would be 50 laps ahead of the drivers as they lined up on the grid. Certainly, there would be a number of those on the grid that would not make it through the entire race distance, but each would sit waiting on the grid, hoping things would go their way.
As the flag dropped and the race got underway, it would be Stirling Moss that would get the better jump and that would be in the lead of the race heading into the first part of the lap. Ken Wharton's Vanwall would break right off the line and would lead to his retirement without having completed a single lap. Pollet would make an incredible getaway from the line and would end up in 11th place by the end of the first lap. But Pollet was in the older T16. The new T32, driven by Lucas, would be at the tail-end of the field and would remain there until Menditeguy had an error and dropped, momentarily, to the back of the field. Da Silva Ramos would come through the first lap sitting still in 17th position looking for the race to come to him.
If Gordini came to the race expecting the T32 to set the team on a new and prosperous course, he may have gone away with suicidal tendencies after what he witnessed. Not only had his T16s shown an incredible fragility, but the T32 would last just 7 laps before it too would be out of the race with a blown engine. It seemed the T32 was not different than the car it was intended to replace.
Once again, Gordini's hopes were down to the fragile T16. And, after a slip-up by Pollet in the early laps of the race, the two remaining Gordini cars would be running one right after another just inside the top 15. The two would run together just like Fangio and Moss at the front of the field. But unlike Fangio and Moss, their pace would be such that they would lose more ground then they would actually gain. Still, the men would be able to keep others, like Maurice Trintignant, Roberto Mieres and John Fitch behind them.
The two Gordini cars would be nearing halfway, and still, they would be seen running right together on the circuit. Unfortunately, that would all come to an end all within a few laps. The first of the two to fall out of contention and the race would be da Silva Ramos. Mechanical issues and woes would lead to his retirement after 23 laps. Just three laps later, mechanical woes would befall Pollet. Despite the team's best efforts, in both cases, the Gordini attack would come to another nasty and brutal end.
It would really matter very little. Juan Manuel Fangio would lead the race from the very first lap. Stirling Moss seemed destined to follow along in his teammate's tire tracks throughout the whole of the 50 laps. However, just past the halfway mark in the race, smoke would be seen pouring from Moss' car. His engine had let go. He was out of the race. Just 5 laps later, Karl Kling would depart the race with gearbox failure. Attrition was claiming its victims, and yet, there was Fangio, still at the head of the field with apparently absolutely no problems whatsoever.
Fangio's pace around the 6.2 mile circuit would be fierce. The only other Mercedes remaining in the race would belong to Piero Taruffi. Taruffi would remain right there with Fangio, no doubt hanging on for dear life. With Eugenio Castellotti coming along in 3rd place, but a good distance back, the two Mercedes Silver Arrows would remain tightly together circulating the track, putting on a demonstration for the hundreds of thousands of Italian fans that had assembled all around the track.
Averaging a little more than 128mph over the course of the 50 laps, Fangio would streak to what certainly could have been considered an easy victory. Right there in Fangio's wake, just seven-tenths of a second behind, would be Taruffi in a second Mercedes. Castellotti would hold tight in the 3rd position and would come across the line some 46 seconds behind.
The pace throughout the race would be incredible. Only four cars would be on the lead lap by the end of the race. No doubt this incredible pace wreaked havoc on the Gordinis over the course of the race. However, the 7 laps in which the T32 would last would be particularly disappointing for the team. The car wouldn't look stronger than the T16. If anything, it would look weaker. It was obvious the car was being rushed into service and that its handicaps of weight and size were hindering it. This would not be a good sign for a team well and truly with its back up against the wall struggling just to survive.
It was clear the new Type 32 chassis still had some major growing-pains in which to go through even if it was to be better than the T16, let alone any of the other chassis, like the Maserati 250F, or even the Ferrari 555 Super Squalo. Unfortunately, the time it took to build and prepare the car meant it would be unveiled too late in the season to be able to take part in any number of races. After the debacle in the Italian Grand Prix, there would really only be a couple of non-championship races left on the calendar. Of those remaining, the team needed to pick the right one to put the new car through its paces and thoroughly test it up against the best competition possible. This would leave just one non-championship race as a possibility.
The Italian Grand Prix would take place on the 11th of September. Though it would be the last round of the Formula One World Championship there would still be a couple of other non-championship races left on the calendar. One of the last of those would be on the 23rd of October in the southern part of Europe. In fact, the race would be held on the island of Sicily. It was the 5th Gran Premio di Siracusa and it would be contested over 70 laps of a 3.48 mile road course located just to the west of the ancient city of Syracuse.
One of the most ancient cities in all the world. And while the island nation rests within sight of Italy, it is full of a vast amount of Greek history as it was founded by ancient Greek Corinthians, and therefore, would become allied to Sparta and Corinth. The history of the city wouldn't stop there. The birthplace for such influential people in history as Archimedes, the city of Syracuse would find a place in history throughout just about every age. Part of the Roman Empire, a place where the Apostle Paul stayed and a strategic invasion point for General Montgomery's Eighth Army during the Allied invasion of Sicily, Syracuse has always managed to find itself at the center of many prominent moments in history.
However, in the years following the Second World War, Syracuse would be merely a shell of its former self. Preferring to live in its past, a trip to Syracuse would be like taking a trip back in time. And along the 3.48 mile circuit that used the public roads just to the west of the city, drivers would be reminded with each and every lap of the past with the many gravestones of the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery resting right beside a portion of the circuit.
Equipe Gordini needed another opportunity to get its new car out on the track and compete against some of the best in the world in order to help tweak it and make it better. It was obvious after the terrible result at the Italian Grand Prix there was a lot still to go, development wise, on the T32. This need would reduce the available non-championship races to just the Gran Premio di Siracusa as the entry list would include no less than five entries under the factory Maserati team name. Scuderia Ferrari would not be present but there would be enough other privateer entries in the field that it would seem the perfect opportunity for the team to give their new car another thorough shakedown.
In practice, Luigi Musso would be quite quick and would actually take the pole with a lap time of 2:03.6. Luigi Villoresi would show he still had something left in him as he would be just a second slower than Musso around the circuit, and therefore, would grab 2nd place on the grid. Despite Equipe Gordini's terrible season the French team would be given much more respect than the small British team, Connaught Engineering. They would be lured to the race by the starting money and would even enter a dental student behind the wheel of one of their cars. However, Tony Brooks would show his true talents behind the wheel of racing car and would be within a couple of seconds of Musso in a very limited amount of practice time. This would give Brooks the 3rd, and final, starting position on the front row.
Brooks' performance in practice would be rather embarrassing for the Gordini team. Robert Manzon would be back with the team, surprisingly, and yet would only manage to be 6th fastest in one of the T16s. Equipe Gordini would only bring two cars to the race. The second car would be driven by Pollet and it would be the new T32. Once again, the car would be off the pace a fair amount. Pollet's best lap in practice would end up being eight and a half seconds slower than Musso. This would put Pollet all the way down on the fourth row of the grid in the 9th position.
Crowds filled the areas all around the circuit awaiting the start of the 70 lap, 243 mile, race. Mechanics and officials would clear the track. The flag would drop to start the race. The two Maseratis would quickly power into the lead with Harry Schell just ahead of Tony Brooks in the Connaught. The two Gordinis would be further back looking to settle into a good race pace.
While the Connaught driver Tony Brooks would be surprising all with his relentless battle with the Maseratis of Musso and Villoresi at the front of the field, Gordini would be experiencing yet another nightmare toward the tail-end of the field. Pollet would be struggling right from the start. And, after 9 laps, the new T32 would run into more troubles. This time the problem would be rear axle failure, no doubt brought on by the bumpy Syracuse circuit.
Gordini wouldn't be alone in their troubles. Roy Salvadori and Louis Rosier would all fall out of the race with their Maseratis prior to the 20 lap mark. However, the pain at Gordini would become all the more acute when Manzon would find himself pulling out of the race after just 22 laps with an oil leak. Once again, Gordini would struggle and would fail to have even a single car finish a race.
What would be interesting is that while Gordini would be shown some respect, the Connaught team would be somewhat scoffed at. And, after Tony Brooks set the fastest lap of the race with a lap time more than 3 seconds faster than Musso's own qualifying effort, people would be forced to take notice of the British team. People would really begin to take notice when Brooks took over the lead of the race and began to quickly draw away from everyone else in the field.
It would be, perhaps, one of the most dominant performances by any single driver in the history of grand prix driving. At the wheel of an underdog team in a foreign land, Brooks would look right at home around the streets of Syracuse and would leave everyone else in his wake. Even the legendary Luigi Villoresi would fall a couple of laps behind the Englishman before the end of the race.
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