TeamsAndre Guelfi: 1958 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
In the footnotes of Formula One history, Andre Guelfi would occupy a place many would consider insignificant. However, this seemingly insignificant driver in Formula One history would be anything but in real life. As a result, scandal was never far away.
Andre Guelfi would be born in May of 1919. His father was Corsican but was living in the then Portuguese town of Mazagan along the Atlantic coast of Morocco. His father would marry a Spanish woman and acted as commander of the port there in Mazagan.
By 1929, the driving interests would already be demonstrating themselves when, at the age of just 10, he would be a the helm of bikes too big for himself taking to the streets of the town. Then, at the age of just 17, he would make a discovery in a basement. The discovery would be a binder labeled 'bad debts'. Once he understood what it meant, he would go and visit those that owed the debts. It wouldn't take long before he would regain most of what was considered irrecoverable. Just like that, though more amusing than anything, he would be offered a job as a debt collector earning a 15% commission.
Guelfi wasn't taken too seriously because of his age. However, it wouldn't take very long before he was earning more than the man who hired him to do the job. It wouldn't be much longer before he had enough money to join his uncle in the shipping industry.
Once again, what Andre put his hands to turns to gold. Andre would introduce refrigeration on his uncle's ships and would invest in the sardine industry. Though he would earn the rather unfortunate nickname 'Dede Sardine', he would soon be in control of a shipping empire that enabled him to look to other passions.
Unfortunately for Guelfi, the war would break out and he would be enlisted in the 2nd Moroccan Infantry Regiment. Andre's heart would not be in the war. He was more interested in amassing more wealth and world treasures. However, one of the things he would do during the war was enlist as a driver. This would fuel his passion for racing.
Guelfi's route to the end of the war would include a path that ran through Indochina. It would be at this time that he would lose his stomach for fighting and would soon be back in Morocco with the war coming to an end. However, he would soon leave Morocco as he would be faced with another proposition he didn't like.
Arranged marriages were common and he would be engaged to a French girl that he didn't really like, nor she him. Therefore, he would flee to Paris for a while and would end up buying a bar in the same building as the Auto Sport newspaper. It would be at this time that he would take to the track for the first time, but it would not be particularly successful.
In addition to taking part in some minor races, Guelfi would waste little time before he set his sights on the larger prizes. In 1950 he would take part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. At the wheel of a Delahaye 175S, he and fellow co-driver Gaston Serraud would fail to finish as a result of battery troubles.
Andre would return to Morocco and would end up taking part in the Agadir Grand Prix in 1951. At the wheel of a Jaguar, Andre would come through to finish in 2nd place behind Pagnibon in a Talbot-Lago. He would then enter the 24 Hours of Le Mans that year driving Johnny Claes' Ferrari 212 Export. His co-driver for the race would be Jean Lariviere. Jean would be at the wheel when he would make an error and would end up tragically dying in the ensuing accident.
In 1952, Andre would finish 3rd in the Coupes de Vitesse driving for Guy Mairesse, and then would follow this up with a victory in the Circuit de Marrakech in April of that year. These results would lead to Guelfi earning a place racing Gordini sports cars. This would prove to be a promising partnership as it would start out with a victory in the Grand Prix of Agadir in 1953 and would be followed up with a victory in the Circuit de Marrakech that same year. He would take part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans once again but would suffer another early retirement. He would finish up the 1953 season with a 1st in class in the Coupes du Salon.
Guelfi would earn more solid results in 1954, including a class victory at Le Mans driving for Equipe Gordini. He and co-driver Jacques Pollet would finish the race 6th overall and would take the class victory with their Gordini T15S.
The rest of the 1954 season and up through 1957 would be filled with troubling results sprinkled with top fives. He was certainly struggling to complete races. But if he was able to, his results were usually pretty good. In spite of the struggles, Andre would be motivated to look even higher.
Guelfi's racing career had been comprised of sportscar races. This would change in 1958. Not only would he still take part in sportscar races, he would also purchase a Climax-powered Cooper T45 and would begin taking part in Formula 2 and Formula One races. His 1958 season, however, would begin in the more usual sportscar surroundings.
Although Pau would host a Formula 2 race the same weekend, Guelfi would still be focused on sportscars at the time and he would take part in the Pau 3 Hour race behind the wheel of his own Ferrari 250 GT. He would end the race in 6th place and would end up following that up with a 4th place in a Gordini T16S at the Coupes De Vitesse one week later. That same weekend there would be a GT edition of the Coupes de Vitesse and Guelfi would win that event with his Ferrari 250 GT.
One month later, Andre would use his 250 GT to take part in the Grand Prix of Spa. He would end that race 3rd in his class. This 3rd place in class would be followed by his first Formula 2 event.
The 3rd Prix de Paris would be held on the 15th of June at the Montlhery circuit just to the south of Paris. Alan Brown would enter one of two Cooper T45s and Guelfi would be listed as the driver of one of them. This first foray into the world of open-wheeled cars would be a fruitful one as he would finish in 2nd place behind Henry Taylor in another Cooper T45. In spite of this result, Guelfi would not be seen behind the wheel of Formula 2 car for months to come.
A good reason for the absence from Formula 2 could be as a result of what took place at Le Mans the following week after his Formula 2 debut. Guelfi would enter the French classic driving Henri Peignaux's Jaguar D-Type along with Jean-Marie Brousselet. Unfortunately, just as dusk began to set over the region, Brousselet would collide with a Ferrari and it would result in Jean-Marie's death. This would be the second co-driver of Guelfi's to die at Le Mans. And, besides the 12 Hours of Reims one month later, it would be the last sportscar race he would take part in until October of that year.
Guelfi would have entries in both the 2nd Coupe Internationale de Vitesse on the 6th of July and the Coupes de Salon in early October. However, he would miss both events. The only event he would take part in over the weekend of the 5th of October would be the Coupes du Salon sportscar race in which his Ferrari 250 GT would fail to finish. But Andre wasn't done for 1958.
Guelfi made his home in France, but he still had his home in Morocco as well. And, it would be rather providential that he would begin racing when he did as the Moroccan Grand Prix was about to make its Formula One World Championship debut in 1958.
The Ain-Diab circuit, just to the west of downtown Casablanca, had welcomed the grand prix cars the year before. The race would be won by Jean Behra and it would prove to be the only Formula One race Juan Manuel Fangio would ever take part in on North Africa. Normally, Guelfi would not miss a racing event on his native Moroccan soil. However, he had no experience behind the wheel of a Formula One car, and therefore, would not take part in the event.
Andre was quite familiar with motor races in Morocco and the North African country was no stranger to top flight teams and drivers coming to its shores to take part in a motor race. Casablanca would be the site of the first organized grand prix held in Morocco and it would take place in 1925. Then, five years later, a new circuit would be designed to play host to grand prix racing. That circuit was Anfa and it too was literally just to the west of Casablanca.
There would only be a few races held throughout the 1930s. Louis Chiron would be winner of the 1934 race held at Anfa. Organized motor racing would be lost in Morocco for nearly two decades. Then, in 1954, a race in which Guelfi would take part, sportscars would return to Morocco and Agadir. In the first race, it would be the World Champion Giuseppe Farina taking victory. Mike Sparken and Maurice Trintignant would follow over the next two years. That would bring an end to racing in Agadir. A new, but old, circuit would be devised from 1957 onwards.
Using a portion of the Anfa circuit, Ain-Diab would make its debut in 1957 when the Formula One cars made their first appearance in Morocco. Situated then right near the Atlantic coast, the Ain-Diab circuit would feature some blustery winds at times and lots of sand creeping across the public roads comprising the circuit. The result would be a very slippery circuit in a fashion similar to Zandvoort.
The circuit itself would measure 4.72 miles in length and would feature very few straight bits. Even without any long portions of straight road, the Ain-Diab circuit is fast making the slippery conditions all the more dangerous. Furthermore, the high average speeds would tend to cause the small kinks to arrive quicker than a driver anticipated. Therefore, it would be very easy to make a mistake and go careening off the circuit.
What was the 7th Grand Prix de Maroc would be held on the 19th of October. But, given the fact the race was held in Morocco, the weather would be fantastic with warm temperatures and very little thought toward it raining. Instead of worrying about cold temperatures because it was the middle of October, teams and drivers were faced with quite warm temperatures. The threat of cars overheating was very real.
The Moroccan round of the World Championship would have another twist. Like the German Grand Prix, Formula 2 would have its own race within the Formula One event. It would be here where Andre Guelfi would be found. He would be at the wheel of his own Cooper T45 among the Formula 2 ranks.
Andre's part in this story would seem petty and insignificant to the larger story going on amongst the Formula One runners. Stirling Moss and Mike Hawthorn were locked in a tremendous duel for the World Championship and it would all come down to this final race of the season. Guelfi, inexperienced in open-wheel racing, would be concentrating on the Formula 2 battle and would be looking to follow up his strong Formula 2 debut back in the Prix de Paris with yet another strong result.
Hawthorn would set the pace in practice. He would end up on pole having posted a lap time of 2:23.1. This time would be just a tenth of a second faster than his championship rival in the Vanwall. The final spot on the front row would go to yet another Vanwall driver, Stuart Lewis-Evans.
The fastest of the Formula 2 entries would be Jack Brabham in a Cooper. His best lap would be 2:36.6 and would net him a 8th row starting spot. Guelfi would show his inexperience at the wheel of a Formula 2 car as he would be well off of Brabham's pace. As it would turn out, Guelfi would start from the 10th row of the grid, 25th overall—dead last.
Starting last, it was clear Andre would need to be patient and allow the race to come to him. He knew he didn't have the pace, so there was little reason to try and storm up through the field and potentially make an error and not finish in the process. Up at the front of the field, however, a stormer of a race would be Moss' only play. Not only did he need to win the race, but he also needed to set the fastest lap to even stand a chance. Hawthorn, on the other hand, would just need to finish 2nd or better. There could not have been more divergent strategies from the front to the rear of the grid than that which was in play leading up to the start of the Moroccan Grand Prix.
The pre-race ceremonies would be elaborate. King Mohammed V would be in attendance as the drivers took their places on the grid. The flag would wave and the race would get underway with Moss sprinting into the lead. Phil Hill would launch himself from the second row of the grid and would be challenging Moss right from the very beginning. Hawthorn, on the other hand, would be content to remain close, but let the 53 lap race play out a little before he started to make any moves.
Moss would lead the way over Phil Hill at the end of the first lap, but only just. Hawthorn would be sitting in 3rd place, still within reach of the championship title. Guelfi, meanwhile, would get away well. He would not lay back over the first lap but would attack. The result would be that he would complete the first lap in 23rd position. He would then settle in in that position allowing the race to unfold.
Hill would try a number of times to get in front of Moss in an effort to help his teammate out. He would push hard, and, at one moment, would push a little too hard as he would go off the circuit and would drop a couple of positions. Hill would quickly right the ship and would be back in pursuit of the leaders. Moss was pushing hard. Though Hawthorn ran in 2nd place, Moss' pace suggested he could get the fastest lap. If his Vanwall held on for victory, Hawthorn would need that 2nd place to ensure the title was his.
Hawthorn's championship hopes would look a little grim when Hill managed to make his way back up to 2nd place. He would be there to push Moss, hopefully, until his car broke. Further back in the field, Guelfi was enjoying a strong run in his first Formula One World Championship race. By the 20th lap he would be up to 20th place and in an even better position amongst the Formula 2 cars.
Andre continued to run a consistent pace in his Cooper. He knew the conditions and maintained position over La Caze and Graham Hill. He was taking care to push when he could, and to let the race come to him at other times.
Moss had no luxury. He needed to push nearly every lap of the race and it was working. After 40 laps, he was still in the lead. His lap time of 2:22.5, set on lap 21, was still holding up as the fastest lap of the race. Hawthorn, therefore, had real problems. He was still in control, but he also had to be a little concerned. His teammate, Hill, would be signaled to give up his spot to Mike, which he would do.
Moss was doing everything he could do, but he needed help similar to what Hill's presence was doing for Hawthorn. Tony Brooks was already out of the race, so it was left to Stuart Lewis-Evans to respond.
Stuart would push hard. He would take over 5th place by the 30th lap and was drawing in on Bonnier running in 4th place. However, on the 42nd lap of the race his engine would seize throwing his Vanwall into the air. The car would finally come to a rest but would soon ignite into a ball of flames. Lewis-Evans would be able to get out of the car but would be alight from the flames. His whole body would be engulfed in flames and it would take some time to put the fire out on himself and the car. Immediately he would be taken to the hospital, and then the airport, as he would be flown directly home to London and a hospital there. Though not known at the time, Stuart would succumb to his terrible burns some six days later.
Moss would be on his own after Lewis-Evans' tragic accident. At the same time Stuart experienced his terrible and tragic accident, Guelfi would be making his way through. He would be slow in the process and this would allow La Craze to come through and take the position away from him.
All alone and with Hawthorn in control from 2nd place, there was nothing left for Moss to do but to run out the laps and hope and pray the Ferrari would fail before the end. It had happened before and Mike was rather notorious for his abuse of cars, particularly the clutch, but it certainly seemed unlikely.
Moss' performance would be superb. He would lead every single lap and would drive nearly every single lap close to qualifying speeds. Averaging nearly 121mph over the course of the 53 laps, Stirling would do everything he could to give himself a chance of stealing the championship. He would come through to take a splendid victory and then would have to wait and see where Hawthorn ended up. A minute and 24 seconds later, he would get his answer as Hawthorn would come through to take the 2nd place he needed to secure the championship. Hill would also be impressive, holding on easily less than a second behind his teammate to finish in 3rd.
Guelfi's performance would be easily eclipsed by the battle between Moss and Hawthorn. However, he would still be impressive in his first Formula One World Championship event. Eventually crossing the line five laps behind Moss in 15th position overall, Andre would be impressive coming in 4th place amongst the Formula 2 participants. Unfortunately, the 4th place was amongst the Formula 2 field, 15th overall wouldn't bring him even close to earning a championship point. Nonetheless, he would demonstrate to himself his abilities behind the wheel and he would apparently be happy with this as he would never take part in a World Championship round ever again.
The Moroccan Grand Prix would make its one and only World Championship appearance in 1958. It was scheduled to return in 1960 but it would be cancelled. Andre Guelfi would also make his one and only World Championship appearance at Ain-Diab. Considering Morocco was home soil, it was understandable he too would never take part in another World Championship round. After his appearance in 1958, Andre's racing career would pretty much come to an end, internationally at least. He would still be a regular at races throughout Morocco. His only other major appearances would come in sportscars in 1968 when he would be seen driving an Alpine A220, and both of these events would be held in Morocco as well.
In the 1970s, Guelfi would leave Morocco and would firmly settle in Paris. He would end up marrying non other than the niece of French president Georges Pompidou and would end up expanding his great wealth as a businessman. Living in a huge home overlooking Lake Geneva, he would use his vast wealth to purchase Le Coq Sportif and would end up becoming a close advisor to IOC president Juan Samaranch. He would also go to work as a negotiator for Elf Aquitaine and would soon become embroiled in scandals that involved influence of top French politicians. This would result in Andre receiving a jail sentence and a large fine.
At the start of the 21st century, Guelfi would move to Malta where he lives a much more quiet and lawful existence. So while his time in Formula One would be short and rather inconspicuous, his life outside of the sport would be anything but.