Baron Emmanuel de Graffenried had a racing career that spanned decades including before the outbreak of the Second World War. However, 1953 had seen him earn his best result in the World Championship scoring a 4th place result at the Belgian Grand Prix with a Maserati A6SSG. Being a privateer entry though, de Graffenried would run into some trouble heading into the 1954 season.
The Baron Emmanuel de Graffenried's family lineage around Berne, Switzerland is quite extensive and spans all the way back into the 13th century. And though his racing career would span just a couple of decades, he would end up proving to be one of the most capable privateers in any field he started. However, 1954 would see some big changes take place that put the man at a disadvantage.
While Alberto Ascari, Juan Manuel Fangio and others would make their living as professional racing drivers driving for large factory efforts, de Graffenried would own his own Lausanne-based garage selling Alfa Romeos and would be quite successful at it. Therefore, the man's time would be split between his garage and racing. Therefore, he would mostly race as a privateer, or, with other small teams unable to maintain a full schedule.
In 1953, de Graffenried was able to procure one of the newest Maserati chassis. He would use an A6GCM, but then would come to have at his disposal the A6SSG. It would be the A6SSG that he would use to score his 4th place finish at the Belgian Grand Prix. At the end of the season, de Graffenried would end up 8th place with 7 points in the World Drivers' Championship.
But in 1954, the new Formula One regulations would come into effect. Therefore, by the start of the 1954 season the Formula 2 cars would already be rather outdated. The increase in displacement from 2.0 to 2.5-liters meant the Formula 2 cars were certain to be down on power compared to the new Formula One cars.
This created some interesting challenges for de Graffenried. For one thing, the Maserati A6SSG was certainly a strong car despite having an engine with a smaller displacement. The costs associated with purchasing a Formula One car would make staying with the Formula 2 car an almost necessary evil.
Therefore, as 1953 turned into 1954, de Graffenried would stay with his Maserati A6SSG. The reality was de Graffenried perhaps didn't have enough time to consider his options, for by the start of the new year he would be across the South Atlantic preparing to take part in the first grand prix of the season.
On the 3rd of January, de Graffenried would be in Rio de Janeiro preparing to take part in the 13th Grande Premio da Cidade de Rio de Janeiro. This race would be contested over the tough and unforgiving 6.68 mile Gavea circuit situated along the coast overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
The race itself would be a Formula Libre race. Therefore, the field would be filled with single-seaters as well as modern sports cars. De Graffenried would have a big challenge ahead of himself as the race allowed the presence of Formula One cars like the powerful Ferrari 375.
Despite being one of the smallest states in all of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro is the country's capital and largest city. Originating in 1565, Rio would be a French occupied territory. By the 17th century, the area would become well known for the raising of cattle and of sugar cane. However, with such features as Sugarloaf Mountain and such incredible architecture and cultural sights, Rio would certainly become popular as a tourist destination and a place of great wealth and affluence.
Gavea would be one of the most demanding of the public road courses to exist in its day. While starting not much above sea level, the backside of the circuit would feature a very steep climb up switch-back roads where acceleration and handling would be a premium. The steep climb would be followed by an almost equally-steep decent back to the start/finish line.
Twenty-eight cars would prepare to start the race. The vast majority of the cars in the field would be Ferraris. Emmanuel de Graffenried's Maserati would be just one of three in the entire field.
The total race distance would be 10 laps, or, 67 miles. And it would be some of the most tortuous miles any driver and car would experience. This would be attested to by the high attrition rate that would befall the field.
Before the end of the race, twenty-two cars would fall prey to problems or accidents. Among those still in the running would be Johnny Claes sharing a car with Jacques Herzet and Francisco ‘Chico' Landi in a Ferrari 375. One other still in the running would be de Graffenried. In fact, despite driving a Formula 2 car against Landi and a number of other Ferrari sports cars, de Graffenried would have the lead heading around on the final lap of the race.
Emmanuel had remained clear of trouble throughout the race and would enjoy a very comfortable lead heading around on the final lap. De Graffenried had to keep his emotions in check and stay out of trouble. If he could, the victory would be his.
After four hours, fourteen minutes and twenty-one seconds, de Graffenried would come across the line to take the victory. It had been a long day but a victory margin of over eight minutes would make the victory that much sweeter. Giulio Musitelli would finish in 2nd place while Chico Landi would end up 3rd.
Although the field was rather light with international talent, the season still could not have started much better for the soon to be forty year old man from Berne. He would just have to hope and pray that he could keep the good results coming for the next ten, or so, months.
De Graffenried would remain across the Atlantic for a while longer. The reason for this was the fact that the first round of the World Championship was scheduled to take place on the 17th of January. The race was the 7th Gran Premio de la Republica Argentina, and it would be the second year in a row that the Argentine Grand Prix would be part of the World Championship.
Taking place at the Autodromo Juan Oscar Galvez utilizing the 2.42 mile layout, the Argentine Grand Prix would use the same layout as had been used in its tragic debut the season before.
During the 1953 Argentine Grand Prix, the large throng of spectators that had surrounded the circuit had swelled to such a degree that finding a good view was practically impossible, especially for those small in stature. Unfortunately, this would manifest itself in the worst way when a young boy wandered out on the circuit trying to get a better view. Giuseppe Farina would see the young boy right in the middle of his path and would have to veer to avoid hitting the boy at almost full speed. Through fighting to avoid the boy, Farina would lose control of his Ferrari and would end up plowing into the large crowd. Around half a dozen spectators would lose their lives while scores of others would be injured. However, Farina would climb from his car without even a bruise. The following year, the Argentine officials would be looking for a less tragic visit by the best grand prix teams in the world.
There would be a number of changes heading into the 1954 grand prix season. Alberto Ascari would have a falling-out with Ezno Ferrari and would leave with Luigi Villoresi happily following his friend out the door. As a result of Ascari's and Villoresi's departure, there were some open seats with Ferrari. Along with Giuseppe Farina, Mike Hawthorn and Umberto Maglioli, Ferrari would give rides to Maurice Trintignant and a former driver, Jose Froilan Gonzalez.
Driving the Ferrari 625, which, incidentally, was first developed back before the Formula 2 era, would take Giuseppe Farina to the fastest time in practice with a time of one minute, forty-four and eight-tenths seconds. Farina's teammate, Gonzalez, would be just a tenth of a second slower and would join Farina on the front row of the grid along with Juan Manuel Fangio in a Maserati 250F and Mike Hawthorn in another Ferrari. By the end of practice it would end up with three Scuderia Ferraris occupying the front row. It seemed the race would be nothing but a repeat of the same Ferrari domination everyone had become used to over the past couple of years.
Driving an underpowered A6SSG, de Graffenried would find it hard to compete as he had the season before. During practice, the best de Graffenried would manage to put together would be a lap of one minute and fifty-one seconds. This would place Emmanuel down on the fourth row of the grid in the 12th position overall.
Unlike the year before, the day of the race would be overcast and wet. The conditions would make the going difficult, but it also had the potential for leveling the playing field.
As the field made its way on the first lap of the race, nobody could predict the wild adventure that would await the drivers. Farina would lead the field with Fangio close behind. However, Gonzalez would work hard and would get by Fangio and Farina to lead the race by the 15th of 87 laps. It was about then that the craziness would begin.
While de Graffenried would continue on taking care not to lose control or make a mistake, the sky would start falling all around him. A storm would dump a large amount of rain on the circuit and would cause Gonzalez to spin off. The rain would be so bad that it would cause Farina to stop to get a visor and Hawthorn to spin off just like Gonzalez. Therefore, Fangio would be in the lead of the race all by himself.
By this point in time there would be a number of other competitors that would have already dropped out of the running. Louis Rosier would have an accident after just 2 laps and would be out of the race. Roberto Mieres would be just one of three that would suffer from a blown engine. Then came the heavy rain, and Jean Behra would spin off the circuit. Behra would get going again but with the help of an illegal push start. Unfortunately, this would lead to his disqualification.
The storm would pass and the track would begin to dry. Fangio would continue in the lead of the race but would be caught and passed by Gonzalez. Just when it seemed Gonzalez would beat his fellow countryman providence would see fit to drop another deluge on the circuit allowing Fangio to go back into the lead of the race. The sudden downpour would also cause Hawthorn to spin again. This time Hawthorn would receive outside assistance and would be disqualified as a result.
All of the wild goings on would lead to de Graffenried making his way forward from his 12th place starting position. In fact, with Behra's and Hawthorn's disqualifications, de Graffenried would be inside the top ten.
The rain would be too much, even for Fangio, and he would stop for some special tires to help cope with the incredibly wet conditions. Believing Maserati used too many mechanics and would be certainly disqualified, Ferrari's team manager would tell his drivers not to press and to take it easy. The sedated pace would allow Fangio to catch up and pass both Gonzalez and Farina for the lead. And after three hours and fifty-five seconds, it would be determined that Fangio had, in fact, earned the victory much to the protest of Ferrari. Nearly a minute and twenty seconds would be the difference between Fangio and Farina in 2nd place. Two minutes and one second would be the difference between Fangio and Gonzalez in 3rd.
No such controversy surrounded de Graffenried. Emmanuel would drive carefully and consistently and would avoid trouble throughout the whole of his race. And though he would be lapped some four times by Fangio before the end, de Graffenried would still follow up his victory in the Formula Libre race at Rio with an 8th place result in the Argentine Grand Prix.
Considering he was piloting a Formula 2 car and the majority of the competition were all at the wheel of 2.5-liter Formula One cars, de Graffenried had a strong race. Once again, de Graffenried would prove his abilities as a racing driver. Unfortunately, not much would be seen of de Graffenried's skills after this race.
The racing wasn't done at the Autodromo Juan Oscar Galvez, for on the 31st of January the circuit hosted another Formula Libre race. The 10th Gran Premio Ciudad de Buenos Aires would boast of yet another Scuderia Ferrari and Maserati battle that would also include a number of older Formula One chassis from the late 1940s and 1950 and '51.
And while de Graffenried had been successful in the only other Formula Libre race he had entered, he would recognize his disadvantages and would decide not to take part in the race. Instead, he would pack everything up and head back across the Atlantic to Europe.
De Graffenried would not head back across the Atlantic to prepare for a long season of racing on the European mainland, although that would be what it seemed in mid-April. On the 19th of April, while Scuderia Ferrari and Equipe Gordini were battling it out on the streets of Pau, France, there were yet a number of other races going on, but all at the same place.
The Easter holiday would traditionally bring a big day of racing at the 2.39 mile Goodwood circuit located near Chichester in southern England. These races were very short events covering a large assortment of racing categories. Just one of the many races scheduled to take place was the 7th Lavant Cup race. Named for a nearby village, the Lavant Cup race was merely a 7 lap event. It was a great opportunity to get one's season going in Europe and build up some positive momentum. In the case of de Graffenried, the momentum had already been built up. However, he would not fulfill his entry for the race. No, de Graffenried would not even arrive for the race, nor any other that day.
De Graffenried wouldn't just step away from racing for a couple of weeks, or even a month. No, he would not be seen or heard of for more than a few months. He would not take part in any other championship or non-championship race until the end of October.
De Graffenried's season had started out as early as one could have by taking part in a race on the 3rd of January. However, it would be nearly year before he would take part in just his third race of the season and last for the year. Toward the end of October, de Graffenried would make one last appearance for 1954. He would pull out his A6SSG one last time and would head to Spain. It was decided he would enter the Spanish Grand Prix held in an area to the southwest of Barcelona. The race would take place on the 24th of October and would be a total of 80 laps for a total race distance of 313 miles.
By the time of the Spanish Grand Prix, Formula One, technically, had its first double World Champion. Alberto Ascari had won both of his world championships while competing under Formula 2 regulations. Fangio's 1954 formed bookends for the Formula 2 era with the Argentinean taking the World Championship in 1951 and again in 1954.
And though the World Championship question had been already solved, there would still be more than enough questions coming into the ninth, and final, round of the World Championship on the season. Finally, after a season of people waiting with great anticipation, Lancia would make its debut in the World Championship with Alberto Ascari and Luigi Villoresi driving the new D50. The question was: Just how good was the car? The other question was simple: Could Juan Manuel Fangio win all but one of the rounds on the season?
The Pedralbes street circuit was the almost perfect host for one final battle on the season. The second largest city behind Madrid, Barcelona makes up Europe's largest metropolis on the Mediterranean. Originally founded as a Roman city, Barcelona would continue to be a cultural capital throughout its history right up through the 20th century. One legend has the city originally being founded by Hercules some 400 years before Rome would even be built. Therefore, it would be fitting the city would come to host the summer Olympics late in the 20th century. It would be fitting then, also, that the city would come to host the best of single-seater grand prix racing at the conclusion of the Second World War.
Just to the west of the city's center, a 3.91 mile street circuit would be designed and it would feature wide streets that would make for a very high speed course, even despite being a street circuit. It would also make for a perfect setting for some tough competition. This would be one of the factors that would make the Pedralbes circuit a favorite with the drivers.
One portion of the question surrounding the new Lancia D50 would be answered during practice. Ascari would take the new car and would turn the fastest lap thereby earning the pole for the 80 lap race. Not surprisingly, Fangio would start the race from 2nd place, also on the front row. Hawthorn's 3rd place starting position in the Ferrari would be pleasant but not all that surprising. The biggest surprise on the front row of the grid would come from the 4th place starter. Harry Schell would surprise just about everyone and would grab the final spot on the front row.
Emmanuel de Graffenried would grab the pole, but for the wrong end. With Ascari turning laps around the two minute and eighteen mark with an average speed of over 100 mph, de Graffenried would need every little bit of horsepower he could get. Unfortunately, in a Formula 2 car, he just didn't have it. At the end of practice it was obvious. De Graffenried would be eleven seconds slower than Ascari and would start from the sixth, and final, row of the grid in the 21st position, dead-last.
At the time of the start of the race at 2pm in the afternoon, the weather was sunny and warm. It was perfect conditions to see the best in the world battle it out on the streets of Barcelona.
The surprises kept coming as the field roared away. Schell would get the best jump off the line and would actually hold onto the lead of the race over Hawthorn and Ascari. Maurice Trintignant would look spectacular off the line coming from 8th place and the third row to find himself right behind Ascari inside the top five.
Looking at the rest of the field, de Graffenried would have his work cut out for himself, not so much because he was starting from last place on the grid. No, the reason why he started out from last place on the grid would be the reason why he would have such a tough race ahead of himself. He was driving one of just two Formula 2 cars in the whole of the grid. By this time of the year most everyone else had either gone on to purchase a Maserati 250F or some other kind of Formula One car.
Villoresi would be another that would make a great start from his second row starting position. However, the good start would quickly come to an end when brake problems would cause Villoresi to retire from the race after just two laps.
It would only get worse for Lancia. Ascari had managed to overcome his poor start that would see Schell take the lead of the race. He would regain his composure and pace and would end up striking back taking over the lead from Schell after just a couple of laps. However, the very next car after Villoresi to run into trouble would be Lancia's only other car in the race, the one driven by Ascari. After 10 laps, Ascari would be forced into the pits because of clutch issues. Unfortunately, there would be little the team could do about the problem and Ascari would be forced to retire.
Schell would find his way back into the lead of the race. He continued to look strong as Stirling Moss and Jean Behra would all fall out of the running after 15, or so, laps. Unfortunately, it would not be a fairytale race for Schell as reality would come calling. It would seem the pressure would get to Schell as he would spin his car and would lose his lead to Hawthorn and Trintignant and would even fall behind Fangio in the running order. It was likely the spin caused damaged to the gearbox as he would then retire after 29 laps due to gearbox issues.
Just when things were looking up for Trintignant, they would end up going downhill as he would be forced to retire from the race after 47 laps, also due to gearbox-related problems. This would leave Hawthorn pretty much all alone at the front of the field.
All of the attrition was only helping de Graffenried move up the order. Despite starting the race from dead-last on the grid, all of the problems for the other competitors was helping him move up closer to the top ten. Of course, by this point in the race it wasn't to be de Graffenried behind the wheel. De Graffenried would drive the first thirty laps of the race, and then, would turn the driving duties over to Ottorino Volonterio for the remainder of the event.
As it would end up, each of the drivers for the number 22 Maserati A6SSG would complete about the same number of laps. Despite receiving a good deal of help through attrition, it would be de Graffenried's and Volonterio's turn to be sidelined with problems. After completing 57 laps, the engine in the Maserati would let go bringing an end to the day with de Graffenried completing 30 laps and Volonterio finishing 27.
After Sergio Mantovani's retirement one lap after Volonterio's retirement in de Graffenried's Maserati, there would only be nine cars still running in the race. And there were still about 20 laps still to go.
Amazingly, those nine would make it all the way to the end. But not all of them would be challenging for the lead. Hawthorn would be out front in his Ferrari 553. Fangio would be following along, but in 3rd place. He would be complaining about being sprayed in the face with oil. This would slow his pace and would allow Luigi Musso to pass for 2nd place. Fangio's slower pace would end up allowing Hawthorn to come around and lap the Argentinean. From that point onwards the race was about finished.
Averaging a little more than 156 mph, Hawthorn would power his way to the victory. A minute and thirteen seconds would be the margin between Hawthorn and Musso in 2nd place. More than a lap would be the gap back to Fangio in 3rd place.
If it was not for the attrition de Graffenried was on course for a top ten finish. Of course, were it not for the attrition, he would have had little opportunity of scoring even a top fifteen result.
It was quite clear, if not by the beginning then by the end, that a Formula 2 car would no longer cut it against the new 2.5-liter Formula One cars. However, now at the age of forty, de Graffenried's racing career, he knew, was on its downward swing.
Though de Graffenried's racing career was on its last downhill run he would still be helpful in promoting the very thing he loved so much. Of course, there could have been no better way of promoting his love interest than by seeing a movie made about it. Released in 1955, The Racers would feature de Graffenried's driving talents as he would be Kirk Douglas' acting double for all of the action scenes. This meant that all of the driving scenes featured de Graffenried at the wheel. This would be about the extent of de Graffenried's racing for 1955 as he would not take part in a World Championship nor a non-championship Formula One race throughout 1955.
De Graffenried would not be seen in 1955. And he would only make one last appearance in the World Championship in 1956. The Parisian-born Swiss citizen had come to a place where he knew his racing career was over. But as 1954 would prove, even at the end, he was still very capable of winning.
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