Teams1952 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
Alex von Falkenhausen had risen from the ashes after World War II. Though not as famous as other smaller ventures like Veritas, Alex von Falkenhausen Motorenbau (AFM) would create a number of truly revolutionary chassis. These chassis were even more amazing given the fact they originated from war-torn Germany, and not England, France or some place else.
Not only had AFM risen from the ashes, but it had managed to help another rise up from the ruin of post-war Europe. Auto Union's ace, Hans Stuck, had switched to Austrian nationality and was looking for opportunities to return to major grand prix racing. He would find a willing partner in AFM.
Stuck came to believe in AFM and their innovative chassis designs, components and the venerable BMW 328 engine. The pair would experience considerable success within the German borders, but would experience little outside. AFM had found its ace-in-the-hole; however, as Stuck's Austrian nationality allowed the team to compete outside of Germany. Any German team, or, individual could not compete outside of Germany throughout the 1940s and into the 1950s. AFM had an advantage, but it did little to help the company. Facing a team like Scuderia Ferrari, AFM proved quick, but not quick enough. However, in the second heat of the 1950 Monza Grand Prix, Stuck out-dueled Alberto Ascari for the win after an epic battle between the two.
Stuck grew tired of the BMW 328 as it had more than reached the end of its useful life. The pre-war design had been refined until it could be refined no more. Unfortunately, it couldn't handle the increase in horsepower necessary to battle with the current grand prix cars. AFM and Stuck look for alternatives. They found Kucher.
Richard Kucher built only a few 2.0-liter V8 engines capable of producing 150 bhp. What's more, the engine only weighed around 100kg. When combined to the lightweight Type 49 chassis, the engine gave the car incredible acceleration. Stuck had found his engine.
Headed into 1950, AFM designed what would be its last chassis model, the Type 1950 (Type 50). This car was simple in its construction and maintenance, but it was nimble. When combined with the Kucher engine, it was fast. Stuck had found his car.
Stuck would compete with the car and engine combination throughout the next couple of years. Unfortunately for Stuck, AFM would close its doors. However, Stuck stayed with the Type 50 and the Kucher engine. Then, in 1952, Hans would have his chance to show off the car on the world stage.
The departure of Alfa Romeo, and the incredibly high costs of Formula One, left only Scuderia Ferrari as the major competitor going into 1952. Ferrari had made it obvious it was the dominant force in Formula One throughout the middle and later-part of 1951. Although Alfa Romeo would win the World Championship with Juan Manuel Fangio, were it not for a choice in tire at the last race, Scuderia Ferrari would have had an opportunity to be World Champion. Throughout the last half of 1951 Ferrari absolutely controlled Formula One.
Therefore, because of the lacking competition, and increasing costs, the governing-body was left looking for an acceptable alternative. It was decided, for an interim period, the Formula One World Championship would be run to Formula 2 regulations. This opened the door for Stuck to return to championship racing as the Kucher engine fell within the allowable regulations.
Due to Stuck's switch to Austrian citizenship, he was allowed to take his AFM-Kucher throughout Europe to take part in other non-championship races, in addition to World Championship events. Stuck would take advantage of this situation and would enter his first race of 1952 in Syracuse, Sicily.
On the 16th of March, Stuck prepared his AFM-Kucher to take part in the 2nd Grand Premio di Siracusa. This event ran according to Formula 2 specifications and hosted about half a dozen of Ferrari's new 500 chassis.
The race in Syracuse took place on a 3.34 mile street course that was located just to the west of the city. The circuit featured some fast sweeping curves and fast straights. Its layout would inspire average speeds in excess of 90 mph around the circuit.
With the exception of one Maserati and one Lancia, Stuck's AFM was the only non-Ferrari in the field. Stuck; however, wouldn't just be overwhelmed by the presence of so many Ferraris. He would also be overwhelmed by the pace of them, especially the Ferrari 500.
Alberto Ascari, whom Stuck had an epic duel with back in 1950, would set the pace during practice. He would turn a fastest lap of two minutes and sixteen seconds and would take the pole. Luigi Villoresi, Ascari's friend and Ferrari teammate, would record a time only eight tenths slower and would start in the middle of the front row in 2nd. Giuseppe Farina, the 1950 Formula One World Champion and another Scuderia Ferrari driver, would end up with a time one second slower and would start on the front row in 3rd.
Stuck would like to have been quite a bit closer to the times set by those on the front row. Unfortunately, he wasn't. Despite the acceleration the Kucher engine offered, and the good handling characteristics of the AFM Type 50 chassis, the best Stuck could do was a lap some twenty seconds slower. This put the former Auto Union ace on the last row of the grid and 13th overall.
The troubles Stuck experienced in practice would come to an end during the race. Ascari would lead the way at the start of the race. Despite being 60 laps, Ascari's pace was such that he began to pull away from the rest of the field. Only his Ferrari teammates were able to remain in relative touch. Villoresi would even turn the fastest lap of the race in pursuit of Ascari. His fastest lap time would end up being almost three seconds faster than Ascari's pole time.
In Stuck's case, he only hoped he could have run up near the front, let alone be fighting for the lead. The troubles he had in practice came to an end in the race because his race would come to an end, an early end. Three laps into the race, the fragile Kuchen engine let go on Stuck. His race was over.
Once Villoresi started to fade because of troubles with his Ferrari 500, the race was pretty much over for everyone else as well. Ascari would go on to win the race. He would win the race by fifty-nine seconds over Piero Taruffi, another Scuderia Ferrari teammate. Another twenty-five seconds, or so, would pass before Farina finished the race in 3rd.
Given the news of being able to take part in the World Championship with his Kuchen engine and AFM chassis, an engine failure at the first event of the season was not how Stuck would like to have started the season. Hans needed a lift.
After the failed Gran Premio di Siracusa, Stuck would head home and wait until early April before he would try and get his season going. He would leave and go to Italy for the 6th Gran Premio del Valentino on the 6th of April.
The Gran Premio del Valentino took place in Torino, Italy. The course ran along the Corso Massimo d'Azeglio and wound through Valentino Park and around Valentino Castle. The circuit's length was 2.61 miles and had a rather low average speed.
Unfortunately, it was not going to be an easy race for Stuck; not by any stretch of the imagination. Throughout 1952, there were a number of events that still allowed Formula One cars to take part. This was one of those races. Not only did Stuck have to face a few Formula 2 Ferrari 500s, but also, the dominant Ferrari 375s from 1951.
In practice it was obvious the Ferrari 375 still reigned supreme. Alberto Ascari, Giuseppe Farina and Luigi Villoresi were all driving Ferrari 375s. They would all be the fastest of the field. Farina would turn in the fastest lap and would take the pole for the 60 lap race. Ascari started alongside in 2nd. Villoresi would start 3rd. Piero Taruffi, driving a Ferrari 500, would also occupy the front row in 4th. Stuck was stuck once again. Despite being more suited to his car, Stuck just could not get the performance out of the two year-old car. Hans would start the race from the fourth, and final, row on the grid. He would start 12th overall. Practice for Valentino had not provided the lift Stuck would need. The race would fare even worse.
As the field roared away, for the start of the 60 lap race, Stuck and Adolfo Macchieraldo would be involved in a fight for position. Unfortunately for both, they would collide and would knock each other out of the race before one lap had even been completed.
In spite of the troubles at the back of the field, the race was far from decided at the front. All of Scuderia Ferrari's cars looked good throughout the first half of the race. However, on the 31st lap Farina would suffer a crash and would be out of the race. Ascari seemed to have things well in hand until his race finished four laps from the end when it was found his fuel tank had a leak.
Luigi Villoresi would outlast his teammates and would go on to take the victory by more than a minute over the Formula 2 Ferrari 500 of Piero Taruffi. Taruffi was the last runner still on the lead lap by the end. Rudolf Fischer, the gentleman-Swiss driver, would end up two laps down in 3rd.
Over the course of two races, Hans Stuck had managed to complete only 4 laps. Two races, 120 laps, he had been able to only complete 4 of them! The season was by no means starting anything close to what Stuck had hoped for, nor for what fans had grown accustomed from the famous Auto Union driver. Of course those were days long since passed as Stuck was now well into his fifties.
Undaunted by the serious troubles experienced through his first two races of the season, Stuck would leave Torino, Italy and head over the Alps to Pau, France.
There would be two championships in which the major teams were able to take part during the 1952 season. During the previous couple of seasons of Formula One's existence there was also a French F2 Championship. However, since the 1952 and 1953 would be run according to Formula 2 specifications, teams like Scuderia Ferrari, Equipe Gordini and Stuck's AFM could take part in both the World Championship and French F2 Championship without having to build another car to take part in either. This was very attractive since it afforded more opportunities to tweak the cars. But it also meant more opportunities at prize money. This was important to teams like Stuck's, which was a single-car; privateer effort.
Therefore, on the 14th of April, Stuck's 'AFM' team arrived in Pau to take part in the 13th Grand Prix de Pau, which was the first round of the French F2 Championship.
The French F2 Championship ran slightly different than the World Championship events. Instead of a set number of miles, or laps, to be completed, the race was timed. Whoever traveled the farthest in three hours would be declared the winner. This was obviously a similar format to that used in the longer endurance races like the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
To have an opportunity at any prize money, Stuck would have to take on, and beat, Ferrari and Equipe Gordini. Compared to the circuit used back in the 1930s, the circuit the championship presently used in 1952 would provide Stuck with a good opportunity.
The street circuit in Pau was only 1.71 miles in length and featured a number of elevation changes and blind corners. The circuit was tight and twisty. A good handling car was of utmost importance over top-end speed as the circuit contained three hairpin turns and a couple of fast chicanes and esses.
Ferrari showed its new Formula 2 car had both top-end speed and handling as Ascari would turn the fastest lap in practice. Ascari's best time on the 1.71 mile street circuit was only one minute and forty-three seconds. Luigi's best time at Pau would be one minute and forty-four seconds. This was only seven tenths slower than Ascari and good enough to start on the front row in 2nd. As proof of the slow nature of the twisty Pau circuit, at Syracuse just a month prior, Villoresi had managed to lap the 3.34 mile road course in only two minutes and thirteen seconds. Twice the distance almost in just thirty more seconds!
Lance Macklin, driving for HWM-Alta, would finish off the front row in 3rd. In spite of the powerful Kuchen engine, Stuck still could not get up among the front row starters. The Austrian's best time during practice would end up being eleven seconds slower than Ascari's. This would enable him to at least move up from the last row on the grid. Stuck would start 15th on the sixth row.
One thing the Kuchen engine had come to be known for over the previous couple of years was that it was powerful, but also incredibly unreliable. This would be a severe test for the engine having to race for three hours. Stuck would end up not having to worry about it though.
Given the nature of the circuit, cars were going to go through an absolute beating for three hours. Constant acceleration, braking, shifting and being thrown in and out of corners was going to take its toll. A couple of the major competitors were out of the race, either before it began, or, during the first few laps. Robert Manzon, of Equipe Gordini, didn't start the race. And, Rudolf Fischer, of Ecurie Espadon, would drop out after only 4 laps due to a broken oil pipe.
Stuck would make it through the first handful of laps and would end up continuing to carry on. Unfortunately, while Stuck was just carrying on, Ascari was flying on. Alberto was stretching out a large advantage over Villoresi and the rest of the field.
Almost 50 laps into the race, another round of attrition would strike a number of the competitors. Peter Collins, another HWM-Alta pilot, and front-runner would fall out of the race with brake issues. Stuck could stop worrying about his race after 49 laps. He found out his car's breaking point. Mechanical problems would prematurely end yet another race for Stuck in his AFM.
Ascari looked as if all alone on the course anyway. The only hope any of his competition had was if he made a mistake and crashed out of the race. It wouldn't happen. Ascari was fast, but wouldn't put a foot wrong either. Over the course of the three hours, Ascari would complete 99 laps and would finish with a three lap advantage over Louis Rosier driving his own Ferrari 500. Jean Behra would take his Equipe Gordini T11 and finish 3rd, five laps behind.
By this point in time, a good finish for the AFM-Kuchen would be merely a finish. With the first round of the Formula One World Championship looming just over the horizon, Stuck had to throw out any thought of a points-scoring finish and a return to glory. He had to simply concern himself with doing what he could to nurse the car to a finish.
Two weeks after another failed attempt at finishing a race, Stuck travelled on to Marseille, France. The 10th Grand Prix de Marseille was the second round of the French F2 Championship.
Ever since 1949, the Marseille Grand Prix was on the Parc Borley Circuit. This circuit had changed over the years, but in 1952, was made up of generally fast sweeping turns. The 1.65 mile circuit bordered the Parc Borley racecourse that had been used for thoroughbred horse racing since 1860. The circuit was positioned right along the coast, just to the south of Marseille.
The sweeping turns were a rather good fit for the AFM chassis. Should the Kuchen engine hold together, Stuck would have the opportunity at a good race. The lightweight, nimble chassis, combined with Stuck's familiar sliding style, fit well with the Parc Borley circuit.
In practice; however, the circuit fit Ascari still the best. Alberto would turn the fastest lap of practice with a time of one minute and seventeen seconds. This time was almost a second and a half faster than Robert Manzon in his Equipe Gordini T16. The T16 was another small, nimble chassis that handled to circuit well. Manzon would start in the middle of the front row. Beside him would be Luigi Villoresi. Villoresi's best time was almost exactly two seconds slower than Ascari's.
Stuck's best time in practice was a little under ten seconds slower than Ascari's best. Once again, Stuck would be mired down in the back of the pack. He would start the race in the sixth row, 16th overall. Only 19 would start the race.
At only a little over a mile and a half, the laps completed over the course of three hours would reach into the triple digits. This meant a lot of wear and tear once again. Sure enough, the troubles would strike early on, but not for Stuck.
The race got underway with the front row leading the way. Ascari was looking in control already. Nine laps into the race, Villoresi would run into trouble. His engine would let go. This left Ascari up at the front with Manzon trying to hold on. The short circuit posed a hazard to transmissions. And, on the 25th lap of the race, the gearbox would fail on Manzon's T16. This left Ascari practically all alone at the front of the field. Meanwhile, Stuck continued to circulate.
Trouble continued to strike the field. By the time 60 laps had been completed there were nine cars out of the race. Giuseppe Farina would push hard trying to catch Ascari. While pushing, he would set the fastest lap of the race, but would crash out of the running after having completed 111 laps.
Alberto Ascari would go on to win the race. His margin of victory was five laps over Robert Manzon, who had taken over Prince Bira's T15. Johnny Claes finished in 3rd, another two laps further in arrears.
Stuck would not be classified as still running by the end of the race. But he was. Given the troubles over the course of the previous races, and the little troubles throughout this race, Stuck's pace was not all that impressive. In fact, he would only finish 96 laps, compared to Ascari's 134. However, the car finished the race. This was no small victory! This was an important time to be finding some reliability. Unfortunately, it was still a question mark as to whether the reliability would remain should Stuck's pace increase? To find out, Stuck threw caution to the wind and would wait until the middle of May in order to find out. He wouldn't take part in another non-championship race to try and further enhance the reliability of the car. The next race Stuck would take part in was the Swiss Grand Prix. It was the first round of the Formula One World Championship.
Hans Stuck had suffered from an abysmal season leading up to the first round of the Formula One World Championship. He had only managed to finish one race leading up to May, but even that one race he 'officially' didn't finish. The season had gone just that bad. However, Stuck would arrive with his AFM-Kuchen for the 1952 Swiss Grand Prix.
The Swiss Grand Prix took place near Bern, Switzerland. The Bremgarten road circuit was 4.52 miles in length and located to the northwest of Bern. The circuit used roads that wound throughout the surrounding countryside. Though in the valley, the circuit featured a number of elevation changes and undulations. Unfortunately, its tree-lined roads were quite dangerous. Achille Varzi died at the track in 1948.
It was looking like anything but a disaster for Scuderia Ferrari during practice. In spite of the fact Alberto Ascari was in the United States preparing to drive in the Indianapolis 500 at the end of May, Ferrari still had incredible talent behind the wheel. Of course, one of those talents was former World Champion Giuseppe Farina. Farina showed the rest of the field why he had been World Champion when he set the fastest time in practice with a lap of two minutes and forty-seven seconds. Farina's teammate, Piero Taruffi, could only turn in a lap two and a half seconds slower. Robert Manzon would spoil Ferrari's parade a little when he would end up being able to start the race 3rd when he posted a time four and a half seconds slower than Farina's.
Stuck continued to hang around where he had throughout the other events of the season. The pace just wasn't there for the elder champion. His best lap in practice was three minutes and one second. This time was over fourteen seconds slower and would be only good enough for Stuck to start the race 14th. At least this time he wasn't starting from the last row of the grid.
Farina led the way at the start of the 62 lap race. He was followed closely by Taruffi. Simon, also driving for Ferrari was also right there having started the race 4th. Stuck was just hoping the car would keep running. Unfortunately, it wouldn't.
Five entries would be out of the race before 5 laps had been completed. One of those was Stuck in the AFM-Kuchen. Once again, the engine proved fragile and Hans' day was over before it really even started. He was left to watch the race from the sidelines.
Farina was looking good until his car suffered magneto problems on the 16th lap. He had been leading up until that time. Taruffi would gladly take over the lead of the race and would hold onto it for the remaining 46 laps. Taruffi would be in absolute control throughout the remainder of the race and would win by almost a lap over Rudolf Fischer in his Ecurie Espadon Ferrari 500. Jean Behra would end up a lap down, but in 3rd.
After only one race where the car was still running by the end, Stuck had to make some real important decisions. Stuck; however, believed in the AFM and the Kuchen engine. The question was, 'When was enough, enough?' Over the course of the races in which Stuck had entered, the total number of laps run was 415. Stuck had only managed to complete 153 of them. He had only completed a little more than thirty-six percent of the total laps run to that point in the season. It was obvious the engine was too frail. But would it be obvious enough for Stuck to decide to move on?
The answer was: perhaps. Stuck had put in an entry for the 16th Internationales ADAC Eifelrennen on the 25th of May. This race was only 7 laps, but those laps took place on the 14 mile long Nordschleife, where every lap felt like an eternity. And if Stuck had an engine failure out on the course, it would take him an eternity to get back to pack up and leave.
In spite of putting in an entry for the race, Stuck would not appear. Perhaps the old master was coming to his senses?
Reality truly seemed to be sinking in for Stuck. He had taken part in the first two rounds of the French F2 Championship. While each of those races were, by far, his best efforts, they still ended without a good result. After the failure at Bremgarten, it seemed obvious Stuck needed to make a change. He had decided to skip the Eifelrennen at the end of May. However, he would not take part in the third round of the French F2 Championship either.
These non-appearances were followed up by absences at the next couple of non-championship races as well. He would not travel to Albi to take part in the 14th Grand Prix de l'Albigeois on the 1st of June. He would also not take part in the 22nd Grand Prix des Frontieres, which also took place on the 1st of June, as well. He would even skip the Grand Prix of Monza; an event in which he had won a heat race against Alberto Ascari back in 1950.
Nothing was seen, nor really heard, of Stuck for quite a while. The Austrian had suffered from so much troubles that he would even miss the German Grand Prix on the 3rd of August. Stuck wouldn't emerge from obscurity until the middle of August at Leipzig.
On the 17th of August, the same day as the Dutch Grand Prix, Stuck entered his AFM in the 1st Strassen-rennen Leipzig. This was a 20 lap race that took place on the Leipzig city streets surrounding Clara Zetkin Park. A portion of the 2.67 mile circuit ran through the park, around the park's fountain and twice over the Elster Becken.
Stuck had had enough of the Zuchen engine. He would change out the engine in favor of the venerable BMW engine. It would end up being a very smart move on Stuck's part, and it would help the Austrian look forward to the final few months of the grand prix season.
Throughout all of the trials and difficulties, Stuck's endurance, and willingness to continue on, was tested. He would pass his test. In spite of returning to another fragile engine, the BMW engine would prove stronger than the Kuchen. Stuck would complete the 20 lap race in a little over fifty minutes. He not only finished the event. He would go on to score the win! This was an amazing, practically shocking result given the way the season had been going. As far as Stuck was concerned, he was finally able to leave a race without heartbreak.
Filled with hope after the victory at Leipzig, Stuck would head from East Germany to West Germany at the end of August to take part in the 5th DMV Grenzlandringrennen. The race took place on the 31st and would be 12 laps of the egg-shaped, 5.58 mile Grenzlandring.
The Grenzlandring was an interesting circuit. Practically an oval, without the banking, the circuit surrounded the three small villages of Dorp, Wegberg and Beeck. One thing was certain, given the circuit's layout—it was fast! The greater-radius Roermonder Kurve would practically be taken flat-out. In fact, the slowest part on the course was Beecker Kurve, and even that was fast compared to many other circuits. Routinely, average speeds at the circuit exceeded 126 mph.
Despite having scored victory at Leipzig, the Grenzlandring circuit was not extremely suitable to the BMW engine, which was already stretched beyond its limits being that it was a pre-World War II engine. However, Stuck would still enter the race.
Stuck wasn't the only one driving an AFM chassis with a BMW engine. Helmut Niedermayr and Willi Heeks also entered AFM-BMW chassis. These two were definitely privateer entries, while Stuck was also a privateer, but continued to race under the AFM team name.
There would be a large field that would start the race. It was needed to overcome the attrition levels the race would hand out. The speeds were tough on the engines, but they were also dangerous for the drivers. Missing a braking point would have spelled disaster. This would end up happening to Niedermayr as he crashed out of the race.
Niedermayr was only one of fourteen that would end up dropping out of the race. There were three AFM-BMWs entered in the race. Every single one of them would end up not making it the entire race distance. The strain was too much for the old engine. This meant Stuck followed up his victory two weeks prior with yet another failure. What's more, the retirement hurt the Austrian's chances at entering any more races, as it would take time and money to prepare the car after the failure.
Of those who finished the race, the top-five were Veritas chassis. Toni Ulmen would take the victory by eighteen seconds over Hans Klenk. Both were driving Veritas Meteors. Josef Peters would finish 3rd, almost two minutes down to Ulmen. Ulmen had turned the fastest lap in the race. His best lap was two minutes and thirty-one seconds. This meant his average speed over the course of the lap was more than 132 mph!
The failure at Grenzlandring would end up not being that bad for Stuck. The Swiss-based Ecurie Espadon team would hire Stuck for the final round of the Formula One World Championship, the Italian Grand Prix. He would also drive for the team one week later at the 3rd Grand Premio di Modena. In fact, Stuck would not compete in his own AFM chassis throughout the rest of the year.
The last race for the AFM team, the failure at the high-speed Grenzlandring, was the last race for Stuck driving under his own team name. The failures had become too much. The engines just could not handle the strain. If Stuck were to compete again in 1953 he would have need of a different engine. Perhaps with a new engine, Stuck's attempts in the World Championship would be able to last more than just 4 laps.
No doubt inspired by the performances of Mike Hawthorn, and others, Stuck had found his new engine. He would use Bristol engines for the 1953 season. This was a rational decision since the Bristol was based upon the fragile BMW 328 engine. However, it had proven to be much more reliable. Hopefully, for Stuck, the reliability would remain. Of course it couldn't have been any worse than what he had experienced throughout the 1952 season.