TeamsAndre Simon: 1956 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
In the early years of the Formula One World Championship Andre Simon would be an integral part of Equipe Gordini's grand prix efforts. By the mid-1950s, however, Simon would be something of a substitute and privateer driver. Talented and competent behind the wheel, Simon was especially successful in sportscars, but was always a very valid option for the occasional grand prix.
Andre Simon had ended the 1955 Formula One season quite disappointed. He was presented a great opportunity at Monaco when Hans Herrmann crashed in practice in his Mercedes-Benz W196. The injury prevented Herrman from being able to take part in the race. Therefore, Neubauer would approach Simon giving him the opportunity to drive a top grand prix car in the most important race on the Formula One calendar.
Unfortunately, the opportunity would not pan out the way Simon would have liked. Simon would start the long race from the fourth row of the grid and would look steady early on. However, distribution and engine failure after 24 laps would bring his chances of glory to an end.
Though the opportunity at Monaco would go up in smoke with an engine failure, Simon would find himself handed another opportunity later on in the season. In July of 1955 another factory team would come calling on Simon. This time it would be the factory Maserati team. They would offer Simon a seat behind the wheel of a Maserati 250F in the British Grand Prix.
Simon had been driving his own Maserati 250F that he had purchased from the Maserati factory. Driving under his own name and that of Ecurie Rosier, Simon would earn some significant results, including a 6th place at Pau, a 4th a Silverstone in the International Trophy race and a victory in the Grand Prix d'Albi.
It was clear Simon had the talent and ability behind the wheel of the Maserati. However, with the exception of the 4th place in the BRDC International Trophy race, Simon's record on British soil had never been all that good. Sure enough, when he took to the circuit at Aintree his race would be short-lived as gearbox issues at the start would cause him to struggle until he finally retired altogether after just 15 laps.
In spite of his troubles in World Championship events, Simon knew he had a car capable of achieving some good results. After all, the car had been victorious in the hands of Fangio in 1954.
Chassis 2505 would power Juan Manuel Fangio to victory in the Argentine Grand Prix in 1954 and would follow its performance up with another victory in the Belgian Grand Prix. After another victory in the Circuito di Pescara grand prix, the car would come to be owned by Harry Schell for a brief period of time before Andre Simon would purchase the car for use in the 1955 season.
By 1956, newer evolutions of the 250F would make Simon's Maserati not as potent as it once was. However, it was still very capable of top results when in capable hands. Simon was certainly a capable driver, and therefore, the car still had the potential of pulling out podium results if the reliability never came into question.
Simon had ended the 1955 season with a good result in the Tourist Trophy race at Dundrod. Co-driving with a young Wolfgang von Trips, Simon would go on to finish the race in 3rd place.
It was clear Simon's best career path made its way through sportscars instead of single-seater grand prix racing. Therefore, it would be little surprise Simon's 1956 grand prix campaign would begin much later in the year than many of the top drivers in the series. In fact, it wouldn't be until July when Simon would take part in his first grand prix of the 1956 season.
Clearly winding down his racing career, Simon would not take part in a major motor race in 1956 until the beginning of July. He would no longer be a part of the circuit that travelled between rounds of the World Championship and the non-championship races that filled in the gaps. Instead, he would wait until the race that best suit him. Being French, it was almost a given then the first race in which he would take part in 1956 would be the fifth round of the Formula One World Championship—the French Grand Prix.
One year earlier, the landscape of racing would look quite different come early July. The Le Mans disaster had only been a couple of weeks earlier and Andre Simon would be thoroughly engrossed in the entire matter having been paired Karl Kling in a Mercedes 300SL for the famed 24-hour race. The tragedy involving Pierre Levegh in the sister 300SL would lead to Mercedes pulling out of the race early on the Sunday morning, thereby bringing to an end a 5th place run Simon and Kling had going at that time.
Unfortunately, the effects of the tragedy at Le Mans would be much more far reaching. Over concerns for safety, and other matters, a number of races in sportscars and Formula One would be cancelled. One of those to be cancelled was the French Grand Prix held at Reims. This was not all that surprising given the French Grand Prix was to take place just weeks following Le Mans and at a circuit very similar in speeds to those reached at Le Mans. Undoubtedly, the accident caused many within the racing community to think about exactly what it was they were doing, Simon included. However, one year later, the French Grand Prix would be back on the Formula One calendar and that is where Simon would make his grand prix debut for 1956.
As with Le Mans, the Reims circuit is all about one thing—speed. Boasting of 5.15 miles of sheer speed, the Reims circuit would be a manic venue with fast, sweeping curves and only two tight hairpins at Muizon and Thillois to help slow the speeds of the car.
Interestingly, the last time Andre Simon had taken part in his home grand prix had been all the way back in 1951 when he drove with Equipe Gordini. In that event he started well down in the field and ended up being one of six that had their race come to an end within 10 laps. Returning to the Reims circuit in 1956, Simon was obviously looking for a much better result.
Simon would find he had a serious challenge on his hands when he arrived. The factory Maserati team itself would have five entries. Scuderia Ferrari would have five entries themselves and would have the Lancia D50 at their disposal. Other talented factory teams entered in the race included Vandervell Products and Simon's old team Equipe Gordini.
Despite having a 250F at his disposal, Simon would struggle around the Reims circuit. Over the course of practice he would struggle to pick up his speed and would end up setting a fastest lap time of 2:47.9. The average speed over the course of the lap would be just 110 mph. Compare that to Juan Manuel Fangio, who would capture the pole with an average speed of 129 mph and it would be thoroughly understandable why Simon would start on the 8th row of the grid in the 20th position overall—dead-last.
While Simon was obviously struggling, the torgue and power of the Lancia-Ferrari D50s would show their form on the ultra-fast circuit. In fact, the entire front row of the grid would be swept by the Ferrari stable. Fangio would be on pole after setting a lap time of 2:23.3. Eugenio Castellotti would be in the middle of the front row posting a time just a little more than a second slower. And, Peter Collins would take the final front row position being just another second slower than Castellotti.
The day of the race would see the skies dark but the circuit dry. Despite the Le Mans tragedy of a year earlier, a great crowd assembles around the circuit ready to watch 61 laps of racing unfold before them. The cars would be lined up on the grid with Stirling Moss having an anxious moment as his Maserati fails to fire just before the start of the race. His crew would push him out to get the car started and Moss would immediately drop it into reverse to retake his position on the grid.
Moments later, the flag would drop and the race would get underway with the Lancia-Ferraris pulling out well ahead of the rest of the field as they headed toward the fast right-hander at the end of the start/finish straight.
As the field approached the hairpin that led onto the long straight down Route Nationale 31 it would be Collins and Castellotti just ahead of Fangio. Trouble at the start of the race for Villoresi would see Simon running just ahead of the final spot in the field as the cars streaked across the start/finish line to complete the first lap.
The three Lancia-Ferraris of Castellotti, Collins and Fangio would hold down the first three places throughout the first half of the race while Simon would be found struggling at the very end of the field. All of the racing was to be found between these two bookends then and there would be great drama indeed.
Fangio would lead Castellotti and Collins from the 4th lap until the 30th. Simon would make a stop in the pits after just a few laps as mechanical problems plagued the car's performance. Mike Hawthorn would be flying in the Vanwall early on and would be found in 4th place until handing over the car to Harry Schell who had dropped out after just 5 laps. Hawthorn was not at all well and the weakness in his body was taking its toll. Therefore, Schell would take over the Vanwall and would immediately set out to catch up to the three leading Ferraris.
By the halfway mark of the race Simon was still to be found in last place, but at least was still out there running on the circuit. This is more than could be said for Stirling Moss' car, Maurice Trintignant and Alfonso de Portago. At the front of the field, however, things were getting really interesting. Harry Schell had been on a charge ever since he took over Hawthorn's Vanwall. At the time he rejoined the race he was all the way down in 8th place. In 10 short laps, he would make up a lot of lost ground and would be in 4th place. He would show the Vanwall was the only other car out there that really had the power to keep up with the Ferraris.
But he wasn't done yet. While Simon had a Maserati 250F that looked more like a Gordini going around the circuit, Schell would be pushing even harder in the Vanwall. Ferrari would signal its drivers to pick up the pace. However, the only driver than seemed to do so would be Schell. Just past the halfway mark of the race, Fangio would be leading, but only a couple of car lengths back would be Schell. Lap after lap Schell maintained the pace and the pressure on Fangio. The question was 'Who would crack first?' In reality, neither. After 4 wonderful laps in 2nd place, Schell would begin to drop back. The Vanwall had hit a wall.
Just about the same time Schell began his backward trend, Simon was about to relive his trend in the French Grand Prix. The early mechanical problems had slowed Simon from almost the very beginning of the race but had not worsened to the point that he could not carry on. However, after 41 laps the mechanical problems would worsen to such a degree that he would be forced out of the race altogether.
Simon's departure from the race would almost entirely overlooked when Fangio suddenly pits his Ferrari. Moments later, the Argentinean would rejoin the race but down in 4th place—almost certain victory snatched right out of his hands.
Enjoying a comfortable lead over Jean Behra in a Maserati, Collins and Castellotti would battle it out for the lead of the race. Juan Manuel Fangio would be pushing hard to get back what he lost. However, his long stop in the pits would do him irreparable harm as he would eat into the lead of his Ferrari teammates, but not at a fast enough pace.
Heading into the final 10 laps of the race, Collins would hold onto the lead of the race over Castellotti. The two Ferraris continued to circulate just tenths of a second apart while Behra and Fangio were a distant 3rd and 4th.
Crossing the line to start the final lap of the race, Collins would be just a couple of tenths ahead of Castellotti while Behra and Fangio remained the only other drivers still on the lead lap with the two leaders.
Holding station down the long straightaway and through the final hairpin at Thillois, Collins would power his way across the line to his second-straight victory. Just three-tenths of a second behind came Castellotti in 2nd place. A minute and 30 seconds behind Collins came the Frenchman Jean Behra in 3rd.
It would be the second-straight victory for Collins and just his second World Championship victory ever. While Collins would be enjoying the spoils of victory, Simon would be left suffering from yet another retirement in a World Championship race. In fact, this race had been his 9th World Championship race, and, out of those nine races he had only managed to finish twice. It was clear Simon was approaching the end of his Formula One career, and such an unfortunate retirement was making the departure both easier and harder.
The mechanical difficulties suffered by Simon during the French Grand Prix would cause a great deal of problems for the Frenchman. He had purchased the car himself and had mostly entered events under his own name. Therefore, the costs associated with going racing were all on Simon's shoulders. This was a tremendous burden to bear, especially given the difficulties he had faced. This would cause Simon to think about the situation a great deal. The mechanical difficulties suffered at Reims would also come to bear as it would cost a not insignificant amount of money to repair the Maserati and get it ready for the next race on the calendar. The best situation for Simon would be to find a team in which he could gain a seat. This would lead him to turning to an old friend—Gordini.
Throughout the 1952 season, the first of the Formula 2 era, Simon had back-up opportunities with Scuderia Ferrari. In fact, this opportunity would see him finish the Italian Grand Prix in 6th place. However, when it came to Formula 2, Simon's name was almost entirely attached to Equipe Gordini as he was an integral part of the program's early years. Therefore, Gordini would find a way for his former driver to gain a seat.
While most drivers were looking for opportunities to leave Gordini by the mid-1950s, Simon would return to the team rather happy not to have to pay all the bills associated with racing under his own name. Yes, the Gordini cars were not amongst the front-runners but it was still an opportunity to go racing without all of the burden.
Immediately the return of Simon to Gordini would be successful. At the Grand Prix de Caen, Simon would take to the wheel of the older T16 chassis and would find himself in the middle of a grid filled with Maserati 250Fs. Still, Simon would show his skills behind the wheel by remaining the only other driver on the lead lap with Schell and coming home in an incredible 2nd place. This would be an incredible performance for the journeyman in the aged machine.
Simon and Gordini would keep the surprises coming in the final round of the Formula One World Championship. Powering around the 6.2 ultra-fast Monza circuit, Andre would manage to keep his car from destroying itself over the bumpy banking and would come away with a 9th place finish some 5 laps behind eventual winner Stirling Moss.
Simon's grand prix season had come to an end. And, despite starting it out with a more competitive car than that which he ended the season with, Simon's second part of the season certainly faired much better. Though much more proficient behind the wheel of sportscars, Andre would have the same kind of results as he had with his own Maserati. Needless to say, the 1956 season was a difficult one and it only further confirmed his thoughts concerning stepping away from racing. The major issue he had was the cost associated. If he could find a factory ride to bear the burden then he would certainly continue. But that would be the major question heading into the 1957 season.