Teams1952 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
Maserati was a family affair. Practically everyone of the six sons of Rodolfo and Carolina Maserati were engineers. Their father had worked with the railroad for years and would pass on the love for mechanical devices to his sons. Bindo, Alfieri II, Mario, Ettore and Ernesto would go even further to establish the luxury manufacturing company known simply as Maserati. Recognizing the gains to be made in advertising and technology by racing, the brothers then established Officine Alfieri Maserati. This venture would turn out to be quite successful very quickly.
However, the story of Maserati is filled with tragedy and ill-timing. The death of Alfieri II took away the team's soul. The unfortunate events, like World War II and other events, would leave the incredibly talented Maserati engineers constantly in servitude to masters that lacked the same vision, but had the finances. In their last days with their own company name, Ettore and Ernesto would help create and build the Maserati 4CLT and the 4CLT/48 derivative.
These models would be even more popular than its 4CL predecessor. Many small teams and privateer entrants would turn to the chassis. Even inaugural World Champion Giuseppe Farina would drive a Maserati 4CLT/48 when he was entering races under his own name. While the cars were quite successful, the official Maserati works team was on a sharp downhill decline and had been ever since Alfieri's death back in 1932. This was in sharp contrast to the successful many other teams and individuals were having with the very same chassis. Obviously, the soul of Maserati had died.
Tragically, the remaining Maserati brothers would leave their company, and their name, behind to go form OSCA. Maserati needed new life. They would find it in Alberto Massimino, Vittorio Bellentani and Gioacchino Colombo.
These gentlemen would work with what they had upon coming to the team. They would then make important improvements in order to make Officine Alfieri Maserati competitive once again. Massimino and Colombo had both worked with Alfa Romeo. Colombo had even been with Ferrari after the end of World War II. After leaving Enzo and Co. Colombo would go back to Alfa Romeo and would help to engineer what would end up being two-straight Formula One Drivers' Championships. He would then leave as Alfa Romeo was leaving grand prix racing altogether. Colombo would then join Massimino at Maserati. He and Massimino would take the 4CLT/48 chassis and make important improvements to increase the car's performance and handling. What would result would become known as the A6GCM. Life was coming back to Maserati.
The A6GCM had actually been built at the end of 1951. However, it would really bring Maserati back to the forefront of competitive grand prix racing in 1952. This was because the governing-body for the World Championship had decided the 1952 and 1953 seasons would be run according to Formula 2 regulations. This was exactly what the A6GCM had been built for. Officine Alfieri Maserati hadn't even taken part in the Formula One World Championship in 1951. But now, in 1952, the team would be back and as strong as it ever had been.
The team had its new car. It needed drivers for the car. Alfa Romeo's departure from grand prix racing meant there were a couple of better-than-average drivers available. Alfa Romeo had provided the mount for the first two Formula One World Champions in history, and they weren't the same. Giuseppe Farina had won the championship in its inaugural year. In its sophomore season, Juan Manuel Fangio had won the championship. These were two incredible talents and Maserati would act fast.
Fangio would commit to driving for the revitalized team. Farina would end up going to Ferrari. This opened up the possibilities for a couple other drivers. Jose Froilan Gonzalez, a, Argentinean like Fangio, had earned Ferrari its first-ever Formula One victory at the British Grand Prix the previous season. Gonzalez would end up leaving Ferrari and would be hired by Maserati. Sports car and short-term grand prix driver for Ferrari, Felice Bonetto, would also leave the Maranello-based team and come to drive for the 'other' car company that was based just a little over ten miles up the road.
Not wanting to suffer from ill-timing as the Maserati brothers had, the new Maserati team would take some time to assemble and get everything in place before it would make its return to grand prix racing. Until they would make their appearance, many of their drivers would have to find other teams for which to drive. Gonzalez would remain with Ferrari, but would only take part in the races that allowed Formula One cars, like the 375 Gonzalez had taken to victory the year before, to compete. Fangio would drive for the ill-fated BRM team with its 16-cylinder P15. Then, in early June, Officine Alfieri Maserati would make its return.
Officine Alfieri Maserati would make a return to grand prix racing in a big way. The team would bring three cars to Monza, Italy for the 5th Gran Premio dell'Autodromo di Monza on the 8th of June.
Monza was the center of the grand prix world in Italy and it was the perfect setting in which the team could make its return. On top of it all, Monza was only about two hours northwest of Modena.
The team had brought three cars for the race. However, there were concerns the third, and perhaps most important, would not even take to the track. Two of the team's drivers, Felice Bonetto and Jose Froilan Gonzalez were present. The third driver was in Ireland taking part in the Ulster Trophy race on the 7th of June. Unfortunately, even up to an hour before the Monza Grand Prix was to start their third driver had not arrived.
Juan Manuel Fangio had agreed to drive for Maserati after leaving Alfa Romeo. However, while waiting for the team to assemble and get ready, Fangio would agree to drive for other teams. Fangio had made such an agreement with BRM. He agreed to drive their Formula One P15 in the Ulster Trophy race in Dundrod, Ireland, and then, would catch a flight to the mainland to join the Maserati team in time for the Monza Grand Prix. Fangio; however, would miss a connecting flight out of Ireland. He would make his way to Paris later than planned, and then, decided he would drive all through the night to arrive in time for the race the next day. He would do just that. A half hour before the start of the race, he would arrive. This was not the way to prepare to face Scuderia Ferrari and what was proving to be a very good Ferrari 500 F2 chassis.
Practice would go a long way toward proving just how strong the car really was. Piero Taruffi had won the first round of the World Championship with it, even with the absence of Alberto Ascari to America. But now, Ascari was back. And in practice he would show just how potent he and the Ferrari 500 could be.
Ascari would set the fastest time around the 3.91 mile circuit. He would average better than 111 mph en route to the pole. Giuseppe Farina, now also driving for Ferrari, would end up second-fastest. Gonzalez would show the speed of the new A6GCM when he would manage to put the car on the front row beside Farina and Luigi Villoresi in the 4th, and final, spot on the front row. Bonetto would only confirm the presence of a revitalized Alfieri Maserati team when he would end up starting the race from the second row in the 6th. Although Fangio was driving a car, it wasn't the A6GCM. Therefore, he would start from dead-last on the grid with no time.
A tired Fangio would quickly climb into his car to get ready for the start of the race. Though he was starting from 29th, Fangio was more than capable of climbing up the running order. In the minds of many, the question was, 'How long until he is challenging Ascari?' The answer would end up coming within the first five minutes.
The Monza Grand Prix ran slightly different than most other races. The entire event was comprised of two, 35 lap, heat races. The overall winner was determined by the aggregate time earned over the course of the two heats. Therefore, being fast was important. However, being reliable would also come into play.
The first 35 lap heat race got underway. Ascari had the lead and was already starting to pull away at the front. A few cars would end up out of the race before the 2nd lap. Then, on the 3rd lap, Maserati's return to grand prix racing almost had a tragic end.
A tired Fangio would end up going off the track at a high-speed portion and would crash heavily. The World Champion's life was threatened. The carnage from the wreck was terrible. Fangio would be extracted from the car and taken to the hospital. His neck and back were broken, but he still had full use of all of his extremities. However, he would be done racing for the year.
While Fangio was facing very threatening bodily harm, Bonetto and Gonzalez were facing the prospect of just trying to get their cars to the end of the first heat without them suffering great harm. Ascari was not making it easy by any means. His pace was torrid. Then, 27 laps into the race, Gonzalez would retire from the race due to magneto troubles. Bonetto would do everything he could just to hold on.
Ascari would average a little over 109 mph and would take the first heat victory by more than a minute over Farina. Only Farina remained on the lead lap with Ascari by the end. Fellow Ferrari driver, Andre Simon, was locked in a fierce battle with Bonetto throughout the majority of the first heat. The result of the first heat would come right down to the very wire. In the end, Simon would finish a lap down in 3rd place. He would only beat Bonetto by two-tenths of a second. Bonetto was doing his part to show the new Maserati wasn't afraid of the Ferrari chassis.
Only sixteen cars and drivers would be given starting positions for the second, and last, heat. The starting order for the second heat was determined by the finishing order from the first. Therefore, Bonetto would move up to the front row with Ascari, Farina and Simon.
During the first heat race, Ascari had shown that speed was important as it gave him, by far, the best time. Should he be able to keep the same pace up, the winner, based upon aggregate time, would be no contest. But in the second heat, Farina, as well as, Ascari would prove reliability to be of even greater importance.
The second race started much the same as the first. However, Ascari was being a little more cautious. It would be Farina that would throw caution to the wind. Farina would end up setting the fastest time of the heat with a time one-tenth faster than Ascari's best the previous heat. Then, on the 14th lap, the more-careful pace Farina had taken over the course of the first heat would pay off. The camshaft would fail on Ascari's Ferrari. He was out of the race. The lead was handed to Farina.
In Bonetto's case, it didn't matter whether it was Ascari or Farina. The pace would be too much for him. He would see Ascari, and then Farina, go by him multiple times before the end of the heat.
Farina's car would on all the way to the very end. Farina, as a result, would take the victory in the second heat. He had a minute and a half in hand over Simon in 2nd. Bonetto had; unfortunately, slipped on down the order. This enabled the steady Rudolf Fischer to come up into the 3rd place position at the end of the second heat. While still running at the end, Bonetto would be declared not classified at the end as he was five laps down to Farina.
The overall results were rather easy to foretell. Farina would end up winning the whole event by a whole lap over Simon in 2nd. Farina would also end up four laps ahead of 3rd place finisher Rudolf Fischer. Alfieri Maserati's hopes rested with Bonetto. However, with his non-classification at the end of the second heat, he would end up not classified in the aggregate scoring as well.
The return would not be a Cinderella-type story. In fact, it was more reminiscent of the troubles the Maserati brothers had had while they were running the team. The team needed Providence to be on their side.
The team would not test the World Championship waters just yet. In fact, the team would not take part in any races major Formula 2 races throughout the end of June, or, through the whole of July. However, in very early August, Alfieri Maserati would dispatch one car with Felice Bonetto to take part in the sixth round of the World Championship.
The sixth round of the World Championship would not be an easy race by any means. The race was the German Grand Prix and it would be held on the 14 mile long Nordschleife, or 'North Loop', on the 3rd of August.
Later to be called the 'Green Hell', the Nordschleife twists, turns, rises and falls for 14 miles through the Eifel mountains in western Germany. Considered perhaps the most dangerous and technically challenging circuit in the world, just one lap took every bit of a driver's concentration and memory.
This would be a severe test for the new chassis. It would not be made any easier by the dominant Ferrari team. It wouldn't just be Bonetto against the Ferrari team, however. Thirty drivers would end up starting the race.
The German Grand Prix was an important race for Ascari. Were he to win the race he would secure the World Championship. With this kind of motivation, Alberto was fast. He would end up turning the fastest lap of practice with a time of ten minutes and four seconds. He would end up being three seconds faster than Farina over the 14 miles.
The gap from 2nd to the rest of the field began to become significant. Maurice Trintignant would start the race from the front row in the 3rd position. However, his fastest time in practice would be about twelve seconds slower than Farina in 2nd place. Robert Manzon, Equipe Gordini teammate to Trintignant, would round-out the front row in 4th, but his best time would be eighteen seconds slower than Farina's time.
Bonetto's best time would be in the range of a minute slower than Ascari's pole-winning effort. Still, the time was good enough that he would start the race from the third row of the grid in the 10th position. Should the car hold together for the 18 laps, not only would Bonetto have a good chance at a good result, but Alfieri Maserati would also have earned a small victory in the reliability category and would have gained more confidence.
A lap of the Nordschleife could be a truly bitter experience. Each race consisted of a few number of laps due to the length of the course. Psychologically, an early failure could seem worse than what it truly was just because one lap took so long to complete. On top of it all, a failure out on the opposite end of the course presented the driver with either a long walk or a long wait, neither one was very pleasant to think about.
Eight of the thirty starters would have the experience of having zero laps completed next to their names. Unfortunately for Alfieri Maserati, Bonetto would be one of those with a zero next to his name. While contesting the 1st lap of the race, Bonetto would spin out. In order to get going again he would receive a push start. This was forbidden and, as a result, Bonetto was disqualified from the race before it even truly began.
However, the race never did truly begin. Right from the waving of the green flag to start the race, Ascari had the lead and was well in control of the field. He would start to pull out an advantage over the rest of the field. The only real battles were taking place behind him.
Farina was solidly in 2nd place, trying in vain to keep up the pursuit of Ascari. Maurice Trintignant's accident on the 2nd lap, and Robert Manzon's accident on the 9th, would enable the gentleman-driver Rudolf Fischer to get by Taruffi and run 3rd.
Although thirty had started the race, less than halfway through, the field had been reduced down to twelve still running. Another four were being dropped, hand-over-fist, by Ascari and his pace at the front.
The only real exciting moment of the race came going into the final lap. Ascari had begun to suffer from an oil related problem. He figured he had enough of a lead, and wasn't sure if the car would make it the final lap, to come in and pit and then rejoin the race. The stop would take a good while; long enough for Farina to catch and pass Ascari for the lead. This was the last lap; ten minutes of racing remaining. Ascari would rejoin and would quickly take up the pursuit of Farina. Earlier, on the 10th lap of the race, Ascari had managed to lap the circuit with a time less than a second slower than his pole-winning time. He had the pace to catch Farina.
There was nothing Farina could do. Ascari would catch him with plenty of road still to go. Ascari would end up getting by and wouldn't just win by a second or two. No, Ascari would manage to pull out a fourteen second advantage over Farina by the time he crossed the line. Ascari ended up leading every single one of the eighteen laps.
At ten minutes a lap, not seconds, but minutes would separate the finishers. Fischer would hold on to finish the race 3rd. In fact, he was the last car on the lead lap. He would finish seven minutes and ten seconds behind Ascari. Only eight would be classified as having finished by the end. There were four cars still running that would end up not classified because Ascari had managed to lap them four-to-five times before the end. In essence, these drivers were between forty-to-fifty MINUTES behind at the end. Bonetto would end up longing to be so blessed.
Throughout the 1952 season, Colombo continued to make improvements, particularly to the 6-cylinder, in-line engine. By the end of the season, he would manage to produce an engine capable of 180 hp. In a little over a month after the German Grand Prix, Alfieri Maserati would have the opportunity to see just how much of a difference the new engine would make.
In early September, Officine Alfieri Maserati would make a jaunt back up to Monza. This time; however, it was the eighth, and final, round of the World Championship. It would not be a couple of heat races and an aggregate scoring system. The race would be 80 laps of the 3.91 mile circuit.
It wouldn't be a minimal effort. This was the Italian Grand Prix. Monza was just two hours up the road from Modena. It would be filled with Italian racing fans. Maserati couldn't just send a single car to the race. Therefore, the team would send three cars to the race. They would be driven by Jose Froilan Gonzalez, Felice Bonetto and Franco Rol.
The race would be 312 miles of the ultra-fast Monza road course. Opened in 1925, Monza, which was built in the Royal Villa of Monza park, actually consisted of more than just the road course. The circuit also had a steeply-banked oval that incorporated in with the road course itself. However, the road course was such that the average speeds didn't suffer all that much compared to the oval course. In fact, cars would routinely circulate the road course with an average speed in excess of 109 mph.
In the hands of Alberto Ascari, the Ferrari 500 would manage to turn a lap with an even faster average speed. Ascari's fastest lap in practice would be two minutes and five seconds. This would be achieved having an average speed in excess of 111 mph over the course of the lap. This would end up being fast enough for the new World Champion to claim the pole.
Luigi Villoresi would end up being the second-fastest driver in practice. His best lap would be only nine-tenths slower than Alberto's best time. Giuseppe Farina would end up making it Ferrari one-two-three on the starting grid. Unfortunately for Ferrari, their other drivers would be unable to make it a clean sweep of the front row. Instead, Maurice Trintignant would start 4th.
Gonzalez would enjoy, and make good use of, the improved performance of the A6GCM. He would complete a lap in just under two seconds slower than Ascari and would start right behind the pole-sitter in the 5th position.
Neither Bonetto nor Rol could match Gonzalez's pace in practice. Bonetto would end up being the better starter of the two, but only just barely. Bonetto's best time was in the neighborhood of six seconds slower than Ascari. As a result, he would start on the fourth row in 13th. Rol would start on the fourth row as well, but in 16th position.
The last time that team had been at Monza two of its cars failed to make it through the first heat race. Fangio, the team's great hope had crashed heavily on the 3rd lap of the race. This time would be different. Armed with the new short-stroke 2.0-liter engine that produced 180 hp Gonzalez made it clear what his plans for the race were. Ascari had a big target painted on his back and Gonzalez would make it very clear he wanted to be the one to break Ascari's record he had going on the season. Ascari had not lost in a World Championship event every since his return from the United States. Jose wanted to make sure Alberto wouldn't sweep them all.
At the start of the race, Gonzalez would make his way by Ascari, albeit on lighter fuel tanks. Gonzalez would use his lighter weight, and the 180 hp, to open up a gap over Ascari. His intention was to create a large enough gap that when he stopped for fuel he would be able to rejoin the circuit either in the lead, or, near enough to challenge. Initially it was working. With each lap, Jose stretched the margin more and more.
In spite of early attrition, which claimed a few of the starters, the field continued to roar around the circuit without too much of an issue. At over 109 mph each and every lap; however, the engines were being strained to the breaking point. On the 24th lap, Rol's engine had decided it had had too much and broke. Bonetto; however, was looking impressive as he managed to slowly work his way up the running order.
Gonzalez's pace was rapid in an attempt to gap Ascari, who was also lapping very fast. Then, as the first-third of the race was drawing to a close, Gonzalez had maxed-out the lead he was going to gain over Ascari. Ascari's fuel load lessened, which enabled him to match Jose. Therefore, Jose would make for the pits to take on fuel.
The lead would not be enough. Ascari would flash by into the lead. In fact, a few others would also pass by before Jose was back on track. When he returned, he was running down in 5th place. Under no real threat from behind, Jose could keep his focus squarely ahead of him. From that point on, he would put together a truly impressive performance.
With the lead, Ascari would try and stretch the margin over the rest of the field. Very soon, those running near the top-ten would end up being passed by Ascari more than once. Aware that Gonzalez was on a charge, Ascari would go out and set the fastest lap of the race on the 56th lap. Gonzalez would not allow Ascari to get off easy as he would match the very same time the very next lap. The two were trading blows. By this time, Jose had managed to get back up into the top-three, while many of the others would find their cars had also had enough. Many of the top contenders like Robert Manzon and Jean Behra, for Equipe Gordini, Mike Hawthorn and Stirling Moss were well off the pace.
On the 60th lap of the race, Jose would again match the fastest lap time of the race and would sitting in 2nd place. Bonetto was doing his best to fend off Andre Simon for a top-five position.
In spite of Jose's inspired drive, Ascari would be able to maintain his advantage and would go on to win his sixth-straight World Championship race. Jose would finish a very fine 2nd for Alfieri Maserati. Although he would end up one minute and one seconds down, Gonzalez had proven Maserati was back on the rise. Luigi Villoresi would finish over a minute behind Gonzalez in 3rd position. While Gonzalez was getting all of the attention in his will to beat Ascari, Bonetto would quietly bring the second, and last running Maserati, across the line 5th, one lap down. It was obvious Ferrari had some new competition. Unfortunately, the World Championship season would end just when it was starting to look promising. However, 1953 seemed like it would be a very intriguing year, especially with Fangio returning to drive for the team.
Gonzalez's efforts would garner him 6.5 points. The half of a point was for the shared fastest lap with Ascari. This was the only World Championship race in which Jose would take part for Maserati all year and he would take full advantage of the improvements made to the car by Colombo. Even Bonetto would benefit.
Bonetto had taken part in one other World Championship race, the German Grand Prix. However, he would be disqualified after spinning and receiving help to get going. The updated engine would help him to get going at the Italian Grand Prix. After starting 13th, Bonetto would manage to finish 5th, and would earn two points for the effort.
In only two events, Maserati's drivers would earn 8.5 points. The team was on the right track. Should Colombo, who had earned two Drivers World Championship titles with Alfa Romeo, could keep up his good work there would soon be an all-out feud in Modena.
Although the World Championship season was over, there were still a number of non-championship races that would take place. As it had been throughout the course of the season, Alfieri Maserati would be very careful and selective as to which, if any, races it would attend. Of course, there was no choice in the matter concerning the race just one week after the Italian Grand Prix.
On the 14th of September, Officine Alfieri Maserati would bring two cars to the 3rd Gran Premio di Modena. Jose Froilan Gonzalez, fresh from his failed heroics at Monza, would drive one of the cars. Felice Bonetto would drive the other.
The team could have literally pushed the cars to the event as the race was just down the street at the Aerautodromo di Modena. The circuit opened in 1950 and ran around and amidst a one mile long airstrip used by the local flying club. Similar to many of the other airfields that would become used for hosting grand prix races, the airfield was wide and flat; however, the circuit was relatively short at only 1.5 miles in length. The circuit would end up being demolished quite a few years later and a park would develop on the site. As somehat of a slap in the face to Maserati, the park, which is literally just down the street from its headquarters, would end up being named in honor of Enzo Ferrari, whose headquarters were eleven miles down the road in Maranello.
In spite of Jose's best efforts, Ferrari just could not be outdone in practice. Of course the fastest of the Ferraris would be Alberto Ascari. He would start from the pole after completing a lap of the 1.5 mile circuit in one minute and four seconds. Luigi Villoresi would end up supplanting Farina from the 2nd place position with a time just two-tenths faster. Farina would be joined on the second row by Gonzalez, whose time was exactly two seconds slower than Ascari's best. Bonetto would not even take part in practice as he would suffer from a core plug issue. This would sideline him and prevent him from even turning a wheel.
The race, despite taking place on a mile and a half circuit, would not be all that short. The race consisted of 100 laps. This would take its toll on the cars, as a number of front-runners would find out.
Everyone got away cleanly at the start. Ascari was looking strong, but so too were the other Ferrari drivers and Gonzalez and the A6GCM. Only 9 laps into the race, the talented Jean Behra would end up retiring from the race in his Equipe Gordini T16 due to differential problems.
Exactly 9 laps later, the Italian faithful would get punched in the stomach when Ascari slowed, and then retired, due to an oil system failure. However, he wasn't out the race. Though his car had decided it was done, Ascari wasn't. The team would have Sergio Sighinolfi pull in and give his car to Ascari for the remainder of the race.
Ascari's failure, and subsequent wait for alternate transportation, would open the door for Gonzalez, who was running really strongly. He would soon be locked in a serious duel with Luigi Villoresi. While Ascari would try and try to catch up to the two, Villoresi and Gonzalez ran away from the rest of the field as they became embroiled in their battle. Very soon, the two started to lap some of the front-running cars. By the end of the race, the field, up to and including 5th place, would be at least one lap down.
The battle raged, oblivious to what was going on behind them. What was going on behind them was that Ascari had managed to make it back up to 3rd spot and was finally able to start reeling in the two front-runners.
Ascari wouldn't have enough time considering the pace of Gonzalez and Villoresi. Gonzalez would set the fastest lap of the race with a time of one minute and five seconds. However, Villoresi would end up matching it. It was like that—blow-for-blow. The race wouldn't even be decided by the time the two headed out on the last lap. Gonzalez pressured hard, looking for a place and an opportunity to get past Villoresi. Right down to the start/finish line the race wasn't quite over. Then, as they crossed the line it finally became clear. Villoresi would end up just beating Gonzalez. It had been an incredible battle between a current Ferrari driver and a former one. The pace would end up being too much, even for Ascari. He would finish the race 3rd, albeit just under thirty seconds behind.
Gonzalez had fought hard over the course of two weeks and would earn podium finishes in each. But still, 2nd didn't compare to 1st. Maserati was proud of what they had been able to achieve over the course of just one week, but all the results ended up confirming was that they were close, but not quite close enough. The team had seen what the new car could do. Now it was time to step away for the rest of the year in order to prepare for a full-out assault the following season. 1952 had served its purpose. It had brought life back to the team, and, it had served as a foundation for Maserati's resurrection from the depths of grand prix despair. Officine Alfieri Maserati