TeamsOfficine Alfieri Maserati: 1953 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
Maserati seemed destined to join the ranks of Alfa Romeo and Ferrari when, in the late 1940s, the manufacturer would produce the 4CLT and the 4CLT/48 and 50. Soon, fields were filled with the chassis. And perhaps while not quite on the same level as Alfa Romeo's all-dominant 158 Alfetta, the Maserati designs seemed to be headed on a path for glory and honor.
Maserati seemed to be on course to become the elite manufacturer. Many privateers and small teams would put their faith in the powerful cars, and many would reap their benefits. However, most were unaware of the financial crisis that was threatening the company. But it would become apparent as the 1950s began.
After such great promise just a couple of years earlier, the official Maserati works team would take part in its last Formula One race in 1950. There would be many other teams that would race the Maserati chassis up through 1951 but they would do so without much factory support. Even in 1952 the aged Maserati 4CLT/48 and 50 would appear, albeit modified in order to compete.
The decision to run the 1952 and 1953 seasons according to Formula 2 regulations were meant to stymie the increasing costs and reduced competition in the World Championship. It was meant to draw new entries to the World Championship. While this would work, there was still no Maserati factory effort. But it was coming.
The success of the 4CLT and the 4CLT 48 and 50 meant Maserati were on to something. Although the Maserati brothers were now gone from the very manufacturer they had established many years ago, they had laid the groundwork with the competitive chassis. The fact many other small teams and privateers continued to enter the chassis meant there was still some untapped potential in the car and it could eventually lead to something even better. The car just needed someone to believe and invest in it. Enter the foursome of Massimino, Bellentani, Columbo and Fantuzzi.
Massimino and Bellentani would be the first to realize there was still some more potential in the design the Maserati brothers had helped produce right before they departed from the company bearing their name. The two would start by focusing on the engine. Medardo Fantuzzi would come along and focus on the body, especially the frame. One of the final keys would come at the end of the 1951 season. In late 1951, with Alfa Romeo having already announced its withdrawal from the World Championship, Gioacchino Columbo would come to Maserati and would begin to help deliver Maserati to the level everyone believed it was going to reach.
Although the new car, called the A6GCM, would appear at non-championship races earlier during the 1952 season, the car wouldn't appear at a World Championship event until the very end. By the time the World Championship was wrapping up its season at the Italian Grand Prix, the A6GCM's engine had been tweaked to produce around 180 hp. After not competing in a World Championship race since 1950, the Officine Alfieri Maserati team would return with a vengeance as it would have two cars finish in the top five. One of them, driven by Jose Froilan Gonzalez, would end up 2nd.
While the aged 4CLT/48 chassis design had served well for the A6GCM, Colombo new that the car had reached the end of its life. A new car needed to be developed in order for Maserati to truly step into that other realm. Colombo would go to work and would produce an almost new car inside and out. It would be just one of a couple of designs Colombo had in the works. Therefore, when it was debuted it would be called the A6SSG, or, the A6GCM 'Interim'. The 'Interim' chassis was capable of producing upwards of 190 hp now. The car had the power. The team needed some drivers to drive them.
In 1952, Maserati had acquired the talents of the reigning World Champion at the time, Juan Manuel Fangio, to drive for the team during the season. Delayed waiting on the new A6GCM, Fangio would find employment driving for other efforts in many non-championship races. This arrangement would almost take his life.
After missing a connecting flight from Ireland, due to taking part in another non-championship race with another team, Fangio would arrive on the European mainland and would drive all the way to Monza in time for the Grand Prix of Monza. He would arrive a half hour before the start of the race. The tired Argentinean would take the start, and only a couple of laps later, would crash heavily. His life was truly threatened by the crash. He would end up with a broken back and would end up sitting out the rest of the season. Maserati's factory effort had just lost its most talented driver.
1953; however, would be a different story. The team's chief pilot would be ready. He would be flanked by a squadron of Argentinean drivers and the first race of the 1953 season would be on home ground.
For the first time in the World Championship's history the series would be truly a World Championship. The first round of the season would be the first round of the World Championship and it was the '1st Gran Premio de la Republica Argentina'.
Over the last couple of years, many of the grand prix teams and drivers had been travelling to South America to take part in races during the off-season in Europe. President Juan Peron was eager to have the World Championship come to Argentina as he would use it as a political and promotional tool. Therefore, the idea of the grand prix was presented to the governing-body, and, on January 18th, Buenos Aires would become the first site outside of Europe to host a World Championship race. Though the Indianapolis 500 counted toward the World Championship, it still wasn't really considered part of the World Championship.
The Officine Alfieri Maserati team would arrive in Buenos Aires with four cars. Three of the four would be driven in the race by Argentineans. Juan Manuel Fangio and Jose Froilan Gonzalez were two of the names from Argentina of which people were aware. At the Autodromo Oscar Alfredo Galvez, another car would be prepared for a lesser known Argentinean Oscar Galvez and the well known Italian Felice Bonetto.
Situated in a flat plain to the south of the city, the site for the 97 lap race was the Autodromo Oscar Alfredo Galvez. The autodromo had been designed as a motorsports complex featuring a circuit with a number of possible layout arrangements. In the case of the Argentine Grand Prix, circuit number two, measuring 2.43 miles in length would be the circuit used.
During practice, Fangio seemed to be anything but rusty as he was fast throughout. Unfortunately for Fangio and the rest of the team, they were driving cars that still hadn't been 'tweaked' like some of the newer designs. While they were good cars, the A6GCM was still based on an aged design and just could not match the pace of the all-powerful Ferrari 500 F2s of Scuderia Ferrari. Therefore, the pole would go to the new World Champion Alberto Ascari. His time around the 2.43 mile circuit was one minute, fifty-five and four-tenths seconds. Fangio would end up starting the race from 2nd place on the four-wide front row with a time that was only seven-tenths of a second slower. Fangio would find himself all-alone as the rest of the front row would consist of Ferraris driven by Luigi Villoresi and Giuseppe Farina.
Jose Froilan Gonzalez would be slightly slower than his fellow countryman but he was still well within the picture for the race as he would start from the 5th position on the second row. Oscar Galvez would use his local knowledge to good effect and would start the race from the 9th position on the third row of the starting grid. In contrast to his teammates, Felice Bonetto would struggle from the very start. He would fight with his Maserati and would end up turning in a lap time nine seconds slower than Ascari. This placed the Italian 15th on the grid and on the fifth and final row of the grid.
Looking to take advantage of the presence of the World Championship, President Peron had made an announcement saying that entry into the race would be free to the general public. Therefore, as the teams, cars and drivers came to the circuit to prepare for the race they would find almost every foot of the circuit lined with Argentinean spectators. The spectators, lined rally-style right at the edge of the circuit, presented a very clear and present danger to the event, but it would nonetheless go on.
Amidst the throng of spectators and presence of President Peron himself, the first Argentine Grand Prix would get underway. At the start, Ascari held the lead being chased by Fangio and Farina. Gonzalez and Galvez would carry on well just a little further behind the leading group. Bonetto continued to carry on but was struggling just as he was during practice.
The race would complete lap after lap with Ascari being chased by Fangio and Farina. Although he had been away from racing almost a year Fangio looked impressive but his Maserati just could not match the pace of Ascari who continued to stretch out his lead every single lap.
Just when it seemed to become painfully obvious that Ascari would run away with the first race of the new season, a new kind of tragic pain unfolded and would overshadow much of the day's events.
Ascari continued to lead and was being chased by Fangio and Farina around the 2.43 mile circuit. The whole of the circuit was lined by an incredible crowd gathered right to the edge of the track as if a rally event. In an attempt to gain a better view of the proceedings a young boy ventured onto the circuit right in front of Farina. Farina quickly swerved to miss the boy. Unfortunately, Farina would lose control of his car and would crash into the large crowd. Just like that, a number of spectators were dead. A large number of others were severely injured.
In spite of the dark shadow covering the event, the race would carry on to completion. Just a few laps after the tragic accident, the Argentinean faithful would receive another blow to their psyche as Fangio would retire after 36 laps. Fangio's retirement would end up being the second retirement for the Maserati works team as Felice Bonetto had dropped out of the race just four laps prior with a similar transmission problem as would sideline Fangio.
The absence of Fangio and Farina meant the rest of the 97 lap race would play out as had most of the races the season before. Ascari would hold a lap advantage over the whole of the field and would cross the line the victor after three hours and one minute. Luigi Villoresi would make it a Ferrari one-two as he would finish a lap down in 2nd place. Maserati's honor would be upheld by the remaining Argentineans still running. Jose Froilan Gonzalez would end up a lap down but would finish the race in 3rd place. Oscar Alfredo Galvez would also finish a lap down but in the 5th place position.
Although Ferrari had managed to take the first two positions in the results it was obvious Maserati was again a force to be reckoned with in grand prix racing. It was only the first race of the season, but the Argentinean Grand Prix gave cause for confidence. It seemed readily apparent the season would come down to a fight between the two manufacturers from Modena.
The 1953 season would be the first time in which the World Championship would truly reach worldwide. The fact the series was now global meant there would be a large space of time between the Argentinean and the second World Championship grand prix of the season because of travel. While there were a number of weeks between the first and second rounds of the World Championship, and, there were a number of non-championship races held throughout Europe, the next race for the Formula 2 cars would actually take place at the first round of the World Championship.
Two weeks after the unfortunate and tragic events of the Argentinean Grand Prix a number of the same teams would also enter to take part in the 7th Gran Premio Ciudad de Buenos Aires. The race, which was 40 laps, took place at the very same circuit as the first round of the World Championship and was an opportunity for Farina to overcome the demons he suffered just two weeks before.
Alberto Ascari had been dominant in the Argentine Grand Prix, but it was obvious Maserati had closed the performance gap Ferrari had over the rest of the field. Were it not for troubles with Fangio's car the fight would have most likely continued all the way to the checkered flag.
Ascari was looking for a repeat of events during the Grand Prix of Buenos Aires. It would start out well as he would start the race from the pole, but it was not to be as his race would come to an end after only a couple of laps due to a connecting rod failure. This seemed to be an open door to the Maserati works drivers.
It was anything but. Neither of the Maserati drivers, including the home favorites, Fangio, Gonzalez and Galvez, could manage to keep pace with the rest of the Ferrari teammates. While none of the works cars would fall out of the race, neither of them would be a front runner. The worst performer of all the Maserati works drivers, surprisingly, would be Fangio. Troubles with his car kept him from even coming close to matching the pace of the rest of the Ferrari drivers, especially Mike Hawthorn, who would go on to set the fastest lap of the race.
Although Hawthorn would go on to set the fastest lap of the race his pace would be easily matched by the rest of his Ferrari teammates. In an incredible display of resoluteness, Giuseppe Farina was out front of the field. He was battling with Luigi Villoresi. The two would fight it out lap after lap and even right down to the wire.
At the wire, Giuseppe Farina would prove capable of overcoming tragedy as he would triumph and take the victory. Farina would hold off Villoresi by just one tenth of a second. Mike Hawthorn would use his fastest lap pace to ensure a Ferrari sweep of the first three positions in the results.
A little less than thirty seconds separated Hawthorn from the first of the Maserati finishers. Jose Froilan Gonzalez would end up being the highest-placed Maserati driver once again as he would finish the race 4th. Oscar Galvez and Felice Bonetto ran mostly nose-to-tail throughout the course of the race and would finish two laps down in 6th and 7th. Fangio's surprising lack of pace would end up leading to a 9th place finish also two laps down.
The results in the Grand Prix of Buenos Aires were almost worse than the first round of the World Championship. All but Gonzalez were thoroughly outclassed. Fangio wasn't even in the running. It seemed a stark contrast from the race at the same circuit just two weeks prior. Was the result in the Grand Prix of Buenos Aires a mere fluke? The team would have the long ride back across the Atlantic to help discover and find the answer to the riddle.
The team arrived back on the European continent. Although the team had arrived back on the continent its main drivers were not available. Toward the end of March, Sicily prepared to host the 3rd Gran Premio di Siracusa. Officine Alfieri Maserati would dispatch a single car to the race. While the race in Argentina had seen Maserati fill its pilot roster with Argentine drivers, a lone single Italian would head to Syracuse. Sergio Mantovani would be the team's lone entrant in the 80 lap race. He would face off against the four Ferrari horsemen of Ascari, Farina, Villoresi and Hawthorn, but he would do so with the factory's newest evolution known as the 'Interim'.
Located near the site of the former Cassibile United States Army Air Force base, the 3.34 mile Siracusa circuit traversed the Sicilian countryside to the west of the city's center. Comprised of generally flat terrain, the circuit ran amidst the wide open fields and passed by a cemetery dedicated to fallen soldiers during World War II. The scene of numerous battles throughout history, the Maserati works team hoped Syracuse would serve to be the site of the defeat of Ferrari.
Unfortunately, practice would carry on like normal. Scuderia Ferrari would end up occupying the entire front row and would have four cars starting inside the top five. Among the Ferraris none went faster than that driven by Ascari. The 2nd place starter on the grid would be Giuseppe Farina. Luigi Villoresi would complete Ferrari's dominance of the front row of the grid. In spite of having a new and improved car, Mantovani, comparatively, wasn't even in the same class. He would struggle during practice and would only manage to start the race from 11th, or, the inside of the fifth row.
As the fourteen cars rolled away at the start of the race there was clearly a battle brewing between David and Goliath. Sergio was given the task of fighting the Ferrari entries all by himself. This was an incredibly tough and intimidating proposition, but the deal would get sweetened.
Only three laps into the race, Luigi Villoresi was down on power and was forced to retire from the race. It was discovered his Ferrari had valve trouble. This would just be the start of the demise of Ferrari on the 22nd of March.
Thirty-seven laps into the race, the same valve trouble would strike the then leader, Ascari. He would also be forced to retire from the race, or, at least his car was forced out of the race. Ascari; instead, would end up taking over Hawthorn's Ferrari. This seemed to be the needed solution, but, on the 57th lap of the race, the same valve trouble would visit Hawthorn's Ferrari. This left just one Ferrari pilot, Giuseppe Farina, still running in the race, and thus, evened the odds for Maserati.
Unfortunately for Maserati, its lone hope would also hit trouble. Sergio, in an effort to climb the running order, would push hard. He would end up pushing just a little too hard as he would crash his A6GCM and would be out of the race after 36 laps.
Three out of Ferrari's four cars had retired from the race with rare, and obvious, mechanical anomalies. There was little hope for Farina. Sure enough, the hope would run just 19 laps short. A mechanical problem with his Ferrari would complete the demise of Scuderia Ferrari. This was the best possible course of events Maserati's work's team could have hoped for but it didn't have a car still running in order to take advantage. However, there was at least still one Maserati A6GCM still running in the race that could pull out victory.
Emmanuel de Graffenried would take the misfortunes of the Ferrari team and would turn the moment into glory for himself as he would cross the finish line 1st in his Maserati A6GCM. The Enrico Plate team had been unswervingly devoted to the Maserati mark, and after a couple of years of truly difficult years, the team would find its way to a win yet again. The pace of the newer Maserati was such that de Graffenried had practically no competition over the course of the final few laps. In fact, he would end the race three laps up on the 2nd place finisher Louis Chiron. Another three laps separated Rodney Nuckey in 3rd place and Chiron.
While not an official works car, de Graffenried's performance in his Maserati A6GCM was truly dominant and displayed very clearly that Maserati was a force to be reckon with. It also offered confidence since the factory had another revised model in the pipeline and soon to be coming online.
Emmanuel de Graffenried's victory at Syracuse, and the obvious performance of the Maserati, caused many privateer entries to look at Maserati once again. Nello Pagani would turn to the factory works team and would manage to secure a single chassis for the 14th Grand Prix de Pau. While the factory would lend its cars at times to drivers for certain races the actual factory effort wouldn't take place in another race until around the middle of May.
During the team's absence from racing the team had been busy preparing its newest car for competition. The first time the new car would turn a wheel in anger would come on the 10th of May in the 6th Gran Premio di Napoli.
Each and every race is something special and unique. What made any Gran Premio di Napoli special was its location. Situated on the steep rocky crag overlooking the causeway and island of Nisida, the Posillipo Park Circuit featured a steep drop-off on its north side and incredible views of Mount Vesuvius practically everywhere else. Packed with magnificent homes and hotels, the area first came to be called Pausilypon by the Greeks, which meant 'respite from worry'.
Coming into the race, the Officine Alfieri Maserati team was looking to provide Scuderia Ferrari anything but a respite. The team would send two cars to compete in the 60 lap race on the 10th of May. An older A6GCM would be driven by Jose Froilan Gonzalez. One of the newer A6GCM 'Interims' would be driven by Juan Manuel Fangio.
The race would literally come down to a battle between Maserati and Ferrari as there would only be eight starters in total for the race. Among those eight, there were three Ferrari 500s entered and two Maseratis.
In practice for the event, it would be the pairing of the Ferrari 500 and Giuseppe Farina that would be fastest around the winding streets of the Posillipo Park circuit. Ascari would be the second-fastest qualifier and would start in the middle of the front row. Fangio, utilizing the new 'Interim' chassis would be fast as well and would start from the 3rd, and final, spot on the front row. Gonzalez would manage to start 4th when he turned a time slightly faster than the third Ferrari driver Luigi Villoresi.
Heading into the race the vast majority of the spectators expected the race to come down to a battle between the two factory efforts. Within just a few laps, this expectation would begin to come to fruition. Four laps into the 60 lap race one of the entrants, Giuseppe Ruggiero, would end up retiring from the race. This meant five of the remaining seven cars out on circuit belonged to either Scuderia Ferrari or Maserati's factory effort.
As was custom, Ascari was fast right from the start and would actually go on to set the fastest lap of the race with a time of two minutes and seven seconds around the 2.54 mile circuit. Despite the speed, the pace would be too much for Ascari and he would actually begin to fall back quite quickly. This truly opened the door to Fangio with the new Maserati chassis. But even Gonzalez was impressing with the older A6GCM.
Very quickly after Ascari's fall from pace, Farina took up the lead and actually managed to pull out an advantage. What would end up ensuing would be Farina running for dear life as he would be somewhat closely followed by Fangio and Gonzalez.
The pace of the three at the front of the pack was fierce enough that even Villoresi would fade from the battle. By the end, only the top three would finish on the lead lap. Despite being threatened by Fangio and the new Maserati, Farina wouldn't budge. In fact, his pace would be such that he would even manage to pull out an advantage over the new car.
Farina would take a little over two hours and twelve minutes to cross the line the victor. Eighteen seconds in arrears, Fangio would bring the new car across the line in 2nd place. This was a truly splendid result for a new, and relatively, untested car. Although not victorious, the Maserati team would have further reason to celebrate after the race as Jose Froilan Gonzalez would manage to finish the race 3rd just four seconds behind Fangio.
The new car looked good and reliable. Both of the cars' pace had improved over that of the last race. These were all positive signs as the second round of the World Championship approached in just a couple of weeks.
While the team obviously didn't sit idly by for a couple of weeks, Officine Alfieri Maserati wouldn't be seen at a race until the second round of the World Championship. While the factory team may not have shown up at an event during that time one of its cars would. The Brazilian Francisco Landi would gain access to one of the slightly older Maserati A6GCMs and would be seen careening through the Eifel mountains in the ADAC Eifelrennen.
Despite one of its cars being used by another entry, the Maserati factory effort was taking advantage of the time off in order to thoroughly prepare its cars for the second round of the World Championship set to take place on the 7th of June in 1953.
Nine years and one day after the D-Day invasion of Europe the World Championship stormed the Dutch beaches at Zandvoort for the third round of the championship. While technically it was the third round of the championship it was considered to be just the second round.
Found on the dunes overlooking the North Sea, the Zandvoort circuit was originally laid out in 1939. The layout of the circuit featured some sweeping fast turns that would see cars blow through as fast as the windswept beaches just yards from the circuit. Because of these fast sweeping turns the Zandvoort circuit had become a favorite with drivers, and therefore, was enjoying its second year as part of the World Championship.
When the teams arrived at the circuit in 1952 the World Championship had been decided. As the teams arrived for the 1953 edition the World Championship was just getting started. Of course this was due to the fact the race had been moved on the calendar from late August to early June. All of this meant there was an aura of excitement surrounding the race.
Where the Maserati works team went to Posillipo Park with only one of its new A6SSGs as they would become known, their entire lineup at the Dutch Grand Prix would be driving the new chassis. And in practice, the pace of the new car showed itself well.
No longer were the Ferrari teammates alone at the top of the time sheets. Right there, mixed in among them, were the Officine Alfieri Maserati pilots with their new A6SSG chassis. The fastest of them all would be Juan Manuel Fangio. The 1951 World Champion would turn in a lap time of one minute and fifty-two seconds during practice and would find himself firmly positioned on the front row of the starting grid. While Fangio put in a fast time it still would not be enough to eclipse Alberto Ascari in his Ferrari 500. Ascari's time would be a second and a half faster than Fangio. Fangio would end up finding himself to be all alone on the front row as Giuseppe Farina would end up being the third-fastest qualifier.
The Maserati factory team would bring three cars to the race. The second of the two would be driven by Jose Froilan Gonzalez. Gonzalez would end up starting the race from the 5th position on the second row. The third car would be driven by Felice Bonetto once again. He would struggle with the new car during practice and would end up starting the race from the fifth row in the 13th position.
The day of the race was greeted with sunny and mild conditions. But being right next to the beach, the winds had kicked sand all over the circuit making it rather loose. Known as the 'Tarzan Corner', the first 180 degree corner of the circuit would be of utmost importance. Flanked to the left by tall sand dunes allowing spectators grandstand-style seating, the front stretch was even worse for wear by the sand, and therefore, made the 'Tarzan Corner' even more of a test of courage.
Going into the first corner at the start of the race, Ascari had the advantage being on the inside. Ascari would make a good start and would manage to hold his line through the banked first turn and would hold the lead throughout the first lap of the race.
The field wound its way through the fast corners of the 2.61 mile circuit. Lap after lap the field made its way around the undulating circuit. Many of the spectators would gather at the ultra-fast Tunnel Oost corner. This was a tricky kink in a fast portion of the track as there was a bump situated right near the apex of the corner that would cause a number of cause to lose touch with the ground for a moment. Were a driver to really get it wrong, the bump would invariably ensure a trip off the track and out of the race.
The circuit was not an easy circuit on car or driver. The fast corners were easy spots for drivers to make mistakes that had dire consequences. The tight, slow speed nature of much of the circuit, when combined with the need for rapid acceleration at other points caused there to be a lot of wear and tear on the cars. The mechanical troubles would begin in earnest around a half hour into the race.
Lance Macklin had already retired his HWM-Alta by the 7th lap of the race due to a throttle problem, but from the 13th to the 36th lap there would be five drivers that would drop out of the running. Unfortunately for the Maserati team, two of those five would be Maserati drivers. The first to retire would be Jose Froilan Gonzalez. His rear axle would fail on his car thereby bringing about the end of the car's day. Gonzalez; however, wasn't done. Felice Bonetto would be ordered to come in and hand his car over to Gonzalez for the rest of the race. This was a tactical move as Gonzalez had been sitting 3rd in the World Championship standings after his 3rd place finish at the Argentine Grand Prix. Points were important. Unfortunately for the team, the decision to have Bonetto hand his ride over to Fangio would be made just a little too quick. Gonzalez' failure happened 22 laps into the race. Bonetto would turn his car over to Gonzalez after having completed 25 laps. Just eleven laps later, Juan Manuel Fangio's race would come to an end also due to a rear axle failure. This left the Maserati team with just one car remaining in the race.
One team that was having absolutely no trouble at all was Scuderia Ferrari. Ascari had led the race from the very first corner and wasn't looking back. Gonzalez's and Fangio's retirements meant Ascari was being chased, though a few seconds back, by Giuseppe Farina, Luigi Villoresi and Mike Hawthorn. The Ferrari team was looking very good, even Villoresi was driving incredibly fast.
While the Ferrari pilots seemed to be carrying on without a care in the world, they too were not immune from attrition. Luigi Villoresi was looking very racy and had even managed to set what would be the fastest lap of the race. However, such a pace couldn't be sustained forever. Sure enough, Villoresi's fast pace would come back to haunt him as he would have his throttle give him trouble causing him to retire from the race after 67 laps. Even the young Mike Hawthorn would slip off the pace a fair degree and would even come under attack from Jose Froilan Gonzalez driving Felice Bonetto's car. But out front, nothing seemed capable of touching Ascari, not even attrition.
Driving a flawless race in less than ideal conditions, Alberto Ascari would cross the finish line for the 90th, and last, time to take the win. His margin of victory would end up being a little over ten seconds up on Farina. Eight seconds behind Farina came Gonzalez. The move to take over Bonetto's car had been a good one. He had managed to finish in the points and keep his championship hopes rolling. He, during the course of the remaining laps, had also managed to get by Mike Hawthorn and would finish fourteen seconds in front of the young Brit.
Ascari had increased his lead in the points. He would enjoy an eight point margin over the American Indianapolis 500 winner Bill Vukovich and a ten point margin over his good friend Luigi Villoresi. Despite coming away with two points because of his shared drive in Bonetto's car, Gonzalez would slip out of the top five in the World Championship standings.
The new Maserati A6SSGs had proven to have the pace to really challenge the once all-conquering Ferrari 500. But the Ferrari 500 continued to dominant the proceedings precisely because of its reliability. The Maserati effort would only be competitive if it could get its reliability sorted. Thankfully for the team, there would be a couple of weeks in which to work on the trouble. Unfortunately for the team, there wouldn't be a non-championship race in which they could test changes made in order to find out whether or not they would be more reliable.
Two weeks after the Dutch Grand Prix, the World Championship arrived in another of the Low Countries for what was the fourth round of the championship. On the 21st of June, twenty cars and drivers prepared to tackle the tough and ultra-fast Spa-Francorchamps circuit in the Belgian Grand Prix.
Situated only about 70 miles away from the very demanding and dangerous Nordschleife Nurburgring circuit, the public road course Spa-Francorchamps was very much born of the same ilk. Located in the heart of the Ardennes forest, the circuit not only plays host to some of the best racing in the world, it also plays host to some of the most dramatic weather in the world. Comprised of blindingly fast corners like Stavelot, Masta Kink and Eau Rouge, the Spa-Francorchamps circuit has also been a favorite with drivers and spectators alike and requires a certain amount of bravery to be truly fast around the 8.77 mile road course. Featuring some steep hills and heavily wooded portions making the circuit feel like driving in a tunnel, the Spa-Francorchamps circuit had always been one of the more dramatic circuits in the world and perhaps one of the best examples of what grand prix racing was all about.
One of the biggest changes to the A6SSG 'Interim' from its A6GCM brethren, besides changes to the chassis design, was the fact the power output had been increased. By the time of the A6SSG, the 2.0-liter engine had been tweaked to produce upwards of 190 hp. Therefore, the car certainly had the power to go fast. Were the car to prove reliable, then Maserati would prove to have a winning combination.
All indications during practice were that Maserati was certainly up to the challenge presented by Ferrari. Spa was an ultra-fast circuit, which played into the hands of the powerful Maserati engine. And during practice, the power increase would show itself.
Right from the start of practice the Maseratis, driven by Fangio, Gonzalez and Onofre Marimon were fast. The fourth member of the team would also prove to be fast. The fourth member of the Maserati team at Spa would be the Belgian jazz musician and gentleman driver Johnny Claes. This meant that three drivers of the Italian cars were Argentinean and one was Belgian.
In practice, the sheer speed of the Maserati A6SSG became very apparent. While most of the Ferrari drivers and the other front runners were lapping the circuit with an average speed somewhere around 115 mph, Fangio would go on to set a fastest lap time with an average speed in excess of 117 mph. This earned the former World Champion the pole with a time of four minutes and thirty seconds.
Alberto Ascari would qualify for the race 2nd and in the middle of the front row but was two seconds than Fangio. For the first time in a very long time, there would be more than just one Maserati occupying the front row. Jose Froilan Gonzalez would manage to lap the circuit with a time just ever so slightly slower than Ascari and would; therefore, start from the 3rd starting position on the front row. Onofre Marimon, though rather inexperienced, would put together an impressive practice and would start the race from the inside position on the third row. He would start 8th after setting a time ten seconds slower than Fangio.
Unlike the year prior, the 1953 running of the Belgian Grand Prix would be met with hot and dry conditions. Though the weather was hot, the pace of the Maseratis was even hotter, and right from the very start of the race the two Maserati drivers occupying the front row of the starting grid would lead the way. Perhaps being a little prideful, Fangio would wave Gonzalez through to take the lead. Known for his hard-charging style, Gonzalez would hold the lead over Fangio by almost a minute by the end of the first quarter of the race.
The heat and the nature of the circuit began to take its toll on the twenty-car starting field. Arthur Legat would find transmission troubles would end his race even before it really began. Peter Collins and Jean Behra would have their races come to an end after Collins' HWM suffered from clutch troubles and Behra's Gordini T16 blew a head gasket.
One of the problems that showed itself in previous races with Maserati's new A6SSG was problems with the throttle. Perhaps the car's desire to go as fast as possible was causing the throttle pedal to stick? Whatever the cause of the problem may have been it would revisit the team in the early going of the Belgian Grand Prix.
Gonzalez was holding station at the front of the field with Fangio giving chase. Gonzalez was looking absolutely dominant at the front as he would set and re-tie the same fastest lap time on the 2nd, 3rd 9th and 11th lap of the race. The two Argentineans were actually pulling out a slight advantage over Ascari and the other Ferrari pilots when the accelerator pedal would stick on Gonzalez's car. He could not carry on with such a problem, and therefore, retired from the race.
Just two laps after Gonzalez's troubles, more issues would visit the team. Fangio was handed the lead of the race with Gonzalez's failure and was certainly hoping to earn some desperately needed points for the championship. Were he to win, Fangio would have been right back into the title picture. However, while running in the lead, his engine would expire on him thereby handing the lead to Ascari.
Fangio desperately needed some points toward the World Championship. And although Johnny Claes was given the fourth seat because of being a Belgian and racing at his home grand prix all such things were moot when compared to a former World Champion whose car has died. Therefore, Claes would give up his ride to Fangio for the remainder of the race.
Even though troubles had hit Maserati and hit them hard, Ferrari wasn't without its concerns as well. Just three laps after Fangio's engine retired the engine in Farina's Ferrari 500 would also retire. Mike Hawthorn was doing everything he could to keep touch with his more experienced Ferrari teammates but would end up slipping down the running order as well.
Having a new lease on life, Fangio was taking advantage of the opportunity. He would push hard in the A6SSG and would soon find himself running inside the top three and just a lap behind Ascari. This new lease would; however, run out before the race would. On what would be the last lap of the race, Fangio, pushing hard for maximum points, would end up pushing a little too hard and would crash Claes' Maserati. The crash would break the steering of the car thereby preventing him from carrying on to the finish and scoring some valuable points.
Enjoying a margin of almost two minutes and fifty seconds over Luigi Villoresi, Alberto Ascari would cruise to the victory and another eight points toward the championship. Villoresi would be the only other driver on the circuit to remain on the same lap as Ascari. Onofre Marimon would enjoy his opportunity to drive for Maserati and would come home a lap down in 3rd place.
In spite of all of the promise, and perhaps over-confidence, because of the speed of the Maserati A6SSG, the team would leave another World Championship round with only 4 points. Gonzalez, who had been the leading Maserati driver in the standings, would leave with nothing. Fangio would still also have nothing for the whole of the season. Things needed to turn around for the team and for its drivers if they had any hope of beating Ascari and Ferrari for the World Championship title.
Another two weeks would pass before the Officine Alfieri Maserati would take part in another race. The next race in which the team would take part would be at another ultra-fast circuit and would be destined to be one of the greatest races of the twentieth century.
About 150 miles to the west of Spa-Francorchamps, but still in the area around the Low Countries and the Champagne-Ardenne region of France, Reims would be the site of the fifth round of the World Championship. The French Grand Prix had been part of the World Championship since the very first year in 1950. However, Reims was not prepared to host the World Championship in 1952, and therefore, would only host one of the rounds of the French Formula 2 Championship that year. A prominent site in French monarchial history, Reims would return to its place of prominence as the site for the French Grand Prix. Upon returning to its usual role, Reims would serve up one of the most dramatic finishes in grand prix history.
The site for the dramatic race would be the familiar public road course situated to the west of Reims' city center. The gently undulating countryside provided the perfect site to host a grand prix. It also provided the perfect site for one of the fastest circuits known in the world at the time. In 1953, the circuit would get even faster.
In 1952, the circuit would change and the hairpin turn in Gueux would be abandoned in favor of the fast sweeping right-hander that led through Bretelle Sud and on to the ninety-degree corner at Garenne. In 1953, the circuit would again be changed. The sweeping right-hander would be kept but the circuit would continue on through new corners like Annie Bousquet Hovette before coming to the Muizon hairpin that swept out onto Route Nationale 31 and on its way to the final Thillois hairpin. With the exception of the two sharp hairpin turns, the circuit was comprised of two incredibly long straights and some very fast sweeping right and left-hand corners. The extra distance from the Muizon to the Thillois hairpins would go to increase the average lap speeds from 105 mph over the 4.44 mile circuit to over 113 mph over the course of the 5.15 mile new circuit.
At the Belgian Grand Prix, the Maseratis held a clear top-speed advantage over the Ferraris. Two seconds had separated Fangio and Ascari's qualifying efforts at Spa-Francorchamps. Coming into the French Grand Prix, the Ferrari team had made some design changes to the radiator and cooling vents on the Ferrari 500 in an effort to increase top-end speeds. It would work. And the practice times would be much tighter.
The changes to the front of the Ferrari 500 would end up paying off for Ascari as he would manage to take the pole for the 60 lap race with a time of two minutes and forty-one seconds. Only three-tenths of a second would separate Ascari from the 2nd place starter. The 2nd place starter would be a Maserati driver, but surprisingly, it wouldn't be either of the Argentineans. Instead, it would be Felice Bonetto that would start from the middle of the front row. Only seven-tenths of a second would separate the entire front row as Luigi Villoresi would put in a lap only four-tenths of a second slower than Bonetto to secure the 3rd place starting position. Juan Manuel Fangio would start right off of Ascari's left shoulder in 4th place after setting a time only eight-tenths slower than Ascari. Jose Froilan Gonzalez would make it an all Argentinean second row as he would be a little over a second slower than Ascari. Onofre Marimon was again driving for the Maserati works team and would also enjoy a starting position inside the top ten. Despite setting a time over three seconds slower than Ascari, Marimon would start the race from the third row in 8th position. Given the tighter lap times it was obvious the new layout of the circuit, and the improved performance of the Maserati A6SSG, had certainly tightened up the front of the field. However, it wouldn't be until the start of the race that people would come to realize just how tight things between Ferrari and Maserati had become.
Reims in the summer had a tendency of serving up some incredibly hot temperatures that served to also serve up a lot of attrition. In many cases, racing at Reims became less about racing and more about survival. That thought was about to go out the window with the start of the 1953 French Grand Prix.
The 60 lap, 311 mile race, would get underway amidst swirling dust and the sights and sounds of squealing tires and roaring engines. Jose Froilan Gonzalez would pull out a strategy he had tried at the Italian Grand Prix the season before. He had started the race half full with fuel in order to be faster than his competition. This would enable the large Argentinean to take the lead right from the very start. He would be chased immediately by Ascari, Bonetto, Villoresi and Hawthorn.
One of the popular aspects to the layout of the Reims circuit was the Thillois hairpin and the start/finish straight. Coming out of the hairpin, the road gradually fell away and then began to gently slope back upwards as the circuit headed into the first turn. This undulation in the terrain allowed the crowd gathered on the front straight to see the cars emerge from the hairpin a long ways down the road and race all the way to the first right hand bend. On the very first lap, the crowd witnessed Gonzalez pulling out a margin but being followed by a field bunched tightly together. Lap after lap, Gonzalez continued to stretch out his advantage. By the 20th lap of the race, his lead was up to almost twenty seconds. Bonetto was doing his best to stay with the rest of the front runners, but in his haste, would go into a corner too hard. Fighting to maintain control of his car, Bonetto would slip down out of the order and would, as a result of events to come, would be pretty much out of the running from then on. Fangio had made a poor start and had gotten shuffled well back into the pack of twenty-five starters. But by 20 laps into the race Fangio had made his way up into 5th place having gotten around Farina.
Behind Gonzalez, the pack of front runners remained tight throughout the first half of the race. The Ferraris of Ascari, Villoresi and Hawthorn ran virtually side-by-side in an arrowhead arrangement what seemed to be lap after lap. Fangio had caught up to this group of three and Farina was right behind Fangio. This made it incredibly close.
The average speed at the start of the race hovered around the 111 mph mark. But instead of the pace steadying, if not, dropping off, it would actually increase as the race wore on. As the race wore on the voices of the commentators and the fans began to wear out. With the exception of Gonzalez and his twenty second lead, the rest of the front runners continued to run corner after corner and lap after lap wheel to wheel. Sometimes, wheels were interlocked. It was an incredible sight made possible by the professionalism of the best drivers in the world at the time. And it would only get better.
Just short of halfway, Gonzalez would make his stop for fuel. He would get another half tank full to make it the rest of the way. The stop, due to how tight the competition was behind him, would end up causing him to drop all the way down to sixth. From this point on, the battle and excitement only intensified.
Fangio had overcome his poor start and was leading the way with Hawthorn, Ascari, Farina, Marimon, Gonzalez and Villoresi. The top three, including Fangio, Hawthorn and Ascari would run nose-to-tail, never separated by more than a second throughout the remaining 25 laps or so. Often times the three would come down the long start/finish straight virtually dead even running side-by-side. Even though the first three ran incredibly close on the circuit they were never separated from the rest of the front runners by much. But the real exhibition would come within the last dozen or so laps.
By this point in time, the average speed around the circuit had increased over a mile per hour. Each and every lap it seemed the lead changed about a dozen times. Just about every corner seemed to see a change in the running order. Gonzalez was putting together an impressive performance as he had managed to make his way all the way up past Ascari and was now running right behind Fangio and Hawthorn. Marimon continued to look impressive amidst the chaos as he continued to run inside the top five late into the race.
The scene was absolutely crazy. Spectators and announcers were screaming lap after lap. The elite drivers at the front of the field never separated themselves. Mike Hawthorn and Onofre Marimon were putting together incredible performances given their lack of experience. Felice Bonetto, despite his great starting position, would end up having his engine give out on him. Marimon would also lose ground to the intense and fierce battle and would just settle for trying to finish the race.
But up at the front, the battle continued to rage. The winner of the race seemed to be in doubt to the very last. Fangio and Hawthorn pressed each other, drawing level with each other down the long start/finish straight each and every time. This only caused the crowd to get even louder. Gonzalez sat right off of the rear end of the two and within a second. Ascari was just a little further back while Farina and Villoresi followed also just seconds behind. The spectacular scene wasn't lost on the drivers though either. Many of those that were numerous laps behind would just slow as the front runners came by so that they too could watch the action. Once Villoresi saw that his position was safe and that Farina would be impossible to catch, he too slowed and signaled to the pits as if to say, 'Do you see how crazy things are out here?' The scene was one of wonder and amazement and it hadn't even ended yet.
The last couple of laps consisted of an intense battle between Fangio and Hawthorn with Gonzalez stalking, just hoping for one of them to make a mistake. Every corner seemed to have a new leader. Hawthorn would lead in some parts then it would be Fangio. Going into the last lap, just a little more than a second separated the top three. Fangio held the lead but had Hawthorn battling right beside him. Coming out of Muizon hairpin the two powered down the long straight toward the all-important final Thillois hairpin. In an attempt to maintain his lead, Fangio would brake late, but just a little too late. This would allow Hawthorn to get underneath. Fangio now came under threat from his countryman Gonzalez. The crowd could see the three cars come out of the Thillois hairpin and power their way down the straight to the finish line. Hawthorn would streak over the line to take the victory by a mere second over Fangio. Fangio had held onto his 2nd place finish by just four-tenths of a second over Gonzalez! Just a little more than three seconds later, Ascari would cross the line in 4th place. Less than sixteen seconds would separate the top six at the finish. Onofre Marimon would hold on to finish the race but would do so five laps down in 9th place.
The race had obviously become a race between Ferrari and Maserati. This would be made clear in the results at the end. Only Ferraris and Maseratis were amongst the top nine. And amongst those still running without trouble, only the works Ferraris and Maseratis were on the same lap. To everyone else running, the pace had been such that no other privateer or small team would be within two laps of the front runners at the finish. It had been one of the most spectacular races in history. Battles had raged from the very start and never was there a lull. The pace by the end of the race had been incredible. At the finish line, Hawthorn would finish the race having had an average speed of 113 mph. The site was incredible as tears would roll from Hawthorn as the young Brit had claimed his first ever World Championship victory in one of the most impressive and mesmerizing races ever to be witnessed. The ovation from the crowd would swell to an incredible pitch when it was realized just how young Hawthorn really was. He had managed to beat a former World Champion.
It had been a great day for Hawthorn and Ferrari, but it was also a great day for Maserati as it was very clear they were back. They had not only competed, but were on par with the best team in the World Championship. Fangio had lost out on a victory, which certainly upset him, but the future of the team and the season looked bright. Though his mistake had cost him a victory, Fangio would still leave France with his first points on the season. Gonzalez had reason to celebrate as well since he too managed to leave Reims with more championship points. Ascari still retained the lead in the championship, but the victory catapulted Hawthorn into 2nd place. Luigi Villoresi sat 3rd in the standings while Gonzalez's four points moved him up into 4th place.
Maserati had found its reliability. While it was doubtful the rest of the season would not see another race like the one at Reims, the team knew it could definitely battle with Ferrari throughout the course of a race. This only further bolstered the team's confidence heading into the second half of the season.
The race at Reims had seemed, for many people, to perhaps be a tipping point. The Ferrari 500, thanks to Hawthorn's efforts, had yet to be beaten, but it wasn't unbeatable anymore. Heading into the sixth round of the World Championship, it wasn't too surprising to find some who thought Maserati would do what Ferrari had done to Alfa Romeo in 1951—usurp their place of dominance. At the next race of the season, the British Grand Prix, Scuderia Ferrari would give their answer…'Not so fast'.
Silverstone had its racing beginnings with an impromptu race around the former airbase. Tragically, this first race would provide the circuit's first fatality as a sheep would wonder onto the track during the race. It would be struck and killed. From those tragic beginnings, Silverstone arose to host the very first round of the new Formula One World Championship in 1950. The circuit had gotten it all started in 1950. In 1953, the circuit would find itself being a very pivotal event once again. Ferrari seemed to be hanging onto its dominance by the thinnest of threads. Maserati appeared on the verge of taking over control. But Silverstone was a completely different circuit than the previous two rounds of the World Championship.
Spa and Reims were about handling, but more so about being able to reach absolute top speed. Silverstone, and its 2.88 miles of perimeter road circuit, placed a higher premium on handling and acceleration than top end speed. Wide and flat, Silverstone would become the most famous example of grand prix circuits using old World War II airbases.
The tight competition between Maserati and Ferrari was again very evident in practice for the British Grand Prix. Due to the width of the circuit, the front row of the starting grid would be four wide. Alberto Ascari would earn yet another pole position with a lap time of one minute and forty-eight seconds. Starting next to Ascari would be Jose Froilan Gonzalez in one of the Maserati A6SSGs. Mike Hawthorn, who had been overshadowed by his more experienced teammates throughout the first few rounds of the championship, seemed to turn a corner after Reims. He would go on, in practice, to set the third-fastest time with a lap of one minute and forty-nine seconds. Hawthorn would be followed, as he was at Reims, by Juan Manuel Fangio in the 4th, and final, starting position on the front row.
Onofre Marimon had proven to be yet another fast Argentinean during the French Grand Prix. He would again be behind the wheel of an Officine Alfieri Maserati A6SSG at the British Grand Prix. During practice, Marimon would turn a fastest lap time of one minute and fifty-one seconds. This placed him 7th on the grid in the third, and final, position on the second row. The Italian automakers sole Italian driver would end up a little off the pace compared to his Argentinean teammates. The best Bonetto would manage to do during practice would be to turn a lap of one minute and fifty-eight seconds. This would be good enough to start the race 16th and in the second position on the fifth row.
Race day would break with the usual British weather. The skies were overcast and showers were expected throughout the day. The race distance was 90 laps or a total of 263 miles. Fangio would get the best start of all the competitors and would lead heading into the fast right-hand Copse corner. However, he would push a little too deep into the corner and would hang it out wide losing precious momentum. This error would allow Ascari to come through back into the lead.
As the race wore on, the showers would begin to fall on the circuit. This made the going a little tricky. Ascari was being chased by Hawthorn, Gonzalez and Fangio throughout the early stages of the race. The rain would end up catching out the British hero, the young Mike Hawthorn, who would spin but continue after losing a number of places.
Twenty-eight cars started the race, but by the time one-third of the race had been completed eight of the twenty-eight would be out of the running. Every single one of those eight out of the race had some kind of mechanical problem that forced them out of the running, and the problems kept coming throughout the remainder of the race.
By the time the race was two-thirds over there would be thirteen cars out of the race. Only one of those, a spin by Peter Collins, would be caused by something other than a mechanical problem.
In the lead of the race Ascari would do his best to put some distance between himself and the rest of the field. He would go on to set what would be the fastest lap of the race with a time just two seconds off of his qualifying effort. Despite his best efforts, Ascari would be matched, during the early going, by Gonzalez who would also match Ascari's fastest lap time of one minute and fifty-eight seconds. Gonzalez seemed to be able to stay in touch with Ascari until a black flag for trailing oil was issued to him forcing him to fall down the running order.
Maserati's two other drivers, Marimon and Bonetto, continued to run well but were quietly out of the running. Marimon would certainly end up out of the running when, on the 67th lap of the race, would have his engine expire. Bonetto continued to run, but just as was the case during practice, he could not come all that close to the pace of the front runners.
The sense of things going into the first corner at the start of the race was that Fangio would be able to not only stay with, but lead, the Ferrari contingent. However, after over-cooking the entry into the first corner Fangio would begin to fade in Ascari's rear-view mirror. In the later stages of the race Ascari was untouchable. He had lapped the entire field, with the exception of Fangio in 2nd place. He had taken his Ferrari 500 and showed the car was still a dominant contender in the World Championship.
It would take Ascari two hours and fifty minutes even to complete the 90 lap race. Averaging a little more than 92 mph over the course of the race, Ascari would come across the line with a minute advantage over Fangio in 2nd place and a two lap advantage over Farina in 3rd.
Where the new Maserati chassis seemed to give Ferrari all that it could handle at Reims, Ascari and the Ferrari 500 more than handled the Maseratis at Silverstone. Fangio ended up a minute behind in 2nd. Gonzalez would end up in 4th place but two laps down like Farina. Felice Bonetto was Maserati's other driver still in the running at the end but he was thoroughly dominated by the pace of Ascari and the Ferrari 500. He would end up a splendid 6th, but eight laps down. Ferrari had given their response to those that believed Maserati had overtaken them. Leaving England, it was obvious the Maserati team still had some work to do before the next round of the World Championship.
Maserati had packed up its equipment and headed back across the English Channel to the European mainland. They left England not the way they had came. They had arrived as favorites. They would leave humbled. But there was still more season left on the calendar, more opportunities for Officine Alfieri Maserati to dethrone Scuderia Ferrari.
Like the bombers of the Royal Air Force, the World Championship would leave Silverstone and would head to Germany to take on the notorious defenses of the Nordschleife and the Nurburgring. However, like any well planned attack, the need for a diversionary maneuver helps the main effort to be more effective because of less resistance. The 5th Circuit du Lac was just such a diversionary effort made by the Maserati team.
On the 26th of July, Officine Alfieri Maserati would arrive with one entry for Onofre Marimon. Marimon had the least experience of any of the Maserati team members. The race at Aix-les-Bains would provide the Argentinean more grand prix experience. The fact that neither of his Maserati teammates, nor the Scuderia Ferrari team, would come to the race also meant Marimon had the opportunity to gain some real confidence.
The Circuit du Lac race was a different event than most others, even amongst non-championship races. The race consisted of two 50 lap heats. The final results were determined by the aggregate finishing times of the two heats. Therefore, every competitor would take part in both of the heats.
The starting grid for the first 50 lap heat was to be determined by times posted during practice. In practice, it would be Harry Schell in a Gordini T16 that would post the fastest lap time. Confident in the machinery surrounding him, Marimon would take his A6SSG and would post a time just three-tenths of a second slower than Schell, and therefore, would start the first heat from the middle of the front row in the 2nd place starting position. Marimon was flanked to the right by a Gordini T16 driven by Schell. He would then be flanked to his left by another Gordini T16. This one would be driven by Maurice Trintignant. The smaller, and slightly more nimble Gordini chassis were obviously better suited to the 1.49 miles of the Aix-les-Bains circuit.
Throughout its history, Aix-les-Bains had been a place of peace and relaxation. During the days of the Roman Empire the small lake town was the site of a bath. Then, in 1949, the Faure Museum was founded hosting a number of works by Rodin and a number of other impressionist paintings. Situated on the shores of Lac du Bourget and boasting of some incredible views of the foothills of the Alps, Aix-les-Bains was a popular tourist destination and place for the wealthy to have a second or third home. Boasting of such wealth financially and in setting it was little wonder the town would come to hold grand prix races on its streets.
Measuring just 1.49 miles, the 'Lake Circuit' was within yards of the shoreline and wrapped around the small crag upon which Le Champ du Bois rests. The circuit, being as short as it was, also featured little to no straight stretches. The majority of the circuit was comprised of tight hairpin turns and sweepers. Handling, acceleration and braking certainly outweighed outright power needs. Therefore, the lighter-weight and more nimble cars had an advantage around the circuit.
Although the advantage firmly rested with Equipe Gordini and its nimble T16, Marimon was right there with his more powerful and not all that bad handling A6SSG. The race; therefore, promised to be a good match up. And throughout the first dozen laps or so the battle was fully engaged.
Then, just after those first dozen laps, it would all fall apart. Emmanuel de Graffenried had been the first retirement from the race when his oil pump failed in his Maserati A6GCM just 5 laps into the race. Then, on the 14th lap of the race Maurice Trintignant's T16 would catch on fire thereby ending his race. This would have eased the pressure on Marimon; however, on the very same lap as Trintignant's unfortunate fire, Marimon would crash his Maserati thereby ending his effort before halfway in the first heat.
The entire front of the field would be shaken up before the end of the first heat race. Three of the top five were out of the race. This would open the door to those who qualified further down in the field. One of those, Jean Behra, would take advantage.
Harry Schell had managed to turn what would end up being the fastest lap of the heat, but then, would promptly slow his pace. Jean Behra would take over the lead of the race. He would be followed by Elie Bayol and Louis Rosier.
Once in the lead, Behra would pull away from the rest of the field. In a little more than an hour and eleven minutes, Behra would cross the line to take the victory in the first heat race. Trailing over thirty seconds behind Behra was Bayol in his OSCA 20. Louis Rosier would be the final car on the lead lap and would finish the heat in 3rd place some fifty-eight seconds behind Behra.
The starting grid for the final 50 lap heat race would be determined by the finishing order from the first heat. Therefore, Behra would start on the pole with Bayol and Rosier alongside on the front row of the grid. Despite dropping out of the first heat after just 5 laps, de Graffenried would start the second heat. Marimon could have made the same decision but there were two important factors at play. First of all, he would have been well out of the running. Secondly, the crash damage had been such that repairing the car in time to take part in the final heat was just not that possible.
Emmanuel de Graffenried would find the second heat would hold about the same outcome as the first. Just 3 laps into the final heat the ignition on de Graffenried's Maserati would develop issues and would cause the Swiss Baron to retire from the race. Another one of the favorites, Peter Collins, would end up dropping out just two laps later with a clutch failure.
There were two Gordini T16s in the final heat race. Behra was driving one of them. Harry Schell, who had started on the pole for the first heat race, was driving the other. It seemed the circuit was perfectly suited to the T16. But there was just one catch in the equation. The cars needed to make it to the end before they could claim victory. This would end up being competition that neither car could overcome. Just 20 laps into the final, the rear axle on Behra's T16 would fail and thereby end what had been a rather dominant performance. Then, just one lap later, spark plug failure would bring about Schell's race. This left Elie Bayol in the lead of the race in his rather new OSCA 20. Interestingly, the OSCA 20 had been designed and developed by the Maserati brothers who had finally had their leave from Maserati and started OSCA in the late 1940s.
Bayol would do more than just hold on. He would increase his advantage throughout the remainder of the race and would end up crossing the finish line with a minute and a half lead over Louis Rosier and his Ferrari 500. Bayol's performance had been so dominant in the new OSCA chassis that he would end up two laps up on the 3rd place finisher Lance Macklin.
Officine Alfier Maserati's diversionary attack had been obliterated. The Circuit du Lac effort had come a cropper before the end of the very first heat. Marimon failed to gain much more experience than what he had going into the race, and once again, the team would end up leaving an event with no victory. Despite the failed effort, the team would carry on to Germany and pray for the best.
Found deep in the Eifel mountains, the Nurburgring was the site of the seventh round of the World Championship. Notorious for every single foot of the 14 mile Nordschleife, the Nurburgring was something of a 'Green Hell' for drivers, cars and teams. Twisting and turning over 170 times and rising and falling every bit of a thousand feet over the course of a lap, the Nurburgring was difficult to memorize and even harder to predict. Situations around the circuit would routinely change due to the rapidly changing weather common in the area of the Eifel mountains. Many had come and competed on the demanding and dangerous purpose-built monster, but only a very rare few would ever come to be called Ringmeisters.
Just one lap around the Nordschleife in 1953 took something close to ten minutes. With the race being 18 laps, many drivers would find that it seemed as if they were trapped for all eternity in the deep woods. It would be like being a prisoner with no walls or guards just a never ending road winding through the woods seemingly going nowhere.
In 1952, the German Grand Prix would become the deciding point in the World Championship. Alberto Ascari's victory and fastest lap would earn him his first World Drivers' Championship title. Coming into the 1953 edition of the race, the circuit, once again, came to the fore of the World Championship. Practically all that Ascari needed to become the first repeat World Champion would for his closest competitors to fail to take the victory and set the fastest lap.
Heading into the German Grand Prix, the Maserati team had already taken some hits. Marimon had a failed experience at Aix-les-Bains, but a more serious event would happen leading up to the race. Jose Froilan Gonzalez was not with the team, and in fact would not be with the team throughout the rest of the season, as he was recovering from injuries he had sustained in a sportscar race in Portugal. Instead of giving his seat to another driver, the Maserati team would just arrive at the race with its three drivers of Fangio, Bonetto and Marimon.
In 1951, the final season of Formula One before the shift to Formula 2 for 1952 and 1953, Alberto Ascari had taken his Ferrari 375 and turned a lap of nine minutes and fifty-five seconds. The Ferrari 375, at that time, had an abundance of horsepower compared to the 2.0-liter Formula 2 cars used in the World Championship for the next couple of seasons. However, in practice for the 1953 German Grand Prix Alberto Ascari would put together such an impressive performance that it seemed Formula One had already returned. His best lap time in practice was in the low ten minute range. Instead, he would achieve a lap time of nine minutes, fifty-nine and eight-tenths seconds. This time was only four seconds slower than his pole time in a Ferrari 375 in 1951!
If Ascari's time in practice wasn't impressive enough the gap between his qualifying time and the rest of the field certainly was. The front row of the grid was four-wide. Starting beside Ascari in the 2nd place position would be Fangio. At Spa and Reims, the power of the Maserati engine was more than capable of holding its own against the Ferrari 500. At the Nurburgring, the best lap Fangio managed to put together would be right around four seconds slower. Even Ascari's Ferrari teammates would find it difficult to stay with the reigning World Champion. Giuseppe Farina would start 3rd. His time would be almost four and a half seconds slower than Ascari. Mike Hawthorn would round-out the front row. His 4th place time would end up being almost thirteen seconds slower.
The absence of Gonzalez certainly showed during practice. Whereas Gonzalez was usually positioned right around Fangio on the grid, the two other Maserati drivers of Marimon and Bonetto would find themselves much further down in their qualifying times. Bonetto would be the best qualifier amongst Maserati's two other drivers. He would start the race from the 7th place position on the outside of the second row. However, Bonetto's pace in his best lap would be forty-one seconds slower than Ascari's pole time. Onofre Marimon would start 8th, and in the first position on the third row. His time would end up being two-tenths slower than Bonetto's.
While the weather in the Eifel mountains has a tendency to be quite unpredictable and rather difficult, August 2nd, the day of the German Grand Prix would break with sunny skies and mild temperatures. The race itself would break with Fangio actually managing to beat the fast Ascari into the first turn. He would be closely followed by Ascari and Hawthorn. Emmanuel de Graffenried would make an incredible start in another Maserati and would actually slot into the 4th position through the first turn. Felice Bonetto would slot in behind de Graffenried in 5th.
Although Fangio led through the first couple of turns, the pace of Ascari just couldn't be denied. And very soon, Ascari would take over the lead of the race and would quickly begin to put some distance between himself and the rest of the field.
Over the first few laps of the race Ascari's pace was incredible. He would continue to pick up the pace with each and every lap. It seemed the current World Champion would run away with the race and another World Championship title. However, everything would be thrown and tossed about on the 5th lap.
While lapping a good distance ahead of the rest of the field, one of the wheels would come off Ascari's car. Incredibly, Ascari would not give up. Instead, he would drive his Ferrari around the circuit on three wheels and a hub. He would make it back to the pits. Because the World Championship was on the line, the decision was made to have Luigi Villoresi come in and hand his car over Ascari for the rest of the race. Villoresi, being the good friend to Ascari that he was, would oblige. Once behind the wheel of Villoresi's Ferrari, Ascari would begin one of the most impressive performances of his career.
Ascari's troubles would be Farina and Hawthorn's gain. The two Ferrari drivers had managed to get by Fangio and would each have a share in the lead. Hawthorn would lead three laps right after Ascari's departure. Then, it would come down to a battle between Farina and Fangio.
While Farina, Fangio and Hawthorn were battling out for the lead of the race, Ascari was battling to make his way back to the front of the field. And, despite driving Villoresi's Ferrari, Ascari would put together some incredible lap times. Lap after lap, Ascari would increase the pace. Then, on the 12th lap of the race, Ascari would do something incredible.
It was not all that unusual during the times to have a driver turn in a fastest lap time that was actually faster than a pole effort. However, what Ascari would manage to accomplish on the 12th lap of the race was truly remarkable. The Formula One machines of 1951 were only able to touch lap times of around nine minutes and fifty-five seconds. Even the best of the Formula 2 cars were lapping the Nurburgring somewhere in the low ten minute range. But on the 12th lap of the race, Ascari would hang out on the edge throughout the course of the lap and would actually come across the line to record a fastest lap time of nine minutes and fifty-six second flat! This was only a matter of tenths off from his pole time in 1951, and certainly was faster than even what Fangio was capable in his Maserati. The question became though, 'Could he keep such a pace up?'
In Onofre Marimon's case, the pace was too much for his Maserati. One lap after Ascari's incredible lap, Marimon's race would come to an end as a broken cross member would throw off the car and make it impossible to continue. Marimon's retirement would end up being the last of some sixteen retirements throughout the course of the event.
Although there would be some sixteen retirements from the race, the field still running would still seem rather large due to the fact thirty-four cars had started the race. However, even amongst the eighteen still running in the race, there were really only four or five still really in the running.
The pace of Ascari with Villoresi would make him the fifth challenger that had any chance at victory. But then, on the 15th lap of the race, the pace would come to take its toll. In an effort to claw his way back to the front of the field and claim his second World Championship title, Ascari would end up taxing the Ferrari just a little too much. The engine would let go with just three laps remaining. Luigi Villoresi had taken over Ascari's injured Ferrari and was doing well, but the lost time would cause another of the Ferrari team members to also find himself out of the running.
Despite Marimon's troubles, Maserati still had two cars in the race and each was doing quite well. Fangio was following Farina in 2nd place. Bonetto was also performing well as he was lying in the 4th place position in the running order. Unfortunately, he was a good long ways behind Hawthorn.
It seemed Ascari's early departure from the race would provide Maserati a great opportunity to steal a win. But unfortunately, the rest of the Scuderia Ferrari team would prove to be a might stubborn and prickly. Heading around on the final lap of the race, Farina would hold the point with Fangio trailing over a minute behind.
Thankfully for Farina he was aware of Fangio's presence behind him. The season before, Farina had the lead going into the final lap of the race only to lose to Ascari. He wouldn't let it happen again. Farina would complete the eighteen lap distance in a little more than three hours and two minutes and would have average speed of over 83 mph en route to the victory. Farina's smooth driving style suited the Nurburgring and was too much for Fangio to overcome. Fangio would finish in 2nd place for the third-straight race. Fangio would cross the line a minute and four seconds behind Farina. Mike Hawthorn would end up coming across the line in 3rd place almost forty seconds behind Fangio. Felice Bonetto would finish the race in 4th place. Smoking his pipe all the way through the event, Bonetto would look as if out for a Sunday cruise and would finish almost nine minutes behind Farina.
Ascari's car, with Villoresi driving, would end up finishing a lap down in 8th place. And even though Ascari had dropped out of the race with an expired engine, he would leave Germany once again as the World Champion. Mike Hawthorn had been his main concern. Since the World Championship only counted the best four finishes of the nine rounds, Hawthorn was the only threat Ascari still really had. Ascari had already won four races. Hawthorn had only won one. But, if he had won Germany there were still two more rounds left that could have led to the title going to Hawthorn instead of Ascari. However, Hawthorn's 3rd place result ensured Ascari could not be beaten. Once again, the German Grand Prix would be the decider in the World Championship. And, once again, the Maserati team was close to hitting its target only to have its effort come up short because of the stubborn Ferrari defense. If Maserati was truly going to unseat Ferrari from its place of dominance it needed to do something soon. There were only two rounds of the World Championship remaining.
Three weeks would separate rounds of the World Championship. The eighth round of the World Championship for 1953 had been the first for 1952. The race was the Swiss Grand Prix and it was held on the 23rd of August at the Bremgarten road circuit near Berne, Switzerland.
By the time of the Swiss Grand Prix, Jose Froilan Gonzalez was still nursing his wounds his suffered right before the German Grand Prix. Knowing Gonzalez would most likely not race throughout the rest of the season provided Maserati time to find a replacement for the Swiss Grand Prix. The team's solution would see a famous name from the golden era of grand prix racing and of German dominance come back for an encore. A proposal would be handed to the great Hermann Lang and he would agree to drive the fourth car in the race.
Nothing but a never-ending collection of corners, the Bremgarten circuit had originally been designed as a motorcycle circuit in the early 1930s. Situated deep in woods to the northwest of Berne, the Bremgarten circuit was certainly a picturesque setting with the Wohlensee river running through the valley and the Swiss Alps rising to the south. However, the circuit was also incredibly dangerous for some of the very same reasons. Almost all of the 4.51 miles was lined by tall trees that blocked out the sun. In addition to the contrast that made visibility difficult, the numerous trees would drop leaves that made the circuit very slippery. Any addition rain made the circuit absolutely dangerous. Finally, the tree-lined circuit made it absolutely necessary a driver never put a foot wrong. Otherwise, the trees would badly damage any chances of making it to the end of a race.
The need to be so precise and mistake-free suited 'the Maestro'. During practice, there would not be anyone more precise and fast as Fangio. He would take his A6SSG and would turn a lap in two minutes and forty seconds. This was the first pole-position for Fangio and for Maserati since the Belgian Grand Prix back in late June. Alberto Ascari would also show his ability as he would start in 2nd place, or in the middle of the front row, having set a lap time that was just six-tenths of a second slower than Fangio. Completing the front row was another World Champion. In fact, the entire front row was comprised of the World Champions from each of the first four years of the series. This was made possible by Giuseppe Farina starting from the 3rd position.
Onofre Marimon looked impressive around the tight Bremgarten circuit. His time would be only a little over four seconds slower than Fangio's, and therefore, good enough to start from the 5th position on the second row. About twelve seconds would separate Fangio from Bonetto's best time. This meant the Italian would start the race from the 10th position on the fourth row. After an absence from top-flight grand prix racing of over a decade, Hermann Lang would take his A6SSG and would still qualify with a respectable time. He would be fourteen seconds slower than Fangio and would end up starting 11th and in the first position on the fifth row.
A blistering hot day awaited the start of the Swiss Grand Prix. As the flag waived to start the race, Fangio would get away well and would hold the lead. Ascari slotted in behind Fangio and would apply the pressure right from the very start. Farina would suffer a terrible start and would end up well down the order before having travelled even a hundred yards.
Although Fangio had made the best start, Ascari would end up getting by before the completion of the first lap. Hawthorn and Marimon would give chase from not too far back of Fangio. Farina, despite his poor start, was quickly making his way back up to toward the front of the pack. A couple of dark horses in the race, the Ecurie Francorchamps and Ecurie Rosier entries of Jacques Swaters and Louis Rosier, would end up crashing out of the race on the very first lap. However, despite driving Ferrari 500s themselves, there was little either could have done to combat the rouge wave at the front of the field.
Ascari continued to lead, chased by Fangio, Hawthorn and Marimon. The pace was a torrential one. The ever-more torrential heat would end up causing the field to become stretched out and thinned as retirement after retirement began to strike the field. After Swaters and Rosier, Paul Frere would be the next out of the race and he would set off a string of engine related retirements. In all, there would be five entries that would retire due to engine related problems. Just 12 laps into the race, Fangio's A6SSG was suffering in pace. This would cause the Argentinean to switch cars with Bonetto. This move would end up paying off for Bonetto more than it would pay off for Fangio.
Despite having changed cars with Bonetto, the heat and the pace would end up getting the better of what had been Bonetto's car as well. Just 29 laps into the race, Fangio would retire due to engine failure. He had been one of the five that would retire because of engine related troubles. Bonetto would carry on in Fangio's car without incident. Because of Fangio's troubles, the four Scuderia Ferraris would lead the rest of the field. It seemed it was going to be a clean sweep by Ferrari.
But it was not to be. Villoresi would begin to succumb to the pace and would end up handing over his position to Marimon and Bonetto. Hawthorn would also lose position to Marimon. Even Ascari wasn't without troubles.
The pace had been such that Ascari needed to come into the pits to have his car thoroughly checked. This would hand the lead over to Farina for a little more than dozen laps. During Farina's reign at the top, Ascari's car had been given the all-clear signal, which also signaled to Ascari that he could let everything go. And he would.
On the 50th lap of the race, Ascari would turn what would end up being the fastest lap of the race. His time was just a little more than a second slower than Fangio's qualifying effort. This kind of pace would hand the lead back to Ascari.
Just about twenty laps from the end, Marimon would end up losing his position to Hawthorn. A busted oil pipe would end up being Onofre's knife through the heart. This left just Felice Bonetto and the veteran Lang still in the running for Maserati.
The Maserati threat wilted in the heat. In the closing stages of the race, Scuderia Ferrari was running at the head of the field while the Maserati contingent was just trying to make it to the finish. After 65 laps, Ascari would cross the line to take his fifth victory of the season and thoroughly ensure his second World Championship. Giuseppe Farina and Mike Hawthorn would ensure that it would be Scuderia Ferrari one, two and three as they would each cross the line within two minutes of Ascari. The best the Maseratis could do was Bonetto's 4th place effort. Although he would finish the race in 4th, he was thoroughly dominated. He would end up crossing the line almost three minutes behind, and therefore, had finished a lap down to Ascari. Hermann Lang would show a steady hand behind the helm of the Maserati but was well and truly out of the running. He would end up in 5th place ahead of Villoresi, but would be three laps behind.
The Maserati team just could not get a break. They once again appeared to be the favorite, but the red machines just couldn't hold up to the pressure applied by the prancing horses of Scuderia Ferrari. Only one more opportunity remained for Maserati to make good on what many had believed to be true all the way back in late spring. The real question, given the way the season had gone, was whether or not they could do it.
The final round of the World Championship would provide the ultimate stage for Maserati to prove itself. It was the Italian Grand Prix, the home grand prix for Maserati and Ferrari. Amidst the shouts 'Viva Ferrari' there would be many others shouting and cheering for Maserati.
Both manufacturers were located only about a hundred miles down the road in or near Modena. Tens of thousands would come to the race only to find things in a state of upheaval. While Maserati had not succeeded in knocking off Ferrari from its dominance perch, it seemed apparent it would take over the position as favorite given Enzo Ferrari's statements toward the later part of the season that Ferrari would pull out of the World Championship in 1954. In addition to the statements made by Ferrari, the team also brought their newest 553 prototypes to the race. This aura of uncertainty was what Maserati needed.
The other thing the Maserati team needed was a circuit like Monza. One of the earliest purpose-built circuits in the world, the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, built amidst the woods of the Royal Villa of Monza Park, consisted of more than just one circuit. The circuit featured a road course and a 2.63 mile steeply banked oval. The intriguing aspect of the layout of the Monza circuit was the fact the banked oval could be incorporated into the regular road circuit to make a 6.21 mile long course. The addition of the banked oval boasted of some incredible average speeds. However, the oval was not needed in order for Monza to be considered an ultra-fast circuit.
This fact played into the strengths of the Maserati's 190+ hp engine. At Spa, another ultra-fast circuit, Fangio had dominated practice and started the race on the pole. However, changes were made to the design of the Ferrari 500 going into the fast Reims circuit and it would Ascari that would start on the pole at that race. Monza, therefore, was obviously a toss-up. The 3.91 mile Monza circuit was going to play host to a civil war.
Practice would see the same row of champions occupy the front row as had done so at the Swiss Grand Prix three weeks earlier. Alberto Ascari, the first repeat World Champion, would start the race from the pole after setting a time of two minutes and two seconds around the 3.91 mile road course. Juan Manuel Fangio would start in the middle of the front row after recording a time just a half of a second slower. Giuseppe Farina, the first World Champion, would finish off the front row with his 3rd place starting position.
Onofre Marimon continued to impress. In practice, he would turn in a lap time just two-tenths of a second slower than Farina. Therefore, Marimon would start right behind Ascari in the 4th place position on the second row. Felice Bonetto would have his teammate clear the road in front of him as he would start behind Marimon in the 7th place starting position on the third row.
Maserati still was without the services of Gonzalez for the final round of the World Championship. Therefore, the team would decide to take the fourth car and split it amongst two drivers. Sergio Montavanti would take the car during practice and qualify the car. He would, then, take part in a number of laps in the race before handing the car over to Luigi Musso for the remainder of the race. During practice, Montavanti would take the Maserati A6SSG and would manage to turn in a lap time of two minutes and seven seconds. This time would place the fourth Maserati in the 12th place starting position on the outside of the fourth row. In all, four Maseratis would face off against five Scuderia Ferraris.
The actual race would end up being an exciting and confusing race. It would get underway with Ascari and Farina leading Fangio who had made a rather poor start. Marimon would show just how comfortable he had become driving amongst the elite as he would end up taking the lead of the race before the completion of the first lap of the race.
Using the many high-speed sections of the circuit to slipstream his way past slower traffic, Fangio was soon back in touch with the leaders and would become part of a four-car train that would constantly battle each and every lap for position and for the lead of the race. Heading down the long straights, the drivers would slipstream off of each other and it wasn't unusual to see different drivers in each of the top four positions.
Throughout the first half of the 80 lap race the same four competitors continued to exchange position almost each and every lap. It was Reims all over again. While Fangio and Marimon could keep pace with Ascari and Farina, Bonetto and Montavanti and Musso could not. While still running quite well, these two Maserati drivers would be well back from their teammates. The same would be true of half of Scuderia Ferrari. Ascari and Farina were obviously right there with Fangio and Marimon but Hawthorn, Villoresi, Umberto Maglioli and Piero Carini were unable to keep up. There was very obviously the breakaway group and the chasing peloton.
The fierce pace of the four front runners would take its toll on the rest of the field. Some seven entries, including Lance Macklin, Johnny Claes, Roy Salvadori and Piero Carini, would succumb to the intense pace and would end up retiring from the race.
But not even all of the front runners were free from troubles themselves. About halfway through the race, Marimon would have cooling issues and would be forced to come into the pits for a lengthy stop to have the situation rectified. He would rejoin the race, but would do so a lap down. This left just Fangio taking on Ascari and Farina. Knowing he had to take up the fight all by himself, Fangio would get serious and would end up turning the fastest lap of the race. Despite being one taking on two, this increase in pace meant an increase in pressure upon Ascari and Farina.
The last half of the last race of the season would see a battle joined only by World Champions. The crowd, the Tifosi, would have the opportunity to see the very best battle it out for almost an hour and a half. Being the champions they were, neither of them was any more than a length away from the other for the majority of the last half. And though he was all alone against Ascari and Farina, Fangio certainly looked to be on form this day.
Lap after lap these three would battle it out. Soon, they would catch Marimon. Having overcome his issues, Marimon was able to latch back onto the threesome and the four-car train was again moving around the circuit. The pace of these three was such that going into the final lap of the race they would catch Mike Hawthorn and Luigi Villoresi running together on the circuit. Knowing the race to be officially over at that point in time, Hawthorn would pull to the side. Villoresi would decide he wanted to get in on the fun and quickly it would become a five-car train circulating around the circuit for just one more lap.
These elite drivers had run wheel-to-wheel almost throughout the entire length of the French Grand Prix without there being a mistake made. Even the very best in the world cannot do such a thing as that every time and get away without making a mistake. At the Italian Grand Prix, these same men continued to battle the same way as at Reims and for 79 laps. However, the 80th, and final, lap would see the rare mistake come to throw the finish of the final round of the World Championship into utter disarray.
Going into the final turn at Vedano, the two Ferrari teammates were practically side-by-side. Ascari hoped to make the move stick but would end up spinning his car. When the car broke loose, it came right across in front of Farina. Farina would swing his car wide and into the grass to try and avoid Ascari. He would manage to miss him, but Marimon would not. Marimon would collide with Ascari and both cars would be out of the race just hundreds of yards from the finish line.
Fangio had given himself a little bit of distance between himself and the Ferraris going into the final turn. This would prove to be providential as it would give Fangio enough time to avoid the two Ferraris and make his way into the lead with only the start/finish straight left. Although Fangio would cross the finish line two seconds ahead of Farina to win the race he would end up continuing on for another lap with Farina closely in tow. The fierce battle between the three drivers, and then the rapid chain of events in the last corner, threw the race officials into a bit of disarray. No clear signal had been given that Fangio had won the race, and therefore, Fangio believed he still had one more lap to go. He would make it around one more lap and would be stopped on the front straight by a large crowd where he would be notified that he had actually won the race the lap before!
Maserati had finally done it! It took an error on the part of the Ferrari pilots, but nonetheless, it would be the manufacturer from Modena that would take the honors. Farina would bring his car home in 2nd. And even though he would crash out of the race and wouldn't actually cross the finish line, Ascari would finish the race 3rd. The pace of the three World Champions had been such that they thoroughly dominated the rest of the field. Third on down through the field was at least one lap behind. Felice Bonetto would run out of fuel on what was the last lap of the race but had been down three laps at the time. Sergio Mantavanti and Luigi Musso would make it to the end of the race. They would end up 7th, but four laps down. There were a total of twenty-three cars still running at the end of the race. However, the pace of the leaders had been such that only the top fourteen would end up classified at the end. The rest were so far back they would end up not being classified as having finished in the running.
The consecutive winning streak of the Ferrari 500 had come to an end. The very nature of the close battles at Reims, and finally, Monza, made it very clear Maserati had risen to the challenge of dethroning the all-conquering Ferrari chassis. For the first time in two years, and with the exception of the Indianapolis 500, a car other than a Scuderia Ferrari 500 F2 had won a race. The whole of Italy belonged to Maserati. Now was the time to go racing. Thankfully for the team, there was one more race to go in 1953 and it would truly be a mighty homecoming.
One race remained for 1953. The race took place on the 20th of September and it was the 4th Gran Premio di Modena. Maserati had just come from the Italian Grand Prix two weeks prior where the Argentinean, Fangio, helped the Italian Maserati team defeat two other Italian drivers driving for another Italian manufacturer. What's more, Maserati would return to its home location of Modena, which was the same province or state in which Maranello was part. Therefore, the Maserati Company was like a nagging thorn in Ferrari's side.
Enzo Ferrari having made his announcements concerning 1954 when he had led to the Ferrari team being absent for the Grand Prix of Modena. This meant Maserati, whose headquarters were practically right down from the street from the Modena aerodrome, would end up taking on a number of privateers and small teams in the 100 lap race.
A local flying club used the Modena Aerodrome ever since the end of World War II. Then, in 1950, a short mile and a half circuit was designed using perimeter roads around and through the runway. The flat, wide aerodrome just to the west of Modena's city center would be the site of the 4th Grand Prix of Modena in 1953 and would be an opportunity for Maserati to do one more victory lap if its cars could make it to the end of the race.
Fresh from his victory at Monza, Fangio would take his latest evolution of the A6SSG and would earn the pole for the race with a time of one minute and six seconds. Onofre Marimon, having come to realize that he was more than able to compete with the best in the world, would record a lap time just two-tenths of a second slower than Fangio to grab the 2nd place starting position on the front row. They would be joined on the front row by another Maserati. However, this Maserati would be driven by the privateer Emmanuel de Graffenried. Felice Bonetto would take his Maserati and would make it four-straight Maseratis at the front of the grid. The top four would be separated by just four-tenths of a second.
In the team's last race of the season it would have yet another driver for its fourth car. Emilio Giletti would be given the nod to drive the fourth car. In practice, he would end up being about three seconds off of Fangio's pace. He would start the race from the 8th position on the third row.
There had been only one Ferrari 500 entered for the race. The lone Ferrari would be entered by the Ecurie Francorchamps team and Charles de Tornaco. For Maserati, the event was something of a festive event having scored victory at the Italian Grand Prix. However, the mood would quickly change. During practice de Tornaco would roll his Ferrari 500 killing himself in the wreck. Yet another life had been lost in 1953. The first race of the season in Argentina had been marred by tragic deaths. Now, the last race of the season would also involve a fatality. Fo many, the season couldn't end soon enough.
The race would get rolling with a rolling start. Jean Behra's disappointing season would end up rolling to a stop and an early end. His Gordini T16 would suffer from piston failure on the very first lap of the race and would have his season come to an end on that sour of a note.
Being that the circuit was rather short, but that the race was 100 laps, it would be expected that the cars would go through a heavy toll over the course of the event. Therefore, it wasn't all that surprising to see cars retire from engine related problems, as well as, other issues. Many others would simply back off and would just look to make it to the end of one of the final races of the season. Fangio would do anything but hold back.
Ever since the rolling start to get the race going, Fangio was being chased by Marimon. However, though he was under threat, Fangio never appeared harried in any way. Instead, he would merely go on to set what would be the fastest lap of the race. His time would end up being some eight-tenths of a second faster than his own qualifying effort. Such a pace kept Marimon safely at bay. It also demolished the rest of the field.
By the end of the 100 lap race, there would only be four cars that would end up classified as still running although there were actually ten still circulating at the time Fangio crossed the line to take the victory. Fangio's pace was such that he would end up with a margin of almost forty seconds over Marimon. Since each lap took just a little more than a minute, it was little surprise that Marimon was the last car still on the lead lap by the end of the race. In fact, Emmanuel de Graffenried, who would make it Maserati one-two-three, would end up two laps down in 3rd place. Maurice Trintgnant would be the 4th place finisher and last classified car. He would end up four laps behind.
The Grand Prix of Modena had certainly been a victory lap for Fangio and Maserati. It was almost the perfect way to end the season. Things seemed bright for the future.
There was only one problem with the future. It was the last year in which the World Championship would compete according to Formula 2 regulations. Just when it seemed Maserati was hitting its stride, things were going to change. The governing-body had new Formula One regulations ready for the 1954 season. But Maserati would be ready. And in the early stages of the 1954 season, Maserati, and its new 250F1, would take Fangio on his way to a second World Championship.
1953 would see Maserati turn a corner. Under the management of the Maserati brothers, it seemed the company was on the verge only to have the opportunity for glory and honor vanish in a moment. Though Ferrari would remain atop, Maserati had given the team everything it could handle. The thrilling moments at Reims and Monza were a testament to just how far Maserati had come from being lost in Ferrari's shadow. And though its Formula One heritage would be nil compared to that of Ferrari, 1953 helped the manufacturer step up to become the World Champion it would eventually become. Officine Alfieri Maserati