TeamsKen Wharton: 1953 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
Though born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Ken Wharton would go on to prove that he was a competitive and competent racing driver. He was also quite adept at engineering his own racing cars as he was a trained automotive engineer. Headed into the 1953 season, he would certainly need to put together some magical just to remain in contention.
Born in Smethwick in March of 1916, Wharton was born into a wealthy family and was able to start his racing career at just the age of nineteen. This wealth would also enable him to take part in a number of races, of all different kinds, until racing was abandoned with the outbreak of World War II.
When the Second World War came to an end, Wharton was right there at some of the first races. Throughout the later part of the 1940s, Wharton would take part in a number of races and would be rather successful.
Wharton would make the jump up to Formula One at the end of the 1951 season. He would take part in just one or two non-championship races with an aged ERA B-Type chassis but would fare rather well. This would seemingly pay off dividends heading into the 1952 season.
Things changed heading into the 1952 season. The World Championship would abandon Formula One regulations for the next couple of years in search of lower costs and increasing competition. This meant the World Championship would be conducted according to Formula 2 regulations for the next two seasons. This opened the door for a number of racers that otherwise may not have had an open door into the World Championship.
One important thing the switch to Formula 2 allowed to happen was costs dropped. It also opened the door, because of the costs, to more smaller teams and privateer entries that had the talent for preparing their own racing cars. This was right up Wharton's alley.
Wharton would debut in the World Championship at the first round of the series that year, the Swiss Grand Prix. In that race, Wharton would go on to earn an incredible 4th place result. He would earn the result using a Frazer-Nash that certainly was no match for Ferrari's 500, but in the hands of Wharton, would prove strong enough.
Wharton would go on to score a number of other good results in non-championship races throughout the 1952 season. Then, when Juan Manuel Fangio got hurt at Monza in June of that year, Wharton would be handed another great, but extremely fragile, opportunity.
Throughout the 1952 season there were a number of races in which the old Formula One cars were allowed to compete. Juan Manuel Fangio and his fellow Argentinean Jose Froilan Gonzalez had been the pilots of the troubled P15 for BRM. However, when Fangio was seriously hurt at Monza Wharton would be offered the seat in the second car. And despite its infamous unreliability, he would accept the opportunity.
Always recognized as a fast driver, it seemed Wharton's star was still on the rise. If he could have put together a remarkable 1953 season it would have been hard to tell just where he would have ended up.
Wharton would make some changes headed into the 1953 season. Although he had managed to pull of more than one surprising result in the Frazer-Nash FN48, it really wasn't a car as competitive as would be needed. One of those British marks that had proven to be quite competitive was Cooper. Mike Hawthorn had been so impressive in his own Cooper-Bristol that he was signed by Enzo Ferrari for the 1953 season. Therefore, heading into the new season, Wharton would purchase one of the new chassis models, a Cooper-Bristol T23.
Even though Wharton had a new car and was a man of means, the costs associated with motor racing were still somewhat prohibitive for a privateer such as him. The costs, and the competition, would make the first World Championship round, and the first non-championship race of the season, rather non-viable options.
For the first time, the World Championship would be a proper 'world' championship. The first round would end up taking place very early on in the year. In fact, the first round of the championship would take place in the middle of January across the Atlantic in Argentina. A couple of weeks after that would be the first non-championship Formula 2 race of the season, also held in Argentina. However, travelling all the way across the Atlantic for just a couple of races wasn't something Wharton was willing to do.
Wharton's season wouldn't even start with the first non-championship grand prix to take place on European soil. Wharton would skip the Gran Premio di Siracusa in the later-part of March, and instead, would spend another couple of weeks making final preparations for his first race of the season.
On the 6th of April, Wharton would make his way to the south of England in order to take part in the Easter races held at Goodwood. He was on his way there to take part in one of the many short races that took place on the special day.
Formerly RAF Westhampnett, the 2.39 mile Goodwood circuit would come into being after the auxiliary airfield was decommissioned in the late 1940s. The Duke of Richmond, the title holder of the Goodwood Estate, was an avid racer and happened to be looking for a use for the former airfield. Its perimeter road would end up making the perfect setting for a motor racing circuit. And, by the 1950s, Goodwood was one of Britain's busiest circuits holding a number of races throughout the course of a year.
One of the many events hosted at the circuit was the Easter races. This series of races comprised a day filled with motor racing of all different kinds and categories. One of those races, the one in which Wharton would enter, was the Lavant Cup race. In fact, it was the 5th running of the Lavant Cup race. Named for a nearby village, the race, like all of the others, was a short affair, only 7 laps.
Although it was a short race the field wasn't without its fill of strong competitors, and drivers not just from around the British Isles. Emmanuel de Graffenried was certainly a strong foreign entry adding to an already strong British lineup that included Stirling Moss, Tony Rolt and Roy Salvadori.
Salvadori would prove just how strong he was by setting the fastest time in practice and taking the pole for the short race. His time of one minute, thirty-five and four-tenths seconds would end up just two-tenths of a second faster than de Graffenried, who would also start on the front row in 2nd place. Bobbie Baird and Tony Rolt would conclude the front row in 3rd and 4th on the starting grid.
Wharton would still be coming to grips with his Cooper-Bristol T23 in practice and it showed. While usually one of the faster qualifiers, Wharton would end up with a time that would put him right near the middle of the field. He would start the race 9th, which meant he started from the third row.
A poor starting position, or a mistake during the race, were disastrous in such a short race. Wharton would have to make a great start and keep from making any mistakes from then on if he wished for a good result.
It would be de Graffenried that would make the strongest impression. He would be right up there at the front pushing Salvadori. Salvadori would respond by setting the fastest lap of the race, but it was seemingly becoming clear that it wasn't going to make one bit of difference.
Wharton would make a good start and would be fighting and clawing his way up the running order. He was giving Bob Gerard fits, but was under some pressure of his own. Stirling Moss, who had started the race all the way down in 18th had made an incredible start and was pushing his way up the top ten. He would become pasted to the backside of Wharton throughout a good portion of the race.
With the exception of up at the front of the field, mere seconds separated many of the drivers running out on the circuit. Attrition would be light with only four cars falling out throughout the whole of the race. And since the race was short, the competition and battles fiercely raged throughout the field.
The only one not under any pressure would be de Graffenried. Despite having the whole of the field behind him trying to track him down, de Graffenried seemed to be the only one not really under threat. Lapping at an average of more than 87 mph, de Graffenried's main competition was himself and the threat of making a mistake. He would not.
It would take de Graffenried just eleven minutes and thirty seconds to complete the 7 laps and take the victory. He would cross the line with thirteen seconds in hand over Roy Salvadori in 2nd place. Tony Roly would put together a solid performance to end in 3rd.
The real battle was between Wharton, Moss and Gerard. Wharton led the train, but even the slightest twitch would have enabled Moss to go through and take the position. The battle would rage to the very last. And in the end, Wharton would improve upon his 9th place starting position and would finish in 6th. Finishing in twelve minutes and four seconds, Wharton would be just four seconds behind Peter Whitehead for 5th place. But more importantly, Wharton would hold off Moss for 6th by just a little over a second. Eight-tenths of a second separated Moss from Gerard in 8th.
The first race had been a solid start for Wharton with the new car. He proved able to move up the running order, and because of his skill as a racing driver, was able to use his car to hold off other, perhaps faster, competitors.
A little less than two weeks after his first race of the 1953 season, Ken Wharton would find himself in Norfolk and another former World War II airbase known as Snetterton-Heath. He was there to take part in a rather small event. It was the 2nd Aston Martin Owners Club Formula 2 Race. Similar to Goodwood, the race would be rather short and would be just part of a whole collection of races.
Unlike Goodwood, which would see some use as an actual base for a squadron of Spitfire and Hurricane fighters, Snetterton-Heath would serve as host for both the 386th Medium and 96th Heavy Bombardment groups of the United States Army Air Force. Due to its location, the base would be at the forefront of major operations and attacks.
Snetterton-Heath, despite its extensive use during the war, would fall into disuse in the years after its decommission in 1948. However, 1953 would see the old airbase burst back into life as a motor racing venue and there would be a bevy of races that would be conducted on the 2.70 mile circuit throughout the year. One of the first of the season would be the Aston Martin Owners Club Formula 2 Race. It would be a 10 lap race covering a total distance of 27 miles.
While Goodwood would end up being a solid race in which Wharton would start his season, the race at Snetterton would be anything but a good follow-up. Wharton wouldn't even go on to complete a single lap as the universal joint on his Cooper-Bristol broke. He would end up watching the race just like the rest of the spectators assembled.
Wharton would see Eric Thompson put together an impressive performance in his Connaught A-Type. He would end up being chased by Bob Gerard and Peter Whitehead. Amazingly, Bobbie Baird would set the fastest lap of the race but would end up out of the running over the course of the race.
The battle would come down to Thompson and Gerard. Gerard had been out of racing throughout the majority of the 1952 season but certainly wasn't looking like it this day as he gave Thompson all that he could handle.
Although Thompson would average around 4 mph slower than Baird on his fastest lap, Thompson would end up holding off Gerard for the victory. Eric would complete the 10 laps in nineteen minutes and eleven seconds and would beat Gerard by just under two seconds. Peter Whitehead would go on to finish the race in 4th place. He would end up another twelve seconds behind Whitehead.
This was not how Wharton wanted his second race of the season to go. But at least the race had been a relatively minor event. Unfortunately, that meant he had lost a great opportunity at a great result. He would just need to pack everything up and head back home in order to repair the car for his next race.
Thankfully, Wharton would have a few weeks between races. It would be plenty of time to repair his car and get it ready for the next race. Wharton would need the car working at its absolute best as his next race was by no means going to be an easy affair.
Wharton would take his Cooper-Bristol T23 and would head to Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire. His destination was yet another former airbase. But this airbase wasn't just a former airbase holding some impromptu motor race. It was RAF Silverstone, and it had quickly become the home of British motor racing since hosting its first 'official' motor racing in 1948, which was the British Grand Prix.
Wharton, however, wasn't on his way to the circuit to take part in the British Grand Prix. No, that race would be later on in the year. Wharton was heading that way to take part in a race the former airbase hosted for the first time in 1949, the BRDC International Trophy race. Originally intended to be hosted using the airbases runways, the circuit would change just before the first edition of the Iternational Trophy race and would include just the 2.88 miles of perimeter road.
One of the big races held at Silverstone, the International Trophy race had seen some of the best teams, cars and drivers over its short history. And in 1953, the race would be privy to more of the same. Of course, one of the 'big' attractions would be Scuderia Ferrari with its driver, the Briton Mike Hawthorn. Coming into the race, Hawthorn would be at the wheel of the all-conquering Ferrari 500, and therefore, would be the benchmark, the target, everyone would be aiming at, including Wharton.
The International Trophy race was conducted differently than any of the rounds of the World Championship. Instead of being a race based around just a number of miles and laps, it would include a couple of heat races and then a final. Each of the heat races last for 15 laps. The final would be 35 laps.
The entire field would be split up amongst the two heats. Wharton would find himself in the second heat. The first heat would include such talented drivers as Emmanuel de Graffenried, Stirling Moss, Tony Rolt and Louis Rosier.
In practice, de Graffenried would use the power of his Maserati A6SSG to earn the pole. His best lap of one minute and fifty-one seconds would be three seconds faster than Bob Gerard's best time in his Cooper-Bristol T23. Tony Rolt and Kenneth McAlpine would complete the front row, each with times about three seconds slower than de Graffenried.
Stirling Moss would start the race from a rather terrible spot once again but would use it as motivation during the heat. He would make a great start and would be soon challenging up near the front of the field. Emmanuel de Graffenried would get away cleanly and would be up at the front right away as well.
These two would set the pace, quite literally. Emmanuel de Graffenried would go on to set the fastest lap of the race but would later have his time matched by Moss. Moss wasn't about to let de Graffenried escape, but Moss would have to work really hard to stay in touch while driving his Cooper-Alta Special.
Prince Bira, driving a year old Maserati A6GCM would also make a good start and would but up near the front as well. Gerard remained up at the front as well but would face a stiff penalty when the heat was over as a result of jumping the start.
Despite Moss' pressure, de Graffenried continued to click off consistently fast laps that enabled him to pull out something of an advantage by the end of the first heat. Emmanuel would go on to win the first heat completing the distance in just twenty-eight minutes and fifty-nine seconds. He would have five seconds in hand over Moss at the finish. In 3rd place would be Prince Bira in his Maserati. He would be seventeen seconds behind Moss. The best battle in the field would be between McAlpine and Louis Rosier. McAlpine would get the better of Rosier to finish 5th but only a second would separate them. Bob Gerard would get nailed with a 60 second penalty and would slip all the way down to 8th place in the order.
The second heat would see Wharton facing off against Mike Hawthorn, Roy Salvadori, Peter Collins, Maurice Trintignant and others. Certainly the second heat was filled with talent. However, in practice, Wharton would prove best of all as he would set the fastest lap and would grab the pole. But he would have some very strong competition on the front row with him. Mike Hawthorn would start right alongside in 2nd place having set a time less than a second slower. Louis Chiron, the old racer, would start 3rd while Maurice Trintignant would complete the front row in 4th place.
Practice was a mere taste of what the heat would be like. As the green flag flew to start the 15 lap heat, a battle between Wharton and Hawthorn ensued that would leave the crowd cheering and going wild.
Hawthorn was immediately on the pace. He was putting the Ferrari through its paces, but he couldn't shake Wharton. Lap after lap the two ran nose-to-tail with never more than a couple of car lengths separating themselves. It was a truly stupendous battle that would see the pace of the race blow that of the first heat right out of the water.
The pace would be too much for Chiron despite his OSCA 20. Roy Salvadori would end up looking impressive coming up from 6th place on the grid, but he wouldn't be as impressive as Peter Whitehead who started the race from the third row of the grid in 10th place but would find himself in 4th place after Maurice Trintignant's transmission failed with a lap remaining in the race.
In spite of the race only being 15 laps, the pace of Hawthorn and Wharton at the front would be such that only the top eight would end up on the lead lap at the end. The fight came down to Hawthorn and Wharton. Nearly a minute separated the two from Salvadori running by himself in 3rd place. Wharton was putting on an incredible display at the wheel of the Cooper-Bristol doing everything he could to hold onto Hawthorn. Could he pull out the victory in the heat?
Rounding the circuit on the last lap of the heat, it was still really close between the two. Still running nose-to-tail after 15 laps, the two rounded Woodcote on their way to the line. At the line it would be Mike Hawthorn taking the win by about a second over Wharton. Fifty seconds would separate Hawthorn and Salvadori the 3rd place finisher.
The second heat race had been an incredible battle between Hawthorn and Wharton. Their battle pushed the finishing time to nearly forty-five seconds faster than what de Graffenried achieved in the first heat. This would be important as the starting positions for the 35 lap final would be determined by finishing times from each respective heat race. This meant roles would reverse; Hawthorn would start on the pole with Wharton right alongside in 2nd. Emmanuel de Graffenried and Stirling Moss would complete the front row.
Although he had lost out to Hawthorn in the heat, Wharton had hoped he could reverse roles and take the overall win in the final. Unfortunately, the battle everyone was hoping for would not materialize.
Right from the start of the final, Hawthorn would be in control of the race. Wharton would be there at the start and would do his best to keep pace just as he had during the heat race. However, as the race wore on, Wharton's pace slowed slightly and he began to drop down the order.
In an effort to try and gain an advantage and keep Hawthorn at bay, de Graffenried would try to make a great start but would be caught for jumping the start. However, the decision wouldn't be made for a while, and so, Hawthorn's greatest challenge would come from de Graffenried who would go on to set the fastest lap of the race, but it would be matched by Hawthorn, and therefore, did little to really help him pull the Englishman in.
Roy Salvadori would make a good start in 5th place, and once de Graffenried withdrew after 16 laps and Wharton and Moss faded, he would find himself in 2nd place. Unfortunately, he would be too distant to really challenge Hawthorn.
All of the troubles at the front of the field would open the door to those that started from the middle. One of those that would capitalize on the misfortunes of others would be Tony Rolt. Rolt had started the final from the third row in 8th place, but as the race neared its end, he would be in the top three and looking quite good.
Wharton continued to battle on despite not being able to keep pace with Hawthorn. Unfortunately, his car was not running at peak as it had in his earlier fight with Hawthorn. This made him vulnerable to some of the other competitors. As the last few laps began, Wharton would find himself battling with Prince Bira and Bob Gerard for a position in the top five and on the lead lap.
Using the superior power and reliability of the Ferrari, Hawthorn was able to turn out laps in the one minute and fifty-one second range. This was faster than most everyone else on their best laps and Hawthorn seemed to be able to hang around that time lap after lap. Salvadori was the only one that would remain even close to Hawthorn toward the end, but Hawthorn was in such complete control that it was obvious he wasn't pushing as hard as he could throughout the last couple of laps.
Averaging a little more than 92 mph, it would take Hawthorn just one hour, six minutes and thirty-six seconds to complete the 35 lap distance and take the win. He would cross the line and take the win with twelve seconds in hand over Salvadori in 2nd place. Tony Rolt would come from 8th on the starting grid to finish the race 3rd, but he would be over forty seconds behind Hawthorn at the finish.
While Wharton battled for the win in the second heat with Hawthorn, he would battle with Bob Gerard to remain on the lead lap and finish in 5th place. He would end up doing so completing the distance a minute and a half behind Hawthorn.
Though it had still been a good result, the result was still mildly disappointing given the epic duel he had had with Hawthorn during the second heat. Had he been able to continue it during the second heat it would have been an incredible final. Nonetheless, Wharton had turned around the failure suffered at Snetterton. He had faced some very strong competition and earned a very strong result upon which he could build his confidence. This would be very helpful as he packed up and headed across the Irish Sea.
Just one week after the BRDC International Trophy race at Silverstone, the 16th of May, Ken Wharton had made his way across the Irish Sea on past Ulster and on to the small village of Dundrod. He was there to take part in the 7th Ulster Trophy race.
Back during the days of the Formula One cars Dundrod attracted some of the really big teams, drivers and cars. Of course Juan Manuel Fangio would take part in the race in 1952, which would ultimately lead to his missing his ride with Prince Bira and having to drive all night and day to get to Monza where he would suffer his horrendous accident that would take him out of racing for the rest of the year.
One year later, Mike Hawthorn would end up being the lone big name driver of a big name manufacturer. However, the field wasn't without competitive drivers. In fact, in many ways, the Ulster Trophy race would look eerily similar to the International Trophy race.
The similarities wouldn't just have to do with the drivers in the field. The format of the race was also similar. It too was made up of heat races and a final. However, there was a difference in the way in which the race would be conducted. Instead of finishing times from each heat race determining the final starting grid, there would be another qualifying session that would set the final grid.
For Wharton, being at Dundrod was quite a change from where he had been racing up to that point in the season. All of the previous races he had taken part in had taken place on former airbases. But Dundrod was a road course in the truest sense of the word. It took place over 7.41 miles of public roads traversing the countryside to the west of Ulster. This meant the circuit rose and fell with the terrain, it featured corners of all kinds and it also boasted of some unique features like 'Deer's Leap' and Quarry Bends.
As with the International Trophy race, Wharton would be listed in the second heat along with Mike Hawthorn in the lone Scuderia Ferrari. The first heat would include Stirling Moss but not Emmanuel de Graffenried. Instead, Duncan Hamilton would be among some of the drivers joining Moss in the heat.
Moss would end up setting the pace and taking the pole. His best lap around the 7.41 miles would be a lap time of four minutes and fifty-nine seconds. John Lyons would end up being the second-fastest. He would be eighteen seconds slower but would still start in the middle of the front row. Duncan Hamilton would be just two seconds slower than Lyons and would start in 3rd place.
Each of the heat races would be 10 laps. As the heat started, Moss would be up at the front but would have Duncan Hamilton right there battling with him. Lyons would start out alright but would quickly begin to drop back in the running order.
Moss would fly during the heat. He would be so fast that he would go on to set the fastest lap of the race with an incredible time that was three seconds faster than his own pole-winning time. However, he wouldn't be able to shake Hamilton. Although Hamilton wouldn't be able to match Moss for the fastest lap of the race he would still manage to match him blow for blow. And as the race wore on, Hamilton began to wear down Moss.
Behind the two men at the front, every one else pretty much ran in order of starting position, with the exception of Lyons who was fading. This meant that while there were battles throughout the field, the only really interesting battle was between Moss and Hamilton at the front.
Averaging nearly 85 mph over the course of the 10 laps, Hamilton began to draw away from Moss as the two neared the end of the heat. Hamilton would go on to take the victory by about nine seconds over Moss. But the gap from Moss in 2nd place to the 3rd place finisher would be any but a few seconds. Jimmy Somervail would have the excitement of finishing 3rd in the heat but he would be over two minutes behind both Hamilton and Moss in the end.
With the first heat over, it was time for the second to start. With Hawthorn and Wharton listed in the second heat together many wondered if it would be a repeat of the action in their heat race at the International Trophy race. And after practice, it seemed like things were setting up to be so.
In a switch, Hawthorn would be fastest in practice. His time of four minutes and fifty-one seconds was some eight seconds faster than Moss in the first heat and it would be eight seconds faster than Wharton in the 2nd. Therefore, Hawthorn would start from the pole but would have Wharton lining up right beside him on the front row in 2nd. Emmanuel de Graffenried would be listed in the second heat for this race. His best time would be two seconds slower than Wharton but would be good enough to start the race from 3rd place, the final spot on the front row.
Emmanuel de Graffenried would unfortunately be dropped from the front row battle after just one lap when his rear axle failed on his Maserati. This left just Hawthorn and Wharton at the front, but they would not be alone. Starting in 5th place on the second row of the grid, Bobbie Baird would make a good start and would be right there with Wharton and Hawthorn. Peter Whitehead would also get around Louis Chiron and would be up near the front during the early part of the race. However, he would lose touch as the heat race wore on.
A few of the better drivers would end up falling out of the race with mechanical problems. Peter Collins would have a misfire. Prince Bira would have an axle fail and Jacques Swaters would have magneto failure. These unfortunate failures would reduce the number of talented starters that would line up for the final.
It would seem quite obvious where Hawthorn would line up for the final. He would break contact with Wharton. His escape would be aided by a fastest lap time of four minutes and fifty-four seconds and a steady diet of times not that much slower each and every lap.
While the battle between Hawthorn and Wharton was shaping up as many may have been expecting, Wharton was still embroiled in a battle. He had Bobbie Baird all over him fighting him for 2nd place. Each and every lap, the two remained in close contact. Despite driving a Ferrari 500, Bobbie Baird just couldn't seem to get the better of Wharton, but the race still had plenty of opportunities for him to break through and take the position.
Hawthorn's hold on the front was unbreakable. Averaging more than 4 mph more than Hamilton over the course of the 10 lap heat, Hawthorn would take the victory. He would end up completing the race distance over two minutes faster than Hamilton and Moss in the first heat.
The real struggle was between Wharton and Baird. It had been a great battle between the two over the course of the final laps. However, as the two rounded Rushyhill it was obvious Wharton had position and would hold on to take 2nd place. Wharton would cross the line about a second in front of Baird and seven seconds behind Hawthorn. Even Wharton's finishing time was two minutes faster than Hamilton's, but finishing time wouldn't make a difference for the Ulster Trophy race.
It was time to set the grid for the 14 lap final. It was obvious Hawthorn had the pace over pretty much everyone else in the field, and therefore, it was of little surprise that he would go on to take the pole for the final. Bobbie Baird would end up starting the final from the middle of the front row in 2nd. Ken Wharton would round-out the front row starting in 3rd.
A number of drivers, including Stirling Moss and Jacques Swaters, would not start the final race. Moss would have gearbox-related issues while Swaters would have magneto troubles ailing his car.
Right from the very start of the final Hawthorn would be in the lead and would be in control of the rest of the field. Wharton and Baird would battle for 2nd place early on and it would be a good duel. These top three would rather quickly begin to draw away from the rest of the field.
Peter Whitehead would try everything he could to take up the charge of the top three but even he would slip further back. He would lead another small group that would include Louis Chiron and Duncan Hamilton.
Hawthorn was beginning to draw away from Wharton and Baird. Aided by setting the fastest lap of the race which was a nice and comfortable five minute lap, Hawthorn was drawing away seconds per lap leaving Wharton and Baird to settle their dispute.
In spite of starting ahead of Wharton on the grid, Baird could not hold back Wharton during the final. Wharton knew he could tangle with Hawthorn, and therefore, knew he could dispatch Baird despite driving a Ferrari 500. Heading into the final couple of laps, Wharton was enjoying an advantage of a few seconds over Baird and just needed to hold on for yet another good performance.
Hawthorn was in such control over the course of the race that he could have gotten out and pushed his car across the line and still won the race. But instead, Hawthorn would average a little more than 86 mph and would complete the distance in one hour, twelve minutes and one second. He had taken yet another win for Ferrari despite being the sole representative of the team. It would be more than a minute and fourteen seconds before Wharton would come across the line in 2nd place. Another thirty or more seconds would pass before Baird would cross the line in 3rd.
Although it had not been the repeat of the battle at Silverstone, Wharton still looked the strongest against Hawthorn. He had fought hard over the course of the event and was rewarded with a very fine 2nd place. This would be a great confidence-builder for Wharton with the World Championship set to pick up just weeks later.
Before the next round of the World Championship there were still some non-championship races on the calendar in which Wharton would attend. The first of these would be on the 23rd of May, one week after Ulster. He had packed and head back across the Irish Sea and made his way to the Borders region of Scotland. He was on his way to Charterhall. He was going there to take part in the 1st Winfield JC Formula 2 Race.
Returning to the English mainland meant also returning to another airbase-turned motor racing circuit. Known according to its dubious nickname of 'Slaughter Hall', Charterhall was a training base for night-fighters. In its own right, night-fighting was very dangerous. Training those unfamiliar with it would be even more dangerous. As a result, Charterhall would see its fill of training accidents that would result in deaths, hence the nickname.
Slightly different than the rest of the airbases used for motor racing circuits, Charterhall would not merely use a portion of the perimeter road, but one of the runways as well. While it could have been much longer, the layout used at Charterhall would measure 1.99 miles and would be a medium speed circuit despite using one runway for a long start/finish straight.
The race distance would be 20 laps or 40 miles. Frank Curtis would take the pole for the race. Jimmy Stewart would end up being second-fastest. Bobbie Baird would be present at the race and would end up 3rd on the starting grid. Wharton would line up in the 4th position. And since the start/finish line was situated along the wide runway, there would be five across the front row of the grid. Ian Stewart would be that 5th place starter.
Fresh from their short battle at Dundrod, Baird and Wharton would go right back at it during the Winfield Junior Club race. The two would leave Curtis behind along with Jimmy and Ian Stewart.
Lap after lap the two remained close together on the track. Wharton would manage to take the lead and would begin to control events. Ian Stewart would retire from the race as would Frank Curtis.
Wharton maintained control and would really begin to exert himself against Baird and the rest of the field. It would take just twenty-nine minutes and thirty seconds for him to complete the distance and take the first victory of the season for him. Baird would run cleanly and would finish in 2nd place while Jimmy Stewart would hang on and finish in 3rd place.
Wharton had taken advantage of the situation as he should have. He knew he had the pace and the field was small and light on exceptional talent and machinery. This presented an opportunity for Wharton to grab his first victory of the season and he did it. Immediately after taking the win, Wharton would have to quickly pack up and head south.
Wharton needed to hurry and leave Scotland not because he didn't want to celebrate his victory, but because he had another race just two days later. On the 25th of May the 3rd Coronation Trophy race was set to be run at Crystal Palace Park in south London.
Another race consisting of heat races and a final, the Coronation Trophy race would take place around the short 1.34 mile Crystal Palace Park course that utilized the park roads surrounding the popular park.
Named for the cast-iron and glass building built for the Great Exhibition in the middle of the 19th century, Crystal Palace once had been a haunt for gypsies and supposedly the site from which the timbers for Sir Francis Drake's ship the Golden Hind had been taken. Resting atop Sydenham Hill, one of the highest spots in all of London, the park would come to be when the Crystal Palace was moved from Hyde Park to the grounds in 1854. From that point on, the site would become a popular venue to view many cultural, patriotic and sporting events.
The field would not quite be as large as some of the bigger races but it would still draw some of the best England and the British Isles had to offer. Wharton would find himself in the first heat in this race and he would have to battle with Stirling Moss, Tony Rolt and Lance Mackling. However, none of these would be fastest in practice.
Fastest in practice would go to Archie Bryde. He would take the pole in his Cooper-Bristol T20. He would be joined on the four-wide front row by Bill Aston in his own Aston-Butterworth, Stirling Moss in a Cooper-Alta Special and Tony Rolt in a Connaught A-Type. Wharton would just miss out on a front row starting position, and instead, would have to settle for 5th and the first position on the second row. This position wouldn't be all that bad considering it would be right behind Bryde and Aston.
Tony Rolt would get the best start of them all. He would be right up at the front right from the very beginning. But Ken Wharton would make one great start of his own and would find himself up at the front battling for the lead with Rolt.
Both Aston and Bryde would fade rather early on in the 10 lap heat. Bryde would eventually fall out of the running altogether with two laps remaining when a mechanical problem ended his race.
Lance Macklin would also make a good start from 6th on the grid and would be battling with Moss who had found himself edged out by Rolt and Wharton, and now, was under fire from Macklin.
Rolt was up at the front and fast, but he needed to be because he had Wharton hounding him at every turn of every lap. Each and every moment Wharton never relented in his pressure, but Rolt would respond. It would take everything Rolt had to stay in front, even the fastest lap of the heat.
Moss would find Macklin too tough and would lose touch as the end of the heat neared. Bill Aston, who had started the race in 2nd place, found himself well out of the running at nearly a minute behind Rolt and Wharton.
The battle between Rolt and Wharton was incredible. It would go right on down to the very last lap. And at the line, it would be Rolt that would barely edge out Wharton by six-tenths of a second to take the heat victory. The pace of the two would be quite something as it would be nearly twenty seconds later that Macklin would finally cross the line to finish in 3rd place.
The second heat would include such competitors as Peter Collins, Peter Whitehead, Alan Brown and Bobbie Baird. However, Jack Fairman, driving for the HWM-Alta team, would end up the fastest and would take the pole. Graham Whitehead would end up starting in the 2nd position on the front row. Peter Collins and Peter Whitehead would complete the front row in 3rd and 4th places.
The second heat would see two of its competitors drop out before the race even got going. Both Alan Brown and Donald Bennett would break right on the starting grid and would not really go anywhere. After just three laps, Bobbie Baird would make a mistake and would crash his Ferrari ending his race as well.
It mattered little. Peter Whitehead would gain control of the race almost right from the start. In his Cooper-Alta T24, Whitehead would be fast and would begin to draw away from Fairman would began to quickly fade against the pace of Whitehead and the duel that developed between Peter Collins and Graham Whitehead.
As with Rolt and Wharton, less than a second would separate Collins and Graham Whitehead. These two would battle lap after lap. And while it was great to witness, it was also enabling Peter Whitehead to pull out more of a lead.
Although he would turn a faster lap of the heat, Peter Whitehead's pace throughout the whole of the 10 laps would be less than the first heat, but it really didn't matter when he wasn't under any real threat.
It would take Peter Whitehead nearly fifteen seconds longer but he would take the victory in the second heat. It would be twelve seconds before anyone would see who finished in 2nd place. After an epic duel of their own, Peter Collins would hold off Graham Whitehead by six-tenths of a second to take 2nd place.
The Coronation Trophy race would determine its starting grid for the 10 lap final via finishing time from each respective heat. Therefore, Rolt would start from the pole while Wharton started in 2nd place. Peter Whitehead would end up the lone second heat competitor to start on the front row as Lance Macklin would complete the front row with the 4th place starting position.
As the final got underway, intense little battles already began to form throughout the field. Rolt and Wharton were quickly back at it while Peter Whitehead and Lance Macklin also ran nose-to-tail on the circuit. Leslie Marr would end up being the first, and only, retiree as he would crash on the 2nd lap of the race and would be out of the running.
Wharton was all over Rolt throughout the final. However, Rolt was ready to defend himself and would do so with a powerful and effective weapon. Rolt's out-right pace would help keep Wharton at bay once again. Matching his fastest lap time from the first heat and maintaining consistently fast laps, Rolt would manage to even pull out the slightest of margins over Wharton over the course of the race.
Less than a car length would separate Macklin and Peter Whitehead throughout the course of the race, however. And as the race wore on, this would become the best, and really only, battle that existed up and down the field.
Rolt looked very impressive throughout the course of the final. He was consistently fast and never really made an error at any point in the race. What this meant was Wharton had very little chance. Every move he tried, Rolt countered. The result would be Rolt would go on to take the overall win. He would end up crossing the line exactly two seconds ahead of Wharton in 2nd place. The final battle would be for 3rd place between Whitehead and Macklin. The battle had been tight every single lap, but at the line, it would be Peter Whitehead that would beat out Macklin by the margin of just six-tenths of a second.
Although matched at every turn by Rolt, Wharton still managed another strong performance and it was a good follow-up to his victory at Charterhall. Yet, once again, there would be little time to revel.
Wharton's races were coming in quick succession. Known for taking part in a lot of races, Wharton would yet another race on the 31st of May, one week later. But this one would not take place in the British Isles. No, Wharton would have to make his way to the coast and across the English Channel and on to France. He had an opportunity to be at the wheel of the howling roar BRM's 16-cylinder beast, the P15.
Wharton would join Juan Manuel Fangio, Jose Froilan Gonzalez and the BRM team in Albi, France for there they would compete in the 15th Grand Prix de l'Albigeois. But compared to some of the other races in which Wharton had competed during the 1953 season, the Grand Prix de l'Albigeois would come with a twist.
Albi was one of the few remaining races that allowed the old Formula One cars to roar again. The race would consist of heat races, but not typical ones. The heats would be broken down in to classes of car. The first heat would include Formula 2 machines while the second would be for the Formula One cars. Although he could have competed in the Formula 2 heat with his own car, Wharton would not miss out on the opportunity to drive the fragile, yet powerful, P15 for BRM.
Wharton certainly wasn't about to pass up the opportunity to drive the P15, not at a circuit like Albi. Comprised of public roads, the Albi circuit was essentially a triangle with one end cut off. That cut off end was the location of the start/finish line. The first long leg of the triangle ran along St. Antoine and made its way through a series of technically-challenging esses before arriving at the hairpin turn at St. Juery. After some small kinks in the road, it would be a long blast on down to another tight corner known as Montplaisir. Once again, once out of the corner it was another long, straight blast back toward the start/finish line. Although slowed by the esses and tight turns, the long, long straights of the 5.537 mile circuit would be plenty of room for the P15 to let loose and roam free.
But before Wharton could have the fun of launching his BRM down the long straights the Formula 2 heat needed to be conducted. Elie Bayol would take a very surprising pole position in his OSCA 20. He would have Equipe Gordini's Harry Schell in 2nd place while Louis Rosier would start his own Ferrari 500 in 3rd. In all, nine cars would take to the streets in the first 10 lap heat.
The Formula 2 cars were let loose. Bayol continued to look good and ran up near the front, but Louis Rosier would look very strong in the Ferrari 500. The inexperienced Roberto Mieres would also look impressive during the course of the heat. He would go on to set the fastest lap of the heat and would be all over Peter Whitehead for much of the race. Harry Schell was fast, as usual, but he would run into trouble before the end. Just two laps from the end of the heat spark plug issues would end his run.
Despite Bayol's effort in the OSCA, he just could not keep pace with Rosier. Consistently turning laps with average speeds in excess of 97 mph, Rosier continued to hold onto the lead and even increased it as the race wore on. Bayol would end up running alone by himself in 2nd place as Peter Whitehead and Mieres battled it out for 4th place.
Rosier would be dominant. As he made the final right-hand turn and powered his way toward the start/finish line, Bayol hadn't even reached the final turn yet. In fact, as Rosier crossed the line he would take the victory with a margin of nearly twenty-five seconds over Bayol. Although Mieres would turn a lap with an average speed greater than 102 mph, Peter Whitehead would manage to use his experience to fend off Mieres for 3rd place.
Great anticipation built amongst the crowd as they awaited the Formula One heat. It was going to be a real battle. Not only would Louis Rosier enter the second heat as well in his own Ferrari 375, but Scuderia Ferrari would be present as well with two of their own 375s driven by the great Alberto Ascari and Giuseppe Farina.
The circuit seemed made for the 16-cylinder British beast. Juan Manuel Fangio would use its incredible power to drive his way to the pole. Alberto Ascari would be three seconds slower and would line up 2nd. Jose Froilan Gonzalez would sandwich Ascari on the front row by starting 3rd. Had the front row been four-wide, Wharton would have joined his teammates on the front row. As it were, Wharton would start in 4th place but on the second row of the grid.
As the field roared away, Fangio was at the head and powering his way down the long roads. The roads would seem to become a little straighter as both Ferraris of Alberto Ascari and Giuseppe Farina would fall out of the running after just five laps. This left the BRM pilots to take cars and bring it home in the best position possible.
Fangio had started well and held onto the lead. Despite starting from the second row Wharton was on pace and was looking quite fast. Soon enough he would be in 2nd place and would be creating a bit of a margin on his own. Gonzalez was struggling to make it a BRM threesome. Perhaps concerned about the fragile nature of the car, Gonzalez would not be on the pace of either of his teammates and would settle for a place in the running order further down.
Fangio was going to push the car and if it broke, it broke. He would turn the fastest lap of the heat with a time faster than his own qualifying effort and would even manage to put a couple of cars a lap down before the end of the race. Wharton had gaps on both sides. He wasn't matching Fangio's pace, and therefore, was trailing behind him by a rather sizable margin. But it was hard for him to keep pushing when he too had nobody him. The closest was Rosie in 3rd place but about a minute separated the two.
Where it would take Louis Rosier nearly thirty-four minutes to complete the 10 laps, it would only take Fangio twenty-nine minutes and fifty-eight seconds. He would cross the line with a minute and ten seconds in hand over his teammate Wharton in 2nd place. About another minute would separate Wharton from Rosier in 3rd place.
Wharton had looked good despite being more than a minute down in the heat race. If he could manage to keep his car together another strong run would be immanent, perhaps even a victory.
The top four of the Formula One heat would occupy the first-four positions on the final starting grid. This meant Fangio would be on the pole with Wharton and Rosier alongside on the front row. Since Rosier would take his Formula One result instead of his Formula 2 finish, Elie Bayol would occupy 5th place, the first position from the Formula 2 heat race.
The excitement of starting on the front row would be rather subdued for Wharton who knew full well the fragile nature of the car. Even the slightest wrong glance seemed to have the potential of causing something to fail on the car. Therefore, nothing was earned or won for either of the BRM pilots until the race was over.
As the field powered their way away from the grid, Wharton and Fangio were immediately on the pace and pushing hard. They still had to race. The rest would be left up to God. Elie Bayol would find God brought his race to an end after just two laps with clutch failure. Then, after 9 of 18 laps, the trouble seemed to be just beginning for BRM.
Juan Manuel Fangio would find his brakes had gone away, which at the speeds he was reaching down Albi's straights, was very dangerous. Therefore, Fangio would be out of the race. This meant Wharton was one of BRM's only car remaining up at the front of the field. Wharton would do his absolute best to take control of the race. He would turn the fastest lap of the race with a lap time of two minutes and fifty-nine seconds with an average speed in excess of 111 mph. Unfortunately, at about the same time as Charles de Tornaco's race came to an end because of his engine letting go, Wharton's race would also come to an end because of a crash. At such speeds the slightest mistake would lead to big problems and that would be exactly what would happen.
This meant Louis Rosier had the lead of the race. But he had BRM's final hope bearing down on him. Jose Froilan Gonzalez had been out of contention at almost every stage of the second heat and throughout the majority of the final. This was unusual for him. But he was certainly coming into the picture at the end. But was it too late?
The field of Formula One cars was running away with the race. Only the top three, which was a mixture of old and new Formula One cars, remained on the lead lap. Unfortunately for the crowd gathered to watch the race, when the two BRMs of Fangio and Wharton exited the race, so too did any semblance of a battle.
It was a case of too little, too late as Louis Rosier would cruise to victory in his Ferrari 375. He would cross the line thirty seconds ahead of Gonzalez in 2nd place. Nearly a full minute and a half would pass before Maurice Trintignant would come across the line to finish in 3rd.
Although he had set the fastest lap of the race in the final, the race was still very disappointing for Wharton. Once again, the P15 proved fast but just as unreliable. So while it was a tremendous opportunity to be at the wheel of the car, all of the effort would come to naught. However, not all was lost. Wharton knew that with the right car he was fast enough to stay with the best in the world, and this would be important heading into his next race.
It was now just the early part of June and Wharton had already taken part in as many races as some would have throughout the whole of the year. But for Wharton, he was just getting warmed up. He would hope he was peaking at the right time as his first race of the 1953 World Championship would be his next race. On the 7th of June, Wharton would be in the Netherlands and at the Zandvoort circuit preparing to take part in the Grand Prix of the Netherlands.
The 1953 Grand Prix of the Netherlands was the 4th edition of the race but it was just the second year in which the race would be part of the World Championship calendar. The race, a 90 lap event, would take place on the Netherland's premier circuit, Zandvoort. It would use Zandvoort's 2.61 mile circuit with its fast, sweeping corners and tricky blind crests and kinks. Carved out among the shifting dunes overlooking the North Sea, the Zandvoort circuit was also difficult because of the changing conditions around the track due to blowing sand and pop-up showers.
This would be the first time in which Wharton would take on the full might of Scuderia Ferrari and the now resurgent factory Maserati team filled with fellow BRM teammates Juan Manue Fangio and Jose Froilan Gonzalez. While the race would be the first round of the World Championship in which Wharton, and others, would take part in, it would be just the second round for the major teams. It had been a long break since the first round all the way back in January.
Although it had been months, Ascari had the lead in the championship, despite the fact the Indianapolis 500 counted toward the championship as well. And during practice, Ascari would remind everyone of the fact when he took the pole with a lap time of one minute and fifty-one seconds. Juan Manuel Fangio would start 2nd with a time a second and a half slower. Giuseppe Farina would make it an all-champions front row as he started 3rd.
Over the last few races, Wharton found himself sitting on, or near, the front row. It would not be that way at Zandvoort. Wharton would find himself fighting not to start from dead-last on the grid. His time of two minutes and six seconds would push him all the way down to 18th on the grid, which was second-to-last. He just could not get his car to handle the loose conditions caused by the sand and other grime blowing over the track surface.
The surface conditions would impact many of the teams, with the exception of Ferrari. At the start of the race, Ascari would lead through the first turn and would begin to set sail into the distance. He would be chased by his teammates but would start to leave the Maseratis behind.
Many would struggle with the track surface with the new surface and the sand, but it certainly seemed to fit Ascari and Farina just fine as they would begin to leave the rest of the field behind.
Wharton would have to be patient and would have to try and find his footing in the rough conditions. He still found himself mired down in the field throughout the first ten laps or so. He would get some help moving forward when Lance Macklin and Roy Salvadori retired from the race very early on. Unfortunately, it would help very little.
After just eighteen laps, Wharton would run into trouble. The circuit was known to have a couple of spots whereby misplacing a car through some of the quick corners would cause the car to go through some rough patches that had the potential to do some damage to the car. Wharton would push hard and would not help his cause either. As a result, after just 18 laps, the suspension would fail on his car causing him to have to retire from the race. This made two races in a row in which he retired early.
Wharton wouldn't be alone though in his troubles. It seemed just about every Maserati and Equipe Gordini in the field would also run into trouble. Jose Froilan Gonzalez and Juan Manuel Fangio would have the rear axle fail on their Maseratis. Two of the Equipe Gordini cars would retire with transmission failure.
It seemed the only team not running into trouble was Ferrari. Ascari continued to hold on to the lead, as he had from the very start. Giuseppe Farina continued to follow along in 2nd place but a few seconds behind. Luigi Villoresi was also still in the race and would end up setting the fastest lap of the race with just over 30 laps remaining. However, as soon as he set the fastest lap he would retire with throttle problems.
When Villoresi departed the race it was really just an exhibition with Ascari and Farina leading the way. With just a few laps remaining in the race Ascari would force his way past Jose Froilan Gonzalez in Felice Bonetto's Maserati. This meant that just he and Farina remained on the lead lap. Such was the dominance of Ferrari and their 500 chassis.
It would take Ascari just two hours, fifty-three minutes and thirty-five seconds to complete the 90 laps and take another win. He would cross the line some eleven seconds ahead of Farina in 2nd place. Gonzalez would share his points with Bonetto. He would end up crossing the line nineteen seconds and one lap behind Ascari in 3rd place.
Wharton's first round of the World Championship was certainly a disappointment. He had shown himself capable of fighting with Hawthorn in his Ferrari more than once, but at Zandvoort he was thoroughly outclassed. Unfortunately, the World Championship season was just beginning to ramp back up. There would be little time to build confidence and fine-tune the car. He needed to find the time to better prepare the car.
Wharton would find the time by not taking part in any non-championship races, as well as, forgoing the fourth round of the championship, which was the Grand Prix of Belgium. Instead, Wharton would stay home and tweak and refine his car in preparation for a notoriously difficult venue. By the time it would be over, Wharton would fully realize, as would many others, just how thoroughly outclassed he really was.
The month of May had been a flurry of activity for Wharton. It seemed just about every week he had a race. This perhaps wore him and the car out before taking part in his first round of the World Championship. But after the short-lived race at Zandvoort, Wharton would stay home to thoroughly prepare himself and his car for the next race. And nearly a month later, Wharton would head back across the English Channel and on to France. He would arrive at the well known Reims circuit preparing to take part in the fifth round of the World Championship, the French Grand Prix.
Reims had played a prominent role in the country's monarchical history. It had been the traditional site for the crowning of kings of France. It was also a place of prominence in technological advancement as it would be the site of the first international aviation meet in 1909. It would also be a site of international importance as it would be the site where General Alfred Jodl, of the German Wehrmacht, signed the surrender to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). Just as in national and international history, Reims also played an important role in motor racing history as well. And the country roads between Reims and Gueux would become something of holy ground for motor racing.
Ever since the formation of the World Championship, Reims had become the personal playground of Italian grand prix machines, and 1953 would seem to be no different as the first 11 places on the starting grid would be occupied by cars of Italian craftsmanship.
After being relatively blown away in Belgium by the Maseratis, the Ferrari team would make some revisions to the 500 chassis in preparation of Reims and it certainly seemed to pay off as Alberto Ascari would take the pole. His lap time of two minutes, forty-one and two-tenths seconds would end up being three-tenths faster than Felice Bonetto in a Maserati A6SSG. Luigi Villoresi would also be fast in practice and would start the race 3rd with a lap time just seven-tenths of a second slower than Ascari.
Wharton would be a little concerned after practice. His best time around the circuit would be a lap time of two minutes and fifty-five seconds. This would be fourteen seconds slower than Ascari, and over the course of a 60 lap race, spelled a lot of trouble. Wharton, therefore, would start the race down on the sixth row of the grid in 14th position overall. The one bright spot Wharton had was the simple fact that he was one of the fastest amongst the British marks entered in the race.
Reims would again be changed for the 1953 season. It would be increased in distance to 5.15 miles and would basically include a tight hairpin turn called Muizon located further down along the Route Nationale 31. This meant the circuit increased in length, but also, offered a much longer run down to Thillois, the final hairpin before heading to the start/finish line. This meant more drafting and passing, better action, along the two long straights. People would soon come to realize just how much better action as soon as the race started.
Race time would be filled with very warm temperatures and a sunny sky. The field would roar away with Jose Froilan Gonzalez soon taking over the lead of the race because of starting with a fuel tank that wasn't completely full. Fangio would not get the best start and would be forced to make up ground throughout the early part of the 60 lap race. Almost right from the very beginning it was obvious the British car Wharton was driving certainly did not have the pace to compete with the large number of Ferraris and Maseratis heading the field.
As Gonzalez continued to lead and pull away, the Ferraris would assemble in something of an arrowhead formation and would be seen swapping positions many times each and every lap of the race.
On a whole, the racing at the front of the field was beyond description. The best drivers and cars in the world would continue, lap-after-lap, to be just feet apart from each other, swapping positions as if it were the last couple of laps of the race. The most distressing thing about the incredible sight was that a lot of it was teammates running side-by-side, sometimes with interlocked wheels. But each would show the other tremendous respect.
When Fangio and Marimon joined the fray of Ferraris after about twenty laps or so, the scene became even more incredible. The pace would also become incredible in its own right. Instead of starting out fast and remaining steady, or dropping off slightly, the pace would only increase as the race wore on.
By the time Fangio joined the fleet of Ferraris running together a good portion of the forgotten field behind the front-runners had already fallen out of the running. A few cars, including two of the French Equipe Gordini cars, would be out before the 5th lap of the race. A third Gordini team car would retire after just 14 laps.
Despite the month off repairing and preparing the Cooper-Bristol, it would end up not mattering one bit. Not only was Wharton outclassed by the Maseratis and the Ferraris, but a bearing failure after just 17 laps would bring yet another race to a premature end. This was, then, his third failure to finish in a row. He, therefore, would end up having to watch what would turn into one of the greatest races of the century from the sidelines.
The crowd would barely miss half of the field. Most of everyone's attention was directed toward the cars running incredibly close at the front of the field. The sight was truly amazing. The best in the world remained just car lengths, or closer, together lap after lap. Position changes happened at a feverish pitch just about every single lap with no signs of it letting up.
Halfway through the race, Gonzalez would stop for fuel. And though the stop would be fast, because the rest of the front-runners were running so close together on the circuit, Gonzalez would return to the race all the way down in 5th place. Also by the halfway mark, the rest of the field still running had already gone down more than one lap.
Although the cars started to get separated a little bit, the race was still truly awe-inspiring to behold. Fangio was leading the pack that included Mike Hawthorn, Ascari, Farina, Marimon, Gonzalez and Villoresi.
Fangio, Hawthorn and Ascari were literally running nose-to-tail each and every lap. It was so close between them that often just one second would cover all three. And while they managed to break away from Farina, Marimon, Gonzalez and Villoresi, they were still close enough to capitalize on even the slightest mistake.
Fangio and Hawthorn would create a little distance between themselves and Ascari. The two would put on a show that would have the crowd screaming louder and louder with each and every lap as the crowd surged in anticipation as to who would win the race. From the halfway point onwards these two would fight it out side-by-side down the straights, but the respect shown was truly inspiring. It was even to the point that one or the other would slow or even go through the grass when passing lapped traffic just to keep the battle intact.
Heading into the final laps of the race, the top six still remained just seconds apart. Only a couple of seconds still separated the top three or four. The pace had increased even more as did the intensity of the screaming and yelling from the appreciative crowd.
As with just about every lap since the halfway mark, Hawthorn and Fangio would flash over the start/finish line right beside each other for what would be the final lap of the race. Although Hawthorn held a better position it was still unclear as to who would actually win the race. All through Bretelle Sud, Annie Bousquet and Hovette Hawthorn held onto a precarious lead with Fangio literally tucked right up under his fuel tank. Coming around the tight Muizon hairpin, Fangio would pull alongside of Hawthorn down the long straight toward Thillois. However, Hawthorn maintained the better position.
The crowd along the start/finish straight waited eagerly to see who would come through the last turn first. Heading into the final turn, it was turning into a game to see who would brake last. Not about to be beaten when he was as close to his first-ever World Championship victory as he was, Hawthorn would brake deep into the corner matching Fangio. This would throw Fangio off and would actually cause him to lose a bit of ground. While Hawthorn would emerge from the corner with a clear lead, Fangio was now under threat from his fellow countryman and teammate Gonzalez. Hawthorn powered his way down the long straight and would cross the line to take his first victory! He would complete the distance in two hours, forty-four minutes and eighteen seconds, exactly a second ahead of Fangio, who would barely hold off Gonzalez for 2nd place by just half a car length. It had been an incredible race. Only the top six remained on the lead lap in the end and 7th and on down through the field would be at least two laps behind by the end.
Of course Wharton wouldn't even at least have the pleasure of finishing the race. The string of retirements was certainly bad timing. He would leave Reims, and France, needing things to turn around. He would head home in hopes that racing again on home soil would bring about the necessary change.
April and May had been almost nothing but a non-stop run of non-championship races. June and July were offering up nothing but a run of World Championship rounds, and unfortunately, it was at this point in time that Wharton was suffering his worse reliability. After the very disappointing, and short, French Grand Prix, Wharton would head back across the English Channel to England. He had just two weeks to prepare for the next round of the World Championship, the British Grand Prix. While he had not performed well in either of the two rounds in which he had taken part, the sixth round still offered something of a blessing since it would take place on home soil at a circuit he knew well.
May had opened with Wharton having a great battle with Mike Hawthorn in the BRDC International Trophy race. On the 18th of July, Wharton wouldn't just have Hawthorn to battle. He would have the rest of the Scuderia Ferrari and Maserati teams to tangle with if he desired a good result in the 8th British Grand Prix.
After scoring victories at the Argentine, Netherlands and Belgian grand prix, Alberto Ascari came to Silverstone looking to make it four victories and give himself a commanding position in the fight for the World Championship. Ferrari had scored their first-ever World Championship victory at Silverstone and the British Grand Prix back in 1951 with Jose Froilan Gonzalez at the wheel. From that point on, the team had been absolutely dominant and appeared to be so again as Ascari would go on to take the pole for the 90 lap race with a lap time of one minute and forty-eight seconds. Ferrari's 1951 winner, Jose Froilan Gonzalez, would take his Maserati and would be only about a second slower, and therefore, would line up in 2nd place alongside Ascari on the front row. The hero of Reims, Mike Hawthorn, would line up 3rd, also on the front row. And surprisingly, Fangio would be a couple of seconds slower than Ascari but would still occupy the final spot on the front row.
Wharton could tell he would have a lot of work to do given the fact that Ascari turned out a lap under one minute and fifty seconds when the best time during the BRDC International Trophy race was a second or so slower than one minute and fifty. Nonetheless, Wharton would give it his best effort in practice and would turn in a lap time of one minute and fifty-four seconds. While six seconds slower than Ascari it would still be good enough for Wharton to start from the third row in the 11th position overall.
In typical English fashion, the race would prepare to start under heavy overcast skies and the threat of rain. This would come into play with tactics, and it would be obvious what was on everyone's minds when the race would get underway.
Fangio would actually get the best start of everyone and would be leading heading into Copse. However, he would go in a little too fast and would lose a lot of time trying to reign the car back in. This would hand the lead over to Ascari as Fangio would slot in right behind in 2nd place. Wharton would try and make a good start in an effort to get into a good position early. A couple of cars wouldn't even make it around to worry about the rain coming. Kenneth McAlpine and Tony Crook would both have their days come to an end even before completing a single lap.
With the threat of rain looming ever closer, most every one of the drivers was pushing hard to gain an advantage and try and hold it through the wet stuff. Ascari was on such a charge and he would go on to quickly set the fastest lap of the race and continued to draw away from Fangio and the rest of the field.
Wharton continued to look strong although he certainly was losing ground to the front-runners. However, he would find himself clawing his way up the running order and would be helped by the retirements of Trintignant and Harry Schell.
Ascari continued to lead every single one of the laps and was certainly quite fast as he would quickly begin to put a majority of the field at least one lap down. He also enjoyed a sizable margin over Fangio in 2nd place. And as the rains came and began falling over the whole of the circuit, it seemed that only Ascari and Fangio were the only ones not to be affected by the conditions.
Trying to maintain control in wet conditions put a lot of strain on transmissions, suspension and engine-related parts. As a result, the British Grand Prix would be filled with attrition that would see eighteen of the twenty-nine starters fall out of the race. With the exception of Peter Collins and Jimmy Stewart that would spin out of the race, the rest of the retirees would suffer from some kind of mechanical failure. Five would drop out due to transmission, clutch or other drive-related problems. As was their weakness, the Equipe Gordini car driven by Maurice Trintignant would fall out due to rear axle failure. A number of others would drop out with engine or fuel problems.
All of these retirements were certainly helping Wharton move up the running order. But what wasn't helping Wharton was his own pace and that of Ascari. He was already a few laps down, but as the race was nearing its end, Wharton was in danger of going down a full ten laps to Ascari.
Wharton should not have felt bad. Heading into the final couple of laps, Ascari had put everyone, except Fangio, at least one lap down and he had Farina, who was running in 3rd place, in his sights again.
Ascari's car control in the rain was what really created the space between himself and the rest of the field. While Farina, known to be a very smooth driver, struggled and Hawthorn spun off the circuit in the wet, Ascari kept his car under control and only increased his lead. It had been a truly dominating performance and Ascari deserved to take the victory.
Even with the rain making an appearance, Ascari would average over 92 mph during the course of the 90 lap event. As a result, Ascari would power his way through Woodcote and across the line in exactly two hours and fifty minutes for the win. He would take the win with what would be a minute advantage over Fangio in 2nd place and thirteen seconds, plus two laps, in hand over Farina in 3rd.
Wharton would finally also make it to the end of a World Championship race for 1953. After two-straight retirements, Wharton would put together an impressive performance in an inferior car and would finish in 8th place some ten laps down to Ascari.
Although absolutely dominated by Ascari, Wharton had reason to be happy after the British Grand Prix. It difficult conditions he held onto his car and nursed it around to a very solid finish. Though laps behind he had some very talented company there with him laps down. Wharton, as a result, would have every reason to leave the race with some of his confidence regained.
The races had been coming with swift regularity ever since the end of April. And now, with the World Championship up to full speed, teams and drivers had to be careful as to what races to take part in. With little time between races, the wear and tear, let alone any failure, would leave little time for repairs to be made. Wharton would certainly have to weigh this reality. As a result, Wharton would have to be rather picky as to what races he would take part in, especially toward the end of the season when the wear and tear of a season of racing becomes magnified. This would come into play with one of the non-championship races scheduled one week after the British Grand Prix.
On the 25th of July the 2nd United States Air Force Trophy race was scheduled to be run at Snetterton. Wharton would have an entry to the race. And though it would be a short event, just 15 laps, Wharton would decide not to do the event. By the time the British Grand Prix was over, Wharton would have taken part in ten Formula 2 races. For a privateer, this was a lot of races. As a result, Wharton would take off World Championship and non-championship races for a month. He would give himself, and his car, some time before he made his last rush of the season.
Toward the middle of August, Wharton would decide it was time to make his one last assault of the season. He would make his way back north again and would be at Charterhall again on the 15th of August. He had come to take part in the 2nd Newcastle Journal Trophy race.
Charterhall had been good to Wharton the last time he had been there earlier on in the year. During the Winfield JC Formula 2 race back on the 23rd of May, Wharton would go on to take the victory after battling with Bobbie Baird. Unfortunately, there would be no chance of a repeat battle between the two as Baird would lose his life at Snetterton back on the 25th of July. It was weekend in which Wharton had an entry but did not attend after the British Grand Prix.
Unlike the Winfield JC race, the Newcastle Journal event would not be just 20 laps. Instead, the race would be 50 laps of the 2.70 mile circuit and would feature a field of some strong British drivers.
With the exception of three Frazer-Nashs, a single HWM-Alta and a Lea Francis-powered Turner, the rest of the eighteen car field would be comprised of either Coopers or Connaught chassis.
Wharton would be fast in his Cooper-Bristol T23. He would be up near the front of the field right from the very beginning, but he would have company. Roy Salvadori and Ron Flockhart would also be right there throughout the early going of the race. Both of them were driving Connaught A-Type chassis.
As the race wore on, the field would continue to be reduced by attrition. This was very familiar amongst British marks of the time. Not only were they a little short on top speed, but the reliability was also rather suspect. Reliability would certainly be a problem for the Frazer-Nash entrants as all three would retire from the race with mechanical problems. The sole HWM-Alta in the field would also run afoul of problems and would retire from the race. Some of the favored Cooper pilots, like Stirling Moss, would also find the race distance too much. Moss would have to retire because of fuel injection problems. Horace Gould, another Cooper-Bristol driver, would also retire because of mechanical issues.
No such issues would plague Wharton. Not only would he be up front but he would be consistently fast. Although matched by Salvadori and Flockhart, Wharton would set the fastest lap of the race and would even manage to pull out an advantage on the other two over the course of the race.
As it had back in May, Charterhall would be good to Wharton. It would take him just one hour, fifteen minutes and thirty seconds to complete the 50 laps and take the victory. The race wouldn't be as close as what some may have believed as Wharton would beat Salvadori by nearly thirty seconds in the end. Ron Flockhart would hold on to take 3rd place but he would be over thirty seconds behind.
After a solid performance at the British Grand Prix, Wharton followed it up the best way possible. The victory was a welcome result as the last few races of the season loomed large on the horizon. A couple of those races still on the horizon would be rather big ones, and therefore, the victory would be very much welcome.
Ken Wharton had debuted in the World Championship the previous year at the Swiss Grand Prix. In that race, his first-ever, he would go on to score his best result to date. He would earn a 4th place at the difficult Bremgarten circuit in Switzerland. On the 23rd of August, in 1953, Wharton would be back hoping to replicate the result just once more.
Part of Bern-Mittelland, an administrative district of Berne, Bremgarten bei Berne remains in area rich in agriculture and other incredible natural beauty. Surrounded by the Wohlenssee River and the Alps, it is a breath-taking region. This natural setting would also give birth to a pure and very challenging road course that would become known as Bremgarten.
4.51 miles in length, Bremgarten was a road course in every sense of the word. Consisting entirely of public roads, Bremgarten was also a true road course in that it featured practically no straight sections of track whatsoever. Constantly changing direction like the Wohlenssee, the circuit was already demanding enough. However, the circuit, when combined with cobblestone paving and thousands of trees lining the circuit making it slick even when conditions were dry, it became quite clear that its beauty was also quite capable of great deception.
Wharton would arrive for what was the eighth round of the World Championship. By this time, the World Championship had already been decided. But that wouldn't mean either of the two top teams would take it easy at Bremgarten. This would be proven by Fangio flying around the circuit to set a time of two minutes and forty seconds to take the pole. Ascari would join him on the front row in 2nd place having been just six-tenths of a second slower during practice. Fittingly, it would be an all-champions front row once again as Farina would line up in the 3rd position.
Fresh from his victory just one week earlier, Wharton would look impressive in practice. He certainly liked the circuit and it showed as he would end up just nine seconds slower around the circuit and would line up on the fourth row of the grid in the 9th position.
While the day of the race wouldn't be oppressively hot, the sun would still have many seeking shade. And the drivers and cars would make their way to the grid at the very last minute possible in order to protect them.
Fangio would get away from the grid in good position but would very quickly come under fire from Ascari. Farina would make an absolutely terrible start and would find himself mired down nearly outside of the top ten. This bad start would open the door to Onofre Marimon to come up and join Ascari and Fangio at the head of the field.
Wharton would make a decent start and would be down the inside of Trintignant through the first few turns as Trintignant was pushed backward by Villoresi and Mike Hawthorn. This was a great start for Wharton. He would just need to settle into a rhythm and carefully navigate the 65 laps, or, 294 miles.
Louis Rosier and Jacques Swaters would both get away cleanly but would find their races come to an end on the very first lap of the race when they came together and crashed. Just like that, two Ferrari 500s were out of the running. Paul Frere wouldn't make it much further as his race would come to an end because of a failed connecting rod after just one lap.
After those initial retirements, things would settle down for a while. Ascari held onto the lead of the race. Ascari would lead a group that would include Fangio, Hawthorn and Marimon. Farina would make up for the bad start and would soon find himself back up near the leaders with plenty of time still to go in the race.
As the race began to wear on the field began to stretch out. This was due to the nature of the circuit, but also, the heat from the day. The pace in which Ascari was turning navigating the circuit was also not helping to keep the field bunched up and relatively attrition-free.
Another wave of attrition would come sweeping through the field. Fangio would end up heading to the pits after slowing because of gearbox troubles. He would then take over Felice Bonetto's car but would lose a lot of time while making the switch. As a result, Fnagio would be on a charge once he re-entered the race. He would push hard but the heat and the pace would push back harder. After 29 laps, the engine would let go in the Maserati thereby ensuring the end to Fangio's day. At the same time as Fangio's failure, Lance Macklin Alta engine would go up in smoke. Two more would retire from the race before there would be even 20 laps remaining in the race.
It seemed Ascari was going to be another that would be hit by attrition. His engine was misfiring and causing troubles. He would pit to have the crew look at it and try and repair the problem. This would hand the lead to Farina who had come all the way back after his initial terrible start. Thankfully for Ascari the issue would be resolved and he would be able to rejoin the race, but he would find himself well down.
After string of retirements, the one person not really running into any trouble was Wharton. As the race began to wind down toward its completion he was running strongly inside the top ten, but more than a single lap down. Nonetheless, he was still running. Surprisingly, as the end was nearing, Wharton would have Villoresi as his next target. Could he manage to get by the powerful Ferrari 500 before the end?
When Onofre Marimon retired with engine failure, the top three positions out on the course were occupied by Ferraris and there was little threat of either one of them being overtaken. As a result, despite the fact Ascari was trailing along behind Farina and Hawthorn, an order was handed out to the drivers to hold position and just bring their cars home. This would just not do for someone like Ascari. As a result, Ascari would just go faster. He would set the fastest lap of the race with 15 laps remaining in the race and would continue to run near those speeds each and every lap. Soon, he would catch up to and pass a truly beleaguered Hawthorn and Farina to take over the lead of the race. This certainly upset Farina and Hawthorn, but Ascari didn't care. He would just keep his foot on it and powered his way toward the checkered flag.
After disobeying team orders and passing Farina and Hawthorn, Ascari would set sail into the distance. Over the course of the race he would average more than 96 mph and would cross the line to take the victory some fifty seconds ahead of Farina in 2nd place and more than a minute and a half ahead of Hawthorn in 3rd place.
Wharton was again showing that he like the Bremgarten circuit. Not only did he look strong throughout the race, but had he been driving a different car, he may very well have been up there battling for another 4th place result. As it was, Wharton would come across the line some three laps down but in 7th place. He would just miss out on a couple of championship points by a couple of positions. Unfortunately, Wharton wouldn't manage to haul in Villoresi before the end. Luigi would be too far up the road to catch. And 'catch' was something Ascari was close to doing again to Wharton before the end. Wharton would be just a few seconds up the road starting his final lap when Ascari would come across to finish the race.
Wharton followed up his splendid victory at Charterhall with another impressive display at Bremgarten. The break after the British Grand Prix was certainly looking to be paying off. It appeared he had broken the string of successive retirements. This would give Wharton more confidence heading into the final few races of his season.
There were a few weeks before the final round of the World Championship. However, Wharton would not sit idle. Well known for taking part in a number of races throughout the course of a season, Wharton would remain on the European continent and would head to France for his next race.
His next race would be a non-championship race. And while not nearly as popular or well known as Reims, Pau, Albi, Rouen-les-Essarts and other such circuits, there existed a technically challenging circuit located in the southwest of France in the Tarn-et-Garonne departement. On the 30th of August, Wharton would be in Cadours, France to take part in the 5th Circuit de Cadours.
Originally the brainchild of Louis Arrivet, a local mechanic and racing enthusiast, motor racing would first come to Cadours in 1948 after years of dreaming and preparing. Utilizing the country roads just to the outside of Cadours, the 2.5 mile circuit would become known as a difficult circuit in which to race. Filled with sweeping esses and slower hairpin turns, the circuit would be technically challenging and incredibly difficult for drivers to find a rhythm. Earning Grand Prix status in 1949, the circuit would be the site of a major tragedy in French motor racing as Raymond Sommer would lose his life at the circuit when the steering on his Cooper T12 failed.
Wharton would be driving the only Cooper in the field and was sincerely hoping he would not suffer the same fate as Sommer. He would certainly have a battle on his hands though fighting the Equipe Gordini and HW Motors team, as well as, a number of very competitive privateer and small team entries.
The race would be conducted with heats and a final, but it would also include a second chance round called a 'Repechage'. The top four of each heat would advance to the final whereas just two would make it from those having to go through the repechage.
The nature of the circuit would see Maurice Trintignant overcome the superior power of Emmanuel de Graffenried's Maserati A6SSG during practice before the first heat. Therefore, Trintignant would be on pole with de Graffenried and Charles de Tornaco also on the front row.
During the 15 lap race, Trintignant would again be fast and would soon find himself being chased by his teammate Jean Behra. This was because both de Graffenried and de Tornaco would fall out of the running. The rear axle would break on de Graffenried's car while an oil pipe would burst on de Tornaco's.
Only Behra really posed a threat to Trintignant, who would go on to set the fastest lap of the heat with a time as fast as his qualifying effort. Though Behra would be close, it would take very little effort from Trintignant to hold onto the lead and he would go on to cross the line and take the victory by eight seconds over Behra. Another Frenchman, Yves Giraud-Cabantous would bring his British HWM-Alta home in 3rd place while Lance Macklin would finish 4th.
The second heat field would have its own list of competitive starters. Louis Rosier would take his Ferrari 500 and would turn the fastest lap, and therefore, would start from the pole. Elie Bayol would rely upon the power from his OSCA 20 and would start the race 2nd. American-Parisian, Harry Schell, would complete the front row in another Equipe Gordini T16. Ken Wharton would have a lot of work cut out for himself as he would end up starting the race from the third, and final, row of the grid and in dead-last.
Thankfully for Wharton, he would have to make his way past aged BMW Specials. He would dispatch them without too much trouble but would find the going difficult from that point onwards.
Schell led from the start and would be fast. He would set the fastest lap of the race and would take over the lead from Rosier. Rosier would slot in behind Schell and would give chase at a fast, and yet, controlled pace.
Being slowed by the nature of the circuit and the slower traffic, Wharton would have a lot of ground to make up. When he would finally make it through he would be a good distance behind. He would do his best to try and haul in the front-runners but would also be careful to make it through when he was all but guaranteed a spot in the final.
Schell would be too strong over the course of the 15 laps. He would go on to take the win and would do so with a twelve second advantage over Louis Rosier. Elie Bayol would cross the line in 3rd place but would be forty-one seconds behind. Schell's pace was so dominant that he would actually complete the 15 laps fifty seconds faster than Trintignant in the first heat.
Wharton would cruise through the second heat and would finish the race in 4th place overall and a minute and seven seconds behind Schell. Although he would finish the second heat in 4th place his pace would be fast enough that he would actually find himself with a good starting position for the final.
The repechage would see Charles de Tornaco make repairs to his Ferrari 500 and would try and make it into the field for the final. In the 10 lap repechage, de Tornaco would battle with John Heath, Rene Duval and others for just two spots on the final grid. In the end, it would be de Tornaco that would come back from his earlier setback and would claim one of the two spots. John Heath would hold off Rene Duval to take the other.
The final grid would be set. Harry Schell would start on pole with Louis Rosier alongside in 2nd place. Elie Bayol would complete the front row starting 3rd. Wharton, although he finished his heat in 4th place, would end up starting the final from the third row in 6th place as his finishing time would be faster than 3rd and 4th place from the first heat.
The final would not be a short affair. At 30 laps, it would be twice the distance of either of the heats. Therefore, it would not be at all surprising to have attrition play a role in the outcome. Sure enough, the field would be dwindled down right from the very start when Elie Bayol would end up out of the race after just one lap due to transmission failure. Later on, two of the HW Motors entries would find themselves out of the race due to troubles as well.
Although Schell had proven faster by far in the heat races, Trintignant would show just how fast he could really be when the final started. He would make a good start from the second row and would be right up there with Schell heading up the field. Jean Behra would get by Rosier and would be further helped by Bayol's retirement and would make it three Equipe Gordini cars in the first three positions in the running order.
Armed with a second chance, de Tornaco was going to make full use of it. He would make a great start from the last row on the grid and would manage to be right there with Wharton throughout the early stages of the race. Compared to the rest of the field, Wharton was just not fast enough and he would slowly begin to slip back from the rest of the top five.
Trintignant would head up an Equipe Gordini threesome that was storming around the course running nearly nose-to-tail. Over the course of the race the three would break free and would run all by themselves up front. The three Gordini pilots would end up being the closest battle there was in the later stages of the race. They also threatened to lap a majority of the field.
Wharton just couldn't keep up. The pace of the top five was just too strong. Soon, Wharton would lose touch with de Tornaco and would slip far enough back that he was even beginning to come under pressure from Trintignant to be put a lap down.
Aided by setting the fastest lap of the race, Trintignant was in control of the field, and especially his teammates. Trintignant would complete the 30 laps in one hour and fifty-two seconds to take the win. He would end up four seconds ahead of Schell who would have Behra less than a second behind him. It had been an incredible race for the team. They were able to take 1st, 2nd and 3rd.
Wharton, by contrast, was barely hanging on. He would manage to remain on the lead lap with the rest of the top five, but he would not be in contention at all. Instead, Wharton would settle in and would take care to make it to the end of the race. He would cross the line more than two minutes behind in 6th place.
In almost every way Wharton had been outclassed during the Circuit de Cadours. However, he would use his experience and would not try to make something happen when there wasn't anything there. Instead, he would do his best to earn the best result possible. And he would do just that. On top of it all, it remained in the race. He kept what little momentum he had still rolling, which was important given his next race.
Although it would be a couple of weeks before Wharton would take part in another Formula 2 race, he certainly wouldn't just sit around. Wharton had only begun to dabble in sports car racing and would enter a race at Dundrod in a Frazer-Nash MKII 421. In that race he would score a 6th place result and really helped keep his momentum up.
The calendar page had flipped. It was now September and the short remaining grand prix season was staring Wharton, and the rest, in the face. It was at this time of year that a long season of motor racing had a tendency to take its toll. However, since taking the break after the British Grand Prix, Wharton had not suffered a retirement in a Formula 2 non-championship nor World Championship grand prix. He certainly hoped that good fortune would continue heading into the ninth, and final, round of the World Championship. On the 13th of September Wharton would be at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza preparing for the final round, the Italian Grand Prix.
Known as 'Modicia' during the age of the Roman Empire, Monza would become best well known for its Romanesque-Gothic Duomo of Saint John. Built in stages and upon already existing structures, the Duomo would have its initial structure built around 595. It would be later be enlarged during the 13th century. It would continue to change over the years and would finally reach its final form in 1606. However, the capital of the Province of Monza and Brianza, would become best known for something a little less restrained for during the 1920s its Autodromo Nazionale di Monza would be built.
A large throng of spectators would make their way to Italy's capital of motor racing. And there was good reason for the Italian fans to make the pilgrimage. Not only was Alberto Ascari a double World Champion by the time of the race, but Ferrari had company at the top. Maserati had come on during the season and challenged the might of Ferrari throughout the season. This gave the Italian faithful an extra reason to be proud of its automotive lineage.
It would be another front row for the ages. Although it wasn't the first time during the season they lined up as they did, it would be a special thing to witness at Monza. Alberto Ascari would end up being fastest in practice and would take the pole. It had been an incredible couple of years. Over the course of 15 races between 1952 and 1953, Ascari managed to take the pole for 11 of them.
Starting alongside of Ascari on the front row would be Juan Manuel Fangio in his Maserati A6SSG. In the 3rd, and final, position on the front row would be Giuseppe Farina. This would make for an all-World Champions front row and certainly something special considering the venue and that it would be the final round of the World Championship for the season and during the period of Formula 2.
A flat-out circuit, horsepower would be of utmost importance for a good time around the 3.91 mile circuit. Unfortunately, the Cooper-Bristol was a little short on the power compared to the Maseratis and Ferraris. As a result, Wharton's time would suffer. Wharton would turn his best lap achieving a lap time of two minutes and ten seconds. This time was just seven seconds slower than Ascari's best time but it would still translate into Wharton starting the race from down on the seventh row of the grid in the 19th position overall.
The race would be greeted with wonderful weather. It would be sunny and warm and the thousands of spectators would rise to their feet in anticipation of one exciting race. The race distance would be 80 laps, or, a distance of 312 miles. This meant nearly three hours of Italian fans being able to watch their beloved Ferraris and Maseratis battling it out for national pride.
Thirty cars would roar away from the grid at the start of the race. Ascari would make a great getaway while Fangio would make a poor start and would be swallowed up by a good portion of the first few rows. Wharton would be busy trying to stay clear of trouble while jockeying for position at the same time. The field snaked its way around the Curva Grande and disappeared around the circuit on the first lap of the race.
Onofre Marimon would also make a great start in his Maserati and would even lead at one point during the first lap. However, as the train came streaking around Vedano toward the start/finish line it was Ascari in the lead with Marimon and Farina closely in tow.
Already the power difference was beginning to show as the field was quickly becoming stretched out in a long line. However, there would some good battles on down through the running order. However, none of these battles would be as great as the one that would develop once Fangio made his way back up to the front of the field.
After making a poor start off the line, Fangio would soon make his way back up the front of the field and would attach himself with the threesome of Ascari, Farina and Marimon. These four cars would hook up and would begin turning some truly incredible laps while never more than a few feet from each other.
Usually running nose-to-tail through the turns and slipstreaming off of each other down the long straights, the pace of the front four really began to pick up. This meant those running at the back of the grid began to get regular visits from these four throughout the course of the race. Unfortunately, Wharton would be one of those that would get regular conjugal visits from the front-runners.
About the time Wharton was receiving his first visit from the men at the front, the field was beginning to shed some of its participants. Lance Macklin would have his engine let go after just 6 laps. Johnny Claes would retire one lap later when a fuel line burst. A few laps later, John Fitch's race would go up in smoke as would Chico Landi's. Landi's engine failure would happen while just coming off of Vedano and he would leave a nice trail of smoke almost the whole way down to the pits.
Wharton realized the pace would be an absolute killer for his car. As a result, he would slow down well below the pace in which he qualified. And while he would still be running out on the circuit…well…that would be about all that could be said for Wharton. Though still running, he would be well down in the running order and would run out of fingers and toes to count how many laps he was down by the end.
The pace of the four at the front was taking its toll on the majority of the field. By the halfway mark in the race, only some in the top ten would be less than two laps behind. Many others would find themselves pushing five or more laps in arrears.
It wouldn't be that too many would notice, however. The pace and the racing amongst the four at the front was such that they captivated most of the attention, even when they weren't visible. Most of the spectators would be intently waiting and watching, looking for glimpses of the four car train to re-emerge once again.
A little past the halfway mark, Marimon would be dropped from the group. This was not because of his lack of desire or pace, but because of a radiator problem that needed to be fixed. He would have the issue resolved but would love a number of laps as a result. He would rejoin the race and would actually latch back on to the same three cars he had been running with earlier on. So while not all of the four cars were on the same lap, the four-car train was hooked back up and making its final run to the checkered flag.
As the race bore down on its few remaining laps, Wharton was still circulating the track but nearly two dozen laps behind. Nonetheless, he was still managing to fare better than some of the more powerful entries in the race.
The scene at the front of the field was certainly incredible to watch. Shades of the French Grand Prix all over again, the cars would circulate the track lap-after-lap within feet of each other. It was truly an incredible display of driving skill and respect as these elite drivers seemed absolutely at ease being no more than mere feet from each other while traveling at top speeds.
But heading around on the final lap of the race, the gloves would come off. Each driver would be giving it everything he had. Giuseppe Farina had been leading a majority of the last few laps leading up to the final trip around and he maintain good position through Curva Grande and Lesmo. Coming down the backstraight toward Vedano for the final time, Farina still held the best position and was forcing Ascari and Fangio, who was now a couple of car lengths back, to have to make some truly bold moves if either one had visions of grandeur.
Never one to ease off and not be bold, Ascari would try and go for glory through the final couple of corners. He would try and go around Farina. This truly was a bold move, too bold in fact. The car was fighting to hold on, but then, would break loose on Ascari. While fighting to maintain control, Ascari's Ferrari would veer over in front of Farina causing him to have to take evasive action. This cataclysmic event would end up allowing Fangio to slip through into the lead of the race. He would lead probably the shortest lap of his life as he would take over the lead with just a half mile or less to go to the checkered flag. Onofre Marimon would find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time as he would have no where to go and would run into Ascari knocking both of them out of the race within sight of the finish line. Farina would maintain control of his car and would try and chase down Fangio before reaching the line but he would lose about two seconds in the melee and would be racing for 2nd place.
The chain reaction of events would happen so suddenly and so surprisingly, especially since the four cars had been lapping that close together since the very first lap of the race, that it would end up causing confusion. Fangio wouldn't be clearly shown the checkered flag. And although he had won, Fangio would head around the circuit one more time because he wasn't sure himself whether the race was over or not. Finally, after one more lap, Fangio would be halted by officials, crew members and spectators that had made their way onto the circuit. In the most amazing course of events, Maserati had been gifted a win and had broken Ferrari's stranglehold on the World Championship. Farina would finish in 2nd place. Luigi Villoresi, who had been lapped by the three drivers just mere laps earlier, would find himself crossing the line to a 3rd place finish.
As with the whole of the race, Wharton, and the rest of the field, would be practically forgotten about as a result of the last minute tumultuous events. It really wouldn't both Wharton any as he would end the race 'Not Classified' as he would be some 23 laps behind. This translated into a distance of about fifty minutes in which Wharton trailed behind Fangio at the finish.
While totally blown away during the race, Wharton focused on maintaining his good fortune when it came to race finishes. Instead of chasing in vain and running the risk of having his engine, or some other part of his car fail, Wharton would settle in for a long day of racing and would complete the race without a problem. Unfortunately, he would not be rewarded for his effort.
The World Championship for 1953 was over, but there was still some more racing in which Wharton could be a part of before all racing in Europe ceased. The majority of those remaining races would take place back across the English Channel. So, he would pack up and would head back home.
Wharton would have a couple of weeks before his next race. Therefore, he would take his time getting back to England and preparing the Cooper-Bristol for the final couple of races on the season. Then, on the 26th of September, Wharton would make his way back to where his season had started: Goodwood. He would be at the circuit to take part in another weekend filled with racing. One of those races in which Wharton would take part would be the 6th Madgwick Cup race.
As with the Lavant Cup race back in April, the Madgwick Cup event would be just 7 laps of the 2.39 mile circuit. The field would feature a number of drivers Wharton had done battle with numerous times throughout the season already. Some of those, like Stirling Moss and Roy Salvadori, Wharton had even faced at a number of World Championship races as well.
During practice, Wharton would be in a tough fight just for a starting spot on the front row. Roy Salvadori would end up the fastest and would occupy the pole. Stirling Moss would be second-fastest. Tony Rolt and Bob Gerard would complete the front row starting in 3rd and 4th place respectively.
Wharton just could match the pace. His best lap during practice would only be good enough to grab 5th place on the grid. Therefore, Wharton would start the short race from the inside of the second row right behind Salvadori.
Right at the start of the race a couple of Cooper-Bristols would be out of the running. Duncan Hamilton would have his drive shaft break before he could even complete a single lap and Horace Gould would retire after just two laps. Nonetheless, those that would make the entire race distance would be either Cooper-Bristols or Connaught A-Type chassis.
Roy Salvadori would be seemingly unstoppable throughout the short race. He would quickly get up to speed and would go on to set the fastest lap of the race with a time of one minute and thirty-five seconds. Even without the fastest lap time, Salvadori's pace over each lap was consistently fast and tough for the rest of the field to combat.
Stirling Moss would take up the challenge of chasing down Salvadori early on, but he would fall into a battle of his own with Tony Rolt. These two would complete lap-after-lap so close they could have shifted for each other.
Wharton would find the Madgwick Cup race tough, but not as difficult as the Lavant Cup race back in April. Unlike the Lavant Cup event, Wharton didn't have to start the race from the back of the field and fight his way toward the front. He would already start from near the front. However, with Salvadori, Moss and Rolt, Wharton would find a challenge that would absolutely give him fits when the race distance was just 17 miles.
Aided by the fastest lap and the battle between Moss and Rolt, Salvadori would go on to take the victory. He would complete the distance in just eleven minutes and fifteen seconds and would cross the line three seconds ahead of the duel between Moss and Rolt.
The battle for 2nd place would go right down to the bitter end. While Moss was holding the advantage coming around Woodcote it would take just the slightest mistake and Rolt would have the position. Powering to the line, Moss wouldn't make any such mistake and would take 2nd place by just four-tenths of a second over Rolt.
Wharton had been left behind by the top three. However, Wharton had managed to get by Bob Gerard and was running all by himself as he crossed the line to take 4th place. Wharton would cross the line to take 4th but would be twenty-five seconds behind Salvadori.
Though hidden by the brevity of the race, Wharton again was off the pace of his fellow competitors. Had it been a full race distance, he would have been laps behind. But Wharton knew the season was drawing to a close and finishing on a good note would be important. And though he wasn't as fast, he still managed a 4th place result while saving his car for what would be his final race of the season just one week later.
On the 3rd of October, Ken Wharton was preparing to take part in what would be his final Formula 2 race of the 1953 season. After leading Goodwood, Wharton would make his way northwest to one more former airfield. Just 20 miles outside of Bristol, Caslte Combe began its life, like so many others, as RAF Castle Combe. However, in 1950, the airfield would become a motor racing circuit and would begin hosting races. Wharton would make his way to the circuit in October of 1953 to take part in the 2nd Joe Fry Memorial Trophy race.
Part of the Castle Combe estate, owned by the Gorst family, the airfield would open in 1941. It would continue on in service of the RAF until 1948, at which time the airfield would be left abandoned. Then, in 1950, it would become Castle Combe Circuit and would host its first races that same year. Utilizing the perimeter road around the old airfield, the 1.83 mile circuit was rather simple in layout and quite fast for its size. Flat and relatively featureless, the circuit's layout drove more like a triangular oval than a road course.
The race distance would be 37 miles or 20 laps of the circuit and it would be filled with incidents almost throughout the entire distance.
A good size field would take part in the race. Wharton would be squaring-off against a number of British and British Empire drivers he had already faced at least a couple of times before during the season.
The field would take off on the first lap of the race. Almost right away trouble would come upon the field. Stirling Moss would be at the wheel of a Cooper T12-JAP. Going into one of the turns he would roll the car over top of himself and would become trapped underneath. After numerous close battles and wonderful tight racing throughout the year, Tony Rolt showed perhaps the greatest sign of respect to Moss by stopping and helping him out from underneath the car. It would be later found that Moss fractured his shoulder as a result of the roll and the car landing on top of him. While it was pleasing that Moss was really unharmed, the race had lost two of some of the strongest competitors in the field. This would benefit Wharton who had not been his usual 'no-holds-barred' self.
Just a little after Moss' incredible ride, Kenneth McAlpine's race would go up in smoke in a big way as his engine would just blow up and would cause McAlpine to head off the course and out of the race.
Trouble continued to come upon some of the faster competitors. Just five laps into the race Roy Salvadori was out. Les Leston would also end up out of the race when his chain would break on his JAP-powered Cooper T26.
All of the trouble helped Wharton who just continued running around the circuit at a consistent pace. He would be following Horace Gould and Bob Gerard. The top three cars on the circuit were all Cooper-Bristol T23s.
With all of the attrition, and Wharton not quite on his normal pace, Bob Gerard would be the one to beat over the course of the event. He would set the fastest lap with a time of one minute and sixteen seconds. Gerard would enjoy a decent size lead over Gould in 2nd and Wharton in 3rd. Therefore, Gerard would just focus on not making any mistakes as the race came down to the last couple of laps.
As the last lap of the race got underway, only four cars would still be running out on the circuit. Coming out of Tower Corner, down along Dean Straight and through Camp Corner toward the finish line, Gerard had a sizable lead. In fact, as Gerard crossed the line to take the victory, Gould was only just through West Way approaching Camp Corner. Gerard would go on to take the victory by a margin of more than twenty-three seconds over Gould in 2nd place. It would be another twenty-three seconds before Wharton would come across the line to take 3rd place in what would be his final race of the season.
With 3rd place solidly within his grasp, Wharton would just run consistent laps over the course of the later part of his last race of the season. Wharton had started out the season rather strong and would end rather strong.
Overall, the season had been a relatively successful one. Wharton had managed to earn a number of good results including a couple of victories at Charterhall and a 7th place result at the Swiss Grand Prix. Unfortunately, like so many other British drivers racing with British chassis, Wharton was sorely outclassed by the Italian machines from Ferrari and Maserati. National pride and loyalty were certainly important, but to be competitive required a car with either a Ferrari or a Maserati badge. To stay competitive, Wharton would need to change.
Things were going to change, regardless of Wharton. 1953 would see the end of the Formula 2 era in the World Championship. The new Formula One regulations would come into effect the following year. This would pretty much for Wharton to look to other chassis.
Wharton would go into the 1954 season racing in Formula Libre races but would soon sign with the Owen Organization to drive in some of the World Championship rounds for them with their Maserati 250F.
1954 would be something of a year of change for Wharton. Because of his love of motor racing, Wharton would try sports car racing. Throughout the year he would partner with Peter Whitehead and would even go on to win the 12 hours at Reims.
Although he grew up in rather comfortable surroundings, Wharton certainly wouldn't conduct his racing career in the same manner. Racing at almost every opportunity, motor racing was a passion, not a hobby for the man. From his Ford dealership to the race track, the talent and passion for motor racing consumed every part of his life. In so many ways Wharton proved to be a man in between two categories. In many ways he was a gentleman racer. And yet, in so many other ways he would prove to be much more.