TeamsEquipe Gordini: 1953 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
In the early days of the 1952 season, Equipe Gordini mounted the greatest challenge to what would become Scuderia Ferrari's all-conquering Ferrari 500 F2. However, in the later part of the year, that challenge wilted like a flower in the late summer heat.
Much of the problem the Equipe Gordini team had during the 1952 season concerned reliability. The new T16 chassis proved to be quick and rather nimble, but its rear axle gave its drivers more hassles than probably anything else. Often times Equipe Gordini drivers were in position for good results only to have mechanical failures ruin the race.
Although the team faded as the season wore on, they believed they had all of the necessary pieces to challenge going into 1953. Their drivers were talented and the car was quick. They believed that with some extra time to work on reliability the team could truly take the fight back to Ferrari just like it did in World Championship and non-championship races early on in 1952.
Heading into the 1953 season there would be a number of new challenges in which the team would have to face. For one thing, Maserati had returned to grand prix racing. Toward the end of the 1952 season, Maserati was obvious one of the main threats to Scuderia Ferrari, but also the rest of the field. The team, going into 1953, would certainly be a force to be reckoned with.
In addition to the presence of Maserati, Equipe Gordini would deal with the fact the World Championship would truly become a 'World' Championship for the first time in 1953. The first race of the season would be a World Championship race and it would take place all the way across the southern Atlantic in Argentina. Against the likes of Scuderia Ferrari, and now Maserati, every point was precious to the team. Therefore, the team would pack up no less than five cars and would head to South America to make its assault on the World Championship and its fellow competitors.
The intention behind the World Championship was that it would certainly be considered the pinnacle of motor racing. The belief and motivation for the series was that only the best teams and drivers would take part. National pride was certainly a big part of the World Championship as people from nations would cheer their drivers and teams to success and victory. This would also make the World Championship, almost by default, very political. And in the case of Argentina in the early 1950s, the World Championship presented a great opportunity.
Through the support of labor parties and public reaction, Juan Peron had come to be released after mass demonstrations right at the end of the Second World War. Then, when Peron become elected as President in 1946, he would set out to birth great national pride. Some of his means of accomplishing this would be certainly considered less than ethical, but he was not one to miss taking advantage of any opportunity. And the World Championship presented a great opportunity.
To have the best teams, cars and drivers in the world competing in a World Championship race on Argentine soil would show the Argentinean people the nation was advancing and becoming prosperous and one of the great nations of the world. It would also send a clear signal to the rest of the nations that Argentina was a growing and influential entity.
Argentina and Brazil had hosted a number of non-championship races over the course of the previous couple years. These races were held during the summer months in Argentina when the whole of Europe was buried under snow, ice and generally freezing temperatures. On top of already hosting a number of non-championship races, Argentina had a World Champion in Juan Manuel Fangio, and because he had recovered from his accident at Monza in early 1952, Peron would have another means to negotiate hosting a World Championship race.
It would work. The top teams and drivers of the World Championship would make their way to Buenos Aires, Argentina for what would be the first round of the World Championship for 1953. The race, taking place on the 18th of January, would be a hot affair as it would take place during the middle of summer in the southern hemisphere.
The first 'World' Championship race would take place on the 2.43 mile number two layout at the Autodromo Oscar Alfredo Galvez. In order to take full advantage of the World Championship, President Peron would have a motor sports complex built in 1952. This complex could be arranged in a number of layouts dependent upon the type of racing. Originally called Autodromo 17 de Octubre
in remembrance of the date of the massive demonstrations that led to his release back in 1945, the number two layout used for the first round of the World Championship was 2.43 miles in length. The site for the circuit was considered to be a very good one. The ground was generally quite flat. Enormous grandstands would allow views of almost the entire circuit. But on the 18th of January, the circuit would be packed with many more people than what the grandstands would allow. And this set the stage for a very tragic first 'World' Championship race.
Equipe Gordini arrived in Argentina with no fewer than five cars, but not all of the seats were spoken for. Juan Manuel Fangio and Jose Froilan Gonzalez had both come from Argentina and proved to be incredible fast and talented. Unfortunately, it wasn't all that easy to catch glimpses of new talented drivers when most grand prix races were all the way back across the sea in Europe. Therefore, Equipe Gordini would arrive to the race with three main drivers and a reserve. This would leave two seats open for local talent. The team's main drivers included Maurice Trintignant, Jean Behra and Robert Manzon. Its reserve driver was the American-Parisian Harry Schell. The team would then provide cars to Carlos Menditeguy and Pablo Birger. Everyone but Birger would start with a Gordini T16. Birger would end up using a T15 chassis.
In practice, Equipe Gordini looked in position to reclaim its position as one of the strongest threats to Scuderia Ferrari. While the team may have looked to be a threat to Ferrari, they still could not overcome the pace of the Ferrari 500 during practice. Alberto Ascari would pick up right where he left off the season before and would claim the pole with a lap time of one minute and fifty-five seconds. This; however, would only be six-tenths of a second faster than Argentinean hero and former World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio in his Maserati A6GCM. Although Fangio was close to Ascari in practice, he would end up feeling all-alone afterward as he would end up being swarmed on the front row by Luigi Villoresi starting 3rd and Giuseppe Farina rounding-out the front row with a 4th place starting position.
In the case of Equipe Gordini, their best position on the grid would be found in the three-wide second row. Maurice Trintignant would turn in the fastest time with a lap of two minutes and two-tenths. This meant Trintignant would start the race from 7th on the grid. Trintignant's time would be only seven-tenths of a second faster than Robert Manzon, who would lead a strong Equipe Gordini contingent on the third row of the grid. Manzon started 8th while Carlos Menditeguy and Jean Behra would start on the third row with Manzon in 10th and 11th respectively. Equipe Gordini's fifth entry, Pablo Birger, would start right off of Menditeguy's left shoulder in the fourth row of the grid. His best time was a two minutes and three second lap in the older T15, which meant he would start 14th. Although he would start 14th, Birger would still have the satisfaction of out-qualifying the Maserati A6GCM driven by Felice Bonetto.
The race distance was set to be 97 laps. However, the real race would be the first few hundred feet into the long right-hand Curva Uno. Ascari would manage to beat everyone else into the first turn and would pretty much have his way from that point onwards. Being the first lap at the first race of the season, tensions were high. Everyone; however, would make their way through the first lap of the race and would carry on without incident.
Ascari continued to hold the lead, and would even pull out a bit of a lead over the rest of the field. Despite being healthy, Fangio was still getting back up to speed behind the wheel and it was showing. All of the Equipe Gordini cars were running well mixed in the field. Behra and Trintignant would run up near the front half of the grid with Manzon and Menditeguy while Birger was fighting to make his way with his older T15.
Trouble would strike the Equipe Gordini team just twenty, or so, laps into the race. The Argentinean driver Adolfo Schwelm-Cruz would be the first out of the race for Cooper Car Company, but the next couple of retirements would involve Equipe Gordini machines. First of the team out of the race would be Birger. His car would have wheel problems, which would force him out of the race. Then, just three laps after Birger's retirement, Menditeguy would be forced out of the running due to gearbox failure.
While a frustrating beginning for a couple of the team's entries they wouldn't be alone. The Argentine Grand Prix would end up being particularly ruthless with Argentinean drivers. In all, four would be driven from the race. Of course none of the four retirements were any bigger than Fangio's. He would end up having his prop shaft failing in his Maserati A6GCM around lap 37 and would be certain not to garner any championship points in the first round of the season.
Though Fangio's departure from the race was certainly defeating to the morale of the Argentinean spectators at the race, a truly catastrophic retirement had already taken place to cause a dark mood to come and settle over the track. President Peron, wanting to take full advantage of the race to promote Argentine living, would announce the race would be free to the public. In response to this, an incredibly large throng of people would come to the race and line just about every foot of the circuit. All along the circuit people pushed their way right to the edge of the track and averaged a fair number of people deep in many places. This rally-style setup with the crowds right next to the edge of the track made things very dangerous, especially for those that couldn't see.
Kids stood with adults right next to the circuit. This made the race tough to see and very dangerous. One young boy couldn't see the spectacle despite being able to clearly hear all of the action. In an attempt to gain a better view, the boy would actually venture right out onto the circuit. He would come out right in front of Giuseppe Farina. Farina would quickly swerve to miss the boy. He would manage to miss the youngster but would end up losing control and plowing right into the thick crowd assembled by the side of the circuit. Over half a dozen people would die from being hit by Farina's car. Dozens more would be injured. Amazingly, Farina would emerge from his Ferrari without a scratch.
The remaining two-thirds of the race would have a much more subdued mood. Ascari would end up being so dominant that little else could be done to help lift the spirits in the place. Not even the presence of Jose Froilan Gonzalez running in 3rd place would be able to overcome the tragic events of the day.
In Equipe Gordini's case, its day wouldn't be free from scary moments either. Just 30 laps away from the end of the race, Robert Manzon would lose a wheel into the crowd. Fears arose that there would be a repeat of tragic events. Thankfully for those involved the wheel would bounce harmlessly away and no one would be injured or killed. Equipe Gordini; however, had lost yet another driver. This was truly unfortunate as Manzon had been running an incredible race. He had been up as high as 2nd before brake issues caused him to have to slow. He would speak of the craziness of the crowd and would say afterward, 'They were crossing over the track.' Earlier on he was quoted as saying he had narrowly missed hitting a policeman's horse. No matter how good Manzon had been running, the team was left with just Behra and Trintignant to try and take on the Maseratis and Ferraris.
Niether Behra nor Trintignant could take on Ascari this day. In fact, nobody, not even Ascari's Ferrari teammates, could take on Ascari. Ascari would manage to lead every single lap of the race and would take just three hours and one minute to take the first win of the 1953 World Championship season. He could have gotten out and greeted people on the final lap of the race as he would end up with a lap advantage over Luigi Villoresi in 2nd place. Villoresi was safe in 2nd place as he would end up crossing the line about forty-three seconds in front of Jose Froilan Gonzalez in 3rd place.
Equipe Gordini's remaining pilots would take advantage of the loses, but would still find the going quite difficult. Jean Behra, who had been such a hard charger during the 1952 season, would come closest to earning championship points when he finished the race 6th. He ended up being three laps down to Ascari by the end. Behra had a large gap behind him. Maurice Trintignant would drive his T16 for 50 laps and then switched out of the car in favor of Schell. Schell would complete the remaining 41 laps. Because of the change, and the pace, the pairing of Trintignant and Schell would finish six laps down in 7th place.
Equipe Gordini had brought five cars to the first round of the World Championship, and yet, would leave the event having not scored a single point. In many ways, the first round of the World Championship in 1953 seemed like the last couple of World Championship rounds from 1952. The drivers could put it together for a single lap in practice, but the race was an almost entirely different story. Thankfully for the team, there would be quite a span of time between the first and second rounds of the World Championship. Perhaps the team would have the time to find an answer.
Before heading back to Europe to kick off the grand prix season there, Equipe Gordini would remain in Argentina to take part in just one more Formula 2 non-championship race. The 7th Gran Premio Ciudad de Buenos Aires would also take place at the Autodromo Oscar Alfredo Galvez circuit but it would take place on the 1st of February.
Once again, the team would enter five cars in the 40 lap race around the 2.43 mile circuit. The team would have Behra, Trintignant and Manzon driving the main effort. Menditeguy and Birger would again have opportunities to drive the two extra cars.
According to events in practice, it seemed the race would fair almost exactly the same, but without the tragic deaths of course. Alberto Ascari would again have the pole for this race. After the first round of the World Championship, hardly anybody questioned as to whether he could repeat the performance.
In the race, Menditeguy and Birger would repeat their performance. Both drivers would lose their engines in the heat. While this was not all that surprising given how the first round of the championship fared, what would happen on the 2nd lap of the race almost certainly was. Alberto Ascari, in everyone's mind, seemed a lock for the victory. However, he wouldn't get past the 2nd lap. After just two laps, the crankshaft in his Ferrari would fail leaving him out of the race and throwing the outcome all up in the air.
Equipe Gordini's three main drivers continued to run well up around the top ten. This was a welcome event for Manzon after he threw his wheel just a couple of weeks prior. With all four wheels firmly attached, Manzon would push hard and would try to get up inside the top five. Jean Behra, who had finished in 6th place just a couple of weeks prior, was also running well, but it would be his turn to suffer. Just before halfway, Behra' Gordini would suffer problems that would force the Frenchman out of the race. Maurice Trintignant continued in the race running right around where he had during the Argentine Grand Prix.
Ascari's departure from the race open the door for others to battle it out for the victory. The Argentineans were hoping to see Fangio and Gonzalez up there fighting for the win, but Fangio would again fade out of the running, and would even end up a couple of laps down at the end. Gonzalez continued to show good form, but was still shy of the pace of the Ferraris. No, the main battle for the lead of the race would come down to Ascari's good friend Luigi Villoresi and the man intimately involved in the fatal accident that claimed the lives of so many just a couple of weeks prior.
Farina and Villoresi were locked in a tight battle. Mike Hawthorn ran in 3rd place and would try, by posting the fastest lap of the race, to join the fray. However, it would just be between the two elders of grand prix racing. Lap after lap nothing more than a car length would separate one from the other. Their pace was so furious that only the top four would remain on the lead lap by the end. Robert Manzon was fighting to stay on the lead lap but would lose out just a few laps from the end.
The battle between the two elders would go right down to the finish line. Proving never to be too old for a good fight, the two drivers would come careening through the quick left-hand flick toward the finish line almost side-by-side. Farina would find his healing. He would end up taking the victory by just one-tenth of a second over Villoresi. Well over a minute would separate Villoresi from Hawthorn in 3rd place. This made it another Ferrari one, two and three.
Although well handled by the pace of the Ferrari teammates, Robert Manzon would show glimpses of the Equipe Gordini of old as he would finish the race in 5th place, down just one lap. He had fought his way by a number of Maseratis to remind people of the threat the team had been and possibly could still be. Maurice Trintignant kept the good news coming as he would end up finishing 8th one place in front of Fangio.
Manzon's pace looked reminiscent of one season ago. The team managed to hold its main threat together to have one car score a top five while another finished inside the top ten. This was a good result, but still, the team had three cars that failed to finish while Ferrari only had one. And because of the constant failures, Manzon would try and address the problems with Amedee Gordini. When no response came, Manzon would decide to leave the team.
As Manzon would try and relate, despite all of the weapons, the Equipe Gordini assaults continued to come up short in numbers to really challenge the rest of the front-running teams. The constant failures were beginning to really take their toll and needed to be remedied. Now, the team would pack up and head back to Europe. The team had the trip to try and figure out how to get more speed and reliability out of its machines.
Upon returning to Europe, Scuderia Ferrari headed to Syracuse, Sicily at the end of March. Equipe Gordini, on the other hand, would wait to rekindle the battle with Ferrari at the 14th Grand Prix Automobile de Pau in early April.
Alphonse de Lamartine had said, 'Pau has the world's most beautiful view of the earth…' Pau's beginnings, at least the meanings of its name, are steeped in mystery. Situated in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains, Pau's topography is not anywhere near flat. Featuring many ravines and the Gave de Pau, the city offers visitors incredible views and adventures. The birthplace of a king and home to many notable aristocrats and other famous artists and businessmen, Pau certainly had become a playground for the wealthy.
While Pau offered the famous and the wealthy an unhealthy nightlife, its tight and twisty streets presented grand prix drivers an incredible challenge on par with other similar places like Monaco and Naples. The nature of the circuit would become obvious just with a trip down the start/finish straight.
Tight and rather short, the straight led to just one of an incredible number of tight corners. The first one was tight and began to climb upon exit. From this point on, the circuit would continue to climb while throwing one hairpin turn after another at the drivers. This kept average speeds around the circuit down, but it also put a premium on acceleration, braking and handling. Because of its tightness and twisty nature, one of the quickest portions of the circuit presented its drivers with the greatest challenge and technical difficulty. Heading around the long Parc Beaumont right-hander, drivers were presented with a quick left-right chicane that dropped over a crest. The entry into this complex was virtually blind and required drivers aiming for a point on buildings more than seeking the apex of the corner. This arrangement was further complicated by the tight left-hand Avenue du General Poeymiraud corner immediately following. At 1.71 miles, the circuit seemed to never provide much of any kind of break and it would require a high level of focus and concentration just to make it to the finish.
Circuits like Pau had seemed to be a strength for Equipe Gordini in 1952. Undoubtedly, the team looked and hoped for more of the same in 1953. The team would enter four cars to provide itself a good chance at a good result. Jean Behra and Maurice Trintignant would again be behind the wheel of a T16. However, there would be some changes in the driver lineup. With Manzon's departure from the team, Andre Simon would be hired to drive what had been Manzon's car. Harry Schell would earn the fourth ride. Equipe Gordini's four cars would nearly make up thirty percent of the starting field.
Although the team had the numbers, it was still going to battle against Ferrari and some other small teams with potent cars. Among the smaller entries that would pose a great threat would be Louis Chiron and Elie Bayol driving OSCA 20s. Louis Rosier would bring his own Ferrari 500, as would Ecurie Francorchamps. It was not going to be just a battle between Gordini and Ferrari, but it certainly seemed that way after practice.
The front row would again be occupied by Scuderia Ferrari. The first-three positions would be occupied, as usual, by Ascari, Farina and Hawthorn. Similar to events in 1952, Equip Gordini's cars would be right there and the entire two-wide second row would be occupied by the team's entries. Jean Behra would start 4th. Maurice Trintignant would start 5th. The rest of the Gordini team members would start toward the back end of the fourteen car field. Andre Simon would end up five seconds slower than Ascari, his old teammate at Ferrari, and would start the race 9th in the two-wide fourth row. Just off his right shoulder would sit Harry Schell. His best time was under two seconds slower than Simon's but only good enough to start the race 11th.
Average speeds around Pau only touched about 60 mph in 1953. Ascari would turn in a lap with an average speed of over 62 mph as he would do his best to escape with the lead of the race. He would have his Ferrari teammates following close behind in the three hour endurance race.
Even though the race was a three hour endurance event, Behra would only need ten minutes before he would come apart. In the tight city streets, Jean would make a mistake and would crash out of the race. Proving that Behra was truly a talented driver, even Giuseppe Farina would make a mistake and would crash out almost an hour into the race.
Many drivers were struggling around the circuit. Behra and Farina had crashed out. Others were trying but just couldn't really move forward. One who was moving forward was Harry Schell. Always remembered for his cursing and yelling as he would throw cars in and out of corners, Pau was the perfect circuit for someone like Schell that needed to throw their car around. Though he would start the race 11th, by halfway, he was up around the top five and looking for more.
Andre Simon was looking for someplace where he could go and stick his head in a bucket. Simon was incredibly ill behind the wheel of his T16 and would fight hard to carry on. However, a little after an hour of driving around the Pau circuit, complete with its never-ending array of hairpin turns, Simon had become too nauseated to continue and would retire after having completed 44 laps.
Trouble, of which Manzon tried to address, continued to keep coming for Equipe Gordini. As he completed 75 laps, Trintignant's race would also come to an end due to a failure. After starting the race with basically thirty percent of the field as part of one team, just twenty-five percent of the team remained going into the final hour of the race.
Although he was all alone, Schell would put up an incredible fight. He would stand his ground and would overcome many other competitors. It was truly an incredible display of driving by the American-Parisian.
Ascari was unaffected by everything, except for when he had to come around and put someone in the field another lap down. Ascari would turn the fastest lap of the race and would go on to complete 106 laps en route to his victory. He would end the race with a lap advantage over Mike Hawthorn in 2nd place. Surprising many, Harry Schell would yell his way all the way up from 11th place on the grid to 3rd at the finish. This was the team's first top three finish of the year and it came on behalf of one of the most spirited drives.
Though Schell had managed to pull off an incredible 3rd place result, the return on investment was certainly not all that good. Three cars had to fail or drop out before Schell could finish inside of the top five. On top of it all, Schell would finish the race four laps behind Ascari. Despite its nimble car, Equipe Gordini still continued to lose pace to the Ferrari 500. The team certainly wasn't appearing to be the major contender it seemed to be just one year prior. Instead, the team would look and hope for inspired drives that would provide them with podium finishes and other good results.
Almost another month would pass before the team's next race. The next race would be yet another non-championship race as the second round of the World Championship, the Indianapolis 500, wasn't until the end of May. At the beginning of May, the Equipe Gordini team made its way to Bordeaux for the 3rd Grand Prix de Bordeaux.
Nestled in the southwestern portion of France along the Garonne river, Bordeaux is almost immediately recognized as the world's major wine capital. Sustained by the drink, Bordeaux stretches over 19 square miles and boasts one of the largest populations in the area. A site of constant upheaval, Bordeaux has been ruled by a number of nations including a Celtic tribe, Bituriges Vivisci, the Romans, Vandals, Visigoths and Franks. The region became known for its wealth due to wine production and Bordeaux became considered a Medieval Paris until Emperor Napoleon III helped to turn it into a modern city. Not readily known, Bordeaux would become the French capital during the early days of World War II after being relocated there from Paris. During the war, the city would become a major port for German U-boats. After the war, Bordeaux would quickly return to its former glory. Its wealth and industry of fine wine would help to inspire the wealthy and famous to return. They would bring with it grand prix racing.
Motor racing was viewed very much as more of a rich man's sport. Therefore, racing along the banks of the Garonne suited grand prix racing just fine, just like the yacht-lined harbor at Monaco. To host racing in Bordeaux, a 1.40 mile circuit was laid out using the streets running along the Garonne river. The main feature of the circuit is its navigation around the Place des Quinconces that had been laid out in 1820. Featuring monuments in dedication for famous events and people in French history, the Bordeaux Grand Prix would be as much a trip around time as it would be anything else.
The Equipe Gordini team had last been to Bordeaux in 1951, at least for a Formula One or Formula 2 race. From that race in 1951 to the one in 1953 there would be a couple of changes. For one thing, the cars running in 1951 conformed to Formula One regulations. Upon returning in 1953, it was Formula 2 regulations to which the cars adhered. Secondly, the race in 1951 took place running in an anti-clockwise direction. It would be changed to a clockwise direction upon returning.
Although there would be a couple of changes at Bordeaux since the last visit to the city and circuit, there would still be one big aspect that hadn't changed, the presence and the potency of Ferrari chassis. Although Scuderia Ferrari wasn't present in 1951, Ferrari chassis would still fare quite well in the race. In 1953, Scuderia Ferrari would make its appearance and would do so having the current World Champion as just one of its drivers.
Maurice Trintignant had been to Bordeaux in 1951 and had been driving a Simca-Gordini T15 in the race. He would again arrive driving a Gordini chassis, the T16. Had Robert Manzon stuck with the team, he too would have come back with the same team in which he had come with back in 1951. Instead, the driver lineup for the 3rd Grand Prix de Bordeaux would include Maurice Trintignant, Harry Schell, and Argentinean driver Roberto Mieres.
Practice would produce more of the same, but with a twist. By one-tenth of a second Luigi Villoresi would clip his good friend Ascari for the pole. Trintignant would give the Equipe Gordini team reason to be excited. He would take his T16 and would end up beating out Giuseppe Farina for the 3rd, and final, spot on the front row. Not only would he beat out Farina, he would also beat out such drivers as Juan Manuel Fangio, Louis Rosier and Emmanuel de Graffenried. Roberto Mieres would show his stuff right away as he would beat out Harry Schell to start the race from the fifth row in the 13th starting position. Schell would either garner great or poor lap times. On this day, it would be a poor lap time. He would go on to start from the sixth row of the grid in the 15th position.
The sight of tires smoking and the sound of tires squealing marked the start of the Grand Prix de Bordeaux. Immediately, Ascari would get a good jump off the line and would lead the way on the first lap of the 120 lap race. Trintignant was holding tough up near the front, but he had a Juan Manuel Fangio fighting his way up through the field after starting 8th.
Very soon, it would be Ascari out front with Fangio sandwiched in between Ascari and Farina. Farina was fighting hard to move forward and would end up turning the fastest lap of the race. Unfortunately for Farina, the gear selector in his Ferrari couldn't keep up with him. The failure would lead to Farina's retirement after 57 laps. Just five laps after Farina's departure from the race, Trintignant would end up out of the race when a shaft would break in his T16. Yet another failure in the T16. Once again, the car failed right when it looked as if Trintignant could score a good result for the team. The team's hopes rested on Mieres and Schell. And once again, Schell would put together an impressive effort.
Schell started the race from 15th on the grid. By the time there were just 20 laps left in the race, he had managed to make his way to inside the top five. Had he not started the race from so far back he may have had an opportunity at an even greater result.
Of course Schell would have had to beat Ascari. Who, once again, would prove to be too tough to beat. Fangio had been right behind him with Farina following Farina. Farina fell foul to gearbox problems. Fangio's Maserati A6GCM would also fall foul to issues. He would carry on, but would not carry the same pace. This would leave Villoresi to try and track down his good friend and teammate. It wouldn't happen.
One minute and one second shy of completing the 120 laps in three hours, Alberto Ascari would go on to cross the line to take the victory. He would end up beating Villoresi by almost fifty seconds. Fangio's issues caused him to back right off the pace. He would be safe to do so, and, despite finishing four laps behind, would cross the line 3rd. If only Harry Schell had managed to put together the laps in the race in practice. If he had started better he could have challenged Fangio's 3rd place. As it was, Schell would toss his T16 around until the broken beast would finish the race 4th, five laps down to Ascari. Roberto Mieres, in his first race for Equipe Gordini, would go on to finish the race 7th albeit some twelve laps down.
Percentage wise, this had been the team's best result. Instead of just one or two cars finishing the race out of four or five, two cars had managed to finish to just one retirement. Unfortunately, the one retirement happened to be the best positioned Gordini before the start of the race. Events may have been entirely different had it been Schell who started in Trintignant's spot on the grid. Nonetheless, two cars finishing was certainly an improvement. Was this a sign? One week later, the team would find out.
One of the problems facing European nations at the conclusion of World War II had been material. So much had been confined for use in war production that there was very little extra available for manufacturers and small privateer entries to use when building race cars. England was in such a state at the conclusion of the war. However, one type of material the nation had in surplus at the conclusion of the war was airbases. These bases would be deemed perfectly suited as motor racing circuits and the era of airbase circuits was born. In England, one would end up rising above all of the others.
Known as RAF Silverstone because of the small town near the base's location, Silverstone first hosted bombers from the Royal Air Force. The base opened in 1943 and would later be decommissioned in 1947. That same year, the airbase would hold its first motor race. It would be an event just put on by local drivers from nearby villages. The next year, the Royal Automobile Club would take lease of the base and would hold two races using some portions of the runways as well as the perimeter road. One of those races would be the 1st British Grand Prix. The next year, Silverstone would host the first edition of the BRDC International Trophy race.
In 1953, drivers and teams were back at Silverstone for the 5th BRDC International Trophy race. Besides the British Grand Prix, the International Trophy race was one of the few races on British soil that regularly attracted a large number of international competitors. The 1953 running of the race would be no different.
While most of the entries in the race were from somewhere around the British Isles there were foreign entries like Equipe Gordini, Scuderia Ferrari and Ecurie Rosier in the field. Elite international drivers like Louis Rosier, Emmanuel de Graffenried, Maurice Trintignant and Louis Chiron would also be part of the field of drivers.
The format of the International Trophy race was different than the World Championship rounds. Instead of just one race, the field of drivers would be separated into heats. Two heats would compete. The finishers from each heat would then line up for a final race. The two heat races consisted of 15 laps of the 2.88 mile circuit. The final would be 35 laps.
Roberto Mieres would draw the number '1' for his Gordini T16 but would be the only Equipe Gordini driver to be included in the first heat. He would face such drivers as Stirling Moss, Emmanuel de Graffenried, Tony Rolt and Louis Rosier in his heat. In practice; however, Mieres would seem anything but star-struck.
Emmanuel de Graffenried, driving a Maserati A6GCM, would prove to be fastest. His time of one minute and fifty-one seconds would earn the Swiss baron the pole for the first heat. Bob Gerard would be impressive in a Cooper-Bristol T23. His time, which was three seconds slower than de Graffenried's, would earn him the 2nd place starting spot on the front row of the grid. Tony Rolt and Kenneth McAlpine would also post times of one minute and fifty-four seconds, but each of their times would be slightly slower than Gerard's. Therefore, Rolt would start on the front row in 3rd while McAlpine would start 4th, also on the front row. Roberto Mieres would show in adeptness behind the wheel of a car. His best time would end up being only four seconds slower than de Graffenried's and would earn the Argentinean a 5th place starting spot, which was on the inside of the second row right off of de Graffenried's left shoulder.
Twenty cars would peel away at the start of the 15 lap heat race. While twenty would start, within a couple of laps, less than that were still running. Bill Aston and Joe Kelly would be out of the running before having reached 4 laps. Aston had an oil leak while Kelly would have to retire because of damaged suffered in a crash. Hans Stuck would make it three cars out within the first 6 laps of the race when his Kuchen engine expired.
Emmanuel de Graffenried had made a great start and was fast right away. He wasn't alone at the front, however. Stirling Moss had made a great start and was giving chase in his Cooper-Alta Special. Each man would set the same fastest lap time. That was just how close the battle between the two had been throughout the early part of the heat. Behind them, the tightest battle would be between McAlpine and Rosier for the 5th spot. Another that had made a great start was Prince Bira. He had started 6th, but had managed to make his way to 3rd place in his blue and yellow Maserati A6GCM.
Mieres had made a decent start and was running well throughout the first two-thirds of the race. However, heading into the final five laps of the race, not all was well with his T16. Once again, mechanical woes were showing themselves. Mieres would manage to hold on to finish 10 laps of the race but would end up retiring when his transmission failed in his car. This would leave just Trintignant and Schell for the team in the second heat.
Although Moss had pressed hard throughout the early going of the heat, he would settle in behind de Graffenried for the remainder of the heat. Emmanuel would go on to win the heat by five seconds over Moss. Moss had 2nd place in hand as Prince Bira would settle for a 3rd place result some seventeen seconds behind Moss.
With the first heat over, it was time for the second heat. Maurice Trintignant and Harry Schell would be Equipe Gordini's hopes in the second heat. These two would have to face the Scuderia Ferrari of Mike Hawthorn, as well as, Louis Chiron in his OSCA 20 and a slew of other British drivers. Trintignant would be impressive in practice. Proving his speed throughout the season to that point, Trintignant would end up starting the second heat from the front row of the grid. His time of one minute and fifty-four seconds would be fast enough to start 4th. Ken Wharton would take his Cooper-Bristol T23 and would record the fastest lap time with a one minute and fifty-two second trip around the circuit. In between Trintignant in 4th and Wharton on pole were Mike Hawthorn in 2nd place and Louis Chiron in 3rd. Harry Schell, who had been suffering from poor starting positions over the previous couple of races, would end up starting the second heat right off of Wharton's left shoulder in the second row in the 5th position. This was certainly a good sign since Schell had done well over the previous couple of races. He had suffered though from his poor starting positions.
The battle at the front of the field was much tighter than the first heat race. Hawthorn would get a great jump and would fight with Wharton for the lead of the race. Roy Salvadoi and Peter Whitehead would make great starts as well and would be able to get by Trintignant and Chiron. Schell would look completely opposite from what he had been in the previous couple of races. In the previous couple of races, Schell had started from the back and muscled his way toward the front. This time he would start near the front and would end up getting muscled himself. Though he had started the race 5th, he would allow Roy Salvadori, Bobbie Baird and Peter Whitehead to get by him. Therefore, the American-Parisian would get shuffled down in the running order. Very soon, he would become the team's only hope once again.
Mike Hawthorn was pushing hard as he was being chased by Ken Wharton. He would set the fastest lap of the heat with a time faster than his qualifying effort. This pace would end up being just too much for Trintignant's car. Maurice would fight to hold on to the end, but one lap from the finish of the heat, his transmission would fail. This left just Schell still running for Equipe Gordini. It seemed Manzon's words were certainly true. They were also certainly falling on deaf ears.
The battle for the victory in the second heat would come right down to the wire. Hawthorn's pace in the Ferrari 500 would be enough to take the victory over Wharton, but not by much. Averaging a little over 92 mph, Hawthorn would cross the line one second ahead of Wharton to take the victory. Nearly fifty seconds would pass before the 3rd place car, that of Roy Salvadori, would cross the line. Harry Schell was headed in the wrong direction. But at least he was putting up a fight. Though he had started the race 5th, he would end up more than a minute and twenty second behind in 7th place. He would finish just one second behind Baird and just two-tenths of a second in front of Peter Collins.
The grid for the 35 lap final would be determined by the finishing time of the competitor in their respective heat. Hawthorn would complete the 15 lap second heat faster than what de Graffenried had in the first, and therefore, the young Brit would start the final from the pole. The one second gap from Hawthorn to Wharton meant that Ken would start 2nd right beside Hawthorn on the front row. The rest of the front row would include the first-two finishers of the first heat. Emmanuel de Graffenried would start 3rd while Moss 4th.
Rules governing entries were rather different during the early 1950s from what they would become in later years. Harry Schell's finishing time meant he would have started the final from the third row of the grid in the 11th place starting position. Trintignant was certainly the faster driver. Therefore, Schell would abandon his starting position and it would be given to Trintignant instead. Despite the switch, Equipe Gordini would still be left with only one car in the final race, and it would be the same car which had failed during the heat race earlier on.
The final was intense. Both Mike Hawthorn and Emmanuel de Graffenried were fast. Both would go on to set the same fastest lap time of the race. Hawthorn was up at the front and de Graffenried was right there along with Salvadori and Rolt. Stirling Moss was fast at the start but would begin to wane. Many others would end up doing the same under average speeds still hovering around 92 mph.
Many drivers would find the exit almost immediately. Horace Richards would be the first out of the race. His effort would end after 4 laps due to clutch failure. Lance Macklin's race would last only 8 laps. Maurice Trintignant was looking for providence to be on his side going into the final after already having dealt with a failure. However, sometimes help can only come to those who are willing to help themselves get better. The obvious struggles of the Equipe Gordini team made it very obvious the team needed to find some solutions to its reliability issues. Manzon had tried to bring attention to this fact right before he decided to leave the team. Therefore, it would be little surprise when, just like Manzon at the Argentine Grand Prix, Trintignant would lose a wheel and would have to retire from the race. That was it. Equipe Gordini was out of the race. It had no more cars left still running. All that was left to do was pack up and leave.
While Equipe Gordini packed up, there was still the matter of 27 laps needing to be finished. Emmanuel de Graffenried continued to push hard in his Maserati, but its reliability was also suspect, and, after 16 laps, de Graffenried would withdraw from the race. This left Hawthorn clear of the rest of the field by more than just a couple of seconds. Hawthorn would focus and would keep his car on the track for the remaining 18 laps.
Roy Salvadori and Tony Rolt would do their best to give chase but it would not be enough. Mike Hawthorn, Scuderia Ferrari's lone entry in the BRDC International Trophy race, would use the superior reliability of the Ferrari 500 to carry on to the victory. His winning margin over Salvadori would be twelve seconds. Incidentally, Roy Salvadori had driven for Hawthorn's father's team the season before when Mike had gotten injured. Tony Rolt would finish the top three as he would finish thirty seconds behind Salvadori.
Equipe Gordini had real problems. Their cars were certainly one of the faster cars in the field as Trintignant would continually prove, but they just couldn't last. Some serious steps needed to be taken to enhance the reliability of the chassis. And these changes seemed to be something Gordini wasn't interested in making. This was certainly going to be a long year for the team. Either changes had to be made to help the car, or, the drivers would have to slow their pace to ensure making it to the finish. Facing such scenarios certainly wouldn't boost the team's confidence going into the next race.
Two weeks would pass before Equipe Gordini's next race. This time off provided the team time to make repairs and to prepare their cars for the next race, which would be the 23rd Grand Prix des Frontieres.
The third round of the World Championship was right around the corner. The Grand Prix des Frontieres would pose a good challenge to the team. Held in Chimay, Belgium, the circuit had a similar feel and arrangement to another circuit located in France almost due south. Both Chimay and Reims boasted a long road course made up entirely of public roads. Both circuits featured long straights, fast sweeping turns and tight hairpin turns. Situated on rolling countryside just to the northwest of Chimay, the Chimay circuit featured very little elevation changes over the course of a lap. Coming out of La Bouchere hairpin, the circuit gradually climbed along the long straight and through the technically demanding Spikins corner. It would reach its highest point as it passed by the small stone chapel right beside the long gentle left-hand bend on its way toward Thierissart. Measuring 6.75 miles in length, the Chimay circuit presented drivers with just about everything.
One thing lacking at the Grand Prix des Frontieres was a lot of international competitors. The race had been a Formula One non-championship event briefly, but mostly a Formula 2 race. The race had attracted a good number of competitors in the past but was beginning to wane in numbers. The race in 1952 would end up being the same day as the Grand Prix of Albi. Albi was another similar circuit, and therefore, would cause more to forget about Chimay. While the Grand Prix des Frontieres wouldn't conflict with Albi in 1953 it would take place one day before the Coronation Trophy race in London, England. Therefore, there would be very few British drivers that would make the trip across the Channel to Belgium. The race being somewhat forgotten about would be a blessing for Equipe Gordini. They would end up being the main challenger and would provide themselves with something of a test before the next round of the World Championship.
Gordini would bring three cars to the race. Maurice Trintignant would drive one of the cars. Fred Wacker Jr., of the United States, would drive another. Jacques Pollet would end up driving the third car.
Trintignant would again demonstrate the speed and handling of the T16 as he would go out and tackle the 6.75 mile circuit with a time of four minutes and eleven seconds. This would end up being four seconds faster than the next-fastest qualifier. Therefore, even with all of the struggles the team had been having to that point, Trintignant would start from the pole. The Belgian gentleman racer and jazz musician, Johnny Claes, would join Trintignant on the front row.
Wacker would take his T16 and would turn in a rather good effort. Wacker's time would be good enough to start the race from the third row of the grid in the 6th place starting position. Equipe Gordini would have all three drivers start within the top ten as Jacques Pollet would manage to qualify 7th, just one row behind Wacker.
Though Equipe Gordini had reason to be excited going into the 20 lap race. The season had certainly told the team to be cautious. Right from the waving of the green flag, the team's reasons for being subdued in their excitement would be well-founded as Pollet would join two others that wouldn't even manage to complete a single lap around Chimay. The crankshaft would break on Pollet's T16 and would take his out of the race along with Rodney Nuckey and Georges Mulnard.
Even though Pollet was running into trouble right at the start, Trintignant was looking good right from the very beginning. Even Fred Wacker was right in there in the running. Not only did Equipe Gordini have two cars still in the race, but one was leading and another was within striking distance of a top three result.
The laps continued to take their toll on the competition. By the halfway mark there would be eight entries out of the race. Seven of the eight would end up out of the race before 6 laps had been completed.
And while some were finding the going tough, Trintignant at least kept going, and kept going faster. He would go on to match his qualifying time with a lap of four minutes and eleven seconds. This would end up being the fastest lap of the race and only improved his margin over the rest of the field, which by this time, was quite large.
The gap behind Trintignant was certainly due to Maurice's pace, but it was also helped by the retirement of Claes just three laps from the end after suffering a crash. Despite having a Ferrari 500 surrounding him, Roger Laurent couldn't haul in Trintignant. Of course Laurent was looking for a better result than the first lap accident that cost him the year before. Fred Wacker, despite his relative inexperience, was looking absolutely spectacular as he managed to benefit from Claes' and Bira's misfortunes.
Maurice Trintignant would make the T16 look like a World Championship contender as he would complete the race in only an hour and twenty-six minutes. Laurent would finish a distant 2nd as he would cross the line over two minutes behind Trintignant. And just when Equipe Gordini's confidence may have been at its very lowest, Wacker would accent Trintignant's victory with a 3rd place result!
It had been a far cry from the previous races of the season. In one fell swoop, Equipe Gordini went from looking embarrassing to looking brilliant. All of a sudden it seemed Equipe Gordini had become a challenger again. The important thing for the team was to see that the cars lasted an entire race distance. They proved they had the pace for a great result.
The team managed to have two cars finish at or near the top at the Grand Prix des Frontieres. This had been truly impossible for the team up until that moment. It appeared that the two weeks away to prepare their cars had paid dividends. Unfortunately, the team wouldn't take two weeks in between Chimay and its next race. In fact, it would only be one week before the Gordini team would split in two and compete in two different races on the same day.
On the 31st of May, the Equipe Gordini team would be separated by some twelve hours or 600 or more miles. Just one car would head into Germany to take part in what was the 17th Internationales ADAC Eifelrennen. Meanwhile, three cars would be transported to Albi, France for the 15th Grand Prix de l'Albigeois.
Fred Wacker would be given the task of tackling the Nurburgring while Trintignant, Schell and Mieres would have the job of maintaining French honor in Albi. The Eifelrennen was a Formula 2 race that was part of the West German Championship. The Grand Prix de l'Albi was one of the few remaining races that allowed the old Formula One machines to come out of seclusion to race against current Formula 2 cars.
While the competition may have certainly been tougher at Albi, Wacker's main competition would come from the 14 mile long Nordschleife. Completed in 1927, the Nurburgring was a road course in one of the truest senses. Following the twists, turns, ascents and descents of the Eifel mountains, the Nurburgring was anything but a flat motor sports complex. Every lap was a grand adventure with just about everything imaginable thrown at the car and driver. Twisting constantly, only after more than ten miles of wrestling with corners does the driver receive a reward of a long straight stretch that provides the opportunity of taking a moment and recovering before heading back out on another epic lap. Hated by many and mastered by only a very few, the Nordschleife
was anything other than a straight-forward circuit. And in so many cases, the competition seemed to be aimed at the track and not fellow competitors.
Wacker's main competition would obviously come from East and West Germans. But the field would include many foreign competitors. The chief competition for Wacker's Gordini T16 would come from a number of Maserati A6GCMs entered by privateers and small teams, some British marks and a slew of German Eigenbaus. There was one Ferrari 500 in the field that all of the competitors had to keep watch of. That one Ferrari 500 was the entry of Ecurie Espadon. Rudolf Fischer, one of the founders of the team, had taken the Ferrari to victory in the very same race the year before. Though now driven by Kurt Adolff, the car was back and certainly not worth overlooking.
Seemingly perfectly suited to the Nordschleife, the Ferrari 500 would power Adolff to the pole with a time of ten minutes and forty-four seconds. The rest of the four-wide front row would include Paul Frere in his HWM-Alta, Hans Klenk in 3rd with his own evolution of the Veritas Meteor chassis and Stirling Moss driving for Cooper Car Company. Wacker's best time would put him a little further back in the starting field but still a good start considering his inexperience in the car and with the circuit.
At the start of the race, de Graffenried would get the best start of anybody on the grid and would have the lead, despite starting from the third row. Adolff slotted into 2nd place and became intent on giving chase to the Maserati of de Graffenried. The chase would last just two laps. Pushing to keep pace with de Graffenried, Adolff would step off the circuit and would lose a lot of time to de Graffenried and some of the other competitors.
Adolff's error would be Paul Frere's gain. The Belgian, Frere, was certainly very familiar with the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, which bore many similarities to the Nordschleife just shorter. This enabled him to press de Graffenried. The pressure would, in turn, push de Graffenried to go faster. Emmanuel would end up setting the fastest lap of the race and would continue to barely hold Frere off.
Despite the increase in pace, Wacker maintained touch and continued to run near the top ten. His position would be further helped by the retirements of some faster competitors. There would be other competitors that would continue running in the race but just could not keep up with the pace. The nimble handling of the Gordini chassis was helping Wacker put together a confident drive. As long as the car would stay together in one piece, Wacker had a good chance at a good result.
Heading around on the final lap of the race, the battle at the front remained tight. Considering the circuit was over 14 miles in length, two cars separated by less than two seconds would have been like millimeters between cars at other circuits. Paul Frere had the advantage through the more twisty sections of the circuit. But then, de Graffenried would gain the upper hand along the long straight that led to the start/finish line. And coming around on the last lap of the race, de Graffenried would use the power of his Maserati and the long final straight to his advantage. Powering down the long straight, de Graffenried would pull out a little margin. Going through the final couple of corners, Frere would claw some of the advantage back, but it wouldn't be enough. The Baron de Graffenried would go on to take the victory by less than two seconds over Frere. Peter Collins, driving another HWM-Alta, would be only fifteen seconds behind in 3rd place. Fred Wacker would fight hard. Thankfully for him and the team, the car stayed together throughout the 7 laps and helped Wacker power home to a 9th place finish. Although he would end up eight minutes behind, he would still remain on the lead lap with de Graffenried, which was a good result.
Though not a top five or better, this was still a good result after Trintignant's victory at Chimay. Fragility had been a huge problem for the team so to have two races in a row where the team's car earned a good result was certainly good news and a confidence builder.
While Wacker was battling it out in Germany, Trintignant, Schell and Mieres were preparing to battle it out in Albi, France. The 15th Grand Prix de l'Albigeois would certainly be different than the Eifelrennen. The race consisted of two, 10 lap heat races and an 18 lap final. The two heat races would be divided up by formula. The Formula 2 cars would all race together in the first heat and the Formula One cars would battle it out in the second. The final race would then be a race grouping the two formulas together.
The circuit in which the race would take place was the perfect playground for the Formula One cars. Measuring 5.55 miles in length, the Albi circuit was essentially a big triangle. Upon making the ninety-degree turn at St. Antoine, the run down to St. Juery featured nothing but high-speed esses. The road, which was a main road through some residential areas, snaked its way along the river Tarn until reaching the hairpin turn in the small village of St. Juery. All along the drive to the hairpin drivers are greeted with left and right bends of which neither are the same. This made the circuit a technically challenging circuit in order to have a quick time. Once past St. Juery, in order to have a quick time, drivers needed a powerful engine and strong brakes. After some rather easy flicks out of St. Juery the road turns into a straight blast down to the Montplaisir hairpin. After the Montplaisir hairpin there is another rather straight blast down to the final corner. Slowed by the esses in the first part of the circuit, the Formula One cars would still manage to touch average speeds in excess of 115 mph over the course of a lap.
In the Formula 2 heat, Roberto Mieres and Harry Schell would drive their Gordini T16s. Louis Rosier would enter his own Ferrari 500 and seemed to be the one to beat. However, in practice Elie Bayol would use the power of his OSCA 20 to turn the fastest lap and would earn the pole. Schell would show his speed in the T16 as he would end up setting the second-fastest time. Amazingly though, his time would end up being two and a half seconds slower than Bayol's best effort. The front row would be concluded with Louisi Rosier in his Ferrari. He was beaten out by Schell by only six-tenths of a second. Mieres would start over his teammate's right shoulder in the second row of the grid. His time of three minutes and thirteen seconds would be good enough for 4th.
The first heat field would roar away. Louis Rosier was obviously quite fast but Bayol was right there in his OSCA. Peter Whitehead also made a good start and was right up there amidst the front-runners. Mieres slotted into a comfortable position and looked for opportunities to move up.
Rosier had the lead of the race and was slowly beginning to draw away. He would end up leaving Schell in the dust as Harry would run foul of an ignition problem and would retire with two laps remaining in the race. Bayol was giving chase to Rosier but wasn't turning the pace he had been in practice. This left him some distance behind in 2nd.
One driver on the pace and looking very impressive was Mieres. Over the course of the 10 laps, Mieres would end up turning the fastest lap of the race and was all over the back of Peter Whitehead throughout the remaining couple of laps. Whitehead had the position and would; unfortunately, hold tough.
Coming to the line, Rosier would claim the victory by almost twenty-five seconds over Bayol. Twenty-eight seconds would separate Bayol and Whitehead in 3rd. Only a little over a second would separate Whitehead in 3rd and Mieres in 4th. This was a good result for the team and would certainly help with starting position in the final.
Next up after the Formula 2 heat would be the Formula One heat. Equipe Gordini had one entry in the Formula One category. Maurice Trintignant would be all by himself battling the likes of Juan Manuel Fangio and Ken Wharton in the BRM P15 and Alberto Ascari and Giuseppe Farina driving the Ferrari 375. Trintignant wouldn't be unarmed though. He would enter the heat with a new T16 with a 2.5-liter, 6-cylinder engine. This was in preparation for the new Formula One rules coming the next season.
Known to be all go or none at all, Fangio would take the BRM P15 and would earn the pole with the big 16-cylinder car. His average speed over the course of the lap was in excess of 115 mph and would end up being almost three seconds faster than Alberto Ascari's time in the 375. Jose Froilan Gonzalez, driving another BRM P15, would take 3rd and the final starting spot on the front row. Trintignant, driving practically the same car as he would in a Formula 2 race, would struggle in pace. He would end up thirteen seconds slower and would end up starting the race from the third row of the grid in the 11th position.
Most surprising, it would be the Ferrari 375s of Scuderia Ferrari that would fail. The first out of the race would be Ascari. His gearbox would suffer a failure and he would retire from the race after just three laps. It was the BRM P15 that was known for engine failure. However, two laps after Ascari's troubles, Farina's engine would let go. This meant two of the favorites were out.
Juan Manuel Fangio would take advantage of Ferrari's loss and would turn in the fastest lap of the race to ensure his escape from the rest of the field. He would be chased by Wharton who had followed Fangio at the start of the race, and therefore, had made up some positions right at the start. Trintignant was also looking quite fast and was within seconds of Rosier in his own Ferrari 375.
Fangio would cruise to victory by almost ten seconds over Wharton. Rosier would make it one Ferrari 375 to finish the Formula One heat when he finished in 3rd place. He would be chased by Trintignant who would end up less than four seconds behind in 4th place. In both heats Equipe Gordini had cars finish 4th. This wasn't all that bad heading into the 18 lap final.
The grid for the final was divided up equally among the two formulas. The first four positions on the starting grid would go to the first-four finishers in the Formula One race. Therefore, Fangio would sit on the pole with Wharton and Rosier joining him on the front row. Trintignant would start from 4th place, which was the first position on the second row. Rosier had decided to abandon his Formula 2 effort in favor of his Formula One result. This meant Bayol would take the first position in the starting field. It also meant Mieres moved up as well. Instead of starting 8th and from the outside of the third row, Mieres would start in the middle of the third row in 7th place.
About the time Wacker was coming through to finish in 9th place in the Eifelrennen, Trintignant and Mieres were just beginning their fight in the final round of the Grand Prix de l'Albigeois.
Bayol had given it everything he had during the Formula 2 race. It seemed, at the start of the final, his clutch had certainly given all that it had as he would end up retiring from the race after just two laps because of clutch failure. Just about seven laps later, the brakes on Fangio's car had come to their end as well. He would be out of the race just at halfway. Two laps later, Wharton would reduce BRMs chances even more when he would crash out of the running. This left just Gonzalez to fight it out with Rosier.
Rosier had earned the better starting position and would use it to his advantage by pulling out a rather large margin over Gonzalez. Trintignant was still looking in great shape but just could not hold back the pace of Gonzalez's BRM. Mieres had managed to get around Peter Whitehead, and with Bayol's retirement, was the best Formula 2 car in the running. In the running order it was Equipe Gordini running nose-to-tail even though it wasn't actually that way out on the circuit.
Rosier had an advantage Gonzalez just couldn't overcome. Averaging over 105 mph, Rosier would maintain the Ferrari 375's winning streak in Formula One races as he would take the victory by more than thirty seconds over Gonzalez. Trintignant would lead home what would end up being a great day for Equipe Gordini. Trintignant would finish the race, despite driving basically a Formula 2 car, in 3rd place. Following one lap behind in 4th place would be Roberto Mieres in the second Equipe Gordini.
This was an amazing result for the team! Both of its cars had finished the race and had finished well. All of a sudden, it seemed the Equipe Gordini team had found the reliability issues that had plagued the T16. Instead of pulling out the great result almost as the result of a fluke, the team seemed like the team that battled it out with Ferrari in the early part of 1952. This was a great confidence builder and was great in its timing as the third round of the World Championship was right around the corner.
One week after the great results in Germany and France, the Equipe Gordini team would be back together and headed toward the Netherlands for the third round of the World Championship. The race was the Dutch Grand Prix and it would be held on the dunes at the Zandvoort circuit.
Although Zandvoort would host a race on its city streets prior to the outbreak of World War II, the circuit park wouldn't be built until after the end of the war. Built upon the dunes overlooking the North Sea, the 2.64 mile circuit would become a favorite with drivers because of its high-speed nature. The circuit wasn't one with a high average speed but it did present drivers with some really challenging high-speed corners that put the car right on the edge each and every time. A couple sections of the circuit would become truly synonymous with Zandvoort. The first turn, the banked 'Tarzan' corner presented great overtaking opportunities while Tunnel Oost featured a crest in which cars regularly went light. Tunnel Oost seemed like a straight-forward quick right-hand flick but it was a section that required great courage each and every time.
In 1950, Zandvoort would host what would be called the Dutch Grand Prix for the first time. It would become a popular non-championship race. But then, in 1952, the Dutch Grand Prix would be placed on the World Championship schedule for the first time and Zandvoort would be the site for the race. 1953 would be the second year in which the Dutch Grand Prix would be included in the World Championship. However, there would be changes. In 1952, the Dutch Grand Prix would be the second-to-last race on the calendar. In 1953, it would move up to early June and become the third round.
Back together, Equipe Gordini would come to Zandvoort with four cars. They would be piloted by Trintignant, Schell, Mieres and Wacker. During practice; however, the team's number of cars would be reduced by one. Schell would have engine troubles in his Gordini T16. Therefore, Wacker's first World Championship race was not to be as the other American-born driver would end up getting his engine.
It would end up being a good thing that Schell would get Wacker's engine as he would end up being the highest positioned Gordini driver at the end of practice. Schell would start behind a gaggle of Ferraris and Maseratis in the fourth row of the grid. He would start alongside Stirling Moss in 10th place. Trintignant would start in the row behind Schell in the 12th starting position. Equipe Gordini's third, and final, entry would end up having a very difficult time of things in practice. Therefore, Mieres would start the field in his own row dead-last.
Starting on pole for the 90 lap race would be Alberto Ascari. He would lead what would be World Champion's row as Fangio would start 2nd and Farina would start 3rd. The entire front row consisted of World Champions from each of the World Championship's first years of existence. And Ascari's time was certainly fitting of a World Champion. At one minute and fifty-one seconds, his time would be up being almost ten seconds faster than Schell's best. Despite Schell's best efforts, the Gordini crew were almost ten seconds off the pace. This did not bode well going into the race.
On a beautiful sunny day the Dutch Grand Prix got underway with a cloud of tire smoke and blowing sand. Though a beautiful day, the conditions were not all that beautiful to deal with. The winds blowing in from the North Sea and strewn sand all over the circuit making handling very difficult.
In the tough conditions, the Ferrari pilots, especially Ascari, seemed more in control than either of the Maserati drivers. In fact, out of the top five going into the first turn, four would be Ferraris. Villoresi would actually lead the way into the first corner but Ascari would quickly take over and actually would lead the first lap.
After a couple of races in a row where their cars earned good results, Equipe Gordini's drivers were dealing with rather poor starting spots, but were doing their best to move forward. Schell, who had started the race 10th, would end up 8th going into the first turn. Trintignant wasn't too far back and he would come into the corner right around 10th or 11th. Mieres had actually gotten a good start as well and would not be the last car to go through the first turn.
Although Ascari had the lead of the race, Villoresi was looking quite fast and wouldn't be all that easy to hold back. Giuseppe Farina was also looking really good in the third Ferrari. Fangio was desperately holding onto the leading Ferraris but he had problems.
Much was made of the difficult conditions and the power handling of the Maserati, but it wouldn't be the sandy conditions that would cause the greatest of concerns. The Maserati A6SSG was a new car and still had reliability issues. One of the first out of the race would end up being Jose Froilan Gonzalez. The rear axle on his car would break after 22 laps. Just 14 laps later, Fangio would retire his car due to the same problem. This left Ferraris running in the first four spots.
Despite having a couple of good races with minimal problems, not all was well with the Equipe Gordini team. Roberto Mieres had made a good start considering he started the race dead-last. However, his effort would end up costing him far more than he wanted. After just 28 laps the transmission in his Gordini T16 would be gone and he would be forced to retire. Thankfully for the team it still had two cars in the running and running well.
That would all change a little past halfway into the race. Harry Schell had made the best start of any of the Equipe Gordini team members. He was looking good and had moved up the running order with Gonzalez's and Fangio's troubles. However, he too would have transmission failure and would be forced to abandon what seemed to be a good result. Only Trintignant was left. It seemed quite apparent the reliability woes had returned to visit the team and at the worst possible moment.
Although Gonzalez had retired from a broken rear axle he was not out of the race. He would end up taking over Felice Bonetto's car and would be intent on taking the fight back to the Ferraris. The one unfortunate part about his proposed attack would be the fact that he was over a lap down to three of the Ferraris. Nonetheless, he would pick a battle with the one he could. Therefore, over the course of the last third of the race a spirited battle raged between Mike Hawthorn and Gonzalez.
Trintignant was running well inside the top ten but really needed help to move forward any more than where he had gotten to already. He would be helped out when Luigi Villoresi retired from the race due to throttle problems. His retirement would come within laps of his setting what would be the fastest lap of the race time.
Ascari would go on to lead every single one of the 90 laps. Averaging a little more than 80 mph, Ascari would go on to win the race by more than ten seconds over Giuseppe Farina. Farina, incidentally, was the last car on the lead lap. The battle between Hawthorn and Gonzalez would see the Argentinean getting the better of the Brit during the last few laps and Jose would come across the line in 3rd some twelve seconds ahead of Hawthorn.
Maurice Trintignant was the sole remaining car for Equipe Gordini. Once again, the planned French assault would come aground with very little of its weaponry making it through. Despite being all alone, Trintignant would put together an impressive performance and would miss the final points-paying position by one spot. Trintignant just could not catch de Graffenried for 5th place and would end up a lap further behind in 6th place. Overall, Maurice ended the race three laps behind Ascari.
As with the later part of the 1952 season, the World Championship defenses would end up being too strong for Equipe Gordini. Too few of its cars would make it through to the end to really make any kind of impression. Instead, almost every race had the appearance of something more akin to a salvage mission than an assault like that which Scuderia Ferrari seemed able to do each and every race. The World Championship season was just beginning to kick off, the Gordini team would need to do the best it could to join back up and attack once again.
Two weeks would pass between rounds of the World Championship. Then, towards the end of June, the team would make its way to Belgium and the long Spa-Francorchamps circuit for the Grand Prix of Belgium.
The season before, Equipe Gordini cars would start the race from 4th and 5th place on the starting grid. In 1953, the road would be found to be much tougher going with the presence of a strong Maserati team, as well as, Scuderia Ferrari.
As practice would unfold it would become clear that a number of teams, including Ferrari, would struggle against the presence of Maserati. The new A6SSG was capable of producing more than 190 hp and along the long high-speed Spa circuit, the horsepower would come into play. In the hands of Fangio, the horsepower advantage of the Maserati enabled the Argentinean to pull out a lap of four minutes and thirty seconds. This would end up being two seconds faster than Alberto Ascari's best effort in the Ferrari. Spa would also see Maseratis dominating the front row as Jose Froilan Gonzalez would start the race from 3rd.
Equipe Gordini would arrive at Spa with yet another driver lineup. Maurice Trintignant and Harry Schell were still behind the wheel. Because of there not being any problems, Fred Wacker Jr. would get his first opportunity to take part in a World Championship race as well. All of these drivers had been present at the last round of the World Championship. The change would come with the fourth car. Instead of Mieres, Jean Behra would be back driving for the team. Behra had qualified at Spa well the year before. He actually would lead a lap until an accident in the rain would bring his effort to an end.
All four Gordini drivers would look impressive in practice. Though fifteen seconds or so off the pace of Fangio's effort, Trintignant would start the race 8th and on the outside of the three-wide third row. Twenty seconds or so would separate Fangio from Schell's best time. However, he would start the race from the middle of the fifth row, which was 12th overall. In the next row behind Schell there would be nothing but Gordini pilots. Jean Behra, showing to be a little rusty, would be four seconds slower than Schell but would start in the sixth row 14th overall. Wacker would end up being six seconds slower than Behra but would be able to start right beside him in 15th.
Sunshine and warm temperatures would break over the track the day of the race. A large crowd of spectators would line the 8.77 mile circuit. Located in the heart of the Ardennes forest, Spa provided drivers and spectators with some incredible racing. Similar to the Nurburgring, the Spa circuit would rise and fall with the hilly terrain providing some truly magnificent racing and very brave corners. The climb up through Eau Rouge would become one of the most iconic set of corners in all of the World Championship. Incredibly fast, the circuit would reward the fastest and the bravest drivers. But the circuit wasn't all brawn. One of the more challenging technical tracks in the world, the blind, fast corners required precision as well as courage.
Spa was a circuit that seemed perfectly suited to the 'Maestro'. Fangio was known for his technical mastery, but also, for his speed. And in the case of the 1953 Belgian Grand Prix, he knew he had the car. As long as the car lasted he would not have an equal on the track. Filled with such confidence, Fangio would actually wave his fellow countryman and teammate, Gonzalez, through at the start of the race. The two would lead the field and would quickly begin to pull away.
Gonzalez's pace at the front was torrid. By the second lap of the race he would already set what was to become the fastest lap of the race. He would match the time on the very next lap, as well as, on laps 9 and 11. This pace was too much for a number of competitors. Unfortunately, that would include the 'ringer' Gordini thought they had by bringing Behra back. Instead, his car's head gasket would blow after just 9 laps. He would join Peter Collins, Georges Berger and Arthur Legat out of the race. Not too surprising, Gonzalez's pace would end up being too tough for even his own car. Almost immediately after matching his fastest lap time, his accelerator pedal would stick. He would end up having his engine expire on him thereby ending an incredible run at the front.
At the time of Gonzalez's departure from the race he had built up a lead of a minute over Fangio. Fangio would take over the lead with an advantage of over thirty seconds himself. Even this would prove to be too much for the new chassis as he would have his engine let go on him just two laps after Gonzalez had retired from the race. Therefore, despite the confidence and the extra horsepower, the fastest car was out of the race. This handed the lead of the race to Ascari who would accept it gladly.
Although Behra had his race come to an end early, Equipe Gordini's three other cars continued to carry on without incident. This was a marked contrast to the race just two weeks prior. There, only one car would be left. This time it seemed just one car would retire early. With the retirements of Gonzalez and Fangio, Wacker and Schell were running around the top ten and even better. Trintignant was looking even better. Despite some disadvantages he had his Gordini right up there and was battling with Mike Hawthorn. A surprising points-paying position was within sight, but there was a threat coming up quickly from behind.
Fangio had taken over Johnny Claes' Maserati and was quickly making up lost ground. Very soon, he was back inside the top five and was trying to hunt down the Ferraris at the front. It seemed Fangio's second chance was going to ruin Trintignant's chances at some points. However, Fangio would make a rare mistake. All throughout the remaining laps, Fangio had been right on the limit. On the last lap of the race he would overstep the limit. He would go off the circuit and would brake the steering in his car. Just like that, his valiant effort had come to an end and just a few miles from the finish. Fangio's second departure meant Trintignant had a chance at some points if he could just beat Hawthorn to the line.
Ascari would lead the final 23 of 36 laps to win his third race of the season. He would end up winning by more than two minutes and forty-five seconds over Luigi Villoresi. Fangio's accident on the last lap would end up promoting Onofre Marimon to 3rd place. After de Graffenried finished the race 4th, the battle was on for 5th and the final points-paying position. Coming around La Source hairpin, Trintignant had position. He would step on the T16 and the car would accelerate toward the line with Hawthorn right there trying to take the position back. However, Trintignant would end up crossing the line ahead of the Ferrari pilot. Despite all of the struggles, Trintignant had brought Equipe Gordini back into the points. For his effort, Maurice would earn 2 championship points. But the good news for the team wasn't over with just yet.
Though three laps down at the finish, Schell would take his T16 and would finish the race in 7th place. Then, in 9th place, came Wacker. All of a sudden, a team which struggled just to get three cars to finish a race would have all three finish inside the top ten.
Gordini's pilots had been brave around the Spa circuit and each was rewarded with a good result. Confidence was running higher than it had been in a long time. All of a sudden, what had seemed to be prophetic words by Manzon seemed now to be heresy. Though helped by Maserati's struggles, the team had three out of four of its cars right there in the hunt at the end. This is what the team needed. Suddenly, the team looked forward to the next race with confidence.
The team's next race would be another non-championship race. In 1952, Rouen-les-Essarts would come to host the French Grand Prix for the first time. In 1953; however, Rouen would lose the French Grand Prix back to Reims, and instead, would host the 3rd Grand Prix de Rouen-les-Essarts on the 28th of June, just one week after the Belgian Grand Prix.
Travel to Rouen from Spa was a simple matter. Just 280 miles, or about four hours driving time, away from Spa, Rouen was an easy trip for the teams to make. Leaving the Ardennes forest for the Foret du Rouvray, Rouen was another public road course that would host grand prix racing. Situated in hilly country cut by the winding Seine river, the Rouen circuit boasted of some undulating terrain and some blind fast corners that made the circuit challenging and a favorite with teams and drivers.
One interesting part of the Grand Prix de Rouen-les-Essarts was the fact that Formula One cars were allowed to enter the race. By this point in time, the new regulations concerning Formula One starting in 1954 had become known. Ferrari would take their highly successful Ferrari 500 and would modify it by putting in it a larger 2.5-liter 625 engine. Therefore, Ferrari would bring their Ferrari 625 to the race. Louis Rosier would turn to his older Ferrari 375 and would bring it to the race. In addition to Ferrari's new Formula One car and Rosier's Ferrari 375, there would be a decent number of aged Talbot-Lago T26C chassis that would also be entered in the race as well.
Equipe Gordini would come to the race with just three cars this time. Jean Behra was back behind the wheel of a T16 again and would join Maurice Trintignant and Harry Schell. And although they would be taking their T16s up against new and old Formula One machines, the team would fare well in practice.
Giuseppe Farina would end up being fastest in the new Ferrari 625. He would end up being a little over a second faster than his Ferrari teammate Hawthorn in the second Ferrari 625. Although Ferrari had the first two spots on the grid, they wouldn't leave the rest of the field way behind. Maurice Trintignant would put together an impressive qualifying lap in practice. His time of two minutes and thirteen seconds would only be two-tenths of a second slower than Hawthorn's time. Therefore, Trintignant would start the race from the front row with Farina and Hawthorn.
The twisty nature of the circuit would also play into Behra's hands as well. Using the 6-cylinder engine and small chassis to his advantage, he would set a time that would be five seconds slower than Trintignant's but only about three seconds slower than Rosier in a Ferrari 375. Therefore, Behra would start the 60 lap race from 5th place on the second row. The entire Equipe Gordini team would line up off of each other's right shoulder. Schell would end up 7th place on the starting grid and in the middle of the third row. All said, the Gordini team looked as threatening as ever. It appeared like the French Grand Prix of 1952 when the team lined up 4th through 6th.
Trouble would come to the field right from the very start. Elie Bayol would have trouble with his gearbox and wouldn't even really get moving as the race began. He would be joined 4 laps later by Yves Giraud-Cabantous in his T26C. He too would suffer from transmission trouble and would be out of the race.
Up front, it was still all Scuderia Ferrari. Farina held the lead but had a hard-charging Hawthorn right up his backside. Hawthorn was proving to be fast in the new Ferrari. So much so that he would go on to set the fastest lap of the race with a time better than his own qualifying effort.
Trintignant and Schell were doing well giving chase, but were obviously losing ground. Nonetheless, the two cars continued to run around the top five. Behra was also right in there until trouble would come looking for him again.
Nineteen laps into the race, the steering on Behra's car would break. This ended the Frenchman's race. It was truly a bitter disappointment after he had started the race so well. The disappointment for the team would unfortunately keep coming. Trintignant was looking good. However, the T16's old Achilles heal showed up once again. The rear axle would break at halfway thereby ending another Equipe Gordini pilot's day. This left just Schell.
The battle between Farina and Hawthorn would pass into the distance. Philippe Etancelin, driving his old Talbot-Lago T26C would end up a number of laps down running in 3rd place, but he would manage to pull away himself from Schell following in his Gordini T16.
Farina and Hawthorn was the closest battle on the track coming down to the very last lap. Less than one and a half seconds would separate the two at the finish line. Giuseppe Farina would manage to hold off the younger Hawthorn to take the victory by just over a second. Three laps behind Farina and Hawthorn, Etancelin would cross the line to finish 3rd. Almost thirty seconds later Schell would cross the line to finish the race 4th.
This was yet another good result for the Equipe Gordini team. But still, it was a rather disappointing race for the team after it had three cars start the race inside the top seven. Reliability issues would again ruin the team's potential. The team didn't have its issues sorted. Each and every race would be anxiety-ridden as the team would hope for a good result. And having anxiety going into rounds of the World Championship would not exactly inspire the necessary confidence needed to battle Ferrari and Maserati
One week after the grand prix race at Rouen-les-Essarts, Equipe Gordini and the rest of the teams taking part in the fifth round of the World Championship would head back east to Reims, France for what was the French Grand Prix held on the 5th of July.
After a year of the French Grand Prix being held at Rouen-les-Essarts, it was back at Reims for the 1953 edition. The race and the teams would end up arriving at a new Reims circuit. Though it was changed for the non-championship Grand Prix of the Marne in 1952, it would undergo yet another change for the '53 season.
Located in the rolling countryside to the west of Reims, and just east of the small village of Gueux, the relatively flat terrain and incredibly straight roads made for one fast circuit. Abandoning the hairpin turn in downtown Gueux, the sweeping right-hander known as Courbe de Gueux would, in 1953, then lead to a slightly longer straight and then would quickly turn right around Annie Bousquet. However, the real action on the new layout would come between the Muizon hairpin and the start/finish straight. The new circuit featured a longer straight before reaching the tight Thillois hairpin. Then once through the last hairpin it was the familiar long blast down the undulating start/finish straight.
At Spa, the Ferraris were blown out by the speed of the Maserati A6SSG. To combat the speed difference, the cooling of the Ferrari 500 would be altered slightly. The changes would become very evident during practice. Alberto Ascari would be back on top in the time sheets. His best lap around the 5.19 mile circuit would be two minutes and forty-one seconds. His time would end up being faster than the fastest Maserati driver, Felice Bonetto, by three-tenths of a second. At Spa, the Maserati team managed to outnumber Ferrari on the front row. At Reims, it would be turned around. Felice Bonetto would be by himself on the front row as Luigi Villoresi would round-out the front row with a time just seven-tenths of a second slower than Ascari. A little over a second would separate the first five starters on the grid. This would be an indicator as to how the race would be.
The French Grand Prix, being the home race for the French teams, would see Equipe Gordini pull out its four cars for the race. The usual drivers would be behind the wheel. However, Robeto Mieres would again join Trintignant, Behra and Schell.
There certainly was a case of class warfare at the French Grand Prix. The only cars to occupy the first eleven places on the starting grid would be either Ferraris or Maseratis. All of the other makes would fill in places twelve through twenty-five. Neither of the Gordini drivers, not even Trintignant, were on the same level of performance as most all of the rest of the field. Schell would end up being the best starter amongst the team. He would start the race 20th overall and all the way down in the eighth row. Trintignant and Behra would occupy places on the ninth row. And as with the Dutch Grand Prix, Mieres would find himself starting the race from the last row on the grid. However, he would not start dead-last, just next to it.
A large crowd would gather to witness what would become considered one of the greatest races in history. The day was sunny and very warm, but the action would make things unbearably hot. Unfortunately for many of the French drivers and teams present they would be left out of what would most definitely become a race amongst just one half of the field.
It would all start with Gonzalez streaking into the lead with half full fuel tanks. Fangio would make a poor start and would be fighting hard to get back up with the front runners. Behind Gonzalez, Ascari, Bonetto, Villoresi and Hawthorn followed.
Almost from the moment of completion of the very first lap it was abundantly clear that half of the field was already out of the running. Two Equipe Gordini drivers wouldn't help that thought. Both Schell and Mieres would manage to fall out of the race after just 4 laps when a connecting rod would break on Schell's car and the rear axle would again brake on the T16 driven by Mieres. Before 5 laps had been completed, the Gordini team was already half-strength. It mattered very little.
Gonzalez continued to lead the race and would increase his advantage over the rest of the field. The Ferraris of Ascari, Villoresi, and Hawthorn were running almost line-abreast behind Gonzalez. Bonetto, Fangio and Farina were there right behind the flying Ferraris. Even the other Argentinean driver, Onofre Marimon, was amongst the battling Maseratis and Ferraris. Lap after lap the drivers would duel with each other. Wheel-to-wheel, and sometimes, wheel inside wheel these incredibly talented drivers would push each other, never giving an inch down the straights and even around the fast corners.
Trintignant had looked so competitive in other races. But this day, it seemed he was out on the circuit driving a lower formula car. Many times lapping the circuit all alone, his race would also come to an end well before even the halfway mark. Just 14 laps into the race, the transmission in Trintignant's car would fail him leaving him out of the race. He could then join the rest of the crowd watching the incredible spectacle going on at the front of the field.
In an amazing display of confidence, trust and car control, the best drivers in the world had battled each other from the very start and were no more than inches from each other throughout. Then, halfway through the race, this already exiting event would become truly mesmerizing.
Gonzalez needed to stop to refuel. Though a short pitstop, Gonzalez would drop well down the order. Fangio would take over the lead of the race but Ascari, Farina, Hawthorn, Marimon and Villoresi were still so close that either one could have had the lead at any given corner. As the race wore on, the pace would pick up. Soon, Fangio and the young Mike Hawthorn would stand out amongst the pack. But mere seconds covered the top five. The driving display was absolutely incredible to witness. The crowd became more and more excited with every lap. The pace and the tight battles would not be lost on the competitors either. After over fifty laps of battling wheel-to-wheel, Villoresi would back off slightly. He knew he could do no better and was under no threat from behind. Conceding his place in the fight, Villoresi would be seen shaking his head and pointing at his fellow drivers obviously making light of the fact that he too knew how incredible the action had been for over two hours.
Coming into the final couple of laps, Hawthorn and Fangio were locked in an incredible battle that would see them power down the start/finish straight side by side looking at each other. Coming up fast behind them was Gonzalez. Another second or so behind Gonzalez was Ascari. By this time, the commentators were practically screaming with excitement, which made the crowd yell and scream all the more. Jean Behra was the only Equipe Gordini car still running out on the circuit, and he, like most other competitors, was well out of the running. By the time there were only 5 laps remaining in the race he was already five laps behind the leaders. He, like many others, would end up slowing when the front-runners would come through, for he too wanted to watch the amazing display of driving that everyone else was witnessing.
All through the last few laps Fangio and Hawthorn would battle side-by-side. Often, heading down the long straights, they would either run right alongside each other or slipstream each other many times. It was truly an amazing display of competitiveness and car control.
The two would battle side-by-side all the way to the line. Hawthorn had managed to gain the lead with one lap remaining but Fangio and he would go through many corners still fighting it out for control. Gonzalez sat right behind the two looking to take advantage of any misstep. Coming out of Muizon hairpin for the final time, Fangio pulled even with Hawthorn coming down the long straight heading to Thillois hairpin. The crowd, because of the undulating terrain, could see Thillois off in the distance. They would witness Fangio trying desperately to get by. He would brake late, too late, into the final corner. This allowed Hawthorn to escape somewhat. It also allowed Gonzalez to come up and challenge for 2nd. At the line, it would be Hawthorn by just one second. Only four-tenths of a second would separate Fangio and Gonzalez. Gonzalez's front wheels were even with Fangio's rear end at the line. Alberto Ascari would end up finishing the race 4th only a little more than three seconds behind.
Amidst the cheering and frenzied crowd, Jean Behra would bring his T16 across the line a very quiet 10th. He was the only one of four Gordini's to have made it to the end of the 60 laps. Thankfully for the team, almost all of the French spectators barely noticed the team's destruction amidst the truly incredible spectacle they had witnessed for almost three hours. Unfortunately, the team knew very well what had happened, and they wouldn't leave Reims in as cheerful a mood as most everyone else that had either seen or been a part of one of the greatest races of the century.
Heading into the sixth round of the World Championship, the British Grand Prix, many who had heard of the incredible race at Reims were certainly looking and hoping for the same kind of action at Silverstone, especially since it was the Brit, Mike Hawthorn which had pulled out the victory. However, not everyone wanted a repeat of such action. Equipe Gordini was certainly one of those that didn't want to see a repeat of Reims. This was due to the fact they were irrelevant to its proceedings.
The Equipe Gordini team would pack up three of its cars and would head across the English Channel to England and Silverstone for the British Grand Prix on the 18th of July. The team's driver trio would be the usual: Trintignant, Behra and Schell.
Silverstone would be certainly a different setting than the last two rounds of the World Championship. At 2.88 miles it would be quite a bit shorter. The average speeds were also around 20 mph less and the circuit was a closed road course on a wide open former airbase. This would serve to neutralize some of the speed of the Maseratis and Ferraris, but it wouldn't stop them from dominating practice.
Ferrari and Maserati would each have two cars on the front row of the grid. Ascari would be on pole. Jose Froilan Gonzalez, who had earned Ferrari their first World Championship victory at the British Grand Prix in 1951, would start beside Ascari in 2nd. Hawthorn delighted the British fans with a 3rd place starting position. And Juan Manuel Fangio rounded-out the front row with a 4th place starting position.
Showing that the speed had been neutralized to some degree, Trintignant would end up starting the 90 lap race from the third row of the grid in the 8th starting position. Harry Schell would start right beside Trintignant in the third row in the 9th spot. Jean Behra would continue to show inconsistency as he would only manage a lap time fast enough to start from the seventh row, the 22nd starting position.
In usual England fashion, the race would begin under overcast skies, but it would rain as the event wore on. Fangio would get the jump at the start and would lead headed into the first turn. Uncharacteristically, Fangio would make yet another mistake and would go into the first turn too fast to hold position. This error would allow Ascari to come through into the lead. Fangio would slot back in behind Ascari and would give chase. He would end up giving chase throughout the whole of the race.
The reliability issues were back for Equipe Gordini. Three out of the four cars would fail to finish the French Grand Prix. At the British Grand Prix, Harry Schell' race would last all of 5 laps. Magneto problems would bring his race to an end. Though of little consolation, Schell wouldn't be alone.
Usually in wet conditions drivers took it easier and it would be the wet conditions that would cause the attrition throughout the field. However, at the 1953 British Grand Prix, mechanical failures seemed to be everywhere. Tony Crook and Ken McAlpine would be out of the race before having completed a single lap. After Schell, Bob Gerard would retire due to a broken oil pipe. Just about every five laps would see another competitor drop out of the race. This would cause nothing but anxiety for the Equipe Gordini team. And they would have reason to be concerned. Schell had already departed the race. Fifteen laps into the even Trintignant would be out because of yet another rear axle failure on the T16. This left just Behra still running.
Meanwhile, Ascari continued to lead the race and seemed never to have to worry about mechanical failures as he would go on to set the fastest lap of the race. Gonzalez would later match this time until he would run foul of a problem that caused him to trail oil behind him. At the time he had been black-flagged, Gonzalez had been in 2nd. He had gained 2nd due to Mike Hawthorn spinning his Ferrari in the wet conditions right on the front stretch in front of many of the British fans.
Not even halfway through the race, Equipe Gordini would receive their final blow. Just after 30 laps into the race, the fuel pump of Behra's T16 would fail. This would lead to his retirement from the race, and it was the end of the team's efforts in the British Grand Prix.
The retirements of the Equipe Gordini team would be just three of seventeen that would end up out of the race. A number of Connaughts would suffer from mechanical ailments. Equipe Gordini wouldn't be the only team to completely fall out of the running. HWM-Alta would end up losing four cars of their own. The attrition was difficult. Even Ferrari and Maserati would run into trouble before the end. Onofre Marimon would retire with a blown engine and Luigi Villoresi would have his rear axle break on his Ferrari.
But one driver suffering from no ailments would be Ascari. The last half of the race would be rather boring were it not for all of the retirements. Ascari had the lead and was far enough out in front that many of the front runners had to start looking for him behind themselves instead of out front. Fangio was also having a good day but just could not keep touch with Ascari.
Coming around on the final couple of laps, Ascari would pass Giuseppe Farina to put his fellow Ferrari teammate a lap down. This left just Fangio on the lead lap with him. Ascari had led every single lap of the race and would come around Woodcote for the final time to take the victory. Exactly one minute would separate Ascari from Fangio in 2nd place. Farina would actually cross the line ahead of Fangio because he had just gotten lapped by Ascari. Nonetheless, Farina would finish the race 3rd.
The British Grand Prix was an incredible disappointment for Equipe Gordini. All kinds of trouble continued to befall the team. It was as if the car just looked for an excuse to quit. The team had struggled many times throughout the year, even the year before, but the 18th of July was the team's lowest point of the season. One question remained, however: 'How long would it last?'
Equipe Gordini headed back to the continent as quickly as possible. They would look for answers to their ailments at a place known for being a place of rest and relaxation; a place to recuperate and heal. The team would take part in the 5th Circuit du Lac in Aix-les-Bains on the 26th of July.
Situated on the eastern shores of Lake Bourget, Aix-les-Bains' proximity to Switzerland and Italy made the small town a popular tourist spot. When the grand prix races would come large international crowds usually arrived in large numbers. Originally the site of a Roman bath, Aix-les-Bains remains a place for a bit of a respite. The tranquil sites of the dark lake and the foothills of the Alps rising above cause the feeling of conducting life no louder than a whisper. However, the calm and tranquility would give way to the sound of loud grand prix engines echoing throughout the valley.
The Circuit du Lac track was a public road course utilizing the streets around the town. This gave the circuit a tight and twisty feel. Consisting of no real straight to speak of, the tight nature and feel of the track was made so by the rising foothills and the closeness to the lake. By no means a place concerned with top speed, acceleration and handling were the important pieces to the puzzle of Circuit du Lac.
The circuit suited the Gordini T16. Looking to take full advantage of the circuit's suitableness to the Gordini chassis, the team would bring three cars to the race. They would be driven by the team's three main drivers: Trintignant, Behra and Schell.
The race consisted of two heat races and aggregate scoring. In practice before the first 50 lap heat race, Schell would prove just how suited to the circuit the T16 truly was. Schell would lap the 1.49 mile circuit in one minute and twenty seconds and would earn the pole for the first heat. Schell had managed to beat out Onofre Marimon, driving a Maserati A6GCM, by three-tenths of a second. Trintignant would make it two Equipe Gordini cars on the front row as he would end up third-fastest in practice. The competition was tough. And while Behra would post a rather fast lap, he would end up only earning a third row starting position. Overall, he would start the race 6th. This put three Equipe Gordini cars inside the top six on the starting grid. The problem the team had; however, was not its lack of speed, but of reliability. This was the real concern heading into the race.
The race would start with Schell battling with Marimon, Trintignant, de Graffenried and Bayol. Jean Behra was attached to the back of the train and also looking fast. Right from the beginning, Schell laid down the gauntlet. He would go on to turn what would be the fastest lap of the heat with a time just three-tenths of a second slower than his own qualifying effort. This; unfortunately, would only put pressure on himself. Soon after the fastest lap time, Schell's car wouldn't be just right and he would be forced to back off.
Schell would be inclined to back off after all of the trouble that would happen at the front of the field. Emmanuel de Graffenried would be out of the race after just 5 laps due to an oil pump. Then, on the same lap, Trintignant and Marimon would drop out of the race. Trintignant would suffer a fire while Marimon crashed out. This seemed to slow everyone except Behra.
Looking like the Behra of old, he had come from 6th place on the grid to take the lead. He would take advantage of everyone else lifting off the gas to take the lead and actually draw away slightly. Schell had been one of those that had backed off. His car just wasn't firing correctly. This would cause him to not just slip back, but also, go laps down.
In spite of Trintignant and Schell's troubles, Behra was on target to give the team something to cheer about. In a little more than an hour and ten minutes, Behra would cross the finish line to take the victory in the first heat. Elie Bayol finished 2nd some twenty-three seconds behind. Louis Rosier would finish in 3rd about a minute behind. Schell would make it to the finish. He would end up finishing the heat a very disappointing 7th, four laps down.
Only nine cars would start the second, and final, 50 lap heat. Starting positions were determined by finishing order from the first heat. Therefore, Behra made it another Equipe Gordini driver on the pole. He hoped his turn on the pole would finish better than what Schell had experienced. Elie Bayol and Louis Rosier would now join Behra on the front row. Despite his troubles, Schell would start the final heat from the 7th place starting spot on the grid, which would be in the middle of the third row.
Emmanuel de Graffenried, despite being the first out of the first heat, would try and make it through the second heat. It wouldn't work. As he had been in the first heat, he would end up being the first out of the second heat too.
Behra was looking good up at the front of the field. Schell continued to run but still seemed to have troubles with the car. Elie Bayol was looking quite fast in the OSCA 20 and was providing a lot of pressure to Behra. Behra would end up responding with the fastest lap time of the second heat. His time would end up being the same as Harry Schell's qualifying effort before the start of the first heat. It seemed Behra couldn't be stopped. But yet again, the T16 would pull up lame.
Almost halfway through the race, the Achilles heal of the T16, the rear axle, would break thereby ending Behra's incredible run at the front. It would be made worse when, one lap later, Schell would retire his T16 with an ignition problem. For the second race in a row, Equipe Gordini had all of its cars fall out of a race.
What was Behra's loss would be Bayol's gain. Bayol would take over the lead of the race and would power his way to a convincing victory. Bayol would even manage to defeat Rosier in his Ferrari 500 by a margin of around a minute and a half. Bayol's pace had been such that only Rosier had managed to remain on the lead lap with Elie. Lance Macklin, who would finish the race 3rd, wouldn't just be one, but two, laps down at the finish.
In the final results, Bayol would win the event by more than two minutes over Rosier. Macklin would finish the event four laps down in 3rd place. In the case of Equipe Gordini, their low point agonizingly continued for yet another race. The most terrible aspect to the struggles was the fact it was only the middle of the season. There were still a number of races in which to compete. While it seemed the team was getting better, it had become painfully obvious the team needed to heed Manzon's words and address some of the reliability issues. They would also need some providential help to make it through the rest of the season. The team's next anxiety-ridden test would come at the seventh round of the World Championship and at one of the toughest circuits in the world.
On the 2nd of August, teams were in Western Germany for the seventh round of the World Championship. It was the German Grand Prix and the race was held on the notoriously challenging and difficult Nurburgring.
The Nurburgring had held good and bad memories for the Equipe Gordini team the season before. Jean Behra went on to finish the race 5th. Maurice Trintignant and Robert Manzon had even managed to start the race from inside the top four. However, Maurice Trintignant would end up crashing out of the race before even completing a single lap. Manzon would later do the same. It was obvious the race held a lot of promise that had been thrown away. Nonetheless, the team would still come away with at least a points-paying result. Coming into the 1953 edition, the team hoped it would start the way it had the year before. But they also hoped to be able to finish the deal as well.
The presence of a very good Maserati works team caused the Ferrari drivers not to go all out as they had the year before. Practice times around the circuit, despite it being sunny and dry, were slower than the year before. Nonetheless, Ascari would be fastest. He would barely beat ten minutes around the 14 mile circuit but would end up almost four seconds faster than Fangio to grab the pole. Only a couple of tenths would separate Fangio and Farina in 3rd place on the front row of the grid. There would be a large gap between Farina and Hawthorn's time to earn the final spot on the front row. This was the Brit's first time around the notorious circuit and it showed.
In 1952, Trintignant managed to post a qualifying time of under ten minutes. That wouldn't happen in 1953. Though his time would be slower, Trintignant would still manage to start the race from 5th place, which was just off of Ascari's left shoulder in the second row. Jean Behra and Harry Schell would be found just one row behind Trintignant. Behra's time of ten minutes and forty-five seconds would have him 9th overall and in the second position on the third row. Just to his left in 10th would be Harry Schell. Yet another race would look promising before the drop of the green flag. The problem was taking that promise all the way to the checkered flag.
Although it mattered little to either of the Equipe Gordini pilots, the German Grand Prix had important championship implications. Were things to go right, Ascari could leave Nurburg as the first repeat champion. This would be a big motivation to Ascari and which would be very apparent at the start of the race. Fangio would get the better start and would lead Ascari into the first turn. Hawthorn, Bonetto and Trintignant would follow. Schell and Behra would also get decent starts and would be hovering right around the top ten through the first turn. Though Ascari had lost the lead going into the first corner he would rectify the situation just a few corners later.
Once in the lead, Ascari would drive a truly incredible race. With each and every mile, the Italian would increase his lead. Just about the time Ascari was beginning his push to set sail into the distance, Trintignant would revisit a truly tragic event. Trintignant had managed to make it through a lap in 1953. However, he wouldn't make it much further. Once again, trouble would come the Frenchman's way and he would be out of the race after having completed just one lap. Therefore, between the last two seasons, Trintignant had only managed to complete about thirty miles. This meant Equipe Gordini was again out of its best qualifier and perhaps best hope for a good result.
More trouble would come and visit the team just about 5 laps later. As the laps continued to count up, it was realized Schell had problems. Then, after just 6 laps, Schell's race would come to an end due to a blown head gasket. This left the team with just Behra still running out on the circuit. However, when a team or individual is in an absolute slump, nothing can be taken for granted. And just about the time turned its focus and hopes on Behra those hopes would be dashed. One lap after Schell retired from the race, Behra would make the nightmare complete as he would retire with gearbox failure.
Just two laps after the absolute collapse of the Equipe Gordini team, Ascari would have a collapse of his own. Just 9 laps into the 18 lap race, a wheel would come off of Ascari's Ferrari. He would manage to carry on on just three wheels but it seemed his World Championship hopes were taking a serious hit. Like a punch to the stomach, Ascari's hopes were finding it hard to breathe. Ascari's main competition, though not second in the standings at the time, was Mike Hawthorn. He had earned the victory at the French Grand Prix. If he managed to win the remaining races he had a shot at beating Ascari for the title. As Ascari limped his way toward the pits, Hawthorn would go by. Fears of the 1951 season were coming back to mind. These fears were even more justified as Hawthorn would go on to lead a number of laps and remained up near the front of the field.
The team management would call upon Ascari's good friend Luigi Villoresi to come to his aid. Villoresi would come in and hand over his car to Alberto for the remainder of the race. With the new lease on life, Ascari would set about climbing to the top once again. He would put together one of the most impressive performances of the season, which would include Ascari posting a fastest lap time less than a second off of his own qualifying effort in a Ferrari 375 Formula One car in 1951.
Hawthorn was proving to be a quick learner as he would continue to run near the front. This kept the pressure on Ascari. However, the smooth driving style of Giuseppe Farina was proving too tough to handle. Farina had finished 2nd the year before, so his talent on the circuit was obvious. Counting down toward the last couple of laps, Farina had the lead and an advantage of around a minute in front of Fangio. Mike Hawthorn wasn't all that far behind in 3rd. Ascari continued his charge toward the front. But, just 3 laps from the finish the engine would let go in Villoresi's Ferrari. This brought Ascari's charge to an end. He would have to hope Hawthorn wouldn't be able to charge to the front at the very end.
Ascari's championship would be safe. Farina would go on to take the victory. He would finish ahead of Fangio by a little more than a minute. A minute and forty-three seconds would separate Hawthorn from Farina and a chance at his first World Championship. Ascari had done it! He was the World Championship's first repeat champion. Alberto Ascari and Scuderia Ferrari were riding high.
Equipe Gordini were suffering from the darkest nightmare. It seemed as if the team was in a dark pit from which there was no escape. Hopes would be rekindled but quickly extinguished. The team desperately needed a miracle just to rescue their season.
Hemorrhaging from the last few races, Equipe Gordini left Germany and would travel the 600 miles all the way to Sables d-Olonne, France in order to take part in the non-championship 3rd Grand Prix de Sables d'Olonne on the 9th of August.
The team desperately needed a good result. It was bleeding death. Therefore, the team would return to home soil and to a race devoid of many of the factory efforts like Maserati and Ferrari in order to give themselves a good chance at a good result. Of course the teams weren't the problem as much as their own car. Sables d-Olonne would be the team's best hope in a long while.
There would only be one Ferrari 500 in the field and no Maseratis. On top of the competition playing into their hands, the circuit also suited the T16 as well. At 1.82 miles, the Sables d'Olonne circuit wasn't all that long. The circuit, which surrounded the small Lac de Tanche to the south of the city center, featured a number of short straight blasts and only a couple S-bends. This meant acceleration was very important. This played to the strengths of the T16.
Practice would show just how strong the T16 really was on the circuit. Schell would take his car and would mimic his effort at Aix-les-Bains. He would go on to grab the pole. However, Schell wouldn't be the only Equipe Gordini pilot to start the race from the front row. In fact, it would be an all-Equipe Gordini front row. Trintignant would start 2nd and Behra 3rd.
The grand prix was another in which it consisted of two heats and aggregate scoring. In the first heat, the results would be again mixed for the team. Despite looking so dominant, Schell would end up dropping back almost from the very start. Maurice Trintignant would look incredibly good but would have his race come to an end after 20 laps due to transmission failure. This left Jean Behra to uphold the team.
It would seem like an exact copy of Circuit du Lac as Behra would take up the mantle and would soldier on. Schell had started the race from the pole but would end up a lap down in 5th place at the end. Behra; however, would go on to take the victory in the first 45 lap heat race. He would win by almost thirty seconds over Louis Chiron. Louis Rosier would come in 3rd five seconds behind Chiron.
The promise that was before the start of the first heat would turn in absolute dependence upon Behra at the start of the second. It seemed, before the start of the first heat, it was going to be an Equipe Gordini display of dominance. Instead, it seemed to be more of a display of Equipe Gordini's destruction. And it would get worse.
Finishing order from the first heat would determine starting order for the second. This meant the team still had hope with Behra starting from the pole. Louis Chiron and Louis Rosier would join him on the front row. Schell would still be in the race and would start from the second row in 5th. Trintignant was desperate for a result, and therefore, would end up starting the second heat despite being well out of the running. He would start dead-last.
At the start, Trintignant was keen on overturning the evil. He would make a great start and would be quickly coming up toward the front of the field. While things were looking better for him trouble was on its way for Schell. After just 6 laps, Schell would end up out of the race due to a wheel breaking loose.
The team's hopes truly were resting on Behra. The team was under considerable pressure. Under such conditions it was very easy to make a mistake. Surrounded by Louis Rosier and Chiron, Behra would push hard and would end up making a mistake. He would throw the race away with a crash. He would continue on but was certainly off the pace. Once again, the team's hopes were shattered.
Trintignant would go on to win the second heat by six seconds over Louis Rosier, but the mood was anything but celebratory. Problems continued to hound the team. After what seemed to be certain victory before the start of the first heat, neither of the Gordini pilots would even be in the top four in the aggregate results. Instead, Louis Rosier would pull out yet another victory for the Ferrari 500 chassis. Louis Chiron and Stirling Moss would finish 2nd and 3rd respectively.
The bleeding was getting truly bad by now. It seemed any chance at a good result would just slip right on by. Hope was running short. In spite of the struggles, the team would pack up and would fight with everything they had to just simply soldier on.
Two weeks would separate races for the team. Then, toward the later-part of August, the team would head to Switzerland for the eighth round of the World Championship. The race was the Swiss Grand Prix and it would be held at the difficult 4.51 mile Bremgarten circuit.
Flanked by the Wholensee river to the north and inspiriring views of the Swiss Alps to the south, the arrowhead-shaped Bremgarten circuit was truly amidst one of the more beautiful settings in all of Europe. However, like the spectacular mountains in the background, the beautiful Bremgarten circuit was both breathtaking and dangerous. Truly without any kind of straight section at all the heavily tree-lined circuit had the tendency to be wet in the shade, which made the circuit very dangerous. Handling and precision was of utmost importance at the circuit. A simple mistake had the tendency of being rewarded with an unusually heavy penalty.
Equipe Gordini didn't need any more penalties. It was already serving a life sentence in hell as it was. What the team seriously needed was to find refuge in the beautiful Swiss surroundings.
Practice would see something of a change from the norm. Fangio had managed to post a lap of two minutes and forty seconds en route to the pole position. This would be only the second time all season in which someone other than Ascari sat on the pole. Speaking of Ascari, he would start right beside Fangio on the front row in 2nd. Giuseppe Farina would make it an all World Champion front row. Once again, the Gordini chassis proved fast as Trintignant would turn a lap just over three seconds slower than Fangio and would start the race right behind in the second row in 4th place. It would be a ways back to the next Gordini entry. Jean Behra would start in the middle of the fifth row, which was 12th overall. Harry Schell wouldn't be with the team at Bremgarten. Instead, Fred Wacker would be behind the wheel of the third car. However, he would struggle in practice and actually would crash the car. Therefore, he would not start the race. This left an already hurting team with just two cars for the race.
Bremgarten was known to be dangerous if wet; however, the teams and drivers would instead have to face a different challenge. The day of the race would break with brilliant sunshine and excessive heat. The race would get underway with Fangio blistering away from the line. He would be followed closely by Ascari. Farina would make an absolutely terrible getaway and would be well down heading around the first turn. Through the first lap of the race, Trintignant was sitting up around 4th place following Fangio, Ascari and Marimon. Though Fangio would pull out at the start, Ascari would get by and would lead the first lap of the race.
With Ascari out front, the pace would quickly pick up. And with the intense heat, long gaps between the competitors begin to form. A number of others would begin to run in to trouble and would retire from the race. Three would be out of the race before 2 laps had been completed. Jacques Swaters and Louis Rosier would suffer a crash on the first lap of the race and would be the first retirements of the day. Paul Frere would have a connecting rod fail thereby ending his race after just one lap. Fangio would also run into trouble and would end up switching cars with his Maserati teammate Felice Bonetto.
Things would settle down for a period of time. Ascari continued to lead the race. Fangio was giving chase after he changed cars with Bonetto. Farina was not far behind Ascari after clawing his way back up after his poor start. Trintignant continued to run near the front of the field and was embroiled in a battle with the Swiss Baron Emmanuel de Graffenried. Behra was fighting to make his way toward the front of the field.
Just prior to halfway of the 65 lap race, trouble would begin striking the field. The heat and the pace would end up being too much for Lance Macklin's Alta engine and it would retire after 29 laps. On the very same lap, Fangio's effort would come to an end with engine-related problems.
Not everything was right with Ascari though either. Ascari would end up coming into the pits to have some repair work done. This would allow Farina to take over the lead of the race. Farina would go on to hold the lead for over a dozen laps, but he was being chased down by Ascari after having work done to his car.
During Farina's reign at the front of the field disaster would come sweeping through the Equipe Gordini team. Jean Behra would lose oil pressure in his T16 and would be forced to retire from the race. Still, Trintignant was still running and had been looking quite good. But then, just six laps after Behra's exit from the race, Trintignant would also run into trouble. The team's nightmare would continue as the troublesome rear axle would break yet again on Trintignant's car thereby ending his run. For the fourth straight championship and non-championship race, Equipe Gordini would have no cars finish a race.
Ascari had driven an incredible race. Overcoming almost two minutes in the pits, Ascari would reassume the lead and would go on to pull out an unassailable advantage. Coming through the final stages of the race it was Scuderia Ferrari running 1st through 3rd. It had been 1st through 4th but Luigi Villoresi began to run into trouble and would end up backing off the pace to save the car.
In a little more than three hours and one minute, Ascari would cross the finish line the victor. Over a minute and ten seconds would separate him from Farina in 2nd. Mike Hawthorn would bring his car home a distant 3rd. That was it. Ferrari swept the top three spots yet again. Ascari's continued to add to his victory tally and helped to keep the Ferrari 500's string of consecutive race victories intact.
At Equipe Gordini, nothing was intact. Everything was falling apart. The season was approaching its end. In many ways it couldn't end soon enough, but to have it end in such a hellish fashion was certainly not the way to head into an off-season. The team desperately needed something positive.
Equipe Gordini were going to keep racing until their misfortunes changed. One week after yet another wasted opportunity, the team was in Cadours, France for the 5th Circuit de Cadours. A little more than 500 miles from Berne, the race at Cadours would offer the team little time to repair and prepare their cars.
Located almost equidistant from Albi, Pau and St. Gaudens, Cadours was yet another circuit laid out amongst the French countryside. Bearing similarity to Reims, Cadours didn't offer the speeds, nor nearly the comforts. Closest to Toulouse, the circuit was literally located out in the middle of nowhere. And though not nearly as famous as some of its French brethren, the circuit lacked none of the difficulty.
Starting with a double-apex first corner followed by some sweeping, fast esses, the circuit was very technically demanding and very easy to get wrong. The downhill run through the esses leads to a ninety-degree right-hander. After the ninety-degree right-hander at the backside of the circuit, the driver is greeted with yet more fast corners and a short blast before a tight twisty section leading to a very tight hairpin turn. From there the road snakes its way until opening up leading to the start/finish line and yet another lap. Although the average speeds may not have been high around the circuit, the fast sweeping corners required almost more bravery than the circuits that just required the foot to be firmly planted on the gas.
Though there would not be another World Championship round for a couple of weeks, participation in the Circuit de Cadours was limited. There would be a number of more local talent with older designs entered in the race. Equipe Gordini would present perhaps the largest contingent or team. The English HWM team would also be present and with three cars.
Equipe Gordini would bring three cars to the race. Maurice Trintignant and Jean Behra would be driving. Harry Schell was also back and he would drive the third car. Trintignant continued to show his pace during practice as he would end up being the fastest qualifier. His time of one minute and fifty-seven seconds around the 2.54 mile circuit would end up being three seconds faster than de Graffenried's time in his Maserati. Once again, the handling of the T16 would prove to have an advantage on the twisting circuit. Although Trintignant would fly during practice, Behra would look more like a bird that had been grounded. His best effort would be nine seconds slower and only good enough to start 6th and on the third row of the grid.
The race consisted of two 15 lap heat races, a 10 lap repechage and a 30 lap final. The field would be split into two heats. Trintignant and Behra would be in the first heat. Schell would end up being placed in the second. Though he would start a decent 6th place in the first heat, Behra would be one of just eight that would take part in the first heat.
Trintignant had the pace in practice and he would find it again in the heat race. Very quickly on he would be turning laps near his qualifying effort. Then, he would do it. He would post a lap time of one minute and fifty-seven seconds. This would end up being too much for a couple of his biggest challengers. Charles de Tornaco was driving a Ferrari 500 but he would have an oil pipe burst on him taking him out of the race. Emmanuel de Graffenried would be next. Very Gordini-like, the rear axle on his Maserati would fail leaving him out of the rest of the proceedings.
The rest of the field, which included the two HWM machines, could not match Trintignant's pace. In fact, the only other driver in the field that could even come close to handling Maurice's pace would be his teammate. Crossing the line at the end of the first heat, Trintignant would take the victory by eight seconds over Behra. Over a minute behind Behra, Yves Giraud-Cabantous would finish in 3rd. This was a great start to the race. The team would anxiously watch to see if Schell could do as well.
Practice before the second heat would be difficult. Schell would have Louis Rosier and his Ferrari 500 in the field. In addition, Elie Bayol had the fast and rather nimble OSCA 20. This tough competition would end up beating out Schell in qualifying. Rosier would grab the pole with a time that was three seconds slower than Trintignant's effort in the first heat. Elie Bayol would be within one second of Rosier and would start 2nd and in the middle of the front row. Schell would end up being ever so slightly slower than Bayol and would start on the front row in 3rd.
Schell knew what the T16 was capable of doing. He had seen Trintignant do it. Therefore, when the race started, Schell stood on it. He would make a great start and would be right up there at the front from the very beginning. Although he had Rosier's Ferrari right behind him it would be Schell that would turn up the pressure. Schell would turn up the wick and would crank out a lap of one minute and fifty-eight seconds.
Over the course of just 15 laps, Schell would match Trintignant and would lap the field with the exception of the top four. Schell continued to run out front and would use the course to his advantage. He wouldn't merely keep Rosier at bay; he would pull out something of a lead.
Schell's pace was something incredible. He would cross the line to win the heat. He would do so having posted a finishing time fifty seconds faster than Trintignant's. Rosier would finish the heat in 2nd, some twelve seconds behind. Bayol would finish 3rd, forty-one seconds behind.
After the repechage, which would see de Tornaco and John Heath get back into the final, it was time to set the grid for the 30 lap final. Were it not for finishing times, Equipe Gordini would have dominated the front row. However, after all of the trouble the team had been experiencing, starting position was of less consequence than just finishing. The front row would consist of Schell sitting on the pole after having set the fastest finishing time. Rosier and Bayol would join him on the front row. The second row would be all Equipe Gordini. Trintignant would be in 4th while Behra 5th.
At the start of the final, the Gordini team would get a boost. Bayol's transmission would fail him. This left just Rosier up near the front with the rest of the Gordini pilots. Trintignant would make a great start and would be quickly on the pace. Very soon he would post an incredible lap time of one minute and fifty-six seconds, which was the fastest time ever for the race that day. This would help him take over control of the lead of the race. He would end up being closely followed by his two teammates that would spend the majority of the race locked in a battle amongst themselves.
Trintignant and the Gordini team kept the pressure up. The team had nothing really to worry about. They had been having failure after failure so they had every reason just to let loose and not worry. The trio would do just that.
Coming down to the final couple of laps, Trintignant continued to hold the lead. Schell and Behra continued to battle. Despite their battling, the three cars would actually gradually pull away from Rosier in 4th place. While just five seconds would cover the Gordini cars, a gap of almost a minute existed between them and Rosier.
After the hell the team had been experiencing for what seemed to be an eternity, there would be grace found in the Cadour countryside. Trintignant would power his way to the victory. Schell would end up gaining the upper hand on Behra at the finish. In spite of all the troubles and failures, Gordini wouldn't be able to celebrate a good result. The team would be able to let loose, relax and enjoy their one, two, three finish!
The excellent result at Cadours was certainly a welcome lift to the team that had been fighting, clinging onto whatever last ounces of hope it had. The incredible result would also come at a good time as the final round of the World Championship would be just a couple of weeks away. It would be an important result as the team headed into Ferrari and Maserati's backyard. The Autodromo Nazionale Monza would be the site of the 1953 Italian Grand Prix and it was the heart and soul of Italian motor racing.
Ever since the dawning of the World Championship, Italian manufacturers had produced the championship winning cars. It started with Alfa Romeo and then it would be Ferrari. In 1953, Alberto Ascari and Ferrari would again be champion, but the presence of a strong Maserati factory effort would only add to the frenzy of Italian patriotism. Therefore, Monza, and the Italian Grand Prix, would be anything but a neutral site. Though the passion for motor sport caused the raving Italian fan to be respectful of foreign competition the passionate patriotic support was like an extra gust of wind in the sails of Italian teams.
The race would take place on the 13th of September on the 3.91 mile road course. And while the circuit was relatively flat it was also one other thing: fast. The circuit had been built as a purpose-built motor racing facility during the 1920s. It had been built with two distinct features. It had a road course, but also, a steeply-banked oval that was over two and a half miles in length. The two circuits could actually be joined together to make one circuit measuring over 6 miles. The banked oval enabled very high speeds, but the road course didn't even really need it. Even with the ninety-degree turns at Curva Sud, drivers would have their foot to the floor for well over 80 percent of a lap. This produced average speeds around the circuit of more than 110 mph in 1953.
This kind of speed certainly favored the power of the Maserati and Ferrari. And in practice, this advantage would be plain to see. Ferraris and Maseratis would end up occupying the first-seven positions on the starting grid. Alberto Ascari would take his 6th pole of the season with a lap of two minutes and two seconds. Juan Manuel Fangio would join him on the front row after posting a time just five-tenths of a second slower. Giuseppe Farina would again make it champion's row as he would be just a little over a second slower than Ascari.
Trintignant would break up the stranglehold of Ferrari and Maserati's grip at the front of the starting grid when he would qualify in the middle of the third row in the 8th position. Trintignant would be one of just two none Ferrari and Maserati chassis in the top twelve positions on the starting grid. Harry Schell would take his T16 and would qualify in the fifth row in the 15th position. Jean Behra wouldn't be behind the wheel of the team's third car. Instead Roberto Mieres would take over the honors. Mieres would end up having one of his best qualifying efforts of the entire season. He would end up on the sixth row in the 16th position.
At the start, Fangio would make a terrible start and would drop down to around 6th place. Ascari would make a great start and would have the lead followed by Farina and Marimon. Marimon would slipstream his way to the lead of the race, but would end up giving way to Ascari by the completion of the first lap.
Within a lap or so, Fangio had recovered from his poor start and was running in a pack with Ascari and Farina. Marimon would also remain in touch with this group and the four cars would be seen slipstreaming off of each other down the long straights lap after lap. Ascari would lead most of the time, but even Farina would manage to capture a few laps in the lead.
Monza, even in September, had a tendency to produce some very hot days. These would often coincide with the grand prix and would; therefore, cause the number of retirements to sharply increase. Thankfully, the day of the race would break with sunny skies and more mild temperatures. This was helping to keep cars running in the race, but not all. A couple of cars would be out of the running before even 10 of the 80 laps had been completed. A handful more would end up out before 20 laps had been completed. Yet while there would be a number of entries that would retire from the race, a larger contingent would end up 'not classified' by the end just because of the pace of the front runners.
As far as Equipe Gordini was concerned, the race was going extremely well. They hadn't lost a car to attrition and Trintignant was running inside the top ten. Even Schell and Mieres were hovering around the top ten throughout the early going of the race.
The race continued and the pace picked up. Many cars had already gone a lap down by the time the leaders had finished 15 laps. The pace was incredible. The battles were also just as awe-inspiring. Similar to the French Grand Prix, the leading group of four would often run side-by-side or nose-to-tail over the course of an entire lap. This was thrilling to the Italian crowd.
Under such pressure from the pace, many competitors would begin to wilt under the strain. Even Stirling Moss would end up backing off the pace. But all three Gordinis were still in the race and were not backing down, even though they may have already been lapped once or twice.
Halfway through the race, the group of four would become the group of three as Marimon would suffer a cooling problem and would have to pit to address the issue. The stop would take a while and would cause him to lose a lap to the leading three. When Marimon returned to the race he would rejoin right behind Ascari, Farina and Fangio and would continue to run with them throughout the remainder of the race.
The last half of the race would be terribly exciting and rather boring at the same time, that is, unless one was an Italian spectator. Fangio continued to follow Ascari and Farina. Marimon, one lap down, also continued to keep in touch and would help to keep the action amongst the foursome very exciting. But as for the rest of the race, that was it. Every other competitor was at least one lap down. And even though there were cars running close together out on the circuit they were mostly on different laps, and therefore, weren't actually battling for a position.
Trintignant was part of one group, which included Luigi Villoresi and Mike Hawthorn, that had come to be a lap down to the leading group of three. Unfortunately, Trintignant was over a minute behind them and couldn't move up to try and challenge for a better position. But at least he was still running right around 6th place. If there was a problem of any kind he would be in position to possibly pull off a points-paying result in the final World Championship race.
If the last half of the race could be considered rather boring then the last lap would end up being something so epic that it would boggle the mind. And it actually would cause a great deal of confusion.
Fangio had set the fastest lap time all the way back around halfway. But he would keep the pressure on the two Ferrari pilots ahead of him. There was additional pressure. It was the Italian Grand Prix, and it would have been a great source of pride to be the race's victor. Therefore, heading into the final corner on the final lap Ascari would try to go around Farina on the outside. He hoped he could make the car stick on the outside. He would pull slightly ahead of Farina when all of a sudden the backend would just break loose. Farina would swerve to miss his teammate and would struggle to maintain control of his own car. Fangio had been just far enough back to be able to see the event unfold right before his eyes. Fangio would maneuver around the chaos and would take over the lead with just hundreds of yards of go. Ascari's spin out would catch Marimon with no place to go. He would he would hit Ascari and both would be out of the race. Farina managed to regain control of his car and set sail after Fangio.
Everything had happened so fast that nobody clearly signaled Fangio that he had won the race. Unsure as to whether he had completed the 80 lap race distance, Fangio would take off on yet one more lap. Although he wouldn't stop until he finished his unnecessary lap, Fangio had gone on to win the race by two seconds over Farina. Luigi Villoresi would end up being the unlikely 3rd place finisher.
The whole of the results were thrown into chaos, and not just because of the accident between Ascari and Marimon on the last corner. The official results would be further confused by Felice Bonetto running out of fuel on the last lap as well.
Ascari's last-ditch effort to try and go around Farina to win the race would end up being a big promotion for Trintignant. Maurice had been running in 6th place, one lap down. However, Ascari's accident would enable Trintignant to come through and claim 5th place and two more points in the World Championship.
Many other drivers, not just Ascari, would be taking chances on the last lap of the race. Bonetto would push hard, which would use more fuel than normal. He would try to stretch the fuel to the finish but would end up running out of fuel on the very last lap of the race. This was an incredible turn of events as it would propel Mieres up into 6th place at the finish. Bonetto was three laps behind the lead group just as Mieres had been. However, his retirement on the last lap of the race would end up promoting the Argentinean. Therefore, two French Equipe Gordini competitors would actually end up being helped by Italian teams in the Italian Grand Prix. Even Harry Schell would benefit from the troubles. All of the retirements on the last lap of the race would even allow Schell to finish the race inside the top ten. He would finish 9th and would make it three Gordinis to finish in the top ten! What a remarkable turn-around. Over the course of the team's last two races, it had clearly seemed to be that the team had been lifted up from out of hell and were experiencing something of a resurrection.
At the end of the 1953 World Championship, Ascari would lead in the standings over Juan Manuel Fangio and Giuseppe Farina. Though the season had become a truly hellish experience during middle rounds of the World Championship, it would end on a bright note for Trintignant. Trintignant would end up 12th in the standings having earned 4 points. Harry Schell had come close to the points in three races during the year but would come up empty, as would the rest of the drivers on the team. The only exception to that rule was Mieres at the final race of the season where he had come within one place of earning championship points.
The 1953 World Championship was finally over. Were it not for the final race of the season, many on the team would have said they couldn't have waited until the season was over. However, the World Championship had ended on a bright note. There would be one more non-championship race in which the team would compete. They hoped this final race would bring the whole of the season to a positive end.
Equipe Gordini would leave Monza in a celebratory mood but wouldn't travel far. One week after the surprising Italian Grand Prix, the team was in Modena, Italy (about a hundred miles southeast of Monza) for what was the 4th Gran Premio de Monza.
If the Italian Grand Prix had been in Ferrari's and Maserati's backyard, then the grand prix held on Modena would be in the manufacturers' houses. Hosted on a 1.46 mile circuit at the Modena Aerodrome, the grand prix would literally take place just down the road from Maserati's headquarters and just miles away from Ferrari's site in Maranello.
Equipe Gordini would have one blessing handed to them coming into the race. Question marks over Ferrari's future in grand prix racing would lead to Ferrari not coming to the race. However, the field would be littered with Maseratis.
Although Behra did not drive one of the Gordinis in the Italian Grand Prix one week prior he was with the team at Modena and would drive one of the three cars entered in the race. The other two cars would be driven by the usual pilots, Trintignant and Schell.
Fighting against the gaggle of Maseratis wasn't going to be easy. The cars were obviously improving while the T16 remained something of a guessing-game. In practice, the Maserati would dominate. And yet, though the Maseratis were fast in practice they would not be the main story. Charles de Tornaco would lose control of his Ferrari 500 and would crash the car heavily. The crash would be so severe that he would end up losing his life. This was a truly heart-wrenching way to bring the season to a close.
In spite of the tragic death, the race would go on. Fangio would sit on the pole with a lap time of one minute and six seconds. Onofre Marimon would start 2nd with a time just two-tenths slower. Emmanuel de Graffenried would finish the front row with a time only four-tenths slower.
Trintignant would start the race from 6th on the grid and in the second row. His time was exactly a second slower than Fangio's. Both Schell and Behra would be found in the fourth row. Schell would start 11th while Behra would start 12th.
Not everything was right with Behra's effort and it would become plain to see what the issue was during the race. Right from the very start, Behra's car wasn't right. Sure enough, he would barely complete a lap before his engine would suffer from total piston failure and the Frenchman would be forced to retire from the race. The season, for Behra, had been truly disappointing and frustrating.
While Behra would depart the race in frustration, Fangio would lead the race full of confidence. In an effort to break away from the rest of the Maseratis chasing him, Fangio would pick up his pace. Soon, he was turning out laps close to his qualifying effort. Then, he would post an incredible time of one minute and five seconds. The time would be almost a second faster than what he had earned in practice. This would break him free from Marimon. Salvadori's departure from the race 10 laps in would enable Trintignant to move up inside the top five. Schell continued his run, but would be further back.
Less than 20 laps away from the finish of the 100 lap race, Fangio's pace had been such that he would totally demolish most all still running in the race. Schell would continue on and would have about a twenty lap advantage over the next car actually still running on the circuit. However, Schell's engine would let go 87 laps into the race, and therefore, he would end up retired from the race despite being just one of eight cars still running at the time.
All but the top two were at least two laps down by the finish. Fangio would cross the line to take the victory. Forty seconds later, Marimon would come across the line to finish 2nd. Emmanuel de Graffenried would be two laps down, though less than a second behind Marimon at the finish. He would go on to finish 3rd. Trintignant would provide Gordini with just one more good result upon which the team would end its season. Trintignant would end the race down four laps but would come in 4th place.
The season had been one of the toughest and darkest in which Equipe Gordini had ever gone through. However, it would end the season with some very positive results. But would it be enough upon which to build for the future?
Heading into the 1953 season, Equipe Gordini had hoped it could reclaim the pace, and therefore, the threat to teams like Scuderia Ferrari it had early on in 1952. However, the real threat to Ferrari would end up coming from Maserati as Equipe Gordini struggled mightily. The team struggled not just to fight with Ferrari and Maserati, but just to look something similar to what they had just one season prior.
The 1953 season was the team's opportunity to take what had proven to be good in 1952 and make it better, or at least more reliable. Instead, Equipe Gordini would end up becoming a team that 'also ran'. The team struggled throughout the year, and such struggles were not positives steps for the team, especially since things would change going into the 1954 season. Equipe Gordini's opportunity had come and had seemingly gone without the team truly being aware of it. After 1953, the writing was certainly on the wall. The fading of the team during the later part of the 1952 season was just the beginning of its fade from existence. The 1953 season set the team down a steep slope from which it would never recover. Equipe Simca-Gordini