TeamsEquipe Gordini: 1954 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
During the first year of the Formula 2 era in the World Championship the greatest threat Ferrari would face throughout the whole of the season would come from Equipe Gordini. However, Ferrari, and Alberto Ascari, would nonetheless dominate winning every single round of the championship that year. By the start of 1954, however, Equipe Gordini would be nothing more than a faint apparition of its former self. And yet, there would still be times when the dead would arise reminding people of their presence.
The biggest problem Equipe Gordini would face throughout the 1952 and 1953 seasons would be nagging unreliability. This would lead to Robert Manzon leaving the team and a number of other opportunities being washed down the drain. Heading into 1954, not all that much would change for the team. They would choose to adapt instead of prepare an all-new car. This would pose benefits, but it would also expose a weakness within the team.
In spite of constantly fielding one of the larger fleet of cars each and every race, Gordini didn't have the money to develop brand new cars. Therefore, the team would have to try and swarm the grid to earn top results. And with the new Formula One regulations coming on line at the start of '54, the team would rely on what it had and look toward the future. Therefore, the Type 16 chassis would be retained for the upcoming season. However, a larger 2.5-liter straight-six engine would be placed within the chassis to conform to the new regulations providing an increase in power. The fact the team would stick with an older Formula 2 chassis meant they could change the engine out and easily make the switch to compete in the few Formula 2 races scheduled for the season as well.
The '54 season would not start with a Formula 2 race, nor would it take place on the European soil. No, the first race of the season would take place in South America with the Argentine Grand Prix. Held on the 17th of January, it would be the second year in which the Argentine Grand Prix would be part of the World Championship and everyone was hoping for a much more celebratory second edition.
With more than a handful of Argentinean drivers taking part in non-championship and championship races throughout the 1950s, the first Argentine Grand Prix would draw thousands upon thousands of spectators. This would also prove to be the first race's undoing as the crowd so near to the track would cause Giuseppe Farina to have to swerve to miss hitting a young boy. When he did, he would lose control and would end up plowing into other spectators killing many. Therefore, the first Argentine Grand Prix would be a truly tragic event. Everyone hoped for something different in '54.
Equipe Gordini would bring three cars to the race to battle Scuderia Ferrari and the factory Maserati team. Jean Behra was undoubtedly the team leader after Robert Manzon had left the team the previous season and Maurice Trintignant made his way to Ecurie Rosier. Behra was an experienced and fast racer. He would be joined by Elie Bayol who had started his racing career rather late racing 500cc Formula 3 cars in 1950, as well as, hillclimbs and other smaller races around France. Roger Loyer would be the third driver. He had been a champion in motorcycle racing during the late 1930s but would quite inexperienced in racing on four wheels.
Eighteen cars would take part in practice for the 87 lap, 211 mile, race around the 2.42 mile Autodromo 17 de Octubre number two circuit. The fastest in practice would be Giuseppe Farina with a time of 1:44.8. His Ferrari teammate, Jose Froilan Gonzalez, would be just a tenth slower and would start 2nd. Juan Manuel Fangio would make it two Argentineans on the front row as he started 3rd. Mike Hawthorn would make it three Scuderia Ferraris on the front row as he prepared to start 4th.
Despite having the larger engine, the Gordini machines would struggle. Elie Bayol would end up being the fastest in practice. He would start on the fourth row of the grid in 14th while Roger Loyer and Jean Behra would start from the fifth row of the grid in the 15th and 16th positions respectively.
A threat of rain loomed over the circuit as the cars peeled away to start the race. Farina would have the lead over Fangio at the start while Hawthorn ran ahead of Gonzalez. As Farina led the way, trouble began to wreak havoc on the rest of the field. Roger Loyer would be out of the race after 19 laps with oil pressure problems and a couple of others would find themselves out early of the race.
Just about the time Gonzalez took over the lead of the race a sudden shower would cause panic throughout the field. Gonzalez would spin and Farina would have to stop for a visor. This would hand the lead to Fangio. Behra would find the race most dissatisfying as he would spin in the wet conditions and would eventually be disqualified after 61 laps for receiving outside help getting restarted. Bayol would be the only one of the two Gordini pilots that hadn't run into trouble. And after Mike Hawthorn would be disqualified after receiving outside assistance, and after a number of Maserati drivers retired from the race, he would find himself running right around the top five, but more than a lap behind Fangio.
Fangio had the lead but would lose it again as the circuit dried. Then, patriotically, it would rain again and this would hand the lead back to Fangio. And with the lead firmly within his grasp, Fangio would go on to earn the victory in the first round of the Formula One World Championship for 1954. Giuseppe Farina would finish the race a minute and nineteen seconds behind in 2nd place. Gonzalez would make it two Argentineans on the podium when he finished 3rd. And despite Loyer and Behra going out of the race, Bayol would run an incredibly steady and controlled race in the wet conditions and would end up finishing in 5th place two laps down. And despite being two laps down Behra would still come away with 2 championship points.
Bayol would surprise many people as he would actually leave the Argentine Grand Prix 5th place in the drivers standings. Unfortunately, not too many gave him a chance to remain there. In fact, most people gave Equipe Gordini little to no chance of having any of its drivers up amongst those from the other dominant teams.
Thankfully for everyone involved, the next race on the calendar wouldn't take place all that far away from where the Argentine Grand Prix had. In fact, they would be the same exact place and the same exact circuit. On the 31st of January, the circuit would host a non-championship race, the 10th Gran Premio Ciudad de Buenos Aires. The race would be a Formula Libre race lasting 65 laps totaling 157 miles.
The Formula Libre race would see many of the same competitors as had taken part in the Formula One race, and rightly so. But being a Formula Libre race would open the door to even older Formula One cars and others, which would allow many more local racers to take part in the race.
While the whole of the starting grid would be something of a mystery, the front row would be neither surprising nor all that hard to figure out. Farina would be on pole once again. The rest of the front row would be slightly different, however. Gonzalez would be 2nd while Hawthorn and Maurice Trintignant would be 3rd and 4th. Behra, Bayol and Loyer would again be at the wheel of the three Gordini T16s.
Twenty cars would start the race but just a couple of laps into the race that number would begin to be reduced. Unfortunately, Loyer would again be one of those that would not be able to make it to the end of the race. Loyer's car may have been out of the race, but he wasn't. After a while, Bayol would come into the pits and would hand his car over to Loyer for the remainder of the race.
Unlike the World Championship race, Behra continued to run strongly in the race. But despite Farina and Fangio falling out of the running, he would still be situated down in the running order.
Out of the four that started on the front row, only Trintignant would remain at the front of the field. He would be will ahead of Roberto Mieres as Hawthorn faded and Farina took over Gonzalez's car. All of the action at the front of the field would enable Behra to keep up on the same lap and within reach of the top five.
Trintignant would accept the trouble the others would suffer and would cruise to the victory nearly thirty seconds ahead of Mieres in 2nd place. Farina would take Gonzalez's car and would finish in 3rd place about nine seconds behind Mieres. Jean Behra would build his confidence heading back to Europe as he would score a 5th place result finishing the race a minute and forty-five seconds behind Trintignant. The shared car of Bayol and Loyer would also make it all the way to the end but they would be a number of laps behind. They would be the last car still running and some ten laps behind. Nonetheless, Bayol and Loyer would share a drive that would finish in 10th place.
Equipe Gordini would need great teamwork to mount a challenge against the other mighty teams. And while the team still suffered some reliability problems nearly each driver would get the season started off with a positive result. This would be very important heading back across the Atlantic.
A matter of a couple of months would pass between races for Equipe Gordini. Then, on the 19th of April, the team would be busy preparing no less than four cars to take part in one of the most important non-championship races in France and all the world. It was the Pau Grand Prix, the home of grand prix racing. The race would be a 3 hour endurance race around the tight and twisty 1.72 mile Pau city circuit.
The Pau street circuit would be a far cry from the original grand prix circuit used at the turn of the 20th century. Positioned along the side of the Gave de Pau, the circuit would turn back and forth upon itself like a switchback mountain road. This made for a very tight circuit, slow speeds and absolute torture for transmissions, clutches and engines. Adding the fact the race would last 3 hours, and the race would certainly become an endurance race more than a sprint race.
Despite having four cars, it would be Scuderia Ferrari and Giuseppe Farina that would take the pole for the race. In fact, the entire front row would be occupied by Ferraris as Maurice Trintignant would come over to the team from Ecurie Rosier after Mike Hawthorn suffered burns at Syracuse. Jean Behra would be the fastest of the Gordini four-some of Behra, Bayol, Eugene Martin and Andre Pilette. Behra would start from the third row in the 6th position while the other three Gordini pilots would occupy 9th through 11th on the grid. Bayol would be 9th, Martin 10th and Pilette 11th. Only twelve cars would start the race.
Trouble would start right from the very beginning. Harry Schell would last just 6 laps before his rear axle would fail. Former Gordini driver Robert Manzon would last just 16 laps. In a race expected to cover more than 100 laps, these were very early retirements. And unfortunately, Martin would decide to join them suffering a crash after completing 23 laps.
Things would get exciting when Gonzalez went out with crankshaft failure and Farina faded over time. This opened a door and Behra would be the one that would take advantage of the situation, Bayol would do his best to follow suit. Behra would find himself all the way up to the top three after starting 6th and would continue to pressure for even more. Soon, he would find himself locked in a titanic battle with his former teammate Trintignant. Elie Bayol would take his opportunity and would make his way up from 9th on the grid to find himself running right around the top five.
The battle between Behra and Trintignant would be incredible. While everyone else would be seemingly concerned with making it to the finish, neither of these two would and they would be locked nose-to-tail in a duel that would only end with a retirement or with the finish of the race itself. Bayol would be battling hard himself holding back Farina. But while Farina was obviously fading, Bayol was ascending and appeared more than able to hold back the powerful Ferrari.
Behra was doing everything he could to hold back Trintignant. Even coming down through the esses for the final time, Trintignant would be all over Behra not willing to give his fellow Frenchman an inch. The two would battle it out all the way to the line. And at the line it would be Behra pulling off the incredible victory beating Trintignant by just two-tenths of a second. The two Frenchmen had blown the rest of the field out of the water. Roberto Mieres would finish in 3rd place but he would be three laps in arrears. Mieres would have just one lap in hand on Bayol who would finish a splendid 5th. Andre Pilette would have perhaps the most quiet of all the competitors. He would be the final car still running on the circuit and would be no less than five laps behind his teammate. Still, he would also finish the race in a very solid 7th.
Equipe Gordini was showing some rather unusual reliability. And as a result, the team had been able to come away with some great results that would only help them build their confidence and momentum heading into the busy part of the season.
The season carried on and the races on French soil continued to keep coming. On the 9th of May, three weeks after the Pau Grand Prix, the Equipe Gordini team would again be busy preparing four cars for another long race. This time, it was the Bordeaux Grand Prix and it was scheduled for 123 laps of the 1.53 mile street circuit totaling 188 miles.
Noted for its widely profitable wine industry, the streets within the heart of Bordeaux would come to host the choicest of single-seater grand prix cars. Taking place on the city streets running along the Garonne River and around the Esplanade des Quinconces, the 1.53 mile circuit would meander through some of the most beautiful parts of the city.
This being the fourth race of the season for the team, the team would field its third different driver lineup. Jean Behra and Elie Bayol would be the two constants. However, Jacques Pollet and Georges Berger would be new additions to the team, and during practice, it would show. Behra would be the fastest of the Gordini drivers starting on the front row in the 3rd position beside Jose Froilan Gonzalez in 2nd and Maurice Trintignant on the pole. Elie Bayol would make his way to the third row of the grid. He would start 6th. The fourth row of the grid is where Pollet would be found. He would start 9th alongside Louis Rosier. Georges Berger would start on the fifth row of the grid in the 11th place starting spot.
The day of the race would see the skies darken and the rain fall. This was sure to change the complexion of the race. Sure enough, it would be Stirling Moss, Jean Behra, Elie Bayol and Jose Froilan Gonzalez that would be fighting for the lead of the race. Trintignant would be dropped from the lead group slightly and Bayol would look the stronger of the two Gordinis at the front.
The problem is that starting out well is fine as long as it leads to finishing strong as well. And that would be a problem for a number of drivers. Two cars would be out of the running before the 10th of 123 laps had been reached. Harry Schell would make it another out when his clutch failed after 16 laps. There would be a calm before the next storm. But when attrition brewed again, Behra could not help being swept up in it when his gearbox failed. Still, this left three Gordinis still running.
Unfortunately, as the race wore on, the prancing horses in the field began to hit their stride and would start to pull away from those in the field. Stirling Moss and Bayol would fade under the charge of the Ferraris. Gonzalez would have the lead and Robert Manzon, driving a Ferrari for Ecurie Rosier, would move into 2nd place ahead of Maurice Trintignant. These three would run on the same lap. Everyone else would be left well behind.
Showing his comfort in the rain, Gonzalez would set the fastest lap of the race and would power his way to victory completing the race in three hours, five minutes and fifty-five seconds. Nearly forty-five seconds would be the margin over Robert Manzon at the line. Eighteen and a half seconds would be the difference from Manzon back to Trintignant in 3rd. Besides Moss in 4th place, the remainder of those still running in the field would be Equipe Gordini chassis. Elie Bayol would drive a very steady race and would finish four laps down in 5th place while Jacques Pollet finished in 6th a further three laps down and Georges Berger ended up 7th some thirteen laps behind.
Besides Behra's mistfortunes, Equipe Gordini continued to show some strength when it came to reliability. This was very welcome to the team as they would have to rely upon reliability to give them a chance at strong results. And though the opportunities passed by Bayol and Behra, the team would continue to show a willingness to fight.
Just a week after the Bordeaux Grand Prix the team had another difficult race on its hands. The team had left the European continent and had travelled to England to take part in the 6th BRDC International Trophy race held at the Silverstone Circuit located in Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire.
First hosting the International Trophy race in 1949, the race would be the first to make use of the 2.88 mile perimeter road of the former Royal Air Force bomber training base. Just one of a vast number of former airbases turned into motor racing circuits throughout England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, Silverstone would somehow become the new home for British motor racing.
The International Trophy race would be a popular race with major European teams. Of course, it would help that the British Grand Prix would be held on the same circuit. So it would give teams great experience before the big grand prix. Therefore, besides Equipe Gordini, Scuderia Ferrari, Officine Alfieri Maserati and a host of others would all take part in the race.
Twenty-five cars would be entered in the race but Equipe Gordini would bring just two entered for Jean Behra and Andre Simon. Simon was quite well known and was a talented racing driver, especially in sports cars. Broken up into heats and a final, Behra would be listed in the first heat while Simon would be in the second. Behra would look strong in practice start from the front row in 2nd place. Jose Froilan Gonzalez would start on pole for Ferrari while Stirling Moss and Alan Brown completed the front row.
The first heat race would see the rains fall. The soaked circuit would not be ideal but it would seem to suit Gonzalez who would take the lead and would begin to leave the rest of the field behind. Behra would struggle a little in the conditions and would end up slipping down the running order a little bit. Prince Bira, who had started 8th, would be impressive in the wet stuff and would eventually make his way to 2nd. Even Umberto Maglioli would unseat Behra. Still, Behra would put in a controlled and steady performance in order not to fall any further down the field.
Gonzalez would be indomitable and would cruise to victory by fourteen seconds over Bira. Stirling Moss would put together a very steady performance to finish in 3rd place about sixteen seconds behind Gonzalez. Behra would slip all the way down from 2nd place on the starting grid to finish the heat in 5th place. His time would fifty-one seconds slower than Gonzalez.
The second heat would see Andre Simon also start from the front row of the grid. He would start in 3rd place. Maurice Trintignant would start on pole while Reg Parnell, the 1951 winner, would start 2nd. Bob Gerard would complete the front row starting 4th in a Formula 2 Cooper-Bristol T23.
The conditions would not be as bad as they were for the first heat. Maurice Trintignant would lead the race right from the start and would be flying in the drier conditions. He would be chased by Parnell in another Ferrari 625. Known for his steady driving more than outright speed, Simon would slowly begin to drop down the running order over the course of the 15 lap heat race. His slip down the order would be further aided by an incredible performance by Robert Manzon starting in 8th place and Roy Salvadori who would start from the 12th place on the grid.
Trintignant and Parnell would check out from the rest of the field. The two would be flying around the circuit and would be on a pace that was nearly two minutes faster than Gonzalez in the first heat. Simon would not be the fastest but he would certainly be safe to make it to the final as long as the car continued to keep running.
Trintignant and Parnell would not be concerned with taking it easy. They would be well ahead of the field heading to the finish. Trintignant would be impressive setting the fastest lap of the heat and taking the victory by six seconds over Parnell. A further forty-one seconds would be the difference back to Robert Manzon finishing in 3rd. Andre Simon would be thoroughly consistent in his drive. He would finish in 5th place a minute and eighteen seconds behind Trintignant.
With the 15 lap heat races complete it was time to set the stage for the 35 lap final. The starting grid positions would be determined by finishing times of each competitor in their respective heats. This would certainly swing in the favor of the second heat with the exception of Gonzalez and Trintignant. Apparently Gonzalez's engine would seize after completing his race. Controversially, Gonzalez would be given Trintignant's car and would start on pole while Trintignant would be shuffled all the way back to 6th place on the start grid, which was the second row. Simon's steady drive in the drier conditions would lead to him start from the second row of the grid in the 5th position while Behra would start on the third row in the 11th spot.
As with Bordeaux, Gonzalez would be more than comfortable in the changing conditions. He would take the lead right from the beginning and would not look back at any time. He would push the rest of the field to try to stay with him. And not many would take up the challenge. Manzon would try after starting from the front for the final, but his race would come to an end after just 2 laps due to gearbox failure. A propeller shaft failure for Reg Parnell after 5 laps would take away the threat of another front row starter. That would leave just Roy Salvadori. And he would eventually fade over the course of the race.
The ones that would take up the challenge would be the two Gordini pilots. Jean Behra would come all the way forward from his 11th place starting position and would soon be in 2nd place ahead of Andre Simon in 3rd. Simon would focus on steady running in order to ensure a strong result while Behra would do his best to put together an all-out assault on Gonzalez. The problem Behra had was the fact he started so far behind on the grid. Gonzalez would only manage to stretch out his advantage as the race wore on. Still, Behra would not let the Argentinean shake loose.
Gonzalez picked the pace up in the dry conditions. He would set the fastest lap of the race with a lap of 1:50 at an average speed of nearly 96mph. This would ensure that he would easily take the victory over Behra in 2nd place. But while Behra would end up thirty-six seconds behind at the finish, he would do an incredibly job being the sole car still on the lead lap with Gonzalez. Andre Simon's performance would be impressive in its own right. While he didn't have to come up through the field from deep down in the grid he would still put together an incredibly steady performance that would eventually lead to a 3rd place finish one lap down to Gonzalez.
Behra's and Simon's performances throughout the International Trophy race were nothing short of spectacular given the fact the Gordini T16 was honestly out-matched by the Ferraris and the Maseratis in the field. Still, the men would push when they had to and were consistent when they needed to be. As a result, they would be rewarded with some great results that only further encouraged and built the confidence of the team.
The grand prix season was really beginning to heat up. That mean the races were beginning to come much regularly and with very little time in between. The 7th Gran Premio di Bari would be a prime example. Just one week and about 1400 miles separated the International Trophy race and the Bari Grand Prix set to take place on the 22nd of May.
A very important port city in the Apulia region of Italy, Bari's importance and place in history extends well back into centuries prior to the birth of Christ. Once governed by the Byzantines, Bari would then become part of the Roman Empire and would remain an important port city ever since.
The Bari Grand Prix would make use of a street circuit located right along the Adriatic coast. The picturesque setting would for an incredible backdrop for the 3.45 mile circuit. Covering 60 laps, or, 207 miles, the Bari Grand Prix would offer drivers and spectators alike more than two hours of racing in the beautiful port city.
Equipe Gordini would again enter just two cars in the race. And as with the International Trophy race, the cars would be driven by Jean Behra and Andre Simon. Behra would continue to show his abilities at the wheel of a race car when he would end up on the front row once again. He would start from the 3rd position and would join the two Scuderia Ferraris of Maurice Trintignant in 2nd place and Gonzalez on pole. Simon would start from the third row of the grid in the 8th position.
The front row would provide a great indication of the strongest cars in the field. Gonzalez would lead the way with Trintignant following. Behra would do his best to keep touch but would really bring up the head of the rest of the field. He would be fast but would continue to drift further back with each and every lap of the race.
Behra wouldn't fall out of contention as quickly as some of the rest in the field. Sergio Mantovani would fall out of contention after just 3 laps. Louis Rosier's and Robert Manzon's failures would bring about the end of Ecurie Rosier's challenge. Most unfortunate, Andre Simon would be one of five that would end up out of the race.
Behra would fight to stay in contact with Gonzalez and Trintignant but would continue to lose ground. Onofre Marimon would go on to set the fastest lap of the race but even he wouldn't manage to keep touch with Behra. Leading Trintignant by seven seconds, Gonzalez would streak to the victory averaging nearly 88 mph around the Bari circuit. A minute and a second would be the difference back to Behra finishing in the 3rd position. Still, Behra would again manage to remain on the lead lap, something four others could not do.
Equipe Gordini continued to show some very encouraging consistency. With each and every race the team would have the confidence that at least one of its cars would make it all the way to the finish, and would be a strong performer at the same time. This would be very welcome and a sign the team had been making some great progress. This would be very encouraging especially since the Formula One World Championship would resume in just a matter of weeks.
Although the next round of the World Championship was still a month away, there was no reason for the team to sit still. While each and every race was arduous, it still offered invaluable experience and preparation time. Therefore, on the 6th of June, the team would be preparing to take part in yet another non-championship grand prix. Just two weeks after the Bari Grand Prix, Italy would host yet another grand prix. This would be something of a special race. In the small town of Castel Fusano would be held the 13th Gran Premio di Roma.
A matter of yards away from the Mediterranean Sea and mere miles from downtown Rome, the 4.09 mile Castel Fusano circuit offered drivers a relatively flat and featureless circuit , just another of a number of different locations to host the Grand Prix of Rome.
To say the field would be dominated by cars painted in bright red would be something of an understatement. With the exception of the two Gordinis entered for Behra and Simon, the rest of the field would be entirely made of Italian machinery. Nonetheless, Behra would again start on the front row. Onofre Marimon would start on pole after posting a time nearly two seconds faster than Robert Manzon in the Ecurie Rosier Ferrari 625. Stirling Moss would be just a tenth slower than Manzon and would start 3rd. Behra would complete the front row starting 4th after posting a time two and a half seconds slower than Marimon. Had the front row been five-wide, Simon would have made it two Gordinis on the front row. Instead, he would start on the second row in the 5th position.
60 laps and 245 miles awaited the field of fifteen. But as with just about every other race of the period there would be a few that wouldn't even make it a couple of miles before their races came to an end. This would be the case for Carlo Mancini, another known as 'Serena', Giovanni de Riu and Berardo Taraschi. But the attrition kept coming. Roberto Mieres would be out after 12 laps. And then it would be Jean Behra's turn. An axle failure would lead to his retirement after 15 laps. Luigi Musso and Robert Manzon would complete the list of those that would fall out of the race.
Behra's car would be out of the race, but not he. Andre Simon would come into the pits from his top five position and would hand the car over to Behra for the remainder of the race. Behra would take off on a charge after the front-runners.
Unfortunately, the time it took to switch drivers and Marimon's pace at the front of the field meant Behra would rejoin the race well down. Still, the Frenchman would not give up on earning as good a result as possible.
There would be no catching Marimon, not on this day at least. Marimon would blow the rest of the field away with his 106 mph average speed. He could have driven the last couple of laps in first gear and still would have won the race. Instead, Marimon kept his foot on it and would complete the race in two hours, eighteen minutes and forty-nine seconds and would enjoy a margin of victory of more than two laps. The also-rans would be headlined by Harry Schell finishing in 2nd place and Sergio Mantovani ended up 3rd. Jean Behra would drive hard over the remainder of the race and would end up three laps down in 4th.
At the same time as Jean Behra and Andre Simon were combining for a 4th place finish at the Gran Premio di Roma, Andre Pilette and Jacques Pollet would be vying for victory in the 24th Grand Prix des Frontieres in Chimay, Belgium. However, the race would be much more tragic for Pilette and Pollet.
One of the favorite teams would not start the 20 lap, 135 mile, race. Both of the Ecurie Francorchamps chassis would be withdrawn due to mechanical problems. This would leave just nine cars preparing to start the race. None were poised to start the race better than Jacques Pollet as he took the pole for the race with a lap time that would end up being eight seconds faster than the 2nd place starter Prince Bira. The final spot on the front row would not go to Pilette, however, it would be Don Beauman in a Connaught. Andre Pilette would end up being twenty seconds slower than Beauman but would still be fast enough to start on the second row in 4th place. The excitement the team shared after qualifying would be very short-lived, however.
Located close to the French border in the Walloon municipality near the Oise River, Chimay is a tranquil town that boasted of some truly remarkable buildings like Chimay Castle and Scourmont Abbey. However, it would be most famous for the Trappist beers brewed by a company sharing the town's name.
Like the area, the circuit would take place amongst the tranquil rolling countryside but would feature some truly remarkable portions of circuit that would have it rival places like Le Mans and Spa-Francorchamps. At 6.73 miles in length, the circuit featured long straights, technically challenging esses and fast corners that would make Chimay an incredibly challenging circuit. Its long straights and fast bends would also make it a place where accidents were just waiting to happen.
And as the field roared away to start the 20 lap race, it was clear an accident was just waiting to rear its ugly head. The fighting amongst the drivers would be intense. Unfortunately, the two Gordini pilots would be right at the heart of the battle.
Pillete would end up spinning his car right in front of Pollet. Pollet would do his best to avoid hitting his spinning teammate, but as a result, would veer off into the crowd killing two spectators. The deaths would be the most tragic aspect of the whole race, but in addition, the scattering would cause Pollet to drop well down the running order and the lead would be lost to Prince Bira. What was worse, Pilette, the man who had caused the tragic events in the first place, would recover and would find himself in 2nd place and the last car still on the lead lap by the end of the race.
The attrition would be terrible in the race. By the end, there would be just five cars still running in the race. Pollet, who had the pole and would actually set the fastest lap of the race, would find himself all the way down in 4th place some two laps behind while Pilette would be thirty-five seconds behind Bira.
Bira would be the one that would emerge in front and after an hour and twenty-two minutes and fifteen seconds would cross the finish line to take the victory. Thirty-five seconds later, Pilette would come through to take 2nd. Don Beauman would complete the podium finishing a lap down. Two laps would be the difference back to Pollet.
Despite the fact both Gordini cars finished the race, the Grand Prix des Frontieres would be a bitter experience. Not only would the trouble between Pilette and Pollet cause Pollet to lose a lot of ground after starting on the pole, but it would ultimately result in the deaths of a couple of spectators. And no amount of victories or good results could overcome the feelings of having been involved in such an incident.
After the tragic events that took place at Chimay, Equipe Gordini would take a couple of weeks before it entered another race. This would be a great opportunity for the team to replace the 2.0-liter Formula 2 engines and to refocus and get back to the task at hand. The task at hand would be the third round of the Formula One World Championship, the first on European soil in 1954. Unfortunately, the team would have to return to Belgium for the event as it would be the Belgian Grand Prix held at Spa-Francorchamps on the 20th of June.
Similar in many ways to Chimay except for boasting of a greater elevation changes and a longer circuit, the 8.77 mile circuit would, unfortunately, have an even more fearsome reputation with its incredibly fast portions of circuit and unpredictable weather. Still, the circuit was a favorite with drivers and fans alike.
Gordini would have three cars entered in the 36 lap race. Jean Behra, of course, would be one of those. However, the team would give an opportunity to a Belgian, Paul Frere, to drive one of the other cars. The third car would be driven by Andre Pilette.
Just fourteen cars would qualify for the race. And on such an ultra-fast circuit as Spa, the Gordini cars would struggle for pace compared to the Maseratis and Ferraris. Juan Manuel Fangio would have the pole in a Maserati 250F. His time of 4:22.1 would end up a second and a half faster than Gonzalez in his Ferrari. Giuseppe Farina would make it two Ferraris on the front row starting in the 3rd spot. Averaging nearly 115 mph, Jean Behra would make his way to the third row of the grid and a 7th place starting spot. Right beside him in 8th place would be Andre Pilette. Paul Frere would use his local knowledge to end up 10th and would start from the fourth row of the grid.
Amazingly, as the cars were rolled out onto the grid for the start, there was absolutely no threat of rain. The sun was shinning and the crowd waited with great anticipation for a great race. And at the start, it would be Gonzalez that would leap into the lead. However, the push for the lead would be immediately met with resistance by his own car. An oil pipe would break and he would be out without having completed a single lap. Therefore, Farina would take over the lead of the race with Fangio following along.
Spa was known to be tough on cars and the trouble came fast and early. Besides Gonzalez, six others would end up out of the race before the end. Most unfortunate would be the fact that two of those seven would be cars belonging to the Equipe Gordini team. Behra would suffer suspension failure after just 12 laps and would be out of the race. Then, just a couple of laps later, Paul Frere would be out of the running when his engine blew. This would leave Pilette to carry on for the team.
The attrition would reduce the number of competitive drivers, but there were still enough that could have challenged Fangio. But on this day, Fangio would be too formidable to overcome. Farina had posed the greatest threat to Fangio. And throughout the first half of the race these two would battle. However, the battle would be over after just 14 laps when Farina retired with a blown engine. From that moment on, it was Fangio clearly in control and without equal.
Pilette wouldn't worry about Fangio. Instead, he would be concerned with doing what Behra and Frere could not—finish. Pilette would settle into a comfortable pace and would do his best to move up the running order without damaging the car. He would do a great job only losing one lap to Fangio, but he was certainly not in the running for a podium. Pilette did have a couple of championship points within his sights if he could just hold on.
Trintignant would pose a very distant threat but as Fangio crossed the finish line to take the victory, it was clear Fangio had been in control all the way and that he was never harried in any way. Trintignant would come through to finish 2nd some twenty-four seconds behind. Trintignant would be the last car on the lead lap, but Stirling Moss would be the last man on the podium finishing in 3rd. Pilette would keep his eye on those championship points and would come through in the end. He would finish the race in 5th place a little ways down the road ahead of Prince Bira, the victor of Chimay.
Salvage would certainly be the appropriate word to use for Pilette's performance in the Belgian Grand Prix. Still, it was a solid performance and it netted him 2 championship points. Gordini continued to look strong. The problem was that there was a large number of others that were just, or more, competitive.
The number of competitive entries would only increase with the next round of the World Championship. The French Grand Prix would take place on the 4th of July and would be the fourth round of the Formula One World Championship. And at the race, for the first time since before World War II, Mercedes-Benz would make an appearance at a grand prix race. This would not be an exploratory move by the German manufacturer, not with the hiring of Juan Manuel Fangio.
Obviously intending to make their debut at the race, Mercedes would unload three sleek-bodied W196s at the 5.15 mile ultra-fast Reims circuit. But it wouldn't be until practice that everyone got the idea of just how much the cars were designed for the gently undulating long straights and fast esses of Reims. Averaging 124 mph during his best lap, Fangio would blow away the pole time of 2:41.2 set by Alberto Ascari the previous year. Fangio's time of 2:29.4 would end up being exactly a second faster that his new teammate Karl Kling. Alberto Ascari would make his way to the front row of the grid and would keep things close but would still be just over a second slower than Fangio.
Being that the race was on French soil, Equipe Gordini would enter no fewer than four cars for the 61 lap race. However, the team would have its troubles. Neither one of the four cars would set a time in practice. And, as a result, all four cars would start at the back of the field. Jean Behra would line up on the seventh row in 17th while Jacques Pollet would be alongside in 18th. The other two cars driven by Paul Frere and Georges Berger would all start on the eighth row in the 19th and 20th positions respectively.
The cars would take the grid with the sun shinning but the storm clouds were gathering on the horizon. Being at the back of the pack, the four Gordinis would have a storm of a different sort on their hands as they tried to make their way forward. Nonetheless, the field would roar away and into action. Immediately, Kling would take the lead with Fangio following along closely behind. Ascari would be slow off the line and was obviously in trouble. Sure enough, his race would last just a single lap before his transmission failed ending his race.
Unfortunately, the race wouldn't last all that much longer for two of the team's cars. Pollet would be out after just 8 engines with a blown engine and Berger would follow suit just a lap later. Still, the team had two other running strong, at least at the moment.
The average speed of the Mercedes, approaching 116 mph, would exact a terrible toll on the field. One by one they would fall out of contention while Fangio and Kling battled it out at the front as if without any concern whatsoever. Not even when the rains came did the two slow. They would only increase their lead and leave the French Grand Prix as yet another German ‘Blitz'.
First and second seemed sure as long as the cars continued to keep running. Therefore, the real battle would be for 3rd and on down through the field. Hawthorn and Marimon would be locked in a battle for 3rd. Both would end up retiring from the race and this meant Prince Bira, Jean Behra and Maurice Trintignant would take up the fight for the final spot on the podium. This was impressive for Behra considering he started all the way down in the field. Unfortunately, it would not turn into a Cinderella story as he would make a mistake and would go off the circuit causing Trintignant to lose ground as well. This would allow Bira to escape with 3rd while Behra would slip down the order outside of the top five.
The other remaining Gordini, driven by Paul Frere, was also on course for a very strong top ten result until an axle failure with only eleven laps remaining, would take him right out of the race. This left just six cars still running at the end of the race.
Even in spite of the rain, Fangio and Kling kept their feet firmly on the gas and would power their way well ahead of the rest of the field. Heading into the final couple of laps of the race, the two would have at least a lap advantage over the rest of the field, but the race amongst themselves would be anything but resolved. Still, Neubauer recognized there was a championship to think about. Therefore, after Kling led the second-to-last lap of the race, Fangio would move into the lead for the final. In formidable fashion, Kling would pull alongside of Fangio as they made their way down the long start/finish straight. It would be an emphatic one-two for Mercedes-Benz in its first race back in grand prix racing. Fangio would take the victory by just a tenth of a second over Kling. A lap would be the gap back to Robert Manzon who would manage to steal 3rd place away from Prince Bira on the last lap when Bira's car started to suffer from insufficient fuel in the tank.
The mistake earlier in the race would dramatically hurt Behra in his home race. He had been fighting for the final spot on the podium at the time. However, with the mistake, he would be dropped right out of the battle for a points-paying position. And instead of finishing 3rd, Behra would end up five laps down in 6th.
The French Grand Prix would be bitterly disappointing for the French team. Despite having a fleet of four cars, greater results would slip through their fingers. Behra's race would be especially frustrating. Still, the team would have to quickly put it behind them as their next race was just a week away.
Just about 180 miles away from Reims, on the 11th of July, the circuit Rouen-les-Essarts would host the non-championship 4th Grand Prix de Rouen-les-Essarts. And though it did not count toward the World Championship, the race would pose as great a challenge to the competitors as a World Championship race. Totaling 95 laps, or 301 miles, the race would be anything but a short race. In fact, with the circuit measuring 3.17 miles, it was expected the race would push nearly four hours of racing.
The host of the French Grand Prix back in 1952, the Rouen-les-Essarts circuit, which would come into use in 1950, would be a modern venue boasting of better pit facilities and other modern amenities that made the circuit a favorite of just about every team in the paddock.
Being a favorite venue for many of the teams it would not be surprising that Scuderia Ferrari and Ecurie Rosier would join Equipe Gordini as participants in the race. Surprisingly, neither the factory Maserati nor Mercedes-Benz teams would enter even a single car in the race.
With the backing of Scuderia Ferrari, Maurice Trintignant would be fastest in practice and would take the pole for the long upcoming race. Jean Behra would look strong after practice as well. His best effort would be a matter of tenths slower than Trintignant, and therefore, would give him the 2nd place starting position on the front row. Mike Hawthorn's Ferrari would sandwich the Gordini of Behra taking the final spot on the front row. Andre Pilette would be in one of the other Gordinis and he would end up on the second row of the grid with a splendid 5th place starting position. Clemar Bucci would make it three Gordinis starting inside the top ten when he grabbed the 7th place starting spot on the third row. The fourth Gordini in the field would be driven by Georges Berger. His best effort in practice would be nearly thirteen seconds slower than Behra. And, as a result, he would start from the fifth row of the grid in the 12th position.
Even with 301 miles ahead of the field, tensions would be high as the field prepared for the start of the race. The tensions had the potential for leading to early mistakes. Sure enough, as the field roared away, Behra would find himself mixed up in the emotions of the moment and would pay as a result. He and Hawthorn would come together and would go off the circuit while battling for position. The two would attempt to rejoin the race but would receive illegal outside help in doing so. As a result, Behra and Hawthorn would be disqualified from the race. This would lead Gordini with three cars and the race had only just started.
Trintignant would escape the melee and would enjoy the lead and the clear circuit ahead of him. When Gonzalez's engine blew after 16 laps, his lead would become even more sure. Aided by the fastest lap of the race, Maurice would be in firm control of the race even before reaching the halfway mark. Trintignant's pace over the course of the race would be such that he would lap fellow competitors a number of times as they focused on surviving. And after Pilette's retirement after 40 laps, those focused on surviving would include the two remaining Gordinis in the field.
Bucci would be within sight of the end of the race when his gearbox would break. This would leave just Berger to carry on to the finish, if he could. Trintignant would have no trouble carrying on to the finish. He would take the victory by a lap over Prince Bira. Roy Salvadori would run conservatively some five laps down but would be rewarded with a 3rd place result. Berger would find himself on the same lap as Salvadori but would come away with 4th. Still, it was a good result considering he started the worst amongst his fellow Equipe Gordini teammates.
One bitter disappointment would follow another. Once again, Behra would throw away a great opportunity. Likely, the pressure to make something happen would subconsciously motivate him to take unnecessary chances. He would pay as a result. Unfortunately, the psychoanalysis would have to wait. Another round of the World Championship was just a week away.
It was time to head back to England and Silverstone. The British Grand Prix awaited. And on the 17th of July, Equipe Gordini would have three cars lined up on the starting grid ready to go for the 90 lap, 263 mile, race.
The field would again be full of really competitive cars, drivers and teams. Mercedes would be present with three of its W196s. Scuderia Ferrari would also bring three cars. Even Maserati would have a couple of cars with a couple of incredibly drivers in Alberto Ascari and Luigi Villoresi. Therefore, the race seemed as though it would be a highly competitive affair with the Mercedes believed to be the strongest of the field.
Those assumptions would seem to be validated after practice when Fangio would break the track record and would become the first to average 100 mph around the 2.88 mile circuit. His time of 1:45 would be a full second faster than Gonzalez and would place him on the pole. Mike Hawthorn would make it two Ferraris on the front row starting in 3rd place. Stirling Moss would then make it two Brits starting on the front row when he took his Maserati and was two seconds slower than Fangio. A matter of tenths would keep Behra from the front row. Instead, he would start on the second row in 5th. Andre Pilette wouldn't be near as fast as Behra. He would end up 12th-fastest and would end up starting the race from the fourth row. Clemar Bucci would be at the wheel of the third T16. His best effort would be just a second off of Pilette's best and would lead him to start also from the fourth row of the grid in the 13th position.
There would be shades of the International Trophy race as the field lined up on the grid for the start. The ground was dry for the moment but the skies were overcast and rain was imminent. In the International Trophy race, under such conditions, it would be Gonzalez that would rise to the top. And as the field roared away to start the race, it would be Gonzalez again at the head of the field.
Gonzalez would be in the lead but Fangio would not be able to track him down like everyone believed would be the case. The problem was Fangio had problems of his own. Despite being fast around the circuit, the bodywork would blind him from the apex of the corners. He would not be his usual smoothness and would even begin to hit oil cans placed to the inside of the corners meant to help with visibility. In spite of the bodywork damage he was causing to his car he would manage to climb up to 2nd.
Behra would also be right up there from the start of the race. He would show his ability in the T16 being one of seven that would match the fastest lap of the race time. Still, it wouldn't last. As the rains came, Behra would find his race went. Rear suspension failure after 54 laps would take him out of the running while right up at the front of the field. Behra would join Bucci as another Gordini out of the race. Bucci would retire after 18 laps due to suffering a crash.
Gonzalez would not flinch under the pressure of Fangio. He would continue to lead as he had from the very first lap. In fact, it would be Fangio that would break under the pressure. The damage to the car and a gearbox problem would drop him out of the top three and would leave him fighting just to make it to the end of the race.
Being the sole remaining Gordini in the field, Pilette would focus on remaining steady and not making any mistakes. This, and the rainy conditions, would slow his pace, but against Gonzalez on that day, it wouldn't really matter all that much.
Gonzalez would dominate in the conditions just as he had during the International Trophy race. Averaging nearly 90 mph over the course of the race, Gonzalez would leave just about everyone well behind. Only Mike Hawthorn would manage to remain on the same lap. But even he was well back as Gonzalez crossed the line to take his second victory at Silverstone in 1954. He would cross the line with a minute and ten seconds in hand over Hawthorn in 2nd place. Onofre Marimon would outlast a number of other competitors, including Fangio, to take his first podium result in the Formula One World Championship. He would finish in 3rd place a lap down. Pilette would drive a consistent and steady race and would end up four laps behind but would finish in 9th place.
The reliability Equipe Gordini enjoyed just a matter of weeks earlier had seemed to leave them. No longer did the hand of Providence seem to be on them as they took part in races. Unfortunately, the rapid succession of the races prevented the team from getting to root of its problems. But of course, a couple of driver incidents would cost the team. Therefore, if the team could eliminate the mistakes it was likely the team would continue to earn strong results. The team would only have to wait another week to find out if this was true or not.
Each and every week there was another race and the last weekend in July would end with a non-championship race, the Grand Prix de Caen. At 60 laps of the 2.19 mile circuit, the 3rd Grand Prix de Caen offered teams one of the shortest races of the previous few weeks.
Equipe Gordini would look to take full advantage of the situation. While Scuderia Ferrari would enter just one car for Maurice Trintignant, Gordini would enter no less than three cars in the race and would make up one-third of the entire grid. By now, the team had its usual drivers that would cycle through behind the wheel of its cars. Of course, Behra had his permanent seat. But he would be joined by Clemar Bucci and Jacques Pollet.
A major strategic site during the Normandy Landings during World War II, Equipe Gordini would hope to invade Caen and use it as a race that would help to get the team's season back on track. The team hadn't been doing all that bad but it had failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities and looked to turn that around.
Behra, as usual, would do his part in practice to give the team the best chance possible. His best lap in practice would be just hundredths of a second slower than Stirling Moss and around a half a second slower than Trintignant's pole-winning effort. Therefore, Behra would start on the second row of the grid in the 3rd position. Starting on the row right behind Behra would be Bucci. His best effort would be nearly three seconds slower than Behra but still good enough to start 4th. Pollet would be only two-tenths of a second slower than Bucci and would be all alone on the fourth row in the 6th position.
Behra had been pushing really hard over the previous few races and it had led to some mistakes that took him right out of contention. Well, the same thing would happen during the Grand Prix de Caen. After completing 4 laps, Behra would push a little too hard at one point and would end up crashing out of the race. Just short of the halfway mark of the race, Bucci would end up retiring from the race with a broken oil pipe. This left just Pollet, but even he would be out of the race in favor of Behra.
Absent of Behra, Trintignant and Moss would battle it out for the lead of the race. Moss would keep the pressure on Trintignant by turning the fastest lap of the race but Trintignant would manage to counter every move. Behra would find himself in 3rd place but would be a long ways behind, perhaps recounting where he could have been had he not made his mistake.
The race would be a two man show. Trintignant and Moss would absolutely leave everyone else behind. And despite Moss' pressure, Trintignant would be able to hold onto the lead, and would even manage to stretch out his advantage by a couple of lengths heading into the final lap.
Trintignant's consist pace would enable him to keep Moss behind him as he headed to the line to take the victory. Three and a half seconds later, Moss would come through to finish in 2nd place. Trintignant and Moss had so thoroughly dominated that Behra would finish in 3rd place with Pollet's car but would find himself two laps down at the end.
Equipe Gordini, Jean Behra especially, continued to flirt with disaster. The previous season would see Gordini struggle with reliability. One year later, it would be mistakes that would take the team out of the running. With a history of unreliability, the mistakes needed to rectified. Otherwise, the team would flirt with disaster at each and every race. And if things reverted back to the prior season, unreliability would take away any opportunity for a good result. And the team definitely needed to remove any mistakes heading into the next race on the season.
Motor races had started to be held around the village of Nuburg, Germany during the early part of the 20th century. However, the circuit used, which was comprised entirely of public roads, would be deemed too dangerous after a number of fatalities. Therefore, in order to host future motor races a new purpose-built circuit would be built. Built during the 1920s, the Nurburgring's Nordschleife would be the longest purpose-built circuit in the world. And whether by design or accident, nearly the same amount of danger and threat to human life would be designed into the new circuit as had existed with the public road course. And as the circuit prepared to host the sixth round of the 1954 Formula One World Championship, everyone would be reminded of just how dangerous the circuit truly was.
Held at the Nurburgring for the first time in 1951, the German Grand Prix would welcome the best in the world to race on its most-difficult and demanding circuit. However, 1954 would be different in that finally Germany would have its own major manufacturer taking part, Mercedes-Benz. During practice, however, everyone would be reminded of what was truly important.
In the fast downhill run to the Adenau Bridge, Onofre Marimon would lose control of his Maserati around a right-hander and would go tumbling off the course. By the time he was extracted from the car, he was fighting a losing battle for his life. Marimon's death would be taken very badly by the large number of Argentineans in the field including Fangio, Gonzalez, Roberto Mieres and others.
Marimon's death would overshadow Fangio taking the pole for Mercedes. But it wouldn't keep the event from going on. Therefore, joining Fangio on the front row would be Mike Hawthorn in 2nd and Stirling Moss 3rd.
Four Gordini cars would be entered in the race. Paul Frere would end up being the fastest of them and would start from the third row in 6th. Jean Behra would also start from the same row as Frere but would start 8th. Clemar Bucci would be over thirty seconds slower than Frere and would end up down on the sixth row in 14th position. Andre Pilette would struggle in his T16 and would end up all the way down on the seventh row in 18th.
At the start of the race it would be Gonzalez that would take the lead but it would be short-lived as Fangio would actually lead the first lap and the next thirteen after that. Increased from 18 to 22 laps, there would be plenty of time for Fangio's lead to come under threat. And it would come under threat from his own teammate.
Karl Kling would start dead-last on the grid but would put together an impressive drive up through the field and would be challenging for the lead after 14 laps had been completed. Against the protests of the team, Kling would continue to push his car hard and would actually take the lead on the 15th lap.
Meanwhile, things were not going well for Equipe Gordini. Pilette's race came to an end without having completed the first lap of the race as gearbox failure would bring his day to an end. Then, after 4 laps, Frere would have a wheel come off and would lead him to crash out of the race. Clemar Bucci would keep the bad news coming when he too also had a wheel come off after 8 laps. This would cause great concern for the sole car remaining in the race, that driven by Behra. Behra would slow his pace right down taking great care to make it all the way to the finish of the race.
Kling should have taken the same care. His incredible drive up through the field had taken a huge toll on his W196 and he would have to pit to have the car adjusted. This would give the lead back to Fangio and he would never part with it again throughout the remainder of the race. Kling had been Fangio's only real threat throughout the race and after his troubles he would be mired down in the order looking after the car to make it to the finish. Fangio would further be safe in the lead since Gonzalez would pit and hand his car over to Hawthorn. Gonzalez felt sick behind the wheel still grieving for the loss of Marimon.
Fangio would put aside his feelings and would bring home a strong victory for the Silver Arrows. It would be a long race as he would complete the 22 laps in three hours, forty-five minutes and forty-five seconds. Hawthorn would bring Gonzalez's Ferrari home in 2nd place following behind Fangio by a minute and thirty-six seconds. Trintignant would finish on the final spot on the podium but would be over five minutes behind.
The day would be an even longer one for Behra. After the troubles suffered by Frere and Bucci, Behra would have to keep one eye on the tires throughout the remainder of the race. As it was, Behra would finish his race some eight minutes after Fangio. That is how close he was to going another lap down. In the end, Behra would be the last car still running on the circuit. He would finish 10th some two laps, or more than 28 miles, behind Fangio.
It seemed unreliability was making a comeback within the team. The weeks of racing were catching up to the team. And now, the opportunities were becoming harder and harder to come by precisely because each driver had to be concerned with the car actually finishing the race distance. The team needed to fix things. Thankfully, the team would have a couple of weeks in between races.
After a welcome break, Equipe Gordini would load up three of its cars and would head to Italy. They would carry on to the coastal city of Pescara where there awaited yet another immense racing circuit, the longest in the world at that time. The team was headed to Pescara to take part in the 23rd Circuito di Pescara held on the 15th of August. Though another non-championship race, the race would be another supreme test for the team.
Bordered to the east by the Adriatic Sea and to the northwest by the Maiella mountains, Pescara offers visitors a truly magnificent array of dramatic scenery. And all of this varied geography would also offer up one incredibly varied 16 mile circuit that boasted of incredibly long straights and tight and twisting mountainous roads all at the same time.
At 16 laps, or, 255 miles, the Circuito di Pescara would be anything but an easy race. This would be partly the reason for the small thirteen car field. Not surprisingly, Equipe Gordini would make up nearly 25 percent of the field with its three cars driven by Behra, Bucci and newcomer Andre Guelfi. Born in Morocco in 1919, Guelfi would focus mostly on a career in business but would take to racing by the early 1950s.
Bucci continued to impress while with Gordini. He would start the race from the front row in 3rd position beside Stirling Moss on pole and Robert Manzon in 2nd. Jean Behra would start from the second row of the grid in 4th place while Guelfi would be trying to get his feet under him starting from the fourth row in the 10th position.
Guelfi had had experience in sports cars and had even scored a 6th place overall finish at that year's 24 Hours of Le Mans with Pollet. However, his initiation in grand prix racing would be a hot one. His race would last just one lap before it would literally go up in flames. Therefore, Gordini would again be down a car very early in yet another race.
Despite Moss and Manzon dropping out after just a couple of laps, neither Bucci nor Behra would be able to match the pace of the leader Luigi Musso. Musso would be chased by Prince Bira who would go on to set the fastest lap of the race.
Behra would actually look under control throughout the race. He would fight his way by Bucci and would continue to run a steady race. It would end up costing him a lap, but after the last few races, he would be willing to give up a lap. Bucci wouldn't just be a matter of seconds or minutes behind the leaders, but miles. Heading to the finish, Bucci, if it were stretched out and tallied, would be approaching 100 miles in which he was trailing behind Musso. Still, he was in the race.
Musso's pace, despite the challenge by Bira, would be more than enough to keep him minutes ahead of Bira all the way to the finish. Musso would take the victory completing the race in a little under three hours. Prince Bira would come 2nd after starting all the way down in 9th place on the grid. He would be just under three minutes behind. Harry Schell would come 3rd but he would be almost seven minutes in arrears. Behra would finish strong. He would finish in the 5th position one lap down while Bucci would be the last car still running. He would finish 6th, six laps behind.
Unlike the earlier part of the year, there was really no point during the entire race that either of the Gordini cars seemed to be able to attack or stay with the rest of the front-runners. It appeared as though fear of unreliability had truly come to grip the team once again. The team would need to break free of this with a lot of racing still left. The next race would offer the team a better opportunity.
Just one week after the race in Pescara, the team would be in Switzerland preparing for the Swiss Grand Prix which was the seventh round of the Formula One World Championship. However, wet weather would make the event a dangerous one.
Situated in the deep woods along the Wohlenssee River near Bern, the ever-twisty 4.52 Bremgarten circuit was every bit as dangerous as the Nurburgring. In fact, the circuit would take the life of the great Achille Varzi back in 1948. Therefore, those that would be the fastest were those that were the bravest, and perhaps, even the craziest.
Neither of the Gordini pilots would be considered the craziest not after practice, that would be sure. The fastest amongst the team cars would be the car driven by Clemar Bucci. His best lap would be 3:04.1 in the wet and would leave him starting the race from the 10th position on the fourth row of the grid. Jean Behra would seem totally different over the last few races. Instead of starting races up near the front and always being the fastest of the Gordini drivers, he would again find himself outpaced by one of his teammates. He would be twelve seconds slower than Bucci and would end up down on the sixth row of the grid in 14th position. Starting alongside Behra on the sixth row would be another newcomer. American Fred Wacker would be nearly four seconds slower than Behra but would still start 15th.
Jose Froilan Gonzalez would manage to put in a fast lap in somewhat drier conditions and would end up taking the pole with a time of 2:39.5. Fangio would be two-tenths slower and would start 2nd. Stirling Moss would occupy the final position on the front row.
Sixteen cars would be rolled out through the mud and positioned on the grid on the Bremgarten Circuit, which like many others, consisted entirely of public roads all around the area to the southwest of Bern.
Despite the wet conditions off the circuit, the race would get underway with the circuit dry. And at the start, it would be Fangio that would take the lead followed by his teammate Kling. Bucci would hold position right around 10th place but Behra would make a great start and would be nearly beside Bucci before entering the first turn. Wacker, on the other hand, would take things easy and would be running second-to-last heading around on the first lap.
Behra would continue to put together an impressive upward march up through the field. Within a matter of a few laps Behra would be well inside the top ten and would be looking comfortable and strong. Bucci descent down the running order would be justified as he would be out without having completed even a single lap. Fuel pump failure would end his day.
Fangio continued to dominate at the front of the field. Kling would make a mistake and would spin in his Mercedes. This would drop him well down the field. Right around that time, Behra would drop out with clutch failure. Unreliability was certain coming back to haunt Equipe Gordini. Unfortunately, the nightmare would be completed just a couple of laps later when Wacker retired with transmission failure. Just like that, all three Gordini cars would be out of the running by the 10th of 66 laps.
Behra and the other Gordini drivers could join the rest of the spectators watching the truly indomitable performance Fangio was putting together at the front of the field. Not only had he led every lap since the drop of the Swiss flag but he had also set the fastest lap of the race with a time exactly the same as his qualifying effort. This would only further lengthen his advantage over Gonzalez.
The entire race would be a clinic put on by Fangio. Not only would he pull out a very comfortable margin over Gonzalez but he would manage to lap everyone else. Of course, it would help when just eight cars would remain running at the end.
Fangio would go on to take the victory beating Gonzalez by a very comfortable fifty-eight seconds. Hans Herrmann would make it two Mercedes on the podium when he finished 3rd one lap down. And with the victory, Fangio was assured the World Championship would be his for a second time.
Equipe Gordini couldn't sink any lower. Not only would all three cars retire early but they would do so by the end of the 10th lap of the race. That meant not a single one of the cars made it past 50 miles. The team would really need to begin to pray for a miracle.
'Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…' Equipe Gordini would have a couple of weeks to prepare for its next race. However, its next race would be at a place considered to be the very heart of Italian motor racing. The race was the Italian Grand Prix and it would take place, as usual, at the ultra-fast Autodromo Nazionale di Monza on the 5th of September.
Set in the beautiful and expansive Royal Villa of Monza park, the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza would be built as one of the first purpose-built circuits in the world. It would also be one of the first circuits in the world that would also offer a number of different layout options in order to host races of many different types. But no matter which layout was used, the circuit would be able to be described by one word—fast.
As with the very first year of the Formula One World Championship, and every year after that, the 3.91 mile road course would be used. Nearly as fast as the circuit's 2.62 mile banked oval, the road course would play into the hands of the cars offering the greatest amount of horsepower. Usually, this would benefit the machines adorned in red, but this year, it would be a Silver Arrows taking its place on the pole. Fangio would end up two-tenths faster than Ascari and three-tenths faster than Stirling Moss taking up his position on the 3rd place spot on the grid.
Behra would retake his place as fastest amongst the Gordini pilots. However, he would start the race all the way down on the fourth row of the grid in the 12th position. Clemar Bucci would be the next-fastest Gordini pilot. He would end up on the sixth row in 17th. Right beside him on the sixth row would be Fred Wacker. He would start 18th. In all, 20 cars would line up on the grid preparing for the 80 lap Gran Premio d'Italia.
The sun would be shinning down on the grid field with a sea of red. With the exception of the three Mercedes and a lone Vanwall, the three Gordini T16s would be the only other cars not adorned in Italian racing red.
At the start, it would be Kling that would make an incredible start and would actually lead over Fangio, Ascari and Gonzalez. Kling would hold onto the lead through the first 4 laps of the race. However, Kling would make a mistake and would end up losing ground falling all the way down to 5th. Fangio would now be in the lead but would soon be overtaken by Ascari.
Ascari would be in great form on this day. Lap after lap he would hold off Fangio until even Moss would manage to get by the Argentinean. This would set the stage for another terrific battle between Ascari and Moss.
By this point in time in the race two of the Gordinis had long since retired. Jean Behra would continue to suffer a disappointing season as he would fall out of the race after just 2 laps when his engine blew. The next to fall out of the running would be Behra's teammate Bucci. Clemar would retire due to gearbox issues. Once again, the team would lose the majority of its cars within the first 50 miles of the race. Only Fred Wacker remained in the race and he had a difficult task ahead of him after starting 18th.
Moss and Ascari would battle it out until Ascari retired with a blown engine close to 50 laps into the race. Moss would then have the lead and would hold onto it over the next 18 laps. But then, trouble would visit Moss' Maserati. He would have to stop, handing the lead back to Fangio. Then, under 10 laps from the finish the engine would finally let go.
Once in the lead, Fangio would not be able to be overcome. He would power his way to yet another victory, his sixth on the season. He would have a full lap in hand over Mike Hawthorn finishing in 2nd place. Gonzalez had fallen out earlier in the race but would eventually take over Umberto Maglioli's car to finish in 3rd place two laps behind.
It seemed the hand of Providence was not with Equipe Gordini once again. However, the team would be shown some grace. Fred Wacker, one of Gordini's drivers with the least amount of time behind the wheel of any Gordini chassis, would be given permission to carry on to the finish. And in the end, Wacker would finish a very strong 6th place. Despite finishing five laps behind, this was quite a performance by Wacker given the fact he start the race all the way down on the sixth row of the grid.
Providence and grace and seen the team through yet again. Still, the team was suffering terribly and the number of races left was growing short. The team needed to bolster itself to make a strong run to the finish of the season. The question was whether or not they could do it?
Confidence would be one thing the team desperately needed in order to help bolster the remainder of the season. And on the 12th of September, one week after the Italian Grand Prix, the team would have the best opportunity it had had in a long time. The team would dispatch three cars to take part in the 5th Circuit de Cadours.
Utilizing 2.55 miles of public roads just outside the French village of Cadours, hosting major motor races amidst the rolling countryside had been the dream of Louis Arrivet. And by 1949, it seemed the dream was well and truly about to take off. The circuit was not that easy and presented a challenge to drivers, and therefore, was becoming more and more popular. However, interest would begin to wane after the death of the French hero Raymond Sommer. Still, the circuit would host some of the best drivers of the day including Juan Manuel Fangio.
By 1954, the Circuit de Cadours Formula One race would be a race consisting of two heats and a final. The field for the race would be small and the only real teams in the field would be those of Equipe Gordini and Ecurie Rosier.
The starting grid for either of the heats would be something of a mystery but it is known that Jean Behra and Andre Pilette took part in the first heat. Louis Rosier posed the greatest threat in the first heat and with just six cars in the first heat it would not be all that surprising that Behra would lead the way and take the victory by a second over Pilette in the first 15 lap heat race. Of course, after the season Behra had been experiencing lately it would be something of a surprise nonetheless. Louis Rosier, not surprisingly, would finish in 3rd place.
The second 15 lap heat race would see Fred Wacker go it alone against Harry Schell's 2.5-liter powered A6GCM Maserati. Wacker would challenge Schell throughout but would not be able to take the victory. Schell would finish three seconds ahead of Wacker. Fernand Navarro would finish 3rd in a Ferrari 625.
Again, the starting grid for the 30 lap final would be relatively unknown but it is clear the Equipe Gordini cars would be favorites heading into the final. They would just need to make it to the end. And that was enough of a challenge right there.
Behra knew he had a chance at taking victory. Therefore, in the final, he would stand on his T16 and would be fast immediately. Chased by Pilette, Behra would continue to push. He would go on to set the fastest lap of the race but would have it matched by Pilette. Still, Behra would draw away from Pilette. That meant the rest of the field would run the threat of seeing Behra many times before the end of the race.
When Schell retired with rear axle failure the Gordini team knew it really only had Rosier to worry about. The opportunity for a sweep of the podium was there. The question was whether the team could pull it off or not?
Behra and Pilette would do their jobs. Behra would take the victory completing the race distance in fifty-eight minutes and forty-nine seconds. Pilette would come across the line fourteen seconds later in 2nd place. Two out of the three spots were occupied by Equipe Gordini drivers. Wacker just needed to come through. Unfortunately, the American would be unable to fully liberate the French. He would end up a lap down in 4th place. It would be Rosier that would take the 3rd spot on the podium. He would end up a minute and twenty seconds behind Behra.
Still, it was three Frenchmen on the podium. This would make the local population more than happy. The result would also help to build the confidence of the Equipe Gordini team. And confidence was something the team dearly needed. It had been barely breathing. But now, there was a bit of belief the team could rise again.
However, to rise again, Equipe Gordini would have to go into the lion's den to do it. And one week after the successful campaign at Cadours, the French team would invade the heart of Germany. The team would make its way to the Avus Circuit in the western part of Berlin. They would come to take part in the 1st Grosser Preis von Berlin.
This was Mercedes-Benz territory. The sleek-bodied W196 had been designed for such circuits as the 5.15 mile Avus Circuit with its long and fast straights. In fact, many privateers would specially build sleek-bodied racers just for the races held at Avus. It seemed absolutely clear Equipe Gordini would have no chance in the 60 lap, 313 mile, race.
This notion would seem more and more like fact after practice. Fangio would take the pole and would be joined on the front row by his other two Mercedes teammates Hans Herrmann and Karl Kling. Jean Behra would do his best in practice and would end up starting on the second row in the 4th position. But still, his best time around the ultra-fast circuit was some ten seconds slower than Kling's time, let alone Fangio's. Pilette would start down on the third row of the grid in the 7th position. Fred Wacker would start inside the top ten. He would start from the fourth row in the 9th position. Only eleven cars would line up on the grid to start the race.
The immense crowd expected the Silver Arrows of Mercedes to absolutely dominate the field and the race. And on paper, that assumption would be correct. But as the field roared away down the long straight, many people would be taken back by what they were witnessing.
Behra knew he had to be up at the front. He could not let the Mercedes escape. If they did, the race would be over. He needed to harass and set the tempo of the race. And as Fangio led the field into the tight hairpin turn at the end of the long straight, Behra would make his move to do just that. Behra would slipstream the whole way down the straight and would pull out to pass heading into the hairpin. It would work! He would now be running 3rd in a race that nobody gave them a chance in. Behra would stay put until heading back into the tight hairpin the next time. He would pull off the same maneuver and would find himself in 2nd place!
All while Behra was staggering the imagination, Pilette ran strong as well. He would be in the 5th position. Wacker would be further back but would be running a steady pace hopefully ensuring that he would be there at the end of the event.
Behra didn't really seem to care about being there at the end of the race. He wanted to lead and right now. However, Fangio would hold him off. Still, for 14 laps Behra would stay right there with the powerful Mercedes. Unfortunately, doing so was putting tremendous strain on his engine. Each time he pulled out of the slipstream he gained revs, but this damaged the engine too much. And on the 15th lap, Behra's threat would come to an engine when his engine blew up entirely.
Behra out of the way, the three Mercedes cars would soldier on in lock-step. The Juggernaut could not be stopped. All would fall under the ‘blitz' attack. Pilette would head up the counter-attack but would be consumed and dropped a number of laps behind.
At the finish, Fangio would repay Kling for the French Grand Prix. On home turf, it would be Kling that would head up the Mercedes trio crossing the line nearly side-by-side. Fangio would be listed in 2nd place just half a second behind. Hans Herrmann would be a further half a second behind in 3rd. Andre Pilette would hold on to finish 4th. However, he would be no fewer than three laps behind at the finish. Fred Wacker's unassuming steady pace would lead to him finishing in the 6th position five laps behind.
The crowd would grow fond of watching Behra trying to contend with the Mercedes. And while the performance would be impressive, it would also be rather alarming. The Mercedes carried on at those speeds without missing a beat. Behra's car could only do those speeds for 15 laps before his race came to an end. It was certainly clear: the T16 was now outpaced and had outlived its usefulness.
But the season wasn't over yet. There were still a couple of races left, and therefore, still a couple of potential opportunities for Equipe Gordini to mount one last offensive. The first of two remaining races on the calendar would come on the 2nd of October near Liverpool, England. The race was the 1st edition of the Daily Telegraph Trophy race and it would be held at a site better known for steeplechase horse racing.
The Aintree Racecourse was well known for hosting the 4.5 mile Grand National. However, it would be suggested that a 3.0 mile motor racing circuit could be designed and built within the confines of the racecourse providing a dual purpose to the facility. On top of that, the design for the layout of the circuit enabled the main grandstands to be used for the races and meant costs would be reduced by not having to build new buildings to host the spectators. All that would need to be built would be the pits and the paddock to host the mechanical thoroughbreds and their trainers.
The circuit would be finished in time for the 1954 season and it would already host some races earlier on in the season before the grand prix cars showed up in early October. It was to be quite an affair. And if it went off well, Silverstone would have a new challenger to host the British Grand Prix.
The thousands upon thousands of spectators would be excited and abuzz about the race. And so too would be the teams. While Equipe Gordini, Ecurie Rosier and Officine Alfieri Maserati represented the extent of the international flavor of the race, it was still very clear the race had the potential of being very popular.
Stirling Moss would delight the British faithful by taking the pole in practice. His time of 2:03.6 around the 3.0 mile circuit would end up about a second and a half faster than the man that would start in 2nd place. That man would be Jean Behra. Once again, Behra would look strong in practice. And it seemed he had found something a little extra heading into the second-to-last race of the season. It had the look and feel of those races he contested during the first half of the season.
The rest of the front row would consist of Mike Hawthorn staring in 3rd place driving the Vanwall 01. The final spot on the front row would come to be occupied by Harry Schell. He would push his Maserati 250F hard and would end up just under five seconds slower than Moss. But it would be good enough to start 4th on the grid.
Andre Pilette would just miss out on the four-wide front row. His best effort in practice would be just eight-tenths of a second slower than Schell. Still, a 5th place starting spot on the second row seemed to promise good things for Pilette. And after the season the team had been experiencing, especially in the later-half, it would be not at all surprising that the team would bring just two cars to the race.
Moss and Hawthorn would strike up a battle right from the outset. The two would be the quickest cars on the circuit trading fast laps. Behra would do his best to keep with the two Brits and would also look strong throughout the majority of the race. Schell and Sergio Mantovani would make it a five car battle at the front of the field. Pilette would be up there at the start but would be dropped by the pace of Mantovani.
The pace would remain high throughout the course of the 17 lap race. Moss would set the fastest lap of the race with a time close to his pole effort. But that time would later be matched by Hawthorn in the Vanwall.
The front runners were beginning to pull away from those running in 5th place or worse. And that included Pilette. Therefore, Andre's main concern became finishing strong and remaining on the lead lap, which would not be an easy task given the pace with which Moss and Hawthorn were lapping the circuit.
Heading into the final couple of laps of the race, Moss had managed to counter every attack made by Hawthorn and had even managed to pull out a rather comfortable advantage. Behra would fight hard to remain up near the front of the field and this would end up taking a toll on the car. Sure enough, with just 2 laps remaining in the race, Behra would be out with clutch failure. Jean would have to face yet another disappointing failure. Pilette, on the other hand, was still running strong, but was well back of the front runners.
Moss would cruise to victory pulling off the win by nearly fourteen seconds over Hawthorn. The real battle over the last few laps of the race had been the battle for 2nd place. Hawthorn had it but Schell would do everything he could to take it. These two would run within a second of each other throughout the majority of the race. In the end, Schell would come up a second short to Hawthorn, but would still be pleased with a strong 3rd place showing. Pilette would drive a smart race. It was clear the T16 no longer had the endurance and the pace. It was either one or the other. He would choose endurance and would end up finishing in 5th place a minute and thirty seconds behind Moss.
Only one race remained on the season for Equipe Gordini. This was both good news and bad news. It surely was good news after the struggles the team had faced during the later part of the season. But it was also bad news as it would be the last opportunity the team would have to end the season on a good note. The season had started out with a big race and it would end with one as well. It was the ninth, and final, round of the Formula One World Championship for 1954. It was the Spanish Grand Prix and it would be held at yet another ultra-fast circuit. This time it would be the 3.91 mile Pedralbes Circuit located not far from Barcelona.
The Pedralbes Circuit would be an interesting mixture of city streets and public roads. But perhaps its most significant feature would be its speed. The organizers of the race would not make the city street portion of the circuit tight like most. Instead, the circuit would be incredibly wide and would allow drivers to be brave carrying a lot of speed through corners thereby giving the circuit high average speeds.
Lancia would make its first appearance in a Formula One World Championship and would only add to the number of major manufacturers entered in Formula One. This would only further make life difficult for Equipe Gordini with cars that were certainly living well beyond their years.
Alberto Ascari would put the new Lancia D50 to good use in practice as he would take the pole by a full second from Fangio. Mike Hawthorn would start in 3rd place on the front row for Ferrari while Harry Schell would put together a surprising performance to take the 4th, and final, spot. Four different manufacturers would occupy places along the front row. Unfortunately, neither of the two Gordinis driven by Behra and Pollet could make it five different manufacturers in a row. Instead, both would be much further down in the field.
Jacques Pollet would be the fastest of the team cars. He would end up nine and a half seconds slower than Ascari and would start from the fifth row in the 16th position. Behra would also start from the 5th row but in the 18th position.
The cars would be wheeled out to their grid positions amidst brilliant sunshine and warm temperatures. 80 laps awaited the field of twenty-one cars. And as the immense crowd watched the cars tear away on the start of the very first lap, all would be treated to an unexpected surprise. Schell would make an incredible start and would power down the long start/finish straight to clearly take the lead heading into the first corner. Hawthorn would follow Schell while Ascari would be fighting to hold back Maurice Trintignant.
Schell would lead the way through the first couple of laps of the race. But then, on the 3rd lap of the race, Ascari would assume the lead and it appeared Schell's fairytale was over. But it was not, at least not at that moment.
The race would not be over for Behra and Pollet either. They would manage to make it through the first few laps of the race as well and would place their focus on the cars ahead of them in an attempt to move up the running order.
Just when it seemed order had been restored, everything would come unraveled. Villoresi would be out after 2 laps with brake failure. Then, on the 10th lap of the race, Ascari's race would come to an end when clutch failure brought about the complete end of the Lancia debut in Formula One. This would set he stage for a titanic battle between Harry Schell and Maurice Trintignant.
Many believed Schell to be out of the running after Ascari took the lead. But after Ascari's retirement, he would find himself locked in an incredibly duel with Trintignant. These two would trade the lead back and forth just about every single lap of the race throughout what was about the next 15 laps.
Just about the same time Schell found his race had new life, the life within Behra's car was coming to an end. Brake failure would lead to yet another retirement for the Frenchman. He would join six others that would be out of the running by the 30th lap of the race.
Schell would be eventually be the seventh that would be out by the 30th lap. While battling for the lead of the race he would make a mistake and would be dropped from the front of the field. Unfortunately, the spin, and hard pushing, would lead to gearbox problems that would totally bring his race to an end.
Pollet's race also came to an end just laps after Schell's incredible performance drew to a close. More mechanical problems would end his day. This brought about Equipe Gordini's one last assault on the 1954 Formula One World Championship.
Trintignant thought the victory in the final round of the championship had been handed to him. However, just 7 laps past halfway his engine would fail taking the victory away from him and giving it to Mike Hawthorn.
Attrition had been brutal. Only nine cars would be running as the last lap approached. Hawthorn had managed to stay within himself and would go on to take the victory, his second World Championship career victory. A minute and thirteen seconds would be the difference back to Luigi Musso who had started the race from 7th place on the grid. Hawthorn's consistent and fast pace would end up causing Fangio to finish a lap down as he took things carefully in the final round of the championship. Therefore, Fangio would finish in 3rd place, one lap down.
Equipe Gordini's season couldn't have taken a downward spiral at a worse time. Finding a way for just one of their cars to finish was becoming harder and harder to come by. All of the confidence the team had built up in the earlier part of the season had long since left the team by the Spanish Grand Prix on the 24th of October. Almost mercifully, the double retirement would finally bring about the end to the team's misery that had just continued to build up as the season progressed.
It had been a tale of two seasons for Behra. The beginning part of the season had started out rather strongly. There were great opportunities and a few others that he could have taken advantage of had he not made mistakes that took him out of contention altogether. This would then lead to the second half of the season. The second part of the season would be marked by unreliability once again and a car incapable of matching the speeds of the other Formula One teams, like Mercedes. Race after race, Equipe Gordini would have to hope and pray that at least one of its cars would make it through to the end. This would prove to be enough for Behra as it had been enough for Manzon and Trintignant. At the end of the season, Behra's career with Equipe Gordini would also be at an end.
But as the door was beginning to shut behind Behra as he left the team, an unexpected person would sneak back through the door to become part of the team once again. Robert Manzon, who had left the team in disgust for the team's unreliability woes, would return to drive for the team heading into the 1955 season. Over the course of the season, Manzon would be joined by a number of other drivers that would include Elie Bayol and Jacques Pollet.
Of course, one of the main things the team needed was a new chassis. And while things were in motion, the team would still arrive in the new season with an old veteran. The take what it had and would work even harder at removing the incredible unreliability the team still continued to suffer. In fact, unreliability seemed to be about the only constant within the Equipe Gordini team. Equipe Simca-Gordini