TeamsEcurie Francorchamps: 1953 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
In 1952, the warm relationship between the Belgian Jacques Swaters and Enzo Ferrari would pay dividends as the Ecurie Francorchamps team would be one of the very few teams other than Scuderia Ferrari itself to take delivery of what would become the dominant Ferrari 500 Tipo. However, the trip getting the car to its first race would be certainly more inspiring and memorable than the result earned in the race itself.
The story begins with Swaters arriving in Modena with a trailer to pick up the new yellow adorned Ferrari. However, the car would be delayed and it became clear that the transporter would not be able to deliver the car in time for its first race. This is when the story becomes absolutely remarkable and the kind of thing for legends, that is, if the result would have been better.
Swaters would explain, 'I had a girlfriend with me in a little Citroen and we set off in convoy. Then there was no autostrada and no ring road around Milan. I drove through the Piazza Duomo to the applause of pedestrians. Of course, the Ferrari had no lights so I had to follow my girlfriend pretty closely. And I had no mudguards, no license plates, no insurance—nothing!' After simply being waved through Switzerland and then ducking under the barrier heading into Belgium, Swaters would arrive in time for the car to take part in its first race. This incredible story would have an incredible, but very unfortunate ending. Roger Laurent would take the car and would start the race from the front row. However, he would end up crashing the car on the very first lap of the race knocking him out of the running.
In spite of taking delivery of the new car the season would be one of disappointment. Driver error and mechanical ailments would severely hamper the team's performance over the course of the season. Nonetheless, the team knew what potential lay within the car. It had gone on to earn Ferrari's first ever World Drivers Championship for Alberto Ascari and it had done so in dominant fashion. If Ecurie Francorchamps could tap into that same potential the team knew it could have a strong year heading into 1953.
The 1953 season would see a first for the World Championship. For the first time, the World Championship would become a proper World Championship. The season would start very early. This would be because the first round of the World Championship would take place in Argentina during what was late summer in South America. While this was certainly something special the trip across the Atlantic would not be an easy, nor cheap affair. As a result, many of the small teams and privateers would not make the trip. They, instead, would wait until the racing season kicked off in Europe starting in a couple of months. Ecurie Francorchamps would be one of those that would also wait for the racing season in Europe to start instead of heading off across the Atlantic Ocean.
The first round of the World Championship would take place in the middle of January. It would be months before the first races of the season would take place in Europe. However, Ecurie Francorchamps would be present at one of the first of the season. On the 22nd of March one of the first non-championship races of the 1953, and of Europe, would get set to start. The race was the 80 lap 3rd Gran Premio di Siracusa and Charles de Tornaco would be at the wheel of the team's Ferrari 500.
Described by Cicero as 'the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all', Syracuse's history has been one of great importance and great turbulence. Founded by the ancient Greek Corinthians, the city would become a very important and powerful city-state that was once allied with Sparta and Corinth. The city would be the site of numerous sieges and struggles for power. Under the rule of the Romans, Vandals and Muslims, the city would later experience more occupation and destruction as the city would come under the attack of Allied and German attack in World War II. As a result of the numerous lives of soldiers lost on the island a War Graves cemetery would be built and would run along a portion of the circuit.
Believed to be located on the site of a former United States Army Air Force airbase, the Syracuse circuit utilized public roads just to the west of the city's center. The rolling countryside would provide some natural undulation and character for the 3.34 mile circuit.
While Charles de Tornaco and Ecurie Francorchamps would be taking part in their first race of the season, Scuderia Ferrari would be fresh from victory in the first World Championship and first non-championship Formula 2 races of the season. Alberto Ascari had been dominant in his win of the Argentine Grand Prix while Giuseppe Farina would go on to win the 7th Gran Premio Ciudad de Buenos Aires.
Besides the victory, the two races provided Scuderia Ferrari with another advantage. The team had had a couple of races in which to tweak and adjust the cars in order to make them more reliable and quicker. While Ecurie Francorchamps would have the time to prepare the cars, they wouldn't have the race experience which also helps to finally tune the car. However, as the race would show, it wouldn't be Ecurie Francorchamps that would need to worry.
Practice would end up as one would expect. Alberto Ascari would prove to be fastest. As a result, he would take for the 80 lap race. Giuseppe Farina would start the race from the front row as well as he would start 2nd. Luigi Villoresi would make it an all-Ferrari front row as he would start the race in 3rd place. Mike Hawthorn would make it a clean sweep as he would start from the second row in 4th place.
In stark contrast, de Tornaco would be staring at Scuderia Ferrari's cars from the very back. Charles and the team couldn't come to grips with the car. As a result, de Tornaco would start the race from the sixth, and final, row of the grid. In fact, he would start the race in a row all by himself and 14th overall.
The field would leave the grid and would power its way along through the kinks on the way down to the tight Curva della Madonnina hairpin. Out of the hairpin, the field would begin the gradual climb up past the war cemetery on the way to the fast Curva Carpinteri. The field would make it through the first couple of laps without incident. However, just three laps into the race a strange event that would spark a chain-reaction would happen.
The Ferraris would all start the race rather well. However, after just 3 laps, the race would come to an end for Villoresi. Valve trouble would cause his engine to fail on him and take him out of the race. While trouble certainly wasn't something unusual to Ferrari, what would end up happening afterward certainly was.
Tom Cole Jr. and Sergio Mantovani would end up crashing out of the race on the very same lap, which was the 36th lap of the 80 lap race. Then, one lap later, Alberto Ascari would suffer a failure and would be out of the race. It would be found that valve trouble also brought his car's race to an end. Although Ascari's car was out of the race, he would not be. It would be determined that Ascari would take over Mike Hawthorn's Ferrari for the remainder of the event. For 20 laps it seemed Ascari's, and Ferrari's, troubles were over with. However, on the 57th lap of the race valve trouble would again strike and would cause Ascari to finally have to retire from the race. This left just Giuseppe Farina left in the race for the team, but that wouldn't last too long either. Just 4 laps after Ascari finally retired, Farina would have a mechanical problem that would bring his race to an end as well. Just like that, all four Ferraris would be out of the race, and still with a little less than 20 laps remaining in the race.
While most all of the attention would go to Ferrari before and during the early part of the race there would be a number of others that would make great starts and would be rewarded later on. Emmanuel de Graffenried would look good in his Maserati A6GCM. And when all of the Ferraris fell out of the race, he would find himself with the lead being chased by another surprise, Louis Chiron.
Driving an OSCA 20 designed and built by the Maserati brothers, Chiron would soon find himself trailing a long way behind de Graffenried but in 2nd place. This would be much better than where Charles de Tornaco would find himself.
Right from the very start of the race, de Tornaco was not on the pace. He had started the race from dead-last on the grid and the troubles continued during the race. Instead of being able to take advantage of Ferrari's self-destruction, de Tornaco would be fighting just to be classified in the results, and it wasn't looking good.
Emmanuel de Graffenried just had to concentrate and keep everything together over the final 19 laps or so. His lead was huge, which made him safe, and yet, still vulnerable to lapses in concentration and fatigue.
No such thing would happen. After two hours, fifty-seven minutes and thirty-one seconds, de Graffenried would cross the line to take the surprise victory. Over the final couple of laps he could have pushed the car around the circuit and still won. This was because Chiron would come across the line to finish 2nd but would be three laps behind de Graffenried at the finish. Chiron would enjoy a three lap advantage himself. Rodney Nuckey would be at the head of three cars all on the same lap. However, Nuckey would manage to pull off a surprise of his own as he would cross the line in 3rd place. He would be six laps behind de Graffenried at the finish.
What had started out as a truly terrible day just continued on for de Tornaco and Ecurie Francorchamps. He just could not get the performance out of the car. And although he would still be running at the end, he would not be running as the Ferrari 500 was capable. Instead, de Tornaco would the race 'Not Classified' many, many laps behind.
The first race of the season seemed to be just a continuation of the troubles the car and the team suffered the previous season. The team had the equipment, but it needed to get its problems rectified if it desired to be competitive. Unfortunately, the team would have just two weeks in order to find pace and get its season going in a positive direction.
After the first race of the season taking place on the island of Sicily, there would be a couple of weeks before the team would head to its next race. However, in early April, the team would travel to Pau, France to take part in the 14th Grand Prix de Pau, which would take place on the 6th of the month.
The Grand Prix de Pau would follow the same format of the French Formula 2 Championship of 1952. The race would not be determined by distance but by time. The race would be a three hour timed event around the very tight and twisty streets of Pau.
The capital of Bearn, Pau has a rich history including being the birthplace for Henry IV of France and a residence for Napoleon and Marie Antoinette. A center for sport and recreation, the city became a popular tourist destination for wealthy individuals from other European countries. The first to have an 18-hole golf course in Europe, Pau would become perhaps more useful to motor racing. In spite of its crammed existence along the Gave de Pau, the city would come to host motor racing along its very tight and slow city streets.
Filled with almost nothing except hairpin turns during the first half of the circuit, the road climbs up along the side of the hill until it crests around the right-hander at Parc Beaumont. From there the road runs downhill rather steeply through some blind corners and through another tight hairpin at Buisson until meandering its way down to the Avenue Gaston Lacoste and the start/finish line. Despite being just 1.71 miles in length, the slow nature of the circuit causes it to play out as a much longer track.
Heading into the race, Ecurie Francorchamps would make some changes. Roger Laurent would be behind the wheel of the Ferrari searching for pace and reliability at that pace. Laurent would have to face off against three Scuderia Ferraris looking for retribution after the debacle at Syracuse.
In practice it would be obvious Ferrari was looking to overcome the absolute disaster. Ascari would look to get them back on the right track when he was able to grab the pole position with a lap time of one minute, thirty-nine and two-tenths seconds. Giuseppe Farina would just miss out on the pole time when he would be just one-tenth of a second slower than Ascari. Nonetheless, Ferrari had two cars across the front of the starting grid. Mike Hawthorn would make it a clean sweep as he would qualify 3rd on the grid, also from the front row of the race.
Laurent would only fare slightly better than de Tornaco had in the first race of the season. Laurent wouldn't start the 3 hour race from dead-last, but he wouldn't start too far away from it either. His best lap time around the circuit would be exactly ten seconds slower than Ascari and would cause Laurent to start the race from the fifth row of the grid and 12th overall.
The one nice thing about starting toward the back of the grid would have to be that any retirements within the field most likely would positively help. This would be the case for Laurent during the early going of the race.
The field would roar away. The Ferraris would be up at the front of the field and, to no surprise, were looking strong. The French Equipe Gordini team would do its best to stay in contact. Harry Schell, Maurice Trintignant and Jean Behra would all be quick around the circuit but still would lose ground to Ascari and the rest of his Ferrari teammates.
Ascari would help add to his advantage by turning what would be the fastest lap of the race. His time around the circuit would be three-tenths of a second faster than his own qualifying effort. This would not bode well for other drivers like Laurent who was ten seconds off the pace during practice. Against such pace about the only hope Laurent would have would be attrition. After 6 laps, Laurent would be thrown some good news. Jean Behra would crash his Gordini T16 while pushing a little too hard. Then, after 33 laps, Laurent would receive some big help when Giuseppe Farina would crash his Ferrari.
While the retirements would help Laurent they really would make very little difference to him making his way toward the front of the field. As the race neared halfway, Laurent was already more than a couple of laps down and just could not increase his pace. However, the one piece of good news he did have going for him was simply the fact he was still running out on the circuit.
Ascari continued to dominate in the lead of the race. He was enjoying a full lap lead over his teammate Mike Hawthorn, and all of the other competition would just fade into the distance. Everyone was hoping and praying for Equipe Gordini to take the fight to Ferrari over the course of the 3 hour race. However, despite having four entries in the race, there would only be one that would make it the entire race distance. This eased any pressure on Ascari, and, it also helped Laurent move forward despite not having the pace.
Over the course of the 3 hours, Ascari would average 60 mph and would manage to complete 106 laps. He would go on to take the victory by a lap over Hawthorn in 2nd place. There would be four laps that Ascari would have in hand over Harry Schell in 3rd place. Schell would be the sole Equipe Gordini team member to make the entire race distance.
There would be a couple of bright spots for Ecurie Francorchamps. For one thing, Laurent would finish the race in the official results. Secondly, despite being ten laps down at the end, Laurent would finish in the top ten. His 8th place wouldn't be a whole lot of a reason to celebrate but at least it was something and it marked an improvement over the race at Syracuse.
The team knew where they stood in relation to Ferrari and Equipe Gordini and against the factory teams the chances of a great result would be difficult. The difference would be the competition from the other small teams and privateers. The team knew it still needed more speed and the reliability to use the performance to full advantage. In an effort to really dial the car in, the team would not take part in another Formula 2 race for over a month.
In early May, Ecurie Francorchamps would emerge. The team would leave its native Belgium and would head to the coast in order to cross over into England. Upon making the way across the English Channel and up the road to Silverstone for the 5th BRDC International Trophy race held on the 9th of May.
Situated in both Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire, the circuit that would become the home of British motor racing would start out life as RAF Silverstone and would be opened as a bomber station in 1943. The base served as a training station for the Vickers Wellington bomber during the Second World War. When the airbase was decommissioned in 1947, the standard triangular airfield would lie dormant until an impromptu race is held on the circuit. During that first impromptu race there would be a tragedy experienced as a sheep happened to wonder onto the circuit , was hit and was killed instantaneously. Despite the mutton disaster, the new circuit would host the British Grand Prix from the inaugural season in 1950 and would serve as the site for the BRDC International Trophy race held for the first time in 1949. The first British Grand Prix held on the airbase would use the runways. However, in preparation for the BRDC International Trophy race it was suggested to use the 2.88 mile perimeter road instead.
Like the Grand Prix de Pau, the BRDC International Trophy race was also conducted according to a different format. Instead of being a timed race, or one set on a number of laps, the event would be conducted with heat races and a final. The entire field would be split into heats and each of those heats would take part in a 15 lap heat race before assembling with the finishers of the other heat to take part in a 35 lap final.
For this race, Ecurie Francorchamps would enter a different car and a different driver. While Jacques Swaters was becoming well known for his dealings in Ferrari sports cars he would enter the International Trophy race in a Cooper-Bristol T23. Surprisingly, the Ferrari would not be entered in the race.
Swaters would find himself listed in the first heat. He would take on the likes of Emmanuel de Graffenried, Stirling Moss, Tony Rolt and others. And it practice, it would be de Graffenried that would prove to be fastest and would take the pole. Bob Gerard would be also on the front row of the grid in the 2nd place position. Tony Rolt would start 3rd in his Connaught A-Type while Kenneth McAlpine would complete the front row also starting in a Connaught.
Swaters would keep the streak going. Throughout the first two races of the season, the team had not been able to get away from the rear of the grid and they would find Silverstone to be no different. Swaters would end up being some sixteen seconds slower around the 2.88 mile circuit which would result in his starting the race from the fifth row in 16th place.
The start would see Gerard jump the rest of the field. Knowing there was likely a penalty coming his way, he would continue on in the race pushing hard. However, he would not push as hard as either Emmanuel de Graffenried or Stirling Moss.
Almost right from the very start of the race, de Graffenried and Moss would be locked in a battle at the front of the field. This would be truly amazing considering Moss started the heat from the third row in 11th place overall. Prince Bira would also make a great start and would find himself battling with Tony Rolt for 3rd place. Gerard continued on track ahead of McAlpine but would have a penalty heading his way at the end.
Swaters would make a good solid start and would soon be lapping comfortably but would be moving forward at the same time. Swaters' movement forward would be aided by the retirements of Joe Kelly, Roberto Mieres and Geoff Richardson. While Swaters would manage to get around his fellow Belgian Johnny Claes, who was certainly fading after starting 7th, he would still be facing the very real prospect of being a lap down before the end of the heat. This would almost certainly end his attack on a top finish in the final.
Stirling Moss and Emmanuel de Graffenried continued to fight it out at the front of the field. Both would match each other's fastest lap time and would pull out a comfortable margin over Prince Bira in 3rd place who was having a battle of his own against Tony Rolt.
It would take de Graffenried twenty-eight minutes and fifty-nine seconds to take the victory in the first heat over Stirling Moss. Moss would finish the heat five seconds behind de Graffenried but some seventeen seconds in front of Prince Bira in 3rd place. Swaters would unfortunately go a lap down before the end of the heat. He would end up one lap down in 11th place.
The second heat would include Mike Hawthorn as the sole Ferrari entry. Besides, Hawthorn, Ken Wharton, Roy Salvadori and almost the whole of the Equipe Gordini team would be listed in the second heat.
It would be Ken Wharton that would be fastest in practice and that would start the second heat from the pole. He would be joined on the front row by Mike Hawthorn in 2nd place, Louis Chiron in 3rd and Maurice Trintignant in 4th.
The start of the second heat would see a battle between Wharton and Hawthorn develop. The battle between the two would be very close and very entertaining. Behind them, Roy Salvadori would make a good start from 6th place and would get by Chiron. Maurice Trintignant would also be fast up at the front of the field. Further down in the field, an intense battle between three drivers would rage almost the entire 15 laps. Just over a second would separate Bobbie Baird from Harry Schell and Peter Collins.
Mike Hawthorn would go on to turn out the fastest lap of the race. However, he just could not shake Ken Wharton who would seemingly match Hawthorn move for move. Further down, the battle between Baird, Schell and Collins continued to rage unabated.
Despite every effort made by Wharton, he just could not overcome Hawthorn. Averaging nearly 93 mph throughout the 15 lap heat race, Hawthorn would go on to take the victory with a finishing time over thirty-five seconds faster than de Graffenried in the first heat. Wharton would come across the line just one second behind. Roy Salvadori would make his way through to finish the heat in 3rd, but he would be fifty seconds behind. In the battle between Baird, Schell and Collins, Baird would finish in 6th place and would enjoy just a second advantage over Schell. However, Schell would have to fight for his position. Schell would still manage to hold onto 7th place but just by two-tenths of a second.
With both heats over it was time to determine the starting grid for the 35 lap final. Finishing times from each competitor in their respective heat would determine the order. This meant Hawthorn's and Wharton's furious pace in the second heat would earn them the first, two spots on the front row. Joining them on the front row would be Emmanuel de Graffenried and Stirling Moss.
Swaters' sedated pace in the Cooper-Bristol would end up causing him to start well down in the field. Swaters would start the race from the sixth row of the grid and in the 21st position overall. In all, twenty-eight cars would line up on the grid and prepare for the start of the race.
Given the strong pace of Hawthorn and Wharton, the other competitors, especially de Graffenried, would have to try and do everything they could to try and overcome the strength of the Ferrari and Hawthorn. Unfortunately, de Graffenried would end up trying a little too hard. Emmanuel de Graffenried would end up jumping the start in an effort to get an advantage over Hawthorn and Wharton. The move would do very little as Hawthorn would be right there. Wharton would get away fine from the start as would Roy Salvadori in 5th place and Tony Rolt starting all the way down in 8th place.
Swaters would try and find his way from the back of the grid. He would try and carefully make it around the circuit during the first couple of laps. He would be surrounded by a number of other competitors all running about the same pace as he. This would cause the field around him to be bunched up but everyone would make it through the first couple of laps without incident.
Though de Graffenried jumped the start he would continue to circulate the circuit. In an effort to manage the strength of Hawthorn and the Ferrari, de Graffenried would push hard. As a result, he would turn the fastest lap of the race, but it would be quickly matched by Hawthorn.
Less than ten laps into the final trouble started to visit competitors. Lance Macklin would drop out of the race. On the very same lap, Maurice Trintignant would exit the race when his wheel came loose on his Gordini T16. Eight laps later, another round of attrition would come and reduce the number even more. Louis Chiron would have a leak in his fuel tank and Archie Bryde would have a fire. However, one of the big retirees would be de Graffenried.
Aware that he was being penalized for jumping the start of the race, de Graffenried had an important decision to make. In all reality the decision was simple. He would end up deciding to withdraw from the race after 16 laps. While very disappointing, it was a very smart move. Instead of fighting the ruling and protesting, and therefore, running the risk of causing damage to the car, de Graffenried would wisely withdraw with a car that was whole.
Emmanuel de Graffenried's retirement from the race truly released Hawthorn. Wharton, who had battled with Hawthorn all the way to the line in the second heat, was fading slightly and was not in contact with the Ferrari pilot. Stirling Moss would also fade. In time, the main threat at the front of the field would come from those that started in the second row or further down. Roy Salvadori had started in 5th place but he found himself running in 2nd place toward the end of the race. Tony Rolt had started the race in 8th place and from the third row, but he too would find himself up at the front of the field as well. Aided by attrition and a strong, consistent pace Swaters was also able to move forward but not to the front of the field, however.
Just about the time de Graffenried was departing the race Hawthorn would put Swaters his first lap down. And before the end of the race, Swaters would see Hawthorn come around once more.
Hawthorn was in control and untouchable over the course of the final. His pace had demolished many and forced others to make mistakes. Therefore, he knew full well he just needed to maintain his pace and the victory would be his.
After an hour, six minutes and thirty-six seconds, Hawthorn would cross the finish line for the final time to take the overall victory. Hawthorn would cross the line with twelve seconds in hand over Salvadori in 2nd place. Around forty seconds would separate Hawthorn from Tony Rolt who would finish in 3rd.
Sure enough, before the end of the race, Swaters would see Hawthorn come around to put him another lap down. In spite of being two laps down, Swaters was still running in the race. Though he had started the final in 21st position, he would improve to finish in 16th. The unfortunate part to his movement up the order would be the fact that all but one position would come as a result of attrition instead of superior pace.
Although Swaters finished the race well down, he had still managed to finish the race. This made three races in a row in which Ecurie Francorchamps had their car finish a race. Unfortunately, in neither one of the three had the car really finished all that well. The team sorely needed to take its reliability and produce a good result.
While Swaters was in England battling to find a good result in the International Trophy race, another portion of the team would be in Helsinki, Finland. They were there preparing for the 15th Elaintarhajot at Djurgands Park taking the place the very next day, the 10th of May.
Over the team's first, three races of the season their reliability had been perfect, but it hadn't been matched with pace. In most of the races around the European continent a lack of pace meant exactly what the team had been experiencing—very few positive results. But in Finland there was a chance.
In 1952, Helsinki, Finland had been the site of the Summer Olympics. The Olympic events would be held around Djurgands Park just to the north of the city's downtown. The site was home to the Finnish Grand Prix held before the start of the Second World War and would continue to host motor racing in the years afterward.
Just 1.26 miles in length, the circuit utilized park roads that ran around the park, the Olympic stadium and along the tall railway bridge. Despite its many fast corners and sweeping straights, the circuit still had a relatively low average speed and favored acceleration and handling over sheer power.
Swaters was at Silverstone with the Cooper-Bristol T23 because Roger Laurent was in Helsinki with the Ferrari 500. Unfortunately, the presence of the Ferrari would not cause many shake or tremble with fear and practice would prove this.
Rodney Nuckey would come from the British Isles with his Cooper-Bristol T23 and would take the pole with a lap of one minute and eleven seconds. Leo Mattila would start the race from 2nd place on the front row after setting a time just seven-tenths of a second slower. And Erik Lundgren would complete the front row with a time just slightly less than two seconds slower than Nuckey in his Ford Special.
While seemingly a great chance for the team to earn a great result, practice would end up looking no differently than any other of the races in which the team had competed to that point in the season. Laurent would end up starting the race from 6th place on the grid, which wouldn't seem like it was all that bad. However, there would only be nine that would start the race altogether.
Nuckey would be strong, leading the race from the very start. The rest of the field would make it through the first couple of laps without incident. Snaking around the short 1.26 mile circuit, the racing would be incredibly close but Nuckey would still hold sway over the entire field.
As the race powered its way past the 6th of 25 laps, attrition began to come into play. One of those to suffer at the hands of attrition would be Lundgren. Despite starting the race in 3rd place, a broken propeller shaft would bring his threat to an end. As another car retired on the very next lap of the race, it seemed attrition was going to be very high. However, that would not be the case and the attrition would come to an end from that point on.
The seemingly lack of pace of the Ecurie Francorchamps would also come to an end. Laurent would make his way from 6th place on the grid and would soon be right up underneath the tailpipe of Nuckey's Cooper-Bristol. But Laurent would have trouble of his own right behind him. Gunnar Carlsson would also be right there battling. In fact, just a little more than a second would separate the top three during the last portion of the race.
The racing would be fantastic among the top three. Lap after lap they would put on a show for the large crowd of spectators assembled to watch the event. Lap after lap, Nuckey held onto the lead but by the slimmest of margins. This was certainly the best opportunity Ecurie Francorchamps had had all season long to this point to be fighting for a victory.
Nuckey would put together a truly remarkable and stout drive over the remaining laps of the race. Despite the incredible pressure, he would not put a wheel wrong and would hold on to take the victory over Laurent by just six-tenths of a second. Another six-tenths of a second would separate Laurent from Carlsson in 3rd place.
Finally, after three lackluster efforts, Ecurie Francorchamps would put together a truly positive result. Unfortunately, the 2nd place would come as a result of battling with cars and drivers not of the same caliber as those faced in other major races around Europe. In the team's next race there certainly would be stronger competition, but at least the race would take place on home soil.
Home to one of just seven Trappist breweries in the world, Chimay, Belgium certainly attracts its share of people in search of fine beer. But just to the northwest of the small town and Scourmont Abbey lay some rather unassuming country roads that, when put together, create a very fine demanding motor racing circuit.
Besides Spa-Francorchamps, the small, rather sleepy town of Chimay was the site of another of Belgium's great road courses. Fast, mixing together very long straights and technically challenging and fast sweeping turns, Chimay required courage to be fast and was certainly a very challenging circuit. The 6.71 mile circuit, with its fast layout and fearsome corners would cause the Grand Prix des Frontieres to be a popular race in which to attend for foreign entries, as well as, Belgians.
And on the 24th of May, two weeks after Roger Laurent's 2nd place in Helsinki, the Ecurie Francorchamps team was fully intending to take part in what would be the 23rd Grand Prix des Frontieres.
Chimay, and the Grand Prix des Frontieres, was the site of Ecurie Francorchamps' introduction of its new Ferrari 500 chassis one year previous. It was during that event that Laurent started from the front row but ended up crashing out on the very first lap of the race. One year later, the Ferrari certainly hadn't been performing to the level as the factory outfit had been able to manage, but the team was certainly believing in a better sophomore Grand Prix des Frontieres for their Ferrari than its freshman introduction.
Although the team had used its two cars two weeks ago at different events the team would throw its entire weight behind just one car for the grand prix on home soil. Therefore, Swaters would not enter the team's Cooper-Bristol T23 but would stick with just their Ferrari 500. Roger Laurent would also receive an opportunity to atone for his bad mistake the year before and would be behind the wheel for the race.
Twenty cars would be entered in the race. Included in those twenty would be Rodney Nuckey, who had just won two weeks earlier in Helsinki in a duel with Laurent. But the field would also include three Equipe Gordini cars, Prince Bira and the famous jazz musician and Belgian Johnny Claes.
In practice, the Frenchman Maurice Trintignant would look incredibly fast and would indeed take the poll with a time of four minutes and eleven seconds around the 6.71 mile circuit. Also looking for redemption, Johnny Claes would also be fast around the circuit. His best time of four minutes and fifteen seconds would net him the 2nd place starting position on the two-wide front row.
It was quite amazing how a change of venue can alter the attitude and confidence of a team. Over the previous four races in which Ecurie Francorchamps had taken part the team's starting position had seemingly been permanently attached to the tail-end of any starting grid. However, at Chimay, the amazing would happen. While Laurent wouldn't start from the pole, where he would start out would be as if he had started from the pole. Turning in a fastest lap time of four minutes and sixteen seconds, Laurent would start the 20 lap race from the second row of the grid in 4th position!
Laurent and Ecurie Francorchamps had started the Grand Prix des Frontieres from up near the front before and all that it got them was a bent and mangled grand prix car. The challenge for the team wouldn't be just earning a top result. It would also include getting through the first lap of the race.
Getting through the first lap of the race, sure enough, would end up being too difficult for a few starters but, thankfully for Ecurie Francorchamps, it would not include Laurent. Rondey Nuckey, Jacques Pollet and Georges Mulnard would all find completing the first lap to be too difficult a proposition.
A number of others would find completing just five laps to be an unattainable goal. Camile Chard'Homme and Ernst Loof would all fall foul of mechanical troubles and would retire after just two laps. Prince Bira would end up crashing out of the event on the third lap of the race.
Maurice Trintignant, however, would not suffer such early difficulties. If anything, Trintignant was untouchable during the early going. His pace would gradually increase and would put amazing pressure on the rest of the field. Later on, Trintignant would add to the pressure by turning what would be the fastest lap of the race with a time equal to his qualifying effort. Therefore, for anyone who wanted to beat Maurice, they would have to crank out such incredible times and would have to do it lap after lap just to catch up to him, let alone pass him.
Laurent wouldn't give into the pressure. After all of the pedestrian performances throughout the first few races of the season, the car was running well and Laurent was able to stay up near the front lap after lap.
With average speeds running near 94 mph each and every lap, the pressure on the drivers not to make a mistake was great. As the race wore on, and the brakes wore down, it would become much easier to lose concentration, to make a simple error that would lead to great problems. On top of the pressure the drivers were facing each and every lap because of Trintignant's pace, the car would be under even more pressure. And before the race would reach the 15th lap there would be half of the field out of the race. And among the half out, all but two would be the result of a mechanical failure of some kind.
The attrition still wouldn't be over. A couple of laps after Henri Oreiller retired after crashing and suffering from a car fire, the aged Arthur Legat would drop out with mechanical difficulties. A lap later, the field would lose two cars, including Johnny Claes, who would crash his Connaught A-Type. In all, there would only be six cars still circulating the circuit when Trintignant headed around on his final lap.
Powering his way out of the tight La Bouchere hairpin, Trintignant was enjoying a margin of over a minute on Roger Laurent. Laurent had an advantage of his own going around on the final lap. Of course after all of the poor performances, to be 2nd in something of a home grand prix was certainly cause for excitement despite being more than a minute behind Maurice. But the team knew full-well that it needed to make it around before it could celebrate.
As he had 19 times before, Trintignant looked absolutely flawless coming through the Vidal esses and on toward the finish line. Crossing the line in one hour, twenty-five minutes and fifty-nine seconds, Trintignant would take the victory. It would be a minute and twelve seconds Trintignant would have to wait before Laurent would cross the line to finish in 2nd place. Another minute and sixteen seconds would pass before Fred Wacker completed the podium finishing in 3rd place.
Finally, after basically what was a year of racing, the Ferrari 500 and Ecurie Francorchamps were able to prove just how fast they could be. Not only was this true for the Grand Prix des Frontieres but in single-seater grand prix racing on a whole. After such a stark contrast of a result the question could have been asked, 'Will the rest of the season be different now?'
To find out the answer to the question, Ecurie Francorchamps would head to France toward the end of May. On the 31st, the team would be in Albi, France preparing for a very special 15th Grand Prix de l'Albigeois.
An ancient city filled with history, Albi was as much a blend of art and architecture as it was history and civilizations. While the Romans would come to conquer the Gauls in the final century before the birth of Christ, Albi had been settled long before that. In fact, it is widely believed the first settlements in the area arose during the Bronze Age. Straddling the Tarn River, Albi is a place filled with castles and cathedrals from all different eras and styles. Albi would then be the natural fit for one of the most astounding art museums in the all the world, the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum.
Amidst the millennia of history, art and culture, amidst the beautifully aged architecture from all different periods and styles Albi would become a site for modern grand prix racing. The peaceful, quaint and tranquil setting Albi would then be shattered by the roar and the howl of modern grand prix racing engines.
A stark contrast between the old and the new, the Albi circuit consisted of a street circuit laid out just to the east of the city's center. Amidst the tight city streets modern grand prix cars would blast their way along at some truly incredible speeds. Essentially a triangle in shape, only the run from St. Antoine to St. Juery featured some rather tricky esses. The rest of the circuit consisted of long blasts between hairpin turns. Therefore, the average speeds around the circuit were naturally quite high and created the perfect setting for one of the few races left that would allow the old Formula One cars to come back out and play.
The 14th Grand Prix de l'Albigeois, run the previous year, would also be a race that would include both Formula 2 and Formula One cars together. However, that race would just consist of a 34 lap race with the two categories on the track at the same time. 1953 would be slightly different. While the two classes of car would end up on the track together, it would come after individual heats broken down by category.
Therefore, the first heat, which would be 10 laps of the 5.55 mile circuit, would be just for Formula 2 cars entered in the race. The second heat would be just for Formula One cars. Then, after the two heats, the two categories would come together to take part in an 18 lap final.
Although the same day as the Eifelrennen at the Nurburgring, the race would still attract a number of top teams and drivers. Of course the main draw would be the opportunity to use the Formula One cars. As a result, Scuderia Ferrari would be present at the race with two of their Ferrari 375s. Then there would be BRM and three of their troublesome P15.
The Formula 2 competition would come from a couple of Equipe Gordini entries and a number of privateers like Louis Rosier, Peter Whitehead and Johnny Claes. In practice before the first heat, however, it would be Elie Bayol that would prove the fastest. Driving his OSCA 20, Bayol would go out and complete a lap of the circuit in three minutes and eight seconds and would grab the pole. The rest of the three-wide front row would include Harry Schell driving a Gordini T16 starting 2nd and Louis Rosier driving his Ferrari 500 starting 3rd.
Charles de Tornaco would be back behind the wheel of the Ferrari 500 for Ecurie Francorchamps and, all of a sudden, would find himself once again at the back of the pack. Out of the nine cars in the Formula 2 category, de Tornaco would start the race in 8th place on the third row of the grid.
As the heat would get underway, immediately Bayol would come under fire from Louis Rosier who had made a great start in his Ferrari. Right there with them would be Harry Schell in his Gordini. Charles de Tornaco would need to rely on the power of his Ferrari to propel him up the running order, and therefore, just tried to make it through the twisty sections at the start until he could really open it up down the long straights in the second-half of the lap.
Schell would be fast but would soon run into trouble as faulty spark plugs would hinder his engine's performance and would eventually lead to him retiring after 8 laps. Although Rosier was in the lead over Bayol, it would be Roberto Mieres that would end up setting the fastest lap time around the circuit. Although Mieres would end up being the fastest his time around the circuit wouldn't be near the pace of any of the front row starters in practice. Therefore, all Rosier needed to do was be consistently fast and he would maintain his control over the field.
Johnny Claes had started the race one position better than de Tornaco. However, from the very start of the race, de Tornaco was proving to be more than able to challenge Claes for the position.
Over the course of the last couple of laps, Rosier held onto the lead and a decent enough margin over 2nd place that he could just make sure he didn't make any mistakes en route to the victory. Averaging 98 mph throughout the heat, Rosier would go on to take the victory. He would come across the line with twenty-four seconds in hand over Bayol in 2nd place. The closest battle on the circuit would be between Peter Whitehead and Roberto Mieres. Armed with the fastest lap of the race, Mieres would be all over Whitehead throughout the majority of the race. However, despite the fastest lap time, Peter Whitehead would go on to finish the heat in 3rd.
The race would end up being a stark contrast from Ecurie Francorchamps' last race. Instead of battling up near the front of the field, de Tornaco would find himself dueling with another Belgian toward the back of the field. While one Ferrari 500 would go on to take the victory in the heat, the Ferrari in which de Tornaco would be driving would only come across the line a distant 6th.
The Formula 2 heat had ended. It was time for the Formula One cars to once again take to the track, but first, there would be practice and qualifying. Armed with the howling 16-cylinder BRM, Juan Manuel Fangio would prove to be the fastest in practice and would start from the pole. His nemesis from the 1951 season, Alberto Ascari, would line up beside him in 2nd place with a Ferrari 375. Ascari would end up being sandwiched by BRMs and Argentineans as Jose Froilan Gonzalez would start the race from the front row in 3rd.
The Formula One heat would get underway with the cars roaring down St. Antoine. Sitting at the front would be Fangio with Ascari right there with him. Jose Froilan Gonzalez would lose out and his place would soon be taken over by fellow teammate Ken Wharton.
Fangio would be incredibly fast as the circuit played to the strengths of the powerful P15. He would go on to set the fastest lap of the race with a time faster than his own qualifying effort. Over the course of the lap, Fangio would average a little more than 115 mph. This would put tremendous pressure on the rest of the field.
The pressure would end up being too much for Ascari's gearbox and he would be out of the running after just three laps. Giuseppe Farina, driving the other Ferrari 375, would follow with a blown engine just two laps later.
This left Fangio all alone at the top of the running order and he would take advantage of the opportunity and lack of pressure by blowing out the rest of the field. After averaging more than 110 mph and completing the heat in just twenty-nine minutes and fifty-seven seconds, Fangio would cruise to victory by more than a minute and ten seconds over his BRM teammate Ken Wharton. Louis Rosier would also take part in the Formula One heat with his own Ferrari 375. The lone 375 would go on to take Rosier to a 3rd place finish some two minutes behind Fangio.
The starting grid for the 18 lap final would follow the following format: Places one through four on the grid would be occupied by the four fastest finishers in the Formula One heat. Places five through eight would be for the fastest from the Formula 2 heat. The places on the grid behind the fastest four from each heat would alternate.
As a result of the format, Fangio would start on the pole with Wharton alongside in 2nd. Louis Rosier would abandon his victory in the Formula 2 heat and would take the 3rd place starting position in the final. This meant Bayol would be the first Formula 2 starter in the second row and in the 5th position. Because the order would alternate Formula One and then Formula 2 after the fastest four from each category, de Tornaco would start alongside Jose Foilan Gonzalez in the fourth row of the grid in the 10th position overall.
It was time for the two categories of car battle it out on the streets together. With the Ferrari threat quenched, the BRM team with its three talented drivers certainly had to be the favorite heading into the final. However, reliability had always been the Achilles Heal for the team. They would try to overcome their strong tendency for failure and take away a well-deserved win.
As the field roared away, Fangio would be right up at the front of the field with Wharton close in tow. Rosier would make a good getaway as well but would obviously begin to lose ground as the race continued.
Although de Tornaco would start on the same row with Gonzalez in the BRM P15, he would quickly have to wave goodbye to Gonzalez as the power from the 16-cylinder engine began to pull Gonzalez quickly out of de Tornaco's vision. However, Charles would have his own battles with fellow Formula 2 cars to deal with.
After just a couple of laps trouble began to visit the field. Elie Bayol would burn out his clutch and would retire after just two laps. Then, at the halfway mark another round of attrition would strike the field and it would take out one of the major players in the race. After Yves Giraud-Cabantous retired from the race with a mechanical failure, on the very same lap, Juan Manuel Fangio would fall foul to failing brakes and would be forced out. Then, just a couple of laps later, Ken Wharton would be out of the race after he crashed his P15 with just seven laps remaining and after having already set the fastest lap of the race with an average speed greater than 111 mph.
Everything seemed to come in pairs. On the very same lap as Wharton's crash that took him out of the race, de Tornaco would have his Ferrari engine let go also bringing his race to an end. This was very disappointing for the team after all of its struggles, and yet, good fortune with reliability.
With all of the shakeup, Louis Rosier would find himself in the lead of the race in his Ferrari 375. His decision to take his Formula One result, which was a very easy decision to make, would end up paying dividends as he would inherit the lead with just a few laps remaining. However, he would have the other P15, the one driven by Jose Froilan Gonzalez, making its way up the running order behind him. So the race wasn't quite over and Rosier couldn't relax just yet.
Coming to the finish, Rosier would be more than strong enough in the Ferrari 375. The car that set the stage for Scuderia Ferrari's dominance in the World Championship would carry Rosier to victory with a finishing time of fifty-six minutes and thirty-six seconds. Jose Froilan Gonzalez would have to settle for a 2nd place finish after coming up through the field from 9th on the grid. He would cross the line thirty-one seconds behind. Maurice Trintignant would take a revised Gordini chassis to a 3rd place finish nearly two minutes behind.
After experiencing the best performances of the season at Chimay just a couple of weeks prior and perhaps believing to have turned a corner, the team's Albi experience would be nothing but the opposite. Instead of finding its way up amongst the front-runners, Ecurie Francorchamps would again find themselves in the back of the pack. This was certainly not where the team wanted to be with the first European rounds of the World Championship coming up.
Though the third round of the World Championship, the Grand Prix of the Netherlands, would take place just one week after the Grand Prix de l'Albigeois, Ecurie Francorchamps would not take part in the race. Instead, the team would focus on its home grand prix, the fourth round of the World Championship, that would take place just a couple of weeks after the Grand Prix of the Netherlands.
The lack of pace and the lack of consistency within the team would only raise more doubts heading into the Belgian Grand Prix. An ultra-fast circuit against the likes of Scuderia Ferrari and the factory Maserati team was certainly not an easy proposition. Whether the reason or not, the team with its garage just feet away from the very road course from which it drew its name, would withdraw its cars and would not take part in the race.
The decision not to take part in the home World Championship race would certainly be poignant. At the very least, the decision to withdraw pointed to troubles with the car and the threat of not faring well against the likes of Ferrari, Maserati and other smaller teams and privateers.
It would be more than a month before Ecurie Francorchamps would take part in another grand prix. Then, toward the middle of July, the team would head east. The team would travel through Belgium and would head into West Germany. However, their ultimate destination would be the western part of Berlin. The team was arriving in west Berlin to take part in the 9th Internationales Avusrennen, which took place on the 12th of July.
Ever since the start of the 1950s, more and more foreign entries began to show up in some of the more famous West German grand prix races like the Eifelrennen and Avusrennen. There were good reasons for the interest. Where the Nurburgring presented such a great challenge with its 14 mile long monster the Nordschleife, the Avusrennen had always been about one thing—speed.
Initially begun during the first couple of decades of the 20th century, construction of the Avus circuit wouldn't be finished until 1921. At the time of its opening, the circuit measured 12 miles in length and sported a very unusual shape in that it was simply two very long straights with two steeply banked tear-drop corners at its northern and southern ends. Often used for land speed record attempts, the circuit would also be used for other purposes including the 1936 Summer Olympics when it would serve as a venue for cycling, marathon and walking events.
Just before World War II, and in response to the death of Bernd Rosemeyer, the circuit's length would be shorted to just 5.15 miles. Roughly half the distance, the southern end of the circuit would lose the banked southern curve, and instead, would just sport a tight hairpin. However, the fearsome banked Nordkurve would remain.
As the team arrived for the Avusrennen, the Ferrari 500 would be unloaded and Jacques Swaters would take his place behind the wheel. If the car could be tuned and adjusted properly there would be a good opportunity for a very positive result given the fact the circuit's long straights played to the strengths of the Ferrari's power.
Swaters would have to watch out for a number of the German racers, but also, the sizable number of foreign entries in the field. Included in the field would be the British drivers Rodney Nuckey and Alan Brown. Besides these two, the field would also include fellow Belgian Johnny Claes, as well as, Prince Bira and the defending champion Ecurie Espadon team.
Things would be really looking up for the team after practice when Swaters would end up setting a lap time under two and a half minutes and would start the 25 lap race from the pole. Finally, the Ecurie Francorchamps team would have to look backward at the rest of the field instead of up ahead. The excitement would be restrained when Brits Alan Brown and Rodney Nuckey joined Swaters on the front row in 2nd and 3rd.
The field would set off down the long straight toward the tight hairpin at the southern end of the highway running between Charlottenburg and Nikolassee. During that first lap Swaters would receive a bit of help when Alan Brown and the Ferrari of the defending champion Ecurie Espadon team would end up crashing out on the very first lap of the race.
The wave of attrition would only get worse. Prince Bira, Edgar Barth and Rudolf Krause would all fall out of contention along with a number of other competitors. This would only help Swaters who continued on in the lead of the race with an ever-increasing advantage.
Over the course of the 25 lap race, Nuckey would fade in his Cooper-Bristol T23. This opened the door to German racers Hans Klenk and Theo Helfrich. Neither Klenk nor Heflrich would simply let Swaters go without a fight. Helfrich would prove this when he would go on to set the fastest lap of the race with a time of two minutes and thirty-one seconds.
However, despite Klenk and Helfrich, the field had been decimated by attrition. Out of twenty-six starters there would only be nine that would make their way around the circuit for the last couple of laps. On top of it all, Swaters pace over the course of the race had remained consistently fast. As a result, both Helfrich and Klenk started to come into his view to go a lap down. However, instead of demoralizing them, Swaters knew he had a large enough of a gap and would instead choose to ease of the pace and take things easy.
As Klenk and Helfrich came around and off of the banking to start their final lap of the race, Swaters would be just going into the Nordkurve en route to victory. He would take things easy on the precarious banking and would swoop down and across the line to take the first victory of the season for the team. It would be a thoroughly dominant victory as Hans Klenk would end up over two minutes and forty seconds behind in 2nd place. And in spite of turning the fastest lap of the race, Theo Helfrich would come across the finish line in 3rd place some fourteen seconds behind Klenk and nearly three minutes behind Swaters.
Finally it seemed the team had turned a corner. Not only had their Ferrari been fast right from the moment of unloading, but Swaters would go on to take a most dominant victory. Perhaps as a result of this result, Ecurie Francorchamps would be finally ready to take part in a round of the World Championship.
After the celebrations, the team would pack up and would head back to their base in Belgium. Although the team had just earned an incredible victory they would not head across the English Channel to Silverstone in order to take part in the British Grand Prix, the sixth round of the World Championship. In fact, the team would not take part in another grand prix throughout the rest of July. However, the team's next race would be one of the biggest of its season.
Right at the end of July, the team would again pack up their Ferrari 500 and their equipment and head into West Germany for a motor race. However, the team would not have to travel all the way to Berlin. Instead, the team would only travel the hour and a half from Francorchamps to the small village of Nurburg, West Germany.
While the village may be rather small, Nurburg was certainly host to one of the mightiest of road courses in all the world. Measuring a little more than 14 miles in length, the Nurburgring's Nordschleife would quickly come to be either loved or hated when it was first opened in 1927. It would later earn the nickname of the 'Green Hell' and would become a quite infamous circuit. Ironically, the long circuit with a thousand feet of elevation change and over 170 corners would be designed and built as a response to racing becoming too dangerous on some of the public roads around Nurburg.
While Ecurie Francorchamps would unload at the circuit merely looking for a good result and not that concerned with what was going on around them, they would nonetheless be unloading at a World Championship event and the battle for the championship was at its most heightened as teams, cars and drivers prepared for practice and the race.
Coming into the race, Alberto Ascari had just come off of his fourth victory of the season when he dominated the British Grand Prix a couple of weeks earlier. Therefore, he came into the race very much in position to repeat as World Champion. However, with nine rounds, there were still enough races left on the calendar that he could not relax very much. Mike Hawthorn had taken a victory at the French Grand Prix and if he could win at the Nurburgring then the battle for the championship would be very much alive.
Ascari wasn't about to let anyone take the championship away from him. In 1951, he had the championship within his grasp but would have it all go wrong in the last round as a result of a poor choice of tire. He was not about to be that close again and lose out on the championship, at least not if he could help it.
Ascari would make his intentions quite well known in practice. Throughout the entire practice session nobody could lap the 14 mile circuit in under ten minutes. However, Ascari would go out and set a lap time of nine minutes and fifty-nine seconds. While he may have been just two-tenths of a second away from ten minutes Ascari, nonetheless, would be the only one to come close to, or beat, the ten minute barrier. As a result, Ascari would start from the pole.
Earlier on in the season, Maserati's new A6SSG seemed to be untouchable. Had it not been for some mechanical failures and mistakes drivers like Fangio and Gonzalez likely could have been further up the points standings. However, after the Belgian Grand Prix, Scuderia Ferrari made some revisions to the Ferrari 500 that would cause it to haul in the advantage earned by the Maserati. This fact would be very evident looking across the front row of the grid for the German Grand Prix. Ascari would be on the pole. He would have Juan Manuel Fangio beside him in 2nd place in his Maserati. Then, in 3rd and 4th would be two other Ferrari drivers. Giuseppe Farina would start 3rd with Mike Hawthorn completing the front row starting in 4th. This meant three of the four on the front row would be driving Ferraris.
Jacques Swaters would be back behind the wheel of the Ferrari. After his victory at Avus, Swaters had earned the right to start his own car in the team's first World Championship event of the season.
With the exception of just a couple of races, Ecurie Francorchamps had become used to starting races from the back of the pack. At the German Grand Prix, Swaters would provide a change for the team. While he would certainly not be able to match the pace of the Ferrari and factory Maserati team, he would be able to outshine the majority of the German entries in the field. Therefore, Swaters would find his best lap time positioning him around the middle of the grid. His best time of eleven minutes and eighteen seconds would be a minute and nineteen seconds slower than Ascari but it would still be good enough that Swaters would start the race lined up on the sixth row of the grid in the 19th position.
The cars would line up on the grid with the sun shinning down and the ground dry. This would be ideal conditions for a truly fast race. This would certainly benefit the front-runners, but it also could be a benefit to Swaters if the car showed the ability to make it the entire race distance.
With the screeching of tires and the smell of tire smoke, the 18 lap race would get underway. Despite starting 2nd, Fangio would make the best start and would lead the field through the early portion of the first lap. Two German entries, those of Ernst Loof and Hans Stuck, wouldn't make it very far as mechanical failures would bring their races to an end not much after lining up on the grid.
Swaters would have to be very careful over the course of the first lap. Starting in the middle of the field, he would be sandwiched by cars ahead, beside and behind him. He would need to fight for position, but also, be very careful. As the race carried on, he would end up being aided by the mistakes and mechanical failures of others in order to settle into a fast, but comfortable, pace.
Despite leading at the early going, Fangio would end up having to give up the lead to Ascari who was just obviously faster around the circuit. Ascari would lead the first lap of the race and would begin to draw away from Fangio and the rest of the field. Quickly, Fangio would be surrounded by Farina and Hawthorn and the three of them would hook up and battle it out behind Ascari.
After just one lap, there would be yet more that would fall out of the race. Maurice Trintignant would make a mistake at the wheel of his Gordini T16 and would crash out for the second-straight year. Roy Salvadori would have a gasket fail and bring his race to an end. In all, there would be eight that wouldn't make it five laps into the race.
Ascari continued to carry on in the lead of the race and with a sizable margin over the rest of the field. However, all of a sudden, Hawthorn, Farina and Fangio would all blow by Ascari and to the head of the line. A wheel had broken loose from Ascari's car and he would desperately try and do his best to make it around to the pits to have repairs made. This would be very important as Hawthorn would spend some time in lead of the race.
While Ascari was waiting for repairs to be made, Luigi Villoresi, another Ferrari team member, would pull into the pits and would hand his car over to his friend and teammate. Immediately, Ascari would jump into the seat and would head off in an effort to track down the leaders. His task would not be an easy one as he would reenter the race a lap down. However, it would become very clear very quickly that he was going to do everything possible to eradicate that lap disadvantage.
What had been an impressive performance before the wheel problem would be absolutely eclipsed by the performance he would put together afterward. Within just a couple laps of taking over Villoresi's car, Ascari was lapping the circuit with an incredible pace. Then, on the 12th lap of the race, he would crack off an incredible lap time of nine minutes and fifty-six seconds. Not only was this time faster, by nearly four seconds, than his own qualifying effort, it would also be within a half a second of the fastest time ever turned, coincidentally by him, in a grand prix car.
Ascari's pace, and the battle at the front between Hawthorn, Farina and Fangio, would cause many of the thousands assembled to watch the race forget almost forget that there were other cars and battles going on around the circuit. One of those the crowd likely would have overlooked would have been Swaters.
Swaters had started the race in 19th position. And while he would be helped by the high level of attrition that would sweep through the field, he would also be on a charge on his own. In time, Swaters would come to be battling with Stirling Moss and Hans Herrmann. Moss had started the race in 12th place while Herrmann would start 14th. It was obvious that Swaters was fast in his Ferrari. On top of it all, not only was he appearing to be fast, he was also able to make his way forward without just relying on help from attrition.
Of course, Swaters would be aided by attrition taking its toll on the field. As the race headed into the final five laps, Swaters would be aided by the retirements of seven cars that had started the race ahead of him on the grid. Another, Alan Brown, also started ahead of Swaters but would also end up running behind the Belgian as a result of not being able to keep up with the pace of the rest of the field.
Soon, Swaters would find himself ahead of a couple more drivers, and these two would be front-runners. Onofre Marimon would end up retiring from the race after 13 laps due to a cross member failure. Then, two laps later, one of the biggest developments would happen. After putting together one of the most impressive performances ever seen, it would become obvious Ascari had asked too much from the Formula 2 machine. After running laps at nearly the same pace as Formula One cars with larger engines and greater horsepower, the engine would decide it had had enough and would end up expiring just three laps from the finish.
After a brief spell in the lead of the race, Hawthorn would give way to Farina and Fangio to take over the top couple of spots at the top of the running order. This would be very important for Ascari as it would make it World Championship all but guaranteed.
In the closing laps of the race, Swaters and Ecurie Francorchamps were putting together one of the most impressive performances of their entire season. At one of the most demanding and difficult circuits in all the world, Swaters found himself inside the top ten with Luigi Villoresi behind him in Ascari's original car. In front of him was Stirling Moss that had started the race further up on the starting grid than what he had. Everything was looking good for the team to score the positive result they came to the race in search of.
Known for his smooth driving style, Farina pulled out an advantage of his own over the last eight laps or so. He was very much aware that all he needed to do was not make a mistake and the win would be his.
Also known for not making mistakes, Farina would go on to average a little more than 83 mph en route to taking the victory. It would take Farina three hours, two minutes and twenty-five minutes to complete the race distance. He would enjoy an advantage of a minute and four seconds over Juan Manuel Fangio. Mike Hawthorn would have more than seven minutes in hand over his nearest rival. Therefore, Hawthorn would just take things carefully to ensure his 3rd place result.
After spending most of the races of the season at the back of the running order, Swaters would find himself inside the top ten at the first World Championship round in which the team had taken part in 1953. Though trailing behind Moss by forty seconds, Swaters would still come across the line one lap down in 7th place and ahead of Luigi Villoresi, Hans Herrmann and Louis Rosier.
Although Swaters had just taken the victory in the Avusrennen just a few weeks earlier, the result in the German Grand Prix would be, arguably, the best result the team had experienced to that point in the season. Although the team missed out on the points by two positions, considering where they had been running in some of the other races, it was still something of a victory for the team and it would be a great confidence-builder heading into the final couple of months of the season.
The German Grand Prix had brought the team the good result for which they had been hoping and looking. Then, after leaving Nurburg, the team would return home. While there would be a few non-championship races throughout Great Britain and France, the team would remain in Belgium. Then, on the 23rd of August, three weeks after the German Grand Prix, the team would be five hours south of Francorchamps in Berne, Switzerland. The team would be in Berne to take part in what would be the eighth round of the World Championship, the Swiss Grand Prix.
Situated along the Wohlensee River in sight of the Swiss Alps, the municipality of Bremgarten bei Bern had been known more for its agricultural production and deeply wooded forests. However, it would be amongst the countryside and the heavily-wooded forests that a 4.52 mile circuit would be carved. Featuring almost not straight portions of road at all, the Bremgarten circuit would be one of the true road courses in Europe. Rising and falling with the undulating terrain, the circuit never rested or stopped moving left or right. This made the circuit quite popular, but it was also lethally dangerous at the same time.
Hosting its first motor race back in 1934, the circuit would suffer its first fatality. Its reputation would further suffer when, in 1948, the Italian grand prix great Achille Varzi lost his life along the tree-lined roads. It would be the picturesque tree-lined and twisting roads that would end up being its most lethal trait.
The size of the field would be rather small compared to that of the British or German Grand Prix. Although the World Championship had already been decided, the field would still include four Scuderia Ferraris and a number of Maseratis. No, it would be the British contingent that would be rather small since the race would be the same weekend as the Goodwood Nine Hour race.
Jacques Swaters would be back behind the wheel of the Ferrari. He had earned two strong and positive results in a row, and therefore, was certainly the right person to have at the wheel for the Swiss Grand Prix.
Although Ascari had already claimed the World Championship for the second year in a row, he would not take it easy. In practice, he would turn out a fast time of two minutes, forty and seven-tenths seconds. While this would be a fast time compared to his teammates, it would not be the fastest time. That honor would go on Juan Manuel Fangio. Fangio would end up taking the pole with a time just six-tenths of a second faster. Giuseppe Farina would end up two seconds slower than Ascari but would still start the race from 3rd place on the front row of the grid.
Ever since the Grand Prix des Frontieres things had turned around for the Ecurie Francorchamps squad. One of those things that turned around would be where the team would start out races. With just a couple of exceptions, the team started just about every race just a couple of positions removed from dead-last. This was not the place where a team with a Ferrari 500 at its disposal would be expected to start, and after Chimay, things would start to become righted. In practice, Swaters would end up being just fifteen seconds slower than Fangio and would find himself starting on the outside of the fifth row and in the 13th position overall.
As the flag waved to start the 65 lap race, Farina would make an absolutely terrible getaway and would be swallowed up by nearly half of the grid before he would get up to speed. Fangio would not only start on the pole, but would also make a great start to lead the first half mile or so of the race. However, Ascari would quickly overtake him. Onofre Marimon would also make a great start and would enjoy a brief moment at the head of the field until having to give it back to Ascari.
While Marimon would have the delight of experiencing the lead for the briefest of moments during the first lap, the first lap would not be such a delight for everybody. It would certainly not be a delight for Swaters. After a string of impressive race results, Swaters would bow out of the Swiss Grand Prix in a most embarrassing way as he and Louis Rosier would come together on the first lap taking each other out. After traveling all the way from Francorchamps, the team would start to begin packing up to leave for home just when the race got underway.
The sun shone brilliantly throughout the race. It had caused many to seek shade. It would also help a number of cars to run into mechanical trouble. Not troubled by the conditions, Ascari was out front of the field in the lead. However, he would use the heat and the nature of the circuit to stretch out an advantage over the rest of the field which was beginning to naturally stretch out as well.
Attrition was beginning to take its toll on the field. Peter Hirt would end up spinning in his own oil and would retire after just 17 laps. Fangio had already begun to suffer from a troublesome gearbox. This would eventually lead to him pitting and taking over Felice Bonetto's car. Having lost a lot of ground while making the change, Fangio would charge hard in Bonetto's car. Unfortunately, Fangio would not learn from Ascari's experience in the German Grand Prix. In his haste to claw back he ground he had lost, Fangio would push hard. But it would end up being too hard as his engine would dramatically let go after just 29 laps. On the same lap, Lance Macklin would lose the engine in his HWM.
While it seemed Ascari was safe from experiencing the same kind of troubles, he would end up getting an education otherwise just ten laps later. An engine misfire would result in Ascari needing to pit. The crew would quickly go to work and would rectify the situation without Ascari losing a lot of positions. When he reentered the race he would be back down in 4th place but very much still in the race.
Ascari would be more in the race than many may have thought when Onofre Marimon exited the race after 46 laps because of mechanical problems with his Maserati. This left Ferrari running 1st, 2nd and 3rd. Because it was almost certain Ferrari would go on to take the victory, and since Ascari had already won the World Championship, the order went out to Farina, Hawthorn and Ascari to 'Hold position'. However, Ascari would have nothing to do with the order.
Instead of holding position, Ascari would push harder. Soon, he would catch a surprised Hawthorn and Farina and would pass them to go into the lead of the race. Caught completely by surprise, neither Farina nor Hawthorn could muster a counter to Ascari. As a result, Ascari would stretch out his advantage over the closing laps of the race.
Perhaps running for his life, Ascari would complete the 65 lap race distance in three hours, one minute and thirty-four seconds and would take the contested victory by more than fifty seconds over Farina in 2nd place and by a minute and forty-five seconds over Hawthorn in 3rd position.
Although Ferrari had scored a sweep of the podium, the demeanor amongst the team would certainly not be the most warmly. Instead of a celebratory moment it would be clear there was deep anger and resentment being forced back behind smiles and grins.
Ecurie Francorchamps' bitter disappointment would be obvious and the reasoning for it would be certainly understood. The team had come from a very strong and solid performance at the German Grand Prix only to throw it all away on the first lap of the Swiss Grand Prix. The team had the opportunity to repeat its surprising performance. Instead, the team would quietly pack up and head out of Switzerland. The team would also depart the World Championship with one more round still left to go.
In spite of the accident that would take the team out of the Swiss Grand Prix, the team would head directly to France and Cadours to take part in the 5th Circuit de Cadours just one week later.
Located in the southwest of France in the Tarn-et-Garonne department, Cadours had an amazing history as a site for modern technological invention and sporting events. The small village would host a 'First Flight' event in 1920, as well as, other air shows, horse races and other types of races. Amazingly, the village would pull this off with just around 600 inhabitants.
Another visionary, Louis Arrivet, looked at Cadours as a possible host for some of the best grand prix and sportscars in the world. After World War II, the dream was revisited and would finally come to fruition. Utilizing public country roads to the northwest of the village, the first race would be held at Cadours in 1948. Heading into the 1950s decade, Arrivet would earn grand prix status and would draw some of the best French and foreign drivers in Europe. Perhaps its greatest attraction would be the great Raymond Sommer. Unfortunately, Cadours would end up being the site of Sommer's tragic death as well.
Technically very challenging, Cadours had a way of frustrating many a racer. Many drivers would find it difficult to get into any rhythm around the circuit's layout. The difficulty came party due to the nature of the layout of the curves. At many points throughout the 2.54 mile circuit drivers would have to negotiate one kind of corner only to be immediately followed by a corner of a different type. Perhaps one of the most challenging portions of the circuit included the run down the D41. After a short straight, the course offers a fast right-hand bend immediately followed by a very tight left-hand corner that then leads to another tight hairpin turn back to the right. Messing up just one of these corners would throw the rest into disarray and would certainly ruin any lap.
Ecurie Francorchamps would be at this difficult circuit in such tranquil surroundings to take part in the Circuit de Cadours, which consisted of two heat races, a repechage and a final race. Each of the two heats would be 15 laps in length. The repechage second-chance would be 10 laps. Then, it would all culminate in a 30 lap final combining both heats and the qualifiers from the repechage together.
Not surprisingly, the field for the race would be largely French, but there would be a number of foreign teams and drivers in the field as well. HW Motors would be in the field with two cars, Ken Wharton would enter his own Cooper-Bristol T23, Emmanuel de Graffenried would also be present with his Maserati A6SSG and then there would be the Ecurie Francorchamps team with its Ferrari 500 and Charles de Tornaco behind the wheel.
Charles de Tornaco would be listed in the first heat along with Maurice Trintignant, Emmanuel de Graffenried, Jean Behra and others. Maurice Trintignant would prove to be the fastest in practice and would start from the pole. His best lap time of one minute and fifty-seven seconds would end up being three seconds faster than the 2nd place qualifier de Graffenried. Just one second would separate de Graffenried from the 3rd place starter on the front row. That position would go to de Tornaco after he set a lap time of two minutes and one second.
If the Swiss Grand Prix had been a low point for the team, then the Circuit de Cadours race would be a close second only because the race wasn't as big. As the first heat race began, it would come to an end for de Tornaco when an oil pipe would fail leaving him out of the race very early on. Charles would be joined by another front row starter when de Graffenried retired from the race when his rear axle failed. Already a bit faster than the whole of the grid, these two retirements would end up helping Trintignant take a commanding lead.
Trintignant wouldn't run away with the race, however. Jean Behra would make a great start from the third row of the grid and, with the help of de Tornaco's and de Graffenried's misfortune, would be able to take the fight to his Equipe Gordini teammate.
Unless Behra could match Trintignant's qualifying effort he would have little chance. Maurice would make things more difficult when he would set the fastest lap of the heat with a time equal to his qualifying time.
Able to consistently average more than 74 mph, Trintignant would go on to control the race and would cross the line to take the victory in the heat. He would end up beating Behra for the victory by a margin of eight seconds. The margin behind Behra would be much larger. Yves Giraud-Cabantous would manage to come through from 5th place to finish 3rd, but he would be a minute and twenty seconds behind Trintignant at the finish.
The second heat would include Harry Schell, Louis Rosier, Ken Wharton and others. Louis Rosier, driving his own Ferrari 500, would go on to set the fastest lap time in practice and would start from the pole. Elie Bayol, at the wheel of his OSCA 20, would end up setting a time just a second slower and would start the race also from the front row in 2nd place. Harry Schell would complete the front row with a time literally tenths of a second slower than Bayol.
The second heat would begin with the front row making good getaways and leading the field. However, Schell would make the best start and would be fighting for the lead with Rosier. Wharton would start dead-last in the field of eight cars and would make a great start and would be quickly making his way toward the front of the field.
The Cadours certainly seemed to suit Schell and his driving style as he would quickly take over the lead of the race and would even manage to stretch his lead over Rosier at the wheel of his Ferrari. Bayol would do everything he could be he just could not keep pace in his OSCA.
Propelled by a fastest lap time just a second off of Trintignant's best time in the first heat, Schell would continue to add to his advantage over Rosier. It would all finally culminate in Schell taking the victory by twelve seconds over Rosier. Bayol would manage to drive a steady and consistent race to finish the heat in 3rd.
There would only be ten grid positions for the 30 lap final. Eight of those ten would go to the two heats. The two remaining spots, the last two on the grid, would go to the two top finishers of the 10 lap repechage.
Charles de Tornaco and Ecurie Francorchamps weren't ready to turn around after traveling so far. And given the nature of the failure suffered, the team was able to repair the car and have it running in top form in time to take part in the repechage.
Proving the car had suffered a fluke mechanical failure, de Tornaco was able to take the car out and lead the field. He would have John Heath following behind in one of his HWM-Altas. Behind him were a few local French racers driving aged machinery incapable to matching de Tornaco's pace.
Therefore, after 10 laps, de Tornaco would cruise to victory over Heath and would find his way into the final. Though it was the back door, it was, nonetheless, a door in instead of being shut out.
Although Trintignant would go on to turn the fastest lap time in either of the heats, he would not be consistently fast over the course of the 15 lap heat. Schell, however, would have his foot firmly planted to the floor of his car from the very beginning. As a result, he would complete his heat with a time fifty seconds faster than Trintignant, and therefore, would start from the pole. Both Louis Rosier and Elie Bayol would be even faster than Trintignant and would complete the front row.
Charles de Tornaco would find his way into the final by throwing everything on the line in the repechage. Only he and John Heath would advance to the final. Since he beat Heath, he would be able to start one position better on the grid, which was still right beside Heath on the fourth, and final, row of the grid.
Trintignant wasn't about to lose out to Schell in the final. Therefore, when the race started, Trintignant would make a quick getaway and would edge his way to the front of the field. However, Schell had proven to be more than capable of turning some really fast and consistent laps around Cadours, and therefore, would not be shaken very easily by his Equipe Gordini teammate.
Charles would make a good start as well and would be challenging Ken Wharton right at the start. The incredible starts by the Equipe Gordini crew would cause Rosier to get pushed back at the start and would come under attack from de Tornaco early on. If he could manage to keep up the pressure over the course of the race, Ecurie Francorchamps could be in a position for a very strong finish at the end.
Bayol would help matters when he would retire after the first lap of the race with transmission failure. Lance Macklin and John Heath would also retire before the race would be over.
The Equipe Gordini cars, all three of them, would run incredibly close all through the 30 lap final. No more than five seconds would separate the men at any time. And while Schell would be applying the pressure to Trintignant, Behra would be applying even more to Schell. This competitiveness would cause the pace to increase and the rest of the field to be left behind.
In spite of driving the same kind of car, de Tornaco just could not reel in Rosier. In fact, as the race wore on, Rosier would slowly, but steadily, increase his lead. Ken Wharton, though, couldn't reel in de Tornaco. Therefore, while pushing hard, de Tornaco would have to be careful just to hit every corner correctly so to ensure that their second chance would not be thrown away in vain.
Trintignant would remain under pressure each and every lap of the final, but he would respond. He would increase his pace more than a mile an hour from his heat race to the final and he would record the fastest lap of the race with a time a second faster than his own fastest lap time from his heat. This kept him in front and in control. And after one hour and fifty-two seconds, he would cross the line to take the victory. Right behind him, only four seconds back, would come Schell in 2nd place. Schell would battle hard each and every lap and would manage to hold off his other teammate, Jean Behra, by just one second for 2nd place.
The Circuit de Cadours had started out in disaster for Ecurie Francorchamps. An early mechanical failure threatened to end the race for the team. Had it been any other race they would have been out of luck. Thankfully, the race included a repechage and the team would take full advantage of it as de Tornaco would come through to finish the final over a minute and twenty-five seconds behind but in 5th place. This was a truly remarkable result and seemingly set the stage for their season to end on a truly uplifting note. Tragically, it would not.
After the recovery and positive result at Cadours, it would be nearly a month before the team would take part in another grand prix. Though the team would not take part in the final round of the World Championship, the Italian Grand Prix on the 13th of September, the team would, nonetheless, be in Italy one week later to take part in the 4th Gran Premio de Modena.
This would be a special race for Swaters' team. Given the fact the car had come from Ferrari's factory in Modena just one year previous, it was something of a homecoming for the team. Of course there was also Swaters' close relationship with Enzo that made the race rather important.
Ironically, Scuderia Ferrari would withdraw their cars from the race. This meant the only Ferrari in the field would be Ecurie Francorchamps'. Tragically, Ecurie Francorchamps' Ferrari also wouldn't be in the field.
Charles de Tornaco would be at the wheel of the Ferrari. During practice for the 100 lap race, de Tornaco would make a mistake and would lose control of the car. It would end up rolling a number of times in the process and would crush de Tornaco's skull killing him as a result. This would be a truly horrific and tragic way for the team from Belgium to end their season. To the team, things would be put in perspective and the race wouldn't even matter after the truly tragic death.
While the 1953 season would end on a truly horrible note the team would be far from over and done. The bright yellow Belgian livery wouldn't just be seen streaking down the road in grand prix races. During the same season, the team had branched off into sportscar racing and would come away with a 9th place result at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. As a result, the team would look to continue its sportscar program into the following season. And in spite of the tragic death of de Tornaco, the Ferrari 500 in which he had been killed would be rebuilt and would be used by Swaters in the rebirth of Formula One as the regulations for the World Championship.
Though the 1953 grand prix season had seen the team struggle mightily during the first half, the second half would see the team really begin to hit stride, a stride that would be seen around motor races for years to come. Ecurie Francorchamps