TeamsEcurie Francorchamps: 1954 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
Jacques Swaters had always dreamed of being able to purchase a Ferrari to use for his own racing team. In 1953, the dream had come true and would end in a fairy tale result at Avus. However, the season would see the team reeling from tragedy and facing an uphill battle, both emotionally and competitively.
Swaters initially formed the Ecurie Belgique team in 1950 along with fellow partners Charles de Tornaco, Andre Pilette and Roger Laurent. Laurent realized that Ferrari was a team on the rise and he longed to own one of their cars. He would come to own a Ferrari 500 in 1952 but its delivery would be delayed until nearly the middle of the season. The delay would cause a truly memorable moment when the 500 would actually be driven through the night just to make it to a race the next day. It would make it to the race but would be promptly crashed on the very first lap of the race.
1953 would see the team finally reach the level of achievement Swaters believed they could with the right car. It would culminate in Swaters driving the car to victory in the 9th Internationales Avusrennen on the 12th of July. In that race Swaters would earn the victory with a margin of two minutes and forty-two seconds over Hans Klenk. This was the team's proudest moment in grand prix racing. Its darkest moment would come just a couple of months later.
At the end of September, in Modena, Charles de Tornaco would be at the wheel of the yellow Ferrari 500 F2. During practice, de Tornaco would lose control and would end up rolling the Ferrari a number of times. He would end up being crushed by the accident and died almost instantly.
This was certainly Ecurie Francorchamps' darkest moment. Losing one of the team's founders and good friend would take a lot out of the team. And while the tragedy would take something out of the team emotionally, the new Formula One regulations coming into effect in 1954 would effectively take away the threat and potential of the team's Ferrari 500 F2.
In order to be competitive the team would need to make the necessary changes to take advantage of the increased engine size of 2.5-liters. It would end up that Swaters and his team had an advantage. The purchase of the 500 F2 from Ferrari would actually allow the team to make the necessary updates without too much trouble.
The 625 had actually been developed prior to the World Championship switching over to Formula 2 regulations for the 1952 and 1953 seasons. The Ferrari 500 F2 had been based upon the 625 just having an engine with a 2.0-liter displacement placed underneath the bonnet. Therefore, heading into the 1954 season the team would make the switch to a 2.5-liter engine that would conform to the maximum engine size of the new regulations. The car had actually been designed for a slightly larger engine so the work was carried out without too much hassle and Ecurie Francorchamps would be ready for the start of its 1954 grand prix season.
The start of Ecurie Francorchamps' season would come with a non-championship race. Instead of cross the south Atlantic to take part in either the Argentine Grand Prix, the first round of the World Championship, or any of the other non-championship races on the South American continent. Instead, the team would wait and travel to Sicily, Italy for its first race of the season.
Ecurie Francorchamps would make its way to Syracuse to take part in the 4th Gran Premio de Siracusa on the 11th of April. This race would be an 80 lap event around the 3.48 mile circuit situated to the west of the city's center. And while the team couldn't have been more Belgian, it would be just one of a large number of Ferraris in the field.
The bright yellow Ferrari 625 unloaded from the transporter would certainly stand out amongst the numerous dark red Ferraris and Maseratis that would make up the field for the Gran Premio di Siracusa. The field would have been filled with even more red had it not been for the absence of Juan Manuel Fangio's 250F and a few other privateers driving Maseratis.
A place filled with Greek and Roman influence, Syracuse is as much at the heart of known history as Rome or Jerusalem. Syracuse would be at the heart of Greek history and Roman domination. But it would also be one of the centers for the spread of Christianity. Constantly in the midst of some of the most famous wars and revolutions known to history, the city's most recent history, at the time of the race in 1954, would include being one of the important goals for the allied invasion of Italy during 1943. It would be fitting, therefore, that a portion of the 3.48 mile circuit would pass by the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery where nearly 1,000 men who had died in World War II would be buried.
The absence of a number of privateer entries would lead to the field being rather small for the 80 lap, 278 mile, race. Among the small number in the field the vast majority would be from Scuderia Ferrari. In fact, the team would enter four cars and would make up half of the field. The addition of Roger Laurent at the wheel of the Ecurie Francorchamps Ferrari and Robert Manzon at the wheel of another meant six out of eight entries would be Ferraris.
In practice, the fastest in the field would be Onofre Marimon. Despite being vastly out-numbered, Marimon would take his Maserati 250F and would barely edge out Jose Froilan Gonzalez for the pole. Giuseppe Farina would make it two Scuderia Ferraris on the front row when he qualified in 3rd.
Laurent wouldn't be able to start that good against the factory efforts from Ferrari and Maserati. And in spite of the increased engine size, the best Laurent would manage to pull off would be a third, and final, starting position. He would start 7th, right in between Robert Manzon and Sergio Mantovani.
The race would undoubtedly bring back haunting memories of de Tornaco's death at Modena in the fall of '53. Marimon would lead the way with Hawthorn and Gonzalez following along right behind. Hay bails would be widely used to act as barriers but they had at least one problem that would come into play.
The day was dry and warm. Marimon would lead his car through the turns but would go a little wide at one of the exits. Running a little wide to right of the track, Marimon would kick up some of the loose chaff and it would be sent flying into Hawthorn's field of view. This would end up blinding Hawthorn momentarily but that would be all that was needed as he would end up crashing heavily into a thick wall lining both sides of the circuit. The event would happen so quickly and suddenly that Gonzalez would find himself with nowhere to go. He would end up plowing into Hawthorn and both cars would catch on fire. It would take some time to extract the drivers, especially Hawthorn, but it would take almost no time at all for both of the cars to be destroyed by the resulting fire. Hawthorn would have to be rushed to the hospital to be treated for serious burns to his arms and legs.
In spite of the chaos, the race would go on with Marimon still in the lead. He would be pursued by Giuseppe Farina and Maurice Trintignant. Trintignant, another one of Ferrari's drivers, would be in 3rd place but he would not be able to keep up with Farina's pace over the course of the entirety of the event. The unfortunate events would enable Laurent to also move up in the running order despite starting from the last row of the grid.
In spite of the 7th place starting position, Laurent would be driving rather well. And when Marimon crashed out of the race with just 9 laps remaining, Laurent would find himself in 4th place overall despite being a number of laps down to Farina.
At this point in the season Farina was merely forty-seven years old but he still be leaving the rest of the field behind. Averaging a little more than 95 mph, Farina would need just two hours, fifty-one minutes and fifty-seven seconds to finish the race and take the victory. Farina would prove that in spite of his age he was still a very potent competitor as Maurice Trintignant, some eleven years younger, would end the race over two laps down to Farina in 2nd place.
The first, and only, of the Maseratis to finish the race would be Sergio Mantovani in 3rd place for Officine Alfieri Maserati. Coming across the line in 4th place, some seven laps, or almost 15 minutes behind, would be Laurent in Ecurie Francorchamps Ferrari 625.
While the memory of de Tornaco certainly had to come flooding back into the minds of the entire team, Laurent and the rest at Ecurie Francorchamps would emerge from the smoke and the flame still in contention. And the 4th place result, despite the distance behind, would certainly be a bright way to start the new racing season.
The team would pack everything up and would head back to its native Belgium. There would be more than just a couple of weeks in between races for Ecurie Francorchamps. Besides a few sportscar races, the team would have nearly two months in between races. Then, on the 6th of June, the team would head two hours east to arrive at Chimay for the 24th Grand Prix des Frontieres.
Drawing its origins from the Celtic meaning 'pretty, pleasant', Chimay would be easily characterized as just that. Just a few miles from the French border, Chimay would be much more noted for its Trappist brewery bearing the name of the town itself. Once the site of a tranquil Trappist monastery, the rolling countryside just to the northwest of the small town would become torn by the roar of highly-tuned racing engines. With the exception of Spa-Francorchamps, Chimay would be one of Belgium's most celebrated road course circuits.
At 6.73 miles in length, the Chimay circuit was one of the classics. It would feature technical sections; long, flat-out straights and fast, sweeping corners that tested a drivers bravery and car control.
During the couple of years in which the World Championship was conducted according to Formula 2 regulations the Grand Prix des Frontieres was one of the bigger non-championship races. However, with the new Formula One regulations coming into effect for 1954, the race at Chimay would remain a Formula 2 race. This would reduce the starting field to most local drivers with rather aged equipment. This would place Ecurie Francorchamps among the favorites. But the team had to make an important change.
Since the race was a Formula 2 event, the 2.5-liter engine would not comply with the regulations. Therefore, the engine would have to be replaced with its original 2.0-liter engine. Even still, the team would have to be considered one of the favorites.
The change would cause more problems than perhaps initially thought. Jacques Pollet would end up taking the pole for Equipe Gordini in a Gordini T16. Pollet's best lap around the circuit would be three minutes and fifty-five seconds. Prince Bira would be at the wheel of his own Maserati A6GCM. Pollet's time would be very impressive as Bira would start the race from 2nd place on the grid but would set a time eight seconds slower. Seven seconds would be the difference between Bira's time and Don Beauman's pace for 3rd place on the starting grid. Laurent would wish he was just eight or seven seconds off the pace of those on the front row. Instead, engine problems would force Laurent from the event all together.
With one of the favorites out of the race even before it started the spectators gathered would have to switch their focus. And in the race a good battle would develop between Bira and the two Equipe Gordini teammates in the field.
Pollet would be fast early on. He would set the pace and would look strong but Bira would be right there in his Maserati. Andre Pilette would duel with Beauman early on before supplanting him.
In spite of the fact the race was 20 laps, all of the attrition would happen during the first half of the race. And by the time the race was entering its last couple of laps there would be just five cars still circulating out on the circuit. Even fewer of them would actually be in contention.
Pollet, despite setting the fastest lap of the race, would end up fading and would be a couple of laps down by the finish. This left just Bira and Pilette to battle it out for the win as they would be the only two left on the lead lap.
Averaging 98 mph, Bira would put away any thought of a nose-to-tail battle with Pilette. Bira would be consistently fast and would come through Vidal on towards the finish line with a clear advantage. Bira would power his way across the line to take the victory. It would be a long thirty-five seconds before Pilette would come through in 2nd place. Don Beauman would finish the race in 3rd place down a lap.
Chimay, for all intents and purposes, would be a waste of time for the team. The engine troubles would prohibit the team from even taking part in the race. Thankfully, the team didn't have to travel too far to try and take part in the race. Nonetheless, the team would then have to travel back home to prepare the car all over again. They would need to do this for the most important grand prix in Belgium was right around the corner.
June would be a very busy month for Ecurie Francorchamps. After the failed attempt to take part in the Grand Prix des Frontieres the team would immediately shift its focus. The team would set aside its Ferrari 500/625 and would load up its C-Type Jaguar. The team would then depart for the most important sportscar race of the entire season, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Unlike Chimay, Le Mans would be quite a successful trip for the team. The team would fight hard and would come away with a 4th result in the overall standings.
Almost immediately after scoring the 4th place at Le Mans the team would have to pack up and leave to go back home. Thankfully for the team, they could just head home and stay there for their next race. So while the team would quickly head home, it could relax knowing it didn't have to travel anywhere. The reason for that was simple. The next race on the team's calendar would be the third round of the Formula One World Championship, the Belgian Grand Prix. And it literally took place just down the road from the team's headquarters.
Teams arrived in the Ardennes preparing to take part in the 15th Grand Prix de Belgique. The teams had come to one of the fastest circuits in all the world. Measuring 8.77 miles, the Spa-Francorchamps circuit was blindingly fast and featured a danger level about equal with the average speeds around the circuit. Nonetheless, the circuit was a driver and fan favorite. Taking place along public roads running between the villages of Francorchamps, Malmedy and Stavelot, the Spa-Francorchamps circuit was one of the truest road courses. Combined with some of the most unpredictable weather and its incredible speeds, Spa-Francorchamps was also one of the most feared circuits in the world.
It had been months in between rounds of the Formula One World Championship. The first round had been the Argentine Grand Prix and that had taken place around the middle of January. The only round that counted toward the World Championship to have taken place between Argentina and Belgium had been the Indianapolis 500, and none of the teams or drivers had taken part in the race. Therefore, in almost every way, the Belgian Grand Prix was just the second round of the World Championship.
Ecurie Francorchamps had unloaded its car amongst a field that consisted of most of the major players of the day, but in different sets of circumstances. Unlike the previous couple of years, Juan Manuel Fangio was leading the World Championship after his victory in Argentina. Alberto Ascari was no longer with Ferrari due to a falling out with Enzo and wouldn't even be present at Spa as he was busy waiting on Lancia to get their new grand prix car ready for competition. As a result of Ascari and Villoresi going to Lancia, Maurice Trintignant and Jose Froilan Gonzalez would be with the team. In the case of Gonzalez, it would be his second go-around with the team. One driver present that would be a surprise would be Mike Hawthorn. In spite of his burns suffered at Syracuse, he would be back behind the wheel of a Ferrari 625.
The field would be relatively small for the 36 lap, 315 mile, race. But it would be filled with some of the heaviest of hitters. Juan Manuel Fangio, in the Maserati 250F, would be the heaviest hitter of them all and he would set the fastest lap in practice with a time of 4:22.1. This would earn the Argentinean the pole. He would be joined on the front row by fellow Argentinean Jose Froilan Gonzalez. Gonzalez's best effort would be a second and a half slower but still good enough for 2nd place. The final position on the front row would go to the aged Farina. He would be about four seconds slower around the 8.77 mile circuit than what Fangio had been.
Although the race would take place in Belgium and the field would boast of three Belgian drivers, the field would be almost entirely dominated by Argentinean drivers. Throughout the whole of the field, there would be four Argentineans and three of those would start from the first two rows. The hometown hero, Swaters, would prove local knowledge helped him very little as he would end up the 14th, and final, qualifier starting the race from the sixth, and final, row all by himself.
Thankfully, the weather, the day of the race, would be sunny and mild. This would make the conditions perfect for an absolutely flat-out race. As with the previous year, Gonzalez would lead from the start. Gonzalez would be followed by his Ferrari teammate Farina who had also managed to make a better start than Fangio from off the line.
While it would seem the start of the race would be drama free, the reality would be far from it. Roberto Mieres would be on fire within just a couple of miles. Fuel would leak onto his exhaust pipe and he would be streaking flames a long ways behind him. Mieres would immediately retire from the race and would endure some minor burns as a result. Just about the time Gonzalez was appearing to settle in, his engine would expire handing the lead over to Farina. One lap hadn't been completed and the complexion of the race had already dramatically changed.
The problems would keep coming. Unfortunately, it would be Swaters that would suffer. While heading around on just the 2nd lap of the race, the engine in the Ferrari would also expire. Attrition had taken three cars from the race in less than 10 miles. Less than 30 miles would be completed before attrition would take Marimon from the proceedings with an engine failure as well. This left just eleven cars, and one Argentinean, still running. But that single Argentinean still running would be the most important one.
While it seemed the world was falling in all around him, Fangio would keep his focus and would put together one impressive drive. He would recover from his poor start and would take the lead on the 3rd lap of the race. He would remain in the lead for 8 laps before Farina retook the lead. However, Farina could not hold back Fangio, not this day.
Aided by ignition problems taking Farina out of the race on the 14th lap of the race, Fangio would come back into the lead of the race and would not relinquish it for the next 23 laps. Once in the lead for the second time of the day, everything but the final couple of positions on the podium had been decided.
Problems all around Fangio would enable him to slip away with the lead. He had been pursued by Hawthorn who would be called in to have Gonzalez take over in relief because of his burns. However, just as soon as Gonzalez took over the car he would return to the pits because of a problem with the exhaust leaking terrible fumes into the cockpit. The delay in rectifying the situation would lead to Maurice Trintignant taking over 2nd place and Stirling Moss also being able to get by.
Except for Trintignant, the rest of the field would be at least a lap down coming down to the final lap of the race. As for Trintignant, he would need Fangio to make a terrible mistake if he wanted any chance of taking the victory.
No such mistake would be made. Fangio would be unstoppable. In two hours, forty-four minutes and forty-two seconds Fangio would come around La Source and across the line to take the victory. Twenty-four seconds later, Trintignant would come through in 2nd place. Although a lap down, Stirling Moss would enjoy a well-earned 3rd place in a second Maserati 250F.
The foreign entries dominated the Belgian Grand Prix. Only Andre Pilette would manage to make it to the finish. In the case of Ecurie Francorchamps, they would be in some trouble. Although it had been months between the first and third rounds of the World Championship, the Belgian Grand Prix would kick off a rather rapid succession of rounds. And with a blown engine, the team would be certainly delayed. The team would need to work quickly, or, think about missing subsequent championship and non-championship races.
Only two weeks separated the third and fourth rounds of the Formula One World Championship. And after the blown engine at Spa, Ecurie Francorchamps would be hard at work repairing and readying the engine and car in order to make it to the French Grand Prix on the 4th of July.
The team would have its entry in for the race on the 5.15 public road course outside Reims. Thankfully, Reims was not all that far away. Therefore, if they could get the car ready to a certain degree the team could travel to Reims and make its final preparations in time to make the race.
Unfortunately, it was not to be. There were bigger problems. The repairs to the engine were taking much longer than they perhaps believed it would. As a result, the team would not make it to Reims and the French Grand Prix.
Rarely would Ecurie Francorchamps head across the English Channel to England to take part in a grand prix race. However, Jacques Swaters would have an entry in the British Grand Prix, the fifth round of the World Championship. However, like the French Grand Prix, Swaters would not fulfill his entry. He would not show up to take part in the race. Instead, the team would focus on preparing its Ferrari for the remainder of the season.
The engine in the Ferrari had let go after just the 1st lap of the Belgian Grand Prix. That had taken place on the 20th of June. It was now the middle of August. The team had plenty of time to repair and rebuild the engine. The team gotten everything together but it would need to make sure all of the systems were working properly before it took part in another round of the World Championship. And on the 15th of August, Ecurie Francorchamps would be busy preparing the car for one of the toughest grand prix non-championship races ever.
While the Nurburgring's Nordschleife is quite famous for its difficulty, danger and extremely long length of 14 miles, there was one just as dangerous, demanding and even longer. That circuit was the Pescara Circuit. And on the 15th of August, teams, like Ecurie Francorchamps, were busy preparing for a 16 lap, 255 mile, race. Ecurie Francorchamps would certainly get the test for which they were looking.
Located in the Abruzzo region of Italy, Pescara is a mixture of rugged terrain and vast coastline given its location along the Adriatic Sea. During ancient days, present-day Pescara had been known as Aternum after the river flowing through it. By the 11th century, the city would be a very important and wealthy. It would also be central figure in the growing Christian faith. But like many other important and wealthy cities, Pescara would endure its share of upheavals and wars. Even in the 20th century, the Second World War would see portions of the city raised to the ground due to combat. In fact, a good portion of the city would still be undergoing restoration when the city prepared to host the 23rd Circuito di Pescara.
Swaters would be at the wheel of the team's Ferrari 625. And although the race would take place just four hours to the south of Modena, the field would be rather light with entries from Scuderia Ferrari and Officine Alfieri Maserati. Scuderia Ferrari would have just one entry in the race driven by Umberto Maglioli. Officine Alfieri Maserati would have two entries in the race in Luigi Musso and Stirling Moss.
Just one lap around the 15.96 mile circuit would take upwards of ten minutes. And among the thirteen present, Moss would be fastest setting a lap time of ten minutes and twenty-three seconds. Robert Manzon, at the wheel of Ferrari 625 for Equipe Rosier, would end up starting on the front row in 2nd place after recording a time twenty-one seconds slower than Moss. Clemar Bucci would give Manzon a run for his money setting a time in a Gordini T16 less two seconds slower than Manzon. This would be incredibly tight given less than two seconds separated two drivers over the course of 16 miles.
Unfortunately, Swaters wouldn't be involved in any such close battles for starting grid positions. In fact, Swaters would be relegated to the wrong end of the grid. Swaters would start the 16 lap race from dead-last on the grid, which meant he started from the last position on the fifth row of the grid.
Only twelve cars would start race as Maglioli would be absent from the race as a result of a family illness. However, the rest of the field would roar away on the start of just one of sixteen epic journeys. Filled with miles of straights and incredibly tight and twisty mountainous roads, each lap around streets and back roads around Pescara was a tortuous test for car and driver. This would come to bear within the first few laps of the race.
Robert Manzon's race would come to an end after just one lap due to an engine failure. Andre Guelfi would also retire after the first lap of the race. He would be forced out of the race due to a fire.
Swaters would make it through the first thirty-two miles of the race, but would have trouble making it much further. Mechanical ailments would force the Belgian from the race after just a couple of laps.
Two more entries would fall out after completing just 3 laps. Unfortunately for Maserati, one of those would be the pole-sitter Moss. A broken oil pipe would force the Brit from the race and would hand the lead to rising grand prix in Luigi Musso.
Musso couldn't relax. Following along behind by a couple of minutes was Prince Bira in another Maserati. Bira would keep the pressure on by setting the fastest lap of the race with a time of 10:46.39.
In spite of the pressure heaped on by Bira, Musso would be more than up to the challenge. Musso would just need to take care and not make a mistake and the victory would be his.
Averaging nearly 87 mph, Musso would be more than fast enough to thwart Bira's attempt to make up any ground. As a result, Musso would power his way to the victory over Bira. The margin at the end of the race would be just shy of three minutes, or almost five miles. Nearly seven minutes, or ten miles, would be the difference between Musso and Harry Schell in 3rd place.
Unfortunately, Ecurie Francorchamps would not be able to achieve a great comeback after its engine problems at Spa. Yet, while Ecurie Francorchamps would not make it to the end of the race, it had been a good test in order to locate all possible problems before the final races in which the team would take part in 1954. So while the race would be a failure, in many ways, it would also be productive.
The team would have to hope the 32+ miles it managed to complete at Pescara would have to be good enough as they would have to leave and immediately head to their next race. Just one week after the grand prix at Pescara (the 22nd of August) the team would be at Berne, Switzerland preparing for the Swiss Grand Prix, which was the seventh round of the World Championship.
Very few purpose-built motor racing circuits existed throughout Europe. Bremgarten was anything but a purpose-built circuit. A road course in the truest sense, Bremgarten, and its 4.51 mile layout, was surrounded by tall trees right up to the edge of the circuit. Situated near the Wohlensee River, the circuit would have a habit of being wet even on the driest of days. Combined with falling leaves, the damp conditions would make the circuit extremely dangerous. This reputation was well known as it had been the site of Achille Varzi's crash in 1948 when the famed Italian racer lost his life.
In spite of the dangers, the flowing and constantly changing layout of the circuit also made it quite popular. And with the Alps as a backdrop, very few circuits throughout the world could rival Bremgarten for scenic beauty.
Ecurie Francorchamps would make only its second appearance in a Formula One Grand Prix after its engine woes at Spa all the way back in June. So while it had been a tough couple of months for the outfit from Francorchamps it had been anything but splendid for Juan Manuel Fangio. With the exception of the British Grand Prix, Fangio had managed to win every single World Championship event he entered to that point in the season. However, the last time Swaters had been at a race with the Argentinean he had still been driving with Maserati. By the time the team unloaded its Ferrari from the transporter Fangio appeared with the Mercedes-Benz team in which he had been with since the French Grand Prix.
The conditions around the circuit would not be the best to showcase the power of the new Mercedes and that of the other 2.5-liter Formula One cars. In fact, times around the circuit would be just slightly faster than the times set the year before in the last year of the Formula 2 era in the World Championship. Scuderia Ferrari's Jose Froilan Gonzalez would be fastest recording a time of 2:39.5. This would end up being just two-tenths of a second faster than Fangio in the reshaped W196. The final position on the front row would go to Stirling Moss in a Maserati. This would make three different manufacturers occupying the front row of the grid.
By contrast, Swaters would be lonely. As with the race at Pescara, Swaters would start the 66 lap, 298 mile, race from dead-last. He would be all alone on the seventh row of the grid in the 16th starting position.
The weather the day of the race would be quite unlike the previous year when the sun would make it quite hot. The skies would be overcast and it would end up turning wet. Nonetheless, the cars would line up on the grid preparing to start the race.
The cars would power away from the line at the start of the race. Fangio would actually get a good jump off the line, as would Moss. Therefore, the front row would drive around the right-hander side-by-side. Fangio slightly had the edge but had another right-hander ahead of him. Clemar Bucci, at the wheel of a Gordini T16 for Equipe Gordini, would be in trouble right away and his arm would go flying into the air to signal he had troubles. A failed fuel pump would bring his race to an end even before moving ten feet.
The problems would continue to Equipe Gordini. Jean Behra would be out of the race after just 8 laps with clutch problems. Only 2 laps later, Fred Wacker would be out of the running with transmission failure. While these were terrible developments for Equipe Gordini, they were more than welcome for Swaters starting dead-last. These retirements would help him move up the order without having to even push his car hard at all. Swaters would continue his movement up the order when Karl Kling spun early on and dropped to the end of the field.
Fangio was in the lead with Moss, able to get by Gonzalez, doing his best to give chase in 2nd place. Mike Hawthorn would also be putting up a strong fight and would soon be in 4th place after starting the race 6th.
In spite of having Kling behind him as a result of the German's early spin, Swaters could not hold back the superior W196 and Kling would begin an impressive drive up through the field that would see him quickly back inside the top ten and looking for more.
Hawthorn would get by Gonzalez and would next set his sights on Moss in 2nd place. Unfortunately, problems with his Ferrari would cause Hawthorn to pit to have the situation fixed. This seemed to let Moss escape with 2nd place. However, Moss would soon be out of the race with oil pump issues. Harry Schell would end up out of the race just 2 laps later with the same problem.
Hawthorn would believe he had been gifted a potential top five result. However, he would be out of the race just prior to halfway with oil pump problems as well. The halfway mark of the race would see Maurice Trintignant fall out of the running with engine failure. This left Gonzalez as the sole remaining Ferrari in the top five. The problems would also allow Kling to make his way back to 3rd place after an incredible performance after his early spin. The problems would also allow Swaters to continue to move up the running order despite being a number of laps down.
In the wet conditions, Swaters would focus on staying on the track instead of being on the edge of control like Fangio out in front of the entire field. This meant Swaters pace would be much more restrained, but it would help to keep mistakes and scary moments to a minimum. In such a state, the only question mark concerning whether Swaters would finish or not would come down to his car. It had been rebuilt but it was operating without any problems.
Fangio was also operating without any problems. Anchored by a fastest lap exactly the same as his own qualifying effort, Fangio would continue in the lead of the race just as he had from the very first lap onwards. And in spite of Gonzalez setting the faster time in practice, he would not be able to keep pace with Fangio and would only slip further back from his fellow Argentinean.
It would take Fangio just three hours and thirty-four seconds to complete the race distance and take the victory, his fifth of the season. Fifty-eight seconds would be the difference at the line between Fangio and Gonzalez in 2nd place. Hans Herrmann, the forgotten about third Mercedes-Benz drivers, would drive a quiet, trouble-free race to earn a 3rd place finish, albeit a lap down.
Ecurie Francorchamps would finally finish its first World Championship race of the season. Although Swaters would be 8 laps behind, he would still manage to outlast eight others to finish the race in 8th place.
Under the conditions, the 8th place had been a good result for the team, especially given its troubles throughout the season. Swaters had driven a smart race focusing on finishing instead of fighting for the best result. By letting the race come to him, Swaters would come from 16th on the grid to earn a top ten result. However, the average speed differential made it clear the team needed to find some more speed if it really wanted to contend for point-paying positions.
The team would need to find a lot more speed heading into its next race. Toward the end of September, Ecurie Francorchamps would head back to the site of its greatest triumph. On the 19th of September the Avus Circuit in the west of Berlin would host the 1st Grosser Preis von Berlin. But while the team would be excited to head back to the site of its greatest triumph the excitement would be muted somewhat with the knowledge the new Mercedes-Benz team would also be present at the race.
The Avus Circuit had always been about sheer speed. From its opening in 1921, Avus would become synonymous with speed. Then, with the addition of the banked north and south curves, the original 12 mile long circuit would get even faster. Essentially two long straights with two turns at either end, the circuit would become perfectly suited for speed record attempts. This would lead to average speeds that would not be exceeded at places like Indianapolis for decades. But it also made the circuit incredibly dangerous. Therefore, as the teams arrived to take part in the 1st Grand Prix of Berlin, they would be arriving at a circuit that had been significantly shortened prior to the outbreak of World War II.
In spite of a tight hairpin at the south end of the circuit, the banked north curve would help to keep the 5.15 mile version an incredibly fast venue at which to race. This fact would see Mercedes-Benz bring its streamlined W196 back out for use.
Unlike the year before when Ecurie Francorchamps' Ferrari 500 represented the cutting edge compared to the rather aged designs entered in the Avusrennen, the 1954 trip to the Avus Circuit would see the team's Ferrari as the aged competitor compared to the W196. And practice would see the German Juggernaut roll to the first three positions on the grid. In fact, the entire front row would be a sea of Mercedes-Benz. Juan Manuel Fangio would be the fastest among the three W196s. His time around the 5.15 mile circuit would be 2:12.3. This time would be nearly a second and a half faster than Hans Herrmann. It would also be nearly three seconds faster than Karl Kling.
Jacques Swaters would be behind the wheel trying to replicate his victory in the Avusrennen. His time around the circuit would not, unfortunately, be anywhere near those set by the three Mercedes. However, he would find himself to still be in a good position at the conclusion of practice. With the exception of Mercedes-Benz, the field would be sparse with top teams. Scuderia Ferrari and Maserati would not be present. The only other major team entered in the race would be Equipe Gordini. Equipe Rosier would also be present with a couple of cars. This meant Swaters would be amongst the favorites, of course, excluding Mercedes. Swaters would prove this point in practice when he would be fast enough to start the 60 lap race from the second row of the grid in the 5th position. Unfortunately, his best time around the circuit was some twelve seconds slower than the slowest of the Mercedes-Benz.
Around 90,000 spectators had gathered to watch what it had hoped would be an absolutely dominant performance of Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows. And as the field roared away to start the first lap of 60, the crowd would get exactly what it had hoped. Fangio would lead the way with Kling getting around Herrmann for 2nd place. However, it was a long straight run down toward the hairpin at the south side of the circuit. Jean Behra would use this to his advantage.
Behra would tuck in behind Herrmann and would slipstream him down the long straight. Then, coming into the hairpin, Behra would pull out of the slipstream where he didn't have to use as much gas to maintain speed with Herrmann. Pulling out, Behra would have more revs to go from his engine. This would help him to take Herrmann's position going into the hairpin. Behra would remain in that position and would pull off the same move to make his way between Fangio and Kling.
Meanwhile, Andre Pilette, would make a good start and would power his way by Swaters on the first lap of the race. Swaters would remain in 6th place patiently making his way around the dangerous circuit. Unfortunately, Swaters' pace meant he would be nearly one hundred yards behind the three Mercedes at the hairpin on the very first lap of the race.
Fangio continued in the lead of the race. However, Behra would remain right there pushing his Gordini hard. Unfortunately, he would push his car too hard. And after 14 laps, Behra's engine would let go in a big way. The destruction would be so catastrophic that the engine block would end up being two pieces. Louis Rosier's retirement on the 1st lap of the race, and Robert Manzon's failure to start the event, meant Swaters was relatively unchallenged in 5th place. Unfortunately for Swaters, Pilette would prove too fast to catch. Therefore, Swaters would settle in and take care not to do too much damage to the car in order to ensure making it to the finish.
Heading to the finish of the race, it would still be the three Mercedes-Benz W196s running up front nose-to-tail much to the delight of the 90,000 spectators assembled. It was clear the three W196s would sweep the podium. The only question really remaining would be who would win the race.
At the French Grand Prix, the first for the new Silver Arrows, Fangio and Kling would run nose-to-tail throughout that event with each spending time in the lead. However, at the finish line, it would be the two cars lined up side-by-side in a show of dominance. In that race, Kling would give way to Fangio to lead the final lap of the race and would cross the line just a tenth of a second ahead of Kling to take the victory. At Avus, Fangio would return the favor.
Although Fangio had been the leader for much of the race he would move to the side and would allow Kling to take over the lead of the race. This would be poignant given the fact it was a German race and Kling was German. Much to the delight of the assembled, Kling would lead home a Mercedes-Benz one, two, three. The three cars would be lined up staggered with each crossing the line about a half a second behind each other. Kling would take the victory over Fangio and Herrmann.
The Silver Arrows machines had so dominated the race that it would be a long three laps that Andre Pilette would trail behind in 4th place. Another lap would be the difference back to Swaters in 5th place.
Amidst the euphoria, Swaters and the rest of the field would be practically forgotten about. But given the pace of the Mercedes-Benz, there would be good reason for the rest of the field to be forgotten about. Nonetheless, it would prove to be two-straight finishes for Ecurie Francorchamps. This was good news for the team heading into its final race of the season.
Given the fact the team rarely travelled across the English Channel, they would forego some of the non-championship races held throughout England and would head back home to Francorchamps. While at home, the team would be busy preparing for what would be their final race of the season.
Ecurie Francorchamps' final race of the season would come toward the later part of October. On the 24th of that month the team would be in the south of Spain preparing to take part in the ninth, and final, round of the Formula One World Championship, the Spanish Grand Prix.
The Spanish Grand Prix would take place at the 3.91 mile Pedralbes street circuit located to the southwest of Barcelona. Composed of a few tight corners, the Circuit de Pedralbes was a rather fast street circuit. The higher speeds were aided by the very wide track that allowed the drivers to carry a good deal of speed through each of the corners.
Located to the southwest of Barcelona, the Pedralbes Circuit would be a very welcome way to end a long season of racing. Not disappointing, the weather over the course of the weekend in 1954 would be sunny, mild and dry. This would be perfect conditions upon which to end the season. In the case of Ecurie Francorchamps, it would be the perfect opportunity to end the season on a bright spot after a difficult season. On top of it all, it was clear sportscar racing was the direction the team would most likely head. Therefore, the Spanish Grand Prix was likely the last World Championship race in which the team would take part. As a result, the team would desire with everything they had to earn a strong result upon which to end its short grand prix career.
The World Championship having been long decided, many teams would look at the Spanish Grand Prix as an opportunity to end the season on a strong note. In the case of Lancia, who had finally made it to a World Championship grand prix, it would be an opportunity for them to show what they were truly made of and see if all the rumors about them were actually true.
Alberto Ascari would certainly put up a strong argument when he would take the new car out in practice and would end up setting the fastest lap time around the 3.91 mile circuit. His time of 2:18.1 would be exactly a second faster than Fangio in the W196. The rest of the front row would include Mike Hawthorn in 3rd for Ferrari and Harry Schell in 4th place for Maserati. This meant for different manufacturers would occupy the four-wide front row.
As with the majority of the season, Swaters would be at the wheel looking at a whole lot of cars ahead of himself. Jacques' best time of 2:28.0 would be just under ten seconds slower than Ascari's pole time and would cause Swaters to have to start the race from the sixth, and final, row of the grid in 19th place overall. The good news would be that he wouldn't start the race dead-last. That would be because one of those to qualify worse than he was driving a Formula 2-spec Maserati.
While many would expect Ascari to lead the way at the start of the race, just about everyone would be surprised when Harry Schell powered his way to the front of the field at the start. Ascari would be slow enough off the line that Hawthorn would even get ahead of him at the start. Fangio would be even slower off the line and would allow Trintignant to come up and follow along behind Ascari. This would be an incredible start made by Trintignant considering he had started the race all the way down in 8th place on the third row of the grid.
Starting at the back of the grid, Swaters would remain calm looking to have the race come to him like it had at Bremgarten. He would lose ground to the leaders but he knew he would lose ground to them no matter what he did. Therefore, he would remain focused on staying out of trouble and taking advantage of situations when they presented themselves.
Schell continued in the lead of the race throughout the first 2 laps of the race. However, Ascari would resume the lead and would begin to edge away in the Lancia. At that time, attrition started to take an early toll on the field. Robert Manzon and Luigi Villoresi would both be out of the race after just 2 laps as a result of engine and brake failure.
Just when it seemed Ascari would disappear into the distance troubles would come. Clutch issues would slow the Italian's progress and would eventually lead to his retirement after just 10 laps. This would hand the lead back to Schell who would begin an intense battle with Trintignant for the out-right lead of the race.
The two men would be involved in a spirited battle with lead changing hands just about each lap. Of the two, Schell would spend the most time in the lead of the race. The back and forth battle would delight the tens of thousands present to watch the final round of the World Championship. And while many thought drivers would just take it easy, the hard-fought battle between Trintignant and Schell would get everyone excited.
Unfortunately, while most everyone was captivated by the duel between Schell and Trintignant, the long and difficult season would come to an end for Ecurie Francorchamps. An engine failure had sidelined the team for a number of weeks during the middle of the summer. And it would be another engine failure that would bring the season to an end.
While Ecurie Francorchamps would be busy packing its broken car and equipment to head back home, they would find themselves not to be alone. Jean Behra would depart the race one lap after Swaters' blow-up. Stirling Moss would make it to the 20th lap before an oil pump failure would end his day. Even more would join them.
The spirited duel between Schell and Trintignant would come to an end after 29 laps when Schell had a spin while trying to hold off Trintignant and Mike Hawthorn. Although he recover behind Fangio in 4th place, Schell would soon find himself out of the race for good with transmission failure. Trintignant wouldn't be safe either as he would exit the race some time later when his gearbox also failed.
This left Hawthorn in the lead of the race. Fangio would be in 2nd but would have trouble of his own. Oil would be leaking out from under the hood and would actually be striking him in the face making visibility terrible for the Argentinean. This would effectively slow Fangio and would allow Luigi Musso to take over the 2nd place spot in the running order. The problem would so plague Fangio that he would eventually even go a lap down before the end of the race.
In spite of scars from the burns he had suffered all the way back at the start of the season, Hawthorn would be powering his way along at the front of the field without threat. Fangio's troubles would enable Hawthorn to pull away and leave Musso, who couldn't match the pace, struggling to try and keep up. Hawthorn had taken over the lead of the race on the 24th lap and would not look back throughout the entirety of the 80 lap race.
Blasting down the Generalisimo Franco straight for what would be the final time, Hawthorn had been in the lead of the race for more than 223 miles and just 3.91 miles remained for him to capture his second World Championship victory. Averaging 97 mph, it would take Hawthorn just a little under three hours and fourteen minutes to collect the victory and overcome what had been a very difficult and trying year. Luigi Musso would be impressive in his Maserati and would finish the race in 2nd place a minute and thirteen seconds behind. Juan Manuel Fangio, the World Champion for 1954, would carry on despite the problems and would finish a lap down in 3rd place.
Another engine failure was not how the team had wanted to end its season and its time in the Formula One World Championship. Instead of a fairytale, Ecurie Francorchamps would be just another small team that would experience the gut-wrenching reality of the uncertainty of grand prix racing.
The loss of de Tornaco and the incredible competition and costs associated with grand prix racing would see the team depart from Formula One to strictly focus on sportscar racing. But while the Ecurie Francorchamps name would no longer be seen in Formula One many of the same elements would be found competing, just under a different name. Swaters would drop the Ecurie Francorchamps name when he decided to partner with Johnny Claes and Andre Pilette, fellow Belgians. These men would come to join forces and create Ecurie Nationale Belge. And just like that, grand prix and sportscar races would see the familiar yellow livery occupying grid places. The Ecurie Francorchamps would briefly reappear in sportscar racing toward the later-part of the 1950s.
While Ecurie Francorchamps' place in the Formula One World Championship may be brief, it would certainly add some color to it and not just because of its canary yellow cars either. From the incredible story of driving a Ferrari 500 F2 through the dark without lights to make it to a race in time to the incredible performance at the Avusrennen, the bright yellow of Ecurie Francorchamps would provide grand prix fans some wonderful memories that would last for more than a generation. And while many teams come and go making some kind of splash to the Formula One world, Ecurie Francorchamps would be one of the few that would be so unforgettable. Ecurie Francorchamps