TeamsErnst Loof: 1953 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
Ernst Loof's contribution to automotive and motor racing history is truly not a small one. In many ways, his work before the start of World War II would help Europe to rebuild as quickly as it did after it. It is, therefore, understandable that a man that influenced automotive and motor racing so much would naturally want to be a part of it.
Born in Neindorf, Germany in 1907, Loof would become an automotive engineer. While working as an engineer, Loof would design and even race motorcycles. For this he would be quite successful. This would lead to Loof working for BMW in the years preceding World War II.
During his tenure there, during the late 1930s, he would play an important role in the development of the BMW 328. The BMW 328 would become quite popular and quite successful. Its engine would become particularly coveted by many nations.
When the United States, England, Russia and the rest of the allies won the war England would lay claim to the 328 engine as one of the spoils of the war. Bristol Cars, a division of Bristol Aeroplace Company, would go on to produce its own example of the 328 engine drawn from the copies of the 328 engine they got. These Bristol versions of the 328 engine would go on to power many of the Formula 2 cars of the late 1940s, as well as, those that would take part in the World Championship in the early 1950s.
Yet, Loof's influence on the post-war racing scene wouldn't begin and end with the 328. Most of the major manufacturers had been heavily destroyed or damaged during the war. It was going to take a long while to get these major manufacturers back up and running. This opened the door to smaller manufacturers. One small manufacturer of motor racing cars was Veritas, of which Loof was one of its founders. Veritas would go on to produce one of the most successful cars Germany had available during those reconstructive years, the Meteor.
By 1953, Loof was already 45 years old. Veritas was also past its prime and was in the midst of bankruptcy. However, Loof decided to take part in some more races, just one more time. Therefore, he would take one of the Veritas Meteors he had helped design and would prepare to take part in some of the Formula 2 races, including a round of the World Championship.
Being bankrupt and 45 years of age, Loof would not take part in too many races over the course of the 1953 season. In fact, while both East and West Germany hosted more than one race before the month of May, it wouldn't be until the 24th of the month that Loof would take part in his first race of the season. Interestingly, the first race in which Loof would take part would not take place in his native Germany. The race was the non-championship 23rd Grand Prix des Frontieres held near the town of Chimay.
While Loof may have become famous as an engineer of the 328 and the Meteor for which he was going to drive in the race, Chimay was noted for an engineering blend of another kind. Located in the Scourmont Abbey, Chimay Brewery is just one of seven breweries in the world that produce Trappist beer. Besides the beers sold for support of the monastery and for other good causes, the brewery also produces some fine ales that are sold the world over.
Besides the beer, Chimay was also well known for probably one of the best road courses in the country, besides Spa-Francochamps. Lying just to the west of the town's center were some winding, undulating country roads that comprised the 6.75 mile Chimay circuit. Complete with a hairpin turn, fast sweeping esses and some very long straights, the Chimay circuit featured just about every kind of corner possible and was also a rather technically challenging circuit. It was fast, dangerous and rather easy to make a mistake while driving.
While not as popular as some of grand prix held throughout Europe the Grand Prix des Frontieres was certainly no spring chicken. In fact, Chimay would help Belgium become one of the leaders in motor racing back during the golden era before World War II.
In spite of all the history, the field for the race would be mostly comprised of Belgian racers. But there would be some other very talented foreign drivers in the field in which Loof would have to contend.
Fastest of them all would be a Frenchman in a French car. Maurice Trintignant would set the pace in practice and would take the pole with a time of four minutes and eleven seconds. Belgian Johnny Claes would find his way to the front row as well with a lap time of four minutes and fifteen seconds. Loof would find his way toward the later part of the starting grid. He would be starting from the back but would have 20 laps in which to improve upon his position.
Loof would be helped almost immediately when the race began. Three cars would end up breaking right at the start of the race. This would help Loof almost before he himself had pulled away from the grid. This would be good as Loof himself wouldn't last much longer.
While Trintignant held onto the lead and began to turn out some fast laps to pull away from Claes and Roger Laurent, Loof was just beginning to run into trouble. Just two laps into the race, Loof's Meteor began to run into mechanical trouble. He would do his best to carry on but the troubles would be just too much for him to continue. Therefore, in his first race of the season, Loof would be out after just two laps.
Trintignant, meanwhile, was enjoying his race. He would go on to turn the fastest lap of the race with a time equal to his qualifying effort. This would help the Frenchman pull away from Roger Laurent who took over in 2nd place. Fred Wacker had made a good start from 6th place and was up behind Laurent running right near 3rd place.
Trintignant continued to turn out quick laps that destroyed the rest of the field and put tremendous pressure on the rest of the front-runners trying to chase him down. Just three laps away from the end Claes would make a mistake and would crash out of the race. Laurent continued to run in 2nd place but continued to lose ground. Fred Wacker was firmly in 3rd place but was also not making any headway against Laurent. Each had to hope for the other to run into trouble.
Trintignant would have a drive bordering on perfection. Averaging nearly 94 mph, it would take Maurice just one hour and twenty-five minutes and fifty-nine seconds to complete the 20 laps and take the victory. Over a minute and ten seconds separated Trintignant from his nearest rival. Roger Laurent would also make it through the race without trouble and would take 2nd place. Wacker would be impressive in the race. He would come to finish the 20 laps in 3rd place two and a half minutes behind. Incidentally, Wacker would end up the last car still on the lead lap. Hans Stuck would finish in 4th place but would be one lap down at the end.
Loof only intended on taking part in a couple of races throughout the 1953 season, and starting out with a very early retirement was certainly not the way he had looked for any of them to go. He would need his next race to turn around and be a good result, but it was not going to be easy. Not only was the competition going to be stiff, but the circuit itself would present a demanding challenge all by itself.
Loof's next race would be a very special race for him. From the Grand Prix des Frontieres at the end of May, Loof would wait more than two months before taking part in his next race. However, on the 2nd of August he would join a number of other German racers in Nurburg in anticipation of taking part in the German Grand Prix, the seventh round of the 1953 World Championship.
During the Modern Age the Nurburg Castle, and the town itself, had fallen into a state of decline. The castle had not been persevered and was falling apart. Its stone was even being taken to care for other buildings in other small towns neighboring nearby. Then, in the middle 18th century the main tower of the castle would be turned into a prison. Then after the French left at the end of the century, the castle and the town would be almost completely destroyed. For nearly 50 years the town and the castle would lay almost entirely forgotten. Then, toward the middle and later part of the 19th century restoration work would begin. In sharp contrast, as Nurburg headed to the middle part of the 20th century, the town would become one of the most well known sites in all the world. This would be because of the infamous monster of a road course surrounding it like a castle wall.
Built during the 1920s, the Nurburgring was one of the first purpose-built circuits in all the world. Although built in response to the dangers of racing on public roads throughout the area of the Eifel mountains, the 'Ring' would end up becoming known as one of the most dangerous and demanding circuits known to exist in the world. For many, it was lamentably a 'Green Hell'.
Keeping with the very idea of the 'grand prix' Nurburgring was perhaps the most fitting circuit there was, at least in Germany. Measuring 14 miles in length with more than 170 corners, Nurburgring was certainly not an easy circuit in which to compete, let alone do well. The many blind corners and crests, along with the sheer length of the circuit, made the circuit very tough to tame and featured very few Ringmeisters.
One of those 'Ringmasters' of the early 1950s was Alberto Ascari. Ever since the German Grand Prix, and the Nurburgring, entered the World Championship in 1951 Ascari had been its champion. In both cases, Ascari looked dominant and quite at home circulating around the circuit. And as with the previous season, Ascari came to the Nurburgring on the verge of earning a World Championship title.
Loof and the other German racers in the field for the race knew full well they stood an incredibly small chance against the might of Scuderia Ferrari and the resurgent Maserati factory effort. Therefore, Loof knew well his battle was against his fellow countrymen.
The disparity would become quite clear during practice. While many of the elite drivers of the day had been close, it seemed the ten minute barrier was impassible for the Formula 2 cars of the day. This would be found not to be true during practice as Ascari would crack the barrier with a lap time of nine minutes, fifty-nine and eight-tenths seconds. This would earn Ascari the pole. What was more, his time would end up being nearly four seconds faster than Fangio's who would start in 2nd. The rest of the front row would include Giuseppe Farina and Mike Hawthorn in two of the other Ferraris.
When it came to Ernst Loof and his best times it appeared a twelve minute lap would be his goal. Unfortunately, he would not get close to breaking it. In fact, Loof's fastest time would be a lap of twelve minutes and sixteen seconds. This would be quite the contrast from the times on the front row. Mike Hawthorn's time for 4th would obviously be the slowest, but even then his time was just ten minutes and twelve seconds. This meant a difference of more then two minutes, which translated into Loof starting the race 31st and from the ninth row of the grid.
The day of the race would be pleasant and nice. As the cars lined up on the grid, Loof was a long way back and could barely see even the first couple of rows of cars. Likewise, the front row of starters would only really catch a glimpse of Loof as they came around during the race to put him a lap down. As it turned out, they would not even see him at all.
As the field roared away at the start of the race, Loof went to pull away from the grid as well when his fuel pump failed. Without it the engine would starve and quit. That was it. In what would be Loof's first and only World Championship race, it would all come to an end after coasting just a few feet forward because of a failed fuel pump.
Loof wouldn't be alone, however. Hans Stuck would have his car break on the grid and would also drop out before even completing a single lap.
Had the race been just through the first few corners then Juan Manuel Fangio would have taken the win as he got the better start. However, Ascari was just too fast around the Nurburgring and would soon take over the lead of the race. Ascari would be in the lead as he came around to complete the first lap and would actually hold onto the lead throughout the first half dozen laps or more.
Ascari's pace was such that he gradually began to pull away from the rest of the field. Soon, Fangio would be joined by Hawthorn and Farina to give chase of the World Champion but it all seemed to be futile.
While Ascari seemed untouchable at the front of the field, the tail end of the field continued to face attrition sweeping through its ranks. Eight would be out of the race before reaching 5 laps. Three more would be out before reaching the end of eight laps.
And those that attrition wasn't knocking out of the running Ascari would take care of. Such was Ascari's pace that many of the competitors would end the race not merely seconds, but many minutes behind.
But just when it seemed Ascari would run away with the race as he had with many others, trouble would come and visit him. All of a sudden Hawthorn, Farina and Fangio would all pass by Ascari. A wheel had fallen off his car and he was doing everything he could just to make it back to the pits so that repairs could be made. He would make it to the pits and by the time he arrived Luigi Villoresi, Ferrari's other driver, would also make his way into the pits. Villoresi would hand his car over to his friend for the remainder of the race. Villoresi, in turn, would wait for repairs to be made to Ascari's car before he too returned to the race.
The World Championship still had a slim chance of slipping through his fingers. Therefore, when Ascari returned to the circuit the incredibly large crowd assembled to watch the race would have the opportunity to see just what Ascari could do when he hung it out there on the edge lap after lap.
Farina had been in the lead the year before when Ascari surprised him to take the win. Once again, Farina's smooth driving netted him the lead, but Ascari was on an absolute tear behind him in an effort to take over the lead of the race. Within a lap, Ascari was running right around his qualifying time. It seemed this would be as fast as he could do and that it would take an incredible amount of effort just to remain at that pace. However, on the 12th lap of the race he would go on to post a time that absolutely stunned the crowd. As Ascari screamed past the start/finish line one more time and incredible time popped. He had completed a lap of the 14 mile Nurburgring, in a Formula 2 car, in nine minutes and fifty-six seconds! When he was driving the Ferrari 375 Formula One car just a couple of years earlier his best time around the circuit had been less than a second faster. This was an incredible time. In fact, it would end up being too incredible to continue.
Farina continued to hold onto the lead despite Ascari's hard charge back up through the field. However, just when the pressure was beginning to mount it would all come to an end. With just three laps remaining the engine would let go in Ascari's car bringing to an end one of the most impressive performances ever seen in a grand prix.
Safely ahead of Fangio in 2nd and miles ahead of Hawthorn in 3rd, all Farina had to do was hold on and he would take the win. It would take Farina just three hours and two minutes to complete the 18 laps and take the win. Fangio would cross the line a little more than a minute later to take 2nd. In 3rd place would be Hawthorn. The pace at the front of the field had been such that only the top four remained on the lead lap.
As the cars streaked across the line to bring about the end of the race it became apparent that as the cars finished Ascari would repeat as World Champion. He would be the first to repeat and the first back-to-back World Champion.
Amidst the Ascari's and Ferrari's elation, Ernst Loof would quietly pack up everything and would leave the circuit and would head home. One of the men responsible for engineering the rebirth of German motor racing would leave the circuit and would slip away and would never take part in another motor race ever again.
Loof would return to BMW as Veritas went through bankruptcy. Proving he still hadn't lost his touch when it came to designing sleek, sporty automobiles, in 1954, he would design a roadster for BMW. The design offers an almost dead giveaway concerning the car's heritage as the grille would bear a striking resemblance to Loof's Veritas RS design.
Just a couple of years after his first and only attempt in a World Championship race, Loof would witness the ascendancy of Mercedes-Benz and Juan Manuel Fangio to the title in 1955. This would be a fitting tribute to the man who had helped the automobile and racing industry recover after the war. It would also be a fitting tribute as the man would pass away the following year as a result of an inoperable brain tumor.