TeamsScuderia Lancia: 1954 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
There are many constants in life but one of those that has existed since the dawn of mankind has been the child's rebellion against the parents' wishes. In the case of Lancia, Gianni Lancia's rebellion would add a whole new dimension to the company founded in 1906. And it would give Formula One one of the shortest-lived teams with one of the most enduring chassis.
Founded in 1906 by Vincenzo Lancia and Claudio Fogolin, the Turin-based company had its roots in auto racing as both men had spent some time as racing drivers for Fiat. Despite his racing experience, Lancia would not focus on motor racing, but instead, would focus on building production automobiles. Nonetheless, motor racing was in the family's blood.
Vincenzo would enjoy about thirty years at the head of his company before he would suffer a heart attack. The heart attack would be sudden and fierce resulting in Vicenzo losing his life at the age of fifty-five. Control of the company would pass to Vincenzo's wife and son Gianni.
The late thirties would be a rough period of time for the Lancia family and most of the world. Not only had Vincenzo passed away but the world would become embroiled in a second world war only a matter of a couple of years later. Throughout World War I Lancia had built trucks to aid the war effort. This would continue into the Second World War when it again built trucks for Italy and Germany.
By the end of World War II much of the European landscape had been raised to the ground due to the heavy fighting that raged for more than five years. It was a time to rebuild, but to rebuild with the future in mind. And at that time, Gianni had now assumed control of his father's company. Free to take the company in the direction he desired, the racing blood coursing through Gianni's veins would end up being more than he could contain and he would begin an all-out focus on motor racing. But he needed to be smart about things.
One of the first moves he would make as he dove into the arena of motor racing was to hire a talented engineer and designer. Vittorio Jano was certainly one of the most famous and talented designers of the day. He had already proven himself with such designs as the Alfa Romeo 6C, 2900 and the Alfa Romeo P2 and P3.
Initially, Jano would be commissioned by Lancia to build some competitive sportscars. This was certainly a wise move as that is what Jano had become most known for. Therefore, by the early 1950s, Lancia would boast of such sportscars as the B20 Aurelia GT and the D23 sportscar.
But by the early part of the 1950s it was clear the new Formula One World Championship boasted of the best talent both in cars and drivers. Lancia had his new target for Jano. Lancia also had his perfect time. Throughout the 1952 and 1953 World Championship seasons the races would be held conforming to Formula 2 regulations. This was due to Alfa Romeo's pull out from the sport and the resulting lack of competition for Ferrari. It was also done in an effort to reduce the already exorbitant costs associated with grand prix racing. So, in an effort to redefine the Formula One regulations, the governing-body would compete for a couple of years according to Formula 2 specifications.
However, by the 1953 season it was well known what the new regulations would be that would come into place starting in 1954. And while this wouldn't be a whole lot of time, Jano would at least know what the regulations were going to be. In addition, it was fully expected the rules would be in place for a number of years. This meant Jano could make a design that could be evolved over time in order to make the car the most competitive.
Jano and the workers at Lancia would set to work designing an all-new car. It would be innovative thereby giving Lancia a competitive edge perhaps for years instead of a couple of months. He would also set about designing a car that could be evolved over time to ensure competitiveness. But he would also focus on the basics of what makes a great car great. Jano knew that besides the engine, handling would be what set a car apart from another. And there was an inherent problem with the design of cars of that time period.
The car the driver would have to deal with at the start of a race would be vastly different than that which he would have to contend with at the end. The reason for this would be actually quite simple. Designs of the day placed the fuel and oil tanks behind the driver in the rear of the car. While this worked well with the design of the car it meant there would be a dynamic force at the rear that would change over the course of a race. At the start, the car would be heavy at the rear. Toward the end, the car would be really light at the rear. This would make the handling very unbalanced. Jano knew that if he could address this he likely would offer his drivers a much more stable car and this stability likely would prove the difference in the end.
To make sure Jano was able to design the best car possible the team would need a driver that was very talented. This would be important as the driver would provide important feedback, but, would also be able to extract everything possible out of the car at any given race. Luckily for Lancia there were two strong personalities clashing at Ferrari. One of those personalities would be 'il Commendatore' himself and his two-time World Champion driver Alberto Ascari. Uncertainty about the team' racing program, and other issues, would encourage Ascari to leave the team in favor of Lancia. With him would come the man that practically got him the driving job with Ferrari, Luigi Villoresi. Villoresi had been Ascari's tutor earlier on in his career, but now, he would follow his good friend wherever he would go.
Just like that, Lancia had two of the most experienced drivers in the series on the team. Lancia certainly couldn't have hoped for any better. Unfortunately, the 1954 season had already started. And so, the one prayer and hope the team would have is that they would be able to get the car done some time before the end of the season.
The first round of the Formula One World Championship for 1954 would take place in the middle-part of January and there was really no realistic way in which Lancia would be ready in time for that race. However, as the teams headed back to Europe awaiting the start of the European Formula One season, it seemed likely the Lancia would not even be ready for the first round held on European soil.
Hoping against the odds, the team would put in a single entry for the Gran Premio di Roma set to take place in the early part of June. One car was to be entered for Ascari in the 246 mile race. However, reality would prevail. The car would not be ready in time for the race, and therefore, never arrived at the circuit for the race.
It was clear after failing to be ready in time for the grand prix in Rome that the first round of the Formula One World Championship on European soil would also be out of the question given the fact the race was set to take place only a couple of weeks later. Still, the remainder of the World Championship season was just beginning. There was still time to get the car ready and make a serious run against the competition.
Unfortunately, it would be Mercedes-Benz that would be ready in time to make a serious run against the competition. Problems and other setbacks would keep delaying the debut of Lancia in Formula One and its soon to be iconic chassis.
Time would continue to go by and it was becoming more and more clear the car needed more time to be ready. The delay was such that Lancia would even give permission to Ascari and Villoresi to take part in championship and non-championship races with other teams. This would help the drivers to maintain their edge, but it would also help the team focus without the distraction of anxious and bored racing drivers.
The French Grand Prix would see Juan Manuel Fangio make his debut with Mercedes-Benz. His departure from the Maserati factory team opened a seat. Ascari would decide to fill it as long as Villoresi was also able to get a ride. Sure enough, the two friends would be present at the French Grand Prix driving for Maserati while their Lancia compatriots were back at the factory busy getting the new chariots finished.
At the French and British Grand Prix Ascari and Villoresi would drive for Maserati. Then, in August, the two men would not be seen at the German and Swiss Grand Prix. It likely was believed the new Lancia cars were close to being finished. Likely this was the rumor passing amongst the crowd and around the paddock as the Italian Grand Prix was only weeks away.
Whatever the rumors may have been leading up to the Italian Grand Prix, all that were present at the race would find a truly remarkable sight. Villoresi would again be back with Maserati for the race. However, Ascari would be back driving for Scuderia Ferrari. Farina had been hurt in a race weeks earlier and would be approached about replacing him for the race at Monza. Of course, what this all meant was that Lancia still was not prepared to debut its new car.
Lancia had real problems. The car was improving and looking like it was ready to take part in its first World Championship race, but there was only one round of the Formula One season left. Either the team would make it to the final race, or, just pack it all in and prepare for the following season.
Lancia had other problems. But the major problem the team faced was financial. The cost of designing and building the new car was taking its toll. The team really needed to get out there racing in order to at least earn some starting money.
Thankfully for Lancia, the final round of the 1954 Formula One season wouldn't take place until the end of October. This would provide them just enough time to make sure their car was ready to make its debut.
Sure enough, toward the end of October, the Lancia transporter would depart from its Turin headquarters and would head southwest. Soon, the transporter would arrive in Barcelona, Spain for the Spanish Grand Prix, the final round of the 1954 Formula One season.
The last time Alberto Ascari had been at the 3.91 Pedralbes Circuit he would just lose out on his first World Championship. In a very hot race, Ascari would make a wrong choice and would end up facing reoccurring problems with his tires. This would literally hand the race to Fangio. The trouble would be enough for Fangio to take the 1951 World Championship. Three years later, Ascari would be back at the Pedralbes circuit once again out of the running for the championship and with an untried new car, the D50.
In a season that would see the return of Mercedes-Benz and the debut of the potent Maserati 250F, the major story heading into the Spanish Grand Prix would be the presence of Lancia and its revolutionary D50 boasting of twin-tanks mounted to either side of the chassis in between the wheels.
While unfortunately delayed until the very last race of the season, the D50 really could not have made a debut at a better circuit. Though consisting of a mixture of public roads and city streets, the circuit was incredibly fast. This was due to the simple fact the layout of the city streets was wide and enabled cars to carry a lot of speed into the middle of the corners. But in the case of the D50 in the hands of Ascari, the cornering speeds would be even higher.
As the cars headed out onto the public road course for practice it would become immediately noticeable that the D50 was glued to the road unlike any other car. While the Maserati 250F had been designed and built in such a way as to promote sliding through corners, the D50 would look like it was on rails going through the corners. This would translate into Ascari taking the pole in the car's very first race.
Ascari's pole-winning lap time would be 2:18.1 around the 3.91 mile circuit. This would end up being a full second ahead of Fangio's best effort in the powerful Mercedes-Benz W196. Mike Hawthorn would end up in the 3rd position on the front row after posting a best lap time that was two and a half seconds slower than Ascari. The final spot on the front row would be up for grabs between Harry Schell and Luigi Villoresi. Unfortunately for Lancia, Villoresi's best would be just four-tenths of a second slower and would give 4th to Schell. Villoresi would start from the second row in the 5th position right behind his teammate.
Unlike the race in 1951, the 12th Gran Premio de Espana would see much more mild weather. Still, it would be sunny and dry—ideal conditions to see the best cars and drivers give it everything they had just one more time.
The cars strained against their brakes waiting for the dropping of the flag to start the 80 lap, 313 mile, race. But when the flag dropped to start the race, Ascari would lose out on his advantage to a surprising fast-starter Harry Schell. By the first corner at the end of the long run down the main straightaway, it was Schell that was the clear leader of the race. Ascari would settle in behind Schell. Maurice Trintignant would start from the third row of the grid but would find himself around the top three by the end of the first couple of laps.
In spite of Schell getting the fast start off the line, Ascari would stalk the American-Parisian and would eventually restore order on the 3rd lap of the race taking the lead of the race away from Schell. While the Lancia's excitement would build, it would also be tempered at the same time.
Luigi Villoresi would struggle right from the start of the race. Then, after completing 2 laps, the race would come to an end with brake failure. This left Lancia with just one car. Still, it was the car in the lead of the race, and that certainly was a good position to be in the first time out.
In the hands of Ascari, many would undoubtedly believe the race would be well in hand. But the limiting factor to that assumption would be the brand-new car. It had been tested but it had not turned a wheel in anger before. And after 10 laps, it would show. While in the lead of the race, Ascari would begin to run into trouble. It was clear the clutch was going. Finally, it would fail on Ascari. Lancia's first race was over. The team had taken pole and had led some laps. But still, they would come up short in the end.
Ascari's departure would result in an epic battle between Schell and Maurice Trintignant. Their fight would last for about ten laps before Schell would spin and eventually drop out with clutch failure. Trintignant's race would last until 48 laps in when his engine totally expired. This would hand the lead to Mike Hawthorn, who had been just taking things easy throughout the first half of the race.
With only Luigi Musso remaining on the lead lap with him, Hawthorn would cruise to victory taking the final race of the Formula One season by a minute and thirteen seconds over Musso. Juan Manuel Fangio would finish in 3rd place but would be a little more than a lap behind.
Lancia's delayed debut could not have gone much better, or worse. Ascari would certainly set the pace in practice, which would lead to the D50 taking the pole in its first race. Then, in the race, Ascari would recover to lead a few laps. In addition to leading the race, Ascari would end up posting the fastest lap of the race and would actually leave the race with a championship point as a result. But still, the car would prove unreliable and unable to cover even 45 miles. There was a lot for the team to build upon, but it was the end of the season. It would be a long time in between races for the team. This could have proven either good or bad for the team. Only time would tell.
Jano and those within the Lancia team knew they had all of the elements necessary to be regular challengers in the season. Still, as the team now prepared and waited for the 1955 season, they knew they would have to be there right from the very beginning to be as successful as possible, and that is one constant that has never changed. Scuderia Lancia