TeamsScuderia Lancia: 1955 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
Around the turn of the 20th century, Vincenzo Lancia would be left weeping bitterly as a failed radiator would foil an attempt to power his proud Italian car across the finish line. Unfortunately, about 50 years later, the Lancia company, and the whole of the motor racing community, would be left weeping bitterly at the loss of a great champion, and with that loss, so too went the fortunes of Scuderia Lancia in Formula One.
Like any rebellious child, Gianni Lancia would depart from the rational. Vincenzo Lancia had abandoned motor racing and forbade his company from even thinking about such a venture. However, when Vincenzo passed away, his son Gianni would reverse course and would begin looking into entering the still rather young Formula One World Championship.
Gianni would turn to designer Vittorio Jano to build a car capable of bringing the Lancia name to the fore and helping the name become one of the great manufacturers in Formula One. Jano would set to work creating a very interesting concept that was both revolutionary and common sense at the same time.
Unfortunately, such a car didn't really exist upon which Jano could learn the difficulties, tendencies, etc. Therefore it would take much longer than expected for the car to make its first appearance.
To drive the new car, Lancia had managed to secure the talents of a couple of remarkable drivers. Luigi Villoresi was a vastly experienced and consistent driver, one that every team needs in order to improve. But where there was Villoresi there would be Ascari.
Alberto Ascari had had a difficult relationship with Enzo Ferrari toward the later-part of the 1953 season. This would eventually culminate in Ascari and Villoresi leaving the team and signing contracts to drive with Scuderia Lancia. There was just one problem—the car wasn't ready.
While Ascari and Villoresi were busy waiting for the new Lancia D50 to be completed they would take part in some races for the factory Maserati team. Lancia would loan out the talents of the two Italians to the Maserati team throughout the 1954 season until the new D50 finally became a reality.
The D50 wouldn't become a reality until the very last round of the 1954 Formula One World Championship, the Spanish Grand Prix. Though the strange D50 would be late to the ball, it would immediately make its presence known when Ascari posted the fastest lap around the Pedralbes Circuit and took the pole over Juan Manuel Fangio and the favored Mercedes-Benz W196.
Although Ascari showed great speed in the new car, its debut would be less than memorable. Luigi Villoresi would be one of the first drivers out of the race when his brakes failed just 2 laps into the race. Ascari would be the third one of the race when his clutch failed after just 10 laps. And with that, everyone would realize the strengths and weaknesses of the new D50. The car was certainly quick, despite its strange appearance, but it also had one big Achilles heal—reliability.
After its debut in the Spanish Grand Prix, the season pretty much came to an end, and therefore, left Lancia without much real world experience and testing. So, in many ways, Scuderia Lancia would be heading into 1955 with a still brand new car.
Heading into the 1955 season, Scuderia Lancia would add to its driver lineup. Besides Alberto Ascari and Luigi Villoresi, Lancia would add Ascari's prodigy Eugenio Castellotti. This gave the new team a three-pronged attack with three very fast race cars.
Confidence and excitement would be running high as the team packed up its three D50s and headed across the south Atlantic Ocean to South America. The team's final destination would be Buenos Aires and the Autodromo 17 de Octubre, for there, on the 16th of January would be held the 9th Gran Premio de la Republica Argentina, which was the first round of the 1955 Formula One World Championship.
Scuderia Lancia would arrive and would begin to unload its cars and equipment. It would find itself in the presence of a massive fleet of factory Maseraties and four entries apiece for both Mercedes-Benz and Scuderia Ferrari. As the team unloaded, it would also find itself in the presence of some of the most oppressive conditions ever experienced for a race.
No, it would not be raining or bitterly cold. In fact, it would be just the opposite. The weather would be incredibly dry, but the temperatures would also be oppressively out of control. This would push man and machine to the limit and certainly raised some concerns for each and every team in the paddock.
In spite of the heat, Scuderia Ferrari's Jose Froilan Gonzalez would turn the fastest lap in practice around the 2.42 mile circuit. This would give the Argentinean the pole for the 96 lap race. Alberto Ascari would prove the pace shown by the D50 during the Spanish Grand Prix the season before was no fluke as he would be a mere half a second slower than Gonzalez and would capture the 2nd place starting position. The rest of the front row would see each of the remaining powerhouse factory efforts gaining a spot. Juan Manuel Fangio, another Argentinean, would take his Mercedes-Benz and would earn the 3rd place starting position. The front row would be completed when Jean Behra lapped the circuit only seven-tenths of a second slower than Gonzalez in his Maserati.
Luigi Villoresi was certainly not as fast as Ascari, at least not anymore. However, he was steady and consistent, and therefore, was a great driver for Scuderia Lancia to have. In practice, Villoresi would show his steady hand, lapping the circuit just two seconds off of Gonzalez's pace. This would put Villoresi on the third row of the grid in the 11th place starting spot. The youthful and inexperienced Castellotti would be just a tenth slower than Villoresi, but would end up starting the race from the fourth row of the grid in the 12th starting spot.
It seemed the day of the day was even hotter. Temperatures on that day would touch 104 degrees Fahrenheit and would certainly be a danger to the drivers and the cars over the course of the three hour race.
Another incredible crowd would assemble around the circuit, despite the heat. Thankfully, on this day, the heat would be more of a threat than the cars, for the crowd would be forced away from the edge of the circuit, unlike the way things had been when Formula One first arrived at the circuit in 1953.
Some 21 cars prepared for the start of the race and the start of the 1955 Formula One season. The engines would come up to a roar and the first round of the 1955 Formula One season would get underway with Fangio pulling into the lead of the race ahead of Ascari and Stirling Moss.
The first couple of laps would be absolutely chaotic as Jean Behra and Carlos Menditeguy would suffer an accident that would see Menditeguy immediate fall out and Behra retire on the 2nd lap of the race. Pablo Birger, one of the Gordini drivers, would also suffer an accident on the first lap of the race and would be out.
The 2nd lap wouldn't just feature Behra's retirement. It would also see the first signs of trouble for the Scuderia Lancia team. Luigi Villoresi would suffer some contact with Karl Kling in his Mercedes. The contact would lead to Kling retirement while it would be a fuel leak, as a result of the accident, that would lead to Villoresi's retirement.
It seemed, given all the excitement in the first couple of laps of the race, there would be no one left had not everyone settled down soon. This is something everyone would do and it would be rather quiet, at least when it came to attrition, for the next 20 laps or so.
Early on, Fangio would be in the lead of the race. However, Ascari would fight his old foe for the position and would end up taking over the lead of the race after a couple of laps. Unfortunately, Ascari's lead would be short-lived as well as he would be forced to give way to Gonzalez. Throughout the first 20 laps of the race, Ascari would battle Gonzalez for the lead of the race with Fangio and Moss following along not all that far behind.
On the 20th lap of the race, Castellotti would come into the pits and would hand over the reins of his car to Villoresi. The heat was beginning to take its toll on every driver in the field. As a result, teams would begin to take steps to help ensure there would be a fresh driver behind the wheel. This was important to do, not just for the sake of the championship, but for the health of each driver.
One lap after Castellotti handed his car over Villoresi, Lancia would suffer an unscheduled setback. Though he battled with Gonzalez for the early lead, Ascari would suffer an accident and would be out of the race leaving just one Lancia still in the field.
The heat was absolutely terrible. It was suspected to cause failures within the car, but it was almost certainly increasing fatigue amongst the drivers. Unfortunately, on the 35th lap, Villoresi would suffer yet another accident. Despite all his efforts, the D50 would be too badly damaged to continue. The Lancia threat had come to a premature end.
But it wasn't all roses for everyone else in the field. Stirling Moss would suffer mechanical problems with his Mercedes, but would be called upon to take over Hans Herrmann's car around the 30th lap of the race. The factory Maserati team would be on a similar flip-flopping kind of effort with its drivers in order to overcome the intense effects from the heat.
There would be only a couple of drivers that would make it through the entire race without having stepped out of their own car at some point in time. One of those would be Juan Manuel Fangio. Being able to carry on without having to stop, Fangio would become the default leader of the Argentine Grand Prix. The only other driver in the field to make it the entire race without yielding to another driver would be Roberto Mieres. However, as the race wore on, it would become abundantly clear he was unable to match Fangio's pace and he would only slip further down as the race continued.
Maserati would be suffering terribly from the heat and would only have three of its 250Fs remaining in the race with 30 laps left to go. Scuderia Ferrari would suffer relatively light attrition and would rotate its drivers effectively so as to provide themselves with the best possible opportunity of scoring top results.
Heading into the final couple of laps, Fangio would find that he had managed to lap all but one car. His lead was certainly comfortable, but he was not as he suffered burns on his legs from the exhaust heating up the chassis members right by his leg.
Despite the intense pain, Fangio would carry on to take the victory in front of his home crowd. An enthusiastic welcome would greet the Argentinean as he crossed the line to take the victory. Nearly a minute and 30 seconds would pass before Giuseppe Farina would come through at the wheel of Gonzalez's Ferrari. More than two laps would be the difference from Fangio back to Maglioli bringing home a second Ferrari.
When the D50 had made it debut at the Spanish Grand Prix the season before the problems the car would suffer could have easily been put down to teething problems. During the Argentine Grand Prix, teething problems would have little opportunity to show themselves as rare driver error filled the entire race and made it practically impossible for the team to gauge where it was when it came to reliability. One thing that was for certain was that, in the hands of Ascari, the car was still certainly fast enough to challenge for the lead. This was a very good sign. Reliability was something that could be fixed. A lack of speed was much more difficult to rectify.
Following the Argentine Grand Prix there would be a long break in between rounds of the World Championship. There would be, however, a number of non-championship races held throughout Europe during the early spring months. Therefore, Scuderia Lancia would pack everything up and would cross back over the Atlantic and would eventually head home to Turin, Italy.
Lancia wouldn't just be heading home, for on the 27th of March, Valentino Park, which was located right along the Po River in downtown Turin, would be the site of the first Formula One race of the 1955 season in Europe. The race was the 7th Gran Premio del Valentino and would end of being an all-out Italian civil war.
Though the Gran Premio del Valentino would take place in Lancia's hometown, the entry list would be filled with the best Italy had to offer. Scuderia Ferrari would come with three entries. The factory Maserati team, Officine Alfieri Maserati, would come with five entries.
In addition to these major manufacturers, the field would consist of a number of smaller privateer teams and single-car entries. But, every single one of the entries would come with an Italian car of some kind. Therefore, the race would be very much a battle for early bragging rights.
It would be rather fitting that so many of Italy's major manufacturers would take part in the race. The 2.61mile circuit itself would wind its way around the Castello del Valentino, once the House of Savoy and center of that kingdom.
Seeing that it was Lancia home territory, it would have been sacrilege had another car taken the pole for the 90 lap, 235 mile, race. But the Lancia team could rest easy with Alberto Ascari behind the wheel. He would take the D50 and would lap the 2.61mile circuit in 1:42.0. This time would end up being two-tenths of a second faster than Jean Behra at the wheel of a Maserati. Therefore, Ascari would earn the pole for the race. But, Ascari would be joined on the front row by two factory Maseratis. Behra would start in 2nd place while Luigi Musso would start in 3rd.
Luigi Villoresi would again be the second-fastest amongst the Lancia drivers. His best effort around the circuit would be a time of 1:44.2. He would be one of three that would post a lap time of 1:44.2. Unfortunately, Villoresi would still be hundredths of a second slower and would be relegated to the third row of the grid in the 6th starting spot.
And though Castellotti would start further down in the grid, it would not be because his best lap time was so much slower than either Ascari or Villoresi. In fact, his best effort would be just about two and a half seconds slower than Ascari. Unfortunately, those two and a half seconds would translate into third row starting spot, like Villoresi. Castellotti would be in the 8th starting spot.
Despite setting the fastest lap in practice to take the pole, Jean Behra would be fastest early on. Behra would apply an incredible amount of pressure upon Ascari. But to the double world champion's credit, he would not panic. Instead, he would wait and let the race come to him. And it would.
The early going of the race would be rather quiet. Behra would turn what would be the fastest lap of the race with a lap time that would have been good enough for a front row starting position. However, Behra would come to rue to the day he pushed so hard, for after 12 laps his race would be over due to suspension failure. Cesare Perdisa, another of the factory Maserati drivers, would also find himself out of the race at the same time. And, after Sergio Mantovani's crash in practice, which would leave him unable to take part in the race, Maserati would find themselves with just two cars left in the race.
Ascari would remain up near the front of the field and would be well in the lead of the race when Behra departed. His lead would be further aided by the retirements of many of his strongest competitors. Luigi Musso's race would last just 21 laps before he had to retire with an oil leak. This left just a single factory Maserati. One lap later, Giuseppe Farina would retire in his Ferrari. Both Maurice Trintignant and Harry Schell, drivers for Ferrari, would fade over the course of the race. This was leaving Ascari with less and less of a threat.
All of the trouble experienced by the competition would allow the other two Lancias to move up the running order. Villoresi would soon be in 3rd place with Castellotti running in 4th. But, while most all of his competition would find themselves out of the running, Ascari could not really relax throughout the whole of the 90 laps.
The sole remaining factory Maserati in the field would be driven by Roberto Mieres. Mieres's pace throughout the whole of the race would be rather impressive considering the gap in qualifying times. This would keep the battle for the lead rather close. But as the race aged, the gap between Ascari and Mieres would widen.
In spite of the pressure applied by Mieres early on, Ascari's average race pace of nearly 88 mph would be more than the Maserati driver could handle. As a result, to a chorus of cheers and applause, Ascari would come streaking across the line to take what was the first victory for Lancia, and the D50, in a Formula One race. Mieres would manage to break up the ultimate result by finishing the race in 2nd place some 27 seconds behind.
The day could have been even better, for following along about a lap behind Ascari would be the other two Lancias of Villoresi and Castellotti. Had it not been for Mieres, Lancia would have scored its first-ever victory, and, sweep of the podium. As it was, Villoresi would finish in 3rd place. Castellotti would follow along only six-tenths behind Villoresi in 4th.
Although the team would miss out on the sweep, Lancia really had nothing to complain about. Ascari had proven the D50 capable of covering an entire race distance and at the kind of speeds necessary to keep himself competitive within the World Championship rounds. The finish of Villoresi and Castellotti would only make the day better for the team. It would, of course, further help all of the people of Turin break out into massive celebration.
The first appearance by the D50 Lancia in a non-championship race had proven to be a wildly successful endeavor. Therefore, and given that the second round of the World Championship was still more than a month away, Scuderia Lancia would look to enter yet another non-championship race. However, this time the race would not be on home soil. Leaving the friendly confines of Turin, the team would travel to France and to the tiny city of Pau for the Grand Prix de Pau held on the 11th of April.
Back in 1952, Alberto Ascari came to Pau while driving with Scuderia Ferrari. He would be at the wheel of the Ferrari 500 during the Formula 2 era of the World Championship. It was the beginning of the dominant Ascari era and the 1952 edition of the grand prix at Pau could not have reflected the period of dominance any better. While his mentor and friend Luigi Villoresi would retire after a crash late in the race, Ferrari would have little to worry about for Ascari would cross the finish line with more than three laps in hand over the 2nd place car of Louis Rosier.
One year later, Ascari would find himself under a little more distress, a little more. Though Mike Hawthorn would give chase in another Ferrari 500, Ascari would still manage to come away with a victory. The margin of victory would be a little more than a lap.
The return of Formula One regulations would bring about changes that would affect more than just the cars. Ascari would not even be with Ferrari in 1954, nor would he make it to the Grand Prix de Pau. However, in 1955, Ascari would be back in the French city and looking to resume his dominant ways.
The circuit in Pau was very similar in its style and makeup to another famous street circuit—Monaco. And, as a result, the Pau circuit was a circuit that was either loved or loathed by drivers. Rarely could a person that disliked the circuit pull off the victory, but it was certainly more than obvious those who liked it.
While Alberto Ascari certainly achieved a number of great results around the city's streets, it would be Jean Behra that would be the latest to look very strong around the city. In the year of Ascari's absence, it would be Jean Behra that would take a narrow victory in Pau over Maurice Trintignant. And, one year later, Behra would be back, and with a much more potent car at his disposal.
The Grand Prix de Pau was scheduled for the 11th of April and was scheduled to cover a total of 110 laps. A total of 16 cars would enter the race with Scuderia Lancia making up three of those. Alberto Ascari would be joined by Luigi Villoresi, while Eugenio Castellotti would get his second start for the team.
Ascari certainly looked to be returning to his old dominant ways when, in practice, he would post the fastest lap time by nearly a second over Jean Behra. This meant the three previous champions of the race would start from the front row. A fourth previous winner would be found in the second row. That man would be Luigi Villoresi. He won the Grand Prix de Pau in 1951 at the wheel of a Ferrari 375. In 1955, however, Villoresi would find himself a little more than a couple of seconds off of Ascari's pace and would therefore start from the second row of the grid in the 4th position. Castellotti would be right there with his elder teammate. Posting a lap time just three-tenths of a second off of Villoresi's pace, Castellotti would find himself on the third row of the grid in the 5th position.
An incredible crowd would assemble all around the steep banks of the city to witness the race. Great expectation built all around the area as the race would be the first time in which the Lancia's would be seen outside of Italy. With the Pyrenees forming the backdrop for the race, the cars would line up on the grid. The tension began to build as the engines came to life.
The cars would peel away from the grid at the start of the race. Heading into the tight right-hand hairpin, Jean Behra would get a run on Ascari and would go around the Italian in the Italian car on the outside to take the lead. Ascari would be in 2nd place through the first turn while Villoresi, in the number 8 D50, would be in 6th place. Right beside Villoresi, in the inside position, and 5th place overall, would be Castellotti in the third Lancia.
Throughout the early going of the race, Behra would hold onto the lead, but Ascari would be applying heavy pressure on the Frenchman. Ascari would make a number of violent attempts to take over the lead but Behra's superior positioning at the head of the field would make it practically impossible for Ascari to get enough of an advantage in order to take over the position.
Further back of the two leaders, Castellotti would be found in the 3rd place position but would be struggling to keep up. There would be a couple of corners, particularly the tight first turn hairpin, in which Castellotti would really struggle and lose time to Behra and Ascari. Castellotti would be further left behind by the pace Behra and Ascari were managing. Under the heavy pressure from the Lancia, Behra would pick up his pace and would see the lap times consistently fall.
Ascari would finally take over the lead of the race while Behra remained in 2nd place. Ascari would be quick, but Behra would keep the Italian within sight. Much further behind in the field, disaster would unfold when Mario Alborghetti when he fatally crashed his highly-evolved Maserati into the first turn hairpin.
Trouble would continue to come to the field. Luigi Musso would drop out of the race after 32 laps when his engine let go in his Maserati. The three Gordinis would be the unfortunate victims of mechanical ailments. Elie Bayol would be out of the running before the 40th lap with a failed engine. Robert Manzon would not make it to the halfway mark of the race. His brakes would fail on his Gordini making carrying on around the tight streets of Pau absolutely impossible. Jacques Pollet's race would last until there were just 30 laps remaining in the race. The rear axle on his car would fail leaving him out of the running.
Ascari would continue in the lead of the race and would even manage to pull out something of a margin over Behra. Castellotti remained in 3rd place but would continue to struggle as the circuit began more and more slick as the race wore on. This would cause Castellotti to lose even more time to Behra and Ascari. Villoresi would lose position to Roberto Mieres, who was at the wheel of another Maserati. Still, Villoresi would be running a strong race, lapping the circuit comfortably around the top five.
Ascari certainly seemed to be in control of the race as he managed to stretch out his lead even more. Alberto would be well on his way with just about 20 laps remaining in the race, however, there would be a great commotion along the start/finish straight. But what was the commotion all about? Ascari would suddenly peel into the pits with an obvious problem to his Lancia D50. This would allow Behra to go through into the lead of the race, much to the excited pleasure of the large French crowd assembled around the circuit.
Ascari's trouble had to do with the Lancia's brakes. Seconds would continue to pass by as the team did its best to rectify the situation. It would be too late. Behra would come roaring by putting Ascari a lap down.
Not long after Behra made his past, Ascari would rejoin the race, angrily pushing his Lancia to make up the lost time. Ascari would put together one of the most impressive performances as he did everything he could to make up for lost time.
Castellotti, now finding himself in 2nd place, would push even harder. Fighting with his car through just about every turn, Eugenio would do his best to reel Behra in. However, with 2 laps remaining in the race, there would be very little in the way that Castellotti could do. The only option he would have would be if Behra had a late problem with his car.
No such problems would transpire and, much to the delight of the French crowd, Behra would come through to take the victory. A minute and a second later, Castellotti would come through to take 2nd place. Roberto Mieres would come following along behind Castellotti by about 30 seconds to finish in 3rd.
The late stop by Ascari would drop him all the way down to 5th position, behind his friend and teammate Villoresi. By the time Ascari rejoined the race, Villoresi would be far enough ahead on the road that Ascari could not haul him in before the checkered flag. Therefore, Villoresi would finish the race a lap behind in the 4th position while Ascari's wonderful day would turn into bitter disappointment as he would cross the line a little ways behind Villoresi in 5th place.
Bitter disappointment is the only way the Grand Prix de Pau could be described for the Scuderia Lancia team. After appearing incredibly dominant at home at the end of March, Lancia would find it had the rug pulled out from beneath itself in Pau. The race could only be characterized as ‘what might have been' when Ascari had the lead taken away from him with the late mechanical troubles. Still, it was clear the D50 had the pace and Lancia could have confidence as the European portion of the Formula One World Championship was soon to heat up.
Before the World Championship resumed, the Lancia team would prepare to take part in yet another non-championship race. But, the team would not head to Bordeaux for the grand prix held there on the 24th of April. Instead, the team would return to Italy. Then, on the 8th of May, the team would be in Naples, Italy preparing to take part in the 8th Gran Premio di Napoli.
Sitting on the cliffs overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Posillipo district of Naples would house one of the residences for the President of Italy. Boasting of some absolutely incredible views of the sea and surrounding landscape, Posillipo would be first named by the Greeks Pausilypon meaning ‘respite from worry'. Unfortunately, during the Second World War, like most of the rest of Naples, Posillipo would undergo heavy damage from the numerous allied bombing raids held during the war. Thought to perhaps be the home of Virgil, Posillipo would boast of a number of historical buildings and landmarks and made for one picturesque setting for a grand prix.
In spite of the serene surroundings, the entry list for the 8th Gran Premio di Napoli would be quite small. But, despite the small size of the field, Scuderia Lancia would make its appearance at the race with two of its D50 chassis to be driven by Alberto Ascari and Luigi Villoresi.
At 60 laps and a total race distance of 153 miles, the race would be another great opportunity for the Lancia team to iron out any teething problems still existing with the relatively new chassis. And, with three factory Maseratis in the field, it was clear Ascari and Villoresi would get a solid test from the competition.
In practice, Ascari showed he and the Lancia certainly had the pace. He would lap the 2.55mile circuit with a best time of 2:08.1 and would grab the pole by nearly a second and a half over Luigi Musso in one of the factory Maseratis. Jean Behra would prevent the second Lancia from grabbing the final starting spot on the front row by posting a time that would be a little more than a second slower than his Maserati teammate. Luigi Villoresi would miss out on the final front row starting position by a mere tenth of a second but would still be right there in 4th place on the second row of the grid.
Ted Whiteaway would be the first retirement from the race when the engine in his HWM expired after 17 laps. Roberto Mieres, another of the factory Maserati drivers, would be the only other retiree from the race when his car suffered an oil leak after 23 laps.
Up at the front of the field, a tremendous battle would ensue that would see Jean Behra posting what was to be the fastest lap of the race with a lap time of 2:09.4 at an average speed of nearly 71mph. This would put a tremendous amount of pressure on Ascari and others at the front of the field.
Ascari would remain up near the front of the field, along with Luigi Musso. This time, however, the tables would be turned. In spite of Behra's pace, Providence would not be on his side. Trouble would see the Frenchman falter and fall down the running order, leaving Ascari alone at the front of the field.
The pace at the front of the field would be such that Villoresi and the rest of the field would be left far behind. In fact, the only one that would be able to even come close to keeping touch with Ascari would be Musso in one of the factory Maseratis. Fortunately for Lancia, Musso would not be able to come close to matching the pace and he would be left merely with the prospect of finishing a very distant 2nd.
Ascari would help to make Lancia's prospects look ever-bright as he would complete the race distance in a little more than two hours and thirteen minutes and take the win by a minute and 17 second advantage over Luigi Musso. Luigi Villoresi would benefit from Behra's troubles and would come through to finish the race on the podium, just a mere lap behind.
The bitter disappointment from Pau would turn into a wonderful triumph for the team on home soil in Naples. The test would be a good one for the team as it would further strengthen the car's performance and reliability. It would also help the team's confidence before it prepared for the second round of the World Championship, which was to come up at the end of the month.
If Pau had been a bitter disappointment for Ascari and the Lancia team, then the race scheduled for the 22nd of May would be a splendid opportunity for everyone within the team to gain some revenge for the race would take place on a very similar circuit. The race was the Monaco Grand Prix, the 2nd round of the 1955 Formula One World Championship.
The Monaco Grand Prix had been the 2nd round of the Formula One World Championship in its inaugural season. In that race, Alberto Ascari would be at the wheel of a Ferrari 125 and would be left chasing Juan Manuel Fangio in his Alfa Romeo 158 Alfetta. The race, of course, would be marred by a first lap accident in which more than a majority of the field would be taken out by a chain-reaction accident. Giuseppe Farina and Luigi Fagioli would be just a couple of those that would be involved in the accident, which would leave just Fangio to fend off Alberto Ascari and Raymond Sommer, both at the wheel of Ferraris. Unfortunately for Ascari, the Alfetta of Fangio would be too tough and the Italian would find himself crossing the finish line behind the Argentinean more than a lap behind.
Winding and twisting its way around the coastline of the tiny principality, the Monaco circuit was certainly not a course in which a driver merely used horsepower to power away from the rest of the field. Light, nimble and quick in acceleration were the order of the day, something the D50 lacked slightly compared to some of the rest of the cars in the field. But where it had weaknesses, the strengths of the eight-cylinder engine and the good handling characteristics of the car itself would more than make up.
Despite not having been a part of the World Championship since 1950, the return of the Monaco Grand Prix meant the return of the most prestigious race to the Formula One calendar. And, as a result, the field would be filled with the top manufacturers and drivers in the world. Scuderia Ferrari, the team in which Ascari and Villoresi drove during the last Monaco Grand Prix, would come to the race with no less than five cars, the largest of the all the manufacturers. However, Ferrari would not have far superior numbers for Officine Alfieri Maserati would come to the race with four cars of their own right along with three Equipe Gordinis. The biggest threat to any of the teams, however, would come in the four-car effort from Germany. The Mercedes-Benz team would come to the race bristling with its W196 single-seaters and an enviable driver lineup that would include Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss.
Lancia wasn't about to take part in the most prestigious round of the World Championship with inferior numbers. Therefore, the team would leave Turin having been dispatched with four cars in tow. The usual suspects of Ascari, Villoresi and Castellotti would be behind the wheel of three of the four. The fourth car would then go to a grand prix legend and Monaco resident, Louis Chiron.
Louis Chiron's racing career would stretch well into the years prior to the outbreak of World War II. A regular in grand prix and endurance sportscar races, Chiron would earn a number of victories and would be well-known for his numerous duels while at the wheel of a blue Bugatti. Though undoubtedly very talented, Chiron wasn't without controversy in his life, most notably his cruel and disgraceful comments directed toward female driver Helle Nice. But, in spite of such moments, Chiron would certainly excite the Monegasques in the crowd as he took to the circuit for practice at the wheel of the Lancia.
Although Chiron would certain attract a crowd, it would be the battle between the Lancia of Alberto Ascari and the Mercedes of Juan Manuel Fangio that would have people remembering the incredible battle during the 1951 Formula One World Championship. With both drivers on about equal footing, everyone would be expecting a titanic battle between the two.
If practice was a sign of things to come, then people would be certain the 1955 Monaco Grand Prix would be one for the record books. Juan Manuel Fangio would be quickest in his Mercedes-Benz. He would lap the 1.95 mile circuit in 1:41.1 at an average speed of just under 70 mph. Alberto Ascari would set the same time down to the tenth of a second, and yet, would be forced to start from the 2nd place starting position on the front row. Ascari had matched Fangio blow for blow in practice. If he could keep it up during the race, then it was certain the race was to be a classic.
Keeping with Fangio would not be easy for Ascari given the presence of Stirling Moss in the final starting spot on the front row. This meant Ascari would be sandwiched between the two Mercedes drivers heading into the tight hairpin turn at Gazometre. Something surely would have to give or there would be repeat of the 1950 Monaco Grand Prix.
While Ascari's presence on the front row would certainly garner a lot of the attention, the rest of the Lancia drivers would do quite well in practice and would put the team in a strong position heading into the race. Castellotti would start the race from the second row of the grid in the 4th position after posting a best time only nine-tenths of a second slower than Fangio. Luigi Villoresi would be found one row back having posted a time just 1.7 seconds slower than Castellotti. Villoresi, then, would start the race from 7th place on the grid. Chiron, however, would be getting up there in age and hadn't even been driving at a top level for a while. Therefore, it would not be at all surprising when he struggled with the Lancia during practice. His best effort in practice would end up being a little more than six seconds slower than Fangio. And that would translate into an eighth, and last, row starting position, 19th overall.
As with Pau, the hillsides would be absolutely filled with spectators preparing for one epic Monaco Grand Prix. The weather would be beautiful, and that meant the cars would be able to go as fast as they dared around the 1.95, incredibly tight, street circuit. The cars would take to the grid and the drivers would make final preparations before the 100 lap, 195 mile, race.
The flag dropped and the front row would power away from the grid together. In fact, the entire front row would be a little slow off the line heading into the first corner and this would play into Castellotti's hands who had started the race from the second row of the grid.
Moss would try and go around the outside of Fangio into the first corner, just like Behra had done to Ascari in Pau. This move would not work. In fact, it would prove to backfire as Castellotti would manage to take the position away and would be found in 2nd place behind Fangio. Ascari would find himself somewhat pushed out of the picture heading into the first turn and would end up the first lap down in 4th place. Villoresi would be steady at the start of the race, but would still give up ground throughout the first lap. He would come across the line in 8th place at the end of the first circuit. Chiron would improve at the start of the race and would actually come through the first lap in 18th place.
Castellotti would hold onto 2nd place for just a handful of laps before Moss would take over the position. Hooked up together, the two Mercedes drivers would begin to draw away from the rest of the field while Castellotti and Ascari became embroiled in a battle for 3rd place. Villoresi had fallen a single spot to 8th place at the start of the race but would be on his way to climbing back up the running order. This is exactly what would happen with Chiron as well. Despite starting from the final row of the grid, Chiron would get up to speed at the wheel of the Lancia and would progressively make his way up the leader board. Of course, the misfortunes of others would help in that endeavor.
Through the first quarter of the race it was Fangio and Moss leading the way. Jean Behra would be on the move and would end up getting by both Castellotti and Ascari for 3rd place while Ascari would firmly move into the 4th place position ahead of his younger teammate. Villoresi would make his way up the leader board but would quickly slip back down. Chiron, however, would make his way by the Gordinis and would be running well inside the top fifteen.
Things stay relatively unchanged until the halfway point of the race. Fangio would still be in the lead but would fail to emerge. Unsure of what happened, Fangio would finally be seen coming around the circuit, but would not be in his car. Clearly, Stirling Moss was the new leader. At the time, Ascari had been running in the 3rd place position after Behra ran into trouble. Therefore, Ascari now found himself in 2nd place, but well behind Moss. Castellotti's race would take a turn for the worse. Although he would be up near the front of the field throughout much of the first half of the race, trouble would lead him to dropping down in the running order until he would find himself battling with Villoresi for 8th place. Chiron would be running a steady race, but it wouldn't be without its issues as well. Coming around the tight station hairpin he would get on the gas a little too quick and would spin the car around until it was facing right into the turn. A number of cars would go by but Chiron would manage to get righted and would rejoin the race.
Fangio's retirement handed the lead to Moss and he seemed just as dominant as his teammate. Lap after lap, Moss would be in the lead with a comfortable margin over Ascari in 2nd place. Roberto Mieres would run into trouble with his rear axle and would be forced to retire from the race allowing Castellotti and Villoresi to climb up the order a bit more.
Just 20 laps remained in the race when, all of a sudden, smoke came billowing out from underneath Moss' Mercedes. He would pull into the pits with a bit of a lead, but it would take a while for the mechanics to check and see what the problem actually was. Just one look at Stirling's face and it was clear the problem was terminal as his face would be terribly blackened, except for where he had been wearing his goggles.
However, in the midst of the Mercedes team looking into Moss' troubles another reality was quickly setting in. Moss certainly had a comfortable lead, but Ascari should have come around to take over the lead of the race for sure. Unbeknownst to those in the pits, even Lancia's, another drama was unfolding along the harbor front. Ascari would make his way down toward the chicane and would end up making an error. Clipping the curb, Ascari would be thrown toward the outside of the circuit. He would plow through the bollards and would crash headlong into the harbor. The car would disappear under the water, but then, Ascari would emerge apparently without harm. Ascari would hurt his back and would also damage his precious blue helmet in the incident. Ironically, the actual damage from this accident wouldn't play out until a few days after this race.
Chaos would erupt for a moment. Who was in the lead? To everyone's surprise, it would be Maurice Trintignant in the lead of the race. Lancia would lose its opportunity for a World Championship victory with Ascari's dip in the harbor.
Castellotti would do his best to fight back in honor of his all wet mentor. While Villoresi would lose ground to Jean Behra and Giuseppe Farina, Castellotti would manage to hold station in the 2nd place position.
There was literally nothing Castellotti could do. Trintignant was far enough out ahead and the Frenchman was known for making very few mistakes over the course of a race. And, sure enough, Trintignant would delight the many French at the race as he would streak across the finish line to take the surprising victory. A little more than 20 seconds later, Castellotti would come across the line to achieve a well-earned 2nd place. This would help Lancia save some face as Ascari threw away victory and Villoresi would slip all the way down to 5th in the final order of things. Chiron, however, would delight the crowd around Monaco. Although he would be 5 laps down by the end of the race, his consistency throughout would see him rewarded with a 6th place result.
While Ascari would throw away what was certain victory, the day would not be a total loss for Lancia. Castellotti would still leave with his best result in the World Championship, to that point anyway, and the solid performances by Villoresi and Chiron meant the team would bring three of its four cars home. That would be an accomplishment that not even Mercedes-Benz would match. Therefore, it seemed clear the mechanical issues with the car had been addressed. The team could then look forward to brighter days.
But then came the 26th of May.
Alberto Ascari and intended to co-drive with Eugenio Castellotti in a Ferrari 750 Monza in the 1000km Supercortemaggiore. There were a couple of issues leading up to the race, however. For one thing, Ascari was unfamiliar with the new sportscar since he had mostly left Ferrari. For another thing, his ‘lucky' blue helmet was not presently available as it was being fitted with a new chin strap after the original broke due to the plunge in the harbor. This would seem like a very unimportant detail, but to Ascari, missing any of his blue outfit was anything but lucky.
That day would be different, however. For the first time in all his racing career he too would consider not having his lucky helmet and other elements to be unimportant. Believing he was merely going out to do a couple of shakedown laps, Ascari would head out onto the fast Monza circuit without his helmet. He would never come back. Going through the very fast Vialone portion of the circuit, Ascari would veer off the circuit plowing into a barrier. The car would be terribly mangled but Ascari's body would be so badly mangled that no one could muster the courage to even talk about what was seen.
Amazingly, the accident would have an ironic twist to it. Alberto's death would come four days after his plunge into the harbor in Monaco, one of the worst accidents of his life. His father would also die in an accident four days after suffering an accident in a race. Both would be 36 years of age when they died. Both drivers went on to win 13 championship races. Both suffered their accidents on the 26th day of a month and both would perish rounding a fast left-hand corner. On top of everything else, the two men would leave behind a wife and two children.
Ascari would leave behind a mourning Scuderia Lancia as well. By this point in time, Gianni's refocus of his father's automotive company was quickly losing its way. Costs were piling up and the results were proving to be not enough to overcome them. It was clear the whole Formula One project would be struggling for the rest of the season. Therefore, Ascari's death would be just another nail in the coffin that was being fashioned for them. Without their great champion, Lancia would have little in the way of guarantees. Castellotti was certainly a star on the rise, but it was still on the rise. Villoresi was still the old master, but he was also old. He just could not match the pace of his earlier days. And while the team certainly needed his consistency, they also needed victories in order to help ensure the financial wellness of the team.
Scuderia Lancia would have another problem. Ascari's accident, though it would only take place four days after the Monaco Grand Prix, would take place less than two weeks before the fourth round of the Formula One World Championship. Therefore, the team would have an important decision to make, which would only be all the more difficult given the financial picture of the team.
Lancia would turn to another driver named Piero Valenzano. However, with the loss of his good friend and protégé, it would be more than obvious that Villoresi would not be in the mood to take part in the next round of the championship.
Lancia would make the decision then to withdraw from the Belgian Grand Prix set to take place on the 5th of June. However, the team would not entirely withdraw from the event. Though the motives are somewhat a mystery; one thing that would be clear is that Castellotti would not withdraw from the race. Perhaps he felt he needed to make amends to his mentor, maybe he just wanted to race in honor of his late mentor, whatever the reason, Eugenio Castellotti would be sent with a single D50 Lancia to the Belgian Grand Prix.
The loss of Ascari would have marked effect on the Formula One paddock. The lively gentleman champion was gone. Still, the fourth round of the World Championship was set to go on, just as he would have wanted it.
Fittingly, as the teams arrived at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit for the start of practice, the rains would be falling all around the circuit, as if they were tears from heaven. Immediately, peoples' memories would recall a wet Spa circuit back in 1952 when Ascari rode home to just one of his many dominant victories that season.
There would seemingly be a lot of weight upon Castellotti's shoulders as he prepared for the event. He was all alone against four Ferraris, three Mercedes and four factory Maseratis. Yet, in spite of the overwhelming odds, Castellotti would take part in the wet practice conditions and would go on to set the fastest lap time around the 8.77 mile circuit during qualifying. As a result, Castellotti would honor his fallen teacher with a well-earned pole position.
Although Castellotti would earn the pole for the 36 lap race, it would be clear he wouldn't be given a free pass during the race, not when Fangio qualified 2nd and Moss would complete the front row in 3rd.
Fittingly, as if a sign that motor racing needed to move on, the 5th of June, the day of the race, would break with mostly cloudy skies, but no rain. The crowd would move in on the circuit, the drivers would begin to arrive from the nearby villages and the cars would all make their way to the circuit through the village streets and other paths. The cars would finally be lined up on the grid and the drivers would take their positions behind the wheel.
Facing the downhill run toward the fast uphill at Eau Rouge, the start would be very important as it would be very easy to get out of place and suffer a race-ending accident before the race even got going. However, as the flag dropped to start the race, it was clear Castellotti wasn't about to give an inch. Heading into Eau Rouge, Fangio would get a great start off the line and would have the better position. Still, Castellotti wouldn't give in until the very last minute. It would be Fangio leading up the hill with Eugenio in 2nd place.
Although Castellotti would find himself 2nd heading up the hill at Eau Rouge, by the end of the first lap around the long and fast circuit, he would be down in 3rd place and losing ground to the two Mercedes.
Around the fast Spa circuit, having another car, preferably your teammate, makes things nice as there are many opportunities to slip stream around the circuit. Castellotti, unfortunately, would be there all alone. And by himself he could not keep up with Fangio and Moss.
Throughout most of the first half of the race it would be Fangio leading the way ahead of Moss while Castellotti continued in the 3rd position. If he were to hold still in that position he would collect some very valuable championship points, and prize money. Unfortunately, it would be too much to ask of the D50. For on the 17th lap of the race, Castellotti would find himself in trouble. The gearbox on the car would fail him leaving him out of the running. There would be no grand victory for the fallen this day.
Giuseppe Farina would take over the 3rd place position and would appear to be the Farina of old. However, there would be absolutely nothing the former World Champion could do, not against the might of two Mercedes at the front of the field.
The only hope Farina would have of recapturing his former glory is if there was a repeat of events at Monaco. And as Karl Kling retired from the race with oil pipe problems, it certainly wasn't out of the realm of possibilities.
Though just 13 cars would line up on the grid for the race, there would be only a total of four that would not complete the race. Unfortunately for Farina, that meant the two Mercedes of Fangio and Moss would not be among the four retired from the event.
Fangio would pull out a several second advantage on his teammate Moss and the two of them, in turn, would pull out an even wider margin over the remainder of the field. Turning out the fastest lap of the race on the 18th lap, and averaging more than 118mph, it would take Fangio just about two hours and thirty-nine minutes to complete the 316 miles and collect the win. Stirling Moss would be just eight seconds behind in 2nd place. Giuseppe Farina would look fantastic in a somewhat inferior Ferrari. Though he would finish the race a minute and 40 seconds behind, he would still come across the line in 3rd.
The Belgian Grand Prix, and a possible tribute to the late Alberto Ascari, had started out well with Castellotti showing the sheer pace of the Lancia. Unfortunately, unreliability would bring the tribute to an early, and fruitless, end. While it may have given Castellotti an opportunity to honor his friend, and garner more experience, the simple fact of the matter is that the team left the race with even more money having been, and needing to be, spent. Lancia was not in a good position.
Lancia's perspective would be put aright just one week after the Belgian Grand Prix. The tragedy at Le Mans would make everyone stop and think for a moment, which is something the sport needed to do with the rising average speeds and treacherous circuits. But while the tragedy may have brought things into perspective when it came to safety and speeds, for Lancia, it would put their future into perspective as well.
The fallout from the tragedy at Le Mans would include a number of Formula One World Championship races being cancelled. Some four rounds, the French, German, Swiss and Spanish rounds of the World Championship would eventually be cancelled. This was detrimental to the Lancia squad that desperately needed starter and prize money to stay afloat. But now, it just wasn't going to be there. Only the British round of the World Championship remained on the calendar throughout the summer months of the season. And only the Italian Grand Prix would follow before the World Championship would come to an end.
The financial picture for Lancia's Formula One program could not have looked bleaker. As a result, Lancia would have to make some very important decisions rather quickly. The problem wasn't merely the Formula One program. Lancia had refocused the whole of the company around the success or failure of the program. It wasn't extra money lying around in which the team was using to compete. Therefore, it would be decided by, June and July, that Lancia would be sold. Part of it would be purchased by an investment firm. Another portion of the company would be purchased by another Turin-based manufacturer—Fiat.
Fiat now had a racing team and a chassis, but it did not compete in Formula One as a manufacturer. Therefore, Fiat would go looking for a buyer of the car, its spares and all of the necessary tooling. And, on the 26th of July, just two months after the death of Alberto Ascari, the D50 cars, all of the spares, tooling and even the transporter, would arrive in Modena to be taken possession of by their new owner.
Aided by a five-year subsidy from Fiat, Scuderia Ferrari would now have the D50 chassis for use within its team. This would be a smart move on Ferrari's part as neither of their newer cars showed the promise, nor the pace, necessary to help the Italian firm regain its dominant place in Formula One.
And so, after really only one year's worth of competition, Scuderia Lancia would be no more. While Lancia would make a strong appearance in rallying, creating one of the most dominant series of cars for the motor sport, the company's Formula One days would be over with that ever-brief period between 1954 and 1955.
Having created one of the most recognizable Formula One cars, Lancia's run in Formula One would certainly have to be filled with nothing but question marks. The team only competed for a spell of a few months before it folded, it had lost its double World Champion and ace-in-the-hole and it suffered the huge setback resulting from the tragedy at Le Mans. Imagine if Ascari donned his famous blue helmet on that 26th of May, 1955? Scuderia Lancia