TeamsOttorino Volonterio: 1957 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
Having caught the racing bug later in life, Ottorino Volonterio would try his best to justify his need for speed taking part in sportscar and Formula One races. While some decent results were to be had in sportscars, Formula One would be another thing entirely and Volonterio would need all the help he could get.
Volonterio had surprised many when he went on to earn 2nd place in the Coupe de Paris race at Montlhery in 1955. Gaining confidence from this result he would set his sights back on Formula One for the 1956 season.
Having shared a drive with Emmanuel de Graffenried in 1954 in his Interim A6GCM chassis, Volonterio would get his first taste of World Championship Formula One racing. Unfortunately, a retirement would dampen the experience slightly. But, after having proven to himself he was capable of earning some strong results having focused on sportscars for 1955, Ottorino would purchase de Graffenried's Interim Maserati and would take part in just his second World Championship race when he participated in the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.
Volonterio could not have chosen a much more difficult circuit in which he would make his return to the World Championship, and first as a sole driver. While not able to maintain the necessary pace, he would still surprise many finishing the race, albeit not classified in the official results.
While the German Grand Prix would be a bittersweet experience, the Naples Grand Prix would offer fond memories for the Swiss lawyer. Starting the race from second-to-last on the grid, Volonterio would run a consistent race to finish the event 11 laps behind in 5th place. Despite the fact he was 28 miles behind an aged Formula One car the result would still be a great result for the inexperienced gentleman racer. However, he certainly had to realize he needed to get better if he wanted to have a longer career in Formula One. Or, he at least needed to look to somebody else to help share the load.
It was more than obvious that Volonterio was not a championship-winning driver and that he competed for the sheer joy and excitement of being able to take part in Formula One. Therefore, racing was certainly much more of a hobby than an outright career. What this also meant was that there were other demands on his resources, especially time and financial. This meant he would run limited schedules compared to professional drivers that would try and take part in any kind and form of motor racing possible.
Already being a bit more limited in his resources, Volonterio would be also limited in the events in which he had to choose from in order to compete. He certainly didn't have the talent and the means to take part in World Championship round after World Championship round. But, there were also only a few non-championship events in 1957 as well.
Already limited in his ability to take part in Formula One races, Volonterio would look to take part in races that promised him the best possibility of a good result. This only made sense given the limited resources and time he had to put forth into his passion. This made one decision heading into the 1957 season rather easy. The year before he had enjoyed his greatest success in single-seater grand prix racing at the Gran Premio di Napoli in 1956 when he finished the race in 5th place. Therefore, one year later, that is where Volonterio would head to take part in his first of only a couple of races on the season.
The 10th Gran Premio di Napoli would take place on the 28th of April and would be down the road about 8 hours from Volonterio's home of Orselina in Switzerland. This would end up being the furthest he would travel all season long and he would certainly hope the effort would pay off in the end.
Situated overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, and with Mount Vesuvius off in the distance to the east, Posillipo commands the rocky heights that skirt the area. Wonderfully picturesque and peaceful in its seclusion, it is little wonder how and why the area means 'respite from worry'. Reminiscent of Monaco in some ways and filled with some amazing architecture and sculpture work Posillipo would have a secluded feel and would be the perfect location for inspiration and is partly the reason for the legend that Virgil made the area his place of residence.
Sitting high atop the cliffs would be found the 2.55 mile Posillipo circuit. At any other time of the year it would be very difficult to realize just where the circuit really was a result of the fact the circuit was entirely made up of residential streets atop the rocky outcropping. Therefore, motor racing seemed very much out of place in such a setting, but then so does racing in Monaco. Twisting and turning and boasting of some spectacular views and dangerous portions with high walls or steep drop-offs, the circuit was by no means a wide-open and flat-out circuit. Boasting of just one straight of note, the circuit is really nothing more than a never-ending assortment of tight S-bends and sharp corners.
In all honesty, the circuit could not suit an aged or slower car better as it would really prevent the powerful and newer machines from being able to reach their maximum speeds. What was an absolute must around the circuit in order to be fast would be a car in which the driver felt supremely confident. And, while perhaps not supremely confident behind the wheel of the Maserati, Volonterio at least had a car capable of competing on such a circuit.
Volonterio had more than just a chance if there would be a repeat of the previous season when Robert Manzon won in an aged Gordini T16 against the likes of two Lancia-Ferraris. But, this was another year. There was certainly no guarantee of any kind of repeat.
It wouldn't be like Volonterio would be in the race all by himself. Scuderia Ferrari would return, fully prepared to exact vengeance for its failure the season before. This time the Italian squad would come with a couple of Englishmen. Peter Collins and Mike Hawthorn would have the drives. Luigi Musso would also come with Ferrari and he would be driving the new Ferrari Dino 156. And then there would be the fleet of privateer entries like Volonterio and a lone Connaught B-Type to round-out the competition.
Taking to the circuit for practice, it would be of little surprise the Englishmen ruled the roost as both would post identical lap times of 2:08.0. However, it would be Hawthorn that would be just that mere hundredth of a second faster to earn the pole. Joining the two Brits on the front row would be Musso in the other Ferrari. Therefore, Ferrari would have a lock on the front row, and the race it seemed, even before it got started.
Volonterio, on the other hand, would appear to have a lock on nothing as he would struggle around the circuit. Posting a best lap time of some 40 seconds slower than Hawthorn, it was clear Ottorino was going to start well down in the field. In fact, he would start from the seventh, and final, row of the grid. Actually, he would start 17th, dead-last.
However, not all was lost for Volonterio. He had started second-to-last the year before and ended up riding all the way to a 5th place result. But there were a number of changes from 1956 to '57. The International Trophy race was not around the same time. This would bring Hawthorn and Collins to the race. The lack of competing events meant there would be more entrants in the '57 affair than the previous year. Therefore, while not all was lost, it was already slipping out of Volonterio's reach.
Right at the start of the race Collins would get the jump and would be in position at the head of the field while Hawthorn and Musso remained right there as well. This was a great sign for the Italian patrons that came to watch the race but it would not be a good start for Volonterio's day. He would be well back and would be struggling to get going it seemed.
Collins, Hawthorn and Musso would be quickly making their way around the circuit and this was quickly leaving the rest of the competitors behind. Alan Mann would start the race with a Formula 2 HWM-Alta. This car was certainly very old by this time and it showed its age retiring after just 3 laps as a result of magneto failure. But, while Hawthorn and Collins pulled Musso around with them in a great exhibition of speed and dominance, Volonterio would quickly face his own demise.
It would be more than clear Formula One had evolved and moved on and that the Formula 2 cars and early Formula One cars were no longer truly capable machines. Mann would find this out after just 3 laps. Volonterio would realize this truth after four. After starting the race dead-last on the grid it was more than obvious Ottorino lacked the speed. But, during the race, the reason for the struggles would become quite apparent. Retiring at the end of the 4th lap, Volonterio would discover he had a problem with his cylinder block. Not only could the car not develop the necessary power, but it also could no longer carry on. There would be no magical result this day. The decision to come back to Naples proved there were no sure things in life.
The performance put together by Collins, Hawthorn and Musso, however, would certain seem to suggest there were sure things in life. There wouldn't be another car on circuit that could come anywhere near as close to maintaining the pace of the three Ferraris, not even Stuart Lewis-Evans in the lone B-Type Connaught could keep up over the whole of the race.
Therefore, the 60 lap race began a processional parade of Ferraris, and then, there would come the rest of the cars running well behind. The real fight would be amongst the three Ferraris. Collins would do his best to remove himself from the fight and would put together a string of consistently fast laps that helped him to pull away from Hawthorn and Musso. The later two drivers however, would be embroiled in a very close battle that would go right down to the very end. This would be a poignant battle as it would be between the V-8 powered Lancia-Ferrari and the new 6-cylinder Dino of the team's future. The fact Musso remained with Hawthorn and battled him all the way to the end spoke volumes of the car's future. But, as far as the spectators were concerned, all they saw was great racing between two Ferrari drivers.
Hawthorn had the early pace in the race setting a fastest lap time of an incredible 2:05.6, which would be a little more than 2 seconds faster than his own qualifying effort. However, over the long haul Hawthorn would not be able to keep up the pace and it would be Collins that would disappear into the distance.
Averaging just over 70mph, Collins would ease his way to the finish line crossing with more than 30 seconds in hand over the battle for 2nd place. It would be an intense battle for 2nd and it would be in doubt almost until the cars crossed the line for the final time. Turning onto the long straight and powering toward the line it would be Hawthorn that would take the 2nd place spot, but only by a margin of three-tenths of second over Musso in the new Dino 156.
It would be an absolutely demoralizing victory for Ferrari. Not only would all three cars finish and sweep the podium but Horace Gould, the 4th place finisher, would cross the line well over a lap behind.
The results had made it clear there was no repeat of the Naples Grand Prix of 1956. Of couse, Volonterio could have told everybody that after just 4 laps when he retired with his engine-related problem. But now the Swiss driver had another problem. He needed to get the engine repaired. This would certainly cost him money and time, but time would be the one resource he would have a lot of for he would not be seen in another major motor race again until September.
The nice thing about motor racing in Italy is that it is truly just down the road from Switzerland where motor racing had become banned following the wake of the Le Mans tragedy in 1955. And, if motor racing is banned in Switzerland then there is no better place to head than to the Autodromo Nazionale Monza to take part in a motor race. And so, after repairing the damaged engine in the Maserati and waiting for months and months, Ottorino would make his way through the foothills of the Alps and down to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix held on the 8th of September.
It would be the 27th Gran Premio d'Italia and, for Volonterio, the race was just about a couple of hours down the road from his home town of Orselina. However, while the race was certainly not a problem for Volonterio to reach, being able to take part competitively was certainly no easy matter. He really needed the help of a more complete and competitive driver. Steady, but obviously much faster, Andre Simon absolutely fit the bill.
But even with the help of Simon it was highly unlikely Volonterio would come away with any points, at least not with the talent that would be assembled for the race. Of course there would be the factory Maseratis led by Juan Manuel Fangio and including Harry Schell, Jean Behra and Chico Godia-Sales. Scuderia Ferrari would also appear quite strong on paper with their 801 chassis and drivers Mike Hawthorn, Peter Collins, Luigi Musso and Wolfgang von Trips. However, there would also be the tough Vandervell contingent. Led by Stirling Moss, the team had not only won on home soil in Aintree but Moss had delivered yet another victory in Pescara a few weeks earlier. The competition was all around and absolutely dwarfed the single entry for Volonterio in every single way.
The circuit would provide little help as well. Initially built during the 1920s, the Autodromo Nazionale Monza would be built in a portion of the Royal Villa of Monza park and would measure 6.2 miles in length. The first version of the circuit would be comprised of a road course and a looped section of track. Featuring modest banking in the loop section of the track the circuit would boast of some very fast average speeds. Very quickly this design would be considered too dangerous and the looped section of the track would be abandoned in favor of just the road course portion, or some iteration of it.
This would change toward the end of the 1954 season. Work would begin restoring the looped portion of the track. Repairs would be made and a steeply-banked concrete track would be finished in more than enough time for the whole circuit to be used for the 1955 edition of the Italian Grand Prix. The result would be an ultra-fast circuit that produced some truly memorable racing. Unfortunately, the concrete banking also took its toll on the cars. Bumpy and fast, the banked oval portion would literally shake cars apart, and, when combined with the tire problems suffered by Ferrari in 1956, it would become obvious the banking wasn't all that safe still. Therefore, for the 1957 season, the 3.91 mile road course would be all that would be used. Still, with an average lap consisting of drivers being on the gas for more than 80 percent of a lap it was clear the circuit would not miss the banking all that much.
The cars would take to the circuit void of the banking and showing the same kind of speed had it been a part of the circuit. With the help of Colin Chapman, the Vanwalls had made vast improvements. Their greatest attribute was their speed. The handling was a little suspect. But on Monza, out-right speed was certainly more important than handling and this would show in practice as Stuart Lewis-Evans would post the fastest lap time around the circuit. His time of 1:42.2 would earn his the pole by a half a second over Stirling Moss in another Vanwall. Tony Brooks would make it three Vanwalls in a row posting a lap time just two-tenths slower than Moss. Only Fangio would manage to salvage a front row starting spot for an Italian machine when he secured 4th place in the Maserati.
Having greater speed and experience, Andre Simon would set out in practice with Volonterio's Maserati. In spite of the fact the Maserati was more than a few years old, Simon would perform well in practice and would end up posting a fastest lap time of 1:52.8. While this time would be more than 10 seconds slower than Lewis-Evans around the circuit it would still be a decent time for a privateer entry that had to be careful not to push too hard, and yet, start as best as possible. The lap time would end up translating into a fifth row starting spot and a 16th overall positioning on the grid.
The day would be beautiful and the grandstands would be obviously overflowing with passionate Italian racing fans. The hot sun would be beating down on the circuit and would make the conditions very difficult for the fans and the cars. The drivers and cars would take their positions out on the grid and the engines would come to life. It was time for the final round of the 1957 Formula One World Championship, the first of Volonterio's season.
The flag would drop and the race would get underway with the Vanwalls sprinting to the front of the field. Jean Behra would also get a great start and would be quickly up amongst the Vanwalls while Fangio tucked in behind through the first few corners. The first lap would see an absolutely breathtaking battle for the lead. Meanwhile, Simon would be away well but would not be able to make up many places at the start.
At the end of the first lap it would be Moss leading the way in the Vanwall with Jean Behra sitting in 2nd place. Lewis-Evans would be in 3rd place just ahead of Brooks and Fangio. Simon would actually lose a spot at the end of the first lap and would be in 17th place chasing after Bruce Halford.
While Simon would settle into his groove at the back of the field unable to really challenge anyone ahead of him, there would be an incredible scrap at the front that would see Moss, Behra, Fangio and Brooks all share the lead at some point in time during the first 12 laps of the race. These five would break away from the rest of the field and would race each other nose to tail lap in and lap out, delighting the appreciative fans each and every time by. Simon continued to run in 17th place unable to move up and challenge Horace Gould, who had actually qualified behind him on the grid.
Moss would get dropped from the lead but would quickly recover and would be chasing teammate Lewis-Evans for the lead while Fangio had slipped down to 3rd place. Behra remained in touch and was to be found in 5th place but seemingly unable to match his earlier pace.
Just prior to the 20th lap, Vanwalls would be running 1st through 3rd. However, Brooks would suffer from the plaguing throttle issues that were so common with the Vanwalls. He would come into the pits to have the situation looked after and would end up dropping all the way down to 11th place by the time he rejoined the race. Then, just as Brooks was doing his best to recover from his troubles the Vanwall of Lewis-Evans would visit the pits with an engine-related problem. He would try his best to keep going but would end up retiring after 49 laps with a cracked cylinder head.
This left Moss in the lead with Fangio and Behra and Schell giving chase. Then Collins would find his stride and would come up into the top three when Behra and Schell faded from view. After 40 laps and finding himself up into 12th place, Simon would head into the pits where he would be greeted by Volonterio. It would be Ottorino's race from here on out. He would easily climb into the car and would be pushed on his way. Rejoining the circuit, Volonterio would find himself in 14th place and ahead of Gould in the running order.
While Fangio continued to vainly chase after Moss at the head of the field, Volonterio would find himself coming under pressure from Gould. It was obvious the newer Maserati and the abilities of Gould as a driver were eclipsing those of Ottorino and it would be a tall order to try and retain the position over the course of what remained of the 87 lap race. In spite of his best efforts, Volonterio would lose the position to Gould but would be running 12th by the 50th lap of the race.
Although just outside of the top ten, the position would be of little consolation to the Swiss lawyer given that he was the last car still running out on the circuit. Moss was still in the lead with Fangio in 2nd place. Hawthorn had come up and taken over 3rd place from Collins following the engine failure of Collins' Ferrari. Tony Brooks continued to struggle with the throttle problems within his Vanwall and would seem to be nothing more than a passenger holding on for dear life when he managed to post what would end up being the fastest lap of the race on the 74th lap.
Moss, meanwhile, was well out ahead of Fangio and would even have enough time to come into the pits for new tires. He would have new shoes fitted to the car and would return to the circuit still in the lead and with a comfortable margin over Fangio. Hawthorn remained in 3rd place but certainly had nothing for the now five-time World Champion. Volonterio continued to lap the circuit but his sedate pace was doing nothing to help his cause. After having been ahead of Gould in the running order, Ottorino would find himself lapped a number of times from the British privateer.
Late engine troubles would sideline Hawthorn and would allow von Trips to come up and take over 3rd place in the running order. Provided there were no such problems with Moss' Vanwall the conclusion seemed foregone.
Driving at an average speed of more than 129mph, Moss would need just two and a half hours to complete the race distance and take the win. About 41 seconds later Fangio would come flashing across the line to finish in 2nd place. It had been an absolutely beautiful performance by Moss as von Trips would finish the race in 3rd place but more than 2 laps behind.
In spite of the seriously aging Maserati around him, Volonterio would manage to hold on to the end of the race. Although he would finish the race more than 15 laps, or, nearly 59 miles behind, Ottorino and Andre would finish the race in 11th place, honestly not a bad result for a man taking part in just his second race of the season, having little to no experience and driving a much older Maserati chassis.
The sad reality was the Maserati was no longer competitive and Volonterio was by no means the most competitive driver out on the track. This was not the kind of combination that offered hope for prize-winning results. The simple fact of the matter was that Volonterio's days in Formula One had come to an end and he would realize this. Following the end of the 1957 season Ottorino would move on from Formula One racing and would look once again to sportscar racing to fill his passion for motor racing.
Taking part in sportscar races, Volonterio's career would stretch all the way into the 1970s and there would be a decent share of top ten results earned throughout the 1960s. Then, at the end of the 1972 season Volonterio would leave the upper-levels of motor racing for good and would subsequently retire. Living to the age of 85, Volonterio would die in Lugano, Switzerland, only about an hour away from where he was born and raised.
However, before his Formula One career would come to an end, Ottorino would enlist the help of Simon and would earn his best result in a World Championship round. 'Many hands make for light work' it is said. In this case, it would be faster hands that would make for better results.