TeamsGiovanni de Riu: 1954 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
In the early days of the Formula One World Championship there were great opportunities for privateers and small teams to make their mark on World Championship history. Some would go on to have pages and pages of history. For others, like Goivanni de Riu, the listing of their name in the records would actually end up being longer than their actual achievements.
Born in March of 1924 in the town of Macomer in the province of Nuoro on the Italian island of Sardinia, Giovanni de Riu would be just 20 years old when the Second World War would come to an end. Therefore, while much of Europe lay in ruin, there was a new hope for the future and ambition had the ability to open doors.
By de Riu's mid-twenties he started in motor racing. Then, in 1953, Giovanni de Riu would drive for the Enrico Plate team. Had he driven for the team back during the late 1940s he would have been with a team on the rise. However, by 1953, Enrico Plate was quickly passing out of sight.
Over the course of the 1953 season, de Riu would take part in a few races never with providence on his side. He would fail to finish or fail to even qualify. Throughout the course of the season there would not be one Formula 2 race or other major race in which he would actually make it to the finish. However, he would hope 1954 would be different.
1954 would prove to be very challenging even before the season even started. The new Formula One rules were to come into effect at the start of the season. And while the Formula 2 cars would still be deemed legal to participate in the World Championship and non-championship races there would definitely be a power advantage on the side of the Formula One cars.
But, de Riu would have to do what he could, what he could afford. He would end up going to the Brazilian Chico Landi and would purchase a Maserati A6GCM. The chassis in which de Riu would purchase would be a good one. Run under the Escuderia Bandeirantes team name, the Maserati would take Landi to an 8th place finish in the 1952 Italian Grand Prix. Landi would use the same chassis the following year but would suffer a dramatic engine failure that would streak smoke all the way from the Vedano corners down the start/finish straight as Landi pulled into the pits. Despite the engine failure, Giovanni had his car, a rather aged man o' war, but it would have to do.
Due to the costs associated with competing in grand prix racing, especially the upper levels, it certainly wasn't surprising that de Riu would stick around his native Mediterranean instead of jetting-off across Europe. His first race of the season, at least the first in which he would have an entry, would be toward the middle part of April. On the 11th of April in 1954, the Sicilian city of Syracuse played host to the 4th Gran Premio di Siracusa.
By the time of the Gran Premio di Siracusa one round of the Formula One World Championship had already been completed. In the Argentine Grand Prix, Juan Manuel Fangio would take the win by more than a minute over three Scuderia Ferraris that missed its double World Champion, Alberto Ascari, who had left the team after a falling out with Enzo Ferrari. As the teams returned from across the South Atlantic and prepared for the grand prix season on the European mainland, Scuderia Ferrari would come to Syracuse with a whole fleet of cars looking to avenge its implosion the season before.
Scuderia Ferrari would have little in the way of competition as Maserati would bring only two of their cars and one of those driven by Juan Manuel Fangio would not make the trip. Another that would not make the trip would be Giovanni de Riu. Giovanni would pass up on the opportunity to take on the Ferrari team, almost by himself, and would look forward to his next, and first, opportunity to take to the track.
A period of about two months would pass before de Riu would have an entry in a race. Then, on the 6th of June, de Riu would have an entry in the 13th Gran Premio di Roma which took place in Castelfusano, Italy. The Gran Premio di Roma was a race comprised of 60 laps around a 4.09 mile circuit for a total race distance of 246 miles.
Existing for two and a half thousand years, Rome would be considered one of the birthplaces of western civilization and would be the seat of the Roman Empire that would dominate the European landscape for more than 700 years. Shrouded in myth and devoid of a lot of archeological, the beginning of Rome's history is something of a debate. However, its place of prominence in art, architecture, invention and religion would be without question. Therefore, it would be only fitting that a city of such importance would come to host the best and most advanced in motor racing.
The race would be devoid of a lot of the best Formula One had to offer. Scuderia Ferrari would not be ready, and therefore, would not come to the race. Therefore, Jose Froilan Gonzalez, Maurice Trintignant and Umberto Maglioli would not be part of the field. It would get even thinner as Alberto Ascari would not make it to the race when the Lancia D50 was not ready in time. Another missing from the field would be Juan Manuel Fangio driving a Maserati 250F.
While the field would be missing some of the best teams, cars and drivers it would be a great opportunity for de Riu to score a good finish. But he would still have a great deal of talent in which he would have to battle through in order to do just that. Robert Manzon, Jean Behra, Onofre Marimon and others would still be in the field, and more than enough for de Riu to contend.
Driving a Maserati 250F, Onofre Marimon would use the power of the 2.5-liter engine to set the fastest lap with a time of two minutes and fifteen seconds. Robert Manzon would take his Equipe Rosier Ferrari 625 and would set the second-fastest time. Just one-tenth of a second would separate Manzon from Stirling Moss in another Maserati 250F. The final position on the front row would go to Jean Behra in an Equipe Gordini T16.
Less than three seconds would separate the entire front row. A much larger gap would separate Marimon on the pole and de Riu. Taking the aged Maserati around the 4.09 mile circuit, de Riu would be well off the pace of the Formula One machines. However, he would fare better than some of the other Formula 2 cars in the field. At the end of practice, de Riu would end up 11th on the grid and starting from the third row of the grid.
Fifteen cars were to start the 60 lap race. However, Guido Mancini would not start the race due to problems with his Ferrari 500. Another Mancini, Carlo, would end up out of the race before completing a single lap due to engine failure in his Ferrari 166.
Engine-related problems would continue to strike the field during the early going of the race. Another entry would only make it past the first lap of the race before engine problems forced retirement. Then, after just 3 laps, it would be de Riu's turn to be hit by the engine bug. His six-cylinder Maserati engine would let go and would bring an end to his very first race of the season. In all, six entrants would succumb to engine-related problems.
Engine problems wouldn't be the only reason for cars to fall out of the running. Troubles of all kinds would continue to strike the field throughout the 60 lap race. These problems would even take out some of the favorites in the race including Behra and Manzon. And over the course of the race, Moss would fade.
As the race came down to the final few laps there were effectively just five cars in the race though Moss was still circulating in the 6th position overall. Marimon had started the race from the pole and would come to enjoy all of his major competition falling out of the event. This would enable the Argentinean to open up a huge lead over the entire field which now featured Harry Schell in 2nd place just up the road from Sergio Mantovani. Jean Behra would end up taking over Andre Simon's Gordini T16, but would be a number of laps down to Marimon.
Aided by setting the fastest lap of the race with a time just three-tenths of a second off of his pole time, Marimon would be untouchable. Averaging better than 106 mph, Marimon would cruise to the victory after two hours, eighteen minutes and forty-nine seconds. Schell would be rather happy with his 2nd place result despite being absolutely blown away by Marimon. Schell would finish two laps down. The same fate would befall Mantovani who would finish in 3rd. Incidentally, this would be perhaps Marimon's greatest achievement as he would die in practice at the Nurburgring preparing for the German Grand Prix in early August, just a couple of months away.
Giovanni's start to the season certainly would not last very long. Lasting just about eight minutes, de Riu would have plenty of time to pack up his car and equipment and watch the rest of the race. As it turned out, he would have plenty of time for a large number of other things as well.
Giovanni's very early exit from the Gran Premio di Roma in early June would be something of a sign as to how the rest of the season would go for the man from Nuoro. After taking part in the race at Castelfusano, de Riu wouldn't be amongst those listed on an entry form until the middle of July. On the 11th of July, de Riu had an entry for the 4th Grand Prix de Rouen-les-Essarts. The race was to be a 95 lap affair covering a total of 301 miles of the 3.17 mile Rouen-les-Essarts circuit.
The race would boast of a large number of Maserati 250Fs, as well as, Ferrari 553 and 625s entered by Scuderia Ferrari. Complete with Equipe Gordini's Formula One T16s, the field of just 14 cars would be filled with some very strong competition.
Whether the presence of such competition played a part or not is unclear, but what is clear is that de Riu would not arrive at the event with his A6GCM. He would abandon his entry in the race.
Giovanni de Riu next had an entry for a race in early August. Surprisingly, on the 7th of August, de Riu was to be across the English Channel and at Oulton Park for the 1st International Gold Cup race. Taking place on the 2.76 mile Oulton Park Circuit, the International Gold Cup race would attract a rather large field of mostly British entries. There were a few other very strong competitors that were to make it to the race that would not including Mike Hawthorn, Harry Schell and Robert Manzon.
Another that would not make it to be part of the race would be de Riu. It is unclear as to the reason why, but he would not bring his A6GCM to take part in the 36 lap race. It would really be too bad that he had not since there were just a few Formula One cars that would be in the race. There was certainly the opportunity for him to earn a good result. Of course, it would be questionable as to whether it would offset the costs of actually travelling to the event in the first place.
De Riu's failure to attend the International Gold Cup race at Oulton Park meant that the races were beginning to wind down and there were only a few more opportunities to take part in some Formula One championship and non-championship races. In fact, de Riu still had three World Championship races left on the calendar that he could have attended before the end of the season. And there were about three times that number in non-championship races remaining.
After a mostly absentee season, de Riu would decide he would take his one shot at taking part in a World Championship race. Of course, de Riu was not necessarily a newcomer to grand prix motor racing. But still, he had not taken part in a single World Championship race at any point in his career. He would attempt to change that on the 5th of September when he would be at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza trying to prepare to take part in what was the 25th Gran Premio d'Italia, which was the eighth round of the World Championship for 1954.
As de Riu's made his appearance for his first, and what would be his only, World Championship race, the field would still be absent of the threat from Lancia. However, it would still be filled with more than enough competition for the man from Nuoro.
The competition would show just how much off the pace de Riu really was. Juan Manuel Fangio would take a W196 without the fenders and would take the pole with a lap time of one minute and fifty-nine seconds flat. Giovanni de Riu's best time in practice would end up being two minutes slower. As a result, de Riu would not qualify for the 80 lap race.
Giovanni wouldn't quite be done after failing to qualify for the Italian Grand Prix in early September. The final round of the World Championship would take place on the 24th of October. The race was the 12th Gran Premio de Espana and it would take place at the 3.91 mile Circuit de Pedralbes. The only year the Spanish Grand Prix would be part of the World Championship would be in 1951, the final year of Formula One regulations before the two year spell in which the World Championship followed Formula 2 regulations. But as new Formula One regulations came into effect for 1954, the Spanish Grand Prix would again be part of the World Championship calendar.
Giovanni de Riu would be present for the 80 lap race. However, he would not take part in practice, and therefore, would not set a time for qualifying. Therefore, for the second time, de Riu would not qualify for a Formula One race. De Riu, therefore, would not take part in any of his Formula One World Championship races he attended and his place in grand prix history would be nothing more than a mere footnote.
Giovanni de Riu's involvement in grand prix history, however, would not be a mere footnote. De Riu's grand prix career, which would come to an end pretty much after the end of the 1954 season, de Riu would take a slightly different turn.
After ceasing his days of driving, de Riu would go on to become part of the Commissione Sportiva Automobilistica Italiana (CSAI). While with the CSAI, de Riu would play an administrative role with the Italian governing body. As a result, de Riu would play a part in Jochen Rindt's fatal accident at Monza in 1970.
Giovanni would later retire from his role with the CSAI and would live in Milan, Italy where he would end up passing away on December 11th, 2008.
While de Riu's role in grand prix motor racing would be rather minimal from a driver's perspective, his role from an administrative position would be quite extensive and involved. Therefore, de Riu would be just one example of a former driver making a bigger impact from the administrative side of the sport.