TeamsGiorgio Scarlatti: 1956 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
While outwardly appearing the same, there are some very important differences between grand prix and endurance racing. Yes, each requires speed and a driver certainly has to be talented to be successful. However, it is entirely rare for a driver of one discipline to be equally successful in the other. Giorgio Scarlatti would be the perfect example.
Giorgio Scarlatti would be born in Rome, Italy in 1921. Following the Second World War, Scarlatti would look to a motor racing career. Starting with endurance sportscar racing in the early 1950s, Scarlatti's steady and dependable style behind the wheel would make him rather successful behind the wheel of Maserati sportscars. Though steady and dependable, Scarlatti lacked one important element—outright speed. Though he would earn a number of top ten results, podium finishes would be rather difficult to come by.
Scarlatti's greatest highlights would come in 1955 at the Napoli and Bari Grand Prix. In those races Giorgio would come away with a 2nd and 3rd place result respectively. Scarlatti would follow this up with another 3rd place at the Caserta Grand Prix.
Behind the wheel of a sportscar, Scarlatti was proving to have the talent to be successful, and so, it seemed logical that he would try his hand at single-seater grand prix racing.
First of all, in order for Scarlatti to be able to take part in a grand prix he would need a car. No factory drives would be available for Scarlatti, and so, he would look for the next best option. Unfortunately, a formula one chassis would not be available for Scarlatti's funds. Therefore, he would have to look a little older—to the Formula 2 era.
Scarlatti would choose a Ferrari 500 for his use. Chassis 210-F2 would first be used by Guido Mancini. However, following the 1954 season it would be sold and delivered to Scarlatti where he would use the car a couple of times in some non-championship events throughout the 1955 season.
Scarlatti would take part in a couple of non-championship events and would perform decently well in those events. Being from Rome and having limited funds, Scarlatti would not venture away from his native Italy for any grand prix race. However, that was to change in 1956.
Scarlatti would begin his 1956 grand prix season not all that far away from home. Instead of setting off across Europe, or even the South Atlantic for the first round of the Formula One World Championship, Scarlatti would just head down the coast and over to Syracuse for the 6th Gran Premio di Siracusa on the 15th of April.
The setting for Scarlatti's first grand prix of the 1956 season would be the ancient city of Syracuse on the island of Sicily. Positioned near the Ionian Sea, Syracuse would be an amalgamation of cultures. The city is filled with history, and yet, seemed the perfect setting for the future of automotive technology.
The Syracuse circuit would consist of 3.48 miles of public roads running to the west of the city and would consist of mostly rolling terrain. This would lead to the circuit having no real straight, and yet, still having a high average speed per lap.
Scarlatti's reputation had been growing as a sportscar driver, but even Juan Manuel Fangio would have had a difficult time given the conditions. Not only would Scarlatti be attempting to take part in the 80 lap, 278 mile, race with a car over two years old, but he would end up doing so with the likes of Scuderia Ferrari and a number of privateer Maserati entries in the field.
If Giorgio didn't realize the full scope of things ahead of time, after just a few minutes of practice the truth would become abundantly clear. Fangio would set the fastest time in his Lancia D50 and would take the pole with a lap time of 1:58.0. Eugenio Castellotti would make it two Ferraris on the front row when he posted a time just nine-tenths slower. Jean Behra would complete the front row in the lone factory Maserati in the field. Scarlatti would find himself all the way down on the 5th row of the grid in the 13th position, and well off the pace.
The start of the race would see Fangio and Castellotti lead the way over the rest of the Ferraris in the field. Behra would have a new evolution of the 250F and would be able to maintain contact with the Ferraris throughout the very early going of the race. Scarlatti, however, would not be able to keep pace really at all being more than 10 seconds off the pace.
Behra would look good through lap one and that is about as far as it would go as the car would suffer problems after the first lap and would end up out of the race. Horace Gould would follow suit in his own Maserati. His race would last just 2 laps. Up front, it would still be Fangio leading the way with the other Ferraris following closely behind.
Running in nose-to-tail fashion lap after lap, Fangio would forge a path only the D50s would be able to achieve. Fangio would turn the fastest lap of the race with a lap of 1:59.8 and an average speed of more than 103 mph. This kind of pace would be too much for a number of cars in the field including Scarlatti's.
About the same time Berardo Taraschi would be exiting the race with his aged Ferrari 166, Scarlatti would be finding his race coming to an end after 20 laps due to mechanical problems. Scarlatti certainly had no need to feel bad. Before the end of the 80 lap race there would be eight cars out of the running, including the Ferrari of Eugenio Castellotti.
Fangio and the remainder of the Ferraris would be in a class unto themselves. It would be clear, even before the checkered flag flew, Ferrari had demolished all-comers. The only battle on the circuit would be between the Ferrari pilots as they flew toward the finish line. And, after averaging a little more than 97 mph, Fangio would take the victory by two-tenths of a second over Luigi Musso. Following along three-tenths of a second behind Musso would come Peter Collins in the third Ferrari. The way Ferrari dominated the race would be completely demoralizing as the three Lancias would end up coming across the line a little more than three laps ahead of the 4th place finisher.
The aged Ferrari 500 was showing its weaknesses. In its time, the 500 F2 was practically unbeatable, but more than a couple of years on and the car was certainly well past its prime and had a much more fragile reliability. This would be a difficult reality Scarlatti would have to deal with throughout the season.
Following the disappointment of the early retirement in the race at Syracuse Scarlatti would have to refocus his attentions. He would head home and would set about having the 500 F2 repaired and readied before his next race, which was coming on the 6th of May on the heights of Posillipo just outside Naples.
Sitting on the tops and along the sides of the cliffs overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, Posillipo would come to be first named by the Greeks. Meaning 'respite from worry', the area has remained an escape for Italy's president when on trips to Naples.
This tranquil and picturesque setting would be shattered with the sounds of Formula One engines and some of the best teams in existence at the time. Utilizing the tight streets sitting atop and winding around the sides of the cliffs of Posillipo, the 2.55 mile street circuit would present a challenge to even the best Formula One had to offer.
The offering for the 60 lap race would be rather unimpressive. Taking place over the same weekend as the BRDC International Trophy race at Silverstone, the 9th Gran Premio di Napoli would only have a couple of entries from Scuderia Ferrari. Two others would be dispatched to Silverstone. The factory Maserati team would not be at all present in the field while Scuderia Centro Sud would have a couple of Maseratis in the field. Just 10 cars in total, Scarlatti would find he had his best opportunity for a good result just by mere default. Still, practice would make it clear just what his goals in the race would be.
Eugenio Castellotti and Luigi Musso would be the delegates Ferrari would send to Posillipo for the race. These two would prove adept enough as Castellotti would turn in the fastest lap of practice and would take the pole by a mere tenth of a second over Musso. Robert Manzon, in an aged Gordini T16; amazingly, would be the third-fastest qualifier, and yet, would be nearly 5 seconds off the pace of the Ferraris.
Scarlatti's own times in practice would be something of a mystery, but what is known is that he would end up starting the race from the third row of the grid in the 8th position.
As the field roared away to begin the 153 mile race, it seemed as if a foregone conclusion. However, there would be twists in the plot very early on. The first twist in the plot would come after 2 laps. Castellotti would suddenly be out of the race as a result of a broken oil pump. Just like that, the pole-sitter was out. Fifty-percent of Ferrari's attack had proven ineffective. However, Musso would take over the lead of the race and would soldier on. So still, the race seemed all but over.
Scarlatti's decision to take part in the Gran Premio di Napoli would prove to be a smart one as the tight, slow speed nature of the circuit would play into the strengths, or at least what strengths may have remained, of the Ferrari 500. Outright speed wasn't necessary as much as acceleration and stable handling. This the 500 had and Scarlatti would find himself perfectly suited to the race. As a result, he would lose some ground to the leaders, but not as much as could have been expected anywhere else.
Others, however, would lose more than ground. Luigi Villoresi would find his race totally come to an end after 21 laps with an expired engine. Then, just past the halfway mark of the race, another twist or wrinkle in the plot would take place. Luigi Musso had been flying around the circuit in the D50. He had set the fastest lap of the race and seemed untouchable. However, after 37 laps his engine would let go and the Italian would be left out of the running after being so strong for so long.
Just like that, the Ferrari threat had been neutralized. This actually handed the lead of the race over to Manzon in the much older and slower T16. Chased by Horace Gould in a newer and faster Maserati 250F, Manzon would hold onto the lead. However, the race was far from over as the Gordini was known for, and widely expected, to fail over the course of a race.
All of the twists and turns at the front of the field had led to Scarlatti finding himself in the top five just by simply being his sure, steady self. Yes, he was running laps behind, but there was still time for everyone else to have problems and hand him his first podium finish, or better.
Amazingly, the usually fragile Gordini just kept ticking lap after lap. Manzon held onto a comfortable lead over Gould who seemed totally unable to make any headway against the slower T16.
Too often Manzon had been in this position before only to have a Gordini fail him in the final moments. However, after running strong for over two hours and nearly 21 minutes, the Gordini of Manzon would come streaking across the line to take what was certainly a surprise victory. Around 9 seconds later Gould would come across the line to finish a fine 2nd. This would be the only two cars on the lead lap. Gerino Gerini would be behind the wheel of another Maserati 250F but he would be entirely unable to keep pace with Gould and would end up a little more than three laps behind by the end of the race. Nonetheless, he would manage to finish in 3rd.
Scarlatti's result wouldn't be anything to sneer at either. While the Ferrari team cars struggled to hold it together over the course of even half the race's distance, Scarlatti would take an aged Ferrari 500 and would use his endurance prowess to bring the car home 4 laps behind, but in 4th place.
The 4th place result was certainly the result of Scarlatti's ability as he would hold his car together over the whole of the race while many others would find themselves and their cars faltering. This was certainly an encouraging result for the man who had only just began to take part in Formula One races. This would be so encouraging that it would provide Scarlatti the necessary courage to determine to take part in his first Formula One World Championship event.
The race in Posillipo would take place in the early part of May. The second round of the World Championship would come just a week following and would down the Mediterranean coast in Monaco.
This seemed like the perfect setting for Scarlatti to make his Formula One World Championship debut. Not only was the setting and the race already the crown jewel of Formula One, but the nature of the circuit was also very similar to Posillipo and Scarlatti's Ferrari 500 had performed well on the slower speed circuit. This would have given Scarlatti a bit of confidence had he decided to take part in the race.
Sure enough, Scarlatti would determine to try and make his World Championship debut at Monaco. He would arrive and would promptly begin to take part in practice. However, it would become abundantly clear he would need to still find some more speed if he had any aspirations of actually making it into the race itself, let alone try and finish.
Juan Manuel Fangio would be the quickest around the 1.95 mile circuit. His pole-winning time would be 1:44.0 at an average speed of 67.5 mph. The times would really begin to click off. The competition would be tight with less than 8 seconds separating the top 16 in practice. Unfortunately, Scarlatti would not even be within 10 seconds of Fangio's best. In fact, despite Scarlatti giving it everything he had he would still be just over 25 seconds slower with a time of 2:09.1. This would not be good enough to make it into the field. And so, his World Championship debut would be delayed, even potentially never to happen.
It was clear the Ferrari 500 F2 was certainly past its prime and didn't have the necessary pace to really pose any kind of threat. Therefore, if Scarlatti wanted to take part in a World Championship event he would have to find one in which the organizers would be a little more relaxed in their necessary times to qualify. Scarlatti would end up having to go to a race that was in need of entries, but that also gave his 500 a chance.
Scarlatti would pass on the Belgian, French and British grand prix. Each would be ultra-fast circuits in which his 500 F2 was to have absolutely no chance of even making it into the race. There were only two options left on the table then. Being the endurance sportscar driver that he was, he would choose to go after the race and the circuit that best suit him.
There was really only one decent choice for Scarlatti given the two rounds of the World Championship remaining. Unfortunately, his choice was fraught with dangers. Though slower than all of the rounds following the Monaco Grand Prix, the German Grand Prix would still pose enough of a threat to it was by no means an easy decision for Scarlatti.
Just the circuit's nature itself would be enough to turn even the most fearless and talented of racing drivers into scared little children. An epic gauntlet, the Nordschleife was not exactly a circuit that was best taken on individually. Therefore, Giorgio's best option would be to enter the race under a team name. And, Scuderia Centro Sud would be that team willing to take Scarlatti under its wing. This would help Scarlatti as he would have the assistance and support of a team instead of everything being just left to him.
While the support and the assistance would help him get into the race at least, it would still prove to be of little help during the actual race. Yes, Scarlatti would have the opportunity of taking part in his first World Championship race, but it wouldn't last even 14 miles. And so, Scarlatti would have the unfortunate record of having failed to even get into the field in his first attempt at a World Championship, and then, would fail to even complete a single lap in his second.
Approaches to races, between endurance and grand prix, are often quite different. In many ways it is the same as the differences between a thoroughbred and a steeplechase horse. However, no jockey can expect to be competitive in either when he or she is forced to ride a half lame Shetland pony. Such was the case for Scarlatti. Already a much more steady, errorless driver than one on the ragged edge, the handicap of the much older Ferrari 500 F2 would doom Giorgio's World Championship debut.
Going forward, if he had any Formula One aspirations at all he needed a much faster mount. This would come for the 1957 season. Instead of having to go it alone, Scarlatti would get that factory ride. Driving for the Maserati factory team for 1957, he would finally be able to show that even though he wasn't the fastest driver he was more than capable of coming away with solid results.