Teams1951 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
Bob Gerard overcame struggles, physical and otherwise, to earn a number of victories in grand prix racing throughout the late 1940s. At the beginning of the 1950s decade Formula One came into existence and victories for small teams and private entries were becoming almost impossible to achieve. Undaunted by challenges in his life, Gerard continued in competition into the 1951 season.
In 1950, Gerard managed to win at the Isle of Man Circuit. He also managed to finished 2nd at Dundrod and 3rd at Goodwood. Gerard had a way of surprising, and he would need every trick he knew to be successful in 1951.
Bob Gerard was a faithful ERA competitor, and in March of 1951 Gerard, and his ERA-B R14B arrived at Goodwood for the 3rd Richmond Trophy race. The race at Goodwood was short. Gerard's race; however, would end up being even shorter.
The Richmond Trophy race was mostly a British affair. Graham Whitehead would take the pole for the race. Fred Ashmore would start 2nd. Prince Bira would qualify 3rd, followed by Reg Parnell. The best Bob Gerard could do was start the race from the last row on grid in 8th.
At only 12 laps, there would not be too much time to make up for any mistakes or struggles. Unfortunately for Gerard, momentum would be the last thing he would end up having to think about. On the second lap of the race, Gerard's race came to an end due to a mechanical problem with his ERA R14B. This was not the way Bob wanted to start his 1951 campaign. Gerard looked for a positive result.
Unfortunately for Gerard, the next opportunity he had to get his grand prix season going would be in the waterlogged 3rd BRDC International Trophy race that took place at Silverstone in the early part of May.
In addition to grand prix races, Gerard would also take part in a number of sports car races throughout 1951. The first one of those he would take part would be the International Production Car Race at Silverstone. This race was the same weekend as the BRDC International Trophy race.
Bob entered a Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica in the Division I race. The race was a timed, one hour event. At the end of the one hour race, Bob barely missed out on victory. Tony Crook, also driving a Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica, went on to win the race by only one second over Gerard. One second after Gerard came across the line Jack Newton finished in 3rd.
Later on, Gerard took part in the International Trophy race. Besides 'local' talent, Alfa Romeo SpA came to the event. This meant the reigning world champion Giuseppe Farina would be amongst those that would compete in the race. In addition to Farina, championship runner-up Juan Manuel Fangio was also present for the race. Fangio posed, perhaps, the greatest threat. He would back up the inklings with a record lap around the 2.88 mile road course at Silverstone.
The International Trophy race was comprised of two 15 lap heat races and one 35 lap final. Gerard was set to take part in the second heat race. He would have to face off against Farina, Trintignant and Sanesi. Gerard looked good heading to the start the heat race. He would start the race 4th after he set a time only six seconds slower than Sanesi, who took the pole. Farina started further down in the grid in 8th place.
Though Farina struggled with a slower time, when the heat race began, he would be on fire. Over the course of the race Farina set a blindingly quick lap. His lap time was one minute and forty-seven seconds. His time was five seconds faster than Sanesi's best time. It even beat Fangio fastest lap for the first heat race.
Farina's pace allowed him to coast to victory in the heat. Sanesi followed in 2nd. Prince Bira finished 3rd. Bob Gerard finished one minute later in 4th place.
The grid was set for the 35 lap final race. Due to Gerard's pace in practice he was able to start the race from the second row of the grid in 5th place. Sanesi would start the race 1st and Felice Bonetto would start 2nd.
The promising grid position before the start of the race would be effectively washed away even before the start. Pouring rain, even hail, flooded the track. Despite the incredible conditions, the race started.
With the exception of Reg Parnell and Duncan Hamilton, the rest of the field more than struggled to keep it together. Almost immediately, Gerard lost his good starting spot and slipped down the order as his car slipped all over the track. In a matter of only a few laps, Parnell and Hamilton passed Gerard and the rest of the field. With a half of foot of water laying on the track in a few areas the race organizers decided to call the race. Reg Parnell had finished 6 laps enroute to the victory. Duncan Hamilton finished 2nd and Graham Whitehead finished 3rd. Despite starting the race 5th, Gerard struggled on and finished the race a lowly 15th.
Prior to the start of the race, things were looking promising for Bob to turn his season around. However, events like the BRDC race only continued the frustration. Gerard would overcome the anomaly and would earn a good result in his next race.
In the early part of June, Gerard and his car headed to Northern Ireland, and Dundrod, for the 5th Ulster Trophy race.
The Ulster Trophy race took place on a 7.41 mile road course made up of public roads around Dundrod. The track layout also boasted a high average-speed. The event was 27 laps. Twenty cars would qualify to start the race. Giuseppe Farina set the pace in his Alfa Romeo 159 with a lap time of four minutes and fifty-one seconds. Parnell and Shawe-Taylor started 2nd and 3rd. Gerard impressed with a time in his older ERA R14B that was twenty-five seconds slower, but was good enough to start the race from 4th on the grid.
When the race started, Farina and Parnell went off to fight amongst themselves. This left Gerard to fight tooth-and-nail with Shawe-Taylor for the final spot on the podium. Over the course of the race, both Shawe-Taylor and Gerard would end up getting passed by both Farina and Parnell, but Shawe-Taylor and Gerard remained locked in a battle that would come right down to a matter of feet, instead of seconds or minutes.
Giuseppe Farina went on to win the race by twelve seconds over Reg Parnell. In the fight between Shawe-Taylor and Gerard, the former would literally edge out the later for 3rd. Shawe-Taylor would cross the line only two tenths of a second ahead of Gerard. Although he wasn't able to finish on the podium, a hard fought 4th place was a great result and a good source of encouragement.
Gerard's next race grand prix didn't take place until over a month after Dundrod. Bob's next race was the fifth round of the Formula One World Championship that year and it was the British Grand Prix.
In the meantime, Gerard entered his Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica in the British Empire Trophy race held in Douglas on the Isle of Man in the middle part of June. Bob's Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica was one of five entered in the race. A notable driver entered with a Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica was Stirling Moss.
Twenty-six cars qualified for the race. Out of the twenty-six, twelve failed to finish the race. Gerard would end up finishing 35 laps in a little over two hours and would finish the race 2nd behind Stirling Moss. Only Gerard remained on the lead lap with Moss, but finished three minutes and thirty seconds behind. Gerard had a two lap advantage over 3rd place finisher Rodney Peacock. Despite being outrun by Moss, it was another positive result for Gerard. It was also his second 2nd place finish in a row in sports cars.
Unlike Formula One's first year, when it was an internal rivalry between drivers within the Alfa Romeo team, 1951 featured a championship battle between two manufacturers. For the smaller teams and private entries, however, this meant more difficulties. At each round, both Ferrari and Alfa Romeo would arrive with at least two cars, if not more. That meant there was a pretty good chance at least the top four places would be occupied by either Ferrari or Alfa Romeo. Points were only handed out to the top-five finishing cars. Therefore, this made good results difficult to come be. It made finishing in the points almost downright impossible. Qualifying exuded this somber reality.
Ferrari qualified on the pole with Jose Froilan Gonzalez setting a time of one minute and forty-three seconds. Alfa Romeo took the next two spots. Ferrari then qualified 4th and 5th. The other two Alfa Romeo 159s qualified 6th and 7th. This left only three spots in which others had in order to start the race from the top-ten. Despite setting a time over thirteen seconds slower, Gerard was able to grab the 10th starting spot on the grid. This was a truly splendid starting spot considering the competition.
In the race, Bob would have to pray for the first nine cars to suffer from some kind of problem in order for him to move up the grid. The attrition at the front did happen, but the attack from further down the grid would help to ruin Bob's chances at a top-ten result.
Gonzalez and Fangio, the two Argentineans, disappeared from the rest of the pack. Alberto Ascari, 56 laps into the 90 lap event, suffered from gearbox problems and was forced to retire from the race. 75 laps in, Giuseppe Farina's race came to an end due to clutch issues. This opened the door, but the competition from behind closed it. British Racing Motors (BRM) started the race from the last two spots on the grid after neither car recorded a time. During the race, however, the two cars were recording pretty fast laps and were able to come up through the field at a pretty good pace. Brian Shawe-Taylor was another who was able to lay down some incredibly fast laps and come up the order from where he started.
In the end, Gonzalez won the race by over fifty seconds. Fangio finished 2nd and Villoresi 3rd. Gerard was one of only thirteen still running at the end of the race. Though eight laps down, Bob would finish the British Grand Prix in 11th.
From the end of the British Grand Prix until the end of September, Bod Gerard took part in a Formula Libre race and a sports car race. On the 6th of August Gerard took part in the National Gamston Formula Libre race. Bob entered his ERA in the race and would take another fine 2nd place finish.
Then, in the middle-part of September, Gerard traveled once again to Dundrod, Northern Ireland to take part in the sports car Tourist Trophy race. Gerard squared off against Jaguar's XK120s driven by Stirling Moss and Peter Walker, as well as Rolt and Johnson. Gerard was entered in the 2-liter category in his Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica. Despite facing off against the 3-liter Jaguars, Gerard more than held his own.
Stirling Moss would end up winning the event overall, having completed 43 laps in three hours and forty-two minutes. Peter Walker finished 2nd in category two and a half minutes behind Moss. Bob was able to out-duel other 3-liter cars to finish the race 3rd overall and 1st in class. He was the last person remaining on the lead lap with Moss, having finished 43 laps in three hours and forty-seven minutes.
After the British Grand Prix and the Tourist Trophy and Formula Libre race, Gerard only took part in one more grand prix in the upper-classes the rest of the 1951 season. He also took part in one other minor Formula Libre race before season's end.
On the 29th of September, Bob Gerard arrived in Goodwood to take part in the 4th Goodwood Trophy race. Goodwood was where Gerard's grand prix season began and it would be where it would end for 1951.
The race was another short event. The race was only 15 laps of the 2.38 mile road course. An Alfa Romeo 159 and a Ferrari 375 were present in the field. Giuseppe Farina was behind the wheel of the 159 and Reg Parnell was behind the wheel of the Thinwall Vandervell 375.
Tony Rolt took the pole for the race. Brian Shawe-Taylor qualified 2nd. Reg Parnell set the 3rd fastest time in the Thinwall 375, followed by Farina in the 159. Right there with the favorites for the event was Bob Gerard in his ERA R14B.
Rolt's lead disappeared quickly. Brian Shawe-Taylor was knocked out of the race in a horrifying accident with Antonio Branca. Giuseppe Farina and Reg Parnell took over at the front and would battle it out for the win. Their pace was such that they ended up being the only two left on the lead lap at the end of the 15 lap race. Besides Farina and Parnell, Rolt and Gerard were locked in a battle of their own. Throughout the race, mere seconds separated the two drivers.
Farina would go on to win the race, followed by Parnell. In the battle between Rolt and Gerard, Rolt was able to pull out 3rd, finishing in front of Gerard by only one second. This tied Dundrod for Gerard's best finish in a grand prix during the 1951 season.
Gerard had a number of good results throughout the 1951 season, but all of the top-three finishes had come in sports car or Formula Libre races. Despite the good results in sports car, Formula Libre, as well as in the upper classes of grand prix racing, Gerard was on the verge of going out of 1951 without a win. That would change in his very last race, the National Castle Combe Formula Libre race.
The National Castle Combe Formula Libre race, as the name suggests, took place at Castle Combe in the early part of October and was Gerard's last race of 1951. Bob entered his ERA for the 10 lap race. Dueling with Peter Whitehead throughout the majority of the race, Gerard was able to get the upper-hand in the end and earned his one and only victory for 1951!
Bob Gerard's Formula One season included just one race, the British Grand Prix. Despite starting the race in a positive location on the grid, Gerard just could not move forward in the race. Against the more powerful Alfa 159 and Ferrari 375, Gerard's ERA R14B could pose no challenge. Gerard ended his 1951 Formula One season having scored no points toward the championship.
Despite the overwhelming challenges, Bob Gerard continued to prove his ability as a competitor. The limitations and inabilities of his ERA did not hold him back from putting forth strong competitive performances. 1951 proved to be another testament to Gerard's mental toughness and strong will.