TeamsOSCA: 1953 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
Maserati had become one of the most profitable and successful family ventures as the brothers Alfieri, Bindo, Ettore and Ernesto established their automotive manufacturing company. Unfortunately, the death of Alfieri and the might of Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz would eventually lead up to the Maserati name to be taken away. But their talent and their passion for creating competitive racing machines would never wane. And in 1947, it would be reborn, looking for new life under a new name.
After selling the shares of the company bearing their name to the Orsi Family, the Maserati brother would begin a period of something akin to indentured servitude. The period would last for 10 years. After that time, the brothers were free to do and design what they wanted. They would immediately establish Officine Specializate Costruzione Automoboli (OSCA) and would initially focus on the sportscar market.
The company would be the very popular and successful MT4. Though they would focus on sportscars initially, the brothers would also show an interest in regaining their place in the grand prix market as well.
Before departing what had been their company, the brothers had developed the 4CLT and the 48 and 50 derivatives. These cars would be immensely popular and successful, thereby proving the brothers still had the touch to create something truly competitive.
OSCA's initial parlay back into grand prix racing would not come with a car design but with an engine. In 1951, they would design a 4.5-liter V12 that would be placed in one of their old Maserati chassis the brothers had helped design. So while not clearly stated, the car, inside and out, was a Maserati design. Not surprising, the engine would carry the car to a maiden victory. Later on that season, Franco Rol would take one of OSCA's new engines and car designs and would earn a 9th place result against the might of Alfa Romeo and Ferrari.
Actually, one of the first forays OSCA would make into grand prix racing would be in Formula 2. Formula 2 was a more competitive level of grand prix racing than Formula One at the time and would be one of the primary reasons why the series would switch to Formula 2 regulations for the 1952 and 1953 seasons.
The team would take the older Formula 2 design and would mate it with a new 2-liter, six-cylinder engine. The company would make it ready for Elie Bayol by August of 1952 and Bayol would go on to earn a 6th place at Modena one month later. It was obvious the car had potential. This would lead to Bayol sticking with the car heading into the 1953 season and another customer, Louis Chiron, coming on board.
The 1953 season had been an up and down season. Both Bayol and Chiron had moments of brilliance. However, there were many other moments in which the car would prove itself incapable of lasting even a short distance.
Although Bayol would end up taking the victory at Aix-les-Bains, he would also squander numerous other opportunities because of car and component failures. Often times throughout the season Bayol would find himself starting from the front row only to have it come to an end not much further than the trip to go line the car up on the grid. The highlights of the season basically began with a 2nd at Syracuse for Chiron in late March and would end with a win for Bayol in Aix-les-Bains toward the end of August.
The rest of the season would be filled with some positive results, but mostly would be undone by reliability issues that would destroy many opportunities. For privateers like Bayol, the reliability concerns had overshadowed the successes earned. This was mostly the case because there would be no prize money for early retirements. Therefore, the costs of entering races were far outweighing the benefits. This would be the case when Bayol entered his OSCA 20 in the Swiss Grand Prix toward the end of August.
Bayol would make a trip across France in order to be at the Bremgarten circuit in time to take part in the Swiss Grand Prix, the eighth round of the World Championship. However, Bayol would no more unload his car when he would run into difficulty and would end up loading the car right back on the transporter.
The difficulty in Bremgarten would be followed up with more mechanical issues destroying a great opportunity for Bayol at Cadours. This would lead Bayol to call his grand prix season to an end with the exception of one more race.
Having sold away the rights to their own name, the Maserati brother certainly would have liked to remind everybody as to their existence and pedigree as car designers and manufacturers. Therefore, OSCA would make their return to World Championship racing on Italy's biggest stage.
In early fall, the submediterranean climate of the Po valley keep the temperatures around Monza warm. The existence of the Autodromo Nazionale Monza and the Italian Grand Prix would help to keep the Italian fan's passion for Italian manufacturers and motor racing at a feverish level. And on the 13th of September in 1953, the best teams, cars and drivers in the world would descend upon the circuit to take part in what actually was the 23rd Gran Premio d'Italia.
The Autodromo Nazionale Monza was the perfect playground for Italian sportscar and grand prix manufacturers. Built in 1922 amidst the Royal Villa of Monza Park, the circuit would become a playground for international racing teams and something of a historic landmark even before the creation of the World Championship.
All about speed, the Monza circuit would see drivers off the throttle less than at many other ultra-fast venues. Even without the use of the steeply-banked oval, the circuit would boast of average speeds over 113 mph in 1953.
The Italian marks had been built with Monza in mind. Ferrari and Maserati had built cars capable of sustained speeds in excess of 110 mph. This was possible because their engines produced large amounts of horsepower. It would be from this same vein that the Maserati brothers and OSCA would come. Therefore, the race would provide the best opportunity to prove the brothers were stronger than ever before.
OSCA would make an important decision. After a season of racing under his own name, Elie Bayol would have OSCA enter him and his car under the factory's team name for the Italian Grand Prix. Bayol wouldn't be the only OSCA entered in the race. In fact, Louis Chiron would enter his OSCA in the race, but under his own name. Therefore, by entering Bayol under the factory name OSCA, in essence, would have a two car team entered in the race.
OSCA would need as many entries as they could get going up against the might of Scuderia Ferrari and a factory Maserati effort that had also come to be a favorite at each and every race.
The World Championship had already been decided. Alberto Ascari and Scuderia Ferrari had again been dominant and taken the World Championship title for the second year in a row. However, Ferrari didn't have every race to itself. Often times, Maserati proved to be faster. As the two factory efforts arrived at Monza, another title was on the line—pride. This meant the Italian Grand Prix would be a highly charged affair with the Italian teams giving it everything they had despite it being the last World Championship race of the season.
The rivalry would be more than evident in practice leading up to the 80 lap, 312 mile, race. Alberto Ascari would go on to set the fastest lap of practice with a lap of the 3.91 mile circuit in two minutes, two and seven-tenths seconds. Juan Manuel Fangio would be the fastest of the Maseratis setting a best time around the circuit just half a second slower than Ascari. Giuseppe Farina would make it two Ferraris on the front row when he would start 3rd.
With the exception of Maurice Trintignant in his Gordini T16 and Stirling Moss in his Cooper-Alta T24 Special, the first ten positions would have been occupied by either Ferraris or Maseratis. Elie Bayol would take the OSCA 20 and would prove the Maserati brothers could still produce a powerful engine and a fast car as he would turn a best lap of two minutes and seven seconds. This time would be only five seconds slower than Ascari's best time and would net a fifth row starting spot for Bayol. Overall, Bayol would start the race 13th and would be the third-fastest non Maserati and Ferrari in the field.
The day of the race would break with sunny skies and the usual mild weather. The cars would begin to be taken out and lined up on the grid for what many had hoped would be an epic battle between Ferrari and Maserati. Bayol and OSCA hoped it would be an opportunity to mix it up with the slower Ferrari and Maserati pilots that were within a second of Bayol's qualifying effort. If he could battle with them and maintain that kind of pace throughout the entirety of the race, the team would possibly be in a good position for a very strong result at the end of the 80 lap event.
In front of the usually large crowd of passionate Italian motor fans, the race would get underway. Fangio would make a poor start and would lose some positions before getting up to speed. Ascari would make a good getaway and would have Giuseppe Farina running right there with him around the Curva Grande for the first time.
Another Maserati pilot, Onofre Marimon, would catch up to and overtake Ascari and Farina during the first lap of the race. Marimon would bring Fangio with him, and thus, a four-car battle would ensue at the front of the field. Although Marimon had managed to take the lead during the first lap, it would be Ascari getting back by him and actually leading the first lap of the race.
Behind the foursome, the field would continue to battle it out for position while already losing touch with the four at the front. The field would settle in and would begin its long journey around the Monza circuit.
Another of the ultra-fast circuits, Monza had a reputation for putting an incredible strain on cars because so much of every single lap was spent with the foot hard on the gas. And while every one of the thirty cars would make it off the grid and through the first few laps of the race, trouble would begin to arise before 10 laps had even been completed.
Not surprising, the first retirement in the race would be due to an engine expiring. Lance Macklin would have his race come to an end after his engine let go after just 6 laps. Just one lap later, Johnny Claes would have his race come to an end because of a fuel system problem.
The four cars at the front of the field continued to lap the circuit just feet apart. Ascari continued to hold onto the lead, but each lap would see many lead changes between Ascari, Farina, Marimon and Fangio. The site was incredible and harkened back to the amazing French Grand Prix just a couple of months prior. That race had been something truly special. This race, given the fact it was between two big Italian marks and that it took place on Italy's biggest stage made this race just as great. The only question that needed to be answered would be whether it could continue all 80 laps?
As the race completed a dozen laps, there would be a string of cars that would find they could not make the entire race distance, and would find out in big ways. For the next dozen laps or so it seemed engine smoke filled the circuit as car after car went out with big engine failures.
The first to go out with a big ending would be John Fitch in an HWM-Alta. His race would last just 14 laps before his Alta engine let go. The next to go would be most unfortunate.
The season had been an up and down ride. It had started out well but went downhill until it resulted in a victory late in the season. The Italian Grand Prix likely would not have been a race he had taken part in had it not been for the factory backing the effort. After looking promising in practice, the hope would, again, be met with bitter disappointment. Elie Bayol had started the race as one of the fastest cars that was not either a Ferrari or a Maserati. Unfortunately, after 17 laps of running, the strain on trying to compete up at the front of the field would take too much of a toll on the car and it would let go in a big way thereby ending the race and the season for Bayol. It would also obviously bring an end to OSCA's desire to demonstratively show its presence amongst the grand prix racing elite.
Just one lap after Bayol's exit, Chico Landi's Maserati would go up in smoke. He would leave a smoke trail all the way from the last turn to where he stopped in the pits. This made it five cars out of the race before even 20 laps had been completed. More would follow.
It wouldn't be all that surprising to have cars dropping out of the race given the incredible pace of the four cars running at the front of the field. Lap after lap, the four cars would remain within a car length, or closer, to each other. Moving like a freight train, the train of four cars was certainly something special to behold. And as with the French Grand Prix, each of the drivers showed the other great respect. And so, while the racing and closeness of it seemed very dangerous, there was still a good buffer of safety. These men were putting on a show and enjoying the challenge at the same time.
Those that weren't enjoying the show at the front would be those running outside of the top six. By the time the race reached 30 laps, all but the top six had come to be lapped. And those running 6th and 5th were rather far behind themselves.
The incredible pace of the four at the front would have consequences even for them. Just past halfway, Marimon would be forced to drop away from the pack and head to the pits as he was suffering from a radiator problem. This threatened to end the race for the Argentinean but the team would work as fast as they could and would fix the issue so that he could get back out there into the race. Amazingly, Marimon would join the same group he had left but would be some five laps down.
While there were now only three on the lead lap, the four cars running at the front of the field would set up one more dramatic finish on what had been a season filled with some close racing and fantastic races like the remarkable French Grand Prix.
The battle would not relent. The three men, including Marimon some laps down, would continue to race each other side-by-side down the straights and nose-to-tail through the turns. Neither was giving an inch but all was very safe. However, the biggest motor racing event in Italy was heading into the final couple of laps. This meant pride would become to come into play, and it would come into play in a big way.
Heading around on the final lap of the race, Giuseppe Farina was holding onto the lead strictly by positioning. He had taken over the lead of the race a few laps prior and maintained strong positioning throughout. Ascari, his teammate, was right there with him battling to get the position he had once held back. Juan Manuel Fangio was also right there but had surprisingly dropped back a couple of car lengths during the last couple of laps. Right there behind Fangio was Marimon who had been with the group all throughout the race with the exception of his interlude in the pits.
Nothing was decided heading down the Rettifilo Centro straight toward the final couple of corners on the circuit. Just weeks prior, the Ferrari team managers had sent out orders during the later-stages of the Swiss Grand Prix that each of the drivers was to hold position. Ascari, running, at the time, in 3rd place would have none of that and would ignore the order. He would eventually go on to take the lead and the victory. Therefore, Ascari had already proven willing to disobey team orders, and that was at the Swiss Grand Prix. Now it was the Italian Grand Prix; he was not about to give away the victory. And the only thing that separated him from victory in the largest race in Italy was Giuseppe Farina, his teammate. This would not do.
Heading into the final couple of corners, Ascari would make his move. But he had a problem. Farina maintained his line and took away the easy means of passing. This left Ascari with only one option and he would try it.
Ascari would try and go around Farina through the corners. Pushing his Ferrari 500 to the limit, the car was fighting for adhesion. Finally, the car would break loose. Ascari would fight to maintain control and would come across in front of Farina. This would cause Farina to lose pace as he tried to swerve and miss his teammate. While Farina would miss Ascari, he would lose his pace and his lead as Fangio would come through the melee to take the lead and the win. Besides brief interludes during the race, which wouldn't amount to more than a lap or two, Fangio would only lead on the last lap in what was the most important half a mile of the race.
Farina, who had been in the lead of the race over the course of the race would have to fight just to make it through the chaos caused by Ascari to finish a couple of seconds back in 2nd place.
It would be worse for Ascari. The newly crowned double-world champion was on his way to helping Ferrari earn a one-two finish in the final race of the season. This would have, not counting the Indianapolis 500 that counted toward the World Championship, given Ferrari a clean sweep of every race for two years. Instead, Ascari's wild move would not only lose Ferrari the victory, it would also lead to Ascari being caught up in an accident with Marimon. As Ascari struggled to get his car under control, Marimon would find himself with no place to go. As a result, he would hit Ascari in the side and both would be out of the race with only about a half a mile to go.
In all of the chaos of the final couple of corners, the rest of the field would be practically forgotten about. No clear signal had been given to Fangio that he had won so he actually would go around for one more lap before being stopped as the victor. Confusion would also exist concerning who finished in 3rd place. Luigi Villoresi and Mike Hawthorn had just been passed with a few laps remaining. Villoresi would do his best to stay with the four-car train, and it would pay off as the accident between Ascari and Marimon would end up allowing Villoresi to come through to finish 3rd.
It had truly been one of the more wild finishes to a race in the short history of the World Championship. The chaotic events would see Ferrari's string of victories come to an end and would introduce Maserati as the team to beat, as would be demonstrated the following year.
OSCA wouldn't be as fascinated with the events as they transpired. Their hoped for result had gone up in smoke. And unfortunately, the regulations would change the following year. This would make the Maserati brothers have to take a long and hard look at their involvement in grand prix racing.
OSCA would take their time making a decision about World Championship grand prix racing. With the regulation changes, Elie Bayol would go on to drive for Equipe Gordini the following season. On top of the changes in grand prix racing, OSCA had been earning something of a reputation in sportscar racing. Therefore, this would be where the brothers would put their focus, at least for the near future anyway.
After scoring a victory in the 1954 12 Hours of Sebring with Stirling Moss and Bill Lloyd at the wheel, it was believed the Maserati brothers would wholly abandon Formula One and the elite levels of grand prix racing. However, before the end of the decade, OSCA would make a couple of final attempts to become one of the World Championship's elite car manufacturers. History would be the proof as to if they were successful or not. OSCA Automobili