TeamsOSCA Automobili: 1958 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
By the end of the 1940s, the Maserati brothers appeared to be on their way out of any kind of presence in grand prix racing. By the end of the 1950s, however, it would be their namesake that would be out of Formula One and the brothers, with their OSCA venture, would be hanging in there, only just.
After ten years serving under Orsi at the company that bore their name, brothers Bindo, Ernesto and Ettore would set about creating a brand new car manufacturing company. Established in San Lazzaro di Savena in 1947, Officine Specializzate Costruzioni Automobili, or, OSCA, would be the result of the brothers' love of designing and building racing cars.
The brothers had suffered cruel twists throughout their career. Not only would Alfieri, the founder of Maserati, die much too young, but the brothers always seemed to be just a little behind the curve afterward, at least when it came to business acumen. When it came to car design and competitiveness, they remained near, or at, the fore. Therefore, in recognition of the past, and a desire to not go back down that road again, the brothers would focus their OSCA production around sportscars instead of grand prix machines.
The Maserati brothers had built a reputation for themselves building single-seater grand prix machines. But, they realized that in order to keep a business going they needed to build cars that served a broader range of clients. Sportscars did just that. Not only could they be built for road-going purposes, but they could also be sold to customers for racing purposes. Therefore, from the very first days of OSCA, the company would focus on sportscars. And, this would prove a very successful focus as well.
OSCA's very first automobile would be a homerun. Using a FIAT-derived 1100cc engine, the MT4 would make its debut in 1948 and would go on to victory in the Grand Prix of Naples that same year. Whether for the road or the track, the MT4 would be incredibly popular. Its perhaps greatest achievement would come in 1954 when Stirling Moss and Bill Lloyd piloted an example to victory in the 12 Hours of Sebring.
The Maserati brothers would sell a large number of the MT4s, and this would give them cause to try their hand in an arena where they once were one of the dominant players.
The temptation would be too great to resist. Spurred on by the success of the MT4, the Maserati brothers were never content with allowing grand prix racing to slip through their fingers. They believed they could become a dominant force in the new Formula One series and this would lead them to still produce purpose-built grand prix cars.
Just four years after coming into being, OSCA would enter its first Formula One season in 1951 with its OSCA 4500G. The Italian Grand Prix would be the only race in which the team would enter throughout the season and they would come away with a 9th place in that race. However, Formula One would revert to Formula 2 regulations for the next two seasons. OSCA would respond with its OSCA 20. Unfortunately, the car would underperform and would have just a 10th place result in the 1953 Italian Grand Prix as its only highlight. However, the success with the smaller sportscars, like the MT4 would lead the company to keep its focus on smaller automobiles and the more minor racing series, like Formula 2.
OSCA had focused on building smaller single-seaters for grand prix racing. It started with an F2 version, the OSCA 20, that had been built for the Formula 2 era in the World Championship. However, new Formula One regulations in 1954 made the new car obsolete. It would be too slow to compete against the Formula One cars, but its engine was now too big to adhere to the 1.5-liter regulations governing Formula 2. Furthermore, the car was a bit older. The brothers had to design a new car with a 1.5-liter engine if they were going to remain in Formula 2.
The new OSCA would be completed and would make its first appearance in the middle of the 1957 season. Unfortunately, the new OSCA would make its debut amidst an F2 field dominated by British manufacturers like Cooper and Lotus. Furthermore, the elegant F2 car would end up side-by-side with the very future of grand prix racing in the Cooper and, though the OSCA was brand new, it already looked outdated. It seemed most thought the same way as well since mainly just the OSCA factory team would be armed with the car. Most other customers would go on to buy Coopers or Lotuses.
By this point in time the Maserati brothers were beginning to get up there in age. It appeared obvious their time had come and gone in grand prix racing. Still, heading into the 1958 season, they would not give up on enjoying one or two minutes more in the sun.
The season would start out with a bright spot. Giulio Cabianca would enter an OSCA F2 under his own name in the Pau Grand Prix on the 7th of April. It would start out fantastic as Cabianca would be on pole for the 50 lap race. And, though he would not come away with a victory, the Italian would still come away with a podium finish crossing the line in 3rd place behind Maurice Trintignant and Hermano da Silva Ramos. This result would encourage the company about its potential over the course of the season.
However, the next race would be a severe test for the team and the car. OSCA would lend its support to Cabianca and would enter the next race, on the 12th of April, under the OSCA Automobili factory name. The race was the 8th Gran Premio di Siracusa, and it would take place at a circuit wholly different from Pau.
Pau's street circuit would be slow and twisty. Constantly switching back-and-forth upon itself, there is really only one straight of any note, but many places in which to get it all wrong. Syracuse would also have plenty of places where it was easy to get it all wrong and have to pay for it. However, its very nature would be almost entirely opposite from Pau.
Whereas Pau would be short and slow, Syracuse's circuit would consist of public roads winding through the countryside just to the west of the ancient city. Therefore, the circuit was much longer, measuring 3.48 miles, and it would be fast, as a result of the numerous long straights that comprised the circuit. Average speeds around Syracuse would easily top 100mph, and this would be an incredible challenge for any Formula 2 car at the time, let alone the fact there would be Formula One cars in the field as well.
Covering 60 laps in total, the Syracuse Grand Prix was actually a non-championship Formula One race, but the organizers would accept Cabianca's entry in order to help the size of the field. Additionally, the Syracuse had always been one to offer good starting money, and this would be another draw for Cabianca, despite his obvious short-comings. In an attempt to compete, Cabianca would persuade the OSCA factory to enter one of their 1.5-liter sportscars in the race. Stripped-down, the bodywork of the car would help in straight-line speed, but it would give up a little in handling.
Technically, there would only be one non-Maserati in the field for the Syracuse Grand Prix. The field would be filled with privateer Maserati 250Fs. Then there would be the OSCA built by the Maserati brothers. Therefore, the only non-Maserati in the field would be the Ferrari Dino 246 driven by Luigi Musso. Sadly, against the fleet of Maseratis, the lone Ferrari would prove more than a match as Musso would end up on the pole for the race with a lap time more than three seconds quicker than the 2nd place starter, Giorgio Scarlatti. Jo Bonnier would complete the three-wide front row having posted a time just two-tenths of a second slower than Scarlatti.
Some 16 seconds would be the difference between Musso and Cabianca over the course of practice. This meant Giulio would start from the fifth row of the grid, the last row not surprisingly. However, he would not start 12th, or last. That unfortunate honor would go to Andre Testut in another privateer 250F.
Heading into the race, anyone thought themselves mad if they betted against Musso in the Ferrari. About the only chance any of the other drivers had was if the Ferrari ran into trouble. However, soon after the drop of the flag, it would be Cabianca that would be in trouble.
Under no real pressure, Musso would still manage to get away from the line well at the start and would be in the lead straight-away. This was not good for the rest of those in the field as Luigi quickly began to pull away. Drawing further into the distance many seconds per lap, the focus on the spectators would turn toward the other entries in the field to see if there were any good battles.
People would quickly lose track of Cabianca in the OSCA sportscar, and the reason for that was simple—he was out of the race. Just two laps into the race, the OSCA's engine was not sounding right. Giulio would retire thereafter with magneto troubles, just two laps into the race.
There would be a race for 2nd place however. While Musso continued to pull away far into the distance, Bonnier and Scarlatti would be involved in an enthralling battle that would have the two separated by merely a second or two throughout much of the first half of the race. However, engine troubles in Scarlatti's Maserati would allow Bonnier to firmly take over 2nd place and would lead to Francesco Godia-Sales and Horace Gould to move up to 3rd and 4th. Unfortunately, neither could do anything about the other, nor could they challenge Bonnier. Musso, therefore, was well out of the question.
Musso was pretty much out of the whole equation. Easily posting the fastest lap of the race and averaging a little more than 100mph over the course of the 60 laps, the Italian would take an easy victory crossing the line more than a lap ahead of Bonnier in 2nd place. Godia-Sales would trail behind Bonnier by a lap to grab 3rd. It had been a thoroughly dominating performance by Musso in the Ferrari. And, it had been a thoroughly disappointing performance for Cabianca in the OSCA. It was going to be a tough assignment anyway, but, sadly, Giulio wouldn't even be allowed to try.
It was quickly realized the OSCA Formula 2 cars would not have the outright speed to compete against any of the Formula One cars of the time. Therefore, if the Maserati brothers had any desire whatsoever of ever making a name for themselves in Formula One they would have to take their chances and enter a race that best suited their car. The 1958 season appeared to offer the best chances. The light and nimble Coopers were able to remain relatively close to the Formula One machines, but, they were also rear-engined—the revolution of Formula One. So, it was clear OSCA's time was running out. Still, they wouldn't want to throw away their chances on a race they had no chance in. Their car had shown well in Pau and, thankfully, there was a race on the calendar coming up that was quite similar.
Situated along the Mediterranean, the Principality of Monaco had become one of the most sought-after destinations in the French Riviera during the late 19th century and then onwards. Filled with casinos, hotels and shopping, Monaco seemed to have something for everyone of affluence. However, what the principality really needed, as a sign of its position, was a motor race.
Even by the 1930s, the Monaco Grand Prix was the race to win, one of the mightiest jewels in the crown of motor racing. It would be the same when Formula One came into existence in 1950. However, allowing just 16 starters per race, the contest was often one of the most difficult just to get into.
What made the Monaco Grand Prix so special then, and now, is the fact it is no small adventure just one lap of the Monte Carlo street circuit. Narrow and with no room for error, it is difficult to be fast around the circuit, for even the best drivers in the world. This is made all the more difficult if the car isn't one of the best in the world. And this would be the situation OSCA Automobili would face arriving in Monaco in 1958.
Besides the presence of Vandervell, Scuderia Ferrari and Owen Racing, there would be the Cooper factory team, Rob Walker's privateer Coopers and the Lotuses. In addition, there would be a small gaggle of private Maserati 250Fs all vying for a spot on the sixteen-place grid. This, besides the 1.95 mile gauntlet of a circuit, would be the challenge lying before OSCA's two cars as they were unloaded and prepped for the beginning of practice.
The cars would begin heading out onto the track for the beginning of practice. The pace would be set by Tony Brooks in one of the Vanwalls. Then, in the later part of Friday's practice, rain would fall on the circuit causing many, like Stirling Moss, not to even complete a lap of the circuit. Time was running short and neither of the OSCAs had made it into the field heading into the final practice on Saturday.
Heading into the final moments of the practice session on Saturday, Brooks would still be on pole with Jean Behra and Jack Brabham completing the front row. The front of the grid would be filled with small British cars while the middle of the pack would be occupied by Scuderia Ferrari and the Lotus entries. Just two privateers were in the field. Both of them would be 250Fs and Jo Bonnier would be the man on the bubble.
Giulio Cabianca would be joined by Luigi Piotti driving for OSCA. These two Italians would take to the circuit and both would lap the circuit within four-tenths of a second of each. However, as the team drew ever-closer to firm the final grid, there would be some seven seconds between them and Bonnier's time. Even around the tight Monaco circuit, the OSCAs just could not compete. Neither of the two drivers would make it into the field. OSCA's attempt to get back into the Formula One World Championship would come to naught in 1958.
It would be too bad too. The race would see a wild start turn into a drama-filled middle. Had they been able to make it through the first half of the race, they likely could have been within reach of a points-paying finish as the top runners would run into trouble, one after another.
Stuart Lewis-Evans and Tony Brooks would be two of the first to depart the race. This left just Stirling Moss for Vandervell. Owen Racing, with their BRMs, had been strong in the early part of the race but Harry Schell would struggle and Jean Behra would end up out of the race after 30 laps. Scuderia Ferrari had Hawthorn within reach of victory but his race, like Moss' would also come to naught.
In the end, Maurice Trintignant would come through all of the chaos and would take the Rob Walker Cooper to its second-straight victory beating Luigi Musso in the Ferrari followed by Peter Collins in another Ferrari.
Having not made it into the Monaco Grand Prix, it was clear for OSCA the number of opportunities for taking part in a Formula One World Championship race were nil. The Monte Carlo street circuit was the only circuit on the calendar throughout the season that really benefited a car running with a smaller engine capacity. Ever single other circuit on the schedule would be a high-speed affair requiring more horsepower just to keep the competition honest. As a result, OSCA would no longer look to taking part in a World Championship race for 1958. Instead, the factory effort would return to Formula 2.
Over the course of the 1958 season the vast majority of the Formula 2 races on the calendar would take place on English shores. However, there would be a handful that would take place on the European continent as well. One of those would come the same weekend as the French Grand Prix.
Turning its focus back to Formula 2, OSCA Automobili would also look forward to opportunities to go racing without having to make great travel arrangements. Unfortunately, with the majority of the races taking place in England there would be only a few options for the Bologna, Italy outfit. One of those options would come in early July in the eastern part of France. On the 6th of July, the same weekend as the French Grand Prix, the Reims circuit would host a Formula 2 event. Called the Coupe Internationale de Vitesse, it would be the second edition of the Formula 2 race that took place around the 5.15 mile Reims circuit just outside of the famous city.
Heading out of the city of Reims, just past the small village of Thillois, there would be some long undulating public roads that would look inconspicuous were it not for the large grandstand on one side and the pit and timing building exactly opposite. It was here, on the road between Thillois and Gueux the Reims circuit could be found.
Triangular in its shape, the circuit was almost entirely long straights interrupted by sharp hairpin turns. The only departure from this format would come between the start/finish line and the Muizon hairpin. Throughout this section of the circuit there would be a handful of fast sweeping bends that would test a car's handling in addition to its ability to reach an impressive top speed.
The Coupe Internationale de Vitesse would be a tough contest for just about all of the Formula 2 entries. Covering 30 laps, the high speeds of the Reims circuit were certain to claim its share of victims. This expected attrition would be offset by the large field that would include sportscars as well as Formula 2 machines.
Taking place the same weekend as the French Grand Prix, the field would include such top flight drivers as Moss, Collins, Jean Behra and Jack Brabham. This made things all the more difficult for OSCA who would enter just one factory car for Cabianca.
Cabianca would not be alone for OSCA. Luigi Piotti would also enter the race with an OSCA, but he would enter the race under his own name. The same would be true of Jon Fast. Andre Simon was to enter the race with another OSCA but he would not arrive in time for the race.
As practice drew to a close, Behra would be on pole in the converted RSK Porsche sportscar. His best around the circuit would be 2:34.1 and would be a handful of seconds quicker than Cabianca in his OSCA.
The 30 lap race would set to prove itself a car-breaker right from the very start as Brabham would retire without having completed a single lap as a result of a broken connecting rod. Roy Salvadori would last just two laps before he too would be out of the event with mechanical failure. This made it two Coopers out in the first two laps of the race. One of the Lotuses followed-suit one lap later. Things were looking good for the OSCA runners until, one lap later, Piotti's OSCA ran into mechanical trouble and had to retire.
The only type of car that seemed immune to any trouble whatsoever would be the Porsche. Though Stirling Moss would go on to set the fastest lap of the race, Behra would be in the lead with half distance still to run.
Cabianca would make it past the half-distance mark but would be well off the pace of Behra and his Porsche. In fact, the Italian would be running well down, but would be inside the top ten with just a handful of laps left.
The attrition would be terrible and would strike a number of Coopers. However, the field would be large and the greatest amount of attrition would strike during the first-third of the race. Thirteen cars would still be under their own power heading into the final lap of the race. Cabianca would be inside the top ten but would be more than a lap before Behra.
Chased by Peter Collins in the Formula 2 Ferrari Dino 156, Behra would be indomitable enjoying a comfortable margin heading into the Thillois hairpin for the final time. Powering up the long run to the start/finish line, Behra would take an easy victory having 20 seconds in hand over Collins in 2nd place. Nearly a minute and 50 seconds would be the difference to George Wicken who would finish in 3rd place.
Cabianca would have an impressive showing. Unable to match the pace of the Porsche, Ferrari or Cooper, the Italian driver in the Italian car would look to the end game. He would keep his head about him over the course of the 30 lap race and would not push the car beyond its limits. He would let the race come to him, and, when it was all said and done, the race would give him a 9th place finish a bit more than two laps behind Behra.
The run of the Maserati brothers in grand prix racing had come to a very quiet end. The 9th place result in Reims would serve as the farewell for the brothers designing grand prix cars. After the end of the season, OSCA would not disappear from single-seater racing, but their cars would. In 1959, OSCA Automobili would have one more entry in a Formula One World Championship event, but, the car that would be entered on behalf of the team would be a Cooper.
It would be interesting as to just how connected the Maserati brothers would be to their namesake. The Maserati company would leave Formula One at the end of the 1957 season with Fangio taking them to a World Championship. OSCA, however, would try and remain, providing the Maserati brothers one last opportunity to linger longer than the company bearing their name. Sadly, the failed attempt at Monaco meant the brothers' new effort would suffer the same fate. OSCA automobiles in Formula One would also come to an end. Their fate certainly appeared to be intertwined. OSCA Automobili