TeamsVandervell Products Ltd: 1955 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
During the early days of the BRM project, Guy Anthony Vandervell acted as something of a spy procuring a Ferrari 125 for use and evaluation. Though intended to help the BRM project, disagreements in the manner of how the team was run meant Vandervell's contribution would not be taken seriously and would go on to cause more harm than good. This would only fuel the Vandervell's fire to start his own 'official' team.
Vandervell Products Ltd. would actually compete from 1949-1952 but the entry would be a little suspect to organizers. And since the team ran a Ferrari 125 and 375 during that era it really wasn't its own manufacturer, it was merely a privateer team entering a Ferrari. All that would change with the return of Formula One to the World Championship in 1954.
Actually, Vandervell had been investigating a move toward manufacturing his own racing cars when he became involved with Norton and Rolls Royce during the 1952 and 1953 seasons. Though kept quiet, Vandervell would begin working with the two companies. Vandervell, though said his company only made bearings, began building their own engines based on components from both Norton and Rolls Royce. This would prove difficult and slow, and therefore, would cause the team's launch to be delayed. This would put Vandervell Products on the 'back foot' so to say and would expose its weakness come the 1954 Formula One World Championship season.
The move away from Formula 2 regulations to Formula One rules meant an increase in engine capacity of 2.5-liters. Working with Cooper, Vandervell Products would build its Type 30 chassis. Originally fitted with a 2.2-liter engine that would be a blend of two halves, the car lacked the out-right performance of the Ferraris and Maseratis of the time.
Over the course of the 1954 Formula One season the car would be updated and evolved until, by the end of the year, the car had a 2.5-liter engine. But then, at the Spanish Grand Prix at the end of the season, the car would suffer a bad crash and would be totally written off never to be rebuilt.
Vandervell had chosen to go with Cooper originally because at the time of the start of the engine project Cooper's T20 was quite popular and quite successful. Of course, with the original intention being to build and prepare a car for the Formula 2 regulations in place governing the World Championship, Vandervell and Cooper would be sent into a frantic effort in order to produce a Formula One machine ready by the beginning of the 1954 season.
Lacking fast and experienced drivers, the 'Vanwall Special' would not be all that impressive during the early part of the season. But, by July, and the British Grand Prix, the team had Peter Collins and a 2.3-liter engine to help boost the team's performance. And then, when the engine was increase to 2.5-liters, the car would begin to become competitive, but still, lacked the necessary pace to challenge teams like Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari and Maserati. And, when the car was written off in Spain, the team would set about designing and building a car truly capable of ascending to the top portions of the time sheets.
Due to the accident, Vandervell Products, in essence, now had a clean sheet of paper on the drawing board and could create just about anything they wanted. The design team would have some intriguing ideas but would realize they would be more for the future than for the immediate present. And so, in the period between the 1954 and 1955 seasons, the team would set about manufacturing its first 'in-house' chassis, but would also be making in-roads toward a future design the team believed would really help elevate the team amongst its competition.
The Cooper-built chassis would have a rather unusual feature. Instead of mounting the radiator upright in the nose of the car it would be determined to lay it down on the top of a closed nose instead. The idea worked, but was still not as good as the more conventional designs. Keeping things simple as the company thought and planned for the future, plans would be made for the team's new car to abandon such experimental design features, and instead, incorporate a tried, and much more conventional, design layout. When the car was finished, the 'VW1' would bear a striking similarity to the Ferrari 625, just with a more boxy radiator inlet.
Keeping things simple and straight-forward, why wouldn't the designers on the team pull from the Ferrari 625? The 625 was the basis of the dominant Ferrari 500 F2 that dominated the World Championship for a couple of years. In addition, the 625, would still earn the Modena-based effort a number of victories throughout 1954. And with Vandervell's relationship with Ferrari, it would be much easier for the team to be able to learn things about the 625 that would help them with the design of the VW1. But while the design would bear great similarity to components and design elements found on the Ferraris, Vandervell and his team would still introduce some design elements that would be even more advanced than those which would be found on a Ferrari chassis. Of course, one of the major elements would be the inclusion of disc brakes.
Vandervell had his car. He just needed the drivers to help the effort reach the top levels of the sport. It was believed the team would be able to procure Peter Collins. But the team intended to run two cars throughout the season, and a top-flight driver in the second car would certainly be a blessing. Amazingly, the team would find a former World Championship grand prix winner, and a Brit on top of that.
Even before the beginning of the 1954 Scuderia Ferrari was in something of a stupor. The confusion would see Alberto Ascari and Luigi Villoresi leave for Lancia. This meant Giuseppe Farina was now the team's leading driver but he was well advanced in years, and therefore, not exactly the leading World Championship contender, although he had been the very first World Champion in Formula One. This uncertainty would be a little unsettling for Mike Hawthorn who had scored his first World Championship victory with the team at the incredible 1953 French Grand Prix. But, with all of the trouble and confusion, Hawthorn would agree to a contract with Vandervell wherein his services would be under contract with the team between April and October of 1955. Hawthorn's decision to join the team would be made a little easier given the fact his father, with whom he had been very close, had recently died and Hawthorn was busy looking after the Tourist Trophy Garage his father owned in Farnham. A contract would be agreed upon and signed on the 5th of January 1955.
Vandervell Products Ltd had its drivers and its car. It was just a matter of waiting for the season to begin. Of course, the first round of the 1955 Formula One World Championship would take place around the middle of January in South America. Vandervell Products, though determined and committed to grand prix racing, would not make the trip across the Atlantic to take part in the Argentine Grand Prix. Instead, the team would wait until the European grand prix season kicked off before it would enter its cars.
Actually, the team would miss its first couple of opportunities to take part in a grand prix. The first couple of races of the season would be non-championship races. One of them would be the Gran Premio del Valentino held in Valentino Park in Turin, Italy. A second race on the European continent would be the well-known Grand Prix de Pau held on the 11th of April.
The first grand prix to be held on English shores would be the non-championship 3rd Glover Trophy race. This event was part of the Easter Monday races held at Goodwood, also on the 11th of April. Vandervell Products would actually have a couple of entries in the race and would hope and pray it could finish its new car in time. The team already had the services of Hawthorn but just needed to finish preparing the car.
The team would hold out hope. But, in the end, the entry would not be made good as the Vandervell team would not arrive to take part in the race. Therefore, the team would have to look forward to the next opportunity to take part in its first race of the season.
Of course, the real reason for the team's scratch at Goodwood would come from a test held at Odiham airfield in early April. The car was finished and ready to go. Hawthorn would hop in behind the wheel and would set off to shake down the new car. Almost immediately it was apparent the Norton engine was far from where it needed to be to be competitive. This was not how the team wanted to start its season, and therefore, would look ahead to other races on the calendar when it was possible the engine could produce the kind of power needed to be competitive.
Though there would be a non-championship race in France toward the end of April, the team would take the extra time to completely re-work the engine in order to get more power and reliability from it. Then, when the team thought that they had extracted enough from the engine, they would begin to look forward to their first race of the season. That first race would come on the 7th of May at Silverstone and would present one tough initiation for even the best team and chassis.
Ever since its debut in 1949, the BRDC International Trophy race held at Silverstone had always been one of the more popular non-championship races on the calendar. However, in 1955, there would be a change. The British Grand Prix had been the first race to be held at the former bomber training base in the years following the end of the war. But, in 1955, the British Grand Prix would move on to a new venue. And, with the British Grand Prix moving to Aintree a sad fact would be readily noticed.
Over the six years of the International Trophy race, the best teams, drivers and cars had all made the trip to the rolling countryside near the small village of Silverstone. However, it would become clear with the move of the British Grand Prix that those major teams had only come as a result of it serving as the site for the major grand prix. And so, the International Trophy race was nothing more than a warm-up, a test. This fact would be made apparent looking at the entry list for the 1955 edition of the race.
Filled with English teams and privateers, the International Trophy race would be void of major manufacturers like Scuderia Ferrari and Officine Alfieri Maserati. Still, there would be number of talented small teams and privateers driving top-flight cars. Vandervell Products would finally be ready and would make the trip to Silverstone with two cars. VW1 would be placed in the hands of Mike Hawthorn.
Unfortunately for Vandervell, the services of Peter Collins would not be a given. Though he had driven for the team the year before, he would move on for 1955. Instead of Vandervell, Collins would sign to drive with Owen Racing Organization driving their competitive Maserati 250F. Therefore, it would not be Collins that would partner with Hawthorn. Instead, the second Vanwall, VW2, would be given to an old BRM hold-over. Ken Wharton had driven the much-maligned BRM P15 a number of times. He had experience as was decently fast behind the wheel. Therefore, he would earn the second seat for the International Trophy race.
The International Trophy race would change for 1955. Gone would be the two heat races and final. Instead, the race would be much more conventional in its design in order to provide for the whole field. Therefore, the International Trophy race would become a 60 lap, 175 mile, race.
Considering the Vanwall was a new car inside and out, it would not at all be surprising if the car had some teething issues and was a little off the pace. But there would be no such problems, at least not with Hawthorn at the wheel. In practice, Hawthorn would post a best time of 1:48. This time would prove to be just a matter of hundredths of seconds off of the best time posted by Roy Salvadori in the Gilby Engineering Ltd. 250F. So, Salvadori would start from the pole while Hawthorn would position the brand-new Vanwall 2nd on the grid. The rest of the front row would include Stirling Moss starting in 3rd place and Jack Fairman positioned in 4th, the final spot on the front row.
And where was Wharton on the grid? He too would set a respectable time during practice. His best effort would be a lap time of 1:56. Though this would be eight seconds slower than Salvadori's pole time Wharton would still start the race from the third row of the grid in 9th place.
Even though some of the bigger manufacturers would not be present for the race, a large crowd would assemble around the 2.88 mile circuit to watch some fine grand prix racing. And at the start of the race it would be Hawthorn that would make a great start off the line while Jack Fairman in the streamlined Connaught B-Type would be right there behind in 2nd place. Collins would also make his way around Salvadori while Wharton would try and follow Collins and the Gordini of Robert Manzon forward.
Hawthorn would hold onto the lead of the race and would be streaking away at the head of the field. Shortly, trouble would begin to strike at the field as Jacques Pollet would be the first out of the race after suffering transmission failure. The series of unfortunate events would continue to take place as Stirling Moss would fall out of contention, and then, out of the race with a failed cylinder head. Reg Parnell and Alan Brown would all fall out of the race on the same lap as Moss. Hawthorn, however, continued to lead the way in the brand-new Vanwall.
Hawthorn continued to widen his advantage over the rest of the field when, all of a sudden, he would slow due to some kind of problem. He would pit and it would be found that an oil leak in the gearbox was causing him problems. This was not the kind of problem that could be fixed easily, and therefore, ruined Hawthorn's and Vandervell Products', day. Still, the team had one car still in the running with Ken Wharton, an experienced driver, behind the wheel.
Wharton would barely remain in the race as he would be forced to pit very early on. A problem with a throttle linkage was causing him fits. However, he would return to the race and would soon become embroiled in a battle with Salvadori. It would seem as though his troubles were gone and he would look good as he battled with Salvadori. But, as Fangio found out during the British Grand Prix in 1954, the marker barrels lining the circuit could do some serious damage.
Salvadori had been handed the lead upon Hawthorn's retirement. He would be closely followed by Peter Collins in another Maserati 250F. Soon, the battle between these two would become a fantastic duel. But while Salvadori would hold onto the lead, Collins would gain ground rapidly on him.
There was really nothing Salvadori could do. He would turn the fastest lap of the race at one point but could not keep up a consistently fast pace, at least not as fast as Collins. Therefore, Collins would make his way around Salvadori for the lead. This would cause Salvadori to slip backwards and become embroiled in a battle with Wharton.
Collins would be out front and would have many people following his every move. And while many would be concentrating on Collins up front their eyes would be suddenly attracted by smoke rising from the side of the circuit. It was a t tell-tale sign of a car fire. But who was it?
Tragically, it was the second Vanwall up in flames. Though the initial stages of the accident wouldn't be seen by many, the incredible smoke and fire that would ensue certainly would be. Wharton had hit one of the marker barrels and would be sent into a spin. He would end up sliding off the circuit and would end up backing the car into a barrier and split the fuel tank as the car's nose pointed out toward the circuit and looked entirely intact while the back-end of the car was ablaze. Wharton would have a little trouble but would manage to escape from behind the wheel with just minor burns and bruises. He would be found seated on the ground being tended to by workers at that portion of the circuit.
Now distracted by Wharton's misfortune on the 22nd lap, the crowd would look and would find Collins only added to his lead over Salvadori and the rest of the field.
Once in the lead of the race, Collins would run away with the proceedings. Though Salvadori and Collins would match fastest lap times, it would be Collins that would streak across the line and take the victory beating Salvadori by a margin of nearly forty seconds. Prince Bira would finish the race in 3rd place but would be a lap down by the end.
The Vanwalls had showed great pace during practice and, therefore, was an encouraging sign for the rest of the season. But, as expected, teething problems would force Hawthorn out of the running while an unfortunate mistake by Wharton would leave him a little bruised and burnt. Still, he would be alright, as would the team.
Vandervell Products would have very little time before it needed to prepare for its first Formula One World Championship race of the season. After the BRDC International Trophy race on the 7th of May, the team would have just three weeks before its next race. But in reality, the team would have even less time as the next race would be all the way to the south of France. The race was the Grand Prix de Monaco and it took place on the 22nd of May.
The Vandervell team was in a tough way. Wharton would be in the hospital receiving care for his burns and bruises. His car would be burnt to a crisp and a total write-off. But things would only get worse. In the final test before packing up the car and shipping it to Monaco, Hawthorn would have the connecting rod blow right through the side of the engine. Vandervell had only produced the two chassis up to that point, and one was burnt nearly beyond recognition. The greater problem was that the team had only the two engines, one in each car. And now, with just a couple of weeks before the Monaco Grand Prix the team would be out of an engine.
The team had only one option, and it wasn't one that instilled all that much confidence in Hawthorn. The only option the team had was to remove the charred engine from Wharton's car, clean it up, rebuild it and install it in Hawthorn's car. This is what the team would do. And when finished, the team would pack everything up and would head across the Channel.
The Monaco Grand Prix had last been on the schedule for the Formula One World Championship during its inaugural year of 1950. In that contest, it would be Juan Manuel Fangio that would come through to take the victory. The race would remain for a season as a sportscar race before it would cease to be for a couple of years. But, as it reappeared on the schedule for 1955 the excitement would immediately build.
Vandervell Products would enter its two Vanwalls but would only arrive with a single car entry. Ken Wharton had been planned to be the driver for the second car, but the fire at Silverstone would dramatically change things. Still recovering from his burns, Wharton would not make the trip to the south of France. It would be just Hawthorn that would take to the circuit for the team.
But while Vandervell would arrive with just its single car, many other teams would arrive in the tiny principality en masse. Mercedes-Benz would arrive with no less than four cars. The factory Maserati team would also arrive with four cars. Lancia would be another team that would have four entries for the famous race. Scuderia Ferrari originally had five cars entered in the race. Amazingly, the French Equipe Gordini squad would come with just three cars.
Although it had been five years since the last time the Monaco Grand Prix had been a part of the World Championship, the race was still considered one of the most important races of the year. Just as the importance of the race never changed, neither would the circuit. The only real difference along the 1.95 mile circuit would be the position of the start/finish line. Instead of the run down to Ste. Devote being where the start/finish line would be located, as it had been in 1950, the line would be along the harbor-front on the run down to Gazometre. This meant 20 cars would be pushing hard on the short run down to the tight Gazometre hairpin, and therefore, was likely to serve up some problems for the competitors.
Not surprisingly, a Mercedes would lead the way during practice. Fangio would turn the fastest lap of practice with a time of 1:41.1. This time would barely edge out the Lancia D50 driven by Alberto Ascari. Stirling Moss would only be a tenth further off the pace in the second Mercedes, and therefore, would start from the 3rd, and final, position on the front row.
Being alone, Hawthorn would have a tall task before him in the Vanwall. The fact he had Wharton's burnt engine powering the car only made matters worse. As a result of the issues, it wasn't all that surprising that Hawthorn wasn't one of the fastest cars around the tight city streets. Still, Hawthorn's best of 1:45.6 would only be four and a half seconds slower than Fangio. And, as a result, he would line up on the fifth row of the grid in 12th.
The day of the race would be a beautiful affair, only fitting to the setting along the waters of the Mediterranean. The 20 cars would be rolled out onto the circuit and positioned in their respective grid positions. Even then, the exotic world of Formula One and opulence would mix as drivers would make their way to their cars.
The start of the race would be nearly a dead-heat amongst the front row starters. However, as the cars wheeled their way around the Gazometre hairpin for the first time it would be Fangio that would take the provisional lead of the race ahead of an Eugenio Castellotti that had managed to make an incredible start from the second row of the grid. Hawthorn would also make a good start off the line but would soon find himself bogged down and losing out of positions over the course of the first lap.
Fangio would lead the way through the first few laps of the race. Castellotti would put up a great fight in 2nd place but would soon give way to Moss who would then take up what would become a familiar position behind Fangio. Castellotti would soon find himself coming under fire from Ascari and would eventually give way by the 10th lap of the 100 lap race.
Hawthorn would find himself in a battle of his own. After completing the first lap of the race down in 14th, he would begin the long hard road back up the running order. By the 8th lap of the race he would make his way up to 11th overall and would be looking fairly strong in the middle of the pack. Embroiled in a battle with Harry Schell, Mike's forward movement would be stalled out and, other than a brief lap in 10th place, would find himself stuck behind Schell in 11th.
Fangio and Moss were hooked and running away from the rest of the field. Castellotti, Ascari and Jean Behra would all be fighting for 3rd through 5th behind the two Mercedes. Hawthorn would still be languishing down in 11th place behind Schell unable to move up the order. And then, on the 23rd lap of the race, the car would just lose power coming around Casino Square. Hawthorn would get out of the car and would look under the cowling to see if he could identify the problem. Upon inspection he would find the throttle linkage had come loose, a problem Wharton faced early on during the International Trophy race. Hawthorn would do his best to reconnect the linkage and would limp around back to the pits where he would park the car and retire from the race.
It really didn't seem to matter all that much as Fangio and Moss looked absolutely unbeatable at the head of the field. For nearly 45 laps it would be the two Mercedes running one-two. But then, right at the halfway mark of the race, a dramatic turn would take place. Coming through the Station, Fangio's W196 would park itself without any drive. Just like that, the reigning World Champion was out of the race. It really seemed to matter little to Mercedes as Moss would merely take up the mantle and would power on as if he immune to any problems.
By this point in the race, the field had settled down quite a bit. Ascari would be in 2nd place with Maurice Trintignant running in 3rd, a surprising 3rd. Castellotti was still in the race but he had lost quite a bit of the early momentum he had and would be down in 4th. Jean Behra would be clinging on, just trying to make it through the race.
But Moss would find he wasn't immune. On the 80th lap of the race, smoke would be seen pouring out the side of the Mercedes. Moss' hopes for his first World Championship victory had gone up in smoke. But had anyone thought Ascari would have just run away with the victory they would have been proven to be all wet. For, just as smoke began pouring from Moss' Mercedes, Ascari would make a slight error coming through the chicane clipping one of the curbs. This would cause the Lancia to shoot across the track and through the barriers protecting cars from plunging into the harbor. The barrier would not be strong enough and Ascari would take the plunge, emerging a short while later with just a bloody nose. However, the Lancia would be lost to the bottom of the harbor.
All of a sudden, with all of the dramatic events taking place all at once, it would almost be lost on everyone who the leader of the race actually was. And then it would hit everyone. It was Maurice Trintignant! Scuderia Ferrari had never been considered one of the favorites coming into the race, especially not a Ferrari driven by the consistent Trintignant. And yet, consistency and careful driving would be just what was needed this day and Trintignant would benefit from just such a drive.
Though there were 20 laps remaining in the race, Castellotti could not mount a serious enough challenge of Trintignant. Therefore, to the delight of the fans assembled around the circuit, the unassuming Trintignant would power his way to a surprise victory for Ferrari. Castellotti would be the only car still on the lead lap with Trintignant and would finish in 2nd place. Jean Behra would finish the podium completing the race in 3rd.
The race was as suspect proposition right from the start given the engine powering Hawthorn's had to be rebuilt from Wharton's burnt-out wreck. Amazingly, the engine had showed no signs of failing; it was other components that were proving difficult. As a result of all the problems the team found itself in a very tough way at this point in the season. The team would need to work extra hard in order to be ready for the remainder of the season.
Unfortunately for the team, they just would not have any time between races. Immediately after pulling out of Monaco the team would make its way north into the Low countries of Europe. The final destination would be the nation of Belgium. For, on the 5th of June the Belgian Grand Prix would be held on the insanely-fast 8.77 Spa-Francorchamps circuit.
The one bit of good news the team had heading into Spa was that the engine was still in working order. The failure at Monaco had been due to a throttle linkage failure, not an engine failure. Therefore, the amount of work the team would need to do to repair the car in order to get it ready to take to the circuit would be minimal. Now, the work it would take to make the car more competitive would certainly take more than a few minutes of work in a garage.
Wharton would be doing much better by this point in time but, of course, his car would remain a complete write-off and the team had had absolutely no time in which to construct and build a new chassis. Therefore, Wharton's entry for the Belgian Grand Prix would be withdrawn and the team would arrive with just its lone chassis once again.
Given all of the difficulties and setbacks the team had experienced in a short amount of time it would be little wonder if the confidence and morale of the team would be dragging. Unfortunately, the 8.77 mile high-speed Spa circuit was not a place that offered much in the way of comfort. Any kind of weakness and it could be expected the circuit would exploit it.
Settled in the Ardennes forest, the Spa circuit was nothing more than public roads traversing the Belgian countryside. Rising and falling and boasting of some truly courageous bends, the Spa circuit was not for the faint of heart. Loved by drivers, and yet, as dangerous as the Nurburgring, the Spa circuit had the potential of being a very dangerous place. Therefore, confidence and peace with one's car would be of utmost importance if a driver had any desire whatsoever of being fast around the circuit.
Confidence and peace was something Hawthorn and the Vandervell team didn't have the luxury of having, and in the rainy conditions of practice, it would be even worse. Everything within their worlds had been thrown into chaos with the International Trophy race in early May. Therefore, in many ways, a mere finish would prove to be a huge success for a team mightily struggling at the moment.
Mercedes-Benz would bring three cars to the race. Scuderia Ferrari and Officine Alfieri Maserati would enter four cars. And, with the presence of Scuderia Lancia and a number of privateer entries, things would quickly come into focus for Vandervell's team.
Being such a fast circuit it was expected that the Mercedes, with its increase in horsepower, would lead the way throughout practice, but there was the Lancia's in which everyone would have to contend as well.
If things were bleak for Vandervell then, coming into the Belgian Grand Prix, Lancia would believe they were visiting the deepest rungs of hell as they would make their appearance in the Ardennes without their famous pilot, Alberto Ascaro who, just a couple of weeks earlier, had lost his life while testing a Ferrari sportscar. Therefore, the team would arrive with just one car which was to be driven by Eugenio Castellotti.
When the teams arrived at the circuit for the beginnings of practice the usual Ardennes weather would greet the teams. Spray kicking up from the wheels as they powered down the circuit, it would become very obvious to see just why the Spa circuit was both beloved and extremely dangerous at the same time. But though the beginnings of practice would be wet, the actual qualifying practice would see the circuit dry out, and therefore, the lap times would begin to fall.
Almost in tribute to the fallen world champion, Castellotti would prove fastest around the circuit setting a time of 4:18.1. This time would end up a half a second faster than Fangio in the Mercedes. Stirling Moss would make it two Mercedes on the front row as he claimed the 3rd, and final, spot on the front row.
Hawthorn would find his Norton engine still lacked the power he needed. Besides the power issue, there was also the very real and present danger of harming the engine, the only one the team had with them and functional. But there would be even more issues, and they would be caused by the owner of the team himself.
Vandervell himself had hopped into the car and drove it from the local garage to the circuit. This was a regular occurrence as teams would rent out space nearby the circuit and would stay there in the lead up to a race. Additionally, the cars would be driven through the town's streets on the way to the circuit. And on this occasion, Vandervell would become stuck amongst some pretty heavy traffic. Having the lean on the clutch a lot in the uphill portions of the road, the clutch would be well-worn even before Hawthorn hopped in to set a lap time in practice. Hawthorn would get in and would set a time of 4:33.0. This would not be very representative of the sheer capabilities of the car, but it would give an indication of some of the problems the team was experiencing. Soon after passing the pits on another lap the clutch would fail entirely forcing Hawthorn to walk back to the pits. Irate, Hawthorn would walk right by the team and would leave the circuit. Notorious himself for abusing clutches, Hawthorn have an argument, one that he would make over an over to friends that night. But despite the problems with the car, Hawthorn still managed to set a time good enough to start from the fourth row of the grid in the 9th position overall.
Heading into Sunday, the day of the race, the weather would be dry and. Large crowds and teams prepared for the 36 lap, 315 mile, race. The cars would be lined up along the short straight leading on the run down to the famous Eau Rouge bend that climbs upwards and to the right. Even at that time, such a bend would be known the world over.
Hawthorn would find himself heading the later-half of the field with the Monaco champion, Maurice Trintignant, starting right beside him. The engines would come to life and would await the drop of the flag to start the race. And, as the flag dropped to start the race, Fangio would get a great leap off the line and would beat Castellotti into the quick left-right before ascending the hill. Moss would follow along behind Castellotti in 3rd place. Hawthorn would make a good start off the line and would hold onto his 9th place starting position over the course of the first lap.
Sandwiched in between the two Mercedes at the start, Castellotti would find himself thrown out of the position by a great charge by Moss in order to make it yet another Mercedes one-two. The familiar order of Fangio and Moss would quickly gather together and would begin to pull away from the rest of the field.
Hawthorn would lose a spot to Luigi Musso on the 2nd lap of the race but would recover to challenge for 8th place with a couple of laps. Roberto Mieres would find himself in 11th at the end of the first lap but would be on a charge from then on. He would come up behind Hawthorn and would begin to really push the unhealthy Vanwall.
Meanwhile, Fangio and Moss would lead the way over Castellotti, who had settled into a comfortable pace in 3rd place. Karl Kling had made a good start but would be shuffled back behind Giuseppe Farina, who would comfortably sit in 4th place.
Belgian, Johnny Claes, would not start the race, and within 3 laps, the Pau Grand Prix champion, Jean Behra, would be out of the running due to suffering a crash out on the circuit. The next one to be bit by reliability issues would be Hawthorn. Pushed by Mieres in an already ailing car, Hawthorn would find he was having difficulties toward the end of the 7th lap of the race. Then, on the 8th lap, he would pull in and would retire with gearbox troubles. Vandervell's Belgian Grand Prix was over before it had even really begun.
Of course, this retirement wouldn't be much of a surprise to everyone after the problems the car had been having during practice.the mechanics, not so much because of the issues in the past but because of the present.
Fangio and Moss carried on without a hitch. The two men, locked together and moving tremendously well, would only widen their margin over the rest of the field. When Castellotti retired on the 16th lap due to a gearbox failure himself, the gap would only grow bigger.
At the halfway mark of the race Fangio would put his stamp of authority on the event by turning the fastest lap of the race. This would stretch out a little bit of a margin over Moss and would leave everyone else in the field well behind. It was the Mercedes' race to lose.
And, unlike Monaco, they would not. Both Mercedes would carry on to the finish. Only one of the three Mercedes would fail to make the 36 lap race distance as Karl Kling was forced to retire with a broken oil pipe just past the 21st lap of the race.
The two Silver Arrows would run away with the event. Fangio would come around La Source and across the line a little more than eight seconds ahead of Moss to take the victory. After Moss, there would be a long pause before Giuseppe Farina would come through to take a strong 3rd. He would finish the race a minute and 40 seconds behind Fangio.
The race, in many respects, seemed like a foregone conclusion. It seemed likely that a Mercedes would take the victory. But it also seemed obvious, at least to everyone within the Vandervell team, that it was very likely Hawthorn's car would not be able to make the distance. Still, at least reaching halfway would have been nice. Instead, the car would prove incapable of going a quarter of the distance.
The ills of the car and the team would be something that had drawn the ire of Hawthorn. After the car packed it in during the race, Hawthorn would leave the circuit. Approached later in the evening, Hawthorn would still be touchy about the whole situation and would jump into his Jaguar and would speed into the night.
The team and Hawthorn had come to a fork in the road. After some correspondence, Hawthorn would not come back to the team and would rejoin Ferrari from then on. This would leave Vandervell with one driving recovering from injuries and an open seat in another.
Vandervell Products desperately needed some time to make improvements to its existing car, to build more chassis and engines and to seek out a driver to replace Hawthorn. It seemed, after the bitter disappointment of the Belgian Grand Prix, there really wouldn't be the time necessary in order to really improve and evolve their car. But, by the middle of June, the team would tragically find it had more time that it first believed.
The terrible crash at Le Mans would greatly alter the outlook of the 1955 season, and not just for sportscars. Organizers all throughout Europe would decide to cancel races. In the case of Switzerland, racing would be banned altogether. In the end, the French, Swiss, German and Spanish Grand Prix would all be cancelled and removed from the racing calendar. All of a sudden, Vandervell would have the time it needed to refine its cars in order to improve its performances at races later on in the season.
During the tragic period following the disaster at Le Mans, Vandervell Products would set about building a couple of new chassis, and even more engines. The next race on the calendar would be one of the most important of the whole season, and therefore, it would be paramount for the team to be as ready as they could be. The team would set about building a third chassis and would also rebuild the burnt-out wreck that had been sitting idle without an engine for over a month. In the end, the team would focus on chassis VW2 and would complete work on the new chassis, VW3. By the beginning of July both cars would be ready and would be loaded onto the transporter to go and take part in the team's next race of the season.
Vandervell Products Ltd's most important race of the season would be coming around the corner on the 16th of July. The race was the sixth round of the Formula One World Championship grand prix. It was the British Grand Prix, and it would be the best opportunity for the team to turn its season around.
Vandervell would have a new chassis to take to the race and the team would be heading to a new venue for the British Grand Prix. After six years serving as host of the British Grand Prix, Silverstone would not be the site for the 1955 edition of the British round of the Formula One World Championship. Instead, a place famous for the Grand National steeplechase would become the new home for the grand prix.
Aintree would host its first grand prix toward the end of the grand prix season in 1954 and would be considered a great success. The site of the famous Grand National, Aintree Racecourse would serve its dual role almost perfectly as a 3.0 mile grand prix circuit would be created winding around, between and amongst the Grand National course. And given the fact there were already grandstands erected and in place all over the site it would ready to go without too much effort.
A lot of effort would go into the Vandervell Products Ltd team just to be ready for the race. Not only would the team have to do everything it could to rebuild the wrecked car from the International Trophy race, but the team also needed another driver and another car. A third car would be built. And then, the team would find its second driver. Ken Wharton would be back with the team in time for the British Grand Prix. Joining him with the team would be the American-Parisian Harry Schell.
The British Grand Prix would be like a restart for the Vandervell team, and this would show true during practice. Ken Wharton would still have some trouble getting up to speed, but Schell would be quite quick in his mount. Stirling Moss would delight the British crowd taking pole in the Mercedes and Juan Manuel Fangio and Jean Behra would be the others to complete the three-wide front row. But, after all of the struggles and heartache the team had experienced throughout the first couple of months of its season, to see Schell bring the car across the line seventh-fastest would certainly be an encouraging sign for the team, especially when he managed to out-qualify Hawthorn by a fair margin. Wharton would be much further down in the field. His best effort would only be good enough to start the race from the sixth row of the grid.
Hot and dry would characterize the day of the 1st British Grand Prix at Aintree. The drivers would make their way to their cars and the engines would be brought to life after they had been pushed to their grid positions. A great crowd would be on hand to watch and pray that Stirling Moss could bring the Mercedes home in the first rank.
90 laps and about three hours worth of racing awaited the teams, drivers, cars and spectators. Everyone expected a great show. With engines roaring, everyone eagerly anticipated the start of the race. Then, with a wave of the flag, the cars would peel away from the grid immediately jockeying for position into the first turn.
While Fangio beat Moss to the first corner, a couple of cars wouldn't even make it off the line. Unfortunately, Schell would be one of those that would stall out on the grid. It would take some agonizing seconds, but the car would fire and Schell would power his way back into the race.
Wharton would make a fair getaway from his 15th starting position, but he would get shuffled back as well. Just like that, Vandervell went from looking good to looking worrisome. Fangio would end up leading Moss through the first lap of the race with Behra running in 3rd climbing his way back up to 3rd place after a poor start.
If Behra's climb back up to 3rd place in the early going was something to watch then Schell's performance in the Vanwall wasn't to be missed. By the 2nd lap he would gain three spots after completing the first lap in 19th place. Another couple of spots would be his after another lap. Schell would continue to climb up the running order until he got to 11th place. There he would stay over the next few laps.
Wharton would also gain ground, albeit much more slowly and less noteworthy. After completing the first lap down outside the top-twenty, Wharton would stay right there in 22nd for a few laps before he would jump up to 20th. This would be mostly due to the early retirements of others. Still, steady and determined could come out in the end, and so, Wharton would just continue on his way.
Moss wasn't about to let Fangio just continue on his way, not in the British Grand Prix. By the 3rd lap, Moss would be in front of the Argentinean and would actually begin to draw away ever-so-slightly. Behra would run into trouble after 9 laps, and so, Karl Kling would be promoted up to 3rd place giving Mercedes a one-two-three early on. But while Moss would be on the move during the early going, nobody would be quite on the move like Schell. After falling way behind at the start, the American would crack the top ten and would be looking strong. Helped by the misfortune of others, Wharton too would continue to climb up the order. Although he would one of the last cars running out on the circuit, Ken would find himself up to 15th at the same time that Schell would be running up in 9th.
Shooting up the running order as he was would cause the Vanwall some consternation. Of course, the problems that Schell would begin to run into would cause him some concern as well as the accelerator pedal would brake on him just he was making his run. This would be incredibly disappointing for Schell and the team as they had been showing incredibly strong up until that point. It seemed clear the car now had the pace to move out of the middle of the pack, but it was still suffering from some nagging issues that would make it all for naught.
Fangio would battle with Moss throughout the event but it would seem, on that day, Moss is the stronger competitor. He would re-take the lead from Fangio near the 30 lap mark and would set off doing his best to pull away from his world champion teammate. Given that Wharton had spent quite a period of time in the hospital after suffering the crash at Silverstone, the team would keep him behind the wheel lap after lap although Schell could have easily taken over for his teammate given that his car had retired with the throttle issues.
Attrition would be a major issue during the 90 lap race. The hot weather and the nature of the 3.0 mile circuit were reducing the size of the field with cruel efficiency. Many of the top-flight teams were losing cars at an alarming rate. Castellotti would be out by the 16th lap. Tony Rolt, Roy Salvadori, Peter Collins, Roberto Mieres and Maurice Trintignant would all fall foul of car trouble at some point during the race. The only team, however, the continued to run unabated would be Mercedes-Benz. And by the later stages of the race, the four cars would be running 1st through 4th.
Wharton continued to circulate at the back of the field. He didn't seem to be his fast former self. And so, after running 50 laps, he would hand the car over to Schell for the remainder of the race. The team had hoped the switch would enable to team to propel up the running order a little bit. Already a few laps behind, Schell would have some hard work before him. And, a lot of that work would come just to catch the car ahead of him in the running order. By the time he took over the car, Schell would be running dead-last in the field. Unfortunately, this meant just nine cars were still running altogether.
The switch to Schell would do little to help the cause, but, the car was still running. And, the fact the car was still running was of greater importance than anything else at that point in the team's season.
For Moss, being the first British driver to win the British Grand Prix was of slightly less importance than him actually earning his first-ever Formula One World Championship victory. But as he headed into the final couple of laps, both goals would be attainable. However, he would just have to hold off a charging Fangio over those last couple of laps. And, that would not be an easy proposition.
Throughout the race, Moss had been pushing hard. And, toward the end, his car just could not handle and drive as good as Fangio's since he backed off ever-so-slightly throughout the main portion of the race. Now, with just a couple of laps remaining, the Argentinean would be on a charge and would be catching up the Brit hand over fist. Heading around on the last lap of the race, powering along the Railway Straight, Fangio would be tucked right up underneath Moss' backside. Through Melling Crossing and into Tatts for the final time, Fangio could have easily bumped Moss and sent him spinning. Instead, Fangio would try and get a better drive off the final corner and out-drag Moss to the line. It seemed Fangio would be able to do it too, but as the two approached the line it seemed as though Fangio lifted just that little bit in recognition that he would not beat Moss, not on this day. Moss would come through to take the historic victory beating his teammate by a mere two-tenths of a second. This incredible finish would lead home a Mercedes-Benz one-two-three-four with Karl Kling completing the podium but more than a minute and 11 seconds back.
Schell would carry on in Wharton's Vanwall to complete the race, but just not the complete race distance. In fact, as Moss crossed the line to finish the race, Schell would find himself miles upon miles behind in the 9th spot. Being some 18 laps behind, the distance between 1st and 9th, on this day, would translate into more than 54 miles. But, Vanwall had finally finished a race on the season. And while things may not have been bright around the team, there was at least a small match that had been lit amongst the darkness the team had been experiencing throughout the early part of the season. And, this small flame would spark a blaze that would be burning bright by the end of the year.
Nails digging and scratching trying to hold on until the very end, Vandervell's unimpressive survival of the British Grand Prix would still be a boost of morale to the team as it would leave Aintree and would head southwest to London for the 3rd London Trophy race held on the 30th of July.
Taking place at the short 1.35 mile Crystal Palace Park circuit, the London Trophy race followed the design of the International Trophy race of years previous running two heat races and then a final. Each of the heat races would be 10 laps while the final would be just 15. Given the length of the event, it would be important for competitors to push hard right from the very beginning and make no mistakes along the way.
The entire field would be split up into the two heat races. The race itself would be an amalgamation of Formula One and Formula 2 entries competing together. Given the nature of the Crystal Palace Park circuit, with its short length, fast sweeping turns and undulating terrain, the Formula One cars were expected to dominate the proceedings. However, it was the type of circuit in which the Formula 2 cars could keep touch, but it would just take an absolute over the edge drive to maintain that contact, even throughout a short event like a 10 lap heat race.
Situated to the south of London, Crystal Palace Park had once been nothing more but heavily-wooded forest from which many a ship's mast had been cut. Somewhat isolated on a hill overlooking London, the area was once home to the more nomadic types of London. However, by the 19th century the area would be cleared a fair degree, and soon, a park would spring up from among the old haunt. A popular recreation spot, the site seemed the perfect place to host a grand prix, at least if it wasn't to be held in downtown London itself.
The first heat race would include a former Vandervell driver and a trio of Maserati 250Fs. Hawthorn would be driving Stirling Moss' own 250F. He would be facing Roy Salvadori and Horace Gould in other Maseratis. Jack Fairman would be behind the wheel of one of the newly-evolved Connaught B-Types while a young Tony Brooks would be at the wheel of a Formula 2 Connaught A-Type.
Hawthorn would garner the pole for the race while Gould and Brooks completed the front row. Brooks' time in the A-Type would be impressive as he would lap the circuit just a little more than two seconds slower than Hawthorn.
During the race, it would be all Formula One cars leading the way. Hawthorn would head up the field but Salvadori would apply a fair bit of pressure after having started from the second row of the grid. Never more than a couple of seconds would separate the two Maserati drivers, but Hawthorn's fastest lap would ensure that he would take the heat victory.
Hawthorn would come through to win the heat by about a second and a half over Salvadori. Horace Gould would make it a clean sweep for the Maseratis taking 3rd place and finishing a little more than 14 seconds behind Hawthorn.
The second heat would include just one of the Vanwalls. Ken Wharton would not be present for the race. The driving duties for the sole Vanwall would go to Harry Schell. And in the second heat race, he would face off against mostly Formula 2 entries. Driving VW2, Schell would be fastest in practice and would take the pole over Bob Gerard in his Cooper-Bristol T23. The final position on the front row would go to Paul Emery in the Emeryson-Alta.
Though Schell took the pole for the second heat race by a comfortable margin over the man starting in 2nd place, Gerard was the type of man that could put up a real fight that could make life difficult for others. However, as the race started, the expected duel would come to naught as Gerard's half shaft would break right off the line.
Gerard's failure right at the start of the race would give Schell the opportunity to pull away from everyone else in the field. Soon, his lead over Paul Emery in 2nd place would be more than twenty seconds, and there would be more than a couple of laps remaining.
Aided by a fastest lap time of 1:05.2, at an average speed of nearly 77 mph, Schell would pull away and take an easy victory beating Emery by a margin of more than 35 seconds. Jack Brabham would complete the top three finishing the race another 19 seconds behind Emery.
Finishing times in each heat race would determine the starting grid for the final 15 lap race. And, with a time of 11:00.6, that honor would go to Mike Hawthorn. Roy Salvadori would start the race from the 2nd position on the grid. Schell's finishing time of 11:04.4 meant he would start the final race from the 3rd position, the final spot on the front row.
Throughout the first portion of the team's season, Vandervell had not been able to match the pace, at least not for very long, of those at the front of a grid. But on this day, Schell would start up amongst the front-runners. And, at just 15 laps in length, it was more than likely the car could last long enough for Schell to bring home the best result the team had experienced at any point in the season to that point.
A good start would go a long way. Schell would do just that. Right from the very beginning, Schell would be right up there with Hawthorn and Salvadori. However, it would be Hawthorn that would lead the way. Once Hawthorn was in front of a race, it was difficult to reel him in and get by. And as Schell battled with, and got by, Salvadori for 2nd place, he would find this fact out very clearly.
In the case of the heat race, Hawthorn had set a fastest lap time below that of his own qualifying. And, in the case of the final, Hawthorn would lower the fastest lap pace by an even greater amount. Hawthorn's pace would be motivated by outside pressure. Once past Salvadori, Schell would immediately set off and would haunt Hawthorn's every move. It would take Hawthorn having to push himself to the absolute limits and setting a fastest lap time of 1:03.4 in order to maintain his advantage over Schell.
Schell would push hard, but still, Hawthorn would maintain his lead. Hawthorn would be unyielding to the very end. Despite Schell's great pressure, Hawthorn would go on to take the victory. The result would be close, however. In the end, Hawthorn would beat Schell by a margin of just 1.4 seconds. Roy Salvadori would run a steady race to finish the race in the 3rd position a little more than 30 seconds behind Schell.
The race at Crystal Palace would be ground-breaking for the Vandervell Products team. Not only had the team come away with a heat victory and a fine 2nd place, but the ability Schell displayed to hang with Hawthorn and pull away from Salvadori would only be further proof that the team had made the necessary improvements.
The performance by Schell at Crystal Palace would also be the news Vandervell needed not to give up on his dream of producing his own chassis. He had gone on to purchase a Maserati 250F and was contemplating using it instead of his own chassis. But Schell's performance would put the whole issue to rest. And this belief in the new chassis would seem to set the new car on a course of great success.
Everything seemed to have changed after the British Grand Prix, and especially after the wonderful performance at Crystal Palace. The next race to offer proof of the change would come on the 13th of August at Snetterton. There, on Snetterton's 2.70 mile circuit, would be held the 3rd RedeX Trophy race.
Morale beginning to rise as belief in the new car began to soar, the team would load two cars to take to the race on the 13th. Schell and Wharton would arrive in Norfolk preparing to take part in a weekend of racing events, including the RedeX Trophy race.
Snetterton would follow along in the tradition of circuits such as Silverstone, Goodwood, Charterhall and others as it would begin its life serving as a bomber base during the Second World War. Home to the 96th Heavy Bombardment Group, RAF Snetterton-Heath, as it would be known, would be heavily involved in the war. Opened in 1943, the base would finally be closed in 1948. Then, in the early 1950s, the base would be purchased and turned into a site for motor racing using the 2.70 mile perimeter road for the circuit.
Snetterton would become a popular venue and would host a number of races that would put on display some of the best England had to offer. The 1955 RedeX Trophy race would be another that would feature a mixture of Formula 2 and Formula One running together. Driving his own Maserati, Stirling Moss would be the quickest around the circuit and would take pole for the 25 lap, 68 mile, race. Schell would be impressive, once again, as he would end up 2nd on the starting grid. Horace Gould would line up in the 3rd position on the front row. Ken Wharton, at the wheel of the second Vanwall, would also be impressive during practice. He would show absolutely no signs of complications from his accident at Silverstone all the way back in early May as he would end up completing the front row capturing 4th. Just like that, Vandervell went from not being able to have a car finish a race, nor start from the front of a grid, to having two lining up along the front row.
Moss' presence in the race meant some considerable trouble, but confidence was beginning to soar at Vandervell. And, during the race itself, it would show. Schell would be quick off the line and would be challenging for the lead straight-away. Even Wharton would make a great start and would be right up there from the earliest of moments.
Horace Gould's race would last just 2 laps before he would retire with a problem. This suddenly meant Moss was having to contend with two Vanwalls that, earlier in the season, wouldn't even make it half distance in a race. But at Snetterton, neither of the two Vanwalls were struggling to be able to make it at least half distance. In fact, it would be Moss that would struggle just to keep up with the two teammates.
Schell would take the lead of the race and would draw away from the rest. Then it would be Wharton that would be in 2nd place ahead of Moss. It would be an amazing Vandervell one-two!
Moss would not give up. He would try everything he could. He would set the fastest lap of the race and would keep the pressure on the two Vanwalls, but it would end up being him that would fade with time.
Schell would come across the line to take the surprising victory in the Vanwall. Averaging nearly 81 mph, Schell would be pulling away easily in the later-stages of the race. Amazingly, the man he would be pulling away from would not be Moss, but Wharton. Even Ken Wharton would be on a roll this day and would stretch out a comfortable margin to finish in 2nd place some 11 seconds behind Schell and almost 8 seconds ahead of Moss in 3rd.
What a turnaround for the team. Earlier in the year the team couldn't even get two cars to finish a race. But now, Vandervell Products would come away with a dramatic and emotional one-two, and against Moss of all people. Just when it seemed as though Vandervell would be scraping his own chassis for a Maserati, it would overcome and defeat the very chassis it was to be replaced with. Confidence and morale would be riding high around the team. Patience was paying dividends.
It would be good that confidence and morale would be emerging from the doldrums for the final round of the Formula One World Championship would be coming up just one month later. The race was the Italian Grand Prix. It would be held on the 11th of September at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza. However, for the first time in the history of the Formula One World Championship the entire circuit would be used, instead of just the 3.91 mile road course. Therefore, a real torture test awaited each and every team.
The Autodromo Nazionale Monza would be built in the Royal Villa of Monza during the early 1920s. At the time, the circuit would be one of the very few purpose-built race tracks in the world. Even then, the circuit would be built with more than one race in mind, and therefore, a couple of different variations would be possible. Not only had a 3.91 mile road course been built, but a 2.6 mile oval would also be built. In its unique design, both circuits had the potential of being incorporated together into one 6.21 mile circuit. However, this original circuit layout would only be used between 1922 and 1933.
The organizers at Monza had a portion of circuit that was decaying and not being used. This was poor use of the circuit's assets. Therefore, in the interim between the 1954 and 1955 seasons, the oval would be evolved. Instead of a mere flat oval, even higher banking would be added. When combined with the already-fast road course, an insanely-fast circuit would result.
The presence of the steep banking and the use of the full course for the first time since before the Second World War meant the final round of the 1955 Formula One World Championship season would certainly be an unforgettable spectacle.
The performance of the Vanwalls over the last couple of races were certainly reason for the team to be excited coming into the race. But given that the race was to be 50 laps covering a total distance of 311 miles, there was also more than enough reason for the team to be cautiously optimistic.
Being that it was the Italian Grand Prix, the sheer number of cars adorned in red livery should have been enough for the team's cautious optimism, but the fact the Mercedes-Benz team was favored coming in only made matters all the more disconcerting. Still, Vandervell Products would unload their two cars riding a wave of momentum.
After practice, however, the caution would well and truly begin to set in. Juan Manuel Fangio would be the fastest around the circuit with a time of 2:46.5. Averaging 134 mph, Fangio would end up three-tenths of a second faster than his Mercedes teammate Stirling Moss. Karl Kling would keep things rolling for Mercedes as he took the third-fastest time in practice and completed a front row sweep for the Silver Arrows team.
Schell would prove the fastest of the two Vanwall drivers. His best lap, however, would be merely 2:55.5. This would only be good enough for the American to start from the fifth row of the grid in the 13th position. Wharton's best effort would be four seconds slower than that of Schell's. This would translate into a seventh row starting position. Starting from 17th on the grid, Wharton would have a tough job ahead of himself, but then again, so too would Schell.
A large crowd would descend upon the circuit preparing to cheer on the huge Italian contingent. However, it would be clear as the bright sun shinning that day that all bets should be placed on one of the Mercedes taking the victory. They had been untouchable during practice. And, as the flag dropped to start the race, they would be clearly out front leading the way around on the first lap of the race. Moss would get the better start and would lead Fangio through the first portion of the circuit. However, by the end of the first lap, it would be Fangio taking up the usual station ahead of Moss.
Trouble would come in earnest after Vandervell. Coming into the race the team had been riding a tidal wave of momentum. A good deal of that momentum would be lost right at the start. In fact, all momentum would be lost in Wharton's car as he would have an injection pump fail right at the start of the race and he would eventually fail to complete even a single lap. This was not a good sign for the team as they had had great reliability and performance at their last race at Snetterton.
Although Wharton would fall coming out of the gate, Schell would get going, but, he too would trip coming off the line and would drop a couple of positions by the end of the first lap. Meanwhile, the Mercedes team would come out of the blocks without issue and would be leading the way, clearly ahead and pulling away from the rest of the field after just the first lap.
Fangio and Moss would continue to lead the way through the first laps of the race. Schell would recover from his missteps and would manage to get back up to where he had started the race. However, not all would be well. Amazingly, as with just about every other race during the early part of the season, trouble would come and visit the Vandervell team early. Wharton would fall out before completing a lap, and then, Schell would pit with problems of his own. Problems with the rear suspension would bring about the end of the team's day after completing just 7 laps. All of sudden it was as if the tides had suddenly gone out and the wave-rider found himself with absolutely nothing but air underneath himself and would come crashing down to earth.
The day would be bitterly disappointing for Vandervell, but there would be many others that would suffer great disappointment as well. Chief among them would be Stirling Moss. For a brief period of time, Moss would battle with Fangio and would actually lead the race, but after 27 laps it would all come to an end when smoke began pouring from his engine. Things would get worse for Mercedes when Karl Kling retired from the race after 32 laps due to a gearbox failure. Drivers such as Mike Hawthorn, Luigi Musso and Peter Collins would all fall out of contention. But, Fangio would remain up at the front of the field carrying on without a moment's hesitation.
Piero Taruffi would take over 2nd place well behind Fangio. And though it would be a Mercedes one-two, many would be nervous down in the Mercedes pits after the team had lost two of its other cars. Still, the rest of the field would be in the same kind of position as the Mercedes team. Attrition would strike at the field until just nine cars would be left in the running. Fangio's and Taruffi's pace at the front would make things worse for the rest of the field.
Taruffi remained tucked right up underneath the back of Fangio's car, but, when Moss retired with his engine problems, his greatest threat had departed the scene. Fangio would be free to carry on to the victory, which he would do, completing the race distance in just two hours and twenty-five minutes. Taruffi would finish the race in 2nd place just seven-tenths of a second behind. Eugenio Castellotti would bring home the consolation prize finishing in 3rd place some 46 seconds behind Fangio.
The Formula One World Championship had drawn to a close. And it would end with the reigning world champion bookending the season with a controlled and demonstrative performance. It would be a far cry from the performances put forth by the Vandervell team where it looked as if only attrition was in control. Even the finish in the British Grand Prix would look like a desperate effort whereby only the grace of Providence carried the team through.
The Italian Grand Prix looked like a return to the earlier part of the year, not like what had been recent history. Therefore, this brought up serious concerns heading into the final non-championship races of the season. Which Vandervell team would show up?
It would take just two weeks before everyone, including the team, would find out just how Vandervell Products got along. On the 24th of September, a non-championship race would be held toward the north of England at Oulton Park. It was the 2nd International Gold Cup race, and it would be one of the tougher non-championship races to be held in the final couple of months of the season.
Oulton Park Circuit would be a departure from most all of the other motor racing circuits that would pop up in the years following the end of the Second World War. While the former Oulton Estate had been involved in wartime preparations, it would not be an airbase or any such thing. Therefore, when the Mid-Cheshire Car Club set out to develop a motor racing circuit in the late-1940s they would have the ability to create whatever they wanted. And what they would create would be a circuit that rose and fell with the terrain and was anything but a wide open field formerly used to house aircraft. This would make Oulton Park attractive to drivers from all over England, and even Europe, and it would cause many of the races to be similarly popular with the spectators.
1954 saw the first running of the International Gold Cup race and those present would be treated to an incredible performance by Stirling Moss coming from the tail-end of the field to take victory. One year later, Moss would be back but would not be found at the back-end of the field, and this would be an ominous sign for everyone else in the field.
The 1955 International Gold Cup would see an absolute treat. Scuderia Ferrari would come with a couple of cars to be driven by Mike Hawthorn and Eugenio Castellotti. Not all that surprising would be the fact Hawthorn would be quickest in practice. But, Moss would be right there. He would post a time just two-tenths of a second slower than Hawthorn and would end up lining up on the front row in 2nd. Luigi Musso and Castellotti would make it an all-Italian front row.
Then came the Vanwalls. Harry Schell would be at the wheel of chassis VW2. He would post a time in practice that would be just a second slower than Hawthorn, and therefore, would be starting the race from the second row of the grid in the 5th position. Schell's teammate would fair about as well. The second car for Vandervell would go well in practice but it would not be piloted by Wharton. Instead, it would be Desmond Titterington behind the wheel. Wharton was listed in the entry form, giving Vandervell three entries in the race. However, Wharton's entry would be later withdrawn. Titterington, however, would take to the track and would be impressive. His best time in practice would be just eight-tenths slower than his teammate. As a result, he too would manage to start from the second row of the grid in the 6th position.
Nineteen cars would line up on the grid preparing to take part in the 54 lap race. It seemed, all things considered, that the Vanwalls were again in a strong position. However, as the race got underway, it would become more than apparent that everyone, and that would include Vandervell, would have no answer for Stirling Moss.
Right from the very beginning of the race Moss would be right up front looking to repeat as champion of the race. Still, Hawthorn would be right there in the Lancia-Ferrari and would be quite quick in his own right. Harry Schell looked good during the early going of the race but would find himself out of yet another race when the Vanwall suffered a component failure on the car's suspension. This occurrence would take him out of the race after just 16 laps.
By the time Schell departed there would already be five other cars out of the running. Moss would be up at the front with Hawthorn and the two would be pushing each other very hard lowering the lap times with just about every passing lap.
Although it was his first race, Titterington would be performing well in his Vanwall and would be the one still holding the hopes of the team in his hand. Castellotti would fade rather quickly as would Musso and others. With Titterington holding down a very fine 3rd place, the race well and truly became a two-man duel.
Moss would keep the pressure on Hawthorn by turning what was to be the fastest lap of the race with an average speed of nearly 88 mph. Hawthorn would do his best to stay with Moss throughout the course of the event but would slowly lose ground to Moss in his Maserati. The two men were putting up one incredible fight. Not another car would end the race on the same lap. It was either going to be Moss the repeat winner or Hawthorn the spoiler.
Moss would have more than enough to fend off Hawthorn. Despite all his best efforts, Hawthorn just would not be able to keep up with Moss. Therefore, Moss would take the victory by six seconds over Hawthorn. A little more than a lap would be the difference back to Titterington taking a very fine 3rd place for the asphyxiating Vandervell team.
Desmond Titterington would help to save Vandervell after the early retirement suffered by Schell. And after the debacle in the Italian Grand Prix, the 3rd place result would still go a long way to reinvigorate the team, breathing new life into them to finish the season strongly.
The final race of the season would not be all that far away after the close shave at Oulton Park. Just one week after the International Gold Cup race, the 1st of October, Castle Combe would host the first Avon Trophy race. One final opportunity for Vandervell Products to show that it had truly turned the corner many came to believe after the RedeX Trophy race at Snetterton back in the middle of August.
Coming into the race, everyone was expecting a huge battle. It was widely rumored and circulated that Scuderia Ferrari would dispatch a couple of their Lancia D50s to take part in the 55 lap, 101 mile, race. While this would be more than mere rumor, unfortunately, the issue of money would make it a no-go situation. And instead of around 18 cars taking part in the race, only 14 would actually arrive.
Still, there would be some very tough competition that would make the trip. Ecurie Rosier would come. Owen Racing, R.R.C. Walker Racing and Gilby Engineering would all be among those that would be in the field. But while there would be a number of top British teams in the field, Vandervell would arrive with just one chassis to be driven by Harry Schell.
Castle Combe, at 1.84 miles, seemed perfectly suited to Schell's driving style. Fast and a bit tricky, the circuit seemed perfectly suited to Schell's no-nonsense style of driving. Another of the former World War II airbases-turned motor racing circuits, Castle Combe would be wide open and generally featureless. This would make it all the more difficult.
Castle Combe estate had been owned by the Gorst family prior to the war, but by May of 1941, a portion of the estate would be turned into an airfield and called RAF Castle Combe. It would end up being one of the longest serving airfields from the war as it wouldn't be decommissioned until 1948. And, like so many others, the 1.84 miles of perimeter road was deemed to be perfect for a motor racing venue. Mostly hosting lower formula races, the Avon Trophy race would represent a step up for the circuit.
Despite being the only entry for Vandervell, and after all of the latest issues the team had been experiencing, Schell would set out in practice on a mission to be the fastest. Posting a time of 1:14.4 around the circuit, he would do just that. A spirited battle would ensue between Horace Gould and Bob Gerard as both would set times within hundredths of a second of each other. Gould would end up posting the slightly faster time and would take the 2nd position on the front row. On the other side of Gerard in the 4th, and final, position on the front row would be Tony Brooks driving a Formula 2 Connaught A-Type.
Although Schell had taken the pole, he still had more than enough to be concerned about. Not only had his car shown an inability to cover any great lengths, but he also had some very talented drivers, like Peter Collins, Roy Salvadori and Louis Rosier all starting right behind him, let alone those who would be on the front row right alongside. So, while Schell and his Vanwall looked like a favorite heading into the race, there was more than enough back history to suggest he may not have been a safe bet.
Lining up on the circuit for the start of the race, Schell's all-or-nothing driving style was certainly going to propel him to the front. It would just be a question of whether or not the car would allow him to stay there. Therefore, it wasn't at all surprising when Schell got a great start off the line and was right up at the front right from the very beginning.
Schell, though, would come under pressure early on. Gould would be right there along with Collins and Salvadori. And then, of course, there was Gerard, Rosier and Brooks. All of these would do their best to apply pressure early on but Schell seemed to be more than comfortable and ready for a fight.
Then the casualties began rolling in. A couple of Formula 2 cars would be the first to fall. But then, after 10 laps, Collins would retire from the race with a rear suspension problem. Then, after 19 laps, Rosier would be out of the race with a broken shock absorber. Though the attrition remained relatively light, the fast circuit was claiming some important victims.
Salvadori just wouldn't be able to keep up with Schell's pace and would begin to drift backward. Tony Brooks would, of course, be driving a Formula 2 Connaught. And though he would try with all his might, he just could not come close to matching the pace of the Formula One cars in the field. Though he would remain up near the front of the field throughout, he too would begin a backward trend through the field.
Schell's greatest competition over the course of the race would come from the oversized figure, Horace Gould. Gould would do his best, but when Schell cracked off a fastest lap time of 1:13.6, nearly a full second faster than his own pole-winning effort, it was clear Gould would have no challenge for Schell. The only chance Gould would have would be if attrition had come calling upon Schell. This would not be an unfounded hope, especially for Vandervell and Schell. Still, despite all of the warnings from he previous couple of races, Schell continued to push hard in the Vanwall turning laps around a 90 mph average speed. Either the Vanwall was going to fail, or, every other car was going to fail under Schell's pressure.
Numerous other drivers had already hedged their bets. They would be off the pace and would be just waiting and hoping for Schell to run into trouble. But, over the course of the 55 laps, the Vanwall would operate as if it had been performing flawlessly all season long.
Schell would take a dominant victory. Completing the race distance in a little more than one hour and ten minutes, Schell would cruise across the line some 20 seconds ahead of Gould in 2nd place. Bob Gerard would finish the race in 3rd place but would end up more than 30 seconds behind.
All by himself, Schell would bring home the Vanwall on the victor's podium. It would be an incredible performance, a vastly different performance than that which had been experienced in the previous couple of races. It was clear, despite the huge setbacks, Vandervell and his team was making great strides forward.
The beginning of the season would look vastly different than the end, although there would be many moments throughout that bore an eerie similarity to those terrible days of the beginning of the season. The goal of a team, if the beginning of a season is not going well, is to improve over the course of the racing calendar. And though Vandervell would experience huge setbacks, it would not be necessary to argue the team, in fact, did improve. To take a couple of victories, not even including Formula Libre events, more than indicate that Vandervell made great strides, despite what Hawthorn believed.
The team had worked on with their own chassis. They knew what was working and what needed further work. They also had ideas for the future. Therefore, after the Empire News Trophy race, also at Castle Combe, and also a race in which Schell would come away victorious, Vandervell would take and cannibalize his four chassis and would begin work on the new chassis the designers were just finishing up.
Although the season could have been considered an up and down nightmare, the pace the team would achieve by the end of the year would attract a number of top drivers. And, with the withdrawal of Mercedes-Benz at the end of the 1955 season, there would be one very talented Brit that would be available. There would also be a disgruntled former employee that would also make his return. It was clear, the Vandervell Products Ltd. team was an outfit that needed to be taken seriously. Vandervell Products