Teams1952 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
Raymond Mays and Peter Berthon had always been patriotic racing drivers and engineers. However, between their two racing endeavors, ERA holds a much more loving place in many hearts than the burdensome BRM project.
Even though Mays and Berthon had moved on to the BRM project, many ERA chassis continued to take part in the upper levels of grand prix racing well into the early 1950s. Although the team was small and not on par with other teams like Scuderia Ferrari, ERA Ltd. was able to secure a very good and promising British driver by the name of Stirling Moss for the 1952 season.
ERA had produced a new car for the 1952 season. It was the G-type chassis. The rectangular-shaped chassis would be designed to use a longitudinally positioned 2.0-liter 6-cylinder engine. The 2.0-liter engine was designed to adhere to Formula One regulations for the 1952 championship season. In 1952 the regulations were such that the World Championship rounds would be raced to Formula 2 regulations, which included the use of only 2.0-liter engines.
Throughout the early part of the 1952 season, Stirling Moss was involved in a number of sports car races while ERA prepared its new G-type chassis and Bristol engine. As a result of the preparations needing to take place, the team did not travel to Bremgarten to take part in the Swiss Grand Prix, which was the first round of the Formula One World Championship in 1952.
Almost without any practice time in the car, or with the team, Stirling Moss arrived in Francorchamps, Belgium for the Belgian Grand Prix. The Belgian Grand Prix was the third round of the World Championship for 1952.
Twenty-two cars and drivers would qualify for the 36 lap race around the long and fast 8.77 mile road course. Nobody put in a faster lap in qualifying than Alberto Ascari. Ascari travelled the public road course in a lap of four minutes and thirty-seven seconds. Giuseppe Farina, the 1950 World Champion, could not match the pace of his Ferrari teammate and would end up starting 2nd. Piero Taruffi made it an all Ferrari front row when he was able to qualify 3rd. Stirling Moss pushed the 2.0-liter Bristol engine in his ERA G hard and was able to record a decent 10th place starting spot on the grid.
Average speeds around the public road circuit routinely exceeded 100 mph. This would take a toll on the engine and gearboxes of all the competitors. As the race began, it started in the midst of rain falling on the track. This would help to slow the pace down somewhat and would save cars from failures as their drivers had to be careful at every moment of every lap. Unfortunately for ERA and Stirling Moss, the engine had decided it had done all the work it was going to do just to be able to start 10th on the grid. The damage had already been done even before the race started. As a result, Stirling Moss would not even take part of the race and would, obviously, be the first entry out of the Belgian Grand Prix.
The rain did little to slow down Alberto Ascari. With the exception of one lap, whereby Jean Behra was credited with having led, Ascari led every single lap and cruised to victory by almost two minutes over Farina. Robert Manzon, driving his Equipe Gordini T16, would finish 3rd, four minutes and twenty-eight seconds behind Alberto.
The next time ERA appeared at a grand prix race it was back across the Channel. On July 19th the fifth round of the World Championship, which was the British Grand Prix, was set to take place at Silverstone.
The entry list for the grand prix was full. In all, thirty-two would qualify for the 85 lap race around the 2.92 mile road course facility. The start/finish line had been moved to its present-day location between Woodcote and Copse.
Surprisingly, Giuseppe Farina was able to get the better of his Ferrari teammate in practice, and would end up taking the pole-position on the grid. Ever since coming back from taking part in the Indianapolis 500 Alberto Ascari had been dominant. Although beaten out for the pole, Ascari would start right beside in 2nd. Piero Taruffi would make it an all Ferrari front row again with his 3rd place starting position. With a field of over thirty drivers, good positions in qualifying would have been difficult to achieve. Stirling pushed the ERA, but could only put together a fast enough lap for 16th on the grid.
On race day the skies were overcast, but the track was dry. Moss' only other Formula One race during the 1952 season had been the Belgian Grand Prix. At that race, the Bristol engine would end up failing on Stirling, thereby preventing him from being able to take part in the race. The story would differ at the British Grand Prix, but only just slightly.
Though beaten out for the pole, Ascari would beat out Farina for the lead of the first lap of the race. Once Alberto took the point, the battle for the victory was over. All that was left was to determine the final points-paying positions. Moss would have liked to have been part of the competition, but, once again, his Bristol engine would not make it that far. Stirling was mixing it up with the competitors around him for the first-third of the race. Then, on lap 36, the engine in Moss' ERA G let go. His race was over. In his second Formula One race for 1952, Moss suffered a second retirement.
Ascari would demolish the field. He would lead every single lap of the race and would take the victory by at least a lap advantage over the rest of the field. Farina struggled and would only be able to finish the race in 6th. This promoted Taruffi's steady drive to a 2nd place finish, albeit one lap down to his Ferrari comrade. Mike Hawthorn was able to rouse the generally sleepy British fans when he was able to wrestle his Cooper T20 to a 3rd place finish.
On the 2nd of August, one day before the 6th round of the Formula One World Championship. ERA entered its G-type in the 2nd Daily Mail Trophy race held at Boreham. The 2.98 mile road course would host not merely the Formula 2 spec grand prix cars, but also, the Formula One spec cars from the previous years. This meant the dominant Ferrari 375 and the venerable Talbot-Lago T26C would be allowed to run in the Daily Mail Trophy race.
Despite the presence of the bigger liter engines in the Ferrari and Talbot-Lago, Moss would still impress, as would fellow Brit Mike Hawthorn. In practice, Stirling was able to put together a lap that would end up being fast enough that he would start the race from 10th on the grid. Perhaps more impressively, Mike Hawthorn would start 6th in the Cooper-Bristol T20. Luigi Villoresi would end up taking the pole in a Scuderia Ferrari 375 with its powerful 4.5-liter V12 engine. BRM teammates, Jose Froilan Gonzalez and Ken Wharton, would end up starting 2nd and 4th in the big 16-cylinder P15. Chico Landi, also driving a Ferrari 375, would start 3rd. Louis Rosier, driving yet another 375 would start 5th. The first-five spots all started from the front row in the 5-4-5 arranged grid.
Rain had fallen on the track prior to the race beginning. This neutralized the power advantage of the Ferraris and Talbot-Lago T26Cs. Lighter, more nimble chassis were able to handle the wet track better and prospered as a result. This was typified by Hawthorn's ability to come up and take the lead away from Villoresi and to hold onto it for a majority of the race. Moss was another fighting to move up the order. Surrounded by other light chassis, Stirling was finding the ascension up the order difficult.
As the track dried up, so too did Hawthorn's advantage over Villoresi. Villoresi would end up being able to get by the British driver and would take the win. Chico Landi would also get by and would finish 2nd. Hawthorn would hold on to finish the race 3rd. Though not challenging for the win or the podium, Moss was able to earn a small victory when he was able to make his ERA last the entire race. Though one lap down at the end of the race, Moss would finish 7th.
After the troubles the team had experienced at its only two Formula One events it had entered during that year, ERA decided to switch its engine from the Bristol to its own in-house ERA engine. This meant the team needed time to prepare its car for its next race.
The team's next race would be the seventh round of the Formula One World Championship. It would also end up being the third and final round in which the team would contest during the 1952 season.
The seventh round was the 4th Grand Prix of the Netherlands and the race took place at the 2.60 mile road course at Zandvoort. The Zandvoort track consisted of a number of medium-speed sweeping corners. It didn't matter what the track was like, Scuderia Ferrari was absolutely dominant.
Alberto Ascari took the pole one more time. He was joined on the front row by his teammate Giuseppe Farina. Luigi Villoresi wasn't able to keep it an entirely Ferrari front row, however. Mike Hawthorn continued to impress in the Cooper T20 and was able to start the race 3rd. Eighteen drivers would qualify to start the race. While Ascari formed one of the bookends at the front, Moss formed the other bookend at the back when he started the race 18th.
Right from the very start of the race, Ascari took control and would not look back. Armed with a different engine, Stirling looked only forward. Of course he had no need to look back when starting dead-last. The race was looking good for Stirling. He continued to click off lap-after-lap of the 90 scheduled. He didn't have anywhere near the pace of Ascari, but Moss' first concern, as too was ERA's, was that he finished the race. It would seem any engine put inside the ERA G chassis was cursed. On his 73rd lap, Moss' race came to an end with yet another engine failure.
Ascari would lead every single lap of the race and would take the victory by over forty seconds. Farina finished 2nd and Villoresi would end up getting past Hawthorn to make it a Scuderia Ferrari one-two-three.
ERA had entered its car for the 1st National Trophy race at Turnberry on August 23rd and the 4th Circuit de Cadours on September 14th. However, neither the team, nor, Stirling Moss appeared for the events. The engine troubles the team had suffered throughout its limited season seriously hindered the team's racing schedule.
ERA did resume its racing schedule in the later part of the September. The team entered their ERA G in the 5th Madgwick Cup race at Goodwood. Besides being a British team taking part in an almost exclusively British event, the seven lap race distance would appear to be a good fit for the ERA G and its fragile engines.
Once again, Stirling Moss was behind the wheel. Twenty-two drivers would qualify for the race, but not all of them would be able to take part. Thankfully for Moss and ERA, they weren't one of them that were not able to take part.
The field was filled with more local talent, and therefore, lacked some of the more competitive drivers. This only favored Moss and his struggling ERA. Eric Thompson would end up being able to take the pole. Next to him on the four-wide front row were Ken Downing, Duncan Hamilton and Alan Brown. Stirling wouldn't be able to break into the front row, but he would end up starting from the second row in 7th. This was Stirling's best starting spot at any race he had contested when driving for ERA.
One would think the 7 lap race would end up playing into the hands of Stirling Moss with his fragile ERA engine. Confidence would have been over-flowing when it was realized Duncan Hamilton would not start the race from his 3rd place starting spot due to an engine problem. But, perhaps it was over-confidence that got the better of Moss at the start of the short race.
On the very first lap, Stirling Moss and Andre Loens got together in a crash. Just like that, both entries were out of the race! It didn't seem to matter whether the race was 90 laps or 1, ERA just seemed to struggle to make it to the end.
Ken Downing would go on to win the short event by thirteen seconds over Dennis Poore and by seventeen over Alan Brown.
Just two more races would be contested by the struggling ERA team in 1952. The first of those two remaining races was the 1st Joe Fry Memorial Trophy race held at Castle Combe on the 4th of October.
The season, or what was left of it, seemingly got on track after qualifying. Facing a number of Cooper-Bristol T20s and a lone Ferrari 500, Stirling was able to guide his ERA to the pole with a lap of one minute and eighteen seconds. ERA must have thought their time had finally come. Peter Whitehead started 2nd. Roy Salvadori would start 3rd. And, Alan Brown finished off the front row starting the race 4th.
The Joe Fry Memorial Trophy race was 20 laps around the 1.83 mile road course. Moss was amidst the top at the start of the race and was battling. However, on the 6th lap, all of the euphoria the team may have been feeling after qualifying disappeared when Moss suffered yet another failure. Roy Salvadori would make it yet another Ferrari 500 victory for the 1952 season. Twelve seconds behind Salvadori, Ken Wharton finished in 2nd in his Frazer Nash FN48. Ninian Sanderson would finish another four seconds further back in 3rd.
ERA and Moss had managed only one finish throughout its 1952 season. At the 1st Newcastle Journal Trophy race, the team and Stirling had just one more try to make it two.
The race at Charterhall's 1.99 mile road course would be a severe test. The race distance was 40 laps. Throughout the season the ERA proved it didn't matter how many laps the race was, there was no assurance, or general assumption, the car could make the distance.
Twenty-eight cars qualified for the race. The attrition during the race would not have fostered a lot of confidence for any team or driver. By the end of the 40 laps, only seven cars would still be running. No doubt crossing their fingers till the end, ERA and Stirling Moss would be one of the seven few that would make it. It almost didn't matter where he finished as long as he finished. Whether a disappointment or not, Stirling finished the very last race of ERA's 1952 season in 4th! Dennis Poore would end up winning the race over Kenneth McAlpine and Mike Oliver.
The truly terrible season ERA suffered would end up being its last in grand prix racing. 1952 was akin to an individual struggling to hang on despite multiple knife or gunshot wounds. Eventually there would be the last breath. The 1st Newcastle Journal Trophy race gave racing historians something to read about as it would spell the end of ERA.
Ever since Mays' departure to head up the British Racing Motors project, ERA floundered. It was as if it lacked a driving force to help direct it into the future. In a similar fashion, ERA's 1952 campaign seemed almost as powerless. Despite having a new chassis, it lacked the engine to help it become the success the team believed it would be. ERA's '52 Formula One World Championship season, indicative of the majority of its other grand prix results, ended in failure. The disastrous season marked the end of the ERA-era in grand prix and World Championship racing. ERA Ltd