Teams1948 Monaco Grand Prix: Prelude to a Championship By Jeremy McMullen
The streets of Monaco would host its first ever grand prix in 1929. The first edition of the race would be an immediate hit with drivers and spectators alike, and therefore, would only grow from then on. Even from its earliest days, Monaco would be a special place in which to race, and especially win. And, in many cases, the race would be a great determiner for the future, a definition of a driver's career. Such would be the case with the 1948 Monaco Grand Prix.
Giuseppe Farina had begun his racing career in 1933. By the late-1930s Farina would be a driver reaching the peak of his career. Unfortunately, the outbreak of the Second World War would hurt his ascendancy. However, Farina wasn't one to give in very easily. In fact, it wasn't even an idea or concept that he recognized.
Being one of the up and coming drivers of the 1930s, Farina would have his share of opportunities to drive the best cars of the period. And seeing that he was Italian it was only fitting that he would be seen behind the wheel of Maseratis and Alfa Romeos. This would provide some very important connections for the future.
By 1938, Farina was driving with the Alfa Corse team and was their number one driver. Talented as he was, Farina would go on to win the Italian Championship some three years straight, but his first major grand prix victory wouldn't come until 1940 with the Tripoli Grand Prix.
The outbreak of the Second World War would be a most unfortunate occurrence for Farina as he was just coming of age. It seemed Farina's best years would pass him by. And when the 1930s champions tried and failed to make a post-war career, it seemed all the more likely that Farina would suffer the same fate.
Known as brutal and ruthless on the track, Giuseppe would not give up on a second go-around so easy. Thankfully for him, he would join the Alfa Romeo factory team after the war and would have the opportunity to drive the potent 158 Alfetta. And then, at the 1st Grand Prix des Nations on the 21st of July in 1946, Giuseppe Farina would prove that he was still more than capable behind the wheel of grand prix car by taking the victory in the final race over Carlo Trossi and Jean-Pierre Wimille.
Despite the victory and driving for the most dominant team of the period, Farina would have a number of disagreements with the management over team leadership, and therefore, would leave the factory team at the end of the 1946 season.
At the end of the 1946 season Farina would turn 40 years of age. And while many drivers of the period were a bit older, Farina's age certainly seemed to be factor in any future opportunities. The fact that the 1948 season would see him driving privately-entered Maseratis would not help the overall perception that his career was certainly on its downhill run. But then the 1948 Monaco Grand Prix would come along.
The story of the 1948 Monaco Grand Prix would actually begin two weeks earlier with the 2nd Grand Prix des Nations. Held on the 2nd of May in Geneva, the last time the Grand Prix des Nations had been held it had turned into a surprise victory for Farina at the wheel of an Alfa Romeo 158 Alfetta. Two years later, and at the age of 41, Farina would take a privately-entered Maserati 4CLT and would capture the pole for the 80 lap race.
With names like Louis Rosier, Jean-Pierre Wimille, Raymond Sommer, Luigi Villoresi, Luigi Fagioli and others in the field, the 2nd edition of the Grand Prix des Nations would be a supreme test for the man supposedly on the downward trend of his career. However, during the race Farina would post fastest lap and would go on to score a dominant victory beating Emmanuel de Graffenried by a margin of nearly two minutes.
It had been a dominant victory by Farina at Geneva, and therefore, offered a great amount of momentum and confidence heading into the 10th Grand Prix de Monaco on the 16th of May. There would be a couple of big differences between the two races, however. Whereas the Grand Prix des Nations would take place on a shorter circuit and for less laps, the Monaco Grand Prix would be taking place on the unforgiving 1.95 mile circuit for 100 laps. Additionally, the Monaco Grand Prix would be returning for the first time since before the outbreak of World War II, and the race had always been something special. Therefore, the meaning and the importance of the race would be weightier to the teams and drivers. And so, the pressure heading into the race would also be much greater. Farina would know very well that to do well in this race meant an extension to his racing career and the opportunity still to drive the best available equipment.
Both the Grand Prix des Nations and the Monaco Grand Prix would take place on street circuits measuring under 2 miles. However, the two circuits could not have been much different. Mostly, the circuit layout used in Geneva was open with some straights in which the cars could really be pushed.
Monaco, on the other hand, would be confined between the mountains and the season. Therefore, the circuit would be tighter and quite twisty. As a result, there would be very few straight portions of circuit. Therefore, components on a car, like the transmission, gearbox, engine and brakes would all go through a torture test over the course of the 100 lap race.
A great deal of excitement surrounded the race and there was a buzz around the streets even as the cars took to the circuit for practice. Driving the same Maserati 4CLT that he had scored the victory at Geneva, Farina would prove quickest around the streets of the principality and would take the pole with a time of 1:53.8. Jean-Pierre Wimille, driving a Simca Gordini, would end up in the middle of the front row with a time just four-tenths of a second slower. Luigi Villoresi, driving a Maserati 4CL, would barely miss out on starting 2nd as his best effort in practice would be a mere tenth off that of Wimille.
An estimated crowd of 50,000 people would crowd around the streets of Monaco as the field of cars would be pushed out onto the grid and into place along the front stretch. The day could not have been more perfect, with the exception of a heavy wind blowing in off the Mediterranean.
Driving a slightly under-powered car, Wimille would need the perfect getaway in order to take over the lead and hold off the rest of the field behind him. And as the flag would drop to start the race, he would do exactly that. Jean-Pierre would get a great start off the line and would lead by half a car length over the first 50 meters. However, the Maseratis were much more powerful, and, by the team the field headed into Ste-Devote for the first time it would be Farina in the lead with Villoresi right behind ahead of Wimille. By Casino, it would be Villoresi in the lead ahead of Farina.
Villoresi and Farina would be at the head of the field and looking quite strong early on. However, trouble with Villoresi's gearbox would cause him to slow and allowed Farina to take over the lead.
Still, Farina and Villoresi would be at the head of the field and pulling away. Behind them, trouble would begin to come and visit some of the other competitors. Prince Bira would be out of the race after just 5 laps due to a loss of oil. On the very same lap, Raymond Sommer would drop out of contention with an engine-related problem. At that same time, Villoresi would stop in the pits and would lose a lot of time while the pit crew tried to figure out what exactly the problem is with his Maserati. Villoresi would return to the circuit but would do so with only two gears, and therefore, would be out of contention. The trouble would allow Farina to disappear into the distance with a large advantage over the rest of the field.
Troubles and pit stops would cause the order to constantly change behind Farina. It would also allow drivers, like Louis Chiron, to make their way up the running order after starting well back in the field. In Chiron's case, he had started the race in 12th in a large Talbot that really wasn't meant for the tight streets of Monaco. Still, he would make his way up to 4th behind Baron de Graffenried.
The disappointments would continue. Some 16 laps into the race, Nuvolari would pull into the pits in his Cisitalia. It would prove to be his final laps around the streets of Monaco. He had taken over the drive of the car from Piero Taruffi. But, not feeling well behind the wheel, it would be the final Monaco Grand Prix for Tazio Nuvolari.
At the same time that Nuvolari was withdrawing from the race, Chiron would manage to get by de Graffenried for 3rd place behind Wimille. Farina, meanwhile, would have no competition and would be working on putting everyone at least a lap down.
By the halfway mark in the race, Farina would enjoy a full lap's advantage on everyone in the field. He would then come into the pits to have the car checked. Chiron and Wimille would do the same. However, Farina's stop would be incredibly long and would hand the lead to Wimille whose stop would be much quicker and would allow him to come around back onto the lead lap and into the lead. Chiron would also get his lap back and would be sitting in 2nd place behind Wimille. It would be an incredible performance out of Chiron with the hefty Talbot. He would come from 12th to find himself in 2nd place. But then, it would get even better for Chiron as Wimille would slow as a result of engine failure.
Prince Igor Troubetskoy would crash out of the race just a couple of laps before Wimille's engine problems. The list of cars still running in the race would be growing ever shorter. One lap after Wmille's troubles, Alberto Ascari would be out of the running with an oil pump failure. Piero Taruffi's race would last until lap 64 when the engine would let go in the Cisitalia.
Although Chiron was now in the lead of the race, Farina would not wait and hope for attrition to hand him back the lead. He would charge ahead, intent on catching Chiron and taking the lead from him in an out-right duel for the lead. Meanwhile, Villoresi is doing the best he can to hold on in his Maserati. Toward the later-third of the race he would manage to claw back 6 positions. However, when he would pit and hand the car over to Ascari for the remainder of the race, an even greater frenzy would take place that would see Ascari bring Villoresi's Maserati even further up the running order.
It would not take very long and Farina would take back the lead of the race from Chiron. Still, Chiron would hold onto 2nd place ahead of de Graffenried. Maurice Trintignant would be running a quiet race all day but would quickly find himself in 4th place. Ascari's performance would see him fight his way up to 5th place in the overall running order.
In the lead of the race, Farina would absolutely cruise. Knowing that he had the advantage over Chiron in the Talbot, he would settle in for the remainder of the race and would not put a wheel wrong at any time.
At the end of more than three hours and eighteen minutes of driving, Farina would cross the line to take the victory. Some thirty-six seconds would be the difference back to Chiron in 2nd place. More than two laps would be the margin back to de Graffenried finishing in 3rd.
Farina would make it look easy. It was clear the 41 year old had not lost his touch and the streets of Monaco would be one of the most supreme tests. As Farina himself would state, 'It is one of the most difficult ones that I ever drove, not a minute respite, not an instant of relaxation. You are like walking continually on the tips of your toes, check the revs at all times and changing gears with clockwork precision.'
Farina would run like a clock for 100 laps. He would never put himself or his car in harm's way and would literally drive the rest of the field into the ground. In the end, it would be a dominant victory that would be telling in more ways than one.
Not long after the remarkable victory at Monaco, it would be announced that there would be the formation of a World Championship that would make its debut in 1950. Farina's performance at Monaco, backed by his performance in Geneva, Switzerland, would lead him to resigning with the Alfa Romeo factory team.
Farina had left Alfa Romeo at the end of the '46 season as a result of a dispute over team leadership, but when Jean-Pierre Wimille dies in early 1949 and Luigi Villoresi signs with Scuderia Ferrari, Farina believes himself to have the opportunity he was expecting back in 1946 where he would be the team leader. Paired with a relatively unknown Juan Manuel Fangio for the 1950 season, it seemed a given to just about everyone else that Farina would be the team leader as well.
But had it not been for his indomitable performance in the 1948 Monaco Grand Prix, Farina may not have had a top-flight drive at all. However, the performance would prove that he was still more than capable of challenging for victories and dominating the competition. Therefore, in many ways, the 1948 Monaco Grand Prix would serve as a prologue, as a foundation, for the World Championship Farina would enjoy at the end of the 1950 season. Therefore, the 1948 Monaco Grand Prix would serve as a World Championship preview, and yet, many may not have realized it at the time.