Teams1952 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
Once racing is in the blood, it is very infectious. Once infected, it is practically impossible for those having been part of it to walk away. One of those addicted to racing was Alfred Dattner.
Originally from Switzerland, Dattner had competed for years as a racing driver. But like his country's chocolate, once he was addicted he couldn't be without racing in his life in some form or another. Therefore, he would go on to start his own racing team.
Throughout his racing career, Dattner had a strong relationship with Simca-Gordini. He had entered a number of grand prix races driving the small chassis. As a racing driver, Dattner was more known for his reliability behind the wheel. He would rarely put a foot wrong throughout an entire race. Unfortunately, that also meant he was not as fast as many others. Realizing this fact, Swiss driver decided to field his own team instead. He would create a team under his own name.
Alfred would compete under his own team name in Formula 2 races throughout the first couple of years of the 1950s. He would rarely venture outside his native Switzerland once he became a team owner. Then, in 1952, the World Championship would come to him.
The departure of Alfa Romeo at the end of 1951 left Scuderia Ferrari all alone as the most competitive of all the competitors. In addition to the departure, the costs of Formula One had become such that many smaller teams and privateer entries were looking to withdraw from the World Championship. In an effort to save the fledgling racing series, its governing-body looked around for stop-gap solutions heading into 1952. The plan was to find something to use for 1952 and '53 in order to give the organizers time to develop new rules for Formula One. Welcome Formula 2. Just like that, small, single-car teams; like that which Dattner owned, had a chance at the World Championship, or, at least taking part in the championship.
By the time the Formula One World Championship decided to be run to Formula 2 specifications, Alfred Dattner had switched to focus on more minor racing, including hill climbing races around Switzerland. The car he used for his team was the little Simca-Gordini T11 with its 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Even though the car qualified to run in the Formula 2 spec World Championship, the car was decidedly down on horsepower. However, it wouldn't stop the Swiss driver/owner from making his mark on Formula One World Championship history.
Competing around his native Switzerland, Dattner had come to know a number of the racers throughout the country. Alfred had come to know Max de Terra from hill climbing and other minor races. When it was announced 1952 would run to Formula 2 specifications, Dattner and de Terra came to an agreement. Dattner would enter one car in the first round of the World Championship that year for de Terra.
The first round of the 1952 Formula One World Championship was the Swiss Grand Prix and it took place at the 4.52 mile Bremgarten road course near Bern. Dattner arrived for the May 18th race along with de Terra and his T11.
The circuit outside Bern had a long tradition. It had first hosted a race in 1934. Unfortunately, the track also had a notorious reputation. This reputation would come from the fact a couple of notable drivers had lost their lives at the course. Hugh Hamilton died during the first race the circuit hosted. Then, in 1948, Achille Varzi lost his life on the track. Unless de Terra left the track, was hit by somebody else, or suffered from some kind of medical condition his life wouldn't be in any danger as he was known to be as slow behind the wheel as what his team owner was. Thankfully for him, and Dattner, nobody got to get an idea of how slow the car, or the driver, actually were. This was because de Terra would not turn a wheel and complete a single lap during practice.
First World Champion, Giuseppe Farina, would set the pace during practice. Now driving for Scuderia Ferrari, Farina would push his Ferrari 500 and would record a time of two minutes and forty-seven seconds around the 4.52 mile road course. His Ferrari teammate would end up setting the second-fastest time during practice. His time was over two and a half seconds slower. Frenchman, Robert Manzon would take his Gordini T16 and would qualify 3rd with a time of two minutes and fifty-two seconds. This time was over four and a half seconds slower. Having set no time, de Terra would start the race from the other end of the grid. Twenty-two cars would be entered for the 62 lap race and de Terra would have to work his way all the way up from 21st.
Many teams, drivers and cars appear as merely footnotes in Formula One World Championship history, but Alfred Dattner's racing team probably has one of the smallest of all entries.
The race began with Farina out in front, chased by Taruffi and Manzon. Max de Terra would leave the grid as the last running car. Maurice Trintignant had suffered problems with his Ferrari. He would set no time during practice, and therefore, would start last. His problems could not be fixed in time for the start of the race. Therefore, de Terra was the last car on the starting grid. He would end up providing Trintignant company.
While he would leave the starting grid as the last car running, de Terra would end up also leaving the grid as the first car not running. While Farina, Taruffi and Manzon zoomed away at the front of the pack, de Terra barely got his Simca-Gordini T11 up to top-speed even one time before trouble struck. After completing just one lap, Max would pit to have the problem found. Unfortunately, a magneto problem would end up causing de Terra to retire from the race after barely finishing just one lap.
Former World Champion, Farina, would also suffer from a magneto problem and would retire his car from the race. His race, unlike de Terra's wasn't over, however. He would end up taking over Andre Simon's car for the remainder of the race.
Farina's retirement 16 laps into the race handed the lead over to Taruffi. He would gladly accept the gift and would hold on to collect at the end. Taruffi would score the victory by more than two and a half minutes over local Swiss hero, Rudolf Fischer, driving another Ferrari 500 for his team Ecurie Espadon. Frenchman, Jean Behra, would end up finishing 3rd, one lap down.
That was it for Alfred Dattner as a team owner taking part in the World Championship—one lap. That one lap includes practice and the race! Truly, Dattner has one of the smallest footnotes in World Championship history.
After the disappointing and poor showing at Bremgarten, de Terra and Dattner would continue their relationship throughout the rest of '52. The team would not take part in any other Formula 2 race. However, the two would go on to take part in a couple of hill climbing races throughout the rest of the season. They would end up enjoying great success in those races.
Though never seriously considered for a point-paying position, the single lap turned at Bremgarten barely left either Dattner, or de Terra, with the right to say they 'competed' in a World Championship event. However, with the World Championship being run to Formula 2 specifications, and just because they couldn't stay away, Dattner and de Terra could look to the 1953 running of the Swiss Grand Prix as another opportunity to try again and truly 'compete'.