1954 Belgian Grand Prix
: 1954 Belgian Grand Prix: An Adrift Frenchman Finds His Way By Jeremy McMullen
Powering out of La Source for the final time, Maurice Trintignant would see something ahead of him he had never seen in the Formula One World Championship before. After years of struggling and making do with the feeble Gordinis, the Frenchman was nearing a clearing in the long, dark woods that would prove a turning-point in his grand prix career.
Prior to the start of the Second World War, Maurice Trintignant had been a star on the rise. A victory in the 1939 Grand Prix des Frontieres would suggest he was a great driver in the making. Unfortunately, the war would take away some of the most prime years of his life and the options in the years following the war's conclusion would be few.
All of this would result in Trintignant signing with Equipe Gordini when the Formula One World Championship had its beginnings in 1950. He would do his best, but he would not finish a race in each of the first two years of the new series. After a couple of strong finishes in 1953, Trintignant's first real breakthrough would come in early 1954 when he drove to a 4th place finish with Ecurie Rosier in the Argentine Grand Prix. Scuderia Ferrari would end up signing the Frenchman and he would have a strong showing in the non-championship BRDC International Trophy race in early May. This would be followed by a couple of victories in sportscar races for Scuderia Ferrari, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Suddenly, this Frenchman, whose career appeared to be on a downward trend, would turn around and he would find himself a hired hand with the very team that had dominated the Formula One World Championship the previous two seasons. Now, just when his career seemed adrift, Trintignant would have the best drive of his motor racing career.
Maurice would have very little time to remain misty-eyed. The third round of the Formula One World Championship would be the following week after the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Trintignant had come away with the biggest highlight of his motor racing career. On the 20th of June, he would have the opportunity to make his biggest mark in Formula One.
The next round of the Formula One World Championship would be very similar in nature to Le Mans. The race would be the Belgian Grand Prix and it would take part, as usual, around the 8.77 mile Spa-Francorchamps circuit. It was ultra-fast and extremely dangerous. The long straights enabled the power of the Zampredi engine to push its top-end speed and this boded much better for Trintignant than had he been forced to take part in the race with the troubled Gordinis.
Trintignant would be part of a squadron of four entries from Scuderia Ferrari. The three other entries would be driven by Giuseppe Farina, Jose-Froilan Gonzalez and Mike Hawthorn. Other than the factory Maserati team, spearheaded by Juan Manuel Fangio, the largest other team in the field would be that of Equipe Gordini. Therefore, the main competition would likely be the other Italian outfit from Modena.
Trintignant needed to take advantage of the situation he had in hand for it had been announced Mercedes-Benz would make its first appearance as part of the World Championship the following month. Unfortunately, fighting against the likes of Fangio, Farina and others would not be an easy task.
Fangio would set the pace in practice turning a lap time of 4:22.1 in the Maserati 250F. Gonzalez would do his best to take the pole in the 553 Squalo. However, when it was all said and done, Gonzalez would end up a second and a half slower than Fangio and would have to be content joining his fellow Argentinean on the front row in the 2nd position. The final spot on the front row would be occupied by Farina in another Ferrari 553 Squalo.
Trintignant would be behind the wheel of one of the older 625s. His best lap around the long and fast road course would end up being 4:30.0. This best effort would prove to be just under 8 seconds slower than Fangio and would lead to the Frenchman starting from the third row of the grid in the 6th position. Still, this was one of the best qualifying performances of his World Championship career.
Grey conditions dominated the area of the Ardennes as the start of the race approached. Facing the downhill run into the tricky Eau Rouge, the field would be waiting for the drop of the flag. Then the flag dropped and the field would roar away into the distance. Gonzalez was known for making good starts and this would be no exception as he would make it to the left-right combination first. Trintignant would get away well and would tuck in behind Marimon. Heading up through Eau Rouge for the first time the scene would turn dramatic as Roberto Mieres' car would catch fire and would be streaking flames a good distance behind his car as he tried to make it up the hill.
Mieres' race would come to an end right then and there. Gonzalez's race would come to an end not much further as a break in the oil pipe would bring his race to an end before he too completed a single lap. This handed the lead to his Ferrari teammate.
At the end of the first lap it would be Farina in the lead. He would be followed by Hawthorn, who had made a great start from the second row of the grid. Fangio had lost out at the start and would complete the first lap in 3rd just ahead of Onofre Marimon and Trintignant.
Fangio would recover from his poor start and would quickly dispatch Hawthorn for 2nd place. He would then begin to harass Farina for the lead. A little further back, Trintignant would become embroiled in a battle with Jean Behra in one of the Gordinis. The two Frenchman would battle back and forth but the psychological advantage had to be swinging in Maurice's favor knowing the unreliability of the Gordini.
The race distance would be 36 laps covering a total mileage of 315 miles. By the halfway mark, Fangio would be clearly in the lead. Farina would hold onto 2nd place until his race came to an end as a result of ignition troubles. Sure enough, Behra's Gordini would run afoul of trouble and would end up dropping off the pace until being forced altogether after 12 laps. The result of Behra's failure would be rear suspension failure. This meant Trintignant was in 3rd place and looking on target for his first 3rd place result of his Formula One career.
Fangio was out of reach. This would lead the team managers at Ferrari to make the decision to bring Hawthorn into the pits so that he could hand his car over to Gonzalez for the remainder of the race. This move dropped Hawthorn from 2nd place. By the time Gonzalez rejoined the race in Hawthorn's car he would be all the way down in 6th place, but was figured to be close enough to make some noise in the final 16 laps.
All of a sudden, Trintignant went from barely making it onto the podium in 3rd place to being in 2nd place. This was uncharted territory for the Frenchman in a World Championship race. He needed to take care and not throw the opportunity away.
Trintignant would not be able to match the abilities of Fangio around the circuit. As a result, he would switch his focus to ensuring he made no mistakes and bringing the car home in 2nd. The threat from Gonzalez would not materialize as he would languish down around 5th place much longer than what those at Ferrari expected. Therefore, Ferrari's hopes would have to rest with Trintignant.
Trintignant would be impressive in his first World Championship race with Ferrari. He would keep the Argentinean honest over the remaining laps. Fangio would go on to take the victory having dominated the last half of the race, including setting the fastest lap of the race. Fangio would take the win but Trintignant would be a bit of the star of the show. Enjoying his new role at Ferrari, the Frenchman would come through in his first race to finish in 2nd place, and just a little more than 20 seconds behind Fangio. In fact, Trintignant would be the only to remain on the lead lap with Fangio. Moss would complete the podium finishing a very quiet 3rd.
The crowd and the adulation would be swarming in all around Fangio. However, Trintignant would receive a fair portion of congratulations as well. Just like that, Maurice's career seemed to turn around. He had achieved one highlight of finishing on the podium. Taking a win now seemed entirely possible. It appeared Trintignant had emerge, and now, finally, was set on course, a course that would lead him to a tiny principality along the Mediterranean.