|By Jeremy McMullenIt is the battle between champion and underdog that creates real drama and a sense of worth for what it is that is being fought over. A battle between two dominant forces really makes the prize of victory all but worthless. But the very same prize of victory, when contested between contenders of varying ability immediately boosts victory's value.|
Even from year one, Formula One has had its dominant forces. Those forces may change from year-to-year or by decade-by-decade, but nonetheless, there is always a couple of teams that victory is all but assured. But if we look, it's always the teams not expected to be there that gets the crowd and makes people come back. 'Perhaps this team will be able to go from back-marker to champion', we think. We look with anticipation to see who just might surprise us.
Unlike today, where each team is responsible for its own design, there was more of a mix of teams and options back during Formula One's first season. There were the big manufacturers, but there were also customer cars able to be bought for a specific entrant or team. But then there were the small privateer teams, the smaller underdog manufacturers who claimed more success from a mere finish than victory. One of those small manufacturers that flavored F1's early years was Equipe Simca-Gordini. Of course in many cases, success is more a matter of timing than anything else. In the years after World War II, Simca-Gordini was able to build itself into a potent force. The war effectively leveled the playing field, but only for a short time. However, by the time Formula One came into existence the gaps began to widen once again and the Simca-Gordini team had really no answer for any team from Italy. By Formula One's inaugural season, the likes of Alfa Romeo, Ferrari and Maserati had become the favorites. Despite its short foray into Formula One, Simca-Gordini; however, proved it was one underdog that could be a threat.
Amedee Gordini learned early on about designing competitive race cars as he worked for Alfieri Maserati at Isotta Fraschini during his early teens. After World War I, Gordini built his first car. Soon, Amedee moved and began a tuning business. During this time, Amedee travelled to see Paris and decided to stay. Gordini initially found work repairing Hispano-Suiza engines. This eventually led to Gordini starting his own company specializing in the repair of the Hispano-Suiza engines. It was during this time a friendship was forged with the owner of a Fiat assembly plant, a man by the name of Henri-Theodore Pigozzi. Through this relationship Gordini began to modify and tune Fiats.
In due time, Pigozzi would start his own company, which would go by the name 'Simca'. Pigozzi built copies of Fiat chassis under the Simca name. In 1934, Gordini tuned Simca's engines and also started class racing. Gordini focused on designing and building sports cars. These cars would go on to race at Le Mans and proved to be very fast. In fact, Gordini would soon carve out a name for himself tweaking grand prix-like performances from regular engines. This reputation would earn Gordini the nickname 'The Sorcerer'. But it did come at a cost.
Gordini's first couple of successes came with a victory at Bol d'Or at Saint Germain and was followed by many other class victories in 1938 and 1939. The outbreak of World War II ended up hindering any further success Gordini could have scored.
After World War II, Amedee proved better than ever as he scored a win at the first post-war event, the Robert Benoist Cup in Boulogne. Some-time after this, Gordini began designing and building his first real purpose built grand prix cars, such as the T15. Because these cars were not that big, they were fast. Of course Gordini tweaked the engines until the little cars became wickedly fast, all a little too much to handle.
The T15 boasted clean lines along with a rather simple design. Very little of the car was exposed from underneath the bodywork. With the exception of a scoop and many gill-like slits in the engine cowling to extract the heat build-up, there was very little exposed to the airflow. All that was really exposed were the control arms of the suspension, the wheels and brakes drums and the exhaust pipe that ran down the left-side of the chassis. Unlike many other designs of the time, the nose of the T15 was rather small, including the radiator inlet. The small nose of the car led to an ever-increasing angle of the cowling from the nose back past the cockpit. As with other designs of the time, the fuel tank sat behind the driver within the bodywork design. Underneath the cigar-shaped chassis there was an inline 4 cylinder supercharged engine capable of producing around 160hp. On top of all this, the chassis also utilized wishbone suspension pieces to help with the stability of the car.
Because the cars were not all that big, and because 'The Sorcerer' was tweaking them, cars like the T15 were fast. However, cars like the T15 weren't just fast, they also proved rather stable and potent forces to be reckoned with when in the right hands. One of those that was perfect for Simca-Gordini's machines was Jean-Pierre Wimille.
Wimille, with the help of Gordini tweaking the engines, was able to turn the Simca-Gordini into a formidable force. However, the cars produced by Simca-Gordini proved just too dangerous. And while racing in Argentina in 1949 Wimille lost his life. Despite all that Wimille did in the car it never seemed able to be replicated, at least not right away. Amedee was able to do wonders with his cars, but they never proved quite able to compete with the overall performance of other teams like that of Alfa Romeo. But there was still something left in the tank.
Going into Formula One's inaugural season Simca-Gordini had a successful past but when compared to the likes of the Alfa Romeo 158 and the Ferraris, it didn't seem as though there was much chance of anything for the team. The team, from almost the start, seemed relegated to being nothing better than a backmarker.
Simca-Gordini had two drivers for the inaugural season, Robert Manzon and Maurice Trintignant. These good friends were very capable and fast drivers. These two drivers also proved to be very steady behind the wheel, which is what Simca-Gordini needed in order to be competitive against other teams in Formula One.
In Formula One's first season there were many competitive teams and finishes in the points were hard to come by for many of the mid-pack teams. Teams like Alfa Romeo, Talbot and Ferrari had the ability to run up front, whereas others like Simca-Gordini had to have trouble free runs to finish in the points.
All throughout the season the Gordini teammates were hard pressed to finish higher than 15th. The second-to-last grand prix at Reims-Gueux in France was a whole other story. During qualifying Manzon wasn't able to record any time but was classified in the 13th position. Yet, despite ending the race three laps down, Manzon was able to climb up into the top five and actually finished the race 4th. In no other race had the Simca-Gordini team even finished in the top-ten. This result would poise the team for the future.
In the early days of Formula One there were many smaller teams that were comprised of talented designers and builders. However, as with any age, money was needed to maintain competitiveness. Gordini was one of those talented designers and builders, and with the help of Pigozzi, Simca-Gordini would become a strong force in grand prix racing, in time. The talent and ability Gordini possessed enabled the team to be competitive against the larger, sometimes government funded teams. And the 4th in France proved this was one underdog able to compete. Gordini's fame for being able to tweak engines led to many victories prior Formula One's existence and poised the team for future success. The strength of Gordini's ability enabled Simca-Gordini to be able to compete. This helped to make Formula One the exciting racing series that it would become, where the best in talent and ability was brought out, and where the underdog could have a chance on the world's most prestigious stage.