TeamsEquipe Gordini: 1952 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
In 1951, Equipe Gordini managed a coupe of surprising results. Using their small T11 and T15 chassis, the team was able to mount big challenges at some of the most demanding events on that year's calendar. In 1952, the team approached the new season armed with a new chassis, the T16, and a desire for more success.
Regulations for 1952 changed. Only Formula 2 races actually counted toward the World Championship. The decision to run 2-liter engines was partly to help with competition amongst the field since Alfa Romeo withdrew from Formula One and only Ferrari was left as the main contender.
Between the number of Formula One races still being run, non-championship races run to Formula 2 specifications and the actual Formula One events that were being run to Formula 2 specifications, there were quite a number of races on the calendar for 1952.
The first race for Equipe Gordini in 1952 was the first round of the French F2 Championship. It was the 13th Grand Prix of Pau. The Grand Prix of Pau would be a time-based three hour race that took place in the middle of April.
Equipe Gordini had their new Gordini T16, but it would not start the race. The team's three drivers would, instead race in the older T11 and T15s.
Driving the new T16, Robert Manzon set the fastest time amongst his Gordini teammates. Manzon would manage to drive the 1.75 mile street course in a time of one minute and forty-seven seconds. Robert's time was just under four seconds slower than Alberto Ascari's time in his Ferrari 500. Ascari's friend and teammate, Luigi Villoresi would start 2nd with a time just seven tenths slower than Ascari's. Lance Macklin finished off the three-wide front row with a time just under three seconds slower. Manzon's time enabled him to start the race 7th, which was the first position on the third row.
Equipe Gordini entered three cars in total for the race. Besides Manzon, the team's other two drivers for the race were Jean Behra and the Belgian Johnny Claes. Behra would set the second-best time amongst the teammates with a time over five and a half seconds slower than Ascari's pole time. This effort led Behra to start the race 10th. Claes' best time was just under eight seconds slower than the pole time. This relegated Claes to the 13th position on the grid, or, the last position on the fifth row.
Despite practicing with the T16, Manzon would drive an older T15. This move didn't prove to be any better. Over the course of the three hour event, the leaders averaged just over 56 mph. Alberto Ascari would go on to set the fastest lap of the race with a time just one second off his best in qualifying. This didn't matter to Manzon and Claes all that much as they dropped out of the race after having completed over two-thirds of the race distance. Manzon was out of the race on the 66th lap due to a crash, and, Claes was out on the 71st lap due to a transmission problem.
Ascari didn't care about Equipe Gordini's, or the rest of the field's cares, and, in fact, seemed to not a have car in the world. While only six cars would finish the race, struggling to do so, Alberto absolutely dominated. By the end of the three hours, Ascari had completed 99 laps. Louis Rosier would finish 2nd, but would do so some three laps down to Ascari. Another two laps behind Louis Rosier, Jean Behra finish 3rd for the team. Behra also had a two lap advantage over 4th place Elie Bayol driving an OSCA MT4.
The second round of the French F2 Championship took place on the 27th of April at Marseille. The 10th Grand Prix of Marseille was another timed event. As with Pau, the race would be three hours in length.
The Marseille grand prix course was a tenth shorter than Pau's layout, but was a good deal faster. The course for 1952 featured long, sweeping turns that enabled average speeds in excess of 70 mph.
Unlike Pau, Equipe Gordini brought four cars to the race. The Prince of Siam would be given the seat in the fourth team car. Manzon would be behind the wheel of the new T16 and Johnny Claes, Behra and Prince Bira would each get older T15 chassis.
The race would be another tough event as Scuderia Ferrari had entered four cars too. Two of them were driven by a past World Champion, and a leading contender since Formula One's inception.
In qualifying, Ascari set the pace. Robert impressed with the new T16 qualifying with a time just over a second slower. Robert's time enabled him to start in the middle of the front row in 2nd. Luigi Villoresi finished off the front row qualifying 3rd. Jean Behra was able to push the T15 to set a time exactly three seconds slower than Ascari. This placed Jean in 4th on the grid, and in the second row. Both Prince Bira and Johnny Claes would struggle to match the pace of the other teammates. Bira would start 15th on the grid while Claes would start 17th. In all, nineteen cars and drivers prepared to start the three hour race.
The three hour race was another car-breaker. Nine cars would fail to finish the race. Another four would struggle with their pace and would be considered not classified by the end because of failing to reach a certain percentage of laps completed.
Reminiscent of Pau, Ascari dominated the rest of the field. However, even Manzon was able to push and create a gap of his own. This effort was helped by the failures of many of those who qualified near the front of the grid. Unfortunately, even Manzon would become one of those retired from the race. However, Prince Bira handed over his T15 to Manzon for the rest of the race. The gap Manzon had was sufficient for him to challenge up near the front. The troubles did, however, also allow Ascari to extend his lead.
Ascari would go on to win the three hour race with a five lap advantage over 2nd place. The 2nd place finisher was Robert Manzon in what was Prince Bira's T15. Another two laps behind Manzon was Johnny Claes in his T15. This made it two Equipe Gordini drivers on the podium!
A week before the first round of the World Championship, the 4th BRDC International Trophy race was held at Silverstone in England. As was usual, the race consisted of two 15 lap heat races and a 35 lap final. Unlike the previous year, 1952 installment of the International Trophy race would not be washed out.
The team once again entered four cars in the event, driven by Manzon, Behra, Claes and Prince Bira. Three of the four entries were to take part in the first heat race. Behra would start the heat race 3rd, with a time two seconds slower than Mike Hawthorn's pole time. Prince Bira was the team's next-highest qualifier. He set a time three seconds slower, and would start the race down in the third row in 8th place. Johnny Claes would start 10th after setting a time seven seconds slower.
Mike Hawthorn and Jean Behra would become locked in a battle when the race began and all-throughout. Prince Bira would slowly move up the order. Troubles hit the team when on the 11th lap of the race Claes had to retire due to transmission problems. The rest of the race went well for Behra and Claes, however. Prince Bira would end up finishing the race in 5th place. Behra and Hawthorn's battle would come down to the line. Hawthorn would beat Behra by just a little over two seconds.
Robert Manzon and his T16, were the lone Equipe Gordini in the second heat race. However, Manzon did just fine on his own. Robert would end up beating out Rudi Fischer in his Ferrari 500 to take the pole for the race. Kenneth McAlpine would end up edging out Fischer to qualify 2nd with a time one seconds slower than Manzon. In fact, 2nd through 5th all set the same time, which was one second slower than Robert's. Fischer started 3rd, followed by Duncan Hamilton.
The qualifying effort was no fluke. During the race, the battle for the lead came down to three drivers: Manzon, Fischer and Tony Rolt. Manzon's T16 would last the distance, enabling Robert to take the heat win by two seconds over Fischer. Rolt would finish 3rd, fifteen seconds behind.
With the two heat races out of the way, the grid was assembled for the 35 lap final. Manzon's time in practice before the second heat was fast enough for him to take the pole for the final race. Behra would also start on the front row with Manzon in 4th. Rudi Fischer and Mike Hawthorn would start 2nd and 3rd respectively. The team's other drivers, Prince Bira and Jonny Claes would start 11th and 24th. Twenty-six drivers in all would start the race.
The new T16 had proven to be fast, but still suffered teething problems. Each of the first few races the team had entered the car saw it fail to finish. The final race of the International Trophy race would be no exception. As the race got underway, Manzon's race was falling apart. One of the strongest cars on the grid at the start of the race would be out after the first lap due to transmission problems. The transmission troubles would migrate to another of the team's cars. On the 3rd lap of the race, Jean Behra's day came to an end due to transmission issues. Just like that, Equipe Gordini's highest qualifiers were out of the race. The team would have to depend upon Claes, or, Prince Bira being able to make their way up through the field. The two would end up doing exactly that.
Lance Macklin would go on to win the race by ten seconds over teammate Tony Rolt. Emmanuel de Graffenried would finish 3rd for Plate-Maserati. Prince Bira had been able to claw his way up the order and finished just outside of the top-five in 6th. Most impressively, Johnny Claes, who had suffered transmission troubles in his heat race, was able to put together a truly remarkable run up through the field to finish the race 8th, still on the lead lap with Macklin!
One week after the BRDC International Trophy race, the Formula One World Championship season kicked-off. The first Formula One World Championship race, and first in which the team would compete, was the Swiss Grand Prix held in the middle of May.
The intention behind the decision to have the World Championship compete according to Formula 2 regulations was to improve competition. This was deemed important with the departure of Alfa Romeo. It was believed Scuderia Ferrari would be all alone at the top. Well, after qualifying for the first round of the World Championship, Ferrari wasn't all-alone, but, weren't too crowded by other teams either. Things looked decent for Equipe Gordini, however.
Giuseppe Farina, the inaugural world champion, had moved on from Alfa Romeo and found a ride with Scuderia Ferrari. He would take advantage of his new team and new car, the Ferrari 500, and promptly took the pole for the 62 lap race at the 4.52 mile Bremgarten Circuit. Piero Taruffi, Farina's Ferrari teammate, qualified 2nd with a time two and a half seconds slower. In a splendid effort for Equipe Gordini, Robert Manzon would pilot his T16 to the 3rd place starting spot on the grid with a time four and a half seconds slower. Another of Equipe Gordini's drivers, Jean Behra, would also impress with a 7th place starting spot after qualifying with a time a little over eight seconds slower. Equipe Gordini entered a third car for the race driven by the Prince of Siam. Prince Bira drove his entry to an 11th place starting spot. With twenty-two entries prepared to start the race, the Gordini team had all three of their entries in the first half of the starting grid. The test would be to have them finish even better.
The race would be full of attrition. Even Farina wasn't immune to the troubles. Before the fifth lap of the race, five entries had either fallen out of the race, or, had not even started at all. Another four entries dropped out by lap twenty. Among those to retire in the second wave was Giuseppe Farina. His car failed due to magneto troubles. In support of the former world champion the call was made for him to take Andre Simon's Ferrari for the remainder of the event. One of the others that would drop out in the second wave, but would not get a second chance, would be Equipe Gordini's 3rd place qualifier Robert Manzon. His race came to an end due to radiator troubles.
Farina's troubles, and Manzon's retirement, allowed Taruffi to set sail. Taruffi's main competition would end up coming from another of the four Ferrari pilot, Rudi Fischer. The pressure, however, was superficial as Taruffi just continued to pull away. The retirement of Manzon would hurt the Equipe's chances at a victory, but, it would not count the team out all-together.
Jean Behra was putting together a splendid drive from his 7th place starting position. He had taken advantage of the troubles and managed to slot himself in 3rd place. The chances were good the team could have two cars running in the top-ten, even the top-five. However, this outlook changed ten laps from the end. On the fifty-second lap, Prince Bira's race ended with an engine failure. This left Behra all alone to bring it home for Equipe Gordini. Behra would do exactly that, and would earn championship points in the process.
Piero Taruffi went on to win the race over Rudi Fischer with a winning margin of over two and a half minutes. Fischer was the only driver left Taruffi had not lapped by the end of the race. Jean Behra was one of those Taruffi had lapped, but nonetheless, Jean was able to finish 3rd with a comfortable lap margin over Ken Wharton in 4th place. The 3rd place finished netted Behra four points toward the World Championship.
A week after the Swiss Grand Prix, Equipe Gordini was back in action. This time it was the third round of the French F2 Championship, which was the Grand Prix of Paris. The Grand Prix of Paris was yet another timed event and took place on the 3.9 mile Troisiéme Circuit at Montlhery.
The field was packed with Scuderia Ferraris. In all, there would be four Scuderia Ferrari 500s entered for the race. Equipe Gordini would enter four cars as well. For this race it was an even split. The team had brought two older T15s, to be driven by Prince Bira and Johnny Claes, as well as, two newer T16s to be driven by Robert Manzon and Jean Behra.
In qualifying, the T16 proved, yet again, to be more than enough for Ferrari to handle as Manzon would take the pole for the three hour event. Peering eerily over his shoulder would be three Ferraris driven by Piero Taruffi, Luigi Villoresi and Giuseppe Farina. Behra would start the race 5th after setting a time three seconds slower than his teammate. Prince Bira would start 7th and Johnny Claes would make it all four cars in the top-ten when he would qualify 10th.
In light of the promising starting grid, the race would prove to be an abyss of darkness. The course was long, but also fast. Average speeds on the track regularly exceeded 94 mph. This put great stress on the cars and components over the course of a three hour event. It would end up being a load that was too much to bear for almost all of the Equipe Gordini's cars.
Early on, things were looking good. Manzon was still running strong, as was the others. Then, just shy of 20 laps into the race, troubles began to visit the team. Behra was the first to be hit. His car suffered from a problem with the differential on the 19th lap, which forced the Frenchman to have to retire. One lap later, the Belgian, Johnny Claes, dropped out of the race due to axle problems. Things seemed to settle down. Troubles continued to arise, but they were striking the other teams. Then, on lap 48, another failure hit the team. Surprisingly, it wasn't Manzon with his T16. Prince Bira's T15 would also suffer from the same differential problems and was forced out of the race. The only car left for the team was another of the fragile T16s in Robert Manzon's hands. Sure enough, on lap 59, differential problems would also hit Manzon's car.
The race was absolutely destructive on the field. In the end, only three cars were classified as still running. A number of others, including Manzon, would be not classified at the end of the race. In the end, the only three cars still running were Ferrari 500s. Taruffi won the race, followed by Andre Simon in Giuseppe Farina's 500, and Louis Rosier.
Although the team was struggling with its cars, especially its new T16, the team continued to go racing. On the 1st of June, the team arrived in Albi for the 14th Grand Prix of Albi.
Since the event was not a World Championship, or, a French F2 Championship event bigger liter cars were able to enter the event, including the impressive Ferrari 375 of 1951. Equipe Gordini would face off against the bigger liter cars with three of their smaller Formula 2 cars for the 34 lap race around the fast 5.53 mile road course made up of public rounds around Albi, France. Manzon was not present for the race. So the lone T16 entered in the race would be driven by Jean. Prince Bira would enter the race with a T15. Different for the race, however, was the third driver. Instead of Johnny Claes, Harry Schell took to the wheel of the other T15.
Each of the three drivers would qualify in the top-ten, but no higher than 7th. Bira earned top honors amongst the team with the 7th place starting spot on the grid. Behra would start 9th. Right next to Jean in 10th was Schell with the third Equipe Gordini. Fellow Argentineans, Juan Manuel Fangio and Jose Froilan Gonzalez, would start from 1st and 2nd respectively. Louis Rosier started from the front row as well in 3rd.
Troubles once again visited the team. Five cars were out of the race within the first 5 laps. Unfortunately, Schell was one of them. On lap 5, Harry's T15 developed transmission problems which forced the Parisian bar-owner to have to retire from the race. Behra's T16, as expected, was next to succumb to a failure. The rear axle of the car suffered problems which forced Jean out of the race. This left the team's hopes on Prince Bira's shoulders. This hope vanished five laps after Behra's problems. On the 28th lap, the engine in the Prince's T15 developed a piston problem.
Ferrari's 375 became the dominant chassis from the middle of 1951 on through to the conclusion of the season. The car demonstrated its continued dominance by being wielded to the top-two spots at the finish. Louis Rosier grabbed the victory, averaging over 100 mph over the course of the race. Chico Landi finished 2nd. Yves Giraud-Cabantous finished 3rd in a Talbot-Lago T26C.
The reason Belgian Johnny Claes wasn't present at Albi was because he had managed to take one of the T15 chassis to Chimay, in his home country, in order to take part in the 22nd Grand Prix of Frontieres. This event took place on the same day as the Grand Prix of Albi over 590 miles away.
Johnny put together a qualifying effort indicative to the rest of the field of what upper-levels of grand prix racing consisted of at every race. Claes took the pole for the 22 lap race around the 6.75 mile road course.
Despite being on home ground, the home field advantage turned on Claes. What pride Claes may have been feeling before the race started would turn to feelings of painful disappointment. On the first lap of the race, Roger Laurent and Claes came together, crashing each other out of the race. Once again, over the course of one weekend, Equipe Gordini had four cars fail to finish a race.
After all of the failures the team had experienced just in its last couple of races, it needed to find some encouragement and momentum before the next round of the World Championship. The encouragement and momentum would come at the 4th Circuit du Lac in Aix-les-Bains.
The race around the 1.5 mile street course was of a rather different format. It consisted of two heat races. The winner was determined by the aggregate time recorded in each heat. Equipe Gordini stacked the field in their favor by bringing three cars to the event.
In the first heat race, Jean Behra grabbed the pole. Manzon wasn't able to put together the same performance in his T16 and would be forced to start the race 6th. This placed him in the first position in the third row. Prince Bira, the team's third driver, qualified 10th. This put him in the second-to-last row on the grid.
At the start of the first 40 lap heat, Jean battled with Maurice Trintignant for the lead. Robert was making his way up from 6th on the grid. 28 laps into the race, Trintignant fell out of the running with magneto problems. This eased the pressure on Behra, but it also helped Manzon come up to 2nd. In the end, Jean won the heat by five and a half seconds over teammate Manzon. This was the best the T16 had been able to do to that point in the season. Prince Bira would also improve upon his starting position to finish the heat 6th. Despite coming in 2nd, Robert set the fastest lap of the heat with a lap of one minute and thirty-six seconds.
The starting grid for the second, and final, heat race was set by the finishing order from the first race. This meant Equipe Gordini sat one-two on the grid, with its third car in 6th.
The expected inter-squad rivalry would not materialize during the race. Two laps into the race, Manzon's T16 suffered problems yet again. The problematic rear axle would force the Frenchman to retire from the race. This failure left Behra practically all alone at the front. Despite not really being challenged, Jean still had a furious pace. By the end, he would lap the field up to, and including, 5th place. Jean earned the victory in the heat race by twenty-three seconds over Lance Macklin and fifty-four seconds over 3rd place Emmanuel de Graffenried. Prince Bira finished the race a quiet 5th, one lap down.
Overall, Jean took the victory with an aggregate time over forty seconds faster than Lance Macklin in 2nd. De Graffenried took 3rd. Bira's aggregate time earned him an overall 5th place finish. Although the race had all the makings of an Equipe Gordini one-two, it still provided the team with a bit of a lift and some momentum. They would be important for the team's next race.
The next race on the team's calendar was the third round of the Formula One World Championship, the Belgian Grand Prix.
Scuderia Ferrari brought three cars for the 36 lap race. Eclipsing them, Equipe Gordini brought four cars. Had it not been for the team's troubles throughout the season to that point, it would have been a worrying show of force for the other teams.
The 14th Belgian Grand Prix would be one of the toughest races on the calendar for 1952. The fast, 8.77 mile road cars was punishing on cars and drivers. At over 315 miles, the race distance would test a car's endurance as well.
Although Equipe Gordini had brought four cars, things looked better for Ferrari after qualifying. Alberto Ascari took the pole with a lap time of four minutes and thirty-seven seconds. Teammate Giuseppe Farina took 2nd. Piero Taruffi made it a clean sweep for Ferrari taking 3rd place on the grid.
All was not lost for Equipe Gordini. The next two spots on the starting grid were occupied by the team's T16s. Robert Manzon grabbed 4th, and Jean Behra took 5th. The team's other two drivers struggle mightily. Prince Bira would only be able to start the race 18th. Local Belgian racer, Johnny Claes, would do worse and would be relegated to starting the race 19th. In all, twenty-two qualified for the race.
When it came time for the race, a usual phenomenon at Spa had begun. Rain started falling all over the circuit. Although it would make the race track treacherous, it would help keep attrition low as the drivers had to drive very carefully in the conditions.
Though the rain helped slow the drivers down, and probably saved a lot of cars from tremendous wear-and-tear, the race was still run in the rain. Accidents and other issues still would have been expected. For Stirling Moss, the rain wouldn't affect his race; his engine would. The young British driver was forced out of the race before it even began.
When the race did get underway, a good battle developed between the Ferraris and the Gordini T16s. In the conditions it was easy to make a mistake, especially when battling another driver for position. This potential hazard caught out both Piero Taruffi and Jean Behra. The two had been battling throughout the first-third of the race. Then, on lap 13, the two collided with each other, knocking one another out of the race. This was costly as it took out front-runners from each team. However, it aided Manzon.
The accident removed Taruffi from making it a clean Ferrari sweep of the podium in the race. Manzon would take over 3rd place and would try and hold onto it for the rest of the race. Alberto Ascari was tearing through the field. By the end of the race, he had been able to lap 4th place finisher Mike Hawthorn. Robert Manzon had crossed the line to start his 36th, and final, lap. Just out of view behind him, Ascari was on his way to victory. Alberto would win the race by almost two minutes over teammate Farina, and almost four and a half minutes in front of Robert Manzon. Johnny Claes did his best to give himself something to be excited about in front of the home crowd. Despite his best efforts, Johnny would finish the race 8th. He missed out on the points by just three places. Prince Bira helped to make it three cars in the top-ten for the team when he finished the race a quiet 10th.
Despite being utterly man-handled in the race, Robert earned himself four points toward the championship. In total, the team had earned eight points on the season. What was perhaps of more importance was the fact the Belgian Grand Prix made it two Formula One races in a row that the T16 had completed without difficulty.
Exactly one week after the race in Spa, the 4th round of the French F2 Championship took place in Reims, France. The event was the 20th Grand Prix de la Marne and would provide Equipe Gordini another opportunity to overcome Scuderia Ferrari's hold.
After the Belgian Grand Prix, Johnny Claes departed to drive under his own team. As a replacement the team hired Frenchman Maurice Trintignant to take his place. This meant the Gordini stable was able to enter four cars for the race in Reims. At the same time Claes departed, the team replaced Prince Bira's older T15 with one of the new T16 chassis.
A large number of cars were entered for the three hour race on public roads between Reims and Gueux. New for 1952, the course did not head into Gueux, but made a sweeping right-hand turn prior to entering the village. This helped to increase the average speed of the course.
Alberto Ascari would lap the 4.44 mile road course in two minutes and twenty-six seconds and would take the pole. Just under two seconds slower, Giuseppe Farina would start 2nd. Robert Manzon spearheaded the Gordini attack by setting a time just over two seconds slower, but good enough to start 3rd. Three tenths behind Robert, Behra would start on the second row in 4th. Sitting right beside Behra on the grid, new Gordini teammate Maurice Trintignant had put together a lap two and a half seconds slower than Ascari. Each of Gordini's top drivers would have advantages for the start of the race as neither one would have anything directly in front of them to block them. Prince Bira, in his new T16, started off of Behra's right shoulder in 6th. Almost all of the team's cars had been able to qualify in the top-five. All-in-all, the team posed a serious threat to Ferrari's reign of dominance. In the race, the team would break free.
The three hour race got underway in a fury of tire smoke and roaring engines. The hurried pace picked up. The fight amongst the top-five was intense. The pace was blinding. Ascari would set the fastest lap in his Ferrari 500. His time was only two seconds slower than his qualifying effort.
The incredible pace at the front was dangerous and difficult on both car and driver. Before twenty laps had been completed eight cars were out of the race. Trintignant's older T15 couldn't handle the way in which the laps were being thrown down. On only the 2nd lap, the engine in Maurice's T15 let go, ending his run. Ferrari wasn't immune to the attrition either. Only four laps into the race, Luigi Villoresi's engine let go in his 500. The most frightening moment for Gordini came on the 49th lap. Manzon was knocked out of the running due to an injury he sustained while behind the wheel.
For the rest of Gordini's two drivers, the race went fantastic. Behra battled amongst the top-contenders throughout the race, but broke free toward the end. Jean would go on to win the race having completed 71 laps and averaging over 104 mph! Giuseppe Farina finished 2nd for Ferrari, one lap down. Ascari shared his drive with his friend Villoresi and the two of them were able to finish the race 3rd. Prince Bira, enjoying the new T16, almost made it two Gordinis on the podium. Bira missed out and finished 4th.
A week after the victory at Reims, Equipe Gordini headed to Rouen-les-Essarts for the 4th round of the Formula One World Championship, and, the 5th round of the French F2 Championship. 1952 was the first time the World Championship contested a grand prix at Rouen-les-Essarts. The course was 4.06 miles of public roads and was widely considered one of Europe's finest circuits. This viewpoint was enhanced by the wide roads, sweeping routes through the woods and modern pits. The race would also feature a timed race instead of a set number of laps.
Formula One organizers were looking for competitive racing, after qualifying for the three hour race, it seemed things were just a repeat of 1950, just with a different Italian team. Ferrari would sweep the top-three spots in qualifying. Ascari would take the pole followed by Farina and Taruffi. Gordini's entries weren't totally put out to pasture. Jean Behra, riding the wave of momentum after his win in Reims, would qualify 4th. Robert Manzon overcame his injury at Reims to put his T16 in the field 5th. Maurice Trintignant kept the streak going by qualifying 6th. And, Prince Bira made it a clean sweep of Equipe Gordini's own when he qualified 7th.
The long grand prix race got underway with Ferraris and Equipe Gordinis fighting it out. The pace was fierce, but despite the pace and the long distance of the race, more than half would make it to the end. The stubborn axle problems the T16 had been suffering from throughout the year would keep Prince Bira from being one of the more than half that made it to the end.
Ascari was absolutely untouchable. He would complete 77 laps in the three hour event. His margin of victoy was over one lap in front of former World Champion Giuseppe Farina. Another lap behind Farina, Taruffi crossed the line to make it a Scuderia Ferrari one-two-three. It wasn't all that disappointing of a day for Equipe Gordini though either.
Robert Manzon finished another lap in arrears behind Taruffi but earned 4th place. Trintignant made it two team cars finishing in the points when he earned the final two points for his 5th place finish. Jean Behra had slipped down the order from his 4th place starting position, but still managed to end the day 7th.
Manzon's three points, when added to his four from the Swiss Grand Prix, gave him a total of seven points toward the championship. At the end of the race, Manzon was sitting 5th in the World Championship standings.
The 6th round of the French F2 Championship took place only one week after the French Grand Prix. Les Sables was the scene of the 2nd Grand Prix of Sables d'Olonne. This made it three races in a row in which Equipe Gordini never had to leave France to take part in.
As was the case at Rouen-les-Essarts, the three hour race would see a battle between Scuderia Ferrari and Equipe Gordini. Therefore, qualifying consisted of the usual suspects fighting it out for front row positions on the grid.
Once again, Alberto would take the pole. Giuseppe Farina would start 2nd and Robert Manzon 3rd. Maurice Trintignant was beat out by a mere tenth for 4th and the first position on the second row. Bira would qualify 6th. Jean Behra would struggle throughout practice and would be able to only set a time over seven seconds slower than Ascari around the 1.4 mile road course.
In the same practice session, Behra suffered a crash and would not be able to start the race. The race, itself, would be a mad dash on the track, and amongst Equipe Gordini.
Attrition in the race didn't begin to hit teams until well into the race. With the exception of Behra, no other car dropped out of the race before over 40 laps in. Then, a string of crashes reduced the numbers of front-runners greatly. First of the front-runners out was Trintignant due to a crash on lap 42. Then, in a huge blow, Ferrari lost its top-two drivers in successive laps. Farina suffered a crash and was out on lap 44. One lap later, Ascari was out of the race, also due to a crash. With only Villoresi left, Equipe Gordini was offered a chance at a great result for the French F2 Championship.
The problem was that Manzon was struggling in his T16. He decided to give Trintignant his car so that Maurice could keep going. At the same time Prince Bira gave up his older T15 to Manzon for the rest of the race. All of the changes allowed Villoresi to slip away.
At the end of the three hour race, Villoresi won by a margin of three laps over Peter Collins in his HWM-Alta. Former Equipe Gordini team member, Johnny Claes, finished on the podium in 3rd. Bira's T15, driven by Manzon, ended up seven laps down, but in 4th place. Maurice couldn't complete enough laps to be classified by the end of the event. This was yet another race where the team had great promise after qualify only to be unfulfilled during the race.
After the race, the team packed everything up and actually had to travel out of the country for its next race. The team traveled across the English Channel to Silverstone.
A large number of entries prepared to qualify for the 1952 British Grand Prix. One entry absent for Equipe Gordini was Jean Behra. In the previous race, Jean suffered an accident in practice.
In qualifying, Giuseppe Farina was able to set the fastest time and take the pole. Fellow Ferrari teammates, Ascari and Taruffi would qualify 2nd and 3rd for the 85 lap race. Robert Manzon would apply pressure to the Italian stable by qualifying 4th. Maurice struggled with his T16 throughout the practice session and would only start the race from 21st. This left Prince Bira to try and exert more pressure by Equipe Gordini on the Ferraris at the front of the grid. The best Bira could do was a lap good enough to start the race 10th. A number of other teams were able to qualify up at the front of the grid, but none of them had been able to press Ferrari all that much at other events like the Gordini team cars.
The results from qualifying put a lot of pressure upon Gordini's drivers. Without attrition and battling with the front-runners, it was likely Ferrari would absolutely dominate. Unfortunately, it would be Equipe's cars that broke under the pressure.
The day of the race it was overcast, but dry. For Equipe Gordini though, it was as if a storm had begun. Ascari led from the very start, having gotten around Farina. From that point on, Ascari checked-out. The rest of the thirty car field was left to fight it out amongst themselves for the 'also ran' honors.
Robert stood on his T16 and pushed hard from his 4th place starting position. In an effort to fight with the Ferraris, his car began to suffer. Then, on lap 9 of the race, Robert retired due to clutch failure. Twenty-one is a great number for blackjack, but not so much for motor racing. As if it were his lucky number, Trintignant started 21st and his race lasted until the 21st lap. Gearbox problems would end his day. While all of these troubles were hitting Equipe Gordini, Scuderia Ferrari's cars were still at the top and pulling away.
Prince Bira was the last runner for the team. He had a good chance considering he started the race from 10th on the grid. Unfortunately, Bira was stuck, and was even pushed backward. Ferrari chassis that qualified behind Bira were able to come up and get by the Prince. Of course, one of those that went by him was the leader Ascari. By the end of the race, Ascari had lapped the entire field. Piero Taruffi would finish 2nd and Mike Hawthorn, driving a Cooper-Bristol, finished 3rd, two laps down to Ascari. The best Bira could do was to finish four laps down in 11th place. This was obviously a very disappointing race for the team.
In an effort to forget its troubles, the team entered a couple of cars in the 1st Grand Prix of Caen one week after the race in Silverstone. The race was entered by Maurice Trintignant and Jean Behra in their T16 Gordinis. The event was 75 laps around the 2.55 mile road course.
Trintignant looked to avenge his British Grand Prix and looked good to do so after taking the pole for the race. When the race started, Behra was able to make his way up to the front with Trintignant and the two of them absolutely left the rest of the field behind.
Averaging a little over 81 mph, Maurice took the victory by over forty seconds over his teammate Behra. Behra also had a comfortable advantage over Louis Rosier in 3rd place as he would cross the line over forty seconds in front of him. Just like that, one week after the disappointment of Silverstone, Equipe Gordini finished one-two at the Grand Prix of Caen.
While a number of top teams and drivers entered the Formula One 2nd Daily Mail Trophy race at Boreham on the 2nd of August, Equipe Gordini was making final preparations for the 6th round of the Formula One World Championship, the German Grand Prix. The race was to take place the next day on the long Nordschleife in Nurburg, Germany.
Equipe Gordini was looking forward to the 18 lap race around the 14 mile long track after a truly splendid qualifying. Ascari and Farina set the two fastest times and would start the race 1st and 2nd. However, Gordini's Maurice Trintignant put in an incredible performance to make sure Ferrari wouldn't sweep the first three positions. Trintignant would grab 3rd place on the starting grid. Robert Manzon, inspired by the idea, had been able to set a lap fast enough to allow him to take away the 4th starting spot. Jean Behra was the team's only other driver entered in the race. Behra struggled compared to his Equipe compatriots and would start the race 11th. In all, thirty cars had qualified for the World Championship race the next day.
The scene looked set for a real battle at the front of the field. However, it would turn into a forfeit after only a few laps. Alberto led from the pole and began to quickly pull away from Farina. Behind Ascari and Farina, Trintignant and Manzon fought it out with each other and Piero Taruffi. Maurice pushed too much and made an error, which led to an accident that knocked him out of the race. The Nordschleife poses a difficult enough challenge without even being embroiled in a battle with a competitor. The long, twisty track has a tendency to catch out those that lose their concentration for but a mere moment. This happened to Maurice, and it would happen again seven laps later to Manzon. Before ten laps into the race, Gordini's 3rd and 4th place qualifiers were out of the race. Behra had to step up if a Gordini car was going to finish in the points. Jean wouldn't disappoint.
Jean had a fight of his own. Facing off against other Ferrari 500s entered by Scuderia Ferrari, Ecurie Espadon and Ecurie Francorchamps, coming up the order was not an easy task. However, Behra would do it. Alberto Ascari would take the victory despite a last minute dash into the pits for oil on the last lap. Farina would finished 2nd after being passed on the last lap by Ascari. Rudi Fischer would earn the last spot on the podium with a 3rd place finish over seven minutes behind Ascari. Jean had been passed by Ascari by the end of the 18 lap race. Behra finished one lap down but managed to take 5th place, and with it, two championship points.
The 1952 season didn't slow down as the later part of summer began. One week after the German Grand Prix the team prepared for the 16th Grand Prix of Comminges, which took place in St. Gaudens. This race was the 7th round of the French F2 Championship, and was another three hour grand prix race.
At Comminges, Equipe Gordini would pick up its fight with Scuderia Ferrari yet again. After qualifying, it was clear Gordini was hunting its Ferrari prey. Unfortunately, it appeared Ferrari would be able to outrun its predator. Alberto Ascari took yet another pole. Maurice Trintignant did his best to ensure the race wouldn't be easy for the Italian by qualifying 2nd, but with a time just under three seconds slower. Two tenths slower than Trintignant's time, Manzon wielded his T16 to 3rd on the starting grid. This gave the team two cars starting from the front row. After Farina in 4th, Gordini picked up its pressure with Behra qualifying 5th. On the starting grid, Gordini had two cars on the front row, with Behra slotted between them, one row back.
When the race started, it seemed Equipe Gordini would be able to devour Ferrari. This belief was reinforced when, on the 2nd lap of the race, Ascari retired from the race with a steering problem in his 500. This euphoria would be short-lived, however. Andre Simon relinquished his Ferrari 500 to Alberto for the rest of the three hour event. With a new lease on life, the prey became the predator. Equipe took a hit very early on when Manzon's race came to end after 16 laps due to valve problems in his 6-cylinder Gordini engine. Another Equipe driver was devoured by attrition on the 67th lap of the race. 2nd place starter Trintignant was forced out of the race due to the troublesome rear axle problems the T16 had suffered throughout the year. This left Jean Behra to fight for his life amongst the front-runners. Once again, Behra proved tough and able to stand up under the pressure.
Despite having to take over Simon's car, Ascari cruised to victory, having completed one more lap than teammate Farina. Six laps down to Ascari, Jean was able to bring his T16 home to a 3rd place finish. All of the promise displayed before the start of the race absolutely came unraveled over the course of three hours and rightly represented how the season had gone for the team.
On August 17th, the Dutch Grand Prix was set to take place. This was the first time it was included in the Formula One World Championship season, and it was the seventh round of the year's championship.
For the race at Zandvoort, Equipe Gordini entered three cars, driven by their now usual driver line-up of Robert Manzon, Maurice Trintignant and Jean Behra.
Equipe wasn't alone now in its fight against Ferrari at the top of the order. Qualifying would prove the team not only had to battle Ferrari, but also, future World Champion Mike Hawthorn who was driving a little Cooper-Bristol at the time.
As expected, Ascari and Farina started 1st and 2nd. Hawthorn was able to wring the Cooper's neck and earned a 3rd place starting spot. After Luigi Villoresi in the third Ferrari, the next two spots were taken by T16 drivers. Ever since coming to drive for Equipe Gordini, Maurice Trintignant had impressed. He would continue to impress as he would earn 5th place on the starting grid. Robert Manzon again showed his fast pace in qualifying and would start the race 6th. Not too far off the pace of his teammates, Jean made it three team cars inside the top-ten when he qualified 8th for the 90 lap race.
The 90 lap race around the 2.60 mile road course would prove to be not all that interesting. It would end up appearing more like a long Alberto Ascari demonstration exhibition. From the drop of the green flag, Ascari would lead the way. Ten laps into the race Equipe lost a car. Jean's race came to an end due to electrical demons. While Ferrari had faced struggles throughout the season, it seemed to get great endurance out of its cars. This confidence of reliability enabled Alberto to stand on it and devastate all but the other two cars in the top-three.
Ascari would lead every single one of the 90 laps and would finish 1st by over 40 seconds up on 2nd place Giuseppe Farina. Villoresi made it a clean sweep of the podium by Ferrari with his 3rd place finish. Able to avoid car troubles for the first time in what seemed to be an eternity, Robert was able to hold against his teammate to grab the 5th and final points paying position. By the end of the race, both Manzon and Trintignant were both three laps down to Ascari. Despite not coming near to challenging for the top-three, Manzon's two points gave him a total of nine points toward the World Championship.
Ascari's dominant performance at Zandvoort gave the Italian his first Formula One World Championship title. This came with still one more race on the season's calendar. It would prove there was still a gap between Ferrari and the other teams competing against them.
While one championship still had one more round to go, another would conclude a week after the Dutch Grand Prix. The final round of the French F2 Championship was the 6th Grand Prix of La Baule. As with the other rounds of the championship, the race at La Baule was a timed three hour event.
At the 2.66 airfield circuit, Equipe Gordini proved it still had the speed to contest against the strong Ferrari onslaught. Equipe's outright speed and handling couldn't be denied. Though Alberto would take the pole yet again, Manzon proved he had the pace to give the World Champion fits. Manzon would start the race 2nd with a time just one second slower. The grid at La Baule was a 2-2-2 arrangement. Ascari and Manzon would start on the front row. Ferrari drivers Farina and Villoresi would start 3rd and 4th on the second row of the grid. The third row of the grid was all Equipe Gordini. Setting a time just under five seconds slower, Maurice would start 5th. Four tenths slower than Trintignant, Behra would start beside his teammate in 6th place.
True champions get stronger as a season progresses. Weaker competitors will begin to wane as a season of intense competition carries on. This was becoming the very case with Equipe Gordini. Scuderia Ferrari was incredibly strong and reliable. The team kept getting stronger too. Equipe showed great promise at the beginning of the season, but began to fade toward the end.
In an attempt to fight with Ferrari, Manzon would cost himself a race. On the very first lap, Robert came together with Giuseppe Farina. This knocked the two of them out of the race after just one lap. This was just the beginning of the heck the team would go through. On the 36th lap, the T16's Achilles heal reared its head. Maurice was dropped from the race due to problems with his car's rear axle. The weakness would later strike Behra. On the 58th lap, Jean suffered from a broken rear axle and was forced to retire from the race as well. This helped Ascari cruise home to the win by a margin of at least one lap over the rest of the field. Villoresi finished 2nd and Louis Rosier finished 3rd, in yet another Ferrari 500.
The final standings for the French F2 Championship was as follows: Ascari earned 43 points and was crowned champion. Farina came in 2nd with 22 points. Luigi Villoresi finished 3rd. Jean would enable Equipe Gordini to hold its head up high by finishing 4th with 16 points. Robert Manzon finished 8th with 9.5 points, Prince Bira followed in 9th with 7.5 points. Another short-term Equipe driver, Johnny Claes, would finish 10th with 7 points. Finally, Maurice Trintignant finished 17th having earned two points.
A couple weeks after the completion of the French F2 Championship, the third Formula One World Championship set to wind down with the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. This would be one of the last chances Equipe Gordini would have to score another victory over Ferrari before the end of the season. The drivers would put up a fight, but…
Like a re-run seen over-and-over, Alberto would set the fastest lap in practice and would take the pole for the race. In fact, not all that surprising, Scuderia Ferrari would take the first-three starting spots on the grid. Villoresi would start 2nd followed by Farina in 3rd. Trintignant showed the T16 still had the pace as he was able to cover the 3.91 mile road course with a time fast enough for 4th on the grid. Robert couldn't match Maurice's pace, but would start the race inside the top-ten. He would start 7th. Behra struggled even more during practice. He was only able to post a time that would enable him to start the race 11th.
Teams were set to do all they could to break up Ferrari's dominant run throughout the 1952 season. 5th place qualifier, Jose Froilan Gonzalez would choose to start the race with only half of his fuel tank full in an effort to pull out such a margin Ascari would not be able to overcome. The strategy worked at the start of the race. Jose streaked up into the lead and began pulling away. Trintignant was doing his part to break the streak as he embroiled himself with a one-on-one battle with Alberto. This was enabling Gonzalez to pull away, but it was putting a lot of strain on both Ascari's and Maurice's cars. Not surprising, it would be Maurice's T16 that forfeited the fight. On the 5th lap, Trintignant's engine let go causing him to fall out of the race.
80 laps around the Monza circuit was always tough on cars. It would continue to wreak havoc during the 1952 grand prix as well. Gonzalez's tactic blew up after his first pitstop. Though leading at the time, he would emerge after the stop in 5th. A few laps after Jose's tactic failed him, another engine failed another Equipe T16. This time, it was Jean's engine that let go forcing him out of the race. This left Manzon to take up the fight. Ascari proved to be more than enough for the whole of the field. He took over the lead and pulled away. Defeated, Manzon slowed his pace somewhat to ensure he would see the finish. Like a dagger through the heart, Robert had to watch Ascari lap him nine times flat-out while he was busy saving his car.
Ascari would win the race by over a minute on Gonzalez. Villoresi finished 3rd, down over two minutes. Manzon's car would hold together until the end. He would finish 14th, nine laps down. The promising early part of the season appeared such a distant, almost non-existant, memory.
Despite the absolute dominance by Ascari and Ferrari, Robert Manzon was able to finish the Formula One World Championship in 6th place with 9 points. Jean Behra finished 11th with 6 points. Maurice also scored points during the course of the season and would end up 17th overall.
After the conclusion of the Formula One World Championship, Equipe Gordini took part in only one more race before the conclusion of the 1952 season. The team entered two cars for the 3rd Grand Prix of Modena. The team's drivers for the 100 lap race around the 1.4 mile course were Robert Manzon and Jean Behra.
As signified by qualifying for the event, the Equipe Gordini threat had all but come unhinged. While Ascari proved fastest yet again, Equipe's drivers were not in the top-three as they had been earlier in the season. Villoresi would start 2nd followed by Farina in 3rd. Manzon's best time was two seconds slower and good enough to start the race 5th. With a time exactly three seconds slower, Behra would start from the fourth row in 7th.
Although there was nothing to fight for, the Equipe drivers gave it their all. Once again, the fast and nimble T16 would prove to be their undoing. 9 laps into the race Equipe would lose one of its cars. Jean's final race of the year came to an end with a differential problem. Twenty-eight laps later the team's other car, driven by Manzon, also came to a rest due to an ignition problem.
Soundly beaten by Ferrari throughout , it seemed the T16 just gave up towards the end of the season and begged for mercy. Finally, with yet another Ferrari victory, Equipe Gordini would receive their mercy. The season was over. However, if the team would be able to locate the troubles that plagued the T16, the car proved more than capable of battling with Ferrari if it was healthy. Over the course of the 1952 season, that proved to be a big if.