Teams1952 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
William 'Bill' Aston was a very prominent figure in Formula 2 and the lower formulas of racing throughout his career which would span over three decades. Aston was a pioneer in almost every sense of the word. In an age when larger factory efforts were truly beginning to dominate, Aston tried, with everything he had, to buck the trend and chart new territory in grand prix racing all by himself.
Aston had seen and experienced quite a lot in his lifetime. Born in Stafford, England in 1900, Aston would fight in World War II. Afterward, he would find work as a test pilot. He would also begin his racing career by taking part in motorcycle races. He was a pioneer in a pioneer age.
Aston recognized innovation and was quick to support unconventional ideas, which usually came from private, pioneer racers like himself. Aston recognized the innovative genius of John Cooper and his small chassis designs. Aston, as a result, would become an early customer of Cooper chassis and would even venture to build his own chassis design that was practically a copy of Cooper's T20 chassis.
Although Aston was a sharp businessman, it didn't mean that his racing efforts were that well funded. This would never be more obvious than when heading into the 1952 grand prix season.
Race organizers, as well as, the governing-body for the new Formula One World Championship needed to make some important decisions. Alfa Romeo pulled out of Formula One racing at the end of the 1951 season. This left Ferrari all-alone at the top without a clear challenger. Costs were spiraling out of control, and without the promise of competitive racing, it was feared the new World Championship, and racing on a whole, might dissipate drastically. Something needed to be done.
While the organizers and the governing-body needed time to formalize new rules and regulations to ensure more competitive, a cheaper, racing, that was the one thing they didn't have. Teams and privateer entries needed time of their own to prepare for the season or there certainly wouldn't be any competitive racing. The stop-gap measure was to run the World Championship, and many of the non-championship races, according to Formula 2 regulations. This decision opened up a floodgate of British chassis designs that would now be able to take part in the World Championship for the first time, including Aston and his Aston Butterworth NB41.
In recognition of the opportunity before him, Aston would team up with Archie Butterworth to prepare his NB41. Virtually a copy of Cooper's T20 chassis, Aston would take and modify it to fit Butterworth's 2.0-liter, flat-4 inside. Like many other British designs of the time, the car featured a number of innovative designs and approaches. However, performance was still lacking due to insufficient materials and funding. As with many British designs of the time, the car handled quite well, but didn't have anywhere near the performance to keep up with Italian might of Ferrari and Maserati. However, Aston was not one to miss an opportunity, and a big one was dropped into his lap.
Therefore, Aston would pack up his WS Aston team, his Cooper…uh, Aston Butterworth NB41, and would head off to take part in his first grand prix race of 1952.
The first race of the season for WS Aston would come in April of that year. The race would be the 4th Lavant Cup race and it was held at Goodwood on the 14th of April.
Like Aston, the Goodwood circuit was located on what was a former Royal Air Force Auxiliary Field during World War II. The airfield had been decommissioned after the war and the Duke of Richmond, an avid racing fan himself, would give permission for the site to be used to host different forms of races. At 2.39 miles in length, the perimeter road around the former airfield was a perfect circuit for racing. Fast and challenging, Goodwood would become a popular venue with many drivers.
The field for the Lavant Cup was comprised mostly of British talent. The race was just one of a number of races held that day. The Richmond Trophy race would also run the same day and would actually feature some of the forcibly-retired Formula One cars, like the dominant Ferrari 375 and the venerable Talbot-Lago T26C. The Easter Monday races would end up belonging to Cooper's T20.
In the 6 lap Lavant Cup race, that preceded the 12 lap Richmond Trophy race, Mike Hawthorn would lead a trio of Cooper-Bristol T20s home to a 1st, 2nd and 3rd place finish. Hawthorn would end up being able to beat Alan Brown, driving for Ecurie Richmond, by twenty-one seconds over the span of just 6 laps. Brown's Ecurie Richmond teammate, Eric Brandon, would end up coming home in 3rd place, just one second behind Brown.
WS Aston would complete a number of firsts during the Lavant Cup race. It would be the first race of the season with the NB41. It would be the first race in which the car would complete the race distance. This, then, marked the first result for WS Aston in 1952. Aston, at the tender age of 52, would go on to finish the race in 8th place.
This wasn't an all that bad way to start the season. Things seemed promising for Aston and his new chassis. The next race; however, would be a severe test.
A little less than a month after the Lavant Cup race at Goodwood, WS Aston was about 130 miles north of Goodwood, at Silverstone, preparing for the 4th BRDC International Trophy race.
Silverstone was another of a number of abandoned airfields turned grand prix courses that popped up all throughout Great Britain at the end of World War II. Its first race was an impromptu affair that ended with a sheep being hit and killed after it inadvertently wandered onto a portion of the airfield being used as part of the circuit. In the following years, a title would be given that would allow the Royal Air Force Silverstone bomber station to be used to host motor racing outright. Rather quickly, the circuit, located just five miles from the small village of Towcester, would become the 'Home of British Motor Racing', taking over from the old Brooklands circuit.
Initially, the circuit design utilized the runways in what would be considered an 'X' pattern. Then it was suggested the 2.88 miles of perimeter road be used. It would be this perimeter road that would serve as the foundation for the Silverstone Circuit.
England, in early May, usually involves some rather uninviting weather. The previous year's International Trophy race seemed more like a boat race than a motor race. Torrential rains battered down on the circuit causing the final 35 lap race to be called after only 6 laps. Reg Parnell, proving more duck than human, would be able to hold on in the conditions to take the victory.
The 1952 edition of the race seemed to be free and clear of any of the wet stuff. This would allow the drivers to really push their Formula 2 cars around the medium-speed circuit.
The race was an interesting one. It consisted of two heats that were 15 laps and a final that was 35 laps. The entire field of cars would be split up amongst the two heats. The finishing time of each competitor, in their respective heat, would set the grid for the final.
The starting grid for each heat race was determined by practice times before each heat. And during the first heat's practice, no one was faster than Mike Hawthorn around the circuit. He would turn a lap of two minutes flat around the circuit and would end up being fastest by two seconds over any other competitor. The front row consisted of four cars. Hawthorn would be on pole. Peter Collins, a future close friend of Hawthorn's, would end up starting 2nd. Frenchman Jean Behra would start 3rd in an Equipe Gordini T15. And Lance Macklin would round-out the front row in 4th place.
WS Aston would end up bringing two cars to the event numbered NB-41 and 42. Bill Aston would be placed in the first heat with Hawthorn, Collins and Behra, while Aston's friend, Robin Montgomerie-Charrington, would drive the NB-42 chassis in the second heat that featured Robert Manzon, Duncan Hamilton and the defending winner Reg Parnell.
In the first heat's practice, Aston would prove to be rather fast in the untested NB41. He would end up turning a lap that was two minutes and seven seconds. In spite of being seven seconds slower, the time was good enough that Aston would start 11th, or, on the third row of the grid.
Seventeen would take the green flag at the start of the first 15 lap heat race. Jean Behra, who had already raced in a couple of events on the mainland against the mighty Ferrari 500 and Alberto Ascari, would dispatch Collins in 2nd place rather quickly and would be breathing down Hawthorn's neck.
Kenneth Downing, in the new Connaught A-Type chassis would end up dropping out of the race only 6 laps in due to an engine failure. Aston kept going, that is, until one lap later. Aston had managed to finish the Lavant Cup race one month prior before it was only 6 laps instead of 7. Aston was 7 laps into the race when his NB41 gave up the ghost and forced Aston to retire from the race.
The rest of the heat featured a dramatic fight between Hawthorn and Behra. Hawthorn, despite the pressure, would persevere and take the win by two seconds over Behra. Peter Collins would finish the race 3rd, thirty seconds back.
Robin Montgomeri-Charrington would be driving the NB-42 in the second heat. However, it seemed as though he hadn't driven anything like the car before as he would end up well down on the time sheets. At the top of the time sheets would be Robert Manzon. His best time would be two minutes and one second. The rest of the front row would consist of cars that turned in laps in the two minute and two second range. Kenneth McAlpine would start 2nd. Manzon and McAlpine would be joined by Rudolf Fischer and Duncan Hamilton. Montgomerie-Charrington's best time in practice would be two minutes and seventeen seconds. In spite of the rather bad time, Robin would not start dead-last, but he would start in the fifth, and final, row of the grid.
During the heat, the pace was a bit more torrid than the first heat's time. Rudolf Fischer was really pressing the issue with his Ferrari 500 chassis. If the car could hold together, Montgomerie-Charrington could potentially have had a good result since a number of the faster competitors were out of the running less than 5 laps into the race. However, just like Aston, the NB-42 would not be able to make it past 7 laps. The gearbox would end up failing on Robin, thereby ending his race.
Though pressed by Fischer, who set a fastest lap time of one minute and fifty-eight seconds, Manzon would hold on to take the win in the second heat. His advantage was exactly the same as that which Hawthorn would end up with over Behra, a little over two seconds. Tony Rolt would end up coming up from 7th to finish 3rd.
The front row for the 35 lap final consisted of Manzon sitting on pole since his finishing time in the second heat was faster than Hawthorn's in the first. Fischer would start in 2nd place followed by Hawthorn and Behra.
In spite of having the pole, Manzon's race would end up coming to an end just 1 lap in when transmission problems forced him to retire. Two laps later, his Equipe Gordini, and fellow front row starter, Jean Behra would also retire from the race from a transmission failure. In spite of setting the fastest lap in the second heat, Fischer could not keep pace and would end up slipping down the running order. Hawthorn's day would go from good to bad. He would end up not even being classified by the end.
In the end, Lance Macklin would come all the way from 10th position at the start of the race to claim the victory over fellow HWM-Alta teammate Tony Rolt. Emmanuel de Graffenried, driving a rather ancient Plate-Maserati 4CLT/48, would end up finishing 3rd. This was a wild ending to a race that seemed sure to have one of the front row starters come through to take the victory.
One thing that was for sure was that Aston had a problem with his NB41. Longer distance races obviously revealed reliability issues. These would need to be resolved if Aston didn't merely want to take part, but wanted to compete in races.
WS Aston's next appearance in a race would come at a place Aston knew quite well, and was even a record-holder. Just in October the year before, Aston would drive a Cooper MK V streamlined car at Montlhery, France. During that race, Aston would go on to set the record for the fastest speed for the 500cc class when he would turn 99 mph around the circuit. Knowing the circuit so well, and after having such success there, WS Aston arrived at Montlhery toward the end of May for the 6th Grand Prix of Paris, which was the third round of the French F2 Championship.
WS Aston would bring a single car to the race. It would end up being driven by Montgomerie-Charrington. This would be a tough test for the team and the driver as it would pit themselves against Scuderia Ferrari, HWM and Equipe Gordini. In addition to that, the team would have to face its biggest opponent—the race.
The French F2 Championship was run according to slightly different rules than most races, especially the World Championship. The races would be run according to how far a competitor could travel in a certain amount of time, instead of having a certain distance to cover. The races; therefore, were not short affairs. They were three hour timed races. The NB41 had shown it couldn't get past 7 laps let alone three hours. This would be tough on the car, but it would provide great experience to the team to help get the most out of the car.
Missing from the Scuderia Ferrari driver lineup was Alberto Ascari. He was in the United States to take part in the Indianapolis 500 just five days after this race. In spite of his absence, Scuderia Ferrari still had a very strong contingent of drivers present, including the former World Champion Giuseppe Farina.
In practice, the other two Scuderia Ferrari drivers would end up being the fastest amongst the team. Piero Taruffi would record a lap time of two minutes, twenty-two and seven-tenths seconds. This would end up being just one-tenth faster than another Ferrari pilot, Luigi Villoresi. However, Robert Manzon would take advantage of Ascari's absence and would set the fastest lap time around the 3.90 mile Troisieme Circuit layout.
The Montlhery Circuit boasted of a number of possible arrangements that could be used and it depended, mostly, on the type of racing the circuit was to host. The complex consisted of a mile and a half oval, as well as, a road course. The oval could be used just by itself, but it could also be incorporated into the road course as well. In fact, if portions of the oval and the entire road course were used the circuit extended 7.76 miles. However, there were a number of other, shorter, iterations of the blended road course and oval. One of those iterations was the Troisieme Circuit.
The Troisieme Circuit used a little over half of the oval and about the first third of the road circuit. The circuit would use three chicanes strategically placed to slow the speeds of the competitors. Instead of continuing on to the turn around point at Biscornes corner, the circuit would turn at Couard hairpin and headed back to two more hairpin corners at Le Ferme and Epingle du Faye. This circuit arrangement would require quick acceleration and good braking. Therefore, the brakes and transmissions would go through a particular beating over the course of the race.
While the front row was set with Manzon, Taruffi and Villoresi, the rest of the field featured some very good drivers. Right there amidst these drivers, Montgomerie-Charrington would find himself. During practice Robin would turn in a lap of two minutes and thirty-six seconds. Although almost fifteen seconds slower than Manzon, he would find the time was good enough to start the race from the middle of the fifth row in 12th.
As the three hour race started, it would become apparent the NB41 would be able to make it further than 7 laps. Unfortunately, the car would still be plagued by questions concerning its endurance. 'Just how long would it go,' was a question still on the minds of many?
Well, Robin was looking better than Peter Collins and Jean Behra. Both of their races came to an end after less than an hour. However, he would join them just shy of seventy minutes into the race. After he had completed 26 laps, the clutch gave out on the Aston NB41. This ended another race with a failure.
The race, and the pace, would end up being too much for a lot of the competitors. By the end of the three hours, only three cars would be still considered running. All three of those still considered running at the end were Ferrari 500 F2s. Piero Taruffi would end up taking the victory having completed three more laps than Andre Simon driving Giuseppe Farina's abandoned number 2 Ferrari. Louis Rosier would complete the running order and the podium as he would finish 3rd. He would end up four laps down to Taruffi by the end.
The good news for WS Aston was the car had made it well beyong 7 laps. However, it still would need to be improved if Aston had any hopes of making a good show of it in any of the other non-championship events, let alone the World Championship. The team would not only need to work a bit harder, but the shoe-strung budgeted team would seriously need a confidence-builder. This would come.
WS Aston would travel further east and would arrive in Chimay, Belgium in order to take part in the 22nd Grand Prix des Frontieres on the 1st of June.
The Chimay Circuit was a circuit similar to Montlhery, but it did provide for higher top speeds. The circuit was located just to the northwest of the small town's center. In fact, the hairpin La Bouchere turn was located inside the town. From La Bouchere, the circuit set off across the countryside and would circulate back around to the start/finish line located just past the Vidal left-hand kink.
Generally flat farmland, the circuit had a number of fast sections including the Ligne Droite de Salles straight and the sweeping left-hand curve past Chapelle de l'Arbrisseau. In order to be fast around the track drivers needed to be brave. This was never more true than when entering Spikins and the sharp Mairesse right-hander. At 6.75 miles in length, the circuit tested a driver's concentration and endurance.
Unfortunately for the race, it would take place the same day as the Formula One Grand Prix of Albi. Both were popular venues, but Albi more so. Therefore, the field present for the race at Chimay lacked a large international population. But it did feature a number of local Belgian racers.
WS Aston brought its two cars to the race. Aston would drive NB-42 while Robin Montgomerie-Charrington would again drive NB-41. While the two drivers were familiar, what wasn't familiar was how well they would do during practice. Montgomerie-Charrington seemed to be clicking with his car as he would end up setting the sixth-fastest time and would start on the inside of the third row. Even the 52 year old Aston looked impressive in the troublesome chassis. He would end up starting right beside his teammate in 7th.
While the WS Aston teammates were fast, they were not nearly as fast as Johnny Claes. Driving a Simca-Gordini T15, the Belgian, Claes, would end up turning the fastest lap in practice and would start the Belgian Grand Prix des Frontieres race from the pole. He would be joined on the front row by another Belgian. Roger Laurent, driving for Ecurie Francorchamps, would end up being third-fastest in practice. Sandwiched between the two Belgians would be the German Willi Heeks driving an AFM.
The tensions and the nerves were running high on the front row. National pride would end up getting in the way perhaps of clean racing. On the very first lap of the race, Laurent and Claes would end up coming together and would crash out of the race. This eliminated two-thirds of the front row in one moment. In the next, the remaining third would be eliminated. After the completion of the 1st lap, Heeks' race would come to an end due to an oil pump failure.
About 5 laps into the race, another Belgian would fall out of the race. Jacques Swaters would end up retiring when his Veritas RS suffered troubles. It seemed all hope was lost for the Belgian fans. This meant there was hope for teams like WS Aston. That is until 7 laps into the 22 lap race.
The 7 lap Achilles heal would revisit the car driven by Aston. Mechanical troubles would force the Brit out of the race. However, Montgomeri-Charrington was continuing on and was looking comparatively good.
Robin was looking comparatively good compared to the team's previous races. He was looking good merely by the fact he was still running out on the circuit. However, because of the troubles suffered by so many others, Robin's rather sedated pace was actually putting him in position for a good result, IF, the car could make it to the end.
Paul Frere would end up being the savior of Belgian pride as he would come from 8th on the grid to take the win. He would make sure of the victory by setting the fastest lap of the race. This enabled him to finish with a margin of victory of just one second over Kenneth Downing.
On the last lap of the race, Montgomerie-Charrington would run out of gas. However, his steady and consistent pace would end up still being rewarded, and in a big way. In spite of being two laps down, and running out of gas at the very end, Robin would end up finishing a fine 3rd.
This was an incredible result for the team after struggling so terribly throughout its first few races. While they still suffered a failure with one of its cars, the second car travelled the distance rather well. Perhaps the team turned a corner. Confidence was running higher as a result.
Aston would put the confidence to the test only one week later. After packing up, the team would leave Chimay and would head south about 500 miles and would arrive in Monza, Italy. The team had come to take part in the 5th Gran Premio dell'Autodromo di Monza on the 8th of June.
Less than a month prior, WS Aston took part in a race at a purpose-built circuit that featured a steeply-banked oval. Montlhery had been built in 1924. One year later, the Autodromo di Monza would open. Like Montlhery, Monza would boast of a steeply-banked oval, but one that was a little over a mile longer. It too could be incorporated into the road course that winds around and underneath it.
In 1952, only the road course would be used. But nonetheless, the circuit was still fast. With the exception of four corners near ninety degree angles, the rest of the circuit would be taken either flat-out, or, pretty close to it. Despite the corners, the speeds around the Monza circuit remain high enough that only those with the power in reserve could routinely challenge for the top positions. As practice would reveal, this excluded the WS Aston team.
The Grand Prix of Monza was another of those races that ran differently than most. Similar to the International Trophy race, the race consisted of two heat races that were each 35 laps in length. The departure came in the fact that every competitor took part in both of the heat races. The overall results would then be determined by the aggregate time accumulated by each competitor over the course of the two heats. This meant drivers needed to be fast, but, the cars definitely had to last the entire 70 lap distance in order to have a shot at victory.
In the case of WS Aston's two cars, the main worry was making it through the two heats. They had their confidence built up at Chimay, but now they would be challenging Ferraris and the rather new Maserati A6GCM. In practice, the lack of pace became obvious.
Twenty-nine cars would take part in the race. Alberto Ascari, fresh from the United States, would go out and turn the fastest lap in practice, and therefore, sat on the pole to start the first heat race. Giuseppe Farina would end up starting the race 2nd. Argentinean, Jose Froilan Gonzalez, would start 3rd. And, Luigi Villoresi would complete the front row in 4th.
The best of the WS Aston team would be Montgomerie-Charrington. While he wouldn't be at the back of the grid, he wouldn't exactly be near the front either. He would start from the fifth row in 17th position. Aston would start pushing toward the back of the grid. His best time would enable him to start from the sixth row, 22nd overall.
The race would get underway with Ascari leading the field and quickly pulling away. Juan Manuel Fangio, who would start dead-last for not having set a time, would be on a charge up through the back of the field. However, this charge would come to an almost tragic end on the 2nd lap as he would careen off the course and would heavily damage the car. He too would be broken in numerous places, but would end up escaping with his life.
Fangio wouldn't be the only one to run into trouble throughout the first heat race. Unfortunately, that would include Aston. Only 4 laps into the race, mechanical troubles would force Aston out of the race. He would be one of about nine that would drop out of the race before 10 laps had been completed. While he wasn't anywhere near the pace of Ascari, Robin would continue to circulate. All of the troubles experienced by the other competitors were helping him out just as it had the week before at Chimay.
Throughout the first heat, Ascari was untouchable. He would turn the fastest lap and would go on the win the heat by more than a minute over Giuseppe Farina. Such was Ascari's pace that he would end up lapping everybody but Farina in 2nd place before the end. Andre Simon, another Ferrari driver, would end up a lap down in 3rd place.
Riding the wave of attrition, Montgomerie-Charrington would end up being able to coming up from starting 17th to finish the first heat in 12th position. He would end up being three laps down by the end, but the car was still running, which was like being amongst the front-runners.
The finishing order of the first heat determined the starting grid for the second, and final, heat race. The second heat would start out just like the first. Ascari would scream into the lead and would begin to pull away. However, the second part of the winning equation included endurance. Ascari obviously had the speed, but he would be lacking endurance.
As Ascari powered his way down the track on the 15th lap of the race, it would all come to an end. His Ferrari 500 would suffer from a camshaft failure and would bring his brilliant race to an end. This handed the lead to Farina.
Montgomerie-Charrington's NB41 then decided if Ascari's Ferrari was calling it quits, then it had every right to call it a day as well. After 20 laps, Robin's day would be done when a mechanical problem would strike the chassis yet again. This was incredibly frustrating after the team had achieved such a good result only one week prior. The little bit of good news that could be taken from the episode would be the fact the car had travelled further than it had at any time before.
Farina had taken over the lead from Ascari after his retirement. Farina would gladly accept and would carefully power his way to victory in the second heat. Only Simon would manage to stay on the lead lap with Farina. Still, Andre would finish a minute and a half behind. Rudolf Fischer would end up two laps down in 3rd.
When the times were added together, it was obvious Farina had scored the overall victory. He would have a lap margin over Simon in 2nd. Fischer would end up 3rd, four laps down to Farina.
WS Aston had come close, but still had yet to complete a distance of over 250 miles, which was what many of the World Championship rounds would be, as a minimum. While still struggling, the car seemed to be getting stronger. The question was whether Aston's limited finances could allow for continued development of the car so that it could make it the required distances? Many more answers would become clear in just a couple of weeks.
WS Aston would remain on the European continent in preparation for its next race. This would be a very important race for the team. It would be the first-ever World Championship race in which the team would compete. The team would travel back to Belgium, from Italy, in order to prepare for the Belgian Grand Prix held at the ultra-fast Spa-Francorchamps circuit on the 22nd of June.
The Belgian Grand Prix was the third round of the World Championship in 1952. Seeing as the team had managed to earn a surprise 3rd place result at Chimay, the team decided to make a return trip to Belgium in order to take part in the race.
While Spa-Francorchamps was similar to Chimay in that it too was a road course made up of public roads, there were some very important differences between the two. With the exception of a couple of corners, Chimay was a rather steady and consistent circuit. Everything about Spa was inconsistent. To be fast at the 8.77 mile circuit the driver had to be absolutely fearless. Unlike Chimay, Spa rose and fell dramatically throughout. The climb up the hill at Eau Rouge, especially in the wet was only eclipsed in difficulty and insanity by the Masta Kink and Stavelot on the course's backside. In the wet, the course was absolutely frightful. The only thing about the circuit which was consistent, which was located in the Ardennes Forest, was the inconsistent weather. In spite of the dangers and the treacherous conditions, the speeds, which frequently topped 150 mph, and the danger would only make it that much more of a favorite with the drivers and the fans.
Aston would only enter one car in the race. It would be driven by Montgomerie-Charrington. Although this was the team's first-ever World Championship event, Robin was looking rather impressive in practice. The NB41 lacked the pace of the Ferraris and the some the Equipe Gordini T15s and T16s. But, he would still managed to put the car in the field in a very respectable position. While his time would end up forty-five seconds, or so, slower than times recorded by the Ferrari pilots, Robin would still manage to put the car on the sixth row of the grid in 15th. He would beat out a number of other talented drivers with admittedly better equipment. He would even beat out a couple of Belgians that obviously had more local knowledge as well as better cars.
Heading up the starting field would be Ascari. His best time around the 8.77 mile circuit would be four minutes and thirty-seven seconds. Ascari was clearly in a class unto himself as Farina would start 2nd but with a best lap that was three seconds slower. Piero Taruffi would be another six seconds slower but would be fast enough to ensure a Ferrari sweep of the front row.
As the third round of the World Championship was preparing to get underway, the field would end up having to deal with a great performance leveler—the rain. It had been falling all over the circuit prior to the start of the race, and was forecasted to remain throughout the course of the race.
Clearly the rain was going to come into play as Ascari would come under attack from Jean Behra during the early laps of the race. In fact, Behra would manage to lead a lap. However, Ascari would find his footing in the wet and would take over the lead.
Being British, Montgomerie-Charrington also had an advantage. In such conditions, the weaknesses of the car would not be as influential. Robin would take advantage of the fact and would manage to come up through the order.
WS Aston would receive some help. Some of the bigger names in the race suffered from failures or mistakes and would be forced to retire. Stirling Moss wouldn't make it a single lap. Peter Collins would have the driveshaft break on his HWM-Alta. Louis Rosier would drop out with transmission troubles. And then there was Taruffi and Behra. After leading a lap early on, it would all go bad very quickly. Piero Taruffi would spin in the wet conditions and would collide with Behra, thus knocking him out of the race as well. All of the troubles suffered by others only helped Robin to move further forward.
The WS Aston team perhaps began to celebrate when Montgomerie-Charrington managed to come up as high as 7th in the running order before coming in for fuel. This would be an unfortunate necessity. His crew would end up pouring in the wrong fuel mixture. The fuel would then cause the car to suffer from a terrible misfire that would eventually retire the car altogether on the 17th lap. This was an absolute shame for the team after Montgomerie-Charrington had them running so well.
On the 2nd lap of the race, Ascari was intent on establishing his hold on the lead of the race. He would end up turning the fastest lap of the race with a time of seven minutes and four seconds. Incredibly, in the rain there was a two and a half minute difference in lap times.
Once he had his grip on the lead, Ascari would not let go. He would go on to pull away from the rest of the field from that point on. At the end of the 36 lap race, Ascari had lapped all but 3rd or better. His margin of victory at the line would end up being almost two minutes over Giuseppe Farina. Four and a half minutes later, Robert Manzon would finish in 3rd.
Although a bitter pill to swallow because of the mistake that was made, the team could leave Spa with their heads held up high. In the conditions, Montgomerie-Charrington was making WS Aston look like a front-runner. Ultimately; however, the team would leave its first World Championship with a point.
WS Aston was determined to get back what was lost by mistake. Therefore, the team would remain in the area around the Low Country region and would take part in another race one week after the Belgian Grand Prix.
Only about two and a half hours away from Spa, Reims would be the site for the fourth round of the French F2 Championship. Therefore, the team packed up and headed to the 20th Grand Prix de la Marne looking for retribution.
Finances being tight, the team would again only enter one car in the three hour race around the 4.46 mile circuit. At a circuit like Reims, the team would need the other car just to help keep the one in competitive trim. It would also include looking to local businesses, if need be, to ensure the car would be in working order. WS Aston would do just that.
In 1952, the Reims circuit would be changed from previous years. Instead of screaming into the little village of Gueux and turning sharply at the Virage de Gueux hairpin, the circuit would sweep around the fast right-hand Courbe de Gueux bend, which was located about a half of a mile outside the village center. Made up of public roads surrounding mostly farmland, the cars would be able to stretch their legs often. The cars would be able to touch their top speeds in the run down the straight Route Nationale 31 until having to brake hard for the Thillois hairpin. The hairpin then emptied out onto the slightly undulating start/finish straight. The spectators along the front straight had an incredible view watching the cars hauling out of the hairpin and down the straight before braking through Courbe de Gueux. Although the spectators had an incredible view, the circuit was tough on the competitors and the cars. The hard acceleration and braking put every part of the cars under incredible stress.
In practice, the Ferrari of Alberto Ascari was the fastest of all the competitors. He would manage to lap the new layout in two minutes and twenty-six seconds and would deservingly start from the pole. Almost two seconds slower, Farina assumed what would be a usual spot in 2nd on the starting grid. Robert Manzon completed the front row qualifying 3rd.
Unlike Spa, which sustains higher speeds for longer periods of time, Reims required power to accelerate the car from slower corners to top speed in a somewhat short period of time. The NB41 didn't have the reserve power to do this. Therefore, Robin's time would suffer compared to the rest of the field. As a result, Robin would start from the last row of the grid in 22nd place.
While the Ferrari 500 seemed unbeatable by the competition, it could do nothing with attrition. This reality would play out in the very early stages of the race.
Four cars would end up out of the race within the first thirteen minutes of the race. Three of those would suffer engine failures of some kind. One of those to suffer an engine failure would be Luigi Villoresi. However, he wouldn't be out of the race. Ascari would help out his good friend by giving Villoresi his car for the remainder of the race.
Throughout the first forty minutes of the race, Montgomerie-Charrington would push the NB41 hard. Rounding the corners, in an effort to help the car accelerate, Robin would slip the clutch, pushing hard all the time. Unfortunately, this was killing the transmission. After 15 laps, the transmission had had enough. He had stripped the gearing enough that he could go nowhere. However, instead of admitting defeat, Robin would locate a local shop and wait along the side of the circuit while a local shop attempted to machine new gears. This would prove to be futile, and the car would be retired from the race.
Ascari turning over his car to Villoresi offered others some hope. Jean Behra would quickly take advantage of the opportunity and would grab the lead. Despite Farina and Villoresi giving chase, Behra would actually pull away and cruise to the victory. He would complete 71 laps over the course of the three hours, one more than Farina who would finish in 2nd place. Luigi Villoresi would take Ascari's car and would bring it home in 3rd place, also a lap down to Behra.
Reims was not the best course for the NB41. And now, the team had to have the car's transmission repaired in time for its next race.
The team's next race would be one of the most important on the team's calendar. Aston would take some time to repair his cars, and therefore, would end up skipping the fourth round of the World Championship, the French Grand Prix held at Rouen-Les-Essarts. Instead, the team packed up and headed back across the English Channel to make preparations for entering the fifth round of the World Championship, the British Grand Prix.
The British Grand Prix was held on the 19th of July and it took place at the Silverstone Circuit. This was the 7th British Grand Prix. Silverstone had not been all that kind to WS Aston the last time they had visited the track. The event would be even less cordial the second time.
Things started out bad right away. Montgomerie-Charrington had decided to pull up his roots and was off to the United States. This left the driving duties all to the aged Aston. Then, without the necessary finances and means to thoroughly develop the car, practice for the race would finish off the job.
Scuderia Ferrari was dominant throughout practice as everybody expected them to be. However, the former World Champion, Giuseppe Farina, was proving to be a stubborn adversary for his Ferrari teammate. Each would turn a lap with a time of one minute and fifty seconds. However, Farina's time would end up being just slightly faster, earning him the pole. Ascari, obviously, would start 2nd. Piero Taruffi kept things rolling for Ferrari when he would end up being third-fastest in practice and would also start on the front row as a result. With Scuderia Ferrari safely in the field, one spot was left open on the front row. Robert Manzon, driving for Equipe Gordini, would end up just beating Kenneth Downing by one second for the final front row position.
While the front row all managed lap times well under two minutes, Aston would have liked to have been able to just turn a lap in under three. The best Aston could do in the struggling NB41 would be a lap time of three minutes and twenty-eight seconds. This was a full minute and a half slower than Farina on the pole. While Aston had set a time, which obviously would have netted him last place on the starting grid, he had a very important decision to make. This was his home grand prix. It would be important for him to race in his home World Championship round. However, he was well off the pace, and the car had proven unreliable throughout the season thus far. If he were to race, the car could fail, and then, he would have to use more financial resources to repair the car in order to try and compete somewhere else. Weighing the options and the risks, Aston would decide to pass up taking part in his home grand prix in favor of keeping more of his limited resources so that he could race competitively some place else.
The race itself was turned out to just be a rather boring exhibition race anyway. At the very start, Ascari leapt into the lead as Farina just spun his tires and slipped down in the field. Once Ascari had the lead, the race was over.
Just 9 laps into the race, Ascari would turn what would end up being the fastest lap. His time was just two seconds slower than his qualifying effort. He was obviously pushing hard, trying to break his opponents. He would end up doing just that.
Some of the favorites had retired from the race, including two of the Equipe Gordini drivers, Trintignant and Manzon, and also Stirling Moss in his ERA G-Type. However, it wouldn't have mattered whether they were still running or not; Ascari was just too dominant.
Before the end of the 85 lap race, Ascari would manage to lap the entire field at least once. He would end up crossing the finish line with a lap margin over his Ferrari teammate Piero Taruffi in 2nd. Mike Hawthorn would cause cheers to go up from the British faithful as he would manage to finish 3rd. However, he too was thoroughly beaten by Ascari as he would end the race two laps down. In fact, only the top eleven were within five laps of the Ascari by the end!
Choosing not to take part in the Ascari exhibition, Aston and his team had some financial resources available that enabled them to continue to tweak and improve the car in time for the sixth round of the World Championship. Aston, the pioneer and brave pilot and racer, would choose to through his fragile car into an incredibly tough race at what was to become considered to be the toughest and most dangerous circuit in all the world.
On August 3rd, the perhaps fool-hardy Aston was making final preparations to his NB41 for the German Grand Prix. This was the sixth round of the World Championship and it was getting ready to take part on one of the toughest circuits in all the world, the 14 mile long Nordschleife.
Found in the Eifel mountains of western Germany, the Nurburgring features one of the oldest, and perhaps most dangerous, purpose-built circuits. The Nordschleife, or 'North Loop' was actually just one of four configurations, but it would become the most notorious of them all. Being 14 miles in length, the circuit travels quite a distance throughout the Eifel mountain region, and therefore, rises and falls a number of times. Also due to the nature of the nature surrounding the area, the circuit boasts of some very tight corners and blind entries that test the driver's nerve at every moment. Interestingly, the circuit came about because the first races were deemed too dangerous as they merely took place on the public roads through the mountains. What would end up being rather funny was that the Nordschleife would always be considered dangerous. Consisting of 174 bends, just one lap required incredible concentration and a photographic memory in order to be fast.
In practice, Ascari seemed to have a photographic memory, and seemed unafraid, of the circuit as he would go out and prove fastest in his Ferrari 500. His best time around the long circuit would be ten minutes and four seconds. This would end up being three seconds faster than Farina's best time. The two Ferrari pilots would end up being the fastest of the field by a decent margin. Mauric Tringtignant would start on the front row in 3rd place. However, his best time in practice would be ten minutes and nineteen seconds. This time would; therefore, be fifteen seconds slower than Ascari. Robert Manzon, Trintignant's Equipe Gordini teammate, would be even slower. Although he too would start from the front row in 4th position, his time would be twenty-one seconds slower. While over the course of 14 miles twenty-one seconds doesn't sound like a lot, it is indicative of Ascari's pace compared to the rest of the field. It would; therefore, be expected that Ascari would pull away from them at that rate, if not more, every lap.
Of course, none of this bothered Aston. However, he wouldn't just get into the field, he would actually do quite well in practice considering the troubles he had been having with the car. Thirty drivers would sit on the grid in preparation for the race. Aston managed to turn in a lap that would be fast enough to allow him to start the race from the sixth row and 21st overall. This was a remarkable achievement considering how far off the pace he had been in practice for the British Grand Prix.
Such stories in the background would end up being more of interest at the German Grand Prix than that of Ascari and Scuderia Ferrari at the front, at least until the last lap of the race.
Right at the start, Ascari pulled away in the lead and began to stretch the margin over the rest of the field. The only one that seemed capable of keeping up with Ascari was Farina. Of course, Ascari's pace was understandable. He had a World Championship to win. And if he were able to win the race, it would all be over, even though there were still two more rounds to go.
So Ascari was pulling away at the front. For the rest of the field, the main threat, which was attrition, was decimating the field. Seven of the starters would be out of the running by the time just 1 lap had been completed. Fourteen miles of constant up and down, left and right and accelerating and braking was taking its toll. All of the torture would end up causing the NB41 to run out of steam after the 2nd lap. The oil pressure died in the car, thereby ending Aston's race.
By the end of the race, only twelve cars would still actually be running out on the circuit. Out of those twelve, only eight would be actually 'officially' recorded as still running. Such was the pace of Ascari. However, all was not smooth sailing for Ascari either. Alberto's Ferrari began to suffer oil problems itself and it would require coming into the pits to have some work done and oil added. Therefore, as Ascari was headed onto the last lap, he would end up pulling into the pits to have the necessary work done. The work would take a good deal amount of time and would hand the lead over to Farina.
Once the work was finished, Ascari had to try and track down Farina before the end of the lap. He had ten minutes of running in which to pull off the pass of Farina. His pace had been such that ten minutes would prove to be more than enough.
Sure enough, Ascari would catch up to Farina. His pace was too much for Farina to fend off. In fact, Ascari would be fast enough that he would not only take over the lead, he would end up opening up a margin of fourteen seconds by the end. Rudolf Fischer would end up finishing the race 3rd. He would end up down to Ascari by over seven minutes and would be the last car still on the lead lap. Ascari's pace throughout the race was such that 6th through 8th would end up two laps down by the end. This meant they were over twenty minutes behind Ascari.
WS Aston had suffered two-straight heartbreaks. On top of it all, Aston's resources were running short, and thereby, hampered development of the car even more. However, Aston would do what he could. He would modify as he could and would end up changing the car a good deal before the end of the World Championship season. Unwilling to give up, Aston would end up packing up his WS Aston team and would head back out to Monza for the eighth, and final, round of the World Championship.
The Italian Grand Prix took place in early September. WS Aston had been at Monza back in early June. That visit wasn't very successful. However, both of his cars would manage to make it in the field. This time, just making it into the field was going to be the struggle, let alone trying to make it the entire 80 laps.
Thirty-five cars had made the trip to Monza. However, only twenty-four would end up starting the race. Times around the 3.91 mile circuit were pushing the two minute mark. As the times were coming in, it was becoming quite apparent that to make it into the field, the lap times had to remain somewhere within ten seconds of whatever Ascari would do.
Sure enough, Ascari would be the fastest of the qualifiers. His time would be just under two minutes and six seconds. This meant the last position on the grid would be somewhere around two minutes and sixteen seconds. Luigi Villoresi and Giuseppe Farina would safely make it into the field as they would qualify 2nd and 3rd. The remaining position on the front row would be taken by Maurice Trintignant.
Heitel Cantoni, in a Maserati A6GCM, would end up qualifying 23rd with a time of two minutes, fifteen and nine-tenths seconds. Therefore, the final position on the grid would end up around sixteen seconds. Gino Bianco would push it as he would record a time of two minutes and seventeen seconds. The door was open to the other competitors, including Aston.
Unfortunately for Aston, there would be a number of talented drivers that had not managed to turn in laps fast enough to make it into the field. Included among them were the HWM-Alta drivers Lance Macklin, Peter Collins and Tony Gaze. In spite of Aston's best efforts, and those of other drivers, Bianco's time would end up standing up to the onslaught. Aston's best time wouldn't even be close as he would only manage a lap of two minutes and twenty seconds. For the second time on the season, he would not start a World Championship event.
The race itself would feature a battle. Jose Froilan Gonzalez, in a Maserati A6GCM, was intent on breaking up Ascari's stranglehold on the top step of the podium. He would set out, at the start of the race, with light fuel tanks in an effort to open up a gap on Ascari. Lap after lap, the margin would widen.
Behind these two, Villoresi and Farina were futilely trying to keep up, the rest of the field would just try and hold on to make it to the end as a result of the pace. Gonzalez's pace had started to be neutralized by Ascari as he too became lighter on fuel. This was the moment. Gonzalez had to come in.
The margin would not be enough. Ascari would come through into the lead. However, Gonzalez would pick up the chase and was driving with abandonment. Ascari would turn the fastest lap of the race on the 56th lap. As proof of just how hard Jose was pushing, he would match the time the very next lap and again on the 60th.
However, once Ascari had the lead, he wasn't going to let anyone take it away from him. He had prize-money and the record-books waiting. Ascari would match the pace of a charging Gonzalez and would win the race by a minute and one second over Gonzalez. Luigi Villoresi would finish 3rd, another minute behind Jose.
That was it. Ascari had earned six-straight victories in the World Championship. In contrast, the only thing WS Aston had managed to come close to achieving was six-straight retirements. With the exception of the Belgian Grand Prix, the 1952 World Championship had been an incredibly bitter experience for the team and for Aston. However, Aston was a fighter. And while many would want their season to be over after such a season, WS Aston would pack up and head back to England to prepare for the few non-championship races left.
Toward the end of September, WS Aston was back where its season began, Goodwood. In the fall of the year, Goodwood hosted a number of short races similar to that held during the Easter holiday. One of those races was the 5th Madgwick Cup race.
Held on the 27th of September, the Madgwick Cup race was a 7 lap affair, which was the point earlier in the season where the NB41 proved vulnerable. The reliability, over the season, had improved, but with this being the end of the season, there was the threat the car wouldn't even be able to make the distance. The wear and tear of a season would exact a large toll on teams and private entries that didn't have the financial resources to truly rebuild its cars after each race.
In spite of the threats of poor reliability, Aston would impress during practice. Twenty-two drivers and cars had entered the race. However, during practice, Aston would end up turning in a lap that was fast enough for him to start the race from the third row in 8th position. He would literally start right behind the pole-sitter.
The battle for the pole would come down to the Connaughts and Cooper-Bristol T20s. The man that would rise above them all would be Eric Thompson. Starting beside Thompson would be his Connaught Engineering teammate Kenneth Downing. The rest of the four-wide front row consisted of Duncan Hamilton in 3rd and Alan Brown in 4th.
Just because someone starts from the pole doesn't mean the first lap will go without incident. Thompson would find this out. Stirling Moss and Andre Loens would crash into each other, thereby ending each other's day. Thompson would also suffer damage from a crash. Just after 1 lap, Thompson would retire from the race as a result of the damage suffered.
Although the race was only 7 laps in length, a season of busy racing and failures, without the financial resources to truly remedy the issues, would multiply itself and come calling Aston's number only 5 laps into the very short race. After 5 laps, the engine let go in the NB41, and thus, ended yet another race for the WS Aston team.
In spite of Alan Brown's best efforts, the race would end up belonging to Connaught Engineering. Kenneth Downing would end up going on to win the race. He would beat another Connaught Engineering teammate, Dennis Poore, by ten seconds. Following behind Poore by about four seconds, Alan Brown would end up on the final step of the podium finishing 3rd.
After a season of failure after failure, Aston would call it quits. The car just could not handle the distances. However, due to the decent showing the car had at Spa in the Belgian Grand Prix, Aston would not give up on his design. In fact, the extremely fragile car would end up coming back in 1953. However, 1953 would end up just being more of the same. The pioneer had run up against the might of the works giants. While showing innovative and design genius, to make it work, Aston needed exactly what the larger works teams had and he didn't. The days of the lone pioneer were fading into the sunset.