TeamsR.R.C. Walker Racing Team: 1954 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
Rob Walker Racing Team had made an impressive run in Formula 2 during the 1953 season. Besides the retirement in its one and only World Championship race of the season, the team had been amongst the top five or top three in just about every non-championship race in which it had competed during the year. The Johnnie Walker heir had certainly found the right blend for a racing team in 1953. In 1954, he would look brew a fine first Formula One season as well.
In 1952, Connaught had launched its A-Type chassis and it would prove quite successful. However, by 1953, the car would prove to be similar to just about every other British design of the time.
Even in to the early 1950s Britain still struggled to have the material available to make some truly reliable grand prix cars. The BRM project had bankrupted a number of its patriotic supporters. On top of it all, the huge Formula One project took so many resources and proved to be so unsuccessful that any other 'national' program would be certainly mocked and abandoned before it even began. Therefore, grand prix chassis construction would be left to a number of smaller manufacturers that certainly didn't have the capital to do battle with Ferrari or Maserati.
However, Rob Walker Racing would seem to be the exception to the rule. While many teams operating Connaught chassis were running into increasing reliability problems, Rob Walker Racing would seem to get the most out of its chassis and it would turn into nothing less than eight victories for the team during the 1953 season in non-championship races. Of course, many of those victories would come as a result of taking part in club races, but still, it had been a truly incredible season for the team.
While the team would employ more than one driver during the 1953 season, the man that scored the majority of the team's good results was Tony Rolt. Realizing he was in a good position with a strong privateer team, Rolt would be back with the team the following year. He and the dark blue adorned Connaught, with its single white stripe, would be seen in mid-April preparing to take part in the team's first race of the season.
The World Championship had once again started very early on in the year. Catching the tail-end of the summer months in South America, many of the large manufacturers would be in Argentina to take part in the first round of the World Championship. For the smaller privateer teams such a trip wasn't very feasible, especially considering the chances of a top result to pay for the trip wouldn't be very likely. Therefore, like many others, the season wouldn't start for Rob Walker Racing until April. And on the 19th of April, the team would be at Goodwood preparing to take part in the 6th Lavant Cup race, just one of the races that made up the Easter races, a tradition at Goodwood.
Part of the Goodwood Estate, the Goodwood motor racing circuit wouldn't actually come into being until after the end of World War II. Even then there was discussion as to what was to be done with the Royal Air Force Westhampnett airfield that had been decommissioned at the end of the war.
The base once hosted Spitfire and Hurricane fighters. RAF Westhampnett had actually just been a satellite airbase for RAF Tangmere until the onslaught of the war necessitated squadrons being placed at the turf airfield. Then, after the war, the Duke of Richmond, the title-holder of the estate, needed to figure out what to do with the airfield. Through discussion and suggestion, and the fact the Duke himself was quite a keen racing enthusiast himself, it would be decided the 2.39 mile perimeter road would make a perfect motor racing circuit. Thus, Goodwood motor racing circuit would be born, so to the Easter Monday races.
The entire day would be filled with racing, but not just of one class. The entire day would be filled with short races from a multiple of class and categories of cars. In fact, during the Formula 2 years of the World Championship, Goodwood would be one of the few places in which the old Formula One cars could still be seen racing.
One of the names of the many races would be the Lavant Cup race. Drawing its name from a nearby village just a couple of miles to the northwest, the Lavant Cup race would be just a 7 lap event that would total about 17 miles. This meant the race would last less than twenty minutes and would put a premium on starting position and mistake-free racing.
Throughout the 1953 season, Rob Walker Racing and Tony Rolt would occupy the front row of many non-championship races. Rolt would start out the 1954 season picking up where the team had left off as he would set the fourth-fastest time in practice and would start in the final position on the front row.
The pole for the 7 lap race would end up going to Roy Salvadori in a Gilby Engineering Maserati 250F. The other two starting positions on the front row would go to Kenneth McAlpine in another Connaught A-Type and Reg Parnell in a Scuderia Ambrosiana Ferrari 625.
Against the Formula One machines of Parnell and Salvadori, Rolt would have a difficult time taking the victory. About the only prayer he would have is that attrition lay claim to the two eliminating them from the race. Attrition would come, but would end up getting the wrong competitor.
The field would tear away with Salvadori and Parnell leading the way. Parnell would leap past McAlpine and would challenge Salvadori right away. Rolt would make a good start off the line and would be battling up toward the front of the field throughout the first lap of the race.
Salvadori and Parnell would become locked in an impressive duel that would only be disappointing because of the brevity of the event. The two drivers would never be more than a couple of car lengths apart from each other. The racing would be so tight between the two that the winner would never be clear until the very end.
Many would find their races would become quite clear very early on. John Webb and Peter Whitehead would each be out of the running after just one lap. Alan Brown would only make it two laps before he would have to retire with mechanical maladies.
Rolt continued to look strong, but against the might of the Formula One machines there was little he could do. Therefore, Rolt would focus on being the fastest of the Formula 2 cars in the field. Unfortunately, on the last lap of the race, magneto troubles would cause him to come to a stop. Amazingly, at the time of coming to a stop there had already been two others that were lapped by the battling duo of Parnell and Salvadori. This would actually aid Rolt.
The battle between Salvadori and Parnell would go right down to the bitter end. Coming through Woodcote for the final time, Parnell held onto an advantage but it was very slight. If his foot slipped off the gas for even the briefest of moments Salvadori would scream past into the lead and take the victory. However, no such thing would happen to the veteran and he would earn the victory holding off Salvadori by just six-tenths of a second. The two had traded blows all throughout the race. They would each set the same fastest lap time of one minute and thirty-six seconds at an average speed of just under 90 mph. This was just how close the battle between the two had been.
Despite being left behind, McAlpine would still put together an impressive performance in his Connaught. He would stay ahead of Lance Macklin in his HWM by about ten seconds and would finish the race in 3rd place about thirty seconds behind Parnell.
Although magneto problems would force Rolt out of the race, he would still be around the top seven before the retirement because of the pace Parnell and Salvadori had over the whole of the field.
The season certainly had not started out the same as the previous year, and with the presence of Formula One machines in the field, the team would need to make every race count. They had come up short in the short Lavant Cup. They would need to turn it around in the next race.
About a month would pass between races for the team. As the year headed into the middle of May, the Rob Walker Racing Team would pack everything up and would head to the East Midlands region of England. The final stop would be a former airbase bordering the small village of Silverstone. The race in which the team would take part would be the 6th BRDC International Trophy race held on the 15th of May.
Part of what was once the Whittlewood forest, Silverstone Motor Racing Circuit would be birthed out of war-torn England. The gentle rolling countryside of Northamptonshire in the East Midlands region of England would become a training base for Vickers Wellington bombers during the days of World War II. After the war, the base would lie dormant until an impromptu race would be held on the base in 1947. During that race, a sheep would wander onto the circuit and would be struck. Therefore, Silverstone would come into being with the death of a sheep.
One year after the tragic death of the sheep, the Royal Automobile Club would purchase the deed to the land and would host the British Grand Prix there the same year. The British Grand Prix that year would actually take place utilizing portions of the three runways. At that time, the start/finish line would be located between Abbey Curve and Woodcote Corner. It would be the following year, 1949, that the International Trophy race would have its first race and it too would be held at Silverstone. However, before the race it would be suggested to just use the 2.88 mile perimeter road. This would be agreed upon and the much more familiar Silverstone circuit would come into its own.
One year previous, Tony Rolt had taken Rob Walker Racing to a 3rd place result battling against the likes of Mike Hawthorn, Stirling Moss and others. One year later, Rolt and the team realized the task would be a much tougher assignment. Scuderia Ferrari would be present with more than one car this time. In addition, the Equipe Gordini team would come to the race with a couple cars of its own. Besides these two factory efforts, there would be a huge number of other small teams and privateers filling the ranks in each of the heats. Nonetheless, the team still looked forward to a strong result.
The International Trophy race had always been conducted according to a heat and final format. 1954 would be no exception. The entire field would be broken down into two heats. Each of those heats would take part in a 15 lap heat race. Then, when all of the heats were over, those still in the running would then line up to take part in a 35 lap final.
Rolt would be listed in the first heat. He would have such competition as Jose Froilan Gonzalez, Stirling Moss, Jean Behra, Umberto Maglioli and others. The disparity in performance in which Rolt would have to contend would become more than evident in practice against such tough competition.
Gonzalez would set the pace in practice with his Ferrari 553. In spite of the rain, he would set a fastest lap time of one minute and forty-eight seconds. This would prove to be three seconds faster than the next-fastest qualifier Jean Behra. Behra would prove to barely edge out Stirling Moss for the 2nd place spot on the front row. Alan Brown, driving the new Vanwall 01, would turn in a lap of one minute and fifty-three seconds, and therefore, would start from the 4th, and final, position on the front row.
Although he didn't have the performance numbers of the 553 and the new Gordini chassis, the rain would enable Rolt to remain close. Tony would set a best lap time of one minute and fifty-six seconds. This would enable him to start from the second row of the grid in the 5th position, right in between Gonzalez and Behra.
Even compared to the Formula 2 cars of the previous season, Rolt's Connaught struggled in top end performance and reliability. Therefore, in order to make an entire race distance, Rolt would have to trade performance for reliability. This meant the performance gap widened all the more. One year later, that margin widened even more when pitted against the Formula One cars for any lengthy race distance.
While Rolt would make a good start off the line, he would quickly find himself being threatened by a number of Formula One machines that had not qualified so well in the wet weather. Gonzalez would still pull away from the line with the lead but would quickly find himself without much challenge as he fought his way through the wet conditions.
Starting from the third row of the grid, Prince Bira would make a great start and would be up with the leaders very quickly. Bira's forward movement would help Behra's backward peddling down the running order. Umberto Maglioli would also come on strong in the race coming to grips with the Ferrari 625 in the wet.
The movement up the order by Bira and Maglioli meant Rolt was being shoved backward. His biggest fight over the course of the 15 lap heat race would be not to be further shoved down the running order.
Anchored by a fastest lap time of two minutes and three seconds in the wet conditions, Gonzalez maintained a comfortable margin over Bira running in the 2nd position. Bira would have a battle of his own to worry about as Stirling Moss trailed behind him by only a second or so. Further back, Maglioli had a Jean Behra doing everything he could to claw back the ground he had lost at the start.
Averaging nearly 83 mph, Gonzalez was pretty much on his own as he circulated the 2.88 miles one last time. He would come through to take the victory completing the distance in thirty-one minutes and forty-nine seconds. Prince Bira would be impressive throughout the first heat. He would hold off Moss by a couple of seconds and would cross the line in 2nd position about fourteen seconds behind Gonzalez. Two seconds behind Bira came Moss in 3rd place.
After starting the race from the 5th position on the starting grid, Rolt would have to give it just about everything he had to keep from descending down the order any further than he would throughout the 15 laps. After all of the effort and fighting, Rolt would come through just one second behind Brown in the new Vanwall 01 and would finish the heat in the 7th position.
Mike Hawthorn had come to the race alone the previous year and would prove to be more than strong enough to take the victory. However, one year later, and just weeks before the International Trophy race, Hawthorn would crash his 625 into a wall at Siracusa. When he hit the wall the car burst into flames. Hawthorn's clothing was on fire. Gonzalez would stop to help Hawthorn but would stop his 553 too close. This would lead to Gonzalez's car going up in flames as well while he tried to help Hawthorn. As a result of the events, Hawthorn would miss the International Trophy race and any chance of defending his victory.
Instead of Hawthorn in the second heat it would be Maurice Trintignant, another of Ferrari's drivers, that would take up the Ferrari flag and carry it. Trintignant would have Reg Parnell and Robert Manzon to deal with and all would be driving Ferrari 625s.
The challenge from Parnell would be not be an apparition. Parnell had won the very same race back in 1951 when he was stopped after just 6 laps because of torrential rains. Therefore, he was comfortable in the wet conditions and would prove it by starting 2nd. Trintignant would barely hang on to qualify on the pole. Andre Simon, an old Ferrari driver and Equipe Gordini teammate with Trintignant, would occupy the 3rd position on the front row after setting a time just two seconds slower. Bob Gerard would line up on the final starting position on the front row having been three seconds slower than Trintignant.
All of the promise Gerard showed in practice would come to naught almost immediately in the race. He would lose out at the start and would only fall back from there. Trintignant would take the threat from Parnell seriously and would make a good start off the line in an effort to keep him at bay. Robert Manzon would start from the third row of the grid and would take a page from Prince Bira's book from the first heat as he would come up through the field right at the start and would be challenging Parnell early on. Simon would be another that would be shoved back at the start and throughout the running of the second heat. His backward momentum would be helped along by Manzon and Roy Salvadori who would start the race from the 12th on the grid.
The Ferrari 553 in which Gonzalez had been driving in the first heat had already come to earn a reputation for being difficult despite being faster than the 625. While the 625 was slower, it handled better according to the drivers. Therefore, the drivers had more confidence to drive the car on the limit. This would be readily apparent in the second heat as Trintignant would set a fastest lap time of one minute and fifty-seven seconds and touched an average speed of 90 mph.
Parnell, despite also driving a 625, could do nothing to answer Trintignant's pace. Therefore, Parnell would end up all alone as he left Manzon in his dust. It would end up being that many others would be left in the dust with Trintignant's pace. By the end, only the top five would be on the lead lap. Everyone else would be at least a lap behind.
Averaging over 87 mph, Trintignant would be untouchable. Enjoying a margin of about six seconds over Parnell, Trintignant would power his way to victory in the second heat. Parnell would come across the line all by himself in 2nd place. Robert Manzon would make it three 625s in the first three positions when he came across in 3rd place some forty-seven seconds behind Trintignant.
625 or not, the conditions had improved in the second heat to allow Trintignant to put together a finishing time a minute and forty seconds faster than Gonzalez in the first heat. However, the time would not held Trintignant going into the final.
After the first heat, the engine in Gonzalez's 553 would lock up and would be impossible to remedy. As a result, Trintignant's 625 would be given to Gonzalez for the final. Umberto Maglioli's 625 would then be given to Trintignant and Maglioli would be left without any luck.
Finishing times would determine the starting position in the final. Since the times would be associated with the car and not the driver, Gonzalez would start from the pole with Trintignant's car. The rest of the front row would include Reg Parnell starting 2nd, Robert Manzon 3rd and Roy Salvadori in 4th position. Rolt's finishing time in the first heat race would be thirty-two minutes and fifty-seven seconds. This meant a difference of two minutes and forty-eight minutes and would lead to Rolt starting the 35 lap from 13th position, the fourth row of the grid.
Behind the wheel providing him greater confidence, Gonzalez would lead the field as the final would roar to life. Reg Parnell would be trying with everything he had to repeat his 1951 performance. Robert Manzon would be also be looking to make a great start to enable him to possibly be in position at the end as well. Rolt would be trying his best to stay out of trouble, especially in the wet conditions, during the first couple of laps, and then, try to fight his way up the running order.
Rolt and a good number of the field would receive some help in their efforts to move up the order as soon as the second lap of the race when Manzon would run afoul to transmission failure after just 2 laps. More help would come just a few laps later when Parnell's bid to repeat his '51 victory came to an abrupt end with a broken propeller shaft.
At the start of the race, Rolt would have Louis Rosier right there with him in his Ferrari 500. The dominant car for the previous couple of years would certainly be stiff competition for Rolt and had the ability to impede his progress forward if he allowed it to get ahead of him. Rolt would fight with Rosier throughout the early going of the race. This would enable the two men to claw maintain, even move up, the running order.
Rolt's movement in the running order would continue to be upward despite allowing Rosier to get by him. This would be as a result of Prince Bira retiring after 12 laps with clutch failure. It would be further aided with the retirements of Alan Brown and Stirling Moss. Brown's race would come to an end after halfway due to a broken oil pipe. Moss' end would come with just 11 laps remaining in the race and would be the result of suspension failure on his Maserati 250F.
Their misfortune would turn into Rolt's fortune as he found himself well inside the top ten with less than ten laps remaining. Of course the retirements of so many competitive drivers would also aid someone else.
While Trintignant would be hampered having to make his way up through the grid after starting 9th in Maglioli's 625, Gonzalez would be out front in Trintignant's Ferrari and would be untouchable once the threat from Parnell, Manzon and Salvadori faded. Gonzalez would help his cause by turning the fastest lap of the race with a time of one minute and fifty seconds. This broke him loose from Jean Behra in 2nd place and left everyone else behind, even his Ferrari teammate.
Out front, Gonzalez had vastly improved conditions from those stuck down in the running order. This enabled Gonzalez to absolutely dominate the proceedings. Heading around on the final lap of the race, Gonzalez had more than enough of an advantage over Behra in 2nd place. Gonzalez then also enjoyed more than a lap on the rest of the field. Therefore, he could just take the last lap easy and bring it across the line to score the overall victory. He would do just that.
In one hour, six minutes and fifteen seconds, Gonzalez would come across the line for the final time to take the victory. Thirty-six seconds would transpire before Behra would come through Woodcote and across the line to finish in 2nd place. More than a lap would be the difference before Andre Simon would come across to finish in 3rd place.
Against such might, Rolt could really do nothing except the best he could get out of the Connaught. He would give the A-Type chassis a workout in the rain and would be rewarded with a 7th place overall finish. Better yet, Rolt would end the race just one lap down despite pitting a Formula 2 car against the furious pace of Gonzalez in the final.
Rolt had shown the form that had earned Rob Walker Racing so many victories the season before. And though the team was going up against much more powerful Formula One cars, the effort shown in the International Trophy race once again would prove the strength of the small team.
Never one to stray too far from home, the Rob Walker Racing Team would not take part in any Formula One events for quite a while, either at home or over on the European continent. Part of the reason for the large gaps in the team's calendar owed to its driver. But in 1954, the gap would be well justified.
In 1953, Tony Rolt co-drove with Duncan Hamilton for the Jaguar Sportscar Team. The two would be part of a fleet of Jaguar C-Types that would make an assault on the 24 Hours of Le Mans. At the end of the race, Rolt and Hamilton would find themselves four laps ahead of their Jaguar sister-car driven by Stirling Moss and Peter Walker. The victory would be one of Rolt's biggest achievements of his career, and one year later, he wasn't going to miss out on another opportunity. It would be a good thing too.
Co-driving a D-Type Jaguar with Duncan Hamilton, the pairing would again look strong. In the final hours of the race it would come down to a battle that looked similar to the fight witnessed at the International Trophy race about a month prior. Maurice Trintignant and Jose Froilan Gonzalez were in the lead in a Ferrari 375 Plus while Hamilton and Rolt were one lap down in their Jaguar D-Type.
Despite their best efforts, Rolt and Hamilton would have to concede the victory to Trintignant and Gonzalez. Nonetheless, it had been another successful attempt for Rolt finishing 2nd after taking the victory the previous season.
After the rather successful effort by Rolt in sportscars at Le Mans, it was time for Rob Walker Racing to get back to racing. The team had plans to take part in a race just one week after the Le Mans 24 Hours. This would be a little too quick for Rolt to get back behind the wheel. Nonetheless, the team would be arriving in the south of London. The team had arrived at Crystal Palace Park in order to take part in the 2nd Crystal Palace Trophy race on the 19th of June.
In 1953, Crystal Palace Park would become a haunt of the Rob Walker Racing Team. Over the course of three races in which the team took part the team would leave the south of London having scored two victories and a 2nd place result. Surely, Crystal Palace Paark was a favorite venue for the Scottish-born team. In many ways it was like a subliminal and psychological attack by the Scots on the English. The team would arrive at the 1.35 mile circuit looking and praying for a repeat of events.
While Crystal Palace Park may have been a haunt for the Rob Walker Racing Team during the 1953 season it would previously be a haunt for gypsies and other fringe citizenry during the 18th and 19th centuries. During that time, the area overlooking London would be covered by heavily-wooded forests of the Great North Wood.
One of the highest points in all of London, Sydenham Hill, was part of the Great North Wood and the grounds of Penge Place estate. This site would become a resting place for a cast-iron and glass building that had been originally built for the Great Exhibition of 1851 located in Hyde Park. Afterward, the building would be moved to Sydenham Hill and would cause the area to become known as Crystal Palace because of the building. This would change the area from a haunt for gypsies to a place of recreation and sport. Therefore, within the boundaries of London there would be no better place to host a motor race than Crystal Palace Park.
The Crystal Palace Trophy race would be another race that would feature heats races and a final. In the same vain as the International Trophy race, the Crystal Palace Trophy race would take the entire field and would split it into two different heats. Then, when the two heats were completed, those left would take part in a final. However, unlike the International Trophy race, the Crystal Palace Trophy race would have an equal number of laps for each heat and final. The heat races and final would be short events lasting just 10 laps. What the few number of laps did ensure was a race pace that would see every driver hold almost nothing in reserve.
As stated earlier, the Crystal Palace Trophy was set to take place just a week after the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Rolt had been co-driving for two days. This would wear at the man. As a result, Rolt would not be at Crystal Palace Park, a place he almost thoroughly dominated the year before. Instead, Peter Collins would take the wheel of the Lea Francis-powered Connaught.
Collins would be listed in the first heat along with drivers like Reg Parnell, Les Leston, Horace Gould and a couple of others. Despite their presence, Collins would be fastest in practice. He would set the fastest time and would take the pole for the 10 lap heat race. Les Leston would also sting Parnell to start in 2nd place. Reg Parnell would start 3rd but was still on the front row with the Collins and Leston. Horace Gould would complete the front row starting 4th.
The field would roar away to start the first heat race. Parnell would make a good start and would be charging for the lead heading up the rise toward the backstretch. Collins would be already fighting with everything he had to keep touch with Parnell. However, Collins would have Leston to be concerned about.
Coming around North Tower Crescent and plunging downhill toward the start/finish line for the very first time, it was already obvious Parnell had the pace to not only beat fend off Collins but pull away a little bit. Collins would almost certainly have to switch his focus backward toward Leston as these two would be much more evenly matched over the course of the 10 lap heat race.
Parnell would already be on the pace. He would crack off the fastest lap of the heat with a time of one minute and seven seconds at an average speed of more than 74 mph. This would be too much for Collins to bear consistently, lap after lap. However, Collins was putting together a fast consistent race of his own and would open up something of a margin over Leston as well. He just needed to maintain that over the course of the 13.5 mile heat.
Parnell would keep up the pressure throughout the 13.5 miles and would cruise to the victory. He would have nine seconds in hand over Collins in 2nd place. Collins would fight hard over the course of the 10 laps and would manage to hold onto a nearly three second lead over Leston.
The second heat would see Rodney Nuckey, Don Beauman, Jack Fairman, Paul Emery and others preparing to duke it out for 10 laps. But first, practice had to determine the starting order for the heat.
Beauman would surprise many by beating out Nuckey for the pole. The rest of the front row would include Paul Emery starting in the 3rd position in his Emeryson-Alta and Charles Boulton in 4th place in a Connaught.
While Beauman would manage to upset Nuckey for the pole, Rodney would come back in the second heat swinging. Nuckey would make a good start and would fight Beauman for the lead of the race and would win that battle. After that, Nuckey would focus his attention on checking out the best he could. Bill Whitehouse would amaze the crowd with his start and race. Whitehouse would start the race from dead-last on the grid but would make a good start and would soon find himself fighting up at the front of the field for a top three position. Paul Emery would get thoroughly shoved right out of the picture and would be quickly in a fight of his own just to remain around the top five.
While all of this was going on, Nuckey would be out front without a care in the world. He would put the hammer down and would turn the fastest lap of the heat with a time of one minutes and eight seconds, just one second slower than Parnell's best time in the first heat in a Ferrari 625!
Soon, Whitehouse would be doing his best to chase down Don Beauman in 2nd place after starting from the tail-end of the grid. Whitehouse's efforts would help him to open up something of a margin over the rest of the field. The rest of the field would include Jack Fairman running in 4th place after starting in 5th place. It would also see Charles Boulton forced down to 6th place running behind Paul Emery in 5th.
Although the margin wouldn't be huge, Nuckey would cruise to victory in the second heat. He would complete the distance in eleven minutes and thirty-six seconds, just ten seconds slower than Parnell's Formula One machine from the first heat. As he crossed the line to take the victory, the gap between himself and Beauman in 2nd place would be four seconds. Nearly another nine seconds would pass before Whitehouse would come through to finish 3rd. Despite being nine seconds behind, Whitehouse's performance would still be something of note.
As with the International Trophy race, starting grid positions for the 10 lap final would be determined by finishing times of each competitor in their respective heat race. Therefore, Parnell would line up on the pole for the final. Lining up beside him on the front row would be Peter Collins for Rob Walker Racing. Rodney Nuckey would then occupy the 3rd position on the front row while Les Leston would complete the front row starting 4th.
The final would see a shake-up in the running order almost before it even started. As the field roared away on the first lap of the race, the engine would let go in Les Leston's Cooper. Leston had started from the last position on the front row, but now, a door had been thrown open to others. Bill Whitehouse, the man that had been on the move in the second heat, would prove to still be on the move in the final and would be one of those to really take advantage. The other would be Don Beauman.
Parnell would make a good getaway from the grid and would lead but would have Peter Collins all over him throughout the early stages of the race. Collins knew he would have to let it all hang out in order to keep up with the 625.
Don Beauman would push his way by Nuckey over the course of the race and would find himself running in 3rd place with Bill Whitehouse running not that far behind in 4th place. Nuckey would be fighting hard to try and reclaim the places that he had lost during the early stages of the race.
Collins was driving as if a cowboy trying to hold on while riding a bull. It was obvious Parnell had the pace in the 625. However, Collins wouldn't just let him go. He would give him a fight every step of the way even though he perhaps knew his chances were slim.
Collins relentless driving would force Parnell to have to push his car. Unfortunately for Collins and the team, Parnell's Ferrari had pace in reserve; something he would show as the race wore on.
Because of Collins' relentless pressure, Parnell was forced to push it a little bit. A fastest lap of one minute and seven seconds would certainly do its job in providing Parnell some breathing room, but it wouldn't be much. He still couldn't let up despite turning the fastest lap.
Parnell had been in this position before. He would calmly and consistently complete lap after lap with an average speed pushing 73 mph. This would put the pressure right back on Collins. And though Collins would do his best to respond, there was really very little he could do. In exactly the same time in which he had completed the first heat race (eleven minutes, twenty-six and six-tenths seconds) Parnell would come across the line to take the overall victory. In the first heat race, Parnell's margin of victory would be nine seconds over Collins. Not so in the final. Collins would fight with everything he and the Connaught had. As a result, Collins would cross the line in 2nd place just five seconds down to Parnell. Don Beauman would consummate the podium finishing in 3rd place but some twelve seconds behind Collins.
It had been one of the best performances of the season for Rob Walker Racing. Though the team had little to no shot of victory, the team would not go down without a fight and Collins would certainly make Parnell earn his victory. It had been a great effort and a great momentum-builder right before the team headed to Silverstone to right the woes suffered the year before in the team's biggest race of that season.
Tony Rolt would be gone again with Jaguar Cars Ltd. taking part in the 12 Hours of Reims again with Duncan Hamilton. These two drivers would go on to take 2nd place in the race on the 4th of July. However, Rolt's success in sportscar racing was making him more and more unavailable for Rob Walker Racing. Therefore, as the team headed to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone on the 17th of July they would do so with another different driver.
The Rob Walker Racing Team rolled into Silverstone for the British Grand Prix looking for a turn around from its first World Championship experience the year before. In 1953, Tony Rolt was behind the wheel of 'A3' and was looking quite good. The race would only have about 20 laps remaining and Rolt was running in the top ten when all of a sudden the half shaft broke on the car bringing about the end of what had been a marvelous performance for the young team in the World Championship.
One year later, the British Grand Prix would look a whole lot different than the previous years. While the circuit was still the old 2.88 mile perimeter road from the airbase, the teams, drivers and cars would be wholly different.
After two dominant seasons with Scuderia Ferrari, Alberto Ascari would move on due to concerns over the team's future. He and good friend Luigi Villoresi would occupy seats at the factory Maserati team driving 250Fs.
Juan Manuel Fangio had started out the year driving for Maserati in their 250F. During that time he would earn two victories, but would soon switch allegiance to Mercedes-Benz. Mercedes-Benz had focused their resources on building a sleek grand prix car that would become known as the W196. The first race of the season in which Fangio would be behind the wheel of the new W196 would be the previous round of the World Championship, the French Grand Prix held at Reims. In that race, he and Karl Kling would dominate lapping the whole of the rest of the field before the end. At the line, the two W196s would cross nearly line-abreast with Fangio taking the victory over Kling.
The situation at Ferrari would be a story of the old and the new. Maurice Trintignant's presence was something new for the team, but Hawthorn and Farina would not be. And then there was Jose Froilan Gonzalez. Gonzalez had been with Ferrari back in 1951 and had earned the Italian squad its first World Championship grand. Nearly three years removed from that moment, Gonzalez would be back with Ferrari, and now, back at the very venue in which the Ferrari legend would find its beginnings.
At Rob Walker Racing there would be changes as well. During the 1953 season it was not at all surprising that Rolt shared the drive with other drivers like Stirling Moss. However, Rolt had done a majority of the time behind the wheel of the Connaught, and therefore, was certainly like the team's main driver.
One year later, it would be more of the same, and yet, not. After taking part in the first couple of races for the team, Rolt would become unavailable due to sportscar races or other reasons. This would lead to the team hiring Peter Collins for the Crystal Palace Trophy race. And as the team pulled into Silverstone, yet another driver would be set to take the Connaught into the fray. For the British Grand Prix, the team would turn to John Riseley-Prichard.
The Constructors' World Championship had not come into existence yet. At the time of the 1954 season the only World Championship title up for grabs would be the drivers' title. This is why, coming into the British Grand Prix, that Juan Manuel Fangio was poised at the top of the points standings despite having started out the season with Maserati and switching to Mercedes-Benz prior to the French Grand Prix. However, as Fangio headed out onto the Silverstone circuit for practice he found he had a problem.
During practice Fangio had only one major complaint about his car. The fact was that with the sleek fenders he could not tell where the apex of the corners was because he lost sight of the corners right when he needed to be able to see them. This made it difficult for him to consistently drive on the limit in the car.
Despite the visual hindrances, Fangio would go on to take the pole for the 90 lap, 263 mile, race with a record-breaking lap. He would take the W196 and would lap the circuit in one minute and forty-five seconds at an average speed topping 100 mph for the first time ever. The rest of the front row would be quite a collection. Jose Froilan Gonzalez would start in 2nd place after setting a best time about a second slower than Fangio. Mike Hawthorn would delight the British fans by being third-fastest in practice with his Ferrari 625. And Stirling Moss would further excite the British faithful when he would claim the 4th, and final, spot on the front row.
Driving an older Formula 2 Connaught, Riseley-Prichard would certainly have his work cut out for him to try and get into the first few rows of the starting grid. That goal would end up being too ambitious as the best lap he would manage to put together would be a minute and fifty-eight seconds, thirteen seconds slower than Fangio's pole effort. This meant John would start the race from the sixth row of the grid in 21st place overall. Still, it would be better than two-time winner, and defending champion, Alberto Ascari.
Ascari would come onboard with Maserati rather late due to the fact the Lancia project had not come to fruition. Maserati would not arrive at the race in time. As a consequence of the lack of preparation, Ascari would start the British Grand Prix from the ninth, and final, row of the starting grid in 30th place overall.
Thirty-one cars prepared to start the 90 lap race. Unlike the previous year's race, the 1954 British Grand Prix would start out wet. On top of the wet conditions it would also be cold. This meant the handling of the cars would be compromised and the drivers would have to be very careful, especially in the early stages of the race.
In spite of Fangio's pace in practice it would be Gonzalez that would leap into the lead of the race right from the start. Hawthorn would also make a good getaway and would be ahead of Fangio before the first couple of turns. Behind Fangio would be the other favored Brit Stirling Moss with Jean Behra and Onofre Marimon close behind. Marimon's start was one of the most impressive displays of talent ever to be seen as he would go on to pass nineteen cars at the start of the race after he started the race from 28th on the grid.
Mixed right in the middle of the field would be Riseley-Prichard. In the wet conditions, the tightly grouped field would be quite dangerous. Therefore, John would be held up during the first lap of so as the field settled itself out and the drivers found a rhythm. Finding the rhythm would be very important to Riseley-Prichard in order to limit the loss of momentum because of the field arranged around him. Being in what amounted to a Formula 2 car, he could not afford any delay if he wished to climb the order.
Fangio would soon be up to speed and would be looking to rectify his bad start in which he lost ground to Gonzalez and Hawthorn. Gonzalez had been driving in similar conditions at Silverstone just a couple of months earlier in the International Trophy race. He had gone on to win that race, and therefore, would not be an easy target for Fangio. On top of that, Gonzalez had always performed well at the Silverstone circuit considering he had been the one to score Ferrari's first-ever World Championship victory. Therefore, Fangio would first set his sights on Hawthorn.
While Gonzalez appeared too strong in the slower 625 F1, Hawthorn would not be able to match the pace of the Argentineans, either in front or behind him. As a result, Hawthorn would lose his 2nd place position to Fangio. While this was certainly upsetting to Hawthorn it would be an absolute delight to the British fans getting wet and standing in the cold. The reason for the delight was simple. Hawthorn was now right in front of Moss. An all-British battle would soon develop.
The race the season before had been something of a car-breaker. The 1954 edition of the race would be no different. Eric Brandon and Louis Rosier would have their races come to an end after just two laps. Peter Whitehead's race would last just two more. As 16 laps came and went, Robert Manzon would retire with a cracked cylinder block. At the same time, Peter Collins would retire with a failed head gasket. The problems would keep coming. The attrition would be such that eight cars would be out of the race before 25 laps would be completed. Then there would be a lull in the mechanical woes and driver mistakes.
The wet conditions somewhat evened the playing field. Out front, Gonzalez would be quick setting the fastest lap of the race with a time of one minute and fifty seconds. However, the time would not be his sole possession. In fact, no less than seven drivers would match the same one minute and fifty second lap.
Riseley-Prichard was nowhere near the fastest lap of the race time. His main concern was holding on in the wet conditions and doing what ever, using whatever, he could to help himself move up the running order. To be able to move up the running order Riseley-Prichard would need to push the Connaught right to its absolute limits. This was dangerous in the wet conditions. And on his 42nd lap, he would step over that edge losing control of the car in a spin. Unfortunately, he could not get the car going again and would have to retire from the race. For the second year in a row, Rob Walker Racing faced the reality of an early retirement in what would be the only World Championship in which it would take part.
Some time later, Fangio began to run into trouble. He had already hit a number of oil barrels placed on the inside of the corners because he could not see the apexes because of the bodywork. This caused considerable damage his car. In addition to the visibility problems, Fangio's car was also beginning to afoul of gearbox-related problems. This would cause the Argentinean to slow and lose positions. He would give Hawthorn back his 2nd place position. He would also end up going a lap down before the end and would lose out 3rd place to Marimon.
The only thing that would prevent Fangio's further slip down the running order would be the pace those in the top four had managed to maintain throughout the majority of the race. Despite the wet conditions, 5th place and on down would be more than a couple of laps down to Gonzalez coming into the final couple of laps of the race. This created a buffer around Fangio and prevented his further sliding down the order.
Gonzalez had been absolutely masterful in the rain at the International Trophy race back in May. A couple of months later, he would look just like the man that had earned Ferrari's first victory. Averaging nearly 90 mph in wet conditions, Gonzalez would come across the line to take the victory. A minute and ten seconds would pass before Hawthorn would come through for a Ferrari one-two finish. This would bring the British crowd to their feet in appreciation. Onofre Marimon would then come across in 3rd place a lap down but earning his first podium finish.
At the end of the 90 lap race, only thirteen cars would still be running, thirteen out of thirty-one. The attrition rate had been terrible. The final retiree from the race would happen just 10 laps from the finish. It would be Stirling Moss suffering from a reduction gear problem.
Attrition certainly seemed to have the number of a lot of the competitors but it had proved to have one eye expressly focused on Rob Walker Racing. In two years the team had only taken part in the British Grand Prix. And despite all of the team's success in other races, the team's car just could not make it to the end of a World Championship grand prix race.
After another disappointing British Grand Prix, Rob Walker Racing would do its best to get its focus back onto doing everything necessary to earn good results. Therefore, two weeks after the disappointment at Silverstone, the team would head back to a place that had given them great success in the past. On the 2nd of August, Rob Walker Racing would be making final preparations to its Connaught for the 1st August Bank Holiday Cup held at the 1.35 mile Crystal Palace circuit in the south of London.
If the team was to get back to its successful and winning ways, the team would need to return to a game plan filled with elements that worked. One of those elements included Tony Rolt being behind the wheel. Sure enough, Rolt would be back with the team to take part in the race.
The August Bank Holiday Cup race would be conducted in the same manner as the Crystal Palace Trophy race. The race would consist of two heat races that would last 10 laps each. Then, the race would finish with a 10 lap final that would combine the finishers of the two heats together.
Rolt and the team would be listed in the second heat. Therefore, they would have the opportunity to watch Reg Parnell and Roy Salvadori fight it out in the first heat. Both of the men would be pitting Formula One machines against each other and a field made up of mostly Formula 2 entries.
Anticipation for the first heat duel would heat up when Reg Parnell would claim the pole position in his Scuderia Ambrosiana Ferrari 625. Roy Salvadori would then take his Maserati 250F and would end up missing the pole, but would start 2nd. The rest of the front row would include Horace Gould in 3rd place in a Cooper-Bristol T23 and Keith Hall driving a Cooper-Bristol T20.
The race would see Parnell make a great start and hold onto the lead throughout the climb around to the back of the circuit. Qualifying would be indicative of the race as Parnell held down the lead position over Salvadori. Salvadori's Maserati would certainly be too much for Gould or Hall to overcome, and so, the top four would run in the same order in the race.
Helped along by a fastest lap time of one minute, six and four-tenths seconds, Parnell would not be easily caught, not even by Salvadori in a Maserati 250F. The pressure mounted by Parnell each and every lap would eventually break down his competition and would allow him to escape.
Over the course of the 10 laps, the only change in the running order would come with Paul Emery overhauling Gerry Dunham for 5th place. Otherwise, the first heat race would be nothing more than an exhibition race with the cars circulating for 10 laps to give the crowd a spectacular sight to look at.
Parnell would go on to take the heat victory by eight seconds over Salvadori. Twenty seconds would be the difference between Salvadori and Gould in the 3rd position in the running order.
The second heat would have all Formula 2 cars present in the field. Among those Formula 2 cars, Rolt and the Rob Walker Racing Connaught would rise to the top in practice. Rolt would beat out Tony Crook for the pole. Rolt and Crook would be joined on the front row by Ted Whiteaway and Jack Fairman.
In the second heat race, Rolt would make a good start off the line and would lead over Crook. Whiteaway would find himself under pressure from Fairman right from the very beginning while Geoff Richardson and OIiver Simpson would force their way past Ron Searles.
Although Rolt held down the lead of the race, Crook would by no means just let him escape into the distance. Crook would be fast in his Cooper-Bristol T24. He would go on to set the fastest lap of the heat and would do his best to keep the pressure on Rolt.
Rolt, however, would remain consistently fast. Having faced the best drivers in the world, Rolt wasn't easily scared. If anything, Rolt would turn things around and would put the pressure right back on Crook by being consistently fast each and every lap.
Rolt was unflappable but the difference in pace between the first and second heats would be more than obvious to anyone with a stopwatch. Averaging nearly 71 mph, more than 2 mph less than Parnell, Rolt would power his way to victory in the second heat. Over the course of the 10 laps, Rolt would steadily pull away from Crook until the margin at the line would be nearly eighteen seconds. Jack Fairman would follow along behind Crook in 3rd place about eight seconds behind.
Like many other races consisting of heat races, the starting grid for the final would be determined by the finishing times of each respective competitor in their own heat race. As a result, Parnell would take the pole having earned a finishing time of eleven minutes, eighteen and eight-tenths seconds. Being eight seconds slower, Salvadori would occupy 2nd place on the grid. Horace Gould would start in 3rd place. Then, with a time of eleven minutes and forty-seven seconds, Rolt would occupy the 4th, and final, starting position on the front row.
The field for the final 10 lap race would roar to life. Parnell would hold onto the top position while Salvadori followed along in 2nd place. Rolt would also make a good start and would be battling with Gould for 3rd place.
Parnell maintained the lead of the race while Salvadori gave chase. Rolt would force his way past Gould for 3rd place which meant Gould came under attack from Keith Hall. Tony Crook would not be able to maintain the pace and would begin to slowly slip down the running order.
The lacking performance of Rolt's Connaught would be painfully obvious throughout the course of the final. Although he pushed his car hard, Parnell and Salvadori would just manage to keep, or even, increase the margin because of their more powerful engines.
Parnell would put the pressure on Salvadori and everyone else lowering the fastest lap time to one minute and six seconds even. This would force Salvadori to push his Maserati even harder just in order to keep up. Rolt wouldn't have the horsepower to keep up despite lowering his best times as well.
Parnell would be just too tough in the Ferrari 625. Over the course of the 10 lap final, he would increase the average speed to more than 74 mph and would shave eight seconds off of the time in which he won the first heat. He would cross the line to take the victory enjoying a three second advantage over Salvadori in 2nd place.
Rolt would be able to do absolutely nothing against the might of the 2.5-liter machines. Nevertheless, Rolt would still put together an impressive performance in the final. He would push the Connaught hard and would beat his time from the second heat by eight seconds. He would, therefore, come through to finish the final in 3rd place about twenty-nine seconds behind Parnell.
Considering the circumstances, Rob Walker Racing had every reason to hold its head up high at the conclusion of the final. The team had just gotten beaten by superior horsepower and there was very little the team could do about it besides purchasing a new Formula One car. Rolt had wrung the neck of the Connaught and got just about everything possible out of the car. This would put the team in a tough no-win situation. Besides its best efforts, there would be little chance, under the current situation, in which the team could enjoy the success it had just one year prior. This reality would affect the rest of the season for the team.
Besides rounds of the Formula One World Championship, there were still a few races left on the calendar before the end of the grand prix season. Unfortunately, the presence of Formula One cars in these races would almost guarantee the best rest the team could hope for would be a mid-pack result. This would most certainly be the reality in which the team would have to contend one week after the August Bank Holiday Cup race.
On the 7th of August, at Oulton Park in Cheshire, the 1st International Gold Cup race would be held. Rob Walker Racing had an entry in the 36 lap, 99 mile, race. However, the field would include a couple of Maserati 250Fs and a Ferrari 625. At every other event in which Parnell had been present with his Ferrari 625 he had come through the victor. Now there would also be a couple of Maserati 250Fs with the more powerful 2.5-liter engine. This would not present the team with many good options.
Weighing out the options available, Rob Walker Racing would not follow up on its entry into the International Gold Cup race. The team would abandon the race for obvious reasons. What's more, the team would abandon the rest of the season as well.
By no stretch of the imagination had the 1954 season been as successful as the previous one. The performance disadvantages between the Formula 2 Connaught chassis and the updated Formula One machines had been well documented throughout the season. Rob Walker Racing knew full well what it would take to stay consistently competitive, even in the smaller club races.
Rob Walker Racing was at a crossroads. They could not compete in their current state, but the desire to take part in bigger races than club events would be too strong to deny. Therefore, Rob Walker would take some time making up his mind as to the direction in which he wanted to take his racing team. This would lead to a two year hiatus for the team from the Formula One World Championship. Moreover, the team would not partake in too many Formula 2 or club races as well as it took time to chart its desired course.
Walker would then make the decision to allow John Riseley-Prichard rights to the A-Type Connaught for the rest of the season. Riseley-Prichard would then take the car and would compete under his own name. He would use the car to take part in the Goodwood Trophy, Madgwick Cup and Daily Telegraph Trophy races. Unfortunately, just like Rob Walker Racing would find out earlier on in the season, the best John could do in the car were top ten results and not much better.
The leasing of the car to Riseley-Prichard made it clear Walker's intentions. He recognized the days of the Formula 2 car had come and gone. But to compete on a level with Scuderia Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz would require a commitment Walker may not have been ready to make at that point in time. Therefore, he would take some time to ponder and decide the fate of his future in Formula One World Championship racing. It would end up proving to be time well spent.