TeamsScuderia Ambrosiana: 1951 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
It should come as little surprise Scuderia Ambrosiana was a successful grand prix team when sports car and grand prix great Luigi Villoresi, and, noted sports car racer Franco Cortese were two of the team's three founders.
After World War II, specifically 1947, Villoresi and Scuderia Ambrosiana went on to win seven races. Then, in 1948, the team scored five wins. For Luigi and Alberto Ascari, 1949 proved to be a very important year. Ferrari had solicited an audience with Villoresi, and at the conclusion of that meeting he and Ascari were offered contracts to drive for Ferrari. Villoresi and Ascari jumped at the chance, but this left Villoresi's own team without a driver as talented as he.
Because Villoresi and Ascari had gone on to Ferrari, Scuderia Ambrosiana was left trying to find good racing drivers to drive for the team. Often times, the team would have a joint racing venture with a private entrant, like Reg Parnell. In the later parts of the 1949 season, Reg Parnell had earned a couple of victories at the Chichester Cup and at the Richmond Trophy race at Goodwood. The team, during these two victories, was officially called Ambrosiana/Parnell.
In 1950, Formula One's first year of official existence, Parnell would race for the team a couple of times, but a couple of other Brits, David Hampshire and David Murray, were hired to take the reigns of the cars more full-time. During that season the team was able to achieve one victory throughout the entire grand prix season and that was at the non-championship Richmond Trophy Race held at Goodwood. Reg Parnell had made it two victories in a row at the Richmond Trophy race.
When it came to the Formula One World Championship that year, the once mighty team was even bested by some smaller teams and private entrants. First of all, the team didn't even compete at every single round of the championship that year. Then, out of the three rounds the team contested the best the team could muster was a 9th place finish by David Hampshire at the British Grand Prix, which was the first race on the Formula One calendar that year. All of the rest of the team's results at championship events in 1950 were marked by retirements.
Therefore, coming into the 1951 Formula One and non-championship grand prix season, Scuderia Ambrosiana was barely holding on, if it didn't have one foot in the grave already. Truly it needed Saint Ambrose to do something on its behalf.
Before the start of the season, the team sold one of its Maserati 4CLT/48s to Reg Parnell. This left the team with two other chassis. One of the accepted practices, especially amongst the smaller teams, during the very early days of Formula One and grand prix racing was that teams lent cars out to drivers for different races. So while the car for one team was present at a race, it was actually entered and raced under an entirely different name.
This was the case at the 3rd Richmond Trophy race that was held at the end of March at Goodwood in West Sussex, England. Reg Parnell entered the race with the Maserati he purchased from Ambrosiana and was looking for a third-straight victory at the race. David Murray also entered the race in one of Ambrosiana's other Maseratis. However, Murray did not enter the car under the Scuderia Ambrosiana team name.
In both cases, the Brits should have come under the Ambrosiana team name, for they could have possibly fared better in the race. Parnell qualified 4th and Murray 7th. Despite their qualifying efforts, neither one of them would finish the race. David Murray was out of the race before a single lap had been completed. And, Reg Parnell was out of the race on the fifth lap due to an engine failure in his Maserati.
Scuderia Ambrosiana's first official race came at the end of April in 1951 at the 6th Grand Prix of San Remo. The race in Ospedaletti, Italy was set to take place on a 2.07 mile road course for 90 laps. The race would be marked by tragedy even before it began. Johnny Claes lost control of his car during practice and crashed into some spectators. The accident caused several spectators to be killed and put a sour mood over the event.
Former Ambrosiana personalities, Alberto Ascari and Luigi Villoresi started the race 1st and 2nd in Ferrari 375s. Murray would start the race 12th after setting a time eleven seconds slower than Ascari's. The former Ambrosiana chassis driven by Reg Parnell started alongside in 11th.
Reg Parnell's race didn't last past the 16th lap of the 90 lap event. His car suffered from rear axle problems and forced him to retire from the race. While Ascari would go on to win the race. Murray's race was nothing to get excited about. Murray could not come anywhere near matching the Ferrari driver's pace. As a result, at the end of the race, Murray would end up not even being classified and some 31 laps down.
On the 5th of May, at the memorable BRDC International 'deluge' trophy race, Reg Parnell had moved on to drive a Vanderwell Ferrari. Parnell had given the Maserati to David Hampshire to enter in the race. Scuderia Ambrosiana entered one of its remaining chassis and David Murray was back behind the wheel.
The race was made up of two 15 lap heat races, and a scheduled 35 lap final race. Murray was in the first heat and would start a respectable 3rd on the grid. He managed to start the race with a better position than even Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss. It wouldn't stay that way though. Murray would end up a lap down, but would finish the heat 10th. Fangio would win the heat.
Since starting positions for the 35 lap final were set by the fastest times for qualifying for each heat race, Murray would start the final race from the 8th place starting spot on the grid.
The rain had already started to fall on the 2.88 mile road course before the race even started. By the time the race was under way, it was a deluge. Many drivers were having troubles holding their cars on the track, but not Parnell. By the conclusion of the fifth lap of the race, the track was flooded in many parts. The race organizers called the race after only six laps. Parnell won the race by twenty-one seconds over 2nd and by over a lap over 3rd. Murray, though still running would end up not being classified and down two laps by the end.
After skipping the first round of the Formula One World Championship in Bremgarten, Switzerland, the team's next race it entered a car was another non-championship race, the 5th Ulster Trophy race. Held in Dundrod, Northern Ireland, the Ulster Trophy race was a 27 lap affair on a 7.41 mile road course.
David Murray was entered for the race. Only one Alfa Romeo 159, and, one Ferrari 375 were present for the race. Therefore, this was one of the greater opportunities the team would have to score a good result. The situation didn't appear all that bad after qualifying. Murray's time during practice enabled him to start from the middle of the third row. What was to Murray's benefit was the fact there was not car directly in front of him due to the 3-2-3 grid arrangement. This made a good start possible. Murray would do the best he could.
Murray would have to fight all throughout the 27 lap event if he wanted to score a decent finish. He would do just that. While Farina would set sail in his 159, setting the fastest lap and winning the race by a margin of one minute and thirteen seconds over 2nd place Reg Parnell, Murray was involved in a brawl. Murray had a fight on his hands throughout the majority of the race, mostly to keep others behind himself. Though he would end up two laps down to race winner Farina, and three minutes and thirty-seven seconds behind 5th place, Murray would provide Scuderia Ambrosiana with its best finish to that point in the season, a 6th place finish.
The team would choose to miss the next two rounds of the Formula One season, the Belgian Grand Prix and the European Grand Prix, and instead, would wait until the British Grand Prix before it would enter one of the Formula One rounds.
The team only entered one car for the British Grand Prix. As expected, the car was driven by David Murray. The last time the team was at Silverstone to compete in a race it was the flooded BRDC event. This time, the weather on race day would be mild and dry.
Twenty drivers prepared for the start of the race. Murray prepared to start the race from 15th on the grid. Ascari and Villoresi prepared for the race from further up toward the front of the grid. They would start 4th and 5th. Ferrari teammate Jose Foilan Gonzalez had the pole with Juan Manuel Fangio starting 2nd.
The 90 lap race got underway. Each of the cars got away without incident and carried on for many laps before the first retirement. Getting closer to the halfway mark, Murray started having trouble with his engine. Then, on lap 45, the engine let go and his British Grand Prix was over. Gonzalez and Fangio would go on to finish 1-2. Liugi would end up finishing the race 3rd.
David ended up taking the Maserati up to the Winfield Aerodrome, located in Berwickshire, Scotland in order to take part in the 1st Scottish Grand Prix at the end of July. This foray up north proved fruitless as well. Murray's race came to an end after 40 of the 50 laps due to a fuel pump problem.
Scuderia Ambrosiana travelled to Nurburg, Germany at the end of July for what was the sixth round of the championship. As usual, David Murray was behind the wheel. Unfortunately for the team, it ended up being just an expensive road trip. During practice on the 14 mile long Nordschleife, Murray lost control and suffered an accident. The damage was too much to repair, and thus, the race never even happened for the team.
Two weeks after Murray's crash on the Nordschleife, the team entered a car for what would be the team's final race of 1951. The race was the Grand Prix of Pescara. The Maserati the team had been using was over three years old and was not able to achieve the performance of many other cars. Costs associated with fixing the car had to be weighed. Even the team's ability to exist had to be weighed by this point. The result the team chose was to find another car. The team was able to secure a 1.5 liter, supercharged Ferrari 125. Though the car chugged the fuel, it did provide the power to be competitive.
Murray had to get used to the new car. As a result, his times during practice were not all that good. Therefore, Murray would start the race 13th. There were only fifteen starters total. Murray's best time over the 15 mile long course made up of the streets of Pescara and the surrounding countryside was still three and a half minutes slower than that of Ascari who sat on the pole.
Murray had to be careful during the race. At almost eleven minutes to complete a single lap, the fuel consumption of the supercharged guzzler would be high and would need to be watched. In addition to not being used to the car and obviously off the pace, Murray would lose even more time during pitstops having the car filled up.
Ascari's race threatened to not even happen when oil pressure problems in his Ferrari prevented it from starting the race. Luigi Villoresi gave up his Ferrari to Ascari, but this move proved moot as well. As the race got started, Ascari and the others streaked away. 4 laps into the 12 lap race, Ascari's race came to an end due to transmission problems. Murray, still getting used to the Ferrari, drove a steady and careful race.
Ferrari driver Jose Froilan Gonzalez would go on to win the 192 mile race by a margin of over seven minutes. Rosier finished 2nd and Philippe Etancelin finished 3rd. Though two laps down, David Murray would finish the race 8th.
Even though there were still two more rounds of the championship still to go, Pescara would be Scuderia Ambrosiana's final race. Thankfully the team was able to finish its year with a race finish.
In the end, and unfortunately for the team, in all of God's infinite wisdom, He did not see fit to release Saint Ambrose to come to the aid of the team. Concerning the 1951 Formula One season, the team took part in only two of the eight rounds of the championship and had neither finished in the points or led a single lap. In fact, the team failed to finish the British Grand Prix and had even failed to qualify for the German Grand Prix.
The departure of Luigi Villoresi, and his friend Alberto Ascari, left Scuderia Ambrosiana an impotent grand prix team. Villoresi had been one of the team's main supporting roots. When he left to go drive for Ferrari, the once mighty and strong Italian team began to crash to the ground. The team would finally crash to the ground and disappear forever after re-emerging for one race in 1954.