Teams1955 Formula One Season: Scuderia Arzani-Volpini By Jeremy McMullen
There is a saying 'out with the old and in with the new', but what if the old could be turned into something new? This experiment would make its presence known during the 1955 Formula One season and would be forever known as Scuderia Arzani-Volpini.
The beginnings of Scuderia Arzani-Volpini actually start, not at the beginnings of the 1955 Formula One season, but back before the Formula 2 era in the World Championship. The first couple of years of the new Formula One World Championship would be dominated by the aged man of war the Alfa Romeo 158/159 Alfetta. Originally designed before the Second World War, the car would survive the war and would literally have no equal in those immediate post-war years. However, there were other manufacturers trying to develop their own single-seater grand prix cars capable of taking the fight to the Alfas. One of the most prominent challengers throughout the late-1940s would be the Maserati 4CL and 4CLT chassis.
Heading into the start of the brand new Formula One World Championship, the Alfa Romeo 158/159 would still be the dominant car amongst the numerous Talbot-Lagos, ERAs and the new Ferraris. However, Maserati 4CLTs would remain a very popular choice amongst competitors despite development quickly waning. Though once seemingly on course to be one of the cars to have once Formula One kicked off, the Maserati 4CLT would be quickly losing popularity and would soon begin to disappear from view.
There were some teams, however, that would not give up on the chassis. There would still be a couple of teams that would enter variations and evolutions of the chassis well into the 1951 season, the final year before the era of Formula 2. There would be small privateer teams that would make their mark in Formula One history with the Maserati 4CLT chassis precisely because it was a chassis that was rather easy to come by and that offered competitive performance. One such team was Scuderia Milano.
Scuderia Milano would come into existence as a result of the Ruggieri brothers. They would take a couple of the 4CLTs they owned at the time and would modify their cars to take part in the World Championship. Combined with a new engine created by Mario Speluzzi, the greatly altered 4CLT would be raced during the 1950 and 1951 seasons.
But not all would be well with Scuderia Milano. Money would be running short and the governing-body would make the decision to conduct the World Championship according to Formula 2 regulations throughout 1952 and 1953. This would leave the altered Maserati 4CLT without an opportunity to take part in the World Championship and the lack of funds meant the cars would be just packed away.
Enter Gianpaolo Volpini and Egidio Arzani.
Volpini was very active in motor racing during the early 1950s taking part in Formula Junior and Formula 3. Volpini had a desire to take part in Formula One and made plans toward the future when the new Formula One regulations would come into effect.
Volpini would come to join forces with Egidio Arzani, an engine-builder and the two would begin setting their sights on the new 2.5-liter regulations that were due to come into effect starting with the 1954 season. Arzani would set about designing and building a 2.5-liter powerplant while Volpini went on a search for a chassis that could be quickly created and built so the team, which would become known as Scuderia Volpini, or Arzani-Volpini, could take its place in Formula One history.
Looking to keep costs to a minimum and have a car already assembled, Volpini would come in contact with the Ruggieris and would come to purchase one of the Milano-Speluzzi 4CLTs. Volpini would pick the best of the lot as the one he would come to own would be the only one of the two that had the famed de Dion axle.
Volpini and Arzani would set to work creating their car that would be entered in the World Championship. The two would depart from the 4CLT design and would, instead, look to more modern designs for inspiration. As work progressed it became more clear the design would bear a great similarity to Ferrari's 553 ‘Squalo'.
A lot of work would go into preparing the Maserati for its first race of the 1955 season. Work was progressing and Volpini would be encouraged that he would be able to enter his Scuderia Volpini team in a Formula One race. In fact, he would he would put in his single entry for the 7th Gran Premio del Valentino to be held on the 27th of March at Valentino Park in Torino, Italy.
The entry would include Mario Alborghetti as Scuderia Volpini's driver for the 90 lap race around the 2.61 mile Valentino Park Circuit. This would be an ambitious goal for the small privateer company building what was basically its own design and engine package. Sure enough, the effort would prove too time consuming and Scuderia Volpini would not arrive in Torino as a result of the car not having been finished in time. Still, the small team would keep working hard preparing for its next race on the 1955 calendar.
The work continued on the revamped Maserati 4CLT. Finally, the car would be finished with its 2.5-liter four cylinder engine. Testing would be conducted and the team would make its final preparations before it packed everything up on a trailer and made its way to its first race of the season, the first ever for Scuderia Volpini.
Heading to its first race of 1955, the Maserati 4CLT now modified and entered for Scuderia Volpini would be the only car in the field that would have the distinction of having competed in Formula One under the original regulations. However, this would be very little consolation and inspiration for a team preparing to go up against the latest Formula One machines. The venue wouldn't really give those warm, fuzzy feelings either.
Though the team had missed its first intended race back on the 27th of March, the team's car would be ready in time to make the long journey into France toward the middle of April. On the 11th of April the tiny city of Pau prepared to host what was to be the 16th Grand Prix de Pau.
The home of the first grand prix race, Pau, would be a thorough test for the 'new' Maserati 4CLT. A in-land version of Monaco, Pau rests in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains along the Gave de Pau river and boasts of twisty, narrow city streets just like the famed principality. These same narrow streets would become the site of the Grand Prix de Pau after the first ever grand prix had actually been conducted over hundreds of miles stretching from Pau all the way to the Atlantic coast.
Surrounded by buildings, walls and other barriers all along the whole of the 1.71 mile circuit, Pau presented drivers with a real challenge where even the smallest mistake could have the most dire consequences. Unfortunately, Scuderia Volpini would find this out firsthand.
Scuderia Volpini would arrive in Pau with its single adapted Maserati 4CLT. The team had been expected at the race in Torino a month earlier with Mario Alborghetti as the team's driver. Though the car would not be ready in time for that race, it would be unloaded and readied in time to take part in the Grand Prix de Pau held on the 11th of April and Mario Alborghetti would be at the wheel.
The rest of the field would include three entries from Scuderia Lancia and three more from both Officine Alfieri Maserati and Equipe Gordini. And in practice, Alberto Ascari would prove fastest in the Lancia D50. Lapping the circuit in 1:34.5, Ascari would take the pole by nine-tenths of a second over Jean Behra who had moved on from Gordini to a factory drive with Maserati.
Starting from a chassis more than five years old and utilizing just a 2.5-liter four cylinder engine, it would be obvious the Maserati entered by Scuderia Volpini would be lacking in pace. But then, at the end of practice, the true disparity would become obvious. Alborghetti would not be the slowest in practice, that misfortune would go to Claude Storez driving an old DB Monomill. However, Mario's time of 1:53.3 would be nearly twenty seconds slower than Ascari and would lead to Scuderia Volpini starting its first Formula One non-championship race from the 15th position on the grid, second-to-last on the eighth row of the grid.
Ascari had proven fast and would be quick right from the start of the race. However, Jean Behra would prove to be Ascari's equal and would remain right at the front of the field as well. Roberto Mieres, who had started the race from an impressive 3rd position on the grid, would also remain up at the front of the field chased by Luigi Villoresi in another Lancia.
The race would not be a short event by any means. Totalling 110 laps, the drivers settled themselves in for about three hours of driving. However, over the course of those three hours their attention could not stray. Otherwise, terrible things had the potential of happening. Unfortunately, Mario Alborghetti and Scuderia Volpini would find that out first hand.
Running toward at the back of the field, Alborghetti's mission was really very simple: take care of the car and bring it home. Had he done this the team would have gained some very valuable track time and experience. But, instead, what the team would get would be a broken race car and a dead driver.
Though the goals were simple and straight-forward, Alborghetti would have his hands full keeping the car off of the barriers for the whole of the 110 laps. In fact, 20 laps would end up proving too much for Mario as he would lose control of his car and would crash heavily. Alborghetti had just completed a pit stop and headed back out onto the circuit to resume his running position at the back of the field. Tragically, the unforgiving nature of the Pau circuit would catch Mario out. While at speed, he would crash head-first into a barrier and would suffer some terrible injuries. Additionally, about ten spectators would be injured because of the accident as well. Unfortunately, the force of the accident would be such that Alborghetti would lose his life and Scuderia Volpini would have to leave its first race with a broken race car and broken hearts.
Alborghetti's fatal accident would prove to be the first retirement in the race and would put a damper on the mood despite the fact he was not as easily recognizable as Ascari or Villoresi. Still, the race would go on.
Alberto Ascari would set the fastest lap of the race with his D50. His fastest lap time would be just eight-tenths of a second slower than his pole-winning lap from practice, but, it would prove to be not enough as Jean Behra would take the lead of the race and would leave everyone else in his wake over the course of the 188 mile race.
Out of the sixteen cars that would start the race, attrition would prove to be rather light. Unfortunately, Luigi Musso, Robert Manzon and Elie Bayol would be among those that would not be so fortunate.
Even Ascari would not be his old self on this day. As in days past, if Ascari had a car even capable of competing he had the ability to make it indomitable and untouchable. However, this would not be the case on the 11th of April in 1955. As the race wore on, Ascari would fade and would drop down the running order even to the point that his friend and mentor Villoresi was running ahead of him on the circuit.
Behra was doing anything but fading over the course of the race. The year before he had barely come away with victory ahead of Maurice Trintignant, as the race shaped up, if his car kept running their would be no contest. Eugenio Castellotti would be the only one from the Lancia team that would manage to muster up a challenge. But, as the race headed into the final few laps, Behra had a lead of about two-thirds of a lap on Castellotti. Behra finally had a car with power and improved reliability. This would be bolstered by the fact that all three of the Gordini cars would retire over the course of the race.
Heading to the line for the final time, Behra had a lap in hand over both Villoresi and Ascari. It was absolutely no contest. Behra would win his second-straight Grand Prix de Pau as he came through to cross the line sixty-one seconds ahead of Castellotti in 2nd place and almost a full lap ahead of Roberto Mieres in 3rd place.
It had been a long-time dream of Volpini and Arzani to take part in a race on the Formula One level. But, undoubtedly, it was not even on their radar that when that great day would come in would end in tragedy with their driver losing his life in a terrible accident. In many ways, the broken race car was an apt representation of the shattered dreams of the two men. Great resources of time, money and energy had been poured into the car. Just bringing it home at the end of the long epic grand prix would have been no small a victory for the team. Instead, the team would gather up what was left and would leave devastated and shattered by the events that had transpired.
Such an experience certainly would have the potential of crushing one's spirit. The team had lost a lot. Yes, the team had lost a lot financially and in time and work, but the loss of a life is a weight very difficult to bear as it is. And to lose a life at the wheel of one's own car can be particularly devastating.
Still, the overall dream had not been fulfilled. The dream was still out there luring, calling to Volpini and Arzani. In spite of their incredible grief, the two would do the most difficult of tasks—to get back up and try again.
Death would become a common denominator during the 1955 season. The terrible accident at Le Mans would have many manufacturers and race organizers wondering if it was all worth it. And while many teams and races would disappear as a result of the tragic events, there would be those, like Volpini and Arzani, that would carry on in an effort to fulfill the dreams each had before them. Therefore, Scuderia Volpini would pick up their tired and grieving souls and would fit to carry on.
Considering their position, Volpini and Arzani would try and find a reachable goal for the team to try and reach. The obvious position of the team meant its goal would have to be found later on in the season. And it would be then that the team's goal would become quite clear.
Scuderia Volpini would set to work rebuilding its broken single-seater. The team had a little bit of time, but, it would take quite a bit of time, especially with the team's limited resources, to complete the task they immediately faced. The goal was obvious—the Italian Grand Prix. The reality was, given the withdraw of the French, German, Spanish and Swiss grands prix, Scuderia Volpini was really without too many options if it actually wanted to achieve its goal of taking part in a Formula One World Championship race.
Alborghetti's fatal accident would happen in Pau on the 11th of April. The Italian Grand Prix would take place on the 11th of September. Therefore, the team would have exactly six months before it expected to race again. The team would set to work and would rebuild the broken car. The team would also be on the look-out for a new driver daring enough to want to take to the wheel of the doomed Maserati.
The Autodromo Nazionale di Monza lies about two hours to the east of Torino. Therefore, Scuderia Volpini would have a little more time on its hands to get its car ready for the Italian Grand Prix on the 11th of September since the team didn't have all that far to travel. But, the nearly six months would prove to be enough time for the team. Arisen from the ashes and the terrible grief, Scuderia Volpini would pull into Monza in more than enough time to take part in its first World Championship grand prix.
The furthest thing from the mind of the team would have been the fight for the championship. And, as a result of Juan Manuel Fangio's 2nd place at the British Grand Prix at Aintree, the title fight would also be a distant thought for most teams and drivers by the time the Italian Grand Prix rolled around in September. But though the championship would be over, for the Italian teams like Scuderia Volpini, there would be tremendous amount of pride and pressure heading into the most important race in Italy's motor racing season.
Scuderia Volpini would roll into Monza with its repaired Maserati and a new driver. Italian Luigi Piotti would agree to be the team's driver in the most important race in Italy. He believed he was up to the challenge that laid before him, the real question was whether or not the car was.
The Autodromo Nazionale di Monza was, by no means, an easy place on aged man of wars. Individual laps would routinely be run with the throttle flat to the floor with very little braking. This would put tired, or weak, engines to the test taking them, often, beyond their breaking point. This was never more true than with the 1955 edition of the race. The Monza circuit had been originally designed with a road course and an oval that could be used as one larger circuit. Heading into the 1955 season construction teams would take the regular oval and would make both the north and the southern ends with steeply-banked corners. Now measuring 6.2 miles in length and full of opportunities for slipstreaming, engines would be stretched to their absolute limits over the course of the planned 50 lap, 310 mile, race.
Scuderia Volpini couldn't have picked a more difficult test than the Italian Grand Prix using both the road course and the banked oval in unison. In practice, Juan Manuel Fangio would routinely average better than 130 mph around the 6.2 mile circuit. This took an incredible amount of horsepower and needed to be matched by an insane amount of reliability at the same time. This would be a tall order for the Arzani-Volpini four-cylinder engine. Still, Luigi Piotti would take to the circuit to ring the rebuilt car out.
1955 had been a terrible season. Not only had Scuderia Volpini lost its driver at a race in Pau, but then there was the terrible accident at Monza that would claim the life of Alberto Ascari. Ascari had been testing a new Ferrari sportscar when he would inexplicably go off the road near Vialone and would die as a result of the injuries. But the blackest mark on the season would come one month later with the tragedy at Le Mans. In that race just one driver would be killed but around 90 spectators would also lose their life. Therefore, the season would be filled with cancelled events, some never to return, and some serious introspection. This would be very clear with the addition of the banked oval for the Italian Grand Prix.
Juan Manuel Fangio would set the pace in practice taking the pole with a time of 2:46.5 around the extremely fast Monza circuit. As ever, Stirling Moss would be 2nd to Fangio around Monza in practice. Averaging nearly 134 mph over the course of his lap, Moss would end up three-tenths of a second slower than Fangio. Karl Kling would complete the front row sweep for Mercedes-Benz when he completed a lap just under two seconds slower.
The addition of the banked ovals to the already ultra-fast average speeds around Monza would take its toll of many teams. Lancia-Ferrari would withdraw its two cars entered for Giuseppe Farina and Luigi Villoresi as a result of tire problems. During practice, Giuseppe Farina would be at speeds around the steep banking when one of his tires would blow causing a rather big impact. As a result of the tire problems, Farina and Villoresi's cars would be withdrawn and the remaining Ferrari drivers would be forced to switch to the underdeveloped ‘Supersqualo'.
Unfortunately, the pace around the circuit would also bring a premature end to the hopes and dreams of Volpini and Arzani. If the new banking and incredibly high average speeds were proving too much for teams like Ferrari with a new car, then the prospects did not look good for an older machine. Scuderia Volpini's car would take part in practice with Piotti at the wheel. However, a qualifying lap would not be posted and the car would not start the race.
In total, 20 cars would prepare for the start of the race on the 11th of September. As usual, the weather in middle of Italy would cooperate providing mild temperatures and dry conditions. This meant the thousands upon thousands of diehard Italian racing fans would be front and center for one spectacular event.
The cars would be rolled out onto the grid with the three Silver Arrows aligned across the front row in dominant fashion. As the field roared away to start the 50 lap race, a normal sight developed at the head of the field. Fangio would lead the way closely followed by Stirling Moss in another W196.
Throughout the first 18 laps of the race, the incredible crowd would witness Fangio and Moss pulling away from the rest of the field. Despite a single lap in the lead on the 8th lap, Fangio would hold sway over Moss and the rest of the field. With an incredible start by Piero Taruffi, those first 18 laps of the race couldn't have been more dominant for Mercedes as it ran one-two-three-four.
Behind the rolling juggernaut, Castellotti would be doing his level best to try and keep touch in the ‘Supersqualo' but it was quickly proving to be a losing battle. Mike Hawthorn had come back to Ferrari and had started the race in a strong position. However, as the race wore on he would slowly begin to slip down the running order unable to get his Ferrari to mount any kind of challenge of the top five throughout the first two-thirds of the race.
The speeds and the nature of the circuit would already begin to take its toll on the whole of the field. Ken Wharton wouldn't complete even the first lap of the race before he would be out of the running. Two others, which would include Harry Schell driving the other Vanwall, would be out of the race after just 7 laps. There would be a long gap before there would be another retiree, but then, after the 20 lap mark, they started coming in waves. By the 30th lap of the race, seven cars were out of the running. One of those that would be out would be Stirling Moss.
Stirling Moss had been running closely behind Fangio throughout the first 15 laps of the race. Then, on the 19th lap, Fangio's car would kick up a stone that would absolutely smash Moss' windscreen. Expecting just to go on, Moss would find Mercedes mechanics fully ready to replace the windscreen. The stop would take a little bit of time and he would fall down the running order, but he was in one of the best cars of the day and would quickly regain lost ground. However, on a circuit such as Monza, having to push even harder than usual meant catastrophic damages and his engine would fail on the 28th lap of the race.
Karl Kling would suffer from gearbox problems and the once indomitable Mercedes team, which had been running 1st through 4th, was now down to just two cars, but they were still in 1st and 2nd. And though attrition would visit the team a couple of times over the course of the 50 laps, the pair of Fangio and Taruffi would be fast enough that it could not catch up to them before the end.
Enjoying a sizable margin over Castellotti in his Ferrari 555, Fangio and Taruffi hooked up and rolled toward the finish. Averaging more than 128 mph throughout the race, Fangio and Taruffi hooked up and ran together with never more than a little more than a second between them, and often less. The miles were being thrown down left and right. Heading into the final lap, all but the top four would be at least a lap down and the 4th place driver, Jean Behra, would be straight ahead. With a comfortable cushion, Fangio and Taruffi cruised to the finish. Fangio would cross the line to take the victory just seven-tenths of a second ahead of Taruffi. Eugenio Castellotti would come home a defeated 3rd some forty-five seconds behind. In the end, just nine cars would complete the race.
Scuderia Volpini would have loved to have been one of the nine to have completed the whole of the race. Heck, they would have enjoyed just starting the race had they believed they could have had a chance. But it was certainly clear after practice the aged Maserati chassis had out-lived its usefulness and despite a lot of hard work, Scuderia Volpini would not take part in its first World Championship race.
Scuderia Volpini would join an ever growing list of teams that would be nothing more than mere footnotes in the history of Formula One. Volpini and Arzani had arrived onto the Formula One scene and had witnessed the best in the world at that time. They would gain a sense of the commitment and the talent that it took to be a champion at that level. And though they would not take part in their first World Championship race they would have the honor of being able to say they were on the track at the same time as some of the best in Formula One history.
Scuderia Volpini would end up not starting what would be its only entry in a Formula One World Championship race. The team had come and they witnessed what they had always desired. And they knew they needed to leave. Therefore, after the failed start at the Italian Grand Prix Scuderia Volpini would never take part in another Formula One World Championship race again. In fact, Volpini and Arzani would leave Formula One, both non-championship and championship altogether. Instead, they would again focus Formula Junior racing and would become quite successful. In addition to Formula Junior, their own cars would be entered in Formula 3 races and would also be competitive there as well.
Volpini would continue in Formula Junior all the way into the middle of the 1960s. One of their customers, a man by the name of Lorenzo Bandini, would become quite well known in the Formula One ranks. One of the successful teams in the lower ranks, and an important team to help drivers make the step up to Formula One, Scuderia Volpini would find out firsthand the amount of talent required to be successful at the World Championship level. Unfortunately, they too would be just another team that would be found wanting.