TeamsVandervell Products: 1956 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
The 1955 season would see Vandervell Products embroiled in an internal storm. Tensions would rise and would spill over seemingly pointing to a stormy future. However, by the end of the 1956 season it would be the same Vandervell Products team that would do some damage within the Formula One scene.
It all seemed to come to an end on the 5th of June. Mike Hawthorn would come storming back to the pits on foot, would not say much more than a couple of words and then would leave the Spa-Francorchamps circuit clearly in disgust with his team.
It was a fragile time at Vandervell Products in 1955 as Tony Vandervell was driving his team to begin construction of their own Formula One design. The new car, based on a Cooper Type 30, showed some promise but there were still some very frustrating teething issues. The Vanwall VW1 would make its debut at the Monaco Grand Prix that year, and while the race would be memorable in so many ways, it would not be all that exciting and memorable for Hawthorn and the crew as their race would come to an end after 22 laps due to a throttle linkage issue. Even up until that point the car was not performing anywhere near the levels of the front-runners. But, in spite of the trouble, things seemed to be looking up for the team, that is, until Belgium.
Even with starting from the fourth row of the grid, the crew and Hawthorn would already be praying for the best. There was great fear amongst the crew the clutch would not hold out as a result of Mr. Vandervell having driven the car from the garage to the paddock through the heavy spectator traffic. It was clear the clutch was already in trouble from Vandervell constantly slipping the clutch in uphill sections of the road. Sure enough, even after the first lap, it could be plainly heard the gearbox in the Vanwall was not sounding as it should. And, after 8 laps, the race would come to an end for Hawthorn. However, for Hawthorn, his anger was just beginning to burn, and after a late night argument at a local pub, the British driver would leave the team in disgust.
It certainly seemed as though Vandervell Products was not heading in the right direction. The team's attitude, especially that of Mr. Vandervell, certainly didn't reflect a team focused and striving toward perfection. But that would be 1955.
Toward the end of the 1955 season the Vanwalls were beginning to show some promise, but not quite enough to really mount a challenge of the dominant Italian machinery of the day. But, then came Colin Chapman and Frank Costin.
Chapman just happened to visit the Vandervell factory in West London. Chapman had great respect for Vandervell but would immediately share his thoughts about what the factory needed to do to improve its design for Formula One. Chapman wouldn't just suggest an idea or two but a multiple of changes. This would impress Vandervell to such a degree that he would hire Chapman nearly on the spot.
Chapman would set to work, but he wouldn't do it alone. Chapman knew of the aerodynamicist Frank Costin and would bring him on board to help create a new Vanwall chassis. While none of the ideas that would be employed would be revolutionary in their own right, together they would make for one interesting and completely divergent design from the Cooper-based design of the 1955 season.
For one thing, Chapman would do away with the tubular ladder design and would employ a spaceframe chassis for the new Vanwall. The strength of the spaceframe chassis allowed for softer springs to help with handling. To take advantage of this situation Chapman would employ double wishbone suspension and coil springs at the front and at the rear of the car would make use of a DeDion axle and a transverse leaf spring arrangement.
There would only be one major problem with Chapman's design—it was tall. The position of the driver was quite high up and made for some instability in the handling due to the higher center of gravity. Therefore, because of the issues with the instability Chapman and Costin would look toward another way to make the car as competitive as possible—speed.
Costin's design for the new Vanwall would be an absolutely gorgeous, sculpted body that would make use of every available form of technology to make it as fast as possible. This would include using NACA vents to feed air to the intake trumpets instead of the more disruptive ram-air vents. Costin's NACA vents would feed air to a 2.5-liter Norton straight-four engine. Additionally, Vandervell would come to use a Bosch fuel-injection system following Mercedes-Benz's withdrawal from motor racing. When combined, the four-cylinder engine would be capable of producing around 285bhp, and when combined with the new Vanwall chassis there would not by another car on the grid that would be able to compete with it in a straight line.
All of the changes would end up producing a whole-new Vanwall chassis. Unfortunately that meant it would take a good deal of the winter to come up with and put together. The delay in construction and the sheer cost would lead to the Vandervell Products team abandoning any thoughts of heading across the Atlantic to Argentina to take part in the first round of the 1956 Formula One World Championship. Instead, the factory would use the extra couple of months to finalize the new design and thoroughly get it ready to mount an attack when the World Championship arrived back in Europe.
Formula One racing would come to Europe but the Vanwalls would not. Further delays and just the time needed to construct the new chassis meant the new Vanwalls would not make an appearance at any of the early Formula One non-championship events in England and in Europe during the month of April. As the calendar headed toward May the new cars were still a little ways away from being ready. But in an effort to help speed the progress along, and to help test and prepare the new car, the factory would put in an entry for a couple of cars to the 11th BARC Aintree ‘200'. This event would be held at the 3.0 mile Aintree Circuit on the 21st of April and would feature mostly just English privateer teams or single-car entries.
Stirling Moss had kept an eye on the Vandervell Products team despite its trouble 1955 season. He knew deep down he would end up driving for the team. And when he was approached about driving one of the new Vanwalls in the BARC Aintree 200 he would agree to the proposition. It seemed perfect to have Moss as one of the team's drivers since he had taken his first World Championship victory at the very same circuit the year before. Teaming with Moss in the second Vanwall would be the Parisian-American Harry Schell. Always known to be fast and aggressive, Schell seemed like a good fit for the outright speed of the new car.
But in spite of having its drivers lined-up, the factory was still a little ways away from having two cars ready. The day of the race would approach, but Vandervell Products would not. Neither of the two cars were fully completed and ready to take part in the race. Therefore, the team would have to abandon the race and keep working toward its first event.
There would be another non-championship Formula One race on the 5th of May, two weeks after the balked attempt at taking part in the BARC Aintree 200 race. The extra two weeks would give the team the time it needed to make the final adjustments and finalization in order to have a couple of cars ready to race, and what a race for the new Vanwalls to make their debut. The event would be the 8th BRDC International Trophy race held annually at Silverstone.
Despite measuring 2.9 miles to the lap, the Silverstone circuit was already rather notorious for being hard on cars with its mixture of high speed and medium speed corners. Gearboxes and engines received an absolute thrashing around the circuit. But making the debut at Silverstone did also have its advantages for Vandervell in 1956. The British Grand Prix was set to return to the circuit in the middle of July. Therefore, the non-championship International Trophy race, which usually drew a field of strong national and international teams, would be a fantastic warm-up for the sixth round of the World Championship coming up in a couple of months. Of course, Vandervell wouldn't realize just how good the warm-up would be.
As with the failed attempt at Aintree, the team managed to secure the talents of Moss and Schell. The team would arrive in the paddock and would begin unloading the shapely new designs to get them ready for practice. As the new Vanwalls took to the circuit for the start of practice they could not have looked any more at home. The sleek, aerodynamic design perfectly suited the surroundings of the former World War II bomber training base. And, when practice would conclude it would become all the more apparent just how perfect the two were suited for each other.
Stirling Moss would take the new Vanwall and would struggle through the first practice session as the team was still hard at work building some elements of the car and making sure it was ready to go racing. However, when it was all said and done Moss would end up taking the pole for the 60 lap race by turning a lap of 1:42 around the 2.9 mile circuit. The delight within the team couldn't have been any greater than when Harry Schell would also post a lap time in the 1:42 range. Separated by mere hundredths of a second, the Vanwalls of Moss and Schell would take 1st and 2nd on the four-wide front row! Joining the two Vanwalls on the front row would be the Lancia-Ferrari D50 of Juan Manuel Fangio and the BRM 25 of Mike Hawthorn.
Covered in the usual gray skies, the Silverstone circuit would begin to fill up with spectators and teams the morning of the 60 International Trophy race. Surrounded by mechanics and crews, the Vanwalls would go through final inspections before being rolled out to the grid for the start of the race.
Moss and Schell would take their places on the front row while the mechanics would set about firing the engines. But, in spite of all the apparent promise it would be Hawthorn leading the way into Copse for the very first time. Both Moss and Schell would be a couple of car lengths back. Fangio would take up 2nd place.
At the end of the first lap it would be Hawthorn in the lead and flying high very early. Fangio remained in 2nd place while Moss and Schell would be separated by mere inches in 3rd and 4th.
Once the race settled in so too did Moss and he would begin to draw away from Schell and would begin pressuring Fangio for 2nd place. But in spite of Moss' increasing pace it would be the BRM 25 of Mike Hawthorn that would be the class of the field throughout the first few laps of the race. Turning in the fastest lap of the race with a similar lap time to that which earned him 4th on the grid, Hawthorn would seem untouchable.
One of the problems Hawthorn had with the Vanwall the year before had been its fragility. Already known to be hard on clutches, Hawthorn didn't help his cause much. Still, Hawthorn would leave Vandervell out of disgust and would eventually end up with Owen Racing and their new BRM 25 program. What he would find is that the BRM 25, like the new Vanwall, had great speed, but reliability would be its greatest weakness. Sure enough, after leading the race for some 13 laps and setting what would be the fastest lap of the race it would all come to an end for Hawthorn. The defeated Brit would arise from the car clearly distraught over what had just happened. This would then hand the lead of the race to another Brit—Stirling Moss.
Going toe-to-toe with the Lancia-Ferrari, Moss would find the brand-new Vanwall to be more than capable. Able to turn away every attack of his former Mercedes-Benz teammate, Moss would be comfortably in the lead and looking very strong as he too would match the lap time set by Hawthorn. These lap times would turn out being 3 mph faster than the fastest lap turned at the circuit the year before. Averaging 102.30 mph on the fastest lap it was certainly clear Chapman and Costin had made one of the fastest Formula One cars in the world.
Moss would need every bit of the car's speed and his talent when his teammate retired after 19 laps due to fuel pick-up problems. But, one lap later, Moss would find he could back off slightly as Fangio would retire from the race with clutch failure.
Moss being the sole survivor from the front row it was clear he would have to be on his guard from those running behind. However, his pace lap after lap would be such that not even the other D50 driven by Peter Collins could make up any ground on the Vanwall.
The truly incredible aspect to Moss' performance and pace in the race would be that he wasn't even trying as hard as he could have. He would note that after just 8 laps, or so, oil fumes would begin to fill the cockpit. This would force him to back off the pace slightly until the fumes disappeared. But, when Fangio retired again with clutch problems, this time in Collins' Ferrari, it was clear all Moss had to do was hold on and not hurt the car and the new Vanwall would give him a dominant victory.
Heading into the final lap of the race, Moss had been averaging more than 100 mph throughout the whole of the 60 lap race and was enjoying an indomitable margin over the remainder of the field. Crossing the line after nearly one hour and 45 minutes of racing, Moss would take the easy win having more than a lap in hand over Archie Scott-Brown and Desmond Titterington in two B-Type Connaughts.
While Schell's loss would be disappointing, the debut of the new Vanwall could not have gone much better. Locking out the first-two positions on the grid, a fastest lap and a race victory was certainly the stuff of dreams and was in stark contrast to the way 1955 started for the team. All of a sudden, the Italian factory teams would have a British marque it needed to keep a look out for.
It had been a fairytale debut for the new Vanwall. This would give the team a tremendous amount of confidence and momentum heading into the team's first World Championship race of the season. The team would need all the confidence it could muster as the race would be one of the most important races on the World Championship calendar. The event would be the Monaco Grand Prix. Taking place on the 13th of May, the race gave Vandervell the opportunity to make up for its rather disappointing debut the season before.
Though not officially recognized as its own sovereignty until the Franco-Monegasque Treaty in 1861, it would not take very long for the grand prix held on the tight, twisty streets of the principality would become a crown jewel. Famous for its casino and numerous hotels lining and overlooking the circuit, Monaco would be the ablest playground for the rich and famous. Normally impeccably clean and reflective of the obvious opulence flowing up and down steep hills of the principality, the Monaco Grand Prix was the one time out of the year when grime, oil and smoke soot from engine exhaust would actually be considered badges of honor and royalty.
The 1955 edition of the Monaco Grand Prix had been an absolutely remarkable and memorable return for Formula One to the tiny sovereign state. The visions of Fangio and Moss leading the way in the Mercedes-Benz W196 rekindled memories of pre-war editions of the famous race when such names as von Brauchitsch, Rosemeyer and Caracciola ruled. But then would come the change of Mercedes fortunes and the loss of Ascari into the bay. Who knew it would be just four days later that Ascari would tumble off the Monza circuit and into eternity? And then there would be Scuderia Ferrari and Maurice Trintignant. Absolutely overpowered by Mercedes-Benz, Lancia and Maserati, the outfit from Maranello seemed destined to finish inside the top ten at best, at it certainly wouldn't come at the hands of the steady Frenchman. But there he was, only a handful of laps remaining in the race, Trintignant would be leading the way for the maligned Ferrari team.
It had been a truly memorable day for Formula One. It would be memorable for Vandervell as well as it would be the first race in its history in which it would debut a design built totally in-house. Unfortunately, that would be about the extent of the memorable portions of the entire weekend.
One year ago, Vandervell would arrive in Monaco with just a single entry since Ken Wharton was still suffering from his injuries sustained during the International Trophy race at Silverstone. Additionally, the car was still bent and broken and could not be repaired in time. However, one year later, the team would arrive in Monaco with two cars. And, having earned the surprise victory the year before, Vandervell would hire Maurice Trintignant to drive one of the two cars. The second car would be entered for Harry Schell.
Chapman and Costin had to make some compromises because of the design of the car. One of those compromises dealt in the area of handling. The car wasn't the best handling car but was certainly fast. This would be putting the cart before the horse around the streets of Monaco. But, in spite of this apparent flawed approach for Monaco, Schell would prove quite adept around the 1.95 mile circuit and would be within striking distance of the front row when practice ended. Trintignant would also find the car rather responsive around the tight streets and would be impressive in his own right. When it was all said and done, Schell would end up on the second row of the grid having posted a best lap of 1:45.6. This time would result in a 5th place starting position. Trintignant would be mere hundredths of a second slower than Schell and would end up in the 6th position, the first slot on the third row of the grid.
Both Schell and Trintignant would be less than two seconds off of Fangio's pace in the Lancia-Ferrari. Setting a best lap of 1:44.0, Fangio would take the pole by six-tenths of a second ahead of Stirling Moss in the factory Maserati. Eugenio Castellotii would complete the front row in 3rd with a time nine-tenths slower than Fangio.
Being a little concerned about the handling of the Vanwall, the Vandervell team had to be a little concerned the morning of the 13th when the skies were overcast and it seemed destined the circuit would be awash in rain. But, by late morning the skies would part and the sun would shine down upon a dry circuit. This was good news for Schell and Trintignant as they made preparations for the start of the race.
Overflowing with people, it would seem the whole of the world would be looking down upon the Monaco circuit expecting a truly exciting repeat of the previous year. The usual festivities would take place, including a lap around the circuit by the Prince to clear the circuit and prepare everyone for the start of the 100 lap race.
The flag would drop to start the race and it would be Castellotti and Moss racing each other for 1st heading through the tight Gazometre hairpin. Schell would get away well and would be to the outside heading into the tight right-hander. Trintignant would be a little slow off the line but would come up hard and fast into the first turn.
Schell would stay to the outside and would follow Moss around the corner. Trintignant would come diving down the inside and would try to stay tight around the corner. Unfortunately, the radius would be too tight and he would have his nose nearly torn off by the passing Maseratis and Ferraris. The bent nose on the Vanwall would capture Trintignant's attention and he would quickly slip down the running order until he was last at the exit. Through the Station Hairpin, Schell would still be in 3rd place but would be all over the Ferraris of Collins and Castellotti.
At the end of the first lap it would be Moss well into the lead of the race with Fangio following along about 4 seconds behind. Schell would lose control of his Vanwall slightly in the last quarter of the lap and would end up losing several places and allowing the Ferraris to escape his pressure. At the end of the first lap it would be Collins in 3rd place while Schell would be all the way down in 7th. Trintignant would recover from the bent nose and would actually be battling with Louis Rosier for last place honors. Unfortunately for last year's winner, it would be he that would end up with the unfortunate honor.
Schell would re-gather himself and would be following along closely behind Luigi Musso. Schell would be making his attentions known and it seemed just a matter of time before he would make his way past into 6th place. However, such a move would be preempted by Fangio on the 3rd lap of the race when he spun in his Lancia-Ferrari. Running in 2nd place at the time, Fangio would have an uncharacteristic lapse of concentration and would spin in his Ferrari. Collins, Castellotti and Behra would all manage to avoid the spinning Argentinean, but Musso and Schell would have no place to go. Schell and Musso would end up crashing hard and ending their races because of irreparable damage caused by the spin of Fangio. Just like that, great expectations would be reduced to great disappointment, especially when Trintignant limped by, still in last place.
The inevitable would finally happen for Vandervell when, after 13 laps, Trintignant would finally retire with engine-related issues. Therefore, the day was over for Vandervell Products, even before quarter distance had been reached.
Moss would remain in the lead past the quarter distance mark and would enjoy an ever-growing lead over Collins. Castellotti would be out of the race as his clutch gave up after 14 laps. This would enable the consistent and steady Jean Behra to climb up to 3rd place while Fangio was making his way back up after his early spin. He would soon become embroiled in a battle with Behra and would actually take over the position from the Frenchman.
Moss would be out front and looking absolutely in control and he was smooth and reserved behind the wheel as he muscled his Maserati around the tight hairpin turns. Fangio, on the other hand, would be throwing his Lancia-Ferrari around in a frenzied effort to try and make up lost ground. Throughout the remainder of the first half of the race Fangio would battle with Collins for 2nd place in the running order. The only real reason why he would not securely hold onto the position would be as a result of him bouncing the car off the concrete walls and severely damaging the Lancia. In fact, the car would begin to look very similar to the beaten and bent Mercedes-Benz he piloted at the 1954 British Grand Prix.
The beating would have to come to an end; otherwise the team would have yet another retired car. Therefore, Fangio would come into the pits and would hand over the car to Castellotti. Collins would not be making up any ground on Moss. Therefore, it would be decided to give Fangio, Collins' relatively undamaged Ferrari for the remainder of the race.
Moss would have an even bigger lead by the time Fangio returned to the circuit. The delay in changing drivers would also allow Behra to momentarily take over 2nd place. But Fangio was not to be stopped, pushing harder and harder with every lap, Fangio would take over 2nd place by the 63rd lap and would quickly focus his attentions toward Moss for the last 35 laps of the race.
Moss seemed unruffled by everything and would be solid through each and every corner. He had reason to take care. His lead certainly seemed insurmountable, but it was Fangio who was giving chase.
Each and every lap it seemed Fangio picked up the pace even more. Heading into the final portion of the race, Moss would have a lead of nearly a minute. However, with each passing lap, Fangio would take seconds off the lead until it seemed nothing was really a foregone conclusion heading into the final 10 laps.
Three laps remaining in the race, the gap between Moss and Fangio would be under 30 seconds. Now it seemed a foregone conclusion, but not in Fangio's mind. Over the course of the remaining laps Fangio would take out huge chunks of Moss' lead.
But it just wouldn't be enough. In spite of posting the fastest lap of the race on the final lap, it would be Moss that would take the victory, holding off Fangio by a margin of 6 seconds. Jean Behra would complete the podium but he would be over a lap down in 3rd place.
To say the Monaco Grand Prix for Vandervell was disappointing would be perhaps the greatest understatement anyone could make. The depth of the frustration would only be made worse by the fact the team had its two cars position within the first three rows of the grid. What's more, watching Fangio carry on to a 2nd place result after leading to Schell's retirement because of an accident he caused by a spin would only be like a knife to the heart. There were certainly positives to take away from the race, but they would be seriously muted by great disappointment.
Vandervell would leave Monaco having had its hope and confidence severely beaten and bruised. There were some highlights for the team heading into the race, but those would be severely shattered nearly by the time the flag dropped. Therefore, the only option the team would have after such an episode would be to look forward and prepare. Time would be their great ally, but also, a potentially dangerous foe.
Instead of hopping right back into things and trying best they could to forget the past, Vandervell's team would have more than a couple of weeks to prepare and wait before the next race on the season. On the 3rd of June, three weeks after the Monaco Grand Prix, the Vandervell team would be back in Belgium preparing for the Belgian Grand Prix. It would be an opportunity for the team to earn a double portion of redemption.
The Belgian Grand Prix had proven to be the breaking point for Mike Hawthorn after the owner of the team burned up the clutch driving the car to the circuit instead of just putting it on the transporter and carrying it to the circuit. It was the lowest moment for the team throughout the 1955 season. Fast forwarding a year, the team would be suffering from another low point and would desperately need for the Belgian Grand Prix to be something of a turn-around.
The Spa-Francorchamps circuit was nearly perfectly-suited to the Vanwall chassis. Measuring 8.77 miles in length, the Spa-Francorchamps circuit was incredibly fast and dangerous. Blasting away through the Ardennes Forest the circuit would rise and fall in a gorgeous and tempting manner and required great bravery to be taken fast. Handling would be very important but not quite as much as outright speed. This did play into the hands of Chapman's and Costin's design.
Vandervell would take the three weeks following the Monaco Grand Prix and would set about rebuilding and preparing the damaged Vanwalls. Then, in late May, the two chassis would be dispatched to head across the Channel and on to Spa, Belgium to take part in the fourth round of the World Championship. Contracted to drive the two cars would be the same two drivers that suffered in Monaco. Harry Schell would be behind the wheel of one of the Vanwalls while Maurice Trintignant would be at the wheel of the other.
If Monaco seemed an unlikely venue for a grand prix because of the tight, narrow and twisty streets of the principality, then the quiet and tranquil setting, deep in the Ardennes also seemed out of place for the loud roar of grand prix engines. But in many respects, with the elevation changes and such famous elements as Eau Rouge, Masta Kink and Stavelot, the location would be the perfect setting for a road course to host the best cars and drivers in the world.
Sheer numbers would favor Scuderia Ferrari and Officine Alfieri Maserati. Each would bring four cars to the race and all eight would prove quite quick around the circuit. Of course, none would prove as fast as Juan Manuel Fangio who would take and lap the circuit with a time of 4:09.8. Stirling Moss would be second-quickest but his best would be some 5 seconds slower. Peter Collins would complete the front row in a second Lancia-Ferrari and he would be over a half a second slower than Moss.
More than a couple of spots on the circuit would allow the cars to achieve their maximum speeds. This favored the Vanwalls and they would use their power advantage to overcome their other deficiencies in order to end up with some top lap times. Schell would be the quickest of the Vanwall pilots. He would end up on the third row of the grid after posting a lap time of 4:19.0. Being a little less than 10 seconds slower than Fangio would enable Schell to start 6th on the grid. Starting right beside him in 7th place would be Trintignant having set a fastest lap time of 4:22.8.
Heading closer to the start of the race, the umbrellas and rain coats would be out as a light rain fell upon the circuit. This would make the already formidable circuit even more dangerous and demanding. And, as the flag flew to start the race, it would be Moss that would get the great start off the line and would clearly lead the field into the fast uphill section at Eau Rouge. Schell would get a great jump off the line but wouldn't have the power and the torque to turn it into his advantage before heading uphill. Flying around the circuit and through Stavelot for the first time it would be the Ferraris of Castellotti, Collins and Fangio giving chase of the lone Maserati driven by Stirling Moss.
At the end of the first lap it would be Moss in the lead with a handful of seconds in hand over Castellotti. Collins would be ahead of Fangio, but only just, as the Argentinean would be making a clear bid to take over the 3rd position in the running order. Behind the top four would come Schell and Trintignant leading the next group of runners.
Over the next couple of laps it would be Moss still in the lead of the race. Fangio would take over 2nd place and would very quickly begin to challenge Castellotti for his position. Schell and Trintignant would continue to lap together. Schell would look strong but would make a mistake and would end up losing time and would eventually drop down to 8th place where he would become embroiled in a battle with Belgian hero Paul Frere. Schell's misfortune would allow Trintignant to take over 5th, but he too would come under pressure from Jean Behra.
By the 5th of 36 laps, Fangio would be in the lead of the race having swept around Moss through Stavelot. It would be a courageous move that would demonstrate for all Fangio's brilliance. Collins and Castellotti would be embroiled in a battle for 3rd. Trintignant would also make a mistake and would end up falling down to 8th place behind his teammate once again.
Schell and Frere would be embroiled in a battle that would go on for more than a few laps. This would delight the Belgian fans as Fangio's lead over Moss continued to grow. But soon, the drama between Frere and Schell wouldn't be the only source of intrigue going on around the circuit. Fangio and Moss would disappear over the top of Eau Rouge to start the 11th lap of the race. Fangio would come back around again to complete the lap while Moss would not. But then the Brit would be seen, but on foot. Bounding down the hill over the Red Water stream, Moss would be making his way quickly back to the Maserati pits for another mount following the rear wheel coming loose on his Maserati. This, and the retirement of Castellotti due to transmission failure, would enable Schell and Trintignant to move up.
At least that is what could have happened. Schell would manage to move up to 5th place, but Trintignant would be out of the race come the 12th lap. Just prior to the wheel coming loose on Moss' Maserati, Trintignant's engine would begin to sound very ill. In one lap he would lose nearly five places. But it wouldn't matter after the 12th lap as the engine would give up entirely dropping Vandervell's hopes to one.
Fangio continued on his merry way as Collins took over in 2nd place. Jean Behra would be in 3rd place while Paul Frere would be nearing a podium finish that would absolutely delight the home crowd. Cesare Perdisa would be flagged into the pits and would come to hand his car over to Moss for the remainder of the race. Immediately, Moss would set about trying to make up for the unfortunate loss of his wheel. Though over a lap down, Moss would push hard. Moss would pick up his pace as the race wore on. In a matter of a few laps he would be behind Schell battling for 5th place. Despite having a fast car himself there would be very little Schell could do with the hard-charging Moss. There would be 15 laps remaining when Moss would take over 5th place.
Three laps later another twist in the plot would take place. Powering his way around the fast right-hander at Stavelot, Fangio looked well on his way to another victory. But just then, the car would begin to slow and it kept getting slower. The end had come. Transmission failure would end the Argentinean's day. But, the loss would provide Peter Collins with his best opportunity ever.
Collins would be in the lead of the race and would have a comfortable margin in hand over Paul Frere who would have the Belgian fans almost lost in euphoria. Schell would be powering his way around the circuit in 5th place, but that too was about to change.
Collins certainly seemed unassailable. Behra seemed to be just as indestructible running in 3rd place. However, with 6 laps remaining Behra's engine would really begin to sound sick. He would continue but he would slow right down to almost nothing in an effort to make it to the finish. This would enable Moss to catch and pass his teammate for 3rd. The trouble would also allow Schell to become promoted to 4th place. The Vanwall just had to make it to the end.
Collins would welcome the gift bestowed upon him by Fangio and would cruise to his first-ever World Championship victory. Averaging a little more than 118 mph, Collins would go on to earn the victory with a minute and 51 seconds in hand over Paul Frere. Despite the large gap in between, Frere would absolutely bring delight to the Belgians being able to stand on the podium in his home grand prix, especially since this would be a one-off race for the Belgian racer. Moss' never give up attitude would end up paying off as his fastest lap of the race and constant pushing would be rewarded with a 3rd place drive.
There would be redemption to be found in the Belgian Grand Prix after all. One year removed from the team's lowest point, and coming off a rather low point just a couple of weeks earlier, the Belgian Grand Prix would provide Schell and the team its first World Championship points having come away with 3 points for finishing in 4th place one lap behind the leaders.
The Italian cars were still leading the way and dominating the events. But, the presence of Vanwall in the points and up near the front of the last couple of grids meant the British effort was gaining traction. The days of Ferrari and Maserati dominance were becoming numbered. Suddenly, England was becoming a threat, a threat many believed would come much earlier.
While not necessarily interested in vengeance, the Belgian Grand Prix would provide Vandervell with more vindication than what the results would necessarily suggest. At that race the year before, Hawthorn would leave the circuit in disgust and would end up driving off into the night breaking off his ties with the team for the remainder of the season. While not always the easiest on his equipment, Hawthorn would have a valid complaint and reason for his early departure in the race. Still, the end result would be that he would negotiate the end of his contract with Vandervell and would move on to Ferrari for the remainder of the season.
One year later, Vandervell would come away with a 4th place finish; its first World Championship points. One man missing from the race would be Hawthorn. Not only would his BRM 25 not be ready but his entry in the Owen Racing Organization's Maserati would end up being withdrawn.
Vandervell had proven his point. And, following the Belgian Grand Prix, Hawthorn would be provided an opportunity to patch things up with the team.
Despite there being a non-championship race at the end of June at Aintree, Vandervell and his team would choose to focus its efforts toward the fifth round of the World Championship coming up on the 1st of July. The race on the first day in July would be the French Grand Prix and it would be at a circuit that seemed to play to the strengths of the Vanwall.
The French Grand Prix, in 1955, would be cancelled as a direct result of the tragic incident that took place at Le Mans. In that race more than 80 people and driver Pierre Levegh would lose their lives. This would send shockwaves throughout the motor racing world and would lead to a number of races being cancelled. In the case of Switzerland, there would not be another grand prix held within the limits of the country ever again. Of course, it would not be at all surprising the French Grand Prix would be cancelled, but it would be fitting the race would be back the following year.
The presence of the French Grand Prix would be especially fitting for Formula One as it would be the nation that would introduce motor racing to the world. It would also be fitting the grand prix would again be held on the 5.15 mile Reims circuit.
While the longer Monza circuit, with its steeply-banked oval, would boast of higher average speeds, for a true road course there would be very few faster than Reims. Located to the west of the strategic city, the Reims circuit would make use of public roads connecting the smaller villages of Thillois, Gueux and Muizon. Generally flat, the circuit would start with a long straight blast past the narrow pits toward the fast right-hand bend the bent around in a long, continuous arc before heading down another, shorter straight. Still flat and wide open, the wind could whip pretty good through the Champagne-Ardenne region. Following the shorter straight the circuit would again head around a fast right-hand bend before sweeping back to the left to set up for the tight Muizon hairpin. Rounding the tight right-hand hairpin the drivers and cars would be greeted with a long uphill rise along the long Route Nationale 31 straight. At the top of the rise the drivers could then see their next destination well off into the distance, which was another tight hairpin known as Thillois. Upon concluding the hairpin all that would be left would be another long run up the straight toward the start/finish line.
The BRM 25s for Owen Racing would not be ready in time for the French Grand Prix on the 1st of July, and therefore, the team would have a certain Mike Hawthorn unemployed. It would be fight against pride on both sides actually. Hawthorn was available to drive. He had won the French Grand Prix in 1953 in one of the most remarkable races of all time. He knew the circuit and was fast. Hawthorn would also come to realize that Vandervell did in fact have its act together and they were certainly much further along and better prepared than his own team. Therefore, while neither side really needed each other, both sides certainly could have benefited from the other. As a result, Hawthorn would have a one-off ride with the team he had left in disgust the year before.
Maurice Trintignant would leave to go drive for the Bugatti team making its debut in Formula One after having been a grand prix stalwart throughout the 1930s. In total, Vandervell would enter three cars for the French Grand Prix. Hawthorn would be at the wheel of one. Harry Schell would, of course, be behind the wheel of another. The third car would go to a certain driver just because of his hand in earning the team its first World Championship points. While quickly overlooked and forgotten about, Colin Chapman not only designed and built race cars, but he also drove them as well. And, after helping Vandervell rise to its 4th place result in the Belgium Grand Prix he would have a well-deserved drive for the French round.
While Chapman and Costin created one of the fastest grand prix cars of the time, the new Vanwalls would not be fast enough to prevent Ferrari from locking out the entire front row. Fangio would be fastest turning in a lap of 2:23.3. Eugenio Castellotti would end up 2nd on the grid being a little more than a second slower than Fangio. Peter Collins, the surprise winner of Belgium, would claim the final front row spot being a little more than 2 seconds slower than his World Champion teammate.
Practice would be difficult for a number of competitors. Stirling Moss and Fangio would lock their brakes up heavily on the run down the hill to Thillois hairpin. Driver after driver would struggle with the tight hairpin since it came up quickly following the long straight.
Still, the Vanwall drivers would be quite impressive in practice. Harry Schell would be the fastest of them all. His best lap would be a time of 2:26.1. This would give him 4th place on the grid, or, the first position on the second row of the grid. Chapman would have his car repaired and would be quite impressive in his own right as he would only be seven-tenths of a second slower than Schell and would earn a 5th place starting spot on the grid. Mike Hawthorn would be within two-tenths of a second of Chapman and would end up earning the 6th place starting spot. This would position Mike on the third row of the grid right behind his two teammates.
Chapman would be impressive in practice but would not be able to take part in the race as a result of another moment. Like so many others, Chapman would find Thillois especially difficult and he would go into the hairpin totally locked up and out of control. Crashing head-long into barriers along the side of the escape road, Chapman would find his Vanwall quite heavily-damaged. Hawthorn would come and check on Chapman and the two would end up making the mile journey back to the pits. Unfortunately, the car would not be in a condition to simply return to the pits and get ready to take part in the 61 lap race. The damage to the car would be too severe and would result in Chapman being left out of the event.
And so, even before the start of the race, Vandervell would be down a car. And at a circuit such as Reims, the team would need every car possible if it was to make an assault on the dominant Ferrari team.
The flag would drop and the cars would roar to life. Overseen by thousands upon thousands of race fans, the dull overcast conditions would not be able to dampen the spirits of the people as they would cheer on the field at the start of the race. Heading down the straight toward the first turn it would be the three Ferraris leading the way with Collins serving as the point man. Just a little further back, Schell would get away well. There would be some confusion right before the start of the race when Moss could not get his Maserati fired. His crew would push-start the car and it would eventually fire. He would quickly reverse back to his grid position but would end up stopping in the open position left for Chapman. This would enable Moss to get away a little bit better than what he likely would have and it would lead to Schell giving chase of Moss heading into the first turn. Hawthorn would be rather slow getting off the line. When finally up to speed, he would be in 7th place.
Coming through Thillois, it would be Collins in the lead ahead of Castellotti and Fangio. Schell would be impressive in the Vanwall as he would get by Moss and would sit in 4th place. Using the speed of the Vanwall, he seemed to be capable of keeping the Ferraris in sight. Crossing the line for the first time it would be Collins leading, Castellotti 2nd and Fangio 3rd. Schell would be in 4th place. Hawthorn would get a good run off the last corner and would actually use the slipstream of Moss to get by him into 5th place.
In spite of the speed of the Vanwall, Schell would begin to lose touch with the Ferraris. In a couple of laps time Fangio would take over the lead and would further distance themselves form the remainder of the field. The pace would be such that the attrition rate early on would be rather high. A number of cars, including those of Andre Simon and Piero Taruffi, would be into the pits for checks and service. They would, however, return to the race.
Schell would be fast right from the very start of the race. Unfortunately, not only would he not be fast enough to challenge the Ferraris, but he would prove to be too fast for his own car as the engine would begin to sour after 4 laps and he would be officially out of the race after 5 laps.
This left just Hawthorn in the race, and he was not at all well. Tired and ill, Hawthorn would carry on the best he could and would not do so bad as a result. Having gotten by Moss, Hawthorn would take over in 4th place after Schell retired. Hawthorn's 4th place would be further bolstered when Moss had a moment heading into the Muizon hairpin. The resulting spin would lead to Moss dropping down to 8th place while Hawthorn put even more distance between himself and the rest of the field.
The pace would finally begin to claim its victims. Moss would head into the pits with a broken gear lever. Trintignant would retire the Bugatti after the throttle jammed. A couple of laps later, Alfonso de Portago would be out of the race as a result of a broken gearbox.
Fangio continued to lead Castellotti and Collins. A few seconds behind them, Hawthorn was a broken man. Not at all well, Hawthorn would not be able to gain any ground and only promised to lose more if he tried to continue. Therefore, after 11 laps he would pull into the pits and would hand his car over to Schell. Schell would head out back into the fray and would begin a long march to the front that would live on in the memory of Formula One fans for many years to come.
There had been four Ferraris leading the way until de Portago was forced out of the race with his gearbox issues. In less than 10 short laps, Schell would go from 8th to being found in 4th place. He was absolutely flying and the Vanwall was responding to the promptings. Ferrari needed their drivers to respond as well. Lap after lap the boards would notify Fangio and the others that Schell was rapidly coming. The Ferrari drivers would do their best to increase their pace, but it would be Schell that would go quicker, knowing full well he was putting the Ferrari drivers on the defensive.
Over the next 9 laps, Schell would inch ever-closer to the Ferrari trio at the head of the field. Then, at the halfway point in the race Schell would make his move. Timing it just right, Schell would jump all over Collins and Castellotti coming through Thillois. Powering down the long straight, he would take both positions and would be within a car length or two of Fangio as they streaked over the line to start the last half of the race. The crowd would go absolutely insane watching the smaller British marque take the fight to the much bigger Italian team.
Schell would continue to inch closer to Fangio. The Argentinean would be forced to respond, and he would. Causing memories of 1953, these two men would push each other hard. As Schell would push, Fangio would push back. When Fangio responded, Schell would respond all the more. For 5 glorious laps it looked as though Fangio was absolutely on the defensive. This would give the crowd great excitement. But then, on the 35th lap of the race, the excitable crowd along the start/finish straight would quiet slightly as they would watch Schell slow and enter the pits to have the car serviced. There would be disappointment all around, but the crowd would still show its appreciation for a brief moment of truly inspiring motor racing.
The damage had been done. After more than 5 minutes in the pits, Schell would return to the race but would be down in 4th place and would only continue to fall from there on. However, Schell would continue in the race, but would not be anywhere near the pace he had been throughout the first half.
It seemed the race was over, but there would be one more surprise in store for everyone. While attention would be turned on Schell re-entering the race, suddenly there would be a Lancia-Ferrari entering the pits. It would be the Ferrari of Fangio. He too would be in trouble. He would spend some time in the pits and would finally re-emerge. But, the lead would be lost. Once again, Collins would be right there to pick up the baton.
Heading into the final 10 laps of the race, Collins would hold onto a very narrow lead over Castellotti. Jean Behra would find himself in 3rd place but would have growing pressure from Fangio as he would do his best to storm his way back to the podium.
While Schell fell further down the running order, Fangio would be increasing his pace with every lap in an attempt to take away 3rd place from Behra. As with the Monaco Grand Prix, there would be little time left, but, there would be just enough that the Argentinean could make it work for him. Lap after lap, Fangio would reset the fastest lap time and the lap record.
Collins and Castellotti would be well out front and under no pressure as they headed into the final couple of laps. Jean Behra, however, would find Fangio getting alarmingly close heading into those same final couple of laps.
Not at all bothered by what was going on behind him, Collins would take his second victory of the season leading home a Ferrari one-two. Castellotti would earn a 2nd place result finishing three-tenths of a second behind. Then all attention would turn to the Thillois hairpin well off in the distance. The only remaining question would be who would arrive at the hairpin first?
Powering his way down the hill, it would be Behra ahead of Fangio by more than a couple of seconds. As he had at Monaco, Fangio would set the fastest lap of the race on the very last lap, but it would not be good enough to take away the position from the man just ahead of him. Jean Behra would hold onto 3rd place crossing the line 5 seconds ahead of Fangio, much to the delight of the French faithful assembled.
As for the Vanwall of Schell, Harry would keep his head throughout the remainder of the race and would manage to nurse the car to the checkered flag. He would eventually end the race down 5 laps in 10th place.
The Vandervell crew would endure yet another bittersweet grand prix. The cars had performed well numerous times throughout the weekend. Once again their cars would start from the front half of the grid. But nagging issues would lead to the promise being forfeit. The team would therefore head home left with just the promise of what tomorrow could bring.
The French Grand Prix at Reims posed one of the best opportunities for Vandervell. The circuit suited the Vanwall and the cars had shown quite a bit of promise before and during the race. Nonetheless, the team would come up empty when it was all said and done. Now, the team had to look toward the British Grand Prix, their home round of the World Championship. This race would come on the 14th of July and would take place at Silverstone. This was both a blessing and a curse for the team.
The debut of the new Vanwall could not have gone any better as Stirling Moss drove the car to victory in the BRDC International Trophy. That race was also held at Silverstone, and therefore, certainly seemed to suggest the circuit suited the car quite well. However, by Moss' own admission, the car was far from perfect, but it would be good enough to get the job done. Then there was Hawthorn and the BRM. He actually ruled the first dozen laps, and quite handily. So there were some concerns for the team coming into the British Grand Prix, despite the fact they were coming off of a rather frustrating French Grand Prix.
Stirling Moss would not be behind the wheel of the car. It was also quite likely there would be more than a couple of Ferraris entered in the race and that there reliability would be better than what it had been back in May. Another point of concern had to do with the Silverstone circuit. Chapman and Costin had built the car for out-right speed. The Silverstone circuit was certainly fast, but, it also demanded a car with good handling. Moss had made due and only found himself being chased by a couple of B-Type Connaughts instead of 250Fs and Lancia-Ferraris.
There would be another reality the team would have to face heading into the race as well. There would only be about two weeks in between the French and British grand prix and all three of the Vanwall chassis needed a fair amount of work to be done to them in order to have even a couple of cars available for the home grand prix. And so, while the team would work day and night to get its cars ready there were certainly had to be some subconscious thoughts as to the strength of their reliability.
The team would also have reason to be concerned just as they watched the seemingly endless line of teams and privateers arrive for the race. It was clear the British effort was growing, however, the four B-Type Connaughts and the three Owen Racing BRMs would only add to the team's uneasiness. To top it all off, Scuderia Ferrari would bring five of their D50s while the factory Maserati team would bring four of their latest 250Fs.
In practice, Stirling Moss would show that he made up a large part of the winning equation that took victory in the International Trophy race. He would take his factory Maserati out in practice and would set the fastest lap time of 1:41.0. This would beat out Ferrari's Fangio by mere hundredths of a second. Mike Hawthorn would show his fast pace behind the wheel of the BRM once again as he would be around 2 seconds slower than Moss but would take 3rd place on the front row grid. Peter Collins would complete the front row taking 4th place in another D50.
Mike Hawthorn would be back to BRM, and therefore, would leave a seat open with the team. Additionally, Colin Chapman would be back to concerning himself with car design and so would leave yet another seat open for the team. Harry Schell would be one of the drivers. Maurice Trintignant would return to drive another of the chassis. The final seat would be taken by a rather unlikely candidate. The first victory earned by Scuderia Ferrari in the Formula One World Championship would come in the British Grand Prix in 1951 at the hands of Jose Froilan Gonzalez. Then, in 1954, he would return to Ferrari and Silverstone to repeat the feat. Therefore, despite his having mostly retired from motor racing, Gonzalez would seem the perfect pick for Vandervell heading into the race.
Schell would continue to demonstrate the out-right speed of the Vanwall as he would be the fastest of the three in practice. Schell's fastest lap would be only about 3 seconds slower than Moss and would lead to Harry starting from the second row of the grid in the 5th place position. Gonzalez would come to show he had little rust on him as he too would lap in the 1:44 range and would end up on the second row of the grid next to Schell in the 6th place position. Trintignant would again show his focus was more on the race than qualifying as he would be 8 seconds slower than Moss and would end up on the fifth row of the grid in 16th position.
Aintree had served as host for the British Grand Prix the year before. The day of the race at Aintree would prove to be sunny and hot. Returning to Silverstone meant a return to the overcast conditions to which England would be most synonymous. Nonetheless, a large crowd would assemble around the circuit to witness the 101 lap show.
The cars would be assembled on the grid and their engines would come to a roar. The flag would be just about to drop as Gonzalez would inch forward from his middle position in the second row. Then, as the flag dropped, Gonzalez would step on the gas and would get away quite well from the grid. Unfortunately, it would not last very long as he would sheer a half shaft after about 50 yards. The rest of the field would have to part like the Red Sea to avoid hitting the Argentinean as he coasted over toward the pits out of the race after just a hundred yards.
Schell, on the other hand, would actually be rather slow off the line and would lose a couple of positions heading into Copse for the first time. Trintignant would use the chaos ahead of him caused by Gonzalez to his advantage and would actually manage to move forward as a result.
The leader through the first turn would be a little bit of a surprise. Having done the same thing a few months before, Hawthorn would jump off the line and would lead the field through the first turn. Tony Brooks, Hawthorn's teammate, would be very impressive at the start as he would jump up to 2nd place behind his teammate. Moss would have a poor start and would drop all the way down to 8th place while Fangio would be holding onto 3rd place in his Ferrari.
At the end of the first lap it would be Hawthorn and Brooks clearly ahead of the rest of the field. Fangio would hold onto 3rd place. Schell would overcome his rather subdued start and would push his way forward to 4th place, right behind Fangio. Trintignant would complete the first lap having climbed all the way up to 13th after starting 16th.
Hawthorn would continue to hold onto the lead but Brooks would begin to lose ground and would come under threat from Fangio. Schell had started out the race well running in 4th place right behind Fangio. He would stay right there through the first couple of laps. However, over the next few laps it would become clear not all was well with the Vanwall and he would begin to lose a lot of ground. At the end of the 3rd lap he would be down in 6th position. Then, he would come into the pits and would drop all the way down to 25th, or last. Trintignant would complete the first few laps of the race in a hotly contested battle with Jean Behra and Desmond Titterington. By the 6th lap he would be up to 12th place and just ahead of Behra.
At the same time Trintignant made his move on Behra, Fangio would be pressing the issue just behind Brooks. He would finally make his move and would take over the position. However, Brooks would not let Fangio go that easy and would return the pressure. Amazingly, it would seem to work as Fangio would spin and would drop all the way down to 6th place as a result. Brooks' efforts would be focused on Fangio. When Fangio spun and lost positions, Brooks would momentarily lose his concentration and would end up giving place to Stirling Moss and Roy Salvadori. By the 11th lap of the race Brooks would go from 2nd to 4th and would have Fangio not far behind him once again.
Trintignant would be Vandervell's brightest hope but he would be only sitting in 11th place sandwiched in between Titterington and Behra. Schell would be back on track but would still be running down in last place. It was obvious the home grand prix was not going well and was likely not to get any better.
It would be another frustrating episode for Hawthorn as he would lose ground to Moss and would end up losing the lead after 15 laps. While things were turning bad for Hawthorn, things could not get much worse for Vandervell. Trintignant would run into trouble and would begin to lose positions hand over foot.
By quarter distance the two remaining Vanwalls would be running 18th and 19th, which happened to be the last two positions on the circuit. Up at the front, Hawthorn's race would come to an end while Moss and Salvadori would be leading the way over Fangio and Brooks.
For a period of more than 30 laps it would be Moss leading the way while Salvadori impressed in 2nd place. Fangio, initially, would not be able to make up any ground as Salvadori gave it everything he had. However, over the last few laps leading up to the halfway point in the race Fangio would be making up a great deal of time as a tank strap would come loose on Salvadori's Maserati. Roy would have to make a stop to have the issue addressed and this would give Fangio 2nd place. At the same time, Schell would be making up some ground and would be up to 16th while Trintignant would still be mired-down in last place.
Moss would lead the way for more than 50 laps. He had been building an impressive margin over the rest of the field. However, over the last 5 to 10 laps it would become very obvious he was losing a lot of ground to Fangio. It was also clear by listening to the car as he went by that not all was well with the car. It would be just a matter of time before Fangio took the lead from the defending champion of the British Grand Prix.
The time would come just about 30 laps from the end of the race. Engine misfire issues had slowed Moss and would leave him without any possibility of defending. Fangio would take over the lead around the 70th lap of the race. Moss would lose the position but would not give up after having been in the lead for more than 50 laps. Just about the same time Moss would end up going into survival mode, the final nail would be driven into Trintignant's coffin. Fuel line problems would cause Trintignant to finally drop out of the race. Schell would still be in the race but would be quite a ways down in 14th position.
Just because of the sheer number of retirements in the race Schell would be making his way back up the running order. The retirement of Hermanos da Silva Ramos would help him to move up to 13th.
Fangio would use Moss' pace to his advantage as he enjoyed a very comfortable drive at the head of the field. Moss would still be in 2nd place but would be seemingly losing the battle. Schell's battle would finally come to an end after 85 laps when it was found he too had fuel line issues just like Trintignant.
Heading into the final 10 laps of the race all would seem set for the finish. However, just 7 laps from the end the gearbox in his Maserati would reach its end thereby bringing to an end one incredible performance by the race's defending champion.
Back in May, Moss would average a little more than 100 mph en route to victory in the Vanwall. A few months later, Fangio would average a little more than 98 mph to take his second victory of the 1956 season. Peter Collins would finish the race a little more than a lap behind in 2nd place while Jean Behra would finish a further lap behind in 3rd.
Vandervell would experience yet another bitterly disappointing race. Starting was certainly not the team's problem. It was finishing that was the main problem. The race would prove to be nothing like the last time the team had been at Silverstone. It was clear the issues Moss determined the car to have back in May still needed to be addressed for the future.
Following the failed British Grand Prix the team would set about making some changes and adjustments to the new Vanwall in order to make it even more competitive and, hopefully, more reliable. As a result of the team's focus on further preparing and sorting out the car there would not be a single entry at the German Grand Prix nor any of the non-championship events. It was clear the team's sole focus—the final World Championship round of the season.
The first non-championship and the second World Championship race for the team had proven to be the best for the new Vanwall chassis. After that, the car would continually suffer reliability problems. Therefore, the team would take the whole of August to thoroughly prepare its cars for one last out-right demonstration of speed. The Italian Grand Prix ended the 1956 Formula One World Championship and the race would take place on the 2nd of September at the ultra-fast Autodromo Nazionale Monza.
Situated on the River Lambro in the Lombardy region of Italy, Monza would actually first come to known existence during the days of the Roman Empire when it was known as Modicia. It would be here that the Romans subdued the Insubres, who were Gauls that had crossed over the Alps and settled in the area.
What is today known for the basilica of Saint John would actually be the site where Authari, the king of the Lombards, would build a small church for his wife, Theodelinda. This would be done during the 6th century after the Lombard invasion of Italy. The legend behind the small church would be that a dove would tell Theodelinda 'here' would be the spot that the small church was to be built. Her response would be 'yes', and the joining of these two words would be 'Modoetia', the medieval form of modern-day Monza.
How fitting it would be then that in the 20th century the Milan Automobile Club would set about construction of just a small 6.2 mile purpose-built circuit. And, as that small church would turn into modern-day Monza, the looped road course placed with care in the Royal Villa of Monza Park would become the site of great renown and pilgrimage amongst motor racing enthusiasts.
When the decision was made by the circuit's organizers to recreate the 6.2 mile looped road course circuit, but to include a steeply-banked oval to the original design, there could not have been a circuit more perfectly suited or built for the new Vanwall chassis. All about speed and having only a few fast corners, the circuit would still be all about the fastest way to complete 6.2 miles and that is all Chapman and Costin thought about as well.
If Vandervell Products was to find out just how good it could be against the mighty Italian machinery there was really only one place the team could go to thoroughly test itself. It too would have to invade the region to the other side of the Alps and it give it everything it had against the native population, the kingdom of Italian Red.
While not as big as the field for the British Grand Prix, the Italian Grand Prix would still boast quite a list of competitive cars and drivers. Vandervell would bring three cars to the final round of the World Championship. Harry Schell and Maurice Trintignant were certainly the regulars within the team. The third driver would not. The sportscar ace and World Championship race winner, Piero Taruffi, would be hired to put the third Vanwall through its paces.
But while the circuit seemed perfectly suited to the Vanwalls there would be some others that would find the conditions favorable. The most dominant car on the season because of its speed and reliability had been the Lancia-Ferraris. Therefore, it would be of little surprise, at least to the local population, when Ferrari would lock-out the entire front row. Fangio on the pole with a time of 2:42.6 certainly was no surprise. Castellotti's and Luigi Musso's presence in 2nd and 3rd would seemingly fit the narrative most believed would become the race.
No, the surprise would come in the second row of the grid. Despite having a one-off experience with the team, Taruffi would utilize the power and speed of the Vanwall to his advantage and would post a lap just under 3 seconds slower than Fangio. As a result, Taruffi, the winner of the 1952 Swiss Grand Prix, would earn the 4th place starting spot on the second row of the grid.
Harry Schell and Trintignant would be a little disappointing in their Vanwalls. Their best laps would be in the 2:50 range and would only allow them to start 10th and 11th. Being positioned down on the fourth row of the grid, the other two Vanwall drivers would have some work ahead of them over the course of the 50 lap race.
The conditions heading toward the start of the race would be warm and sunny but the humidity in the air seemed to suggest there would be some rain at some point during the race. But, the crowd and the drivers would put that aside and would focus on the start of the race. And, when the flag dropped to start the race the Ferraris of Castellotti and Musso would rocket into the lead of the race with Fangio following along quietly in 3rd. If there had been some concern over Schell and Trintignant starting rather far back some of that concern would be calmed at the start when Schell would make an absolutely torrid start and would end up right behind Fangio through the first half of the first lap. Taruffi would fall a couple of spots while Trintignant would seem content holding onto his position through the first lap.
There had been some concern over tires and suspension throughout practice as the bumpy concrete of the steeply-banked oval seemed determined to destroy suspensions. The sheer pace around the circuit also seemed determined to destroy tires. Sure enough, it would be just a matter of a few laps before such concerns started to become a reality. Castellotti and Musso would both be hit by delaminating tire treads and would be forced to come into the pits for new tires. This would promote Stirling Moss, who would jump up from 6th place, to the lead. After completing the first lap in 4th place behind Fangio, Schell would pass Fangio over the course of the second lap and would actually find himself in 2nd place when Moss was promoted to the lead. Taruffi would also find himself up into 5th place while Trintignant would begin to make his move and would be up to 7th after de Portago, Castellotti and Musso would be forced out of the top due to tire problems.
The Vanwall would come into its own over the first half of the race. By the 10th lap of the race Schell would be battling with Moss for the lead. Despite the bumpy concrete that seemed to be causing all kinds of problems for his teammates, Schell would seemingly float over the bumps and would keep the pressure on Moss.
Taruffi would not be so fortunate. After running well inside the top ten through the first 8 laps, Piero would lose a number of positions as a result of the conditions around the circuit. The pace and the sheer beating the car would get around the circuit would lead to an oil leak developing within the car. This would drop Taruffi all the way down to just about 10th place before he returned to the race. Though he would return, it would be a short role he would play as he would retire just 3 laps later as a result of suspension failure on top of the oil leak problem.
While Taruffi was out, Schell continued to run strong, and Trintignant was looking ever-consistent in 5th place. The Vanwalls were showing their potential and were actually handling the conditions better than their Italian rivals.
But then, on the 14th lap of the race, another Vanwall would take a hit. Trintignant had been carrying on without a problem and had been running well in 5th place when his rear suspension started to fail. He would come into the pits and would promptly retire. This left just Schell to take on the might of the Italians.
But it was working. Moss continued to hold onto the lead, but Schell continued to hold onto Moss, threaten him even. The pace quickened. It was believed the battle between the two would come down to which one had the failure first. Schell would stay right there. Over the course of more than 20 laps Moss and Schell would lap the circuit nose-to-tail in a tremendous display of speed, control and respect.
Soon, Schell would come under pressure himself as Musso and Peter Collins began to increase their pace. Schell, however, wouldn't have to worry about the pressure. As it would turn out, he would be the first to break. Having completed 32 laps and survived the bumpy banking without a problem of any kind, the transmission would end up giving Schell problems and he would be forced to retire from the race after a truly spirited battle with Moss. The Vanwalls had showed their talent and their strength. Unfortunately, it would not be enough to supplant the Italians.
Moss continued to carry on in the lead of the race despite Musso having gained ground. But then Moss would run into trouble of his own. The fight with Schell would end up leading to Moss pushing harder than he likely planned. And, with just 5 laps remaining in the race, his car would be dead in the water as it ran out of fuel. However, with the help of Luigi Piotti pushing him around to the pits, Moss would be able to refuel and rejoin the race. His pace during his fight with Schell would be such that he would manage to retain 2nd place when he returned, but it seemed of little consolation to Moss as Musso was clearly ahead with just a few laps remaining in the race.
But the race wasn't over yet. After a brief rain shower changed the complexion of the race a little during the first half of the race, the ongoing tire problems would still have a role to play even right up to the very end; Musso would find this out having just 3 laps remaining before the checkered flag.
Musso seemed to be handed victory until, with just 3 laps remaining in the race, his Lancia-Ferrari would, yet again, throw a tread. This would lead to him having to come into the pits where he would retire on the spot. The lead would be back in Moss' hands.
And so the race would run out with Moss taking the win by 6 seconds over Fangio who would finish in Collins' Lancia-Ferrari after Fangio had emerged from his own Ferrari after the steering became bent. Ron Flockhart would surprise just about everyone by finishing the race a little over a lap behind in 3rd place.
It had been perhaps the best race of the season, at least when it came to World Championship events. Schell had battled for the lead and certainly looked capable of maintaining the fight with anyone he chose. It was a good sign. But, there were certainly some bad signs as well. The team had put up a fight, but it would head home licking some wounds. Italian dominance was still intact, for now.
On a whole, the 1956 season would be a much more encouraging season for the team. The Chapman/Costin design had proven to turn a corner for the young team. They had a good basis upon which to build for the future. Chapman would set to work addressing some of the short-comings of the car. And if he could do anything like what he did with the new car design the Vanwalls would become one of the cars to beat for the '57 season.
By the middle of the 1955 season tensions had reached their breaking point and seemed to leave the team aimless and wounded. The sudden arrival of Chapman and Costin would revive the team's hopes. By the end of the 1956 season Vandervell would finally be able to set his sights toward the goal he had all along: 'the first British car to take on and beat the famous Italian teams.'