The most dominant car throughout the first couple of seasons of the Formula One World Championship had been Alfa Romeo's 158 and 159. Over the course of 1950 and 1951, the two chassis types had been able to rack up an incredible record of nine-straight victories. By the middle-to-late part of the 1951 season the 159 had reached its developmental end, as well as, the end of its dominance. While Juan Manuel Fangio had managed to earn the World Championship, a new team had arisen to dominancy and it wouldn't be until the end of the 1953 season that the full measure of its dominance could be measured.
1951 had been a bitter disappointment for Scuderia Ferrari. Alberto Ascari had been on the verge of his, and Ferrari's, first World Championship. Had it not been for a tire choice in the heat of the last race of the season it could have been Ascari that could have been champion at the end of the season. However, it would be Fangio earning the first of his five World Drivers' titles.
For someone like Enzo Ferrari and Alberto Ascari, the bitter frustration of the near-miss season on served to be like gasoline on an already burning fire. They would have greater focus, but they would also have greater drive. This would be very important heading into the 1952 season.
Changes were made for the 1952 season. Costs in Formula One were reaching incredible heights and competition was lacking. Ferrari was well and truly the only competitive team at the end of 1951. Alfa Romeo's departure at the end of the season only fueled the need for the series' governing-body to make some changes.
In humility, Ferrari expected these changes and had already developed its new Ferrari 500 F2 chassis. When the governing-body made the decision to switch and run the World Championship according to Formula 2 regulations, Scuderia Ferrari was ready.
The car was made ready. Systems and components were tested thoroughly to ensure reliability. And when the season got underway it would be Ferrari that seemed all alone. Piero Taruffi would get the season off on a good foot at the Swiss Grand Prix. From then on, it would be an Alberto Ascari exhibition. By the time of the Grand Prix of the Netherlands, Ascari had already won the World Championship title. It was all about records from then on, and for good reason.
In every World Championship race in which a Ferrari 500 had been entered during 1952 the car had won. The 1953 season would be an opportunity to keep adding to the streak and write some truly impressive records, even more so than the timeless Alfa Romeo 158 Alfetta.
In an attempt to re-write the record books, Enzo would do all he could to stack the deck in his favor. In late 1952, after his impressive performance in the rain at Boreham, Ferrari would approach the young British driver Mike Hawthorn about driving for the team in 1953. Hawthorn was offered a contract. After just one season driving a Cooper-Bristol T20 under his father's team name, Hawthorn had moved up to the best team in the paddock.
Hawthorn would join forces with a list of incredible drivers including World Champions Alberto Ascari and Giuseppe Farina. In addition, the very capable and talented Luigi Villoresi would complete the team's incredible driver line-up. Another couple of drivers would join the team and drive in special races but the line-up of Ascari, Farina, Hawthorn and Villoresi would be the gauntlet in which every other competitor had to contend in order to have a chance at the World Championship title.
1952 had seen the Formula One World Championship change and run according to Formula 2 regulations. Another change would come along for the 1953 season. In 1953, the World Championship would truly become a World Championship.
The first race of the 1953 grand prix season wouldn't be a non-championship race in South America as had become the custom over the previous couple of seasons. Instead, the first race of the 1953 season would be a World Championship event. On the 18th of January, the best teams and drivers would be in Argentina, South America for the 1st Argentina Grand Prix.
The Argentina Grand Prix was very much the result of President Juan Peron. In his overriding desire to promote the race for his own purposes, the 1st Argentina Grand Prix would be a truly tragic affair.
At the time of the race in 1953, the circuit, which was named Autodromo 17 de Octobre, consisted of a 2.61 mile circuit situated in the southern part of Buenos Aires. The circuit's location in a flat plain allowed spectators almost unlimited views of the entire circuit. This made the circuit a popular venue with spectators. This was something Peron was keen to take advantage of when the World Championship arrived in 1953. Upon coming to the circuit for the race, all of the teams would be greeted with an incredible throng of spectators. Peron had announced entry into the race would be free. This brought people out in force, a multitude too great to be controlled.
Another entity that couldn't be controlled was Alberto Ascari. Picking up right where he left off in 1952, Alberto would take his Ferrari 500 and would turn the fastest lap in practice. His time around the 2.61 mile circuit would be one minute, fifty-five and four-tenths seconds. This would be good enough for the pole, but it wasn't the blowout he had gotten used to the season before.
Juan Manuel Fangio hadn't taken part in the 1952 season. However, it wasn't the result of his desire not to. Arriving late to the Monza Grand Prix, the tired Fangio would crash his Maserati A6GCM and would severely injure himself. He would have to take the rest of the season off just to recuperate.
In 1953, Fangio was back. Whether rusty, or, because Ascari and Ferrari 500 combination was just that good, Fangio would only be able to start the race 2nd. His time in practice was only seven-tenths of a second slower, however.
Fangio would find himself surrounded by Scuderia Ferrari. The rest of the four-wide front row consisted of Luigi Villoresi, with a time of one minute, fifty-six and five-tenths seconds, and Giuseppe Farina. The entire front row, unlike many races the season before, would be separated by less than two seconds.
The fourth Ferrari driver, Mike Hawthorn, would take his Ferrari 500 and would turn in a lap time of one minute and fifty-nine seconds. This would end up placing him in the middle of the three-wide second row.
The 97 lap race would start without incident. Ascari would have the lead but would be under great pressure from Fangio. Ascari and Fangio continued to stretch out their advantage over the rest of the field. Giuseppe Farina would get by Villoresi for 3rd place and was doing his best to give chase.
Due to Peron's declaration almost every foot of the circuit was deep with spectators. This incredible crowd, while enthusiastic because of Fangio's presence right at the back of Ascari also brought a major threat to the proceedings as well.
The first part of the race would carry on without any problems. Then, throughout the 20th to 24th laps of the race, there would be a few retirements. A couple of the first retirements would come as a result of wheel failures. Then on the 24th lap of the race, Equipe Gordini's driver, Carlo Menditeguy, would have his gearbox fail on him thereby ending his race.
Ascari continued to be hounded by Fangio. The Argentinean kept the incredible crowd on the edge of the seats and the circuit. It was certainly too much to take. Unfortunately, the excitement would get to the crowd after about the 30th lap of the race.
While giving chase of Ascari and Fangio, Farina would find himself face-to-face with a nightmare. The great throng of spectators lined the circuit right up to its edge. In an effort to have a better view and cheer on the passing cars, a young boy would make his way onto the circuit. Farina would come around to find the child right in front of him. Farina would grab the wheel and jerk it in an effort to avoid missing the wayward spectator. Farina's haste action would cause his Ferrari to go into a spin and go plowing into the immense crowd gathered by the side of the circuit. He would strike a number of spectators. Five spectators, for sure, would be killed on the spot. It was a terrible and somber moment in the race. And it would almost be repeated some time later.
While the injured and grief-stricken spectators would continue to be cared for, the race would go on. Unfortunately for the Argentineans, the mood around the circuit would only darken seven laps after Farina's wild effort to save a life. Fangio was desperately hunting Ascari. However, the toll taken on his Maserati would exact more than it could give. And, on the 37th lap, Fangio's race would come to an end when his prop shaft failed. The failure of Fangio, and the unfortunate retirement of Farina, left Ascari out front all by himself. It would allow him to disappear into the distance just as he had the season before.
The only battles left on the circuit existed behind Ascari. Ascari had set the fastest lap of the race with a time that was seven seconds faster than his qualifying effort. This effectively allowed Ascari to disappear into the distance, and even threatened to put those in the top five a lap down. Villoresi was running relatively safe in 2nd place. However, Mike Hawthorn and Jose Froilan Gonzalez were locked in a battle for what was 3rd place after the retirements of Farina and Fangio. At the time of Fangio's departure from the race, Hawthorn held onto 3rd place, but he was being threatened by Gonzalez just as Ascari had been threatened by Fangio earlier in the race.
About a third of the race distance remained in the race. All of a sudden, it seemed there was the potential for a repeat of the tragic events that had occurred earlier in the day. Robert Manzon, one of Equipe Gordini's drivers, had started the race from the third row in the 8th place starting position and was fighting hard to move forward. However, with 30 laps remaining in the race the wheel would come off his T16. The wheel would fly off the track and would threaten to hit the spectators. While it would fly into the crowd, the wheel seemingly didn't strike or injure any of the spectators. This would be one bright spot for event.
Alberto Ascari would experience nothing but bright spots over the course of the 97 laps. Fangio's and Farina's departure only enabled Ascari to blast around the circuit without fear of losing the lead. Feeling such freedom, Ascari would even manage to lap the entire field before the end of the race. His last victim, his good friend Luigi Villoresi would end up being victimized with just a few laps remaining in the race.
Averaging a little more than 77 mph, Ascari would complete the 97 laps in a little more than three hours and one minute and would enjoy a margin of victory greater than a lap over his Ferrari teammate.
The only remaining battle on the circuit had been Hawthorn and Gonzalez. Hawthorn maintained 3rd place throughout a good majority of the race. However, late in the race, Gonzalez put together a strong charge for 3rd place. Hawthorn was under more pressure than he could sustain. And, late in the race, Hawthorn would succumb to the pressure and would relinquish 3rd place to Gonzalez. Gonzalez would then hold on to finish in the 3rd position a lap behind Ascari and about fourteen seconds in front of Hawthorn.
The season had started out the way Scuderia Ferrari had hoped, with the exception of Farina's unfortunate involvement in the tragic events that marred the race. Were it not for the tragic event, Ferrari more than likely could have swept the podium. As it were, Ascari would leave the race with the points lead. Villoresi would also celebrate with his 2nd place position on the podium and in the championship standings. While the mood at Ferrari was one of celebration, not all associated with the team was in that happy of a mood. Farina was understandably bothered by the day's events and Hawthorn had lost a potential 3rd place result.
The victory had made it seven in a row for Ascari. After the victory to get the 1953 kicked off on a bright note it would be a long wait before the next round of the World Championship. In fact, the next round that qualified for the World Championship would take place further north in Indianapolis, Indiana at the end of May. While waiting for the next round of the World Championship, and before heading back to Europe, Scuderia Ferrari would take part in one more race held in South America.
Many of the competitors would remain around the Buenos Aires area after the first round of the World Championship because President Peron wasn't done hosting grand prix races just yet. Despite the tragedy that had taken the life of at least one spectator, the Autodromo Oscar Galvez would host just one more grand prix. It would be a Formula One race and it would take place on the 1st of February.
Scuderia Ferrari would enter four cars in the race. Three of them were the current Ferrari 500 chassis. One of them would be the manufacturer's potent Ferrari 375 chassis. The 375 would be driven by Ascari, while Farina, Villoresi and Hawthorn would all drive the 500.
The race was a 40 lap venture around the 2.42 mile circuit. Ascari's race would last just two laps. A connecting rod would fail in his 375 thereby bringing about an end to his race. He would be just one of ten that would fail to make it the race distance.
Mike Hawthorn had begun to come to grips with his new car and had managed to turn what would be the fastest lap of the race with a time of two minutes and twenty-two seconds. However, in spite of his fastest lap time, there was little Hawthorn could do in order to keep up with his other Ferrari teammates.
Just two weeks after having plowed into the crowd and killing at least one spectator, Giuseppe Farina was back behind the wheel of his Ferrari 500 and mixed up in an incredible duel with Luigi Villoresi. Throughout the course of the event the two were locked in a pitched battle for position. Neither one could escape from the other. The battle would rage to the very last.
In the end, Farina would overcome the tragic setback he experienced a couple of weeks earlier and would win the race by a mere tenth of a second in front of Luigi Villoresi. Mike Hawthorn would also look rather impressive in the third Ferrari 500. Even though about a minute and twenty seconds behind at the finish Hawthorn would end the race in 3rd place. Had Ascari managed to make it through the race Scuderia Ferrari could have likely taken the first-four positions in the results. As it were, the team would have to settle for taking every spot on the podium.
With the Formula One race over, the team could begin packing up and head back to Europe. Although the team would skip the Indianapolis 500 in 1953 there were still plenty of non-championship races waiting back in Europe.
After the long voyage back to Europe, the first non-championship race in which the team would take part in 1953 would take place on the island of Sicily on the 22nd of March in Syracuse. The race was the 3rd Gran Premio di Siracusa and it took place around the 3.34 mile public road course to the west of the small city.
The season before, the Gran Premio di Siracusa had been an absolute whitewash by Ferrari. Ascari had taken the victory. Piero Taruffi and Giuseppe Farina and finished the race 2nd and 3rd. In addition to the podium sweep by Scuderia Ferrari, Rudolf Fischer, also driving a Ferrari 500 F2, would make it four Ferrari chassis in the first-four positions in the results. It had been an incredible race for the manufacturer from Maranello. Enzo had hoped the 1953 edition of the race would be a repeat. What would transpire would be something of a total surprise.
Located on the site believed to be the former location of the United States Army Air Force Cassibile Airfield, the public road course stretched for 3.40 miles to the west of the main train station. Wide open, the terrain upon which the circuit ran undulated throughout the course of a lap. This provided the spectators interesting vantage points along the circuit.
In 1953, the spectators would witness what had become a very familiar sight. Ascari would turn the fastest lap time during practice and would take yet another pole-position. He would be joined on the front row by his Scuderia Ferrari teammates. Giuseppe Farina would start 2nd while Luigi Villoresi would start the race 3rd. Mike Hawthorn couldn't match the pace of his fellow Ferrari teammates. As with the first round of the World Championship, Hawthorn had no experience at the Syracuse road course. Therefore, he would be beaten for the 4th place starting position. Emmanuel de Graffenried, driving a Maserati A6GCM would take the spot. Hawthorn would start 5th and from the second row.
The race was 80 laps of the 3.40 mile circuit. Right from the very beginning of the race there was trouble for Scuderia Ferrari. On the 3rd lap of the race, Villoresi would be forced to retire. His Ferrari had developed valve trouble and was unable to keep going.
After another couple of retirements by fellow competitors trouble would again revisit the Ferrari squad. Alberto Ascari, despite the ill that had befallen his friend and teammate, was driving without care or concern. Throughout the course of the first thirty or so laps, Ascari had been fast and had been able to draw away from the rest of the field. A fastest lap time of two minutes and five seconds would help him do this. However, on the 37th lap of the race, his race would also come to an end due to valve trouble. This was highly irregular for the team. But it would only get more stranger.
After Ascari's car suffered its failure the team principals decided that it was important for Alberto to carry on. Therefore, it was demanded that Hawthorn pit in order to turn his car over to Ascari for the remainder of the race.
The remainder of the race would be just twenty laps. Ascari had taken over Hawthorn's Ferrari and continued on his way, attempting to regain lost positions, and perhaps, pull out a good result despite the trouble. However, just twenty laps after retiring due to valve trouble in his Ferrari, Ascari would again pull to the side of the road. Hawthorn's Ferrari had come to develop valve trouble as well! This meant there were three Ferraris parked by the side of the circuit. This was an incredibly strange occurrence, but the race would prove to have another surprise up its sleeve before it was all over.
By the time there were only 20 laps remaining in the race, Giuseppe Farina was the lone Ferrari driver left in the race. However, if there was one capable of nursing a car home it would be Farina with his smooth driving style. Nonetheless, he was all alone against the remainder of the field. Emmanuel de Graffenried, who had started the race from 4th place, was now in a place of command. Louis Chiron, driving a new OSCA 20 chassis, was now up inside the top three and looking good. He would look even better with just 19 laps remaining.
In what would be the first time in well over two years, not a single Scuderia Ferrari car would finish a race. While there had been many cases where only one team car had managed to make it to the finish, there still had been at least one, if not more, to make it to the end of a race. But in Syracuse in 1953, there would not be one that would make it. And it would be the first time the Ferrari 500 chassis had shown really any sign of weakness. Giuseppe Farina, with just nineteen laps to go, would suffer a mechanical problem with his Ferrari. Just like that, the Gran Premio di Siracusa had wiped out the entire Scuderia Ferrari fleet.
The self-destruction of the Ferrari team left the door wide open to the other competitors in the race. It would be de Graffenried that would take advantage of the opportunity presented. Once the Ferraris were out of the race it was all over. It was over not so much from a fan's point of view but in reality. Farina's departure left de Graffenried in the lead and well and truly all by himself. He could have gotten out of his car and pushed it the remaining nineteen laps and still had a chance at victory.
Emmanuel de Graffenried would keep things together over the remaining nineteen laps and would cross the finish line, after two hours and fifty-seven minutes, the race's champion. He would finish over a minute before Louis Chiron. While Chiron would finish the race close to a minute and a half behind de Graffenried, he was; in all actuality, three laps behind. Rodney Nuckey, the 3rd place finisher, would cross the line in far worse shape than Chiron. Nuckey would end up being six laps behind de Graffenried at the finish.
In the case of Scuderia Ferrari, there was an obvious reason for concern. Never perhaps before had the team imploded as it had during the race. The team would need, if possible, to locate the source of the trouble and rectify the problem. The World Championship had just begun. There were too many races left, too many opportunities that could go terribly wrong if the problem wasn't to be found. The next race would make things much more clear.
In 1952, the first round of the French Formula 2 Championship would be the Grand Prix de Pau. All of the rounds of the French Formula 2 Championship were three hour timed races. The next race of the 1953 season for Scuderia Ferrari would be the Grand Prix de Pau on the 6th of April. Though the race would be a three hour timed race it would not; however, be part of a French Formula 2 Championship. In fact, the French Championship wouldn't even exist in 1953. This perhaps was due to the fact the first three positions in the French Championship's standings ended up being occupied by Italians driving for Scuderia Ferrari.
The Grand Prix de Pau in 1953 was the 14th running of the grand prix. The race was held on the 6th of April and was a tough affair of navigating the tight and twisty streets of Pau for three hours.
Situated on the side of a hill overlooking the Gave de Pau river, the city bearing the river's name sits at something of a crossroads between the Atlantic Ocean, the Pyrenees and Spain. The birthplace of Henry IV of France and the residence of Napoleon III, Pau was the birthplace of Elf Auitaine, and therefore, was the perfect place to hold a motor race. While the city may have been a perfect place to hold a race, the circuit would be anything but a haven for the wealthy to enjoy some motorsports.
Tighter than the streets of Monaco, the Pau circuit would only enable cars at that point in time to lap the circuit with average speeds in excess of about 55 mph. The slow average speeds were largely the result of the numerous hairpin turns that comprised the circuit. In all, there are about four hairpin turns over the course of a circuit that measures little more than 1.75 miles in length. Three of the four are incredible tight, while the fourth is barely faster than the others. Filled with elevation change, what the circuit lacks in out-right speed is more than eclipsed by the testing of a competitor's courage. To be fast requires bravery. But there are, and were, a number of sections that feature absolutely blind entries, to the point it would test and unnerve a driver so much that it would want to make him left off the throttle in order to be sure. This was and is never more true that coming down the hill and through the left-right Foch section of the course.
After the self-destruction of the team at Syracuse it would have been totally understandable if the Scuderia Ferrari team had been a little cautious through the streets of Pau. However, each one of the drivers would be anything but cautious.
Scuderia Ferrari came to the race with three cars. Alberto Ascari would be joined by Giuseppe Farina and Mike Hawthorn for the three hour race. Luigi Villoresi would not even be with the team in Pau. In practice, none would be faster than the three Ferrari drivers. Of the Ferrari competitors, Ascari would again be fastest. He would lap the circuit and record a best time of one minute, thirty-nine and two-tenths of a second. Farina would be slower than Ascari, but only just. His time would be only one-tenth slower. Nonetheless, Farina would start the race from the middle of the three-wide front row. Hawthorn would also start from the front row for the first time all season. His best time was exactly a second slower than Ascari and good enough to start 3rd. The only other competitors well and truly close to any of the Ferrari drivers were Jean Behra and Maurice Trintignant. However, each of them would be around two seconds off Ascari's pace around the slow and tight Pau circuit.
Behra's attempt to supplant the three Ferrari Musketeers would end after only six laps. Pushing hard around the circuit, Behra would make a mistake and would suffer a crash. Other than Trintignant, Behra had been the main threat to Ferrari. He was now gone from the race very early on. So too were the Ferraris.
Ascari and Farina held down the point at the head of the field. The two of them would push the pace from the front. They would be closely followed by Hawthorn. It seemed the three Ferraris would just run in lock-step and claim yet another sweep of the podium. However, around the streets of Pau, all it would take would be one little mistake and it could all be over.
Around an hour into the race, it would all come a cropper for Giuseppe Farina. He, like Behra, would be caught pushing a little too hard. Farina would make an error in judgment and would just get a corner wrong. He would crash and his race was over. This left the door open to any of the other competitors.
It didn't matter whether Ascari was being threatened from behind, or, if he was running all by himself; he was fast. He would go on to set what would be the fastest lap of the race. As he had in the first round of the World Championship, Ascari would turn a fastest lap time in the race that would actually be faster than his time in qualifying. The time, three-tenths faster, would enable him to thoroughly pull away from Hawthorn and the rest of the field.
The race was filled with disappointment for some of the competitors and real excitement for others. Maurice Trintignant had started the race from the 5th place position on the grid. His race would come just after the two-thirds mark of the race when he would run into trouble. Johnny Claes would start the race from the 8th position, but his race would come to an end after he spun his Connaught A-Type chassis and couldn't get it re-fired. While the race would come undone for Trintignant, Claes and others, it would come together for another competitor.
The Pau circuit was slow and tight. This made it perfect for the smooth driver, but it also made it a good site for those that were more prone to throw their cars around. Perhaps no one fit the later definition more than Harry Schell. Known for his cursing and yelling while throwing his car into and out of corners, Schell had started the race all the way down in 11th place, but was on an absolute charge. By the time Trintignant made his departure from the race, Schell was up inside the top five and looking to climb even higher.
Ascari dominated the entire race. Averaging 60 mph, he would complete 106 laps within the three hour time span and would finish the race with a full lap lead over his fellow Ferrari teammate, the young Mike Hawthorn. Three laps would separate Hawthorn from the 3rd place finisher.
After starting the race all the way down in 11th place, Schell would put in one of the best performances of his career and would climb all the way up to finish the race 3rd. This was an incredible result for the soon to be thirty-two year old.
Scuderia Ferrari followed up its self-destruction at Syracuse with another impressive victory. It seemed the trouble had been isolated and fixed. Ferrari was back to its winning ways. Not only that, the race only further cemented the Ferrari 500 F2 legend, which continued to grow with every race in which it competed.
The next race in which the Ferrari 500 F2 for Scuderia Ferrari would compete wouldn't come until early May. France had proven to be a welcome country to the team from Maranello. They hoped Bordeaux would continue the warm reception.
In early May, the Scuderia Ferrari team made its way to Bordeaux, France for the 3rd Grand Prix de Bordeaux. It would be the first time in which the team would make its way to the capital of the wine industry. They had hoped they would have something to toast to at the conclusion of the race.
The site of the Bordeaux Grand Prix was the large city square known as Place des Quinconces. Positioned on a site formerly used to prevent rebellion against the city during the French Revolution, the Place features a number of sculptures and monuments. The principal of the monuments located at the site consists of two rostral columns. These were dedicated to those where became victims during the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.
Coming into the race, the French fans were hoping for a French revolution of a different sort. They were looking and hoping for an upset of the reign of Scuderia Ferrari over the whole of Europe.
Unfortunately for the French faithful, it would be more of the same, but with a slight twist. Luigi Villoresi had been absent from the team when Ferrari traveled down toward the Pyrenees mountains for the Grand Prix de Pau. However, he would be back with the team when the arrived in Bordeaux. He wouldn't just be back with the team, he would come back in strength. In practice, Villoresi would clip his good friend Ascari for the fastest lap time. Villoresi's time of one minute, twenty-three and six-tenths seconds would be one-tenth faster than Ascari's best. This would earn Luigi a welcome pole position. Ascari would start beside his friend on the front row. Absent from the front row would be Ferrari's third car.
Just six days after the running of the Grand Prix de Bordeaux, Silverstone Circuit in England would serve as host once again for the BRDC International Trophy race. Since this was Mike Hawthorn's home nation a contingent of Scuderia Ferrari would be dispatched with Hawthorn for the race. Therefore, Ascari, Villoresi and Farina would be the team's drivers in Bordeaux.
Compared to his teammates, Farina would struggle, but not by much. Farina's best time would be one minute, twenty-four and two-tenths seconds. Maurice Trintignant would set virtually the same time but would be just slightly faster. Therefore, while Trintignant would start from the front row in the 3rd position, Farina would start from the second row in 4th position.
The 3rd Grand Prix de Bordeaux would be a 120 lap affair around the 1.52 mile circuit and would add up to what would be a total of 183 miles. The race got underway on the 3rd of May.
Immediately, Ascari took the fight to his friend and Ferrari teammate. But the two men would need to watch out behind them. Although they began to pull away from Trintignant, Giuseppe Farina and an almost forgotten about Juan Manuel Fangio were making their way up the order from behind.
Farina looked destined to make the biggest splash when he managed to turn in a lap time of one minute and twenty-four seconds. The time was only a few tenths of a second slower than his best qualifying effort and better than even Ascari and Villoresi. Just about the time things were really looking good for Farina they would all come to an end. Just three laps away from halfway the gear selector would fail in Farina's Ferrari 500. This brought Farina's effort to an end. This would open the door to Fangio.
Fangio had started the race in 8th place. By the time of Farina's departure from the race, he was up inside the top four. Farina's retirement would promote him up the running order, but there was little he could do with the friends running together out front.
Nobody could touch Luigi Villoresi or Alberto Ascari. Ascari had moved his way past Villoresi and had drawn away a good distance. Even though Fangio was sitting in 3rd place, the pace of the two out ahead of him was such that Fangio was of little threat, even to Villoresi.
Before the end of the 120 lap race, it would just be the good friends on the same lap. Even Fangio would go down a lap to Ascari and was even in the sites of Villoresi by the time the two crossed the line at the end of the race. Ascari had carried on in usual fashion and had again scored victory on French soil. He would win the race by about fifty seconds over Villoresi. Juan Manuel Fangio had finished the race in 3rd place.
Scuderia Ferrari had fully returned to dominance after the worrying events in Syracuse, Sicily. While the team would still face troubles and failures, it seemed that any one of the team's drivers could win at any given race. This theory would be tested at the very next race.
Since coming to drive for Scuderia Ferrari, Mike Hawthorn had been largely overshadowed by his Italian teammates. He was still getting used to the car, as well as, some circuits he had never seen before. However, on the 9th of June, Hawthorn was in a familiar setting with the most dominant car of that time. The only thing was…he came alone.
Mike Hawthorn came to the next race of the season already bearing the pressure of driving for Scuderia Ferrari. Now, Hawthorn would have the added pressure of being the only driver for Scuderia Ferrari at a race in his home country. The race was the 5th Daily Express BRDC International Trophy race and it was held at the Silverstone Circuit in Towcester, England.
The year before, Hawthorn had looked impressive. He had little experience driving in the more major levels of grand prix racing, but, he would go on to win his heat after starting it from the pole. He looked good for a pleasant result in the final but his race would come undone. He would end up way off the pace in his Cooper-Bristol T20 and would end up not classified in the results though he was still running at the end.
1953 looked to be different. Hawthorn was certainly more experienced than what he had been the year before. On top of that, he had come to the race with the most dominant car of that time. Although he would be Scuderia Ferrari's only hope, he would have reason for confidence; something Hawthorn never really struggled for in the first place.
As with the previous editions of the International Trophy race the event would include a couple of heat races and a final. Also, as with previous years, the race wouldn't be without talent. Each heat would have a number of incredible talented drivers and machines capable of taking victory.
Twenty entries would be listed in the first heat. Among the twenty to take part in the first heat, the most prominent names included Stirling Moss, Louis Rosier, Hans Stuck and Emmanuel de Graffenried. In addition to the names, the 1953 running of the International Trophy race would include Maserati's A6GCM chassis and it would prove very fast.
In practice before the start of the first heat, Emmanuel de Graffenried would be fastest in a Maserati A6GCM. His time around the 2.88 mile former airbase would be one minute and fifty-one seconds. This time would end up being untouchable as the rest of the front row would be occupied by drivers that were only capable of turning laps down in the low one minute and fifty-four second range. This meant de Graffenried was around three seconds faster than Bob Gerard, Tony Rolt and Kenneth McAlpine who would join de Graffenried on the front row.
While de Graffenried would have little to no competition in practice, the race would be an entirely different story altogether. In the 15 lap first heat there would be a couple of entries, Joe Kelly and Bill Aston, who would be out of the running before the heat had even completed four laps. Emmanuel de Graffenried was out front, but he wouldn't be without company.
Bob Gerard would end up leaving too early at the start and would incur a time penalty. Even though he would be slapped with a penalty, Gerard couldn't keep up with some of the other competitors during the race. Stirling Moss had qualified 8th for the race with a time of one minute and fifty-eight seconds. However, during the actual heat race he would match de Graffenried's fastest lap time with a lap of one minute and fifty-four seconds. This was four seconds faster than his qualifying effort and more than enough to climb up the running order and keep in touch with de Graffenried.
At the end of the first heat, de Graffenried wouldn't dominate as he had during practice. He would end up winning but by only a margin of five seconds over Stirling Moss. The top six would be separated by less than a minute. But while the times were close it was apparent the Maserati A6GCM was an extremely strong competitor. This would be given further credence when Prince Bira would manage to take his Maserati A6GCM and get by McAlpine, Rolt and Gerard to finish the heat in 3rd place only twenty-two seconds behind de Graffenried's finishing time.
It was now time for Hawthorn to uphold his Italian team's honor. He had, arguably, the best car. It was time to show what he could do with it. However, in practice, in would be Ken Wharton that would look most impressive.
Wharton would take his Cooper-Bristol T23 and would record a lap time of one minute and fifty-two seconds. This was a second slower than de Graffenried's pole time in the first heat, but it would end up being one second faster than the time of the 2nd place starter, which would be Hawthorn. Louis Chiron would continue to impress in the OSCA 20 as he would start the second heat from the 3rd position on the front row. He too had set a time down in the one minute and fifty-three second range. The rest of the front row would be concluded with Maurice Trintignant.
If Stirling Moss had made the first heat rather close, then the second would seem like Wharton and Hawthorn were stuck together. Right from the start of the race, Hawthorn would push hard. He knew what was capable given times from the first and second heat. He had managed to get around Wharton for the lead but would be hounded incessantly by Wharton. Roy Salvadori, who had driven Hawthorn's car the season before when Hawthorn got injured, would continue to make his way up from his 6th place starting spot and was also within striking distance.
Being pressed by Wharton, Hawthorn would turn what would be the fastest lap of the heat with a time of one minute and fifty-one seconds. This time was practically equal to de Graffenried's qualifying effort for the first heat and was certainly faster than the fastest lap of the first heat. The main thing, as far as Hawthorn was concerned, was to not put a foot wrong at any time while under the pressure.
Hawthorn continued lap after lap under intense pressure from Ken Wharton. Always one to enjoy a challenge, Hawthorn would handle Wharton's challenge and wouldn't put a wheel wrong the entire 15 laps of the second heat. Despite the pressure, Hawthorn would win the second heat with a time of twenty-eight minutes and twenty-three seconds. He would cross the line the victor of the second heat by only one-tenth of a second. Roy Salvadori would finish the race in 3rd with a time of twenty-nine minutes and thirteen seconds, a time fifty seconds slower than that of Hawthorn.
Starting grid positions for the 35 lap final were determined by finishing times of each competitor in their respective heat. This meant Hawthorn would start the final from the pole as his finishing time would be thirty-six second faster than that of de Graffenried. In fact, since Wharton finished only a second behind Hawthorn, he would start the race from the 2nd place position on the start grid. After Wharton came de Graffenried and Moss to round-out the front row.
The final consisted of 35 laps of the 2.88 mile circuit. The race would start with Hawthorn leading the field but closely chased by Wharton and de Graffenried. Hawthorn would push hard in the early laps of the race. In his haste, he would set a fast lap time of one minute and fifty-one seconds, practically matching his best time from the second heat. Emmanuel de Graffenried, knowing he too could turn lap times in the one minute and fifty-one second range, was pushing hard. Soon, he would turn the same lap time as Hawthorn and was posing a very serious threat.
While Hawthorn was out front and pushing hard, a number of other competitors were finding their race come to an end. Maurice Trintignant's effort would come to naught after 8 laps when a wheel would come off of his Gordini T16. This was a similar happening as had happened to Robert Manzon in another T16 during Argentina Grand Prix. Lance Macklin would also retire from the race in his HWM-Alta.
The hard and fast pace continued. It would end up causing even more destruction. Louis Chiron had been looking quite impressive in his OSCA 20, but a problem with a fuel tank would bring his race to an end. At the same time, Emmanuel de Graffenried would withdraw his Maserati A6GCM from the race. After setting what would be a shared fastest lap time with Mike Hawthorn, de Graffenried's race pace began to tail-off. This would lead to him withdrawing from the race just before halfway. Archie Bryde would serve as the halfway entertainment as his day would come to an end as the result of a dramatic fire.
The pace was such that a number of favorites had to back off the pace just to ensure making it to the end of the race. Stirling Moss had come across the line only five seconds behind de Graffenried in the first heat race. He wouldn't be anywhere close to the same result at the end of the final. Before the end of the race, Moss would end up a lap down and fighting with Louis Rosier and Peter Collins to remain in the top ten.
Knowing he had the best car, Hawthorn would use his confidence and would dominate the rest of the race. He would prove to be more than capable of carrying Ferrari's hopes on his back as he would cross the finish line in 1st place. The British crowd would stand to their feet and would begin to look forward to when the World Championship would come to England in July.
Roy Salvadori had proven to be a very capable racer when he had taken over Hawthorn's car the season before. One year later, he would come to finish the BRDC International Trophy race just twelve seconds behind Hawthorn in a Connaught A-Type. Connaught Engineering would have a second of its cars finish the race in 3rd when Tony Rolt would take another A-Type and finished thirty seconds behind Salvadori.
The win had been an impressive effort for Hawthorn who had been largely overshadowed by his teammates throughout the early part of the season. The confident Brit had the whole of the team's hopes on his shoulders and he delivered. This would provide him an even greater sense of belonging and an important confidence boost before the season really got going.
While Mike Hawthorn and Scuderia Ferrari were celebrating in Towcester, England, the rest of the team was about a thousand miles away in Italy preparing for another race the very next day.
The team principals at Scuderia Ferrari had left the task of invading and taking the International Trophy race to just one man. Mike Hawthorn would carry out his orders almost to perfection. He had started the final race from the pole and would go on to set the fastest lap of the race, and then, score the win. It had taken a team of just one man to do all of that. Leaving Hawthorn to himself, the rest of the team would travel to Naples, Italy for another non-championship race, the 6th Gran Premio di Napoli.
The Gran Premio di Napoli took place on what was a public road course around Posillipo Park lurking high above the Gulf of Naples and the Tyrrhenian Sea. Situated high atop a rocky outcropping, Posillipo Park offers incredible views and incredible danger around almost every turn of the circuit. The start/finish line ran along the Viale Virgilio, which was perched right on the edge of a steep cliff and featured a tight road that switched-backed its way all the way down to the Via Nisida. The start/finish line passed right over the top of this road as the circuit turned off from the Via A Manzoni. Besides the many portions of the circuit with wide-open and exposed views of the gulf below, perhaps one of the more interesting portions of the circuit was about as far away from a cliff as one could get up at the top of the steep crag. While circulating the Via Nuova Parco the drivers had to negotiate a never-ending corner with nothing less than six apexes.
About the time Hawthorn was pushing hard trying to navigate his way to victory at the International Trophy race the rest of his Ferrari teammates were heading out for practice and vying for all-important front row starting positions.
During practice the Ferrari pilots would be fast, but amongst themselves, it would be Farina that would end up being the fastest beating out even Ascari for the pole. Ascari would end up starting alongside Farina in the middle of the front. Juan Manuel Fangio would complete the front row starting in 3rd. Fangio's fellow countryman and teammate Jose Froilan Gonzalez would also end up outpacing Ferrari's third driver Luigi Villoresi. In the end, Villoresi would start the 60 lap race from the second row in the 5th position.
Streaking down the Viale Virgilio at the start of the race a battle would ensue between Ascari and Farina going into the first left hand corner. Almost immediately the pace amongst the two would be such that the rest of the field began to lag behind. In an effort to take control of the field, Ascari would turn what would be the fastest lap of the race with a time of two minutes and seven seconds. This would stretch out the field a fair degree.
Even though Ascari would do his best to control the situation, Farina would continue to hold his own. Fangio and Gonzalez would also remain within sight of the two Ferrari pilots. Villoresi, who had been struggling throughout practice, would continue to struggle during the race.
Ascari's early pace had begun to take a toll on his Ferrari. Soon, the reigning World Champion would begin to lose touch with Farina and the others and would actually begin to slip back even further down the order, which when only eight start the race, wasn't very far.
One World Champion had lost it. Two former World Champions were left at the front of the field. However, not even Fangio could match the pace of Farina on this given day. Just before crossing the line on the 60th, and final, lap Farina would put Ascari one more lap down. This meant Ascari would end up in 5th place five laps down to Farina. In a little more than two hours and twelve minutes, Farina would cross the finish line to take the victory. His average speed of 69 mph would be more than enough to handle Fangio. Fangio would finish in 2nd place following Farina by some eighteen seconds. The closest battle on the circuit at the end of the race was between the two Argentineans. Gonzalez would end up finishing the race 3rd behind Fangio by merely four seconds. And although he would struggle, Villoresi would manage to finish the race ahead of Ascari. Villoresi would come in 4th position down a lap to Farina.
Like in Silverstone, the Gran Premio di Napoli would come well and truly down to just one man. Thankfully for Ferrari, Farina was practically unbeatable. This was truly surprising given the way Ascari had been dominant for more than a year. But it was well and truly Farina that had the untouchable pace. Not even his old former teammate at Alfa Romeo, Fangio, come even really come close to matching his pace over the course of the race.
After a number of races on successive weekends there would be a break of a couple of weeks before the team would again arrive to take part in a race. Since the second round of the World Championship would be the Indianapolis 500 there would be another opportunity to take part in a non-championship race before the third round of the World Championship at Zandvoort. One of the non-championship races in which Scuderia Ferrari would attend would take place at the very end of May.
When the governing-body for the World Championship decided to switch and run the series according to Formula 2 regulations there were a number of races that would still allow the Formula One machines to come out from under the mothballs to compete. One of those races that allowed the Formula One cars to roar again was the Grand Prix de l'Albigeois. However, by 1953, things would change just slightly.
By the start of the 1953 season it was readily apparent the governing-body's new regulations for Formula One would make the old Formula One cars from 1951 and earlier obsolete. This meant race organizers, whether part of the World Championship or not, would need to prepare for cars more similar to those adhering to Formula 2 regulations. Because of the coming regulations for Formula One there would be then two classes of cars not conforming to the new regulations for the World Championship. In 1953, the Grand Prix de l'Albigeois would be a marriage of the two soon to be obsolete classes.
The format for the grand prix would be different in 1953. The race would consist of two heats and a final. The season before, Formula One and Formula 2 cars had competed together. They would do the same in 1953 but they first would be split up into specific heats. The Formula 2 category cars would all compete in the same heat race. Then the Formula One cars would compete together. The grid for the final would be based upon finishing position in each respective heat.
All manner of car was present for the race. Juan Manuel Fangio would join Ken Wharton and Jose Froilan Gonzalez driving the troubled BRM P15s with their 16-cylinder engines. There would be Connaughts and Cooper-Bristols filling the Formula 2 field. And, of course, there would be Ferraris in the field. Louis Rosier would enter a Ferrari 375 and a Ferrari 500. Scuderia Ferrari would come to the race as well. They would come with two Ferrari 375s. They would be driven by Alberto Ascari and Giuseppe Farina. Officially, it would only be Ascari upholding Scuderia Ferrari's honor as Farina's Ferrari 375 would be entered in the race under the G.A. Vandervell team name.
At Albi, to say the Formula One cars would be favored would be something of an understatement. With the exception of the run down St. Antoine to St. Juery, the Albi circuit was rather straight and long. Therefore, it was fast. On a whole, average speeds around the circuit hovered around 99 mph. However, were it not for the tight hairpin turns at St. Juery and Montplaisir, and, if the run down from St. Antoine to St. Juery were not littered with esses, Albi would enable cars to reach some truly incredible speeds. This theory would be made good given the fact the circuit stretched for 5.55 miles. Running south along the Tarn river, the public road course would serve to blend Albi's rich history with the latest in modern technology.
The Formula 2 heat would be the first to take to the circuit for practice. In that practice session Elie Bayol would surprise all and would show the outright speed and handling of the OSCA 20 as he would be fastest with a lap of three minutes and eight seconds. He would be joined on the front row by the American-Parisian Harry Schell who would take his Gordini T16 and would record a lap time of three minutes and eleven seconds. While there was almost a three second gap between Bayol's and Schell's times, there would only be six-tenths of a second separating Schell from the 3rd place starter Louis Rosier.
The heat race was only 10 laps in length. Right from the start, Schell's car didn't quite seem right. Bayol would make a good start but would have Rosier all over him. Peter Whitehead would take advantage of Schell's troubles and would manage to move ahead of him. Whitehead would be stalked by Roberto Mieres in another Gordini T16.
Despite everything Bayol would do, he could not quite keep pace with Rosier. Mieres continued to be all over Whitehead. And Schell continued to slip down the running order. Then, with only two laps remaining in the heat, the race would come to an end for Schell. It was found that fouled spark plugs were the culprit for the lacking performance.
Averaging right around 98 mph, Louis Rosier would take the victory in the Formula 2 heat. He would be followed some twenty-four seconds behind by Elie Bayol in his OSCA. Peter Whitehead, who had been hounded by Roberto Mieres throughout, would hold on by a little more than a second to take 3rd.
Then, with the conclusion of the Formula 2 heat, it was time for the howling Formula One machines to take to the circuit. The pleasant pastoral setting of the Tarn river valley would be shattered by the incredible sound of the BRM P15 and the other Formula One cars.
Powered by 16-cylinders, the BRM P15 driven by Juan Manuel Fangio would end up being fastest in practice. His time around the circuit would be two minutes and fifty-two seconds. His time would end up being just about three seconds faster than Ascari's time in his Ferrari 375 and almost seventeen seconds faster than Bayol's time in his Formula 2 OSCA 20.
Ascari would split the BRMs on the front row. While Fangio would take the pole, Gonzalez would start the race 3rd. In the second row, it would be BRM and Ferrari again as Ken Wharton would start 4th and Farina would start 5th.
A couple of weeks earlier, Scuderia Ferrari's junior team member, Mike Hawthorn, had successfully defended Italian honor all by himself at the International Trophy race in England. As the Formula One heat of the Grand Prix de l'Albigeois would get underway, it would become readily apparent the more senior teammates would not be able to do the same in Albi.
Just three laps into the race, the gearbox on Ascari's Ferrari would fail. Therefore, Scuderia Ferrari's single entry would not even make it into the final. However, the team could still root for Farina who was driving one of the team's cars, just for a different team. Unfortunately, even that possibility would come to an end after just five laps. The engine in Farina's Ferrari would expire thereby ending his effort.
Even though the Ferrari threat had expired and was gone from the heat, Fangio would do anything but slow down. In fact, he would turn in a fastest lap time that was actually three-tenths of a second faster than his own qualifying effort. This would enable the Argentinean to pull away from his teammate Ken Wharton who had made a great start and was giving chase of Fangio.
After what was just under thirty minutes of driving, Fangio would cross the line as the victor of the Formula One heat. Over the course of the 10 laps, Fangio had managed to maintain an average speed about 10 mph faster than Rosier in the Formula 2 heat and had beaten Ken Wharton by some twelve seconds. Louis Rosier, driving his own Ferrari 375, would manage to bring the only remaining Ferrari 375 home in 3rd place.
As with the race at Syracuse, Albi would bring about the destruction of Scuderia Ferrari. But there would still be some Ferrari chassis taking part in the final. So while the team's hopes may have been dashed, the manufacturer was still well represented.
The grid positions for the 18 lap final were to be determined by finishing order in each respective heat. The first four finishers in the Formula One heat would line up in the first four positions on the grid. Fangio would take position on the pole. Also on the front row with Fangio would be Wharton and Rosier. The fourth spot was occupied by Maurice Trintignant.
The Formula 2 competitors would occupy the 5th through 8th positions on the grid. The first Formula 2 starter on the grid would be Elie Bayol. Louis Rosier had actually come in first in the heat but he would abandon the effort in favor of his result with his Ferrari 375. Therefore, Bayol would again find himself in the first position amongst the Formula 2 competitors. The rest of the grid positions for the Formula 2 category would be occupied by Peter Whitehead, Roberto Mieres and Tom Cole.
After the first eight positions on the grid, the rest of the starting order would alternate between Formula One and Formula 2 competitors. In all, there would be twelve cars that would line up to take the start of the 18 lap final.
In spite of all the promise, the first out of the final would be Bayol in his OSCA. He would push his OSCA a little too hard and would burn up the clutch, thereby ending his race after just two laps.
Powering down the couple of long straights, the cars would reach their top speeds about the time they would need to brake. This was incredibly hard on the drum brakes. Fangio had been pushing hard right from the very start. He was being pushed by his teammate Wharton who would set a fastest lap with a time of two minutes and fifty-eight seconds during the race. This pushed Fangio hard, too hard. Halfway through the race, Fangio would retire when he had found his brakes had faded to the point it was pointless for him to continue. Two laps later, Wharton's pace would end up catching him out as well. Driving on the edge of the limit, Wharton would step off that edge only 7 laps from the finish. Wharton would crash his BRM P15 and would end up out of the race. Only one BRM remained in the race.
Louis Rosier had started the race on the front row in 3rd place. He would follow and push Fangio and Wharton himself. When they would drop out of the race around halfway through the race, he would inherit the lead. Jose Froilan Gonzalez had started the race on the fourth row of the grid and behind the first-four starters from the Formula 2 category. He had managed to make his way up through the field, but had been delayed in his effort.
Rosier, being far enough up the road from the charging Gonzalez, would cruise on to victory in his Ferrari 375. He would finish the race thirty-one seconds up on Gonzalez and would provide Ferrari, as a manufacturer, another victory. Stretching back to 1952, the Ferrari 375 hadn't been defeated in any non-championship Formula One race in which it had entered.
Infamous for its noise and fragility, Gonzalez managed something of a miracle bringing his P15 home to a 2nd place finish. He was certainly safe in his 2nd place position as Maurice Trintignant would finish the race in 3rd place some eighty-three seconds behind.
The year before, Scuderia Ferrari was almost unbeatable on French soil. While still earning impressive results, 1953 was proving to be a little tougher in its going. The failure of the 375s in the heat race did allow the team to focus on other issues, like the approaching third round of the World Championship.
The day before the Grand Prix de l'Albigeois, the second round of the World Championship had been concluded. Bill Vukovich had defeated Art Cross and Sam Hanks in the Indianapolis 500 and was suddenly translated into a tie with Alberto Ascari for the lead in the World Championship. However, just one week later that would all change.
The third round of the World Championship would be the Dutch Grand Prix. The 1952 World Championship had been the first time in which the Dutch Grand Prix had been part of the championship schedule. In that year, the race would be the second-to-last race and a rather inconsequential round, with the exception of allowing Ascari to continue his string of successive victories. In 1953, the event would be moved to the early part of the series calendar and would again come into play in his Ascari's bid to keep his string of successive victories going.
Located on the wind-swept dunes overlooking the North Sea, and about fifteen, or so, miles away from Amsterdam, the Zandvoort Circuit would again play host to the Dutch Grand Prix and the World Championship. Originally conceived back before World War II, the Zandvoort Park Circuit would be inaugurated in August of 1948. Almost immediately after opening, the 2.60 mile circuit would gain popularity with drivers. The circuit featured some fast sweeping corners and its slightly cambered 'Tarzanbocht' first corner would provide plenty of opportunities for overtaking. Some of the fast sweeping corners required a little more bravery than the others. While seemingly docile, perhaps none of the fast corners would require more courage than the trip through the 'Tunnel Oost'. Every passage around the fast corner required a driver to hold one's breath as the car would go a little light over a bump in the midst of the bend.
During practice, Alberto Ascari would prove there were none braver or faster around the circuit. He would take his Ferrari 500 and would lap the circuit in one minute and fifty-one seconds. Shades of 1951 all over again, the rest of the front row would consist of Juan Manuel Fangio and Giuseppe Farina. Yet, instead of Fangio and Farina driving for Alfa Romeo, Fangio was taking the new Maserati A6GCM and proving it was a strong competitor while Farina would take his Ferrari 500 and would lap within two seconds of the time set by his teammate.
The whole of the Scuderia Ferrari would be back together for the Dutch Grand Prix. Despite the presence of the Argentinean force driving Maseratis, Luigi Villoresi would manage a lap just seven-tenths of a second slower than Farina, and therefore, good enough to start the 90 lap race from 4th on the grid. Mike Hawthorn would start just off Villoresi's right shoulder in the third row. His best time around the circuit was a one minute fifty-four and nine-tenths second lap. This was good enough to make it four Ferraris in the top six.
The Dutch Grand Prix would get underway under sunny and warm conditions on the 7th of June. Immediately, Ascari took control of the field from the point. He would be closely hounded by his front row starters.
Conditions during the race were difficult. Besides the usual wear and tear of constant shifting, braking and the constant fluctuations in suspension, the circuit's close proximity to the beach and the windy North Sea had the tendency of blowing sand over the circuit. This made grip very difficult and would make the already fast corners very treacherous. However, Villoresi would seem totally unaffected by the elements and would go on to set what would be the fastest lap of the race with a time that was almost a second faster than his own qualifying effort.
Villoresi's pressure was pushing the front runners. The front three would respond. The four competitors would begin to draw away from the rest of the field. Jose Froilan Gonzalez would manage to keep pace but would be hit hard when his rear axle would fail 22 laps into the race. While his car was out, he was not. He would take over Felice Bonetto's Maserati for the remaining two-thirds of the race and would stage an incredible comeback.
Unlike the previous season, Ascari wasn't able to disappear into the distance. Fangio and Farina would match the World Champion blow-for-blow. Even Villoresi was managing to keep pace with the World Champions. Then, on the 36th lap, the list of players would be reduced by one. As had been the case with Gonzalez's Maserati, the rear axle would fail on Fangio's car thereby ending his effort. It was a truly unfortunate event as it seemed the race was stacking up to be a revival of the racing seen between Fangio and Ascari during the 1951 season. This left all of the Scuderia Ferrari teammates running up inside the top five.
Villoresi's pace throughout the early going of the race had been impressive. But then, with less than thirty laps remaining in the race he would retire from the race with a problem with his Ferrari. He had pushed so hard throughout the first half of the race that it wore out his throttle. The Throttle failure left Ascari and Farina all by themselves.
As the race started to wind down there were still a couple of pockets of competitors fighting it out for position. Although Ascari had the lead he was being rather closely followed by his Ferrari teammate and former World Champion. A good ways behind them, Mike Hawthorn and Jose Froilan Gonzalez were locked in a battle of their own.
A few laps remained in the race. Up ahead of Ascari and Farina on the road were the 3rd and 4th place cars of Gonzalez and Hawthorn. Hawthorn had been passed by Gonzalez and was fighting hard to try and stay with the Argentinean. Ascari and Farina would have no problem keeping up with Gonzalez. In fact, before the end of the race, the two Ferrari pilots would pass Hawthorn and Gonzalez. This meant just Farina remained on the lead lap with Ascari.
After a close battle throughout the early and middle stages of the race, Ascari would manage to control the pace of the field and would cross the line to take what was his eighth-straight World Championship victory. He would finish eleven seconds in front of Farina at the finish. Unfortunately for Ferrari, Villoresi's retirement, and Hawthorn's subsequent loss to Gonzalez, meant the team would not sweep the podium. But it still had been a pretty good day for the team.
Ascari's victory would move him back into the lead of the World Championship with 17 points. He had his chance at 18 points taken away by Villoresi with his fastest lap effort. Nonetheless, Ascari left Zandvoort leading the World Championship by 8 points over Bill Vukovich. Although he would only leave Zandvoort with the one point, Villoresi would move into 2nd place in the standings with 7 points. This was one point more than what Farina had scored over the course of the same two races. Perhaps more importantly, Scuderia Ferrari had three of its four drivers in the top five of the World Championship standings.
During the Dutch Grand Prix, Mike Hawthorn had been largely overshadowed by his teammates once again. However, the team's next race would be the site of Hawthorn's World Championship debut and another chance to truly step into the fullness Enzo Ferrari believed possible.
On the 21st of June, Scuderia Ferrari were preparing its four Ferrari 500 chassis for the start of the fourth round of the World Championship, which was the 14th installment of the Belgian Grand Prix.
Going into the race, things were looking rather disconcerting for the team. It wasn't anything unusual to find a Ferrari alone on the front row surrounded by its fellow competitors, especially a Ferrari 500 chassis. However, the scene usually includes the lone Ferrari sitting on the pole. At the start of the Belgian Grand Prix in 1953 it would not be a Ferrari on the pole. In fact, the Ferrari 500 would show an alarming lack of speed against some its toughest competitors.
Measuring 8.77 miles, almost every foot of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit could have been categorized as 'Ultra-Fast'. Averaging in excess of 112 mph over the course of a single lap, the circuit was anything but a place that just inspired reckless abandon. It just had to be done in order to be fast. Filled with such hair-raising corners as Eau Rouge, the Masta Kink and Stavelot, each lap of the Spa circuit required great courage. Already considered one of the most technically challenging circuits in all the world, the Spa circuit in the wet was something close to insanity when really driving on the limit. The danger and the speed, when combined with the truly spectacular setting of the Ardennes forest, made the undulating circuit a favorite not only with the drivers, but especially with the fans.
When the World Championship showed up at Spa for the fourth round of the series, so too did the crowd. It was estimated that more than 100,000 fans lined the heavily wooded circuit. In practice, the huge crowd would witness the full capability of the new Maserati A6GCM 'Interim' and Juan Manuel Fangio.
In practice, Fangio was in a class unto himself. He would take the pole for the race with a lap of four minutes and thirty seconds. The sunny and hot conditions helped the Argentinean to turn a lap with a record average speed of 117 mph. The year before, Alberto Ascari had taken the pole with his Ferrari 500 setting a fastest lap time of four minutes and thirty-seven seconds. Fangio's time in the 1953 edition would blow that time away by some seven seconds!
Ascari would lose the pole for the first time in a World Championship race since the British Grand Prix the season before. Setting a time over two seconds slower than Fangio, Alberto would start the race from the middle of the front row in 2nd place. He would be flanked on his other side by another Argentinean and Maserati teammate Jose Froilan Gonzalez.
With the exception of Ascari, the rest of the Scuderia Ferrari team had figuratively been shuffled to the back of the line…or at least that's the way it may have felt after being so dominant. Giuseppe Farina and Luigi Villoresi would start from the second row in 4th and 5th respectively, and, Mike Hawthorn would start from the middle of the third row.
The large throng assembled at the circuit expected to see a real titanic battle between the two Italian marks and some of the best drivers of the era. The events at the start of the race only helped to build the excitement and expectation.
It was obvious after practice Scuderia Ferrari was certainly on the defensive and the Officine Alfieri Maserati squad was on the attack. Fangio knew this well. And, at the start of the race, amidst the tense pause of a standing start, would signal to Gonzalez to take the lead right from the start. Gonzalez would acknowledge the invitation and would fulfill his leader's orders better than anyone could have expected.
By the second lap of the race, Gonzalez would set what would be the fastest lap of the race. His pace was such that he would repeat the task on the 3rd, 9th and 11th laps of the race. To say the Argentinean Maserati pilots were running away with the race was a gross understatement. By the 10th lap of the race, Gonzalez had a minute advantage just over Fangio, let alone the rest of the field. Though truly outclassed, Ascari would keep his head and would not get suckered into chasing after the much faster Maseratis. Instead, he would put his trust in providence.
One lap after matching his fastest lap time for the fourth time, Gonzalez's accelerator pedal had gotten so used to being firmly planted to the floor that it would remain in that position when Gonzalez went to brake for a corner. As a result, Gonzalez would go off the circuit and would retire from the race. Providence was coming through. But there was still the matter of a certain individual named 'Fangio' standing in the way of Ascari and another World Championship victory. He would be dealt with just two laps later.
The pace of the two Argentineans on the hot day was too much for their Maseratis. Two laps after Gonzalez misfortune with his accelerator pedal, Fangio's incredible opportunity would end up in smoke when the engine in his Maserati would expire. While capable of turning such speeds, the cars were still lacking reliability to take full advantage of their performance.
The Ferrari squad wasn't without their own worries. The pace would be too much for Farina's engine and he would retire from the race after sixteen laps. Hawthorn continued to run, but he was mired down around 6th place and was struggling to move forward.
Once freed of the Maserati and Argentinean threat, Ascari and Villoresi would disappear into the distance and wouldn't look back. But they wouldn't be totally free of the Maserati and Argentinean threat, not just yet.
Although the race was the Belgian Grand Prix, the Belgian gentleman racer, Johnny Claes, would give up his Maserati A6GCM to Fangio. Just like that, he was back in the race and rapidly drawing the Ferrari pilots at the front of the field back in. But to complete the task before the end of the race would require Fangio to push hard.
Of course Fangio was interested in the points. If he could hang in and score some points, his championship hopes still had breath. Therefore, he would give it everything he had. Coming down to the last lap of the race, he was looking to be in a good position to finish the race 3rd. However, in his haste, he would push a little too hard and would crash the Maserati. Because he would not finish the race he would not score any points.
Almost oblivious to what was happening behind him, Ascari would race on to the victory. He would finish almost two minutes and fifty seconds up on his friend Villoresi. Villoresi had driven an impressive race. He had started the race from 5th on the starting grid and would finish 2nd. Of course perhaps none of the drivers that would finish the race would put in a performance quite like that of the other Argentinean driving a Maserati. Onofre Marimon had started the race 16th. And though he would end the race a lap down, he would finish in 3rd.
The 1953 Belgian Grand Prix had been quite different for Hawthorn compared to the '52 edition. The previous season, he had finished the race 4th and had caught the attention of many who were at the race. The following season, he would finish a lap down and would cross the line a very quiet 6th. He had missed out on the points by one position in the finishing order.
Keeping his head amidst the Maserati maelstrom, Ascari would leave Spa with 25 points in the championship standings. Villoresi's fine drive would net him 6 more points and would bring his total up to a second-best 13 points. Before the next round of the World Championship, Scuderia Ferrari would take part in another amalgamated race.
In 1952, Rouen-les-Essarts had been the site of the French Grand Prix, the fourth round of the World Championship. In 1953, the circuit would play host to the past, present and future of Formula One and the World Championship. The race was the 3rd Grand Prix de Rouen-les-Essarts and it would feature Formula One and Formula 2 cars. But it would also play host to Ferrari's answer to the future regulations changes coming up in 1954.
The team would come to the race with two of its drivers. Incidentally, they were the lowest Ferrari drivers in the championship standings. Giuseppe Farina and Mike Hawthorn would have the opportunity to take out the Ferrari 625 and compete against the past and present of grand prix racing.
The 625 was virtually a Ferrari 500 just with a larger bore and stroke engine than the F2 model. While not as powerful as some of the Formula One cars from before the move to Formula 2 regulations, it was certainly more powerful than its 500 F2 brethren, and it would show during practice.
Situated to the south of Rouen in the Foret de Rouvray, the heavily wooded Rouen-les Essarts circuit had become a favorite site to visit amongst the teams. The circuit featured modern pits and amenities that made the trip to the circuit pleasant. The mix of high speed straights, blind and fast corners and a famous tight hairpin turn also made the circuit a favorite circuit to drive.
Farina and Hawthorn would take to the track with their new car. Immediately, without too much time behind the wheel of the car, the two drivers would be fastest amongst even the Formula One competitors, including Louis Rosier and his Ferrari 375. Among the two, Farina would be fastest and would start the 60 lap race from the pole. Hawthorn would start from the middle of the three-wide front row. Maurice Trintignant would complete the front row with his 3rd place starting spot.
Trouble would start right at the very start of the race, but not for the Ferrari crew. Elie Bayol would end his race before even completing a single lap when his clutch would fail. Only four laps later, Yves Giraud-Cabantous would also exit the race with transmission failure.
While others were struggling, Hawthorn was just beginning to hit his stride following close behind Farina at the head of the pack. Early into the race, Hawthorn would turn what would end up being the fastest lap of the race. His time would end up being faster than his qualifying effort and within a few tenths of a second of Farina's pole time.
One year earlier, Equipe Gordini was serving as the main competition for Scuderia Ferrari. One of the team's main threats was Jean Behra. At Rouen, similar to how his season had been going to that point, Behra's race would come to ruin when his steering would break just 19 laps into the race. He would be joined by his Equipe Gordini teammate, Trintignant, just around ten laps later. The T16 had had a history of trouble with its rear axle. The same trouble would revisit Trintignant.
The two Ferrari pilots were left quite literally to themselves. The two would run nose-to-tail all the way to the finish line. Hooked up as they were, they were like an unstoppable Juggernaut
. Farina would win the race after completing the 60 laps in two hours, fifteen minutes and six seconds. One second after Farina, Hawthorn would cross the line to finish a fine 2nd. Their teamwork would lead to the 3rd place finisher, Philippe Etancelin, crossing the line some three laps down.
The race had been a dominant display and a source of great hope for the future for the team. This would also serve as a great confidence builder going into the next round of the World Championship, which would take place about 170 miles away in Reims.
Reims was not ready to host the World Championship the season before. Therefore, the fourth round of the 1952 World Championship had taken place at the Rouen-les-Essarts circuit. In 1953, Reims was ready to resume its host duties and would do so with a new circuit for the drivers to navigate. This new circuit would lead to the teams, drivers and spectators witnessing one of the most amazing races in World Championship history.
Already rather long and fast, Reims would get even longer and faster. Instead of bearing right and heading to the sharp right-hander at Garenne, the circuit would continue a short distance before make a fast right at what would become called Annie Bousquet. After a short blast through Bretelle Nord and around the fast left-hand flick at Hovette, the circuit came to a screeching hard right hairpin called Muizon. Once negotiating Muizon, drivers would be greeted with a flat-out stretch of public Route Nationale 31 that would push cars to their absolute limits of top speed before being stolen back down for the final Thillois hairpin. One of the more dramatic sights in all grand prix racing, the long slightly downhill, and then climbing, start/finish straight would remain untouched. All in all, average speeds around the circuit would increase almost 10 mph from around 105 mph to upwards of 113 mph!
Spa-Francorchamps had been the last ultra-fast circuit in which Ferrari had competed with Maserati. In practice, and during the early part of that event, Maserati absolutely dominated Ferrari. Ferrari could not come close to touching the same speeds. The Grand Prix of France would take place at a similar ultra-fast circuit, but the Ferrari stable would more than hold its own. In fact, the team's main thoroughbred would go on to take the pole with a time of two minutes, forty-one and two-tenths seconds. While Felice Bonetto would only miss out on the pole by just three-tenths of a second, it would not be another Maserati, but another Ferrari, that would join Ascari on the front row. Luigi Villoresi had been enjoying an impressive '53 season. He was sitting 2nd in the championship standings, and now, 3rd on the grid for the French Grand Prix. The Ferrari pilots had been helped out finding extra straight-line speed by having altered radiator inlets.
The Argentinean/Maserati pairing of Juan Manuel Fangio and Jose Froilan Gonzalez would hold down station on the second row. Therefore, Giuseppe Farina and Mike Hawthorn would be relegated to starting the race from the 6th and 7th place positions on the starting grid.
The race was filled with incredible cars and incredible driving talent. While widely acknowledged as such, many would look over the grid totally unaware and unsuspecting of what would transpire on that Sunday afternoon on the 5th of July. However, by the end of the day's events, most would freely admit that what they had just witnessed had been nothing less than 'The Race of the Century'.
The very start of the fifth round of the World Championship was something fantastic. Gonzalez, renewing his tactic from the Italian Grand Prix the season before, had started the race with half-full tanks and had managed to shoot into the lead from his second row starting position. He was chased by Ascari, Bonetto and Villoresi. The sight, just over the course of the first lap was something spectacular. With the exception of Gonzalez, who already began to draw away on his lighter fuel tanks, the rest of the front of the field was so close that they could have shook each other's hand if they weren't battling so hard. Felice Bonetto was amongst those battling it out. However, he too would push too hard and would turn in late to a corner. This would drop him out of the group and, well and truly, the race.
What would transpire from the first lap on to the very end would be nothing less than fantastic. Gonzalez continued to stretch out his lead. Behind him, all of the Ferrari and Maserati drivers were running wheel-to-wheel, if not closer. It was practically impossible to keep track of the running order amongst the front of the field as it would literally change corner to corner.
Mike Hawthorn had made an incredible start of his own and was up in 2nd place. Fangio had gotten shuffled back at the start and was fighting hard from 6th place. What had started out at a relatively fast pace of around 111 mph average lap speed would increase as the laps continued to click off. By the end, the pace would have increased to upwards of 113 mph. Such was the ferocity of the battles amongst the front-runners.
Lap-after-lap, the front runners would be no more than an arm's length away from each other. The scene was numbing. One mistake and almost all of Maserati and Scuderia Ferrari could have ended by the side of the road. But the crowd, which had been yelling from the very start, and the crew members for each team were watching in amazement as the professionals battled it out like a street brawl.
Gonzalez would make his fuel stop and would be dropped down to 6th in the order. From this point on, the race, which had been an incredible furious mess, would truly get out of control. Five seconds separated the top five cars.
At the halfway point of the race, Fangio had the lead over Hawthorn, Ascari, Farina Marimon, Gonzalez and Villoresi. For the rest of the race, never more than a second would separate Fangio and Hawthorn. Only a couple of seconds behind that duo would come Ascari, Farina and the others. Corner after corner, the young Brit would battle the former World Champion. Each would take turns leading for a couple of laps, and then, handing the lead back to the other. So many times would the two be witnessed driving side-by-side down the long straights fighting for position into the very next corner.
The pace and the fury of the action at the front of the field was such that many of the other forgotten about competitors would simply slow just to watch the battles. Even Villoresi, who had been right there in the midst of the red mess mixing it up, would slow, point at the others and comically shake his head. Being well over a minute ahead of his next closest competition, Villoresi could slow up and watch the spectacle. He knew full well what he had been part of and had been witnessing was nothing short of amazing.
But it wasn't over. Less than ten laps remained in the race and the roar of the crowd, the screaming of the announcers and the battle between Hawthorn and Fangio was only just coming to its crescendo. Corner-after-corner and lap-after-lap the two titans would continue to measure each other up. Each had their spots when they could take advantage of the other. If those spots weren't obvious to the rest of the spectators, they would become abundantly clear as the two headed around on the last lap.
The two continued to measure each other up. The pace had increased to well over 113 mph. Although the attention was firmly affixed to Fangio and Hawthorn, there was a new player in the mix that both had to be careful to avoid. Gonzalez had been on a charge after his fuel stop and was lying in 3rd position less than a couple of seconds behind the two. Only a couple of seconds behind Gonzalez came Ascari. It all was setting up to be the closest finish in World Championship history, especially for the first four finishers.
Fangio held a lead about the length of his car over Hawthorn throughout the majority of the final lap. The two were practically side-by-side going through the tight Muizon hairpin. Now it would be a drag race to the final turn, the Thillois hairpin. Pursued and pushed by Hawthorn throughout, Fangio continually broke late into corners in an effort to hold position. Coming into Thillois, he would literally be just a couple of feet late braking for the corner. The incredible pressure from the Brit would cause him to lock up his wheels and allow Hawthorn to go through into the lead. Peering down the long straight, the spectators could see the red cars coming like a freight-train toward the line. Having the momentum advantage down the shallow hill and toward the finish line, Hawthorn would barely edge out Fangio to claim his first and perhaps most dramatic, World Championship win! Fangio's lock-up going into the final corner had slowed the two up enough that the nose of Gonzalez's Maserati would about draw even with Fangio's rear tires by the time the two crossed the finish line. Only a couple of seconds later, Alberto Ascari would cross the line in 4th place.
When Hawthorn emerged from his car, and the crowd witnessed his young age compared to his ageless battle with the former World Champion, a great ovation arose that was fitting for the effort the young Brit with his bowtie had exhausted while battling the great Fangio. Ascari's winning streak was over. Yet, it was perhaps one of Ferrari's best victories. Though Ascari's record had come to an end, Scuderia Ferrari's record continued.
Practically forgotten about, Giuseppe Farina would finish the dramatic race over a minute behind in 5th position. Luigi Villoresi, too far back to battle with Farina, would back off and finished the race 6th. Every one else in the race that had finished the race would end up at least two laps down to Hawthorn. For the many that would finish well out of the running, the fact they had taken part in what many believed and called the 'greatest race of the century' would be more than enough. It would have to be.
The French Grand Prix had been one of the craziest and most incredible races ever to be witnessed. Afterward, Scuderia Ferrari and others needed to take a collective breath. The team would not participate in any other races, but would wait for the next round of the World Championship.
The last round of the World Championship had been the most dramatic race in the history of the World Championship, and yet, the season was only just halfway through. There was still more to go. Mike Hawthorn had been languishing behind his more experienced teammates throughout the first half of the year. But at the turning point of the World Championship season, Hawthorn would turn a corner, win a race and find himself right back into the World Championship hunt. Heading into the British Grand Prix, the young Brit found himself sitting 2nd in the standings with 14 points. Alberto Ascari continued to lead with 28 points. Luigi Villoresi, by finishing 6th at Reims would hold steady with 13 points and since pushed down to 3rd in the standings.
The race at Reims had proven that while the Ferrari was still a dominant car it wasn't the only dominant chassis up and down the paddock. Ascari's consecutive winning streak had passed. It seemed his days of strolling to victory were over. But then came the sixth round of the World Championship, the British Grand Prix.
The 2.88 mile former airbase had been good to Ascari the previous year. He lost out on the pole to Farina but would have the lead of the race before the first turn. He would go on to lead every single lap and would win the race with a very comfortable cushion.
Unlike Reims, Silverstone wasn't all brawn. There were some decently long straights. But the circuit also consisted of some fast sweeping corners where handling was of greater importance that outright speed. Relatively flat and wide open, the circuit taunted the racers to push hard. Despite its seemingly simple nature, the circuit had a way with destroying cars. And so, speed had to be matched by reliability in order to be successful.
Reliability and speed was certainly something Ferrari had in its 500 chassis. Reliability would be important in the race. In practice, it would be all about speed and handling. The Ferrari 500 would have that covered as well as Ascari would go out and turn the fastest lap with a time of one minute and forty-eight seconds. His time would be almost a second better than the 2nd place starter Jose Froilan Gonzalez. Fresh from his maiden victory, Hawthorn would start his home grand prix from the front row as he would start 3rd. His victim at Reims, Fangio, would finish off the front row starting 4th. The three-wide second row would consist of two-thirds Ferraris. Giuseppe Farina would start 5th while Luigi Villoresi would start 6th. In all, twenty-nine cars would qualify to start the race to be held on the 18th of July.
After the sensational victory at Reims, the whole of England was behind Hawthorn hoping to see a repeat of the same feat. However, the rainy conditions would not be all that conducive to the wheel-to-wheel action of the French Grand Prix.
The start of the 90 lap race would see Fangio get the best start. Fangio seemed destined to lead the first lap of the race until he went too wide going into the fast first turn at Copse. Fangio's error would allow Ascari to takeover the lead of the field.
Hawthorn would not help himself out. During the very early stages of the race, he would spin in the wet conditions and would lose a lot of positions on the circuit. His home grand prix performance was turning out to be a far cry from the widely acclaimed effort he put together in Reims. But the race wasn't over. And, given the high level of attrition that would again strike the field, there was still a chance.
Five of the twenty-nine starters were out of the race before even 10 laps had been completed. The once competitive Equipe Gordini and HMW teams would end up losing every single one of its cars before the 60th lap of the race.
Fangio's slip-up at the start of the race would be most definitely Ascari's gain. Very quickly, Ascari began lapping the circuit with lap times within a couple of seconds of his qualifying effort. Back during the International Trophy race, the best lap times around the circuit pushed the one minute and fifty-one second mark. Ascari's time during the British Grand Prix would reach down into the one minute and fifty second area. This pace would allow Ascari to re-exert himself in the World Championship.
Fangio continued to run strong in 2nd place. Fangio's teammate and fellow Argentinean Jose Gonzalez was also running quite well, but he would be penalized and forced to come into the pits for trailing oil onto the circuit. Hawthorn's spin had cost him precious spots in the running order. Therefore, with the laps dwindling, Ascari led over Fangio and Villoresi.
Just about the time the race was coming to an end for Onofre Marimon, one of the other Argentinean Maserati drivers in the race, Luigi Villoresi would lose his 3rd place position when his car would run foul of mechanical troubles. These retirements would help to promote Farina, who had been running a relatively quiet race. The retirements would also help save the race for Gonzalez and Hawthorn.
Perhaps proving the Ferrari 500 was a better handling car, Alberto Ascari would master the wet conditions and would go on to finish the race a minute ahead of Fangio, returning to his winning ways. Once again, uncharacteristic slip-ups by Fangio had cost the Argentinean the opportunity of scoring two back-to-back wins. Thoroughly dominated by Ascari and Fangio, Farina would thankfully accept the retirements of Marimon and Villoresi to finish the race two laps down in 3rd. After the epic battle with Fangio to take the win in the French Grand Prix, Hawthorn would cross the finish line a rather sheepish 5th. The great anticipation of the British crowd would be left unfulfilled.
At Reims, it was the wiles of Scuderia Ferrari's driver that would keep the team's successive winning streak going. At Silverstone, Ascari would just get back to the plain, old and boring Ferrari dominance. Ascari would leave England having increased his lead. Hawthorn salvage of two points would increase his 2nd place position in the standings, but he was quickly coming under attack from Gonzalez and Fangio.
Restoring order, Ascari and the rest of the Ferrari team would look to the three remaining rounds of the World Championship and would forego any other race over the course of the season.
On August 2nd, and two weeks after the sixth round of the World Championship, the final push of the season would get underway with the German Grand Prix. The year before, Ascari had comeback to take the victory and earn the championship title. One year later, Ascari would find himself in a similar position, but it seemed the championship fight couldn't possibly end at the same place twice. However, if Ascari were to earn victory, or his competitors fall by the wayside, he would certainly be the first repeat World Champion.
In order to earn the championship, Ascari wouldn't just have to contend with his fellow competitors. He would also have to deal with the infamous Nordschleife. The year before, he had seemed like one of the Ringmeisters. But it was a new year filled with new challenges.
Although the same, every foot of the 14 mile Nurburgring presented drivers with new challenges. A thousand feet up and down and 170 corners long, the Nurburgring had more than its fair share of blind spots and surprises in which trouble could lurk. Situated in the beautiful Eifel mountains, the lovely setting served to deceive. Many talented drivers would readily attest to the fact that despite the wonderful setting driving the Nurburgring was something more akin to being in a 'Green Hell'.
In practice, things appeared to be like 1951 all over again, with the exception of the presence of a young British driver on the front row of the grid. Picking up where he left off the year before, Ascari would be fastest in practice. He was able to take his Formula 2 Ferrari 500 and was turning lap times getting down near the range of the old Formula One cars. His fastest lap time would be nine minutes and fifty-nine seconds. This would only be around five seconds slower than his own pole time in the Ferrari 375 in 1951! Juan Manuel Fangio would start beside Ascari on the front row. His best time would be almost four seconds slower. Giuseppe Farina would make it two Ferraris on the front row, while Hawthorn would make it three. Villoresi would start the 18 lap race from the middle of the second row in 6th.
Seeing that the World Championship was run according to Formula 2 regulations, the German Grand Prix would open the door to the generally isolated German racers that only had Formula 2 grand prix racing. Because of the opportunity presented, a total of thirty-four cars would start the seventh round of the World Championship.
The field of thirty-four cars would roar away at the start of the 16th German Grand Prix. Fangio managed to get the best start of them all and would lead through the first turn with Ascari and Hawthorn following within a car length or so behind. Farina would have a terrible getaway and would be pushed down to 8th through the first couple of corners.
Although Fangio would lead through the first part of the first lap, he wouldn't actually be counted as a leader of any. Ascari was quickly back up to his pace from practice and had managed to get by Fangio for the lead. Over the course of the next couple of laps, Ascari would turn what would end up being the fastest lap of the race. This would earn him one more, very important, point toward the championship.
Just about the time Ascari had found his stride, Farina had managed to recover his and was making his way back up the running order. He would be helped out on the first lap of the race when, for the second year in a row, Maurice Trintignant would retire from the race due to differential problems. Farina's charge to toward the front would only be further aided along by Ascari's slowing.
Ascari had led and set some fast times but he would begin to slow down. Hawthorn would take advantage and would lead a number of laps around the 14 mile circuit. When Gonzalez failed to make it into the race, and when Villoresi retired with three laps remaining, Ascari knew he had the championship in hand.
Farina would come all the way back from his poor start to lead the remaining 11 laps of the race. His pace, while not the run-away pace Ascari had turned on him the year before, was strong enough to keep even the mighty Fangio at bay.
Farina would go on to complete the 18 laps in a little more than three hours and two minutes and would enjoy a margin of victory greater than a minute over Fangio. Farina's victory would make him the oldest driver to win a World Championship race while driving for himself. Mike Hawthorn would look very impressive at the Nurburgring and would finish the race a little more than thirty seconds behind Fangio in 3rd place.
Farina had taken the win, but Ascari would take the championship, even with an 8th place finish. The World Championship had its first back-to-back winner! The World Championship also had its next supercar. Farina's win would continue to stretch the Ferrari 500's consecutive winning streak up to 13. Despite all of the celebrations there were still two races still to go and it was very unlikely that Enzo Ferrari would allow his team to merely coast. Besides Ferrari, the team had four strong competitors. There was no way either one of them would just lay back.
In spite of the three week break between the seventh and eighth rounds of the World Championship Scuderia Ferrari would not compete in any non-championship races in between. Instead, the team would tune and prepare their cars for the Swiss Grand Prix to be held on the 23rd of August.
The site of the eighth round of the World Championship would be Bern, Switzerland and its 4.51 mile Bremgarten circuit. For the first time since the 1950 Formula One World Championship, the Swiss Grand Prix would be positioned something other than the first round of the World Championship.
The World Championship had already been decided, but there was still plenty of motivation amongst the competitors. The race would also be something special as it would see the brief return of the grand prix legend Hermann Lang. Jose Froilan Gonzalez had not started the German Grand Prix because of an injury. That same injury would keep him out of the Swiss Grand Prix as well. Therefore, the grand prix legend would get the opportunity to drive the Maserati A6GCM in the 65 lap race.
Originally built as a motorcycle track during the 1930s, the Bremgarten circuit had been marked by tragedy from the very first. A driver would lose his life in the very first race held on the circuit. The heavily wooded and tree-lined circuit made it a very dangerous circuit to drive, especially because the trees caused the circuit to have changing driving conditions almost every mile of its 4.51 mile length. Beautiful but deadly, the Bremgarten circuit had already claimed the life of the Italian great Achille Varzi. And even though the race would find conditions sunny, dry and warm, every one of the drivers knew of the dangers the circuit held.
The dangers of the circuit hindered its reputation as its location and setting were truly breathtaking. Situated along the Wohlensee river, the route of the circuit would rise and fall hundreds of feet and would offer some truly spectacular views of the Swiss Alps off to the southeast of Bern.
None of the Scuderia Ferrari drivers would be all that distracted by the views as they would find enough to occupy their attention. During practice, they would find the Maserati of Fangio's was more than enough of a distraction. No one would be faster around the circuit than Fangio who would lap the circuit in two minutes, forty and one-tenth seconds. Ascari would end up just six-tenths slower but would still have to settle for the middle of the front row. Giuseppe Farina would round-out the front row with a 3rd place starting effort.
Neither of Ferrari's other two drivers could make it into the second row of the grid. Maurice Trintignant had his Gordini T16 working well and would start 4th while Onofre Marimon would start 5th. Luigi Villoresi would manage to start from the inside position on the third row. Hawthorn would start right alongside in 7th.
If Ascari's repeat as World Champion was to be in doubt they would be laid to rest as the field roared away at the start of the race. Fangio would lead through the first few corners but would succumb to Ascari's pressure before the completion of the first lap. Giuseppe Farina had made another terrible start and would drop halfway down through the nineteen car field as they roared away. Hawthorn and Marimon would make good starts and would begin their long duel while running just behind Ascari and Fangio.
Ascari was dominant throughout much of the race. Fangio would trail behind by only a few seconds but could do very little to reel in the flying Italian. Fangio's efforts would be further hindered when his engine would develop valve problems 29 laps into the race. The tight, twisty nature of the Bremgarten circuit wouldn't just cause damage to Fangio's valves. Louis Rosier and Jacques Swaters would crash out of the race while circulating on the first lap. Paul Frere's and Peter Hirt's race would come to an end well before 20 laps had been completed. It wouldn't be the rain on the dangerous circuit that would catch out competitors this day. It would be the hot sunny weather that would spell disaster.
Fangio's unfortunate valve troubles left the Ferrari squad running 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th at one point during the race. But even Ferrari wasn't without issues. Villoresi had been running quite well but a problem late in the race would cause him to slow his pace quite dramatically. Even Ascari would lose over a minute in the pits due to issues. This would allow Farina to come back from his poor start and lead more than a dozen laps.
In the end, no one seemed as cool in the heat as Ascari. He would come back after his lengthy stop and regain the lead of the race. The question of whether he would repeat as World Championship would truly be laid to rest as he would cross the finish line a minute and twelve seconds ahead of Giuseppe Farina to take the win at the Swiss Grand Prix. Mike Hawthorn's battle with Marimon would come to an end when Marimon had to retire with a broken oil pipe. From that point on, Hawthorn would drive a solid race to ensure a Ferrari sweep of the first-three positions in the results. Hermann Lang would hold on to finish 5th while Villoresi would end up three laps down in 6th.
There was no doubt that Ascari was a double World Champion after the Swiss Grand Prix. The only thing left in doubt was the final round of the World Championship and what would be Scuderia Ferrari's last remaining race on the season.
The final race of the 1953 World Championship would be perhaps the most important race for the Italian marks Scuderia Ferrari and Maserati. The final round was the Italian Grand Prix.
Heading into the event, a cloud of uncertainty was hanging over the team in respect to the team's future. The new Formula One regulations would come into effect starting the next season and the team had just won back-to-back World Championships for Ascari and had a fourteen-straight consecutive winning streak going. The team was at the top. Staying there wasn't all that easy. They firmly had a bright red and white target painted on their backs. This would lead Enzo to make the announcement that Ferrari would pull out of Formula One in 1954. This would dampen the mood slightly and would act like the emergency brake being put on in a fast-moving freight train that needed to make it over the next hill. This was certainly not the time for such uncertainty. The Italians had come to Monza in force to see the titanic battle between Ferrari and Maserati and excitedly ponder the future. Instead, the race would seem more like a meaningless farewell tour.
The site of the Italian Grand Prix was another of the ultra-fast road circuits of the day. At Spa-Francorchamps, the Maseratis were superior in their speed. It would only be their reliability that would let them down and allow Ascari to snatch victory away from them. At Reims, some aerodynamic and cooling changes allowed the Ferraris to keep pace with the Maseratis. Equalized such as they were, the Italian fans were looking forward to an event similar to the spectacular French Grand Prix.
Built in the Royal Villa of Monza Park, the Autodromo Nazionale Monza consisted of two main circuit layouts. One of the circuits was a 3.91 mile road course. The other was a 2.64 mile highly banked oval. The two could be integrated and used together to make one long 6.21 mile circuit. However, the banked oval was deemed too dangerous and unnecessary as average speeds around the road course remained almost as high as those at Reims.
The Maserati A6GCMs and the Ferrari 500 F2 could stretch their legs just one more time as part of the World Championship. The two chassis models would be out in force. A total of seven Maserati A6GCMs would start the race. There would be five Ferrari 500s and two Ferrari 553s that would start the race. The 553 was Ferrari's latest evolution of the 500 chassis and served as a preparatory car for the new Formula One regulations starting in the 1954 season.
Practice would bear times similar to the effort witnessed at Reims. Ascari would take pole just one more time with a lap of two minutes, two and seven-tenths seconds. Just five-tenths slower, Juan Manuel Fangio would start 2nd in the middle of the front row. Giuseppe Farina would make it a clean sweep by the World Champions from the last four years starting on the front row as he would start 3rd. After Onofre Marimon, the second row would be populated by Scuderia Ferrari's two main drivers. Luigi Villoresi would start in the middle in 5th while Hawthorn would start on the outside of the row in 6th. Ferrari's other two drivers would start further down on the grid in their 553s. Umberto Maglioli would start from the middle of the fourth row in 11th, and, Piero Carini would be positioned in the middle of the seventh row and 20th overall.
On a beautiful sunny 13th of September the field of thirty cars would roar away to begin the 80 lap race. One who wouldn't roar away would be Fangio. He would make a poor start and would be shuffled back to around 6th place before he would get his steam up. Fangio's lack of speed off the line would allow Ascari to escape with the lead of the race followed closely behind by Farina.
Fangio would catch up quickly as Marimon had overtaken the two Ferraris for the lead. Soon, the four cars would running nose-to-tail using each other to gain an advantage down the long straights. The four cars would continue to run close together, in a similar fashion as had taken place at Reims, throughout the majority of the race.
Hawthorn and Villoresi would run together and would have their own in-house scrap while Maurice Trintignant held on by a thread behind the two Ferrari pilots. As with Reims, the pace of the race would be such that many of the remaining competitors were merely extras in a battle between the two manufacturers from Modena.
Seven cars, including Ferrari's Piero Carini, would end up retired and out of the race before 40 laps had been completed. The pace of the race, helped by Fangio's fastest lap time of two minutes and four seconds, had been such that only fourteen would end up classified at the end. Even the inter-squad battle between Hawthorn and Villoresi would be caught up by the trio of Ascari, Farina and Fangio. Onofre Marimon had been dropped from the fight at the front with a radiator problem. He continued in the race but was well back. Despite Villoresi's protests, both he and Hawthorn would go a lap down with just one lap remaining in the race.
The final lap was setting up to be a Reims repeat. Ascari and Farina were wheel-to-wheel going into the final lap. They would remain like this over the course of the lap and almost even into the final corner. Coming around the final corner at Vedano, Ascari would push a little too hard and would spin his Ferrari right in front of his teammate. Farina, who had just been passed by Fangio but was fighting hard to get back by, would swerve and miss his teammate. Marimon had no place to go and would plow into Ascari ending the day for both only hundreds of yards from the finish. The melee had caused Farina to bail, which would leave Fangio to power his way to the victory. But it would be delayed.
There had been so much confusion at the last corner that Fangio would end up completing an extra lap, with Farina in tow behind, just to make sure he would earn the victory. In the end, Fangio would get his retribution for his frustrating season and unfortunate mistake at Reims. Just when the Ferrari Tifosi thought they had reason to celebrate, Fangio would come through and score the win at the final round of the World Championship for the other Italian grand prix team.
Amidst the mess behind Fangio, Farina would reemerge and would come across the line two seconds behind in 2nd place. Ascari, despite crashing out of the race at the final corner, would finish the race 3rd because of advantage over the 4th place finisher Luigi Villoresi. Officially, Ascari would only complete 79 of the 80 scheduled laps, but he still had a full lap margin over Villoresi. Mike Hawthorn would finish a lap down with Villoresi in 5th place. Everyone that finished 7th, or worse, would end up at least three laps down by the end of the race. Such was the pace of the front runners.
With the future still up in the air, a finish like that which would happen at the final corner of the Italian Grand Prix, would not be how Enzo, or any of the Ferrari drivers, would have liked to finish the season. Unfortunately, the season was over. Not a single Scuderia Ferrari would turn a wheel in a race the rest of the season.
Changes were more than apparently coming. This would prompt Ascari to leave the team at the end of the season. Luigi Villoresi would also depart. The good friends would find homes with Maserati for a time and then Scuderia Lancia by the end of the '54 season. Giuseppe Farina would take part in a couple of races during 1954 before he would walk away from Formula One. Only Mike Hawthorn and Jose Froilan Gonzalez would be regulars for the team going into 1954. Much was changing. Much was ending.
At the end of 1953, the World Championship would say goodbye to Formula 2 and hello to Formula One once again. The World Championship would also say goodbye to one of the most successful grand prix cars in World Championship history. The Ferrari 500 would manage to set records that would stand well into the 1980s. The Formula 2 years of the World Championship had been banner years for Ferrari. They would serve to establish the inseparable link between Formula One and Scuderia Ferrari.Sources:
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