Cliff Allison

2021-04-09 00:24

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Cliff Allison

On February 8, 1932, Henri Clifford Allison was born in Brough, Great Britain. At the age of twenty, thanks to the help of his family, which owns a ga


On February 8, 1932, Henri Clifford Allison was born in Brough, Great Britain. At the age of twenty, thanks to the help of his family, which owns a garage company, Cliff buys a Cooper-Norton with which he participates in the Formula 3 championship. Allison's performances, but above all his successes do not go unnoticed, in fact in the notebooks of the English scouts there has long been his name: Cliff is also noticed by Colin Chapman, who offers him the opportunity to become a Lotus driver. In 1956, after winning at Brands Hatch, finishing second in Rouen, and fourth at Goodwood and Silverstone, he was given the opportunity to debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans paired with Keith Hall, but during the tenth hour, the two withdrew.


After finishing the year constantly managing to get on the podium, the following season will be the turning point: repeating the victory at Brands Hatch, with the fourteenth position at Le Mans, and two further victories, Cliff manages to convince Chapman to offer him the opportunity to become a Formula 1 driver. The debut in the circus takes place in Monte Carlo, on May 18, 1958, where already on Saturday he proves that he deserved this chance by scoring the thirteenth time, and in the race he recovered and reached sixth place, coming one step away from the points.


He got the same result a week later, in Netherlands: starting from eleventh position, Cliff once again recovered five positions, finishing sixth two laps behind the winner Moss, and ahead of Musso's Ferrari. Allison manages to improve on the Spa circuit, where he starts fourteenth, but is again the author of an extraordinary comeback that allows him to get the first points, after finishing fourth at the finish.


At this point it is expected that Allison will continue to amaze at Reims, however in the official tests he is only second to last, and on lap 20 he is forced to retire due to an engine failure. The redemption seems to be able to arrive at Silverstone, in fact on the home circuit he is fifth in qualifying, but another failure in the engine of his Lotus, on the fifth lap, prevents him from finishing the race.


At the Nurburgring, as well as at Reims, Cliff was forced to start from the back row, but the Briton proves again that he is a racing driver, recovering fourteen positions from the previous day, and finishing in tenth place. Cliff also struggled in qualifying in Monza, where he was unable to go beyond the sixteenth position, but in the race he crossed the finish line seventh, behind his teammate Graham Hill.


At this point, Allison, in the last Grand Prix of the season in Morocco, hopes to redeem herself, but fails: in fact, even at Ain Diab, Cliff only marks the sixteenth time in qualifying, but in the race he does not go beyond the tenth place, and ends his first season in Formula 1 in eighteenth position, with 3 points won in Belgium. However, the 1958 performance impresses Mike Hawthorn.


The compatriot, who recently decided to leave racing, convinces Enzo Ferrari to choose Cliff as his heir. The founder of the homonymous team, after seeing him drive in a test, immediately offers him a contract. This episode will remain forever in the mind of Cliff, who in one of his latest interviews told:


"I think when Mike Hawthorn retired at the end of the year, he could have mentioned Graham Hill and me as potential candidates to replace him in the Ferrari team. I got along very well with Mike, and we spent a lot of time together. I think rather than Graham. was a little too pro-British to be really interested, but I went to Modena and made a deal for the following year, to race with the sports car team and to start as a reserve driver in the Grand Prix team".


His relationship with Ferrari begins immediately with a place on the podium. With the Ferrari 25 Testa Rossa, the Englishman immediately found the feeling, and at Sebring he was second; a result that does not leave Ferrari indifferent, which decides to field him on the starting grid in Monaco, for the first Grand Prix valid for the Formula 1 World Championship.


However, if his debut with sports cars was a dream, it will not be so in Formula 1. As with the Lotus, Cliff struggles in qualifying (he is fifteenth behind his former team-mate Hill), while an accident is involved in the race during the fifteenth lap. Things are not going well at Le Mans too: together with the Brazilian Da Silva Ramos, Cliff set good times during practice, but during the fourth hour the two drivers were forced to retire due to a problem with a cylinder head gasket. The first placement in the circus with the Prancing Horse arrives in Holland. Despite his limitations on the flying lap being revealed again in Zandvoort, and he is forced to start from the last box, Allison finishes in ninth position.


After missing the appointments in France and Great Britain, Cliff leaves for Germany with the aim of winning the first points with Ferrari, but after having started again from the last row, a clutch failure forces him for the second time to retirement, on three races held. The Englishman returns to the podium at the Tourist Trophy together with Gendebien, Phil Hill and Tony Brooks. This result allows him to regain confidence in view of the Italian Grand Prix, where he can finally prove to Hawthorn and Ferrari that he saw us just a few months earlier. At Monza, in qualifying Allison marks the eighth time, and the following day recovers up to fifth position, finishing behind teammate Gurney, and forty-six seconds behind the winner Moss, winning the first points of the season.


In the official tests of the last Grand Prix of the 1959 season, raced in the United States, at the Sebring circuit, Cliff seems to be able to close the year with another good result: however, after starting from seventh position, the Briton immediately moves between the first, but while he is third behind the two Cooper of Brabham and McLaren, who will then win the race, on the seventh lap he is betrayed by the clutch that comes off, and is forced to finish the championship in seventeenth place, with only two points won at the Italian Grand Prix, in Monza.


Despite the disappointment for a championship in which he was not very active, and equally unlucky, in the 1960 season Cliff got off to a strong start, winning the 1000 Kilometers of Buenos Aires with Phil Hill. Argentina is doing well for the British driver, given that even in the first Formula 1 Grand Prix of the season, the podium that Sebring missed is strengthened. In Buenos Aires, Allison was seventh in qualifying, but the next day she went wild and recovered several positions, until she reached second and finished the race twenty-six seconds behind Bruce McLaren, winning the first podium in Formula 1 with the team from Maranello.


In the months that followed, Allison concentrated on the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and took part in the Targa Florio to do general tests in view of this event. The Italian race, however, will not give him positive emotions, as the British driver will tell a few years later:


"I was going down one of the long straights, and suddenly I became aware of a vibration. I backed off slightly, but when I got back on the accelerator it wasn't that bad again. I was wondering if there might be a problem with it. steering, but it turned out that a front tire had deflated and centrifugal force at 160 mph was almost allowing the car to stay in control. When I tried to slow down I found myself in serious trouble, heading straight for the end of a wall on the side of a bridge. I managed to deviate from that, but the car took off, before crashing into a field on the other side of the road. I looked down trying to figure out where I was, and as soon as I saw mud and dirt there was no you can imagine how relieved I felt, but if I hadn't kept my feet on the pedals I could have ended quite badly".


This big scare seems to be only an isolated case and a bad memory when Cliff arrives in Monaco for the dispute of the Formula 1 Grand Prix, and instead in Monte Carlo he is the protagonist of another terrible accident. The weekend starts badly right away, as due to a problem with timing all times are canceled, and for this reason the Briton, during the second day of testing, also returns to the track to test the new chassis he had made available to him the Ferrari.


Allison is at the harbor chicane when she goes head-on and crashes into the guardrail. The commissioners arrive immediately on the spot, but Allison is unconscious. When he is taken to the hospital he goes into a coma, and he begins to fear the worst. Instead Cliff proves to be a fighter by surprising the doctors, not so much because few believed that he would make it, but for what he does when he opens his eyes:


"I woke up sixteen days later in the hospital speaking French, which was kind of weird, because I didn't know French".


Although many had doubts about the possibility that the British could return to driving a racing car, Enzo Ferrari offers him the role of test driver. But Allison refuses, as he wants to surprise everyone again, and prove that this incident hasn't affected his talent. For this reason, Cliff decides to abandon the team from Maranello, while remaining emotionally attached to its founder. Once again Allison managed to win her challenge, and at the beginning of 1961 she accepted the offer from Udt Laystall, thus taking part in some British races. Upon returning to the car, Cliff proves to be competitive, and with third place at the National Open Oulton Park, Aintree 200 and Silverston 200, he convinces the British Racing Partneship to sign him.


When the Formula 1 World Championship begins in Monaco on May 14, 1961, the eyes of the paddock are on Allison, who after eleven months returns to the track where the accident that could have ended his career took place. Cliff, from the very first shifts shows that he is not afraid of the Principality's walls. At the wheel of his Lotus of the BRP team, Cliff defends himself in qualifying and is fifteenth, and the following day confirms that he is a race driver, recovering seven positions from the start, and finishing in eighth place. Allison remembers the emotions of that return as if it were yesterday, and also the reasons that prompted her to make such a choice:


"I missed the life and adrenaline in the car, and the fact of being part of that world. I just wanted to feel the pleasure of driving, and get back the excitement of all this".


Cliff decides to return to Le Mans with Udt too, but the French race is once again bewitched, and together with Mckee he is forced to retire in the eleventh hour, due to an engine problem. Allison leaves for Belgium with the aim of canceling the disappointment of Le Sarthe, but his weekend ends soon, due to another accident that occurred as soon as he gets on the track, with the aim of winning the ballot with Henri Taylor. This is because the BRP can field only one car at Spa, and then the Briton enters the track from the first free practice session, pushing hard and immediately looking for the limit, but loses control of his Lotus at Blanchimont.


Cliff breaks both legs, but this time he fails to perform a new miracle and surrenders to fate, deciding to retire. The British driver leaves racing with seventy races to his credit, six wins, fifteen podiums, two pole positions, and 11 points in total in the various Formula 1 World Championships. After hanging up her helmet, Allison moved away from the world of motors, deciding to take care of the family business. The choice of leaving the racing world was, for a long time, a difficult wound to heal:


"It was years before I wanted to get close to a race again. It took a long time before I came to terms with my situation. I was very bitter about the whole thing. I remember a terrible weekend a few years later, at Silverstone: my friends were almost all there, racing, and I was the spectator. I felt bitter. Or rather, cheated".


His name, until the last days of his life, remained linked to Ferrari. Every morning as he brought or went to pick up the students, those guys were amazed to see the driver who had conquered Ferrari at the wheel of the bus, whose fate only prevented him from winning more with the team from Maranello.


Massimiliano Amato

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