#28 1953 French Grand Prix

2021-04-08 00:00

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#1953, Fulvio Conti, Ludovico Nicoletti, Translated by Monica Bessi, Transated by Damiana Iovaro,

#28 1953 French Grand Prix

Monday 29th June 1953, during the afternoon, Monza autodrome reopens to a non oceanic, but torrential flow of fans for the usual end of spring Gran Pr


On Monday, June 29, 1953, in the afternoon the Monza autodrome reopens to a non-oceanic torrential flow of fans for the usual end-of-spring Grand Prix, that this year is a bit delayed, as the season goes on: sixth in series of the Autodrome Grand Prix, not to be confused with the typical end of summer race, the Grand Prix of Italy and Europe. Combined with the Lotteria of Monza, even this event has guaranteed a spectacular resonance. The formula is original for two reasons: in subjective composition of admissions - sports cars up to 3000 cc - and in objective conditions of confrontation, consisting in two distinct and short following races, each one disputed not with limitation but from all competitors, with the classification resulting from the simple (absolute) sum of lap times. With the first limitation, they wanted to bring back the original sports cars, that with their greatest exponents were becoming cars of pure competition, built around international regulations which were less and less convincing. Wisely, the Automobile Club of Milan wants to give an example of a call to common sense, to traditions and to a minimum standard of security that is becoming an increasingly rare feature in the motorsport races. At the same time, the reduction of engine capacities allows the unique class standings, with obvious advantages not only for economic reasons (for who gives and for who receives the award) but even for transparency and interest of spectators. With the two races in which the lap times are summed, then, the racer is tied to a continuing fight, even when the latter conquers the position of honour: it is obvious that the first in the standings could even be a driver who did not win any of the two races. Even because, in the break between the two races, the team has the right to make any operations of maintenance on the engine. The track is not exceptionally tiring: 220 kilometres, equal to 35 laps of track; it is suitable for the fast performance of the formula. Reasons of concrete interest, according to the list of starters, are considerable but not so many: the limitation to 3000 cc eliminates (as indeed was scheduled) larger and combative international cars: Jaguars, Cunninghams, Talbots, and the new Alfa Romeos. Indeed, Giuseppe Farina, one of the most famous champions - not to mention the minor ones - is busy in Rouen. The deployment of twenty-five competitors is therefore focused essentially on the duo Ferrari-Lancia: it is such as to widely compensate for every absence. 


The Turinese constructor enters, with the Argentine ace Gonzalez, the French champion Manzon, Bonetto and perhaps Maglioli, a team of his new 3-litre sports cars (six cylinders of 86x85) of 220 hp, with fixed brakes detached from tyres. Two of them are new because they are bodied with open and very aerodynamic spider-sports by Pininfarina. Ferrari, however, seems certain that they will present for the first time, in testing exhibition, his brand new 1954 2500 formula: the car that is build for next year's Grand Prix, without supercharger; a 4 cylinders of over 200 hp, lighter and at least as fast as the Lancia: it will be driven by Alberto Ascari. They will accompany the 12-cylinder 3-litre cars with Villoresi and Marzotto. The fearsome third between the two probable protagonists is the French Gordini of 2300 cc of 6 cylinders, 150 hp, with Bordoni. It is likely that Fangio, who is recovering, will not be able to start. The brave 2-litre Maseratis aim for a relative affirmation. Before, however, on Sunday, June 28, 1963 there is less turnout than previous years on the Essart circuit for the Rouen Grand Prix. The race takes place on a 306 kilometres distance, equal to 60 laps of the circuit of 5400 metres. Fifteen competitors start. Giuseppe Farina and the Englishman Hawthorn, the two leaders of Ferrari, take the lead since the start, and on lap 3 the Turinese driver improves the lap record taking it to 2'13"3 at an average speed of 131 km/h (previous record: Ascari 2'11"3). After five laps only five drivers remain on the same lap: these are Farina, Hawthorn, Trintignant, Behra and Rosier, but these last two have a minute gap from Farina. At the end of the twelfth lap Giuseppe Farina has already lapped seven of the rivals and, among them, all the Talbot drivers. The Turinese makes an exciting race and beats again and again his record taking it to 2'13"0 with an average speed of 138 km/h. Shell (Gordini) is also forced to give green light to the Ferraris that lap one driver after the other at a phenomenal rate. The awaited duel Ferrari-Gordini ends, you can say, since the first part of the race with the defeat of the parisian constructor of which only two representatives, Trintignant and Shell, remain in the race (Behra is forced to retire on lap 20 because of an irreparable brake failure). 


Only Trintignant continues bravely the unequal fight and the stopwatch marks for the Frenchman 30 seconds of gap to Farina and 35 seconds to Hawthorn. But on lap 81 even the Gordini of Trintignant disappears from the race. The car of the Frenchman reportedly broke down on the circuit far from his refuelling station. Even for Trintignant the race is over. Rosier gets third place one lap and 45 seconds behind the last Gordini driven by Shell. Meanwhile the triumphal march of Farina and Hawthorn continues; the Englishman also takes the luxury of beating in turn the Giuseppe Farina’s record lapping in 2'12"8 equal to an average speed of 138.253 km/h. The pace of the two Ferraris increase progressively from the start of the race, and numbers clearly indicate it: 136 km/h of average on the tenth lap; 136.1 km/h on the fifteenth lap; 136.212 km/h on the twentieth; 136.600 km/h on the thirtieth. After 200 kilometres only ten competitors remain in the race and for the Ferraris the victory is virtually gained. Their triumphal carousel takes away of course most of the agonistic interest from the race in which the salient fact is not anymore the fight between the two Frenchmen Rosier and Etancelin (Talbot 4500) for the conquest of third place. All of them are already three laps behind Farina and Hawthorn; and the Turinese ace continues undisturbed to the end. The victory is a good sign for the 2500 cc Ferraris which have run in a pace that revealed how the drivers made the race following probably a predetermined plan. In addition to the victory, the technicians of Maranello wanted even the certainty that the new models are definitely on point, and the hard Essart circuit, putting them to the test in addition to the different engine parts and mechanical ratios of the new car (change of speed, differential assembly, and so on), has given them even this confidence. Thirty thousand spectators attended the race that was preceded by another race of the small capacity turismo cars, which categories were won respectively by the American Bob Said (Osca) and the Frenchman Bedelé (Beynault). In the meanwhile, the fifth Tour of Umbria takes place on a route of 390 kilometres, and marks the triumph of Luigi Musso on the Maserati 2000, that beats of around 2 minutes the Turineses Piodi and Valenzano, both on Lancia, classified respectively in second and third place. 


On Monday, June 29, 1953, the sixth Autodrome Grand Prix, not particularly favoured neither by the pouty weather nor by the discrete turnout, would deserve a brighter fate. However, it must be considered a beautiful and successful event for the class and combativeness of competitors, for the interest of the formula, for the vivacity of its surprising episodes, and for the very quick race pace. Between competitors there are many important names as the World Champion Ascari, Luigi Villoresi, the Argentine Gonzalez, the French champion Manzon, and even Giuseppe Farina, who was the winner on Sunday at the Rouen Circuit, with his teammate Hawthorn, in second place, arrived by flight during the morning in Monza, just in time for some quick reconnaissance laps of the circuit with the new Ferrari of 2 litres and half. The formula, as is known, consists in limiting to sport cars the capacity under three litres, called to dispute, in a category and unique class, two different races of 35 laps each, with the sum of lap times. Absent the Veritas 2100 of the Belgian De Kando, that was not qualified, harmless the Gordini B250 of Casella and Bordoni, as the Maserati 9000 of Giletti, the two scheduled races are based on the duel Ferrari-Lancia. The Maranello team lines up the World Champion Alberto Ascari, Farina, Villoresi and Hawthorn, Lancia takes the Argentine Gonzalez, Bonetto and Manzon. When everything, in the first race, predicts an easy success of Ascari, that laps almost every competitor, a banal accident, unfortunately, removes him from the race: at Lesmo turn, trying to overtake Bianca Maria Piazza, Ascari ends up running her over. Luckily the two, even going on the grass, get away without damage and can, after a good drink of cognac, go back with their own cars to the pits. A real shame, given that in the race Ascari meets expectations until this moment. The Italian driver, after a flying start in the Indianapolis way, had soon taken the lead, followed by Bonetto, Gonzalez, Farina, Manzon and Hawthorn. But on the second lap Palmiera was already stopped for a failure, and for him the race was already over. Soon after, Gonzalez stops in pits for clutch problems; this time loss facilitates the lapping of Alberto Ascari. The Argentine driver stops again in the pits on the next lap. Then, on lap 13, Ascari and Piazza collide at Lesmo turn. Villoresi finds himself automatically in the lead, in front of Farina and Bonetto, Hawthorn, Castellotti and Bordoni and the leaderboard remains unchanged until the end of the race. 


With the retirement of Gonzalez on lap 21, Lancia lost his first racer, but regained Bonetto. In fact the Piedmontese, with a smart tactic, is able, lap after lap, second after second, to steal to Farina 3.6 seconds and to end in a good second place, after a dramatic, impetuous close duel with the former teammate. The fight is almost unequal in the second race: Bonetto, on Lancia, has to fight against the Ferrari coalition, that is against Villoresi, Farina, Hawthorn. But the Lancia leader at start takes the lead soon, traipsing Villoresi and Farina, who alternate in the chase. The attacks of the two drivers of the Maranello team come one after the other, insistent and prolonged, but Bonetto does not intend to give the position. And on each lap, even in a fraction of a second, he seems to increase his advantage. However, some laps later, the efforts of Villoresi are crowned by a success: just in the Lesmo turn, the Italian driver takes the lead, followed by Bonetto and, thirty metres behind, by Farina. For two laps the positions remain the same; Farina presses and Bonetto has to defend the second place through gritted teeth; but later he is overtaken. The race is by now a monologue of the two Ferraris, even if the Lancia champion, on lap 16, is able to take himself again in second place, to give it soon later to Farina, and regain it definitely. The fight between the two Piedmontese is exciting. The closed Spyder of Villoresi does not know breaks and continues the race victorious, while Bonetto and Farina, with the open chassis, continue the close fight. A burst of applause from the 40.000 spectators welcomes the triumphant arrival of Villoresi, winner of both races: to him goes even the Coppa Arturo Mercanti. Greeted by applause also reach the finish line Bonetto and the two tireless veterans of the Rouen honours, Farina and Hawthorn. The sports cars have not been put away until Saturday at midnight, the Formula 2 cars have their final practice and the Ferraris and the Maseratis are out in full force until the practice battles we are becoming used to seeing. All the faster times are an improvement over the sports car record and it is Gonzalez who appears to have the upper hand, but then Ascari and Villoresi fight with him severely, only to have the Argentine take Bonetto’s Maserati and equal their lap times. Outwardly neither of the teams have changed their cars since the Belgian Grand Prix and it is surprising that the Ferraris can challenge the speed of the Maseratis, but with two hairpin bends, requiring really heavy braking; the Ferrari brakes are making up for a slightly inferior top speed. 


Although practice has been a bit slow, it finished at a peak with the sports car race fight open one between Cunningham, Jaguar, Gordini and Ferrari, and the Grand Prix with Ascari, Gonzalez, Villoresi, Fangio and Farina with only 1.3 seconds between the fastest and the slowest. Of the new drivers Hawthorn makes a better time than Marimon, while of the private owners Graffenried beats Rosier. Behind comes the rest, led by Bira driving a works Connaught, and Gerard’s Cooper-Bristol thanks to some quick laps put in by DA Clarke. As midnight approaches on Saturday the whole of the pit area is superbly floodlit, bands play, fireworks are let off, cabaret turns are performed on open-air stages and the restaurants and stands are full of people. Starting a race in the dark is indeed a novelty to the public but the drivers of the faster cars are not looking forward to it, for a Le Mans start at 4 o’clock in the afternoon is hair-raising enough and the added handicap of plunging out of a pit area like daylight into the pitch black of midnight is not a comforting thought. Officially there is no general classification in this race, though everyone is interested in the team that is going to go the farthest distance in the 12 hours. There are three categories, the first being up to 750 cc, the second 750-2000 cc and the third over 2000 cc, so that there will be three races and three winners. That is official, but generally speaking the Le Mans atmosphere has so invaded Reims that a general classification is expected. As at Le Mans the cars line up in order of engine size with the drivers on the opposite side of the road and a quick glance down the line shows two Cunninghams, both open models, the new one driven by Fitch- Walters and the old one by Cunningham-Johnson, three Talbots as at Le Mans driven by Rosier- Cabantous, Levegh-Meyrat and Mairesse-Grignard, the 4.5-litre Ferrari of Maglioli-Carini, a 4.1 open Ferrari of Hill-Chinetti, the Moss-Whitehead works Jaguar, the Ecurie Ecosse, Jaguar driven by Scott- Douglas and Sanderson, a French 120C of Roboly-Simone, the Abecassis-Frere HWM with transverse-leaf, and torsion bar De Dion rear, and two Gordinis, the 3-litre of Behra-Lucas and a 2.5- litre of Trintignant-Schell. On account of a supercharger Constantin’s Peugeot 203 is in this group, which is included in the third category. 


ln the middle class there are the two Le Mans Bristols, bravely having another go, driven by Macklin-Whitehead and Fairman-Wilson, three assorted Gordinis, Mieres-Guelfi and Layer-Rinin with two open versions of the 2-litre and Bourelly-Creapin with a 14-litre coupe. Clarke and Scott-Russell are driving Gerard’s Le Mans Fraser-Nash, the owner running in the Grand Prix, Salvadori and Crook with the works Fraser-Nash coupe, two 2-litre Ferraris, a coupe driven by Picard-Pozzi and an open one by Legenier-Rubirosa, while Said’s blue and white 1350 cc Osca makes up the class. Naturally the 750cc class is especially for French cars and has most of the Le Mans competitors running, with D.B., Panhard, Monopide, Renault, and V.P.-Renault, making a total of fifteen in this class. It would have been nice to see a specially prepared Lotus-Austin having a go at this French monopoly. It is doubtful whether more than two drivers saw the flag fall, but they all get away and the race is on, with Villoresi in the Ferrari coupe soon going into the lead, followed by Behra (Gordini), Walters (Cunningham), Trintignant (Gordini), Moss (Jaguar), and Abecassis (HWM). Mieres leads the 2-litre class, ahead of the other works Gordini and the Fraser-Nash coupe goes out with clutch issues. The drivers soon get used to the darkness and the Ferrari draws away from the rest of the field, while Behra comes in with a flat rear tyre. It is found that the new car is too low for the jack, when the tyre is flat, and the whole staff try lifting, but to no avail; eventually another jack is produced and the wheel changed, the car now being way back among the 2-litre class by the time it restarts. By 1:00 a.m. things have settled down, the Ferrari being still farther ahead, followed by Trintignant, Walters, Moss, Abecassis, and Rosier with the first of the Talbots. The leading 2-litre Gordini has broken its accelerator pedal, letting the Loyer-Guelfi car take its place, while Plantivaux and Bruwaere are leading the others with one of the super-streamlined Panhards. Graham Whitehead retires one of the Bristols with a broken clutch before Macklin has a chance to drive, and Roboly’s nice new Jaguar runs a big-end. Just before 2:30 a.m. pit-stops for fuel and new drivers begin and at one end of the pits the marshals allow only two mechanics to work on the cars, while at the other end marshals allow three. 


Officially the rules says that one mechanic can refuel and while he is doing that two others, or one and the driver, can work on the car, but no one is too sure and it is soon clear that few of the marshals had practice at supervising long-distance race pit-stops. However, nobody bothers too much and everyone refuels and changes drivers, fuel is spilt everywhere, no one catches fire, by miracle, and the numbers around the cars depend on the nationality of the crew. The leading Ferrari continues to retain its lead, except during the pit-stop reshuffling, and Carini takes some time to get into the stride of Maglioli but by 3:00 a.m. he achieves it near enough. Before handing over Maglioli makes the fastest lap in 2’42"8, at a speed of 184.585 km/h, which would have put him in the second row of the Grand Prix line-up. The Ferrari now seems quite uncatchable and the order in Class 1 is Ferrari, followed some way back by the new Cunningham, Trintignant still driving the 2.5-litre Cordial, Whitehead having taken over from Moss on the Jaguar, Frère driving the HWM, and Rosier driving the leading Talbot single-handed. Loyer and Guelfi are still leading the 2-litres and the Chancel brothers have now taken the lead in Class 3 with the second streamlined Panhard. According to the regulations lights have to be kept on until 5 a.m. despite weather conditions and when the Ferrari goes past at 4:30 a.m. with no lights it is quite obvious that it is asking to be disqualified. A visit to the Ferrari pit to hear what the organisers have to say is imperative and as Charles Faroux, the race director, approaches, he has disqualification written all over his face. Before he reaches the pit, Cornet’s Panhard coupe goes by without any lights, as do several DBs, the French-owned 2-litre Ferrari, one of the Gordinis and many others on sidelights only. The disqualification changes to a warning and the pit waves frantically to Carini to put the lights on again, as do all the other competitors, while Faroux gesticulates to those on sidelights, and nobody really knows whether the regulations mean sidelights or headlights. Returning towards his office Faroux meets Divo, the assistant race director, and at that point the Ferrari comes in for a pit stop. It is refuelled and Maglioli gets in, and then fuel gushes out of the filler onto the ground. Many hands push the car clear of the spilt fuel, the engine bursts into life and Maglioli is back in the race. This is at 4:40 a.m. and as he leaves there are no rear lights showing, while to those behind the car, including the race director, the car appears to have been push-started.


Without any more doubt, a meeting of the marshals is called and five minutes later the loudspeaker announces that no more lap times are going to be taken for Ferrari #18 as it has infringed numerous regulations. No mention is made that it has been disqualified, merely that no more times would be taken. It is now nearly three laps in front of the second car and going at the same furious pace. Ugolini, the pit manager, is soon at the director’s office to find out what rules have been infringed and a furious argument starts, which goes on for over an hour. From this point the race turns into a farce as partiality has been shown over the interpreting of rules and, much more serious, the organisers flagrantly ignore one of the most important rules of the International Sporting Code. As Faroux states to Ugolini, a decision has been made; why or how or whether it is justified is another matter which can be discussed, but the actual decision to stop taking times for the leading Ferrari can not be altered. When a car is disqualified, for whatever reason, it must be stopped by the race director with a black flag and the number of the car concerned. This is not done and the Ferrari continues unchecked, while the loudspeakers, at 4:50 a.m. announce that it has completed 100 laps of the circuit. The rights or wrongs of the disqualification depend entirely on the statements of the marshals concerned and, when questioned more closely by Ugolini, these statements begin to vary. For example, those behind the car say that the headlights weren’t on, while those ahead say that the headlights were on; those behind say the car was push-started, those beside the car say that Maglioli pressed the starter, though no one is sure whether the car was still rolling or stationary at the precise moment. The question of the number of mechanics allowed to work on the car arises again and it is clear that opinions or interpretations of the rules vary, but still the Ferrari is allowed to circulate; nothing is said about putting all the lights out before 5:00 a.m. After a while, Lofty England appears on behalf of the Jaguar that is now officially leading, to suggest stopping the Ferrari if it is out of the race, as Moss is needlessly racing with it, thinking that he is still leading. Roche produces a black flag which he gives to Divo, who in turn produces a number 18 which is given to Faroux; meanwhile the public screams abuse and calls for the reasons of the uproar. Faroux with the number and Divo with the flag wait for the Ferrari to appear and first of all show them to a red Panhard coupe and then to the 2-litre Ferrari coupe. 


When Maglioli finally appears there is a distinctly unassured air about the race director, and as the car passes he holds up the number and points to the car while Divo keeps the flag by his side. Naturally Maglioli does not stop and a lap or two later Divo goes down to the beginning of the pit area and waves the black flag, but with no number, so again Maglioli does not stop. By now the whole affair has gotten completely out of hand and the officials are all for sitting down and forgetting the whole incident, but Ugolini does not have it and continues to keep the pot boiling. No more official attempts are made to stop the Ferrari and just before 5:30 a.m., amidst an uproar from the public, the Ferrari pit signals Maglioli to come in, which he does immediately, accompanied by a continuous chant of sympathy from the crowd, some of whom proceed to pluck the decorative flowers from the grandstands and throw them on the car as it stops. Maglioli justifies his action of not stopping before by simply quoting the International Sporting Code, pointing out that a number on its own means nothing, nor does a black flag. This utter farce and mismanagement on the part of the stewards cause much of the interest of the race to die away, the crowd begins to disappear and go to sleep, and the remaining hours drag heavily. While all this has been going on, Fitch has crashed the new Cunningham while in the lead, writing it off completely, Schell has pushed the leading Gordini in with its starter motor permanently locked to the flywheel, the H.W.M. has broken its rear suspension and pit stops have continued, with fuel splashing about everywhere, cars being pushed around, more than three people working on cars, depending on which end of the pits they are at. What has been a first-class race has turned in shambles. As those people who have been to bed begins to filter back to the race after breakfast Moss- Whitehead are leading with the Jaguar, followed by Rosier-Cabantous in the Talbot and Cunningham- Johnson in the Cunningham in Class 3, Loyer-Guelfi are still leading in Class 2 from Fairman-Wilson in the Bristol and Picard-Pozzi in the Ferrari coupe, while many of the little cars are still going round, the Chancel brothers in the lead. Little of the daybreak excitement is known to them and no official announcements are made, so that opinions can only be gathered from hearsay and various improvements are made to the actual happenings by the sleepers. 


Ferrari finally packs up and goes home to bed threatening to return to Modena and not run in the Grand Prix, while Carini starts the coupe on the starter and drives it round the back of the pits, unintentionally disproving any stories about the car being unable to be started other than by pushing. As the heat of the day approaches and the hours to midday tick slowly away, it is becoming rather obvious that the experiment of starting a race at midnight is not a good idea, from the point of view of those keen ones who stayed up all time. Also, the much advertised music and dancing that was supposed to go on all night has fizzled out before the race even started and as Moss brings the dark green Jaguar into the finish line he is loudly acclaimed by the crowd that is beginning to assemble again for lunch. Cabantous finishes second in time to Talbot, followed by Johnson in last year’s Cunningham, which he shared with the owner. That, officially, is Class 3, though to the crowd it is the race itself, while Class 2 sees the Bristol finish in a deserved first place after their Le Mans set-backs, the Loyer-Guelfi Gordini having broken its gearbox, followed by the Picard-Pozzi Ferrari and the Clark-Scott Russell Frazer-Nash, having run many hours without a filler cap on the tank and having to stop twice as many times as scheduled. In Class 1 the brothers Pierre and Robert Chancel maintain the first position, with the Panhard in front of their teammates and the DB Panhard driven by Stempert and Schwartz. As if all the foregoing reasons are not enough for one meeting, preparations now begins for the 40th French Grand Prix and the Ferrari threat of not starting does not materialise, naturally - the FIA consequences being too great - but they delay their arrival until the last possible moment and receive a huge ovation from the crowd when they eventually line up in front of the pits. The cars line up on the grid, there being Ascari, Villoresi, Farina, Hawthorn and Rosier on four-cylinder Ferraris, Gonzalez, Fangio, Bonetto, Mathison and Graffenried on Maserati Sixes, Moss with his Cooper-Alta, Bira and Salvadori with fuel-injection Connaughts, Claes with his standard Connaught, Collins, Macklin and Cabantous with the HWMs, Bayol and Chiron with the OSCAs, Wharton and Gerard with the Cooper-Bristols, and right at the back, having not practised, are the four works Gordinis driven by Trintignant, Schell, Behra and Mieres. 


While Faroux prepares to drop the starting flag, amidst cries of derision from the crowd every time his name is mentioned, it is rather noticeable that Moss and Cabantous have only recently finished completing the 12-hour race, doing the last three hours of driving, and Chiron, Mieres and Behra have not practised on the Grand Prix cars. Violation of regulations seems to be part of the Reims organisation. With a Maserati-Ferrari duel coming to boiling point trifling matters take a back seat, and as the whole field roars off in a glorious start everyone waits to see the cars appear out of the Garenne woods on the far horizon and hurtle down the hill to Illinois. A long line of red cars appears, bunched closely under braking and then comes screaming past the pits in a glorious tumult of noise and dust that restore everyone’s sense of proportion. It is Gonzalez who is leading, from Ascari, Villoresi, Bonetto, Hawthorn, Farina, Marimon and the rest, with Bira leading the non-Italian cars. Bonetto spins at Thillois, letting the four works Ferraris into a line behind the flying Gonzalez, then comes Fangio and Marimon, followed by Trintignant showing his usual superiority over the followers. Gonzalez draws away relentlessly and Ascari, Villoresi and Hawthorn run so close together that at times they are literally side by side, chopping and changing positions all the time. Farina is back a little with Fangio and Marimon at his heels, and Trintignant crouching down in the Gordini cockpit endeavouring to do his utmost to keep the tail of the Italian horde in sight. A large gap soon appears between him and Graffenried and Bonetto, and then another long gap sees Bira come by with the Connaught way ahead of the rest of the field. Lap by lap Gonzalez increases his lead until he has some 20 seconds in hand by the end of lap 22; the three Ferraris are still engaged in a furious battle amongst themselves, while Fangio begins to get into his stride to shake off Marimon and starts catching Farina. This he does, and just before half-distance he gets by and is soon amongst the Ascari-Villoresi-Hawthorn trio. In making this gain he naturally tends to draw Farina and Marimon along with him and when on lap 30 Gonzalez comes in to refuel, Fangio, Hawthorn, Ascari, Farina, Marimon and Villoresi are in such a tight bunch that all or any of them can be leading at any moment. 


This is a really cracking pace and it is going to be a survival of the fittest, with no time for tactics. With half the race run the first seven cars are still going as if they were on the opening lap, while the rest of the field struggles along behind. Trintignant has burst the Gordini and so have done Schell and Mieres, while Moss is having clutch slip and Salvadori has lasted no time at all. The air behind Gonzalez is now clear; he started with a small amount of fuel hoping to make up a sufficient lead in the first half of the race, but it does not quite work out that way and be restarted in the midst of the battling mass of the Ferraris and the Maseratis. Still it is anyone’s race and on lap 33 Hawthorn and Fangio begin to share the lead between them rather consistently and after another half-dozen laps a gap begins to appear between these two and the remainder, which is still a turmoil of Gonzalez, Ascari, Farina and Marimon, Villoresi having tired and dropped back. The young English boy is driving at his best and lap after lap he and Fangio appear out of Thillois so close behind one another that it looks like one car, which then split into two as they approach the pits and disappear under the bridge and round the full-throttle right hand curve, side by side. This itself is real motor racing, but there is more to come, for behind comes Gonzalez and Asian locked in an equally deadly struggle and going through the same motions. Now another flaw in the organisation makes itself apparent, for the programme says the race is over on lap 56, while the store sheets handed to the Press says there are going to be 60 laps. To make matters worse there are two loudspeaker announcers, and one says 56 laps while the other says 60 laps. If it had been 100 laps it would have made no difference to the furious battles waging out on the circuit. Neither Maserati nor Ferrari give in and finally someone must have tossed up and said the race is going on for 60 laps. By three-quarter distance Bonetto is lapped by the open fight, as is Graffenried, though for a time these two have played the part of the prelude to the storm, for the scream of their Maserati exhausts is acting as a warning of the approaching fury. Fifty laps go by and still no quarter is given. The Ferraris refuse to let go of the Maseratis, making up on braking anything they might be losing on speed. Hawthorn loses a little on the climbing right-hand turn past Geux and making it up again on the following left-hander and the hairpin leading to Gurenne. 


It does not seem possible that this pace can go on, as it must be absolute hell for the drivers, but it does continue and Hawthorn, in his green wind jacket, continues to do battle with Fangio in his blue and yellow jersey. At the end of lap 58 the absolute peak is reached, of this and possibly any race ever before, when Hawthorn and Fangio dead-heated across the finishing line, to be followed by Gonzalez and Ascari also in a dead-heat as they cross the line. The passing of Farina and then Villoresi, on their own at over 140 mph come as quite a relief. As they start the last lap Hawthorn has a slight lead over Fangio, while Gonzalez and Ascari are still in a dead-heat. Everyone is on their toes, this is going to be the finest finish of all time, the English are inches off the ground, Hawthorn, leading at Garenne, is still leading down the bill to Thillois; not only is this the motor race of the year, but an English driver is leading. Round the Thillois hairpin for the last time, four cars in a tight build, all of them red, all of them with oval-shaped air-entries, for the Maseratis have removed their grilles before the start. The tension is terrific, Faroux raises and waves the chequered flag, a blur of cars passes, Hawthorn, Fangio, Gonzalez and Ascari, as quick as that. The cheering reached fever pitch, the crowds surge onto the course and the also-rans, who have all driven hard and fast for over 2 hours, come in one by one. Following the first four come Farina, then Villoresi, Graffenried, Rosier, Mathison, who have been forced to stop and repair his oil-radiator when a stone from Ascari’s rear wheel punctures it, Behra limping along minus many cylinders. Gerard, his Cooper-Bristol sounding very healthy but lacking the Italian speed, with Claes and Collins bringing up the tail. The race finishes with an Englishman coming out on top. The fact that he is not driving an English car matters little; when the flag fell he started on equal terms with the great names in motor racing and is the first to receive the chequered flag. Not only has he kept the Union Jack high, but he has also put Scuderia Ferrari back on its hind legs after it has stumbled noticeably. The Reims-Gueux Circuit is not a difficult one on which to drive in comparison with many, so that sheer finesse of driving skill is not vitally important, but endurance and judgement are needed and, as all the drivers started on the same footing as the circuit has never been raced on before, Hawthorn can feel justifiably proud at having beaten the world’s finest drivers. 


Let us hope that every Englishman is equally proud of his effort. The sportiveness of Ferrari managers has avoided that the 32nd French Grand Prix was ruined by problems. At the origin of the accident, that for many hours has put in danger the success of the great automotive manifestation, is the strangely severe decision of the 12 Hours director Charles Paroux. In this competition that - as it is known - precedes the Grand Prix, the director, by applying with excessive severity the regulations, decided to disqualify the Ferrari driven by Maglioli-Carini that half race led with over a lap ahead of Moss-Whitehead’s Jaguar. Maglioli, in that moment, was in the pits where he refuelled, push-started, by three mechanics instead of two as it is expected by regulations. And this slight infringement, unified with the fact that the lights were turned off before the sunrise, was enough in making that two Italians disqualified and declared out of the race. Thus the 12 hours was won by Englishmen Whitehead and Moss on Jaguar, who have run 2036.356 kilometres at an average speed of 169.296 km/h. Second the Talbot of Rosier-Giraud with 2002.806 kilometres (at an average speed of 166.856 km/h). The only other eventful episode was the accident, without grave consequences, that occurred to Fish who went out of the road hitting against a tree, luckily not hurting himself. The fact of the day, however, was the Maglioli-Carini disqualifying. This decision, communicated more than half hour of discussions among the same stewards that were not unanimous in homologating it, raised many protests from the crowd and provoked the rightful resentment of Ferrari managers, who decided to communicate to the Modena office at the end to ask directives. Calls increased during the two hours that separated the arrival of the 12 Hours and the starting of the Grand Prix and, when the abstention of the Ferrari team semed already an accomplished fact, a last telephone intervention of the organisers to Enzo Ferrari has managed to save the race from the sportive failure and the four Ferraris lined up at the starting grid were greeted by a warm cheering of the crowd. From the dramatic fight resulting from the French Grand Prix the young British driver Mike Hawthorn was the winner, beating in a sprint Juan Manuel Fangio and José Froilan Gonzalez.


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