#58 1957 Monaco Grand Prix

2021-04-22 00:00

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#58 1957 Monaco Grand Prix

Report of Monaco Grand Prix and the race of Mille Miglia 1957


Of course, the term 'experimental laboratory' in automotive parlance refers to the workshop with its special testing machines, the fields equipped for certain experiments, the circuit track or the racetrack for environmental tests, and perhaps even the actual races. Thus, following the American example - where no manufacturer would take seriously an invitation to take part in a road race to technically refine its models - it is now done all over the world. This does not mean that the experience of customers and ordinary roads has lost all interest: but here we are in the field of fine-tuning tastes, of statistics on the reproduction of certain small inconveniences that never reach the level of danger.


In short, industry can do without road racing. What has already been said about cars in general also applies to tyres, and the culprit for the De Portago disaster must be found in the tyre itself. What is certain is that the tyre's problem, at 300 km/h, is tremendous and different from ordinary use. The predominant torment at those speeds is centrifugal stress, which is the least of it in normal use. And even in this case the racing sector tends to form a closed and exclusive technique, which is more likely to distract resources, studies and experience from the evolution of mass production than to encourage it. And how well we know that the improvement of its resistance and safety conditions is today an exclusively economic matter. In conclusion, technology is not a cruel goddess, but the Mille Miglia can well disappear without regret: its task is over.


In the meantime, the investigation for the Guidizzolo tragedy goes on, and during the day of Tuesday, May 14, 1957, the Public Prosecutor's Office of Mantua confiscates the Ferraris used in the Mille Miglia race, in order to carry out an expertise on the cars and tyres. For this reason, Enzo Ferrari asks the Commissione Sportiva Automobilistica Italiana (Italian Motor Sports Commission) to speak to the organisers of the 1000 kilometres of the Nurburgring in order to ask for a postponement of the date of the fourth round of the World Sports Car Championship, scheduled for 26 May 1957. In addition, as a precautionary measure, Ferrari's passport was withdrawn. Ferrari immediately stated that, whatever the outcome of the investigation, it would be his duty to compensate the families of the victims and he immediately set about getting the company's insurance company on his side. Meanwhile, on Tuesday May 14, 1957, in Mantua, the mayors of Guidizzolo, Cavriana and Volta Mantovana put up a poster in the three municipalities saying:


"The disaster of 12 May leaves us stunned and saddened, and commits us to honour the victims with dignity. Every citizen should pay their respects to the dead and show their relatives the Christian solidarity of our people".


The townspeople accepted the appeal and in the afternoon the funeral, held in Guidizzolo at 4:30 p.m., was impressive in terms of crowd participation and simple in terms of function. The funerals are common for ten of the eleven victims; one, Silvestro Franzini, had been buried in the morning in Volta Mantovana. Present were the Prefect, the Mayor, the Chief Constable, the President of the Provincial Council of Mantua, the Mayor of Brescia, the Mayors of Guidizzolo, Cavriana and Volta Mantovana, the gonfalon of the city of Mantua and the banners of the latter three municipalities, and also Enzo Ferrari with his wife, together with numerous personalities from the world of sport. Fangio arrives in Milan from Argentina on the evening of Monday 13th May 1957 and goes to the cemetery of Cavriana the following morning together with De Tomaso, Mendlteguy and the Ferrari technicians, watching the moment when the two bodies are closed inside the coffin. The Argentinean champion is asked if the accident could be due to the Marquis' tiredness:


"Absolutely not. Most likely it was due to the tyre bursting. The Mantova-Brescia section is one of the fastest in the Mille Miglia. The cross-shaped tear, which is clearly visible in the tyre, is for me an unequivocal sign of the explosion. Why did it explode? There could be several reasons. Among the most probable causes, in my opinion, is the possibility of a very slight disintegration of the wheel axle. This displacement, even if it is only a fraction of a millimetre, is at least ten times greater than the diameter of the wheel itself on the casing. It is clear that the tyre is subjected to lateral stress and, in particular, to friction that, when speeds of hundreds of kilometres per hour are reached, causes very high overheating, which can compromise the integrity of the tyre itself".


Film actress Linda Christian, who had come to Milan on Monday 13 May 1957 to await the arrival of Marquis Alfonso De Portago's mother at Malpensa, was not present.


"I did not want to attend the funeral in Guidizzolo in order not to complicate the family situation of De Portago's widow. It was only right that his wife should be present at the funeral, even though she had been separated from Alfonso for over a year. I myself gave her a seat on the airliner that will transport the coffin to Spain. All the documents are now ready, and I was assured a short while ago by the Spanish consul that the formalities required by international conventions have been completed. I don't know when I will come back to Italy, I have left too many memories of my life in this country".


The day before, having to wait for Marquis De Portago to go to dinner with Trips, Linda got off the plane that had taken her from Rome to Linate airport at 19:50, and meeting a journalist asked if the Mille Miglia classification was known.


"De Portago has not arrived?"


The disappointed woman asks, before discovering that her name is not among those present because the marquis has unfortunately disappeared. Shortly afterwards, Linda goes with the journalist she met at the airport to the scene of the accident, where she finds Alfonso's helmet, and caresses it crying.


"We left, Alfonso and I, from Madrid for Rome, but before leaving he had wanted to introduce me to his mother, who was very nice to me. In order to follow Alfonso in all the races he was to run this year, I had previously cancelled all my film commitments. We had been to Cuba together, where my fiancé had run a magnificent race and was in great shape".


The beautiful actress then says she met Alfonso De Portago in Paris six months earlier:


"It's not true that I was the cause of his divorce, because his wife had asked for it a year and a half before Alfonso and I met. I had only known him for six months and I loved him very much. He also loved me very much and we were going to get married as soon as the divorce decree was published. I can say that De Portago's wife had insisted on the divorce, and even a few weeks ago her lawyers in New York were urged by her to speed up the process. I had a great fear whenever I knew him engaged in some race, and I begged him many times to get it over with. He wouldn't even listen to me, he would reply: Not even for the greatest love in the world could I give up racing. I won't give up motor racing until I've won the world championship title. Above all, I was terrified of the Mille Miglia and I begged him not to take part in it because it was too dangerous. He wouldn't listen to me and told me to wait for him at the Rome passage, where he would be among the first. It was at the Rome checkpoint that I saw him for the last time. It was a forty-five second meeting, just enough time to exchange a long kiss. I gave him a piece of paper, on which I had written in Spanish the position of the various competitors, so that he could regulate his race. At the bottom of the note I added three words, my last words of love to him: Te quiero mucho. I am petrified with pain. It really is too strong a blow, I don't know what to do anymore. I'm completely disoriented, I feel alone, lost, abandoned by everyone".


The actress was also very surprised to hear the news of the imminent arrival of Alfonso De Portago's wife and two children from New York.


"I didn't know, it's likely that both the wife and the mother will want to see Alfonso's body".


The following day, Monday 13th May 1957, at 4:17 p.m., the large English twin-engine Viking plane marked G-AHOP, chartered in Biarriz in the morning, arrives at Malpensa airport to take De Porago's mother, Dona Olga Martin Montis to Italy. Linda Christian, dressed in a black suit and a black scarf with large white polka dots, doesn't wait a moment to climb up the ladder, almost tripping over the last step, to rush into the nacelle and embrace the Marquis' mother, crying. The lady is accompanied by her third husband, Don Isidro Martin Montis, and Alfonso's sister, the Marquise Sol de Moratalla, who says on her arrival:


"Mum was restless on Sunday. She phoned Modena twice, to Ferrari, to ask why Alfonso was not in the order of arrival. They didn't have the courage to tell her. She learned about it at 6:00 pm on the radio. He didn't want to believe it".


Later, at 19:15 they arrived in Cavriana. The group goes to the cemetery chapel, where the bodies of De Portago and Nelson lie.


"I can't see him anymore?"


The mother asks, but the consul shakes his head in denial. A few moments later, the woman bends down to kiss the bronze cross on the coffin, then detaches herself, takes a step towards the exit, then decides to go back and kiss the cross on Nelson's coffin. And so do the Marquis' sister and Linda, who digs her red nail varnish into the plate with De Portago's name on it. Then, in a grey Mercedes, they drive to the scene of the disaster. Slowly the car passes between kilometres 21 and 22 of the provincial road between Mantua and Brescia, before setting off again for Milan.


De Portago's widow arrived in Italy on the morning of May 14, 1957, having left New York in the meantime, landing at 1:00 pm at Orly airport with her six-year-old son Andrea and three-year-old son Anthony. In the meantime, during the morning in Cavriana, the wife of journalist Edmond Ourner Nelson also arrives. The woman is a native of the Bavoay Islands, and her name is Fumi. She is of medium height, pretty, with her hair pulled back over the nape of her neck, dark, with yellow-red stripes. With her is the uncle of the runner De Portago. Nelson's wife had held out extreme hope that there was another person in the box, and not her husband, because the journalist had not told her that he was taking part in the Mille Miglia race, and foreign agencies, reporting the names of the participants, had never mentioned Gurner Nelson.


"It could be a mistake, I want to see him. If it wasn't him, a two-year-old boy is waiting for him in St. Moritz".


De Portago's uncle then invited a representative from Ferrari to call the doctor so that the coffin could be opened. When the woman's wish was granted, some young men who had collected the poor limbs and laid them out in the cemetery mortuary asked her to desist, saying they were sure that the victim was the journalist.


"He had the documents that are now at the Public Prosecutor's Office, and in his pocket we found a tobacco pouch and a list of hotels written in French".


The woman clutches the tobacco pouch between her fingers, brings it to her chest and bows her head without crying.


"That's enough".


She whispers resignedly, after which, at 2:00 pm, the two coffins are loaded onto vans to be transported to Guidizzolo. When the procession from the Cavriana town hall is about to turn into the provincial road, a kilometre from Guidizzolo, a car arrives from Brescia in the opposite direction and slams on the brakes. A woman dressed in mourning got out of the car and ran up to the car where De Portago's mother and sister were standing. She is the runner's wife, the Marquise Carol Mac Daniela. Tall, blonde, slightly upturned nose, beautiful. The woman gets into the car with the other two and starts to cry.


In the middle of the church, the coffins of the adults are placed side by side, and behind them, on either side, the small white coffins of the children. Shortly afterwards, the funeral Mass was celebrated in a simple way by the parish priest Fr Sarti, with the Bishop of Mantua, Monsignor Poma, in attendance. The whole church is crowded with people and others stand in the large churchyard.

There were more than fifty wreaths, and each coffin was covered with flowers. De Portago's has a long cushion of carnations and white lilies, and on two white satin strips is written in English:


"To my beloved son, all my love, always. Veg".


During the Mass the Schola Cantorum of the Seminary of Mantua sang the hymn that says:


"The peace of the Saints grant O Lord to the dead who await the eternal Judgement".


Even a funeral ceremony becomes a spectacle and the curious people gradually advance, leaning against the coffins of adults and children. After the Mass, the Bishop advances to the middle of the balustrade to give the last blessing, but he remains motionless, when the secretary understands the expressive silence, and hastens to move the crowd back until the coffins of the children are free; only the mothers remain, desolate. After the service, the coffins are carried in vans: black for the adults, white for the children. The procession to the cemetery is opened by the kindergarten children, followed by the primary school children. Each of them has a flower. Two girls carry a wreath with the inscription:


"Your schoolmates".


The whole crowd follows the other eight coffins to the cemetery in Guidizzolo to attend the burial: the slow tolling of the bells fills the soul with desolation. On the provincial road, the vans that take the coffins of De Portago and the journalist Nelson back to Cavriana break away from the procession. The Marquis's coffin was transported to Milan and then left Malpensa airport by plane for Paris during the night, before continuing on to Madrid. It lands in Spain on Wednesday, May 15, 1957, shortly after 12:30 pm, on the nearby Barajas race track the engines of the racing cars entered in the IV Gran Premio Nacional Sport are heard.


The crate is carried on the shoulders of the boys from the Spanish bobsleigh team, who with Alfonso took part in the Olympics. The procession makes its way to the Sacramental de San Isidro, where the coffin is buried in the pantheon of the Marquis of Linares. Linda, who had flown in from Italy, was also among the crowd. On Thursday 16th May, a mass is celebrated in the parish of Santa Barbara. In the evening, his wife and children fly back to Biarritz. The journalist's body will be collected at dawn the next day and cremated in Milan. His wife will take the ashes to St. Moritz, where they will be scattered on the bobsleigh run, aboard a plane. The province of Mantua will erect a monument at the site of the disaster, bearing the names of the eleven victims.


With the Monaco Grand Prix to be held on Sunday May 19, 1957 on the characteristic street circuit of the small Principality, the motor racing season continues. The moment is certainly not psychologically favourable for this risky sport, towards which public opinion is proving particularly hostile these days. On the other hand, it is not possible to condemn indiscriminately an activity which, it must be said, has not only negative or particularistic aspects.


The Monte Carlo circuit, while by no means ideal, being rather narrow in places, runs alongside pavements raised for more than a third on the edge of the small port. However, the dangers for runners are limited by the relatively low speed allowed by the winding road. Spectators mostly watch from above, from the stands, from the windows of houses and hotels, in complete safety.


One of the most interesting competitive confrontations of the last few years will take place in this singular race theatre, as the eternal duel between the Italian cars of Ferrari and Maserati will now include the English threat. In 1956 Vanwall had been lying dormant, but now it seems to be able to turn into a serious contender for victory, thanks to the improvements made to the car and the hiring of a driver of Moss' class.


In the first official practice, which took place on Thursday 16th May 1957, in the morning, the English driver set the best lap time, even though he was closely followed by Fangio's Maserati. The Vanwall's only unknown factor was its endurance on a circuit that was a real torment for mechanical equipment. Besides Vanwall, whose second driver was Brooks, other British cars were also present at the Monaco Grand Prix: the Connaught, the Cooper and the B.R.M.


Of the two Italian teams, Ferrari seems to be particularly well equipped, with drivers of the calibre of Collins, Musso, Hawthorn, Von Trirps and Trintignant. The Modenese eight-cylinder cars have also undergone important modifications that should have increased their already excellent overall performance. Although led by the great Manuel Fangio, Maserati's difficulties were greater, as - in addition to Moss, who may have switched permanently to Vanwall for Formula 1 testing - they had to give up Behra, who was injured during training for the Mille Miglia.


The line-up is thus completed by Schell, Menditeguy, Herrmann and Scarlatti. The six-cylinder Maserati car is moreover a safety, while the possible debut of the new twelve-cylinder car is conditioned by the unknowns about its resistance to the distance: on the contrary there is no doubt that the reigning World Champion is still the man of major resources, even if it would be hazardous to grant him the favour of an unreserved prediction. The Monaco Grand Prix will be run over a distance of one hundred and five laps, for a total of 314.5 kilometres. In the morning training of the first day, the Ferrari team is absent and will start testing on Friday with Collins, Hawthorn, Trintignant and Trips.


The next day, as expected, Juan Manuel Fangio set the fastest lap in practice, in 1'42"7 at an average speed of 110.245 km/h, followed by Peter Collins, with a time of 1'43"3, while his compatriot Moss, the fastest in the first tests, dropped to third position with a time of 1'43"6, at the wheel of a Vanwall. The expectation for the Monaco Grand Prix car race was heightened after the second day of practice, which took place again early in the morning. In fact, the long-distance fight between Fangio and Collins, the two team leaders of Maserati and Ferrari, offered high-level competitive reasons. In the course of the tests, neither of them intends to remain below their adversary's performance: the reigning World Champion starts by improving his time set on Thursday with the new twelve-cylinder Maserati. Then the English driver answered with a series of laps at increasing speed, up to mark an excellent 1'43"3. But Fangio didn't give up, he took up the old but always very efficient six-cylinder and, just at the end of the time allowed for practice, stopped chronometers at 1'42"7, corresponding to the average speed of 110.245 km/h.


Not far from the first ones in the ranking, Stirling Moss in the fearsome Vanwall, got the time of 1'43"6, and the Englishman Brooks - also in Vanwall - got the fourth best time with 1'44"4. It should be noted, however, that although the official record on the circuit (Moss in a Mercedes in 1955, 1'42"4) has been brought considerably closer, it is still a long way from the sensational time of 1'41"1 set in practice, again in 1955, by the late Alberto Ascari in his Lancia, then on the upswing and now transformed by Ferrari.


Still on the subject of memories and times, the previous year Fangio had set a lap record of 1'44"4, while in practice he set a net time of 1'44". However, it is highly likely that on Saturday, during the last day of practice - which will take place in the late afternoon - Fangio's current limit will be lowered. On the basis of these practice sessions, it is confirmed the opinion that the public will witness a breathless fight between Collins and Fangio, with the possibility that in the confrontation there will be also Moss, whose Vanwall continues to make a very good impression, as it is also shown by young Tony Brooks' exploit.


However, it is necessary to add that Collins is supported by a team that is on the whole stronger than the Maserati one, for which the absence of Jean Behra is a not indifferent handicap. It is likely that Fangio will drive the six-cylinder car in the race instead of the new twelve-cylinder, which has been improved but not yet in perfect working order. The German Hans Herrmann is in the running to take the unprecedented trident car to its debut. Up to now, in the training car, he has not managed to qualify among the sixteen drivers who will be admitted to the Monaco Grand Prix.


On Saturday 18th May 1957 the lap times of the competitors didn't improve, therefore the starting grid foresees Fangio's sprint from pole, followed by Collins and Moss in the first row, Brooks and Hawthorn in the second, Trintignant, Menditeguy and Schell in the third, von Trips and Gregory in the fourth, Flockhart, Gould and Lewis-Evans in the fifth, Scarlatti and Brabham in the sixth and Bueb in the sixteenth place. Herrmann's Maserati is therefore excluded.


It's rather curious what happened to Juan Manuel Fangio on the eve of Monaco Grand Prix: the Argentine driver was given a perfumed business card with the room key of a charming Parisian film actress in his hotel, but the reigning World Champion didn't show up at the appointment, preferring to stay in his room and sleep. However, because of this curious situation, the champion will think that the delicious temptation was offered to him in a devious way by Enzo Ferrari, who is obviously completely unaware of what has happened.


On Sunday 19th May 1957 the Monaco Grand Prix, second round of the Formula 1 World Championship, gets underway. At the start Moss takes a good start, who flanks Fangio since the first metres and tries to attack at the hairpin bend of the gasometer. The Argentine defended himself as a great champion but the action wasn't over: the two drivers ran along the straight that led to Sante Devote, wheel to wheel, with the English driver who managed to take the lead of the race, while starting from the third place they followed Collins, Schell, Brooks, Menditeguy, Hawthorn and Trips.


On the second lap, at the Station hairpin Collins overtook Fangio, bringing his Ferrari to second position, while Moss was already trying to escape alone. But on the fourth lap the British driver, on the descent after the tunnel, at the entrance of the chicane placed by the race organizers to slow down the speed in a particularly dangerous point (it will be remembered the great flight into the sea of poor Alberto Ascari, two years ago), very busy to keep his compatriot at bay, arrives long on the artificial serpentine and is unable to avoid ending up against the protective barrier.


It is not the first time that the circuit of Monte Carlo, narrow, insidious, but fortunately not very fast, is the scene of spectacular accidents that disrupt the regular course of the Monaco Grand Prix. All it takes is for a car to skid, and the narrow width of the roadway prevents the oncoming drivers from finding a way through. It happened before the war, at the time of Mercedes and Auto Union, it happened in 1951, and it happened again on the occasion of this last Grand Prix, just when the race had just entered the expected fight between the best men of Ferrari, Maserati and Vanwall.


At the entrance of the infamous chicane, where already on Saturday Collins had been the protagonist of a frightening stunt from which the Englishman's Ferrari had come out unusable, the Vanwall driven by Moss crashed into the protective barriers, crossed the road and involved the two Ferraris driven by Collins and Hawthorn. There was no physical damage to the drivers, so much so that Collins immediately lit a cigarette while Hawthorn didn't get upset, very elegant in his race uniform characterized by a bow tie. The race was now decided.


Manuel Fangio's class and great experience allowed him to go right through the tangle of cars (exactly as six years before, and with the same result), followed by the other Vanwall driver, young Brooks, who gave a good demonstration of coolness.

But Fangio disposed of his opponent at will, while the others were content to fight for the places of honour, with a very uncertain outcome, giving life to the few interesting moments of the race. In the meantime, the marshals were waving their yellow flags like madmen to warn of danger, and the other riders who came along were able to slow down or stop just long enough to clear the road and keep the race going.


In the following laps Fangio and Brooks flew away, and the race suddenly took on a more linear, not to say monotonous, character, given that the Argentinean easily enough resisted the attack of the London driver, while at the back there was a trio made up of von Trips, Menditeguy and Schell, and from the rear positions Trintignant and Brabham showed off. The skirmishes among these men were among the few interesting points of the race, and in particular the long and very close duel between Trintignant and Brabham, whose surprising small car of only 1500 cubic centimetres represented a miracle. Fangio pulled away from Brooks on lap 16 and did so with the authority, class and confidence of the great champion, assisted by his generous six-cylinder Maserati. On lap 20, six seconds separated the two drivers, then nine on lap 30.


In the meantime Schell stopped on lap 23, after damaging the front end and the suspension of the car by hitting an elevated pavement, Trintignant stopped to change spark plugs, Scarlatti stopped to leave the wheel to Schell, and von Trips stopped on lap 39 to be replaced by Hawthorn, but he took the wheel again two laps later, since the long Englishman was uncomfortable in a driver's seat set up for the shorter German driver. On lap 47 Ivor Bueb at the wheel of the Connaught was also forced to retire because of a fuel tank problem, while his team mate Lewis-Evans tried a hard but constant recovery, even if he never stood out among the protagonists.


Meanwhile, the selection imposed by the torment of a circuit that certainly didn't spare cars, went on implacably, and on lap 50 Menditeguy, who was in third position, crashed violently against the infamous chicane, smashing his Maserati and hurting his face, luckily in a very slight way. In the meantime, Brooks desisted from his efforts and, on lap 60, was 45 seconds behind Fangio, who - although he did not push himself - set his best lap time on lap 44 in 1'45"9, at an average speed of 107.217 km/h. On the sixty-fourth lap Schell slipped on an oil slick and retired. In the meantime, von Trips, the Ferrari driver, had climbed up to the third position, always ahead of the miraculous Brabham and another Englishman, Flockhart in B.R.M. Then, however, also the latter abandoned the race on the 60th lap because of the engine failure, followed on the 95th lap by von Trips, who skidded on a bend and damaged the car.


The last tired laps followed, with the public cheering Fangio and going into delirium for Brabham, by then third. A note of merit, concerning the good Australian driver, should be given to Cooper's mechanics, as the latter had seriously risked not taking part in the race after an accident occurred during Friday practice, but the repairs made quickly allowed Jack to be among the protagonists of this Grand Prix. A beautiful fairy tale, if it wasn't that at only three laps from the end also the Climax engine of the small Cooper broke down: but the young driver didn't give up, and managed to push the car up to the finishing line finishing sixth and last.


In the meantime, with 25 seconds' delay, Tony Brooks arrived second on the finishing line at the wheel of a Vanwall, gaining a first historical podium for the English team, while Gregory, the rookie, was third at the wheel of a Maserati, thus becoming the first American driver to go up to podium, if we exclude the races run at Indianapolis valid for the Formula One World Championship. Fourth was Lewis-Evans, three laps down, in the Connaught-Alta, followed by Trintignant who finished fifth in the only Ferrari to reach the finish line.


All in all, if Fangio has given an umpteenth confirmation of his superiority, and Maserati that of an extraordinary efficiency, and if Ferrari's very bad day is to be attributed essentially to the most complete bad luck, the Monaco Grand Prix has revealed that the English threat is by now a concrete reality: the Vanwalls are marching strongly, and after all this is also the moment of the drivers from across the Channel, given that out of the sixteen competitors lined up at the start, a good nine are English, and three out of six at the arrival, against Giorgio Scarlatti only who represents, for example, the Italian drivers.


In the Formula 1 World Championship standings Fangio is more than ever at the top, with 17 points, ahead of Behra and Brooks with 6 points, Menditeguy and Gregory with 4, Schell and Evans with 3. A nice step forward for the Argentine ace, perhaps launched to the conquest of his fifth world title, which unfortunately will no longer see as protagonists the Marquis Alfonso De Portago, and Eugenio Castellotti from Lodi.


Luca Saitta

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