Harry Schell

2021-02-04 23:00

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Harry Schell

Harry O’Reilly Schell was born in Paris on June 19, 1921 to an American mother and an Irish father. His mother is in charge of sponsoring some private


Harry O’Reilly Schell was born in Paris on June 19, 1921 to an American mother and an Irish father. His mother is in charge of sponsoring some private teams including Ecurie Bleu, a private team that uses Maseratis. In addition, he is working on the ambitious, later failed project of creating a national racing car for France. He later becomes a sponsor of his son, Harry, allowing him to run. Thanks to his adventurous spirit and his sense of justice, at the age of eighteen he enlisted as a volunteer in the Finnish Air Force in the Winter War of 1939-1940, and was engaged as a gunner in a surprisingly equal war. Later, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Harry enlisted in the US Army and there he met Rene Dreyfus, a French racing driver.


After the war Schell becomes one of the first ambassadors of Cooper products, under the Horschell Racing Corporation brand, a team made up of Harry and his brother Philippe. In the first post-war races, the team achieved good results, to the point of becoming the first to take a Cooper to a Formula 1 world championship race. This happens at the 1950 Monaco Grand Prix, the second race of the new championship. The only modification with which the car is prepared for the race is the replacement of the 500cc engine with a 1100cc one. In the support race he cleverly holds the pace of Stirling Moss, but in the main event he retires on the first lap due to an accident involving eight cars. Although his hometown is French, Schell enrolls in the competitions with an American license, taking advantage of his mother's citizenship.


After the race he opens the Action Automobile in Paris, a sports bar with very high prices, even higher than those of the most famous city hotels. Despite this, for French motorsport fans it becomes a point of reference and meeting place. So Schell can count on stable economic support to run. At the Swiss Grand Prix he brings a Talbot Lago T26C. In qualifying he is eighteenth, almost thirty seconds behind the leader Juan Manuel Fangio, and goes to occupy the last place on the grid. But in the race, taking advantage of the various retreats, he finishes eighth. In recent years, Enrico Platé has managed a team that fielded a Maserati 4CLT/48; Schell contacted him to take part in two races in 1951, the Grand Prix of Switzerland and France. In Bremgarten after a decent qualifying he crosses the finish line twelfth; in France, on the other hand, he retires before halfway through the race due to an overheating.


For the following year Schell extends his engagement with Enrico Platé to the British Grand Prix as well. The results continue to fail, however: in Switzerland he starts at the back of the group and retires in the race due to engine failure; in Reims, on the other hand, he qualified twelfth, then in the race he retired first with his car due to transmission problems, then he replaced his teammate Toulo de Graffenried but experienced the breaking of the brakes and so the second Maserati of Enrico Platé. Finally at Silverstone, in a race that sees no less than thirty-two entrants, where he reaches the finish line seventeenth.


With the Enrico Platé team intending to abandon Formula 1 (he will only compete in one Grand Prix in 1953), Schell seeks new accommodation and gets a contract as an official driver for Gordini. He plays all the championship races apart from the Indianapolis 500 and the Swiss Grand Prix. Faced with four retirements, in order for the transmission, engine, electrical system and engine failure, Schell finished the race three times in the top ten, in Argentina, Belgium and Italy. In Argentina, for the first time in the opening race of the championship, he shares the car with Maurice Trintignant and finishes seventh, lapsed by six laps. At Spa instead, qualified twelfth, he recovers in the race up to seventh place. In the season finale at Monza, starting fifteenth ahead of team mate Roberto Mieres, he finishes in ninth position, placing himself between Maglioli's Ferrari and Chiron's OSCA.


The following year, Formula 1 changes the regulations, requiring an engine that is 2.5 liters at most. Having lost his place in Gordini, for 1954 Schell bought a Maserati A6GCM, fitted with a 250F engine, and entered the championship as a private individual. He participates in four races, one of which he will not be able to finish, in Reims. Instead, he gets a sixth and a seventh place respectively in Buenos Aires and at the Nurburgring, while at Silverstone he does not go beyond the twelfth position. However, he was noticed, and these placings earned him the call-up for two races with the Maserati factory team, in Bremgarten and Pedralbes.


In the first he retires almost immediately due to the failure of the oil pump. In the second, however, he qualified fourth and for the first stages of the race he was in command, but the transmission abandoned him just before starting the thirtieth lap. In this period he meets the Marquis Alfonso de Portago, a car driver who also participates in horse riding and bobsleigh races, and will make his Formula 1 debut for Ferrari in 1956. The two become good friends and Schell teaches the Marquis the advanced techniques of sports driving. above all thanks to the races that occasionally run in pairs on some private Maserati and Ferraris.


Maserati confirmed him in his team for the 1955 Argentine Grand Prix, where, seventh in qualifying, he alternated driving two cars in the race: the first, retired, with Clemar Bucci and Carlos Menditeguy and the second, which finished sixth, with Jean Behra. The Monaco Grand Prix instead disputes it with an official Ferrari car; in qualifying he is the worst of the team, eighteenth, and in the race he retires due to engine problems. He also participates in the Belgian Grand Prix with Ferrari, but shortly before the race, Maurice Trintignant is ordered to drive his car, so Schell never starts.


Meanwhile, fights between Mike Hawthorn and Tony Vandervell rage in Vanwall, to the point where Mike refuses to drive for the team and switches to the factory Ferrari team for the rest of the season. So for the races in Aintree, England, and Monza, Italy, he is called Schell. In the first case he is seventh in qualifying, then in the race he shares the car with Ken Wharton and is the last to cross the finish line, in ninth position. In the Italian Grand Prix, however, he retires on the seventh lap due to the suspension of the suspension. In an extra-championship race at Snetterton, Harry leads Vanwall to victory in Formula 1 racing for the first time, while the first world championship win will come from Moss and Brooks at Aintree in 1957. Schell wins three more times, always in races not valid for the world championship.


Colin Chapman and Frank Costin redesign the Vanwall in the winter of 1956 to make it competitive, and indeed the car is fast, but also unreliable. Trintignant, Taruffi and González did not finish any races, while Schell, together with Hawthorn, back with the team, finished tenth in the French Grand Prix. In Belgium, on the other hand, at Spa, he races alone and finishes fourth: these are his first points in Formula 1. Unfortunately, Schell also retires on numerous occasions. At the end of 1956 Vandervell was torn between confirming Schell and hiring Moss: the choice was resolved in favor of the British, so that Harry returned to the Maserati factory team to ask for a seat for the entire 1957 season; the Modenese Stable accepts.


Despite the World Championship victory with Fangio, Maserati is facing large debts and the development of the new engine is barely proceeding. The Italian government intervenes with funding and helps the team to get on track. When it comes to putting the car on the track, however, the Maserati 250F is fast and Schell, in the first race of the year, in Argentina, is fourth. A retirement in Monaco followed, driving two different cars: first his own, and following the failure of the suspension, that of Giorgio Scarlatti, who suffers an oil leak.


At the French Grand Prix at the Rouen circuit he is fifth, while at Aintree he is again forced to retire. After the seventh place at the German Grand Prix, we arrive at the two races in Italy: Pescara and Monza. The Pescara stage was added to the last one, due to the sudden cancellation of the Belgian and Dutch Grand Prix. The track is chosen to be able to count on an already tested and reliable track, given that since 1921 it has been home to the Acerbo Cup. Harry Schell comes third in a race deserted by various manufacturers, including Ferrari in open controversy with the Italian judiciary, which accuses the company of being responsible for the disappearance of Alfonso de Portago during the Mille Miglia. At Monza instead Schell, sixth in qualifying, lost his car in the race due to an oil leak and got on to Giorgio Scarlatti's, leading it to the finish line in sixth position.


At the end of the championship Schell recorded eight points, and his first podium in a Formula 1 world championship race. Meanwhile, Moss is second in the standings with the Vanwall, and attributes much of the success of the car to Schell's work of the previous year. The B.R.M. he is looking for an experienced driver who can guide them in development for the 1958 season. The early years of the team, in fact, were disastrous in the quality of the cars and bad results. The goal is to take the Type 25 to the podium, which had only retired the previous year. Schell and Behra are contacted for the whole season, in addition to Bonnier and Flockhart for the last races.


The car was transformed by engineer Tony Rudd, and in particular the engine was changed. While waiting for the car to be ready, Harry Schell races in the Argentine Grand Prix with a Maserati loaned to him by Jo Bonnier. The driving debut of the BRM takes place on the Monte Carlo circuit. Jean Behra qualifies second, but retires in the race due to broken brakes. Schell, who instead starts from the back, recovers in the race up to fifth place, lapsed nine laps at the finish. At the next Dutch Grand Prix, however, after a good qualifying, the B.R.M. they get a spectacular double podium with Schell, second, less than a minute behind the winner Stirling Moss, and Behra third.


For Schell it is the best result ever. The season continues with three fifth places at Spa, Silverstone and Ain-Diab, a sixth place at the Portuguese Grand Prix, and three retirements. Particularly striking is the retirement in Reims, France, where Schell qualifies third and is fighting for the top positions before being betrayed by the engine. In fact, Schell is always faster in qualifying, and also at Silverstone he gets the start from the front row. In 1959 the season began with two retirements - in Munich and Zandvoort - and ended in the same way in the final race in Sebring. The points finishings are only two, a fourth place in England and a fifth in Portugal. On three occasions, however, he finishes seventh.


Meanwhile, smaller, rear-engined racing cars are gaining traction around the world. The fact that they are faster and more reliable is not disputed given the results in Formula 1 over the past two years. So Schell decides to buy a Cooper T51 from a friend of his, and enters the 1960 Argentine Grand Prix with the rotten Ecurie Bleu, previously used by his mother. While waiting for the European races, Cooper asks Schell to help develop the cars of the Yeoman Credit Racing team, alongside Chris Bristow. The spring races are going well, and the team is preparing for a great season.


Unfortunately Schell will never compete in the European stages of the 1960 season: on May 13th, during the Daily Express International Trophy at Silverstone, he goes off the track at the Abbey curve, hits a wall and is shot out of the car, losing his life due to a fractured neck. His body is identified by the owner of the Yeoman Credit Racing team, Ken Gregory. This marks the end of one of the drivers who races in an era where races are daily, constantly looking for a seat, fast on the track and friendly outside, to which, perhaps, the numbers do not do justice.


Aldo Coletta



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