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#2 1950 Monaco Grand Prix

2021-04-03 11:10

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#1950,

#2 1950 Monaco Grand Prix

Dopo appena quattro giorni ci si sposta a Monte Carlo, in mezzo alla vita mondana, in quello che ancora oggi viene considerato uno dei circuiti più ap

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Motorsport hinges on a great event on Sunday May 21st, 1950: Monaco. The second round of the motorsport World Championship will take place on the circuit of the Principality: it is a winding track, tormented by corners, very tiring for both physical and mechanical endurance. It is 3.180 metres long and will have to be run 100 times. The harsh terrain of this race does not allow for speeds higher than 100 km/h. Ascari and Villoresi have a good chance. They will race the new Ferraris, the ones that debuted victoriously at Monza the previous autumn, with a renewed chassis and noticeably improved. In Monaco the road to victory is not going to be blocked by the more powerful rival, the Alfa Romeo 158. The characteristics of the layout, more suited to sprint and agility, will allow the two drivers from Milan to mount a serious offensive, or at least an effective defense against Farina, Fangio, and Fagioli who make up the very strong backbone of the Alfa Romeo team. Practice will take place on Friday 19th and Saturday 20th of May 1950. At the Sunday race only the twenty fastest drivers in practice will be admitted. Twenty-eight have signed up, including the team of the french manufacturer Talbot, which achieved a worthy result last Saturday at the Grand Prix of Europe at Silverstone, won by Farina's Alfa Romeo. But before the teams went to Monaco, on Thursday 18th of May 1950, another win was added to the tally of Italian motorsport: the Grand Prix of Luxembourg was won by the prodigious Ascari, the young driver from Milan whose style is a perfect mix of both impetous and daring dash and technique in manouvreing the steering wheel. In second place there is another Italian driver, Luigi Villoresi, also on Ferrari. Consequently, Ascari e Villoresi will not make it in time to Monaco to take part in the first practice sessions. Travelling all of the night and part of the day, the two Ferrari drivers will arrive comfortably in time to test the track on saturday afternoon during the additional practice sessions, in between the heats and the finals of the race for the small 0.5L cars.

 

The Monaco Grand Prix returns to the grid after a year's absence from the calendar following the death of the city-state's prince, Louis II. After a year of mourning, Prince Rainier III welcomes the grand prix circus back to the principality. The last race in 1948 was won by Giuseppe Farina, the Alfa Romeo driver who had also had the pleasure of winning the opening round of the championship at Silverstone. Monaco has one representative for its nation in the race, Louis Chiron, the local favorite would participate for the Maserati works. There is talk of Chiron taking a one-off drive at Alfa Romeo, if possible the Monegasque would be in prime position for the potential for a second home win, adding to his Monaco victory from way back in 1931. However Alfa Romeo opts to stick with its regular line-up of Farina, Fangio and Fagioli, although the team does name Chiron as their reserve driver for the weekend. The Monaco race would see the debut of manufacturers, Ferrari and Simca-Gordini in the world championship. Ferrari had snubbed the opening round of the championship at Silverstone, the team feeling the Brits' prize money was insignificant, Enzo Ferrari placing greater value of a minor Formula 2 race at Monza over the World Championship debut event. Following the Alfa Romeo domination at Silverstone, the Ferrari drivers of Luigi Villoresi, Alberto Ascari and Raymond Sommer are believed to be the only true rivals to the Alfa's strength. Aside from the works Ferrari's, Peter Whitehead would enter his privately owned Ferrari 125 to enter for the event. The Ferrari 125 is believed to be the only car capable of matching the Alfa's. It is the strongest car throughout 1949 in the absence of the Alfa Romeo's following their withdrawal. However despite its speed it has yet to test itself against the mighty Alfa's. To make matters worse for Ferrari, the 125's lead designer, Gioacchino Colombo, left the team to defect to Alfa Romeo upon their return in 1950.

 

In response to this, the new lead designer for Ferrari, Aurelio Lampredi, takes Colombo's promising apprentice engineer Valerio Colotti for his own and begins designing a new Ferrari V12 engine to replace the current model of the 125. The other manufacturer to debut at Monaco is the Simca-Gordini outfit. The minor French manufacturer is expected to be a solid midfield team with Maurice Trintignant, André Simon and Robert Manzon racing at their helm. Simon, however would cancel his entry prior to the beginning of the event. After a disappointing run in Silverstone, the major French manufacturer scales back its works team to fielding only Yves-Giraud Cabantous, although Philippe Étancelin, Louis Rosier, Pierre Levegh, Charles Pozzi and Johnny Claes would continue to compete in the modern T26C's as privateer racers. Louis Chiron and Franco Rol continue as the works Maserati drivers whilst privateer team, Scuderia Achille Varzi makes their debut with Maserati machinery. The Argentine run outfit, named in tribute of the great Achille Varzi, is funded by the Automobil Club of Argentina and allowed Juan Manuel Fangio to find success the previous year. The youthful Argentine, José Froilán González, joins the team as successor to Fangio whilst alongside him is another great Argentine veteran, Alfredo Piàn. The Enrico Platé squad continues with Prince Bira and Toulo de Graffenried as their drivers, whilst Clemente Biondetti is also racing a Maserati 4CLT, albeit the car is modified by his team, Scuderia Milano. Bob Gerard and Cuth Harrison would also participate as minor privateers, the duo competing in old A and B Type ERA machinery. Notably making his grand prix debut is American, Harry Schell. Schell would notably debut with a Cooper car designed for Formula Two and Formula Three racing, the small nimble Cooper is powered by a JAP motorcycle engine. It is also notably the first car in Formula One in which the engine manufacturer and chassis design are built independently from one another.

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In order to increase competition for the qualifying sessions, the event organizers decree the first five grid positions would be allocated to the first five fastest cars in the first timed practice sessions. This decision catches Ferrari unawares, the works team did not plan to arrive at the circuit until the Saturday qualifying sessions. This provides a huge advantage for Alfa Romeo with their main rivals unable to secure a position in the top five grid slots, Fangio runs excellently to take pole, his time being 2.6 seconds faster than teammate Farina's best time. Fagioli appears to be struggling in his Alfa and cannot better his two teammates. In fact, the old Italian veteran is pushed down to fifth as young gun José Froilán González manages to put his Maserati third on the grid in his first grand prix qualifying. Philippe Étancelin does also well to put his private Talbot-Lago into fourth. Fagioli who is struggling bounces back on the second day of qualifying, his time being good enough for second on the grid, however his poor run on Friday means he would have to start from fifth. When Ferrari arrive for the second timed session, their times mean they are running competitively, however neither Villoresi, Ascari or Sommer can beat the top three of Fangio, Farina and surprisingly González's Maserati. Their absence from the first session means Villoresi and Ascari would start from sixth and seventh whilst Sommer is bumped down to ninth when local hero, Louis Chiron puts in a strong time to put his car into eighth. Rounding out the top ten is Louis Rosier's Talbot-Lago.

 

Robert Manzon is the fastest Simca-Gordini in eleventh ahead of De Graffenried's Maserati and his teammate Maurice Trintignant. Cuth Harrison is fourteenth ahead of a disappointed Prince Bira in fifteenth. Bob Gerard in his old ERA A Type is sixteenth ahead of Franco Rol and Johnny Claes. Whilst González impresses for Scuderia Achille Varzi, his teammate Alfredo Piàn runs well. In unofficial practice he puts in times fast enough for sixth on the grid, but at the end of the session he spins his Maserati on oil and crashes against the guard rail. Piàn sustains a broken leg and subsequently cannot participate in the race, the team's expectations being pinned solely on González. Yves-Giraud Cabantous's Talbot-Lago has significant mechanical troubles which sees him participate in none of the practice sessions at the circuit, the problems are so bad he is forced to withdraw his entry to the event. The withdrawal of Cabantous means Talbot-Lago has no works entry for the race, the manufacturer having to rely on its privateers to represent its presence in the race. Peter Whitehead also withdraws his private Ferrari when he suffers three engine failures in rapid succession during practice, the costs being too high to maintain an entry into the race. The entry's of Charles Pozzi and Clemente Biondetti are also removed when they fail to turn up to the event. Harry Schell in his little JAP engined Cooper experiences multiple problems during practice, he fails to set a lap time in either timed session, however he vows to continue on in the race albeit starting from the back of the grid.

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The weather ahead of the race is cool, yet sunny. The waves from the harbour are crashing against the shoreline, sometimes spraying the circuit around the area of Tabac. Alfa Romeo looks set to retain their dominant advantage, however they face closer competition than they did in Silverstone, setting the stage for a hopefully exciting race. Farina gets away well and takes the lead into the first corner ahead of Fangio. However, it is Villoresi's Ferrari who gets the best start, climbing to third, disposing of Fagioli, Étancelin and González. Farina's lead does not last long as only after a few corners, Fangio reclaims the lead from his teammate. Farina chases hard, but at Tabac, he is caught out by the residual water laid down by the seaside waves, he spins into the wall before bouncing into the paths of the oncoming cars. Villoresi, Étancelin, Ascari, Chiron and Sommer all manage to dodge past, but Farina's Alfa teammate, Fagioli, spins wide into the barriers. González collides with Farina's car which starts a chain reaction of collisions down the field. The midfield is almost totally wiped out of the race as the narrow circuit left the cars with no path to go except crash into one another. Aside from Farina, the cars of González, Fagioli, Rosier, Manzon, De Graffenried, Trintignant, Harrison, Rol and Schell are all eliminated from the race. Both González and Fagioli attempt to keep going, Fagioli however only manages as far as the pit-lane to bring his crippled car into retire. González attempts to complete a further lap, until a ruptured fuel tank burst, causing his car to crash at the Gasworks Hairpin and bursts into flames. González leaps from his vehicle, however still receives second degree burns to his arms in the process. Despite the severity of the accident, the only other driver to be injured is the works Maserati of Franco Rol who breaks an arm in the multi-car pile-up.

 

The aftermath of the first lap crash means the wreckage of almost half the field is left at Tabac corner. The surviving nine cars are forced to navigate around these cars for a number of laps as if it is an extra corner. Prince Bira even finds time to stop his car outside the scene of the accident and berates the marshalls for not clearing the wreckage fast enough. Following the accident, Fangio leads the race ahead of Villoresi, Chiron, Ascari, Sommer, Étancelin, Bira, Claes and Gerard. However on the second lap whilst navigating the car obstacles at Tabac, Villoresi stalls his Ferrari which drops him to last place. Thereafter, with the exception of Fangio's Alfa, Villoresi is the fastest car on track and provides much of the excitement as he fights back through the field. Chiron cannot maintain second place for long and his Maserati drops back behind the Ferrari's of Ascari and Sommer. Shortly after, Villoresi gets past Chiron and by lap 14 he makes his way into third when he overtakes teammate Sommer. On lap 31, Villoresi catches up to the rear of Ascari, the two Ferrari drivers duel ferociously until Villoresi comes into the pits for fuel on lap 37. His stop takes 32 seconds, the following lap Ascari comes into the pits, in contrast his stop is 37 seconds which allows Villoresi to return to second position. The same lap, Étancelin retires from sixth place with an oil leak. Villoresi would attempt to chase down race leader Fangio, however the Alfa driver has the race well under control. When it is his turn to come into the pits for fuel on lap 52, he retains the lead of the race by 30 seconds to Villoresi's second position. Shortly after, Fangio's last remaining serious race rival, Villoresi, drops out of the race on lap 63 with a fractured rear axle. Being over a lap clear of the new second place man, Ascari, Fangio decides to come in for a second pit stop a lap after Villoresi's retirement.

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The last 36 laps are fairly processional and without order change, Fangio consolidates his race lead before taking his first world championship race victory an entire lap clear of Ascari in second. Chiron, the local driver scores a popular third position after reclaiming the position from Sommer's Ferrari. Sommer is fourth whilst Bira claims the final points placing. The final two finishers, six laps adrift are a battling Claes and Gerard for sixth place. In the final laps, Gerard manages to move past the Talbot-Lago to take sixth, providing some final entertainment for the Monagasque crowd. Fangio's dominant win at Monaco allows him to draw level with teammate Farina in the championship standings. The two drivers share nine points apiece, with both taking a victory and a retirement in the opening two rounds. Fagioli, Alfa Romeo's third driver is still not far behind, he has six points, however his non-finish in Monaco means that all his points are earned at Silverstone. The Ferrari's evidently still has more work to do, poor reliability has cost Luigi Villoresi a well-deserved second place, only the car of Alberto Ascari in second place scores points. Fangio's first race win is dominant, however he would walk away from Monaco in concern following the injuries sustained to his friends, fellow Argentinians and former teammates, Alfredo Pián and José Froilán González. Following the race he remains in Monte Carlo to tend to his friends injuries. He takes this time to drive Pián all the way to Bologna to an orthopedic hospital to tend to his broken leg, Fangio then returns to Monaco to drive González to a specialist burns unit in Italy.The race was one hundred laps long. But after half a lap  Fangio has pretty much won the race. In a chaotic and frightening pile-up, nine cars have crashed into each other, right after the start, in the very tight corner of St. Devote, and there they were left stranded, dented, and unusable.

 

It was a dramatic moment. They start in nineteen; on the first row the fastest in practice, Fangio, Farina, and Gonzalez. Fangio takes the lead immediately. Gonzalez follows him at about ten metres. Villoresi, Farina, and Fagioli follow suit. From the stands the spectators keep their eyes peeled on the corner of St. Devote, impatiently waiting for the first pass. Fangio, then Villoresi, Gonzalez with a dented front-end, Chiron, Ascari, Sommer and then Etancelin, Bira, Gerard, and Claes go through. Ten drivers already noticeably distanced between each other. Then nothing. And the other nine? Everybody falls silent, fearing a catastrophy. In the pits, the drivers' wives wring their hands as they wait anxiously. After a little while Fagioli arrives on foot, making dramatic gestures, very excited. From his gestures it is obvious that a big crash has happened and that cars collided against each other multiple times, luckily without any major consequence for anyone. The Grand Prix committee informs that, maybe with superficial abruptness, the cause of the accident has to be attributed to Giuseppe Farina. His car had spun, colliding with that of Gonalez and ending up in the middle of the road. The marshalls waved the yellow flag, indicating to slow down, but the drivers did not acknowledge it. Fagioli managed just in time to brake and stop very close to Farina's car, while Gonzalez manages to get away, just to stop right after due to a fire; in the meantime Rosier's car crashes three times against that of Farina. The cars of Schell, Manzon, Rol, Trintignant, Harrison, and De Graffenried are also caught up in the accident. Giuseppe Farina, back in the pits, defends himself saying that it was Gonzalez that caused the accident with his stubborn impetuosity.

 

"Villoresi had just gone past the Argentinian. I was also going past the entry of the corner; all of a sudden I felt a touch on the side of my car which went sideways. Proof of this is that one of Gonzales' wheels still bears marks of red paint which is the colour of my Alfa Romeo".

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But the version of the eye witnesses says that Farina's right rear wheel had hit a wall. The depositions are countless and conflicting, with some talking - malevolently - of Gonzalez, who's Fangio's fellow country-man, intentionally trying to cause Farina, Fangio's fastest rival, to retire. However things might have gone, the true and entire responsibility rests on the track marshalls who should have waved the red and not the yellow flag, ordering the race to stop and not just slowing it down. The most important thing is that no one was harmed. Only Rol bruised one of his arms; a fracture was feared, but a radiography undergone at the track on the X-ray machine mounted on an ambulance allows to determine that no serious injury was sustained. As a matter of fact Rol bravely leaves for Torino, himself driving, before the end of the race. The story of the Grand Prix of Monaco is summed in the crash at the beginning, the rest is a monotonous monologue by Fangio with Alfa Romeo, much too strong against the possibilities of Villoresi and Ascari with the more agile but less powerful Ferraris. With Villoresi retiring while in second place after about sixty laps, Ascari takes his place and keeps it, finishing the race in front of Chiron, who drove bravely, Sommer, Bira, and the extras Claes and Gerard. Another win for Fangio then, who reaffirms himself as a fast and safe driver. It's a shame that on the difficult circuit of Monte-Carlo the confrontation with Farina did not occur. A significant verdict would have been reached, as the race would have been demanding for both. The two rivals were on equal terms and the awaited spectacle did not occur.

 

The crowd, even though immensely bored, does not regret it at all, commenting that all is well that ends well in regards of the accident at race start. The second round of the World Championship - the Monaco Grand Prix - did not, as hoped, make reason of the complex situation in which the sport rests at the moment. Nine cars have retired from the race on the first of 100 laps, due to an accident that luckily did not produce casualties. As Giuseppe Farina retired, the lead of the race turned into an easy monopoly of Juan Manuel Fangio. The argentinian driver made good use of the circumstances with the appropriate tactic, taming his usual impetus and being content with winning without increasing his pace and without pointless risks, reaffirming his driving skills. But this not so difficult reaffirmation does not add up to what was already known of him, nor does it determine the pecking order between the debated argentinian ace and his italian rivals. The confrontation with Farina is postponed to a more normal occasion: Ascari and Villoresi have fought persistently, but their Ferrari could not allow for an efficient fight against Fangio's Alfa Romeo, not even on the tortous circuit of Monaco. The only result worthy of note of the Grand Prix is that the type of car of the Milan manufacturer proved once again fastest. The more  passionate and pressing reasons of the motorsport are postponed to the fourth round of the World Championship which will take place in Berna the first Sunday of June. The Fangio - Farina duel will renew once again and we will see what Ascari and Villoresi will be able to do with the new Ferraris. No European driver interested in the leading positions of the championship will be present on the third round of the championship, the Indy 500 on May 30th 1950.

 

Ludovico Nicoletti

 

Translated by Federico Calgaro

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