#19 1952 French Grand Prix

2021-04-10 12:46

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#1952, Fulvio Conti, Ludovico Nicoletti, Translated by Monica Bessi,

#19 1952 French Grand Prix

The Reims Grand Prix, the fourth round of the eight valid for the French Grand Prix motor racing, records the first defeat for the new French Gordini


The Reims Grand Prix, the fourth round of the eight valid for the French Grand Prix motor racing, records the first defeat for the new French Gordini cars. The race takes place over a three-hour duration. The young French driver Jean Behra - who is also a motorbike racer - manages to stay in the lead of the race almost from start to finish, resisting attacks from the Ferraris driven by Farina, Ascari and Villoresi. Behra is two kilometres ahead of the driver from Turin, who tenaciously tails the winner and sets the fastest lap. Roberto Manzon, another Gordini driver, suffering from an accident in the sports car race held in the morning, is forced to abandon the fight towards the middle of the race; Villoresi is also forced to retire on lap seven due to a mechanical failure. Ascari stops on lap 15 for a spark plug change. He loses a lap and Villoresi replaces him at the wheel and chases hard, but cannot make up the lost ground to Behra. In the morning, the sports car race is won by Englishman Stirling Moss - in a Jaguar - at an average speed of 158.011 km/h. Robert Munaron comes close to death in this race when he is in the lead and sets the best time by covering the 7197-metre circuit in 2'35"5. On lap 15 his car skids on an oil slick, goes off the road and crashes into a telephone pole. Manzon saves himself by jumping out of the car and injures his left arm. In the afternoon, he participates with great courage in the second race. At the same time, Bonetto wins the Targa Florio, held over eight laps of the Madonie circuit, in a Lancia. On the first lap, Bracco, in a Ferrari 4100 cc, is leading in record time and sprinting down the straight at an average speed of 211.534 km/h. Bracco, however, retires on the second lap due to transmission problems. The same fate, on the penultimate lap, befell Cabianca (Osca 1350) who has succeeded Bracco in the lead. The winner runs out of petrol 100 metres from the finish line and is therefore forced to push his car to the finish line.


The great Sunday of motor racing revenge: that is how the day of Sunday, 6 July 1952 can be defined by those interested in motor racing. It will be raced in Rouen, France, where the French Grand Prix, valid as the fourth round of the World Championship, is scheduled. Last Sunday, in a French championship race in Reims, a big surprise occurred: the first defeat of the two-litre Ferrari cars without a supercharger. The French Gordini cars, built by the Italian-born engineer of the same name, comes out on top thanks to the unbridled Behra, a former motorbike racer. This causes a lot of noise and excitement in France, where motorsport is somewhat in decline as the results of the major speed races. The French are feeling the return of the days of the Bugatti and the great Wimille. A fierce French-Italian rivalry is emerging, namely between Gordini and his drivers Behra, Manzon and the Scuderia Ferrari, which fields Farina, Ascari and Villoresi. The Ferraris seem faster on the straights; the Gordinis more ready to accelerate. On Friday, 4 July 1952, the first, eagerly awaited official tests take place. The two-litre Ferraris without compressor and of the four-cylinder type seem unbeatable. Ascari, Farina, Villoresi have been reaping successes for a while. The Grand Prix threatened to end in monotonous monologues, without a fight, without excitement. The public, even the most passionate, is beginning to yawn. Rider rivalry is not enough. The success of motor racing, its significance, depends mainly on the technical confrontation between cars of different makes. All the better if the best aces and cars are of different nationalities. In sport, nationalism, when kept within reasonable limits, constitutes the leaven of crowd enthusiasm. On the eve of the Reims Grand Prix, which takes place on Sunday, June 29, 1952, the predictions are all along these lines: the Ferraris are the fastest; the new French Gordini cars of Manzon and Behra are showing clear progress. However, yet another victory for the Ferraris is expected. On Sunday, Jean Behra, winning at Reims, starts the rivalry between Gordini and Ferrari.


But it must be admitted that Ascari and Villoresi are not too lucky, as their race is slowed down by mechanical mishaps. Farina fights generously, closely pursuing the unbridled Behra throughout the race. The 100.000 spectators in Reims, the chronicles say, seems to go crazy with enthusiasm. A new era has certainly begun. It is a defeat and, for the loser, a defeat is always a negative episode. From a sporting and competitive point of view, there is no cause for despair. The valiant Modenese constructor has finally found a rival worthy of him, after Alfa Romeo's withdrawal from major competition. The Ferrari-Gordini duel is an inhalation of oxygen to the gasping sport of driving, at least in terms of competitive and technical interest in the most resonant competitions. Beating the Gordini again will represent for Ferrari itself a further enhancement of its famous cars. The Italian sector is still at a huge advantage, because the success of Reims is certainly not enough to put Ferrari and the Gordini, Ascari, Behra, Farina and Manzon, Biro and Villoresi on the same line. The important thing is that the technicians and sports fans in general anxiously await the outcome of the Grand Prix on Sunday evening, hoping for a victory for their respective favourites. Until last week the public did not take too much interest in the outcome of motor races, knowing in advance that a Ferrari would win, with Ascari on board once, Farina another and Villoresi the third one. On Sunday, July 7, 1952, another automobile Grand Prix takes place in Rouen. The anticipation in France became enormous. In Italy, too, the interest has at least tripled. Nobody is invincible, fortunately for sport. It may seem like nonsense, but it benefits Enzo Ferrari himself, because the magnitude and beauty of victory depends above all on the quality of the defeated opponents. And Enzo Ferrari and his drivers can take a lightning-fast revenge.


This year the French Grand Prix has a new venue, the ACF decided to switch from the Reims circuit to the Rouen-Les-Essarts circuit for the new season. The Rouen street circuit is considered to be one of Europe's best new circuits: the track has modern pits lying adjacent to the track, rather than simply on the side of the start-finish line. It’s also equipped with large grandstands and wide roads, making it a suitable new venue for the historic French Grand Prix. But which is the situation for the single teams? After their wins in Switzerland and Belgium, Alberto Ascari and Piero Taruffi keep the leadership of the championship. Luigi Villoresi has recovered from his early season injuries, however his entry into the world championship is set for a later date. Ascari, Taruffi and Farina are the official line-up whilst Louis Rosier, at his home event, will race privately in his blue Ferrari 500 for Ecurie Rosier. Rudolf Fischer was back in his Ferrari 212 sportscar for Ecurie Espadon whilst Scuderia Marzotto will use the old Formula 2 Ferrari 166 car for Gianfranco Comotti and debutant Piero Carini. There’s hope for a French victory at this Grand Prix. Jean Behra succeeded in challenging the Ferraris in Spa-Francorchamps, then at the non-championship Marne Grand Prix at Reims. There were rumours that Behra had an illegally overpowered engine in the event, however the French were still hoping for a Gordini victory at Rouen. Alongside Behra we have Robert Manzon, recovering from an arm injury sustained at the Marne Grand Prix, Prince Bira and Maurice Trintignant, who is entering his first championship race of the season with the team. Johnny Claes will be once again competing in the old Simca-Gordini, however he’s back in his own private team, Ecurie Belge. There’s a reduced line-up for HWM at the French Grand Prix as the team is entering their usual line-up of young drivers, Peter Collins and Lance Macklin; whilst Yves-Giraud Cabantous will guest drive for his home event.


Enrico Platé's team is back for the French Grand Prix, they will enter the old Maserati 4CLT for Emmanuel de Graffenried and Harry Schell. The new Maserati A6GCM will make its championship debut with the privateer Escuderia Bandeirantes team. Philippe Étancelin would make his first grand prix appearance of the season alongside Chico Landi. Following Juan Manuel Fangio's season ending injuries, the works Maserati team will not make its return until later in the season. Only a single Cooper is entered for the French Grand Prix, Mike Hawthorn had an excellent world championship debut in Belgium and he’s ready to return to the grid once again in France. He’s entering a Cooper T20 owned by investor Archie Hyde. Peter Whitehead decides to enter an Alta Formula 2 chassis in a Grand Prix for the first time. Whitehead, who regularly enter with the now outdated Ferrari 125, hope a new car would give him the opportunity to be more competitive. The French hopes of a challenge from the Gordini's are somewhat dashed by the domination of the Ferrari's during practice. Ascari gets the pole position with a time of 2'14"8. Farina is second on the grid, 1.5 seconds off the pace. Taruffi in third is a further second down on Farina's best time. The Gordinis meanwhile are left as simply second best. Behra is the fastest of the Gordinis, however he’s five seconds off the pole time set by Ascari's Ferrari. Manzon then joins him in fifth, whilst Trintignant, racing the old Simca-Gordini, puts his older model sixth on the grid. Peter Collins's HWM is the only car to get amongst the Gordinis in seventh place, one position ahead of the disappointed Bira in eighth place. Rosier is still struggling to get the private Ferrari 500 to work properly and is really off the pace, putting his car only in ninth position. Giraud-Cabantous is the second fastest HWM in tenth, a full six seconds down on his young teammate Collins' pace. 


The old Maserati's of De Graffenried and Schell sit eleventh and twelfth with Whitehead's Alta sitting in thirteenth ahead of Macklin, in a disappointing fourteenth for HWM. After an incredible debut, Hawthorn had consistent troubles during the French qualifying and could only put his Cooper fifteenth on the grid. Landi failed to arrive for the event, however Étancelin arrived in France with the new Maserati A6CGM, and despite that, he still failed to make his mark with the car. The model was proven quick in the hands of the team, and of Fangio and Gonzalez, but France's veteran, Étancelin, could only manage a dismal sixteenth on the grid. The minor Ferrari cars of Fischer, Comotti and Carini as well as the old Simca-Gordini car of Claes make up the final rows of the grid. Ascari makes a flying getaway off the line to immediately take the race. Farina is right behind him, however Taruffi, like in Belgium, has a poor race start and this allows the two Gordinis of Behra and Manzon to slip past, to the pleasure of the French crowd. The two Gordinis are pushing desperately hard as they try to keep up with Ascari and Farina's Ferrari, but the leading Ferraris are still quickly taking control of the race. The wild racing Behra spins wide into a ditch on the third lap, he is able to rejoin the track but is forced to pit for repairs. The same lap, the third Gordini of Bira gets back into the pits to treat an engine misfire. Manzon, still recovering from his injuries at Reims, is unable to keep pace with the two leaders and then on lap four Taruffi overtakes him to put Ferrari into a 1-2-3 position. Manzon is constantly losing pace to the Ferraris, even if he remains comfortably ahead of teammate Trintignant in the older Simca-Gordini despite being under pressure from the two HWMs of Collins and Macklin as well as Hawthorn's Cooper. Carini's old Ferrari 166 becomes the first retirement: he pulls out on the second lap with engine failure. Schell then also drops out of the race when his old Maserati shows signs of gearbox issues.


At the back of the field, Claes retires his Simca-Gordini with a blown engine, Rosier - who was still struggling with his Ecurie Rosier entered Ferrari 500 - then withdraws from the midfield with engine troubles. The order at the front of the field begins to stabilise, with the Ferrari 500s dominating at the head of the field. The Ferrari trio is left unchallenged whilst a healthy gap begins to appear between the three cars. Ascari is comfortably dominating whilst Farina is holding his own gap to Taruffi's third place. Manzon, the first of the Gordinis, is a long way off the pace of the Ferrari cars. Hawthorn, who impressed the public on his debut in Belgium, is now moving up the field once again. Providing the excitement in a fairly processional race, Hawthorn started fifteenth after a poor qualifying, but today he worked his way up to eighth. On lap 26, Hawthorn moves past Macklin's HWM, before getting stuck behind Collins, who proves to be much more difficult to overtake. Hawthorn's Cooper is quicker, but Collins is determined to fight for his position. For over 15 laps, we see two of Britain's most promising young talents battling hard for seventh place. On lap 42, Hawthorn finally makes it past Collins's HWM. Trintignant, in the old Simca-Gordini, is only slightly ahead of the battling Brits and it will take Hawthorn only three laps to move past Trintignant and into the points. During this time we see more retirements, Whitehead swaps his old Ferrari 125 for the Alta chassis and this brings little improvement: he still retires from the field with clutch failure on lap 26. Right after his first retirement, Schell returns to the pits and takes the wheel of Enrico Platé’s teammate, Baron de Graffenried's car. He then retires for a second time on lap 34, with a brake failure on De Graffenried's car.


The most significant retirement comes in on lap 51. Shortly after overtaking Trintignant for fifth, Hawthorn begins to develop a misfire in his Bristol engine: he would subsequently drop back behind Trintignant, Collins and Macklin. Hawthorn returns to the pits to check his engine, but after returning to the track, Hawthorn's engine problems persist and he decides to retire for good. The Gordini cars of Bira and Behra who had their races ruined at the start, now begin to climb through the field once again. Both drivers get to the rear of Collins, who is proving determinedly difficult to pass. Bira retires with axle problems on lap 56 whilst a frustrated Behra is left looking for an opening on the unpassable HWM. The race at Rouen proved itself to be incredibly uneventful, Ascari is left to dominate the race, completely unchallenged; he finishes the French Grand Prix an entire lap ahead of teammate Farina in second place. Farina, in the meantime, is a further lap ahead of Taruffi's third place whilst Manzon's Gordini, the highest finishing non-Ferrari, is a whole lap adrift of Taruffi. Trintignant takes fifth, two laps behind Manzon, yet two laps ahead of Collins's sixth place. Collins holds Behra off until the end, but on the final lap, as he approaches the chequered flag, the HWM's axle fails forcing him to coast across the line, yet remarkably still ahead of Behra's Gordini. Collins and Behra finish seven laps behind Ascari; also finishing a distant seven laps adrift are Étancelin's Maserati and Macklin's HWM. Nine laps also separate the leader and the HWM of their guest driver, Giraud-Cabantous. Rudolf Fischer is well off the pace all throughout the race, at some point he pulls his old Ferrari 212 sportscar into the pits, allowing his friend and fellow Swiss driver, Peter Hirt, to take over. Hirt, however, can do little better and finishes eleventh, eleven laps behind Ascari. The final finisher, a dismal fourteen laps after Ascari, is Comotti, another Ferrari 166 driver.


Italian motor racing takes a threefold, lightning-fast revenge on French drivers and cars. The world of motorsport is in turmoil. A week ago, a surprising thing happened at the Reims circuit: the first defeat of the Ferraris and Ascari, Farina and Villoresi at the hands of the blue French Gordini cars. Is the Italian golden age finished? The Rouen Grand Prix, valid for the world championship classification, had to answer the technical and sporting question. And the answer comes, massive and eloquent: first the Milanese Ascari, in a Ferrari; second the Turinese Farina, in a Ferrari; third the Roman Taruffi, in a Ferrari. Three drivers and three Italian cars in the top three places. Now the top positions in the World Championship are occupied by Ascari, with 17 points, and Farina and Taruffi, who have 13 each. The heat is canicular, but a huge crowd has nonetheless flocked to the grandstand and the edge of the track. Naturally, the great mass of the French public trembles in the hope of another French victory. But in front of the unquestionable show of superiority offered by the Italian aces from start to finish, in front of the feats of Ascari, Farina and Taruffi who looks like thunderbolts, devils unleashed at the wheel of their red cars, the applause suddenly burst forth, endless and thick, on the winding circuit in the thousand-year-old Essarts forest, the Ferraris has practically no opponents. Twenty competitors line up at the start. The race is run over three hours. Assigned by Alberto Ascari, Giuseppe Farina again shows his great driving skills, completing the Italian victory in perfect harmony with Ascari and Taruffi. The former World Champion sets the fastest lap, gaining another point in addition to his World Championship points. Manzon participates with a bandaged left arm, due to the accident on Sunday in Rouen. Behra, after the initial inconveniences of the race, launches himself in pursuit, regaining a few positions, but with no hope of catching up with the three Italian drivers.


Rain falls in the second half of the race. The Grand Prix is run with Formula 2 rules and cars, i.e. of two-litre capacity without a compressor. The next day, Monday, July 7, 1952, Giuseppe Farina returns to Turin after racing in Rouen, where on Sunday he finished second, behind Ascari and ahead of Taruffi, in the Grand Prix valid as the fourth round of the World Championship. Three Ferrari cars, in short, in the first three places. Crushing revenge on the French Gordini cars, which eight days earlier, at Reims, had broken the invincibility of the two-litre Ferraris without a compressor. According to the former World Champion, the situation is as follows: the Gordinis are faster than the Ferraris in the straights and quicker on the upshift. However, the Italians manage to prevail in the so-called mixed stretches. It's a question of handling. Perhaps the main reason for the Italian superiority over the newer French Gordini cars depends somewhat on the qualities of Ascari, Farini and Taruffi or Villoresi, depending on whether it is the Roman or the Milanese driver who gets the turn. As a ranking of drivers, Farina is of the opinion that Ascari is currently in great shape and willing to dare like no one else. Ascari is just over 30 years old and in perfect condition and in the situation of a true professional racer, willing to take any risk. Ascari is truly worthy of the name he bears, the name of that great champion who was his father. Between Farina and Ascari the agreement is perfect and complete. Farina is ready to bet that this year it will be Ascari who will succeed Fangio as World Champion. As for Fangio, it seems that the consequences of the crash he made at Monza on June 8, 1952, are less minor than first thought. An operation is not ruled out. Next Sunday the Ferrari drivers will return to France, to take part in the Grand Prix of Sables-d'Olonne, a French championship race. The next World Championship race will take place at Silverstone on Saturday, July 19, 1952.


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