#27 1953 Belgian Grand Prix

2021-04-09 00:00

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#1953, Fulvio Conti, Ludovico Nicoletti, Translated by Monica Bessi,

#27 1953 Belgian Grand Prix

On Sunday 14 June 1953, an interminable ovation from the 300,000 spectators greeted the victory of the Jaguar driven by the Englishmen Rolt and Hamilt


On Sunday, June 14, 1953, an interminable ovation from the 300.000 spectators greets the victory of the Jaguar driven by the Englishmen Rolt and Hamilton in the 21st 24 Hours of Le Mans. It is a well-deserved applause: not only for the triumph, but also for the tenacity with which the British constructor, without being discouraged by the bitter failure of 1952, prepared for this year's race. The success of Rolt and Hamilton takes shape in the early hours of Sunday morning when, after the withdrawal of the two Alfa Romeos remaining in the race, (that of Kling-Riess and that of Sanesi-Carini) the Ferrari of Ascari and Villoresi have to slow down. Some say that this delay is attributable to the psychological condition of the driver, who was shocked by Tom Cole's fatal accident. In fact, Ascari stops for a few moments next to Cole's overturned car, and when he resumes racing there is a feeling that his pace is less brilliant. Afterwards, the World Champion and Villoresi definitely lose any chance of continuing the race due to clutch problems. As for the Alfa Romeos, their race comes to an unexpected end at dawn. Fangio, considered to be one of the favourites, had abandoned it from the start. Kling and Sanesi remained in the race, but almost at the same time due to mechanical failures they have to stop at the stand without being able to restart. Thus, for the Milanese car constructor the great 24-hour race ends with a meagre result. Shortly afterwards, the Lancias of Taruffi and Valenzano also stop in the pits and can no longer continue, so that four cars remain to represent the Italian colours: the two Ferraris of Ascari and Marzotto and the two Lancias of Gonzalez and Manzon.


Ascari is brilliantly recovering the ground he had lost during the night on his closest rival, the Englishman Rolt, when Cole's dramatic accident occurs. The World Champion, as mentioned, appears visibly shaken. Around 8:00 p.m. Villoresi replaces him at the wheel, but he has to stop several times in the pits to try to solve a clutch failure. The Italians' hopes vanish, and the British ones take on more and more substance. At the end of the seventeenth hour of the race, the Ferrari, whose march everyone is now following with keen attention, is clearly detached from Rolt's Jaguar and, although it still holds second position at this point in the race, it is already three laps behind the Englishman. Over the next few laps its delay only increases and by the eighteenth hour it is in fifth place, overtaken even by the Gordini driven by Trintignant and Schell. The Anglo-Italian duel turns into an Anglo-American one: Walter and Pitch's Cunningham increases its pace, moves into the top positions and, at 12:00 a.m., four hours from the end of the race, attempts to move from third to second place (occupied by the Jaguar driven by Mass and Walker). At the same time the definitive retirement of Villoresi-Ascari is announced; after an umpteenth stop at the Maranello team's stand, their car is pushed by hand into the area where all the cars that have abandoned the race since Saturday evening are now housed. A few minutes later, the last Lancia driven by Gonzalez and Bonetto also takes the same route. The only Italian car in the race is thus the Ferrari of the Marzotto brothers, but its position, with eight laps to go, is too compromised to give any hope of even a place of honour. The last hours of the race are characterised by a bitter duel between Bonnet's D.B. and Hemard's Panhard, two small cars desperately fighting for the class victory.


Along with the Panhards and D.B.'s, Wacker's little Osca also finishes the race, but the most interesting performance in this category is certainly that provided by the 1500 Gordini, which places with Levegh's Talbot among the top ten in the final classification. When Hamilton and Rolt finish the race, the crowd suddenly invades the track, crowding especially in front of the grandstand. It is estimated that there are around 300.000 spectators at Le Mans. For this reason, the police are forced to intervene to prevent incidents from occurring, as in their enthusiasm the fans forget that other cars are arriving at full speed. This enthusiasm, which is a little excessive, is nevertheless justified: all the track records have in fact been broken: those of speed and distance. The two winners are racing together for the first time. Hamilton is thirty-eight years old and a thoroughbred sportsman. He is married and has two children. Tony Rolt is the director of an arms factory and earned the British Military Cross at Dunkirk. As mentioned, the 24 Hours of Le Mans was saddened by a frightful accident that resulted in the death of Tom Cole, one of the drivers of the Ferrari patrol engaged in this tremendous test, harsh and exhausting for drivers and cars alike. It is a new name to be added to the long list of victims caused by this frenetic duel of racing cars launched at 200 km/h. Tom Cole was also well known in Italy. He raced the Mille Miglia. The fatal accident of the 24-year-old British driver took place at 6.15 a.m., in a grey dawn, when the cars had recently switched off their headlights. From the plain banks of fog had crept forward and invaded the concrete track on which the race was taking place. The day was barely awake, a pale light filtered through the clouds on the horizon where the sun would soon rise. It was the hour when the racers, tired from the dizzying carousel, perhaps felt that sense of relaxation of strength and will that happen after a long and painful strain.


It was at this moment that the accident occurred. At the Maison Blanche S-curve, Tom Cole's Ferrari overturned. The driver was unable to take the curve accurately, perhaps he was fooled by the thin veil of fog that made the outline of things a little uncertain, certainly the high speed at which the car was proceeding exacerbated this difficulty in safely controlling the curve shape at a time when the man behind the wheel perhaps had the first and fatal attack of fatigue. He was seen going straight into the barrier launched at over 100 mph, the car rearing up against the obstacle and bouncing into the other barrier, and then flipping repeatedly; Cole was thrown out of the uncovered car and was probably also run over by a car following him. There was not much of a crowd on the circuit at that hour: the stewards were checking the figures in their accounts, and the beauty of the fight had been such that no one could think of the suddenness of tragedy. An ambulance rushed to the scene and the poor British driver (he was in the process of obtaining the American citizenship) was picked up and taken to hospital, but by the time he got there he had already passed away. As mentioned, probably a car following the Ferrari must have run over the body of the English driver, who was thrown out from the car. The car was a Borgward driven by the German G. Poch. The loudspeaker had indeed announced at first that a Borgward had had an accident. Shortly afterwards Poch's car reached the pits and the driver emerged pale and distraught, with signs of deep emotion etched on his face. The left wing was dented. As Mouche - the second driver -  drove off, journalists launched themselves into the hunt for Poch to get more detailed news of the accident from him, but he could not be found immediately.


The driver, who had witnessed the tragedy at close quarters, was probably still in the throes of the violent agitation caused by the hallucinatory spectacle. Chiron, who passed the fatal spot shortly after the accident and who was not far from Cole's slipstream, says that he had the impression that the Englishman was disturbed by the fog banks. This impression is also shared by other spectators and technicians who were at the circuit at the time. Chiron had seen Cole upright in his seat, but his eye, trained by a long career as a racer, had not missed the sign, imperceptible to the layman, which denotes driving uncertainty. Cole, as we said, was 24 years old. He was the son of a wealthy New York shipowner. It is said that his father, days ago, was in Maranello, in the Ferrari factory, and expressed his keen satisfaction because Chinetti, one of the most cautious and safe Italian racers, had been appointed as his son's partner. Fate decided otherwise. Chinetti was in the pits when the accident occurred because the two drivers were taking turns. The impression aroused by the tragedy was vivid throughout the racing environment and even of dismay in the crowd of night owls and fans at that moment. Although the feeling of ever imminent danger hovers over these trials where risk is often mortal, so as to create a habit of viewing things with a fatalistic sense, even the death of this 34-year-old young man to whom life seemed to smile with all its flattery, caused real consternation. The racer's family is bound together by a sense of fraternal solidarity against the pitfalls of their dangerous trade. During the day there were other accidents, fortunately on a much smaller scale. A Bristol car, driven by Englishman Fairman, skidded and caught fire. The driver was admitted to hospital with various injuries and in nervous shock. The other Bristol in the race with Macklin and Whitehead also caught fire, but the two drivers were luckier than Fairman as they were unhurt. The circuit of Francorchamps, in the south-eastern corner of Belgium, is one of the fastest in Europe as well as one of the most picturesque; from a spectator's point of view it is also admirable, and driving around it, not to mention the race, is a pleasure. For the Belgian Grand Prix, which is run over 36 laps of the 14,120 km circuit, the Ferrari-Maserati battle that began at Zandvoort will continue and, as the circuit is very high speed, it seems likely that it will be the Maseratis that will set the pace, as they did at Monza at the end of last season. 


Villoresi, Farina and Hawthorn drive the same cars as at the last championship meeting, while Ascari uses the spare car in Holland. This car has 4.5-litre front brakes replaced by normal Formula 2 brakes, but has a new carburettor system, like Farina's car. This consists of two Type 50 DCO 4 Weber dual-rank instruments, which replace the normal four-cylinder scheme with four separate carburettors. These new ones are rigidly mounted on a tall welded steel frame attached to the chassis spar, and the intake ducts are joined to the cylinder-head block by rubber hoses, allowing the engine to move on its rubber mounts without affecting the carburettors; apart from that, the cars are unaffected. The Maseratis are present en masse, with three standard entries, led by Fangio, Gonzalez and Claes, as a gesture to the Belgians, de Graffenried and Marimon with private entries. All five cars are the latest-type six-cylinders, Gonzalez driving his Zandvoort car, as is Fangio, Claes having one of the early models that ran in Naples, de Graffenried his usual car, and Marimon a brand new one and the latest in the series, this car, being painted blue with a yellow bonnet, being an Argentinian entry. The car Bonetto drove at Zandvoort is in the garage as a spare. The battle between these two teams starts from the first lap of practice, and it is soon clear that the Maseratis are as fast as the Ferraris on sheer speed, while the rest of the field is left way behind. Trintignant, Schell and Behra are on works Gordinis, Wacker on his personal car, Rosier with his Ferrari, Pilette is driving Clues’ Connaught, Berger, a local man, has a Gordini, and the total of 19 racers is made up by three H.W.M.s driven by Maeklin, Collins and Frère. When the very high-speed practising has finished, it is Fangio who is the fastest, with 4'30"0, followed by Ascari with 4'32"0, closely followed by Gonzalez, Villoresi and Farina. Hawthorn cannot get near the leaders and realises he still has much to learn when the big boys start to pick up the pace. In the last practice session Claes changes his Maserati for the one that Bonetto has driven at Zandvoort and improves his time greatly and, to show it is a good car, Fangio does a lap which is very close to the record. While Ferrari is trying out its new carburetion system, the H.W.M. tries out some new Solex carburettors, very similar in general appearance to Weber’s, but though they give more power at the top end they do not accelerate cleanly, so they revert to the 40 DCO Weber.


Under a very hot sun the cars line up for the start, with Ascari in the uncomfortable position in the centre of the front row, with Fangio on his right and Gonzalez on his left. Behind them, there are Villoresi and Farina, then Trintignant, Hawthorn and Marimon in third row, Claes and Graffenried in fourth row, followed by Rosier, Schell and Frère in fifth row. Wacker and Behra are in sixth row, and Pilette, Macklin, Collins and Berger at the back. While the flag is up Graffenried is still being pushed up and down in an endeavour to start the engine, but it fires five seconds before the start, and he is just able to join in the rush down to the less-bend over the Eau Rouge. Ascari is rather worried at the start, with the Maserati drivers on each side, and makes a very bad getaway, with the result that Gonzalez leads Fangio up the hill towards Bourneville, both of them having a good lead over the rest of the field. At the end of the first lap there is doubt about the issue: the two Maseratis are way ahead and Ascari comes by in the unusual position of third place, followed by Farina, Villoresi, Hawthorn, Marimon, Graffenried, Trintiguant, Claes and the rest. This is indeed an unusual sight, though not a surprise after the practice laps, and by the end of the second lap Ascari is 14 sec. behind Fangio and dropping back rapidly. Gonzalez goes on at a terrific pace, putting in two laps at 4'34"0, and pulling away from his teammate. Clearly Ferraris can do nothing about the speed of the six-cylinder Maseratis, and it is a question of whether they will stand the pace. By the tenth lap Gonzalez still leads from Fangio and nearly a minute behind the leader comes Ascari, unable to make any impression at all. Farina is keeping him in sight and has outstripped the rest of the works cars, while Hawthorn, Marimon and Villoresi are battling for fifth place, the two new boys making veteran Villoresi really try his best, the result on the tenth lap being Hawthorn, Villoresi and Marimon.


A fair way back comes Trintignant, driving his usual brilliant race, followed closely by Graffenried and Claes, while Schell and Rosier are at grips farther back. The rest of the cars are already lapped by the leaders, while many of them are in trouble. Frère has stopped to have a throttle arm repaired, Collins is out with a broken clutch, Berger has retired, and Macklin’s exhaust pipe has broken, and he stops to have the one from Collins’ car fitted. Behra and Wacker are both in trouble with their engines and Pilette is not proving very fast with the Connaught. Just when it seems that the Maseratis are going to hold together and Ferraris are going to be seen-off at last, it is reported that Gonzalez is going slowly at Masta, later to stop near Stavelot, on the far side of the course. This let Fangio into the lead 34 seconds in front of Ascari, but it only lasts for one lap and at the end of the 13th lap he draws into the pits and the car is withdrawn with engine trouble. Ferraris are now 1-2-3, in their usual position. In order there are Ascari, Farina, Hawthorn, with Marimon driving very well, in fourth place. Although miles-an-hour faster, the Maseratis still lack reliability and the hard-working fours from Modena are once again in full command, but not before Ferrari has been thoroughly frightened. Graffenried and Trintignant are still close together having a terrific scrap and then Claes is called-in for Fangio to take over his car. The Belgian jumps out without any hesitation, giving Fangio an encouraging pat on the back, to which the Argentinian responds by shaking Claes’ hand as he starts off. He is now in eighth place and has 23 laps left, so there is hope and he drives really hard, using every inch of the road through the Eau Rouge sweep past the pits and getting every ounce out of the screaming Maserati engine. Ascari is now way out on his own, with Farina second, then a big gap and Hawthorn leading Marimon and Villoresi, but at the end of lap 16 Farina comes coasting down the hill to the pits indicating that his race is over.


In a few minutes the race has changed completely, for Hawthorn is now second to Ascari, while Fangio is making up ground on Trintignant and Graffenried who are still battling for fifth place. By lap 20, he has caught the Frenchman and the Swiss and passes them, taking fifth place, but still is a long way behind the trio who is running for second place. Schell and Rosier are having a private race a long way back, but running non-stop, and the rest of the field are going in fits and starts. Macklin stops with a piston lying in pieces under the car. For a few laps things settle down and everyone seems to have found their place, the order being Ascari, Hawthorn 2'10"0, Marimon 8 seconds later, Villoresi 10 seconds more and Fangio 1'14"0, further back. With only seven laps to go things happen thick and fast and once again the whole character of the race undergoes a complete change. Hawthorn has a fuel pipe split and runs short of fuel, coasting into his pit for a refill, while Marimon comes into his pit to report a Sudden loss of power, continuing at a much-reduced pace. This leaves the order of the race Ascari, still way out on his own, Villoresi and Fangio, followed by the slowing Maserati of Marimon and then some way behind a three-cornered battle between Trintignant, Graffenried and Hawthorn, the last-named having restarted just as the other two go by. This is almost unexpected and Hawthorn, having got back into fifth place, stops again for more fuel while Tringtignant and Graffenried continue their private battle. As Ascari starts his last lap there are only Villoresi and Fangio on the same lap and just over two hours and three-quarters after the start Ascari is flagged home the winner of the Belgian Grand Prix, his third Championship win. It is one of his luckiest successes, but it is a success nevertheless.


As Fangio starts his last lap he is looking down into the left side of his cockpit and while everyone is waiting to acclaim him third place, after a magnificent drive it is announced that he has spun round at Stavelot and a few minutes later he arrives at the finish line in an ambulance. He is suffering only from bruises and abrasions but is certainly the luckiest man of the day. An inspection of Maserati as it stands beside the road with the front wheels in a ditch reveals that there is no connection between the steering column and the drop-arm and as neither of the front wheels has come into contact with any solid object. It seems that this steering failure has caused his crash. It occurs on the straight after Stavelot, while the car is accelerating, and the tyre marks indicate very heavy braking and 180-degree skid. While being the unluckiest driver of the day, Fangio is also the luckiest in that the accident happened on a clear part of the course. This last-minute drama so flummoxes the officials that they give Ascari and Villoresi their flowers and forget to ask them to do a lap of honour, with the result that they both drive off home while the multitudes wait patiently imagining them to be on their way round the course. In the midst of this dramatic finish, Hawthorn catches Trintignant and Graffenried and might have beaten them for fourth place had not Wacker been in the way due to being lapped. Marimon has limped home third in his sick blue and yellow Maserati and once again the day proves to be one for Scuderia Ferrari. It has been suggested that flag marshals will give a special Fallen Horse flag to wave to all competitors the day Ferrari gets beaten: it nearly happened today, and the indication is that it may happen at Reims on July 5th.


Needless to say, the fourth round of the World Championship, the Belgian Grand Prix, was also won by the Milanese ace Alberto Ascari, at the wheel of a two-litre Ferrari car without a compressor. Ascari, winner of the World Championship in 1952, came first in three of the four rounds held so far this year for the same title: in Buenos Aires on January 18, 1953, in the Argentine Grand Prix; in Zandvoort on June 8, 1953, in the Dutch Grand Prix; and now in the Belgian Grand Prix. The current World Champion did not participate in one of the four races, namely the Indy 500 (USA). The World Championship classification sees Ascari (Ferrari) in the lead, with 25 points, followed by Villoresi (Ferrari) with 13 points, Gonzalez (Maserati) with 7 points, Farina (Ferrari) and Hawthorn (Ferrari) with 6 points, De Graffenried (Maserati) with 5 points, Marimon (Maserati) with 4 points, and finally Galvez (Maserati), Bonetto (Maserati) and Trintignant (Gordini) with 2 points. Those who are not included in this ranking are the top five finishers in the Indy 500, all Americans, who do not race in Europe. In each round of the World Championship, 8 points are awarded to the winner; 6 points to the second; 4 points to the third; 3 points to the fourth; 2 points to the fifth; 1 to the driver who sets the fastest lap. There are ten races valid for the awarding of the title annually. The Grand Prix in France, Great Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Spain still have to be contested. Six more races and a wide margin for the always possible surprises. However, the results of Spa-Francorchamps reconfirm a well-known situation: Ascari's undefeatability when the car gives him a regular performance; clear superiority of the Ferrari cars as far as the order of arrival of each single race is concerned, that is to say, resistance to effort and a magnificent balance between the various mechanical demands that a racing car imposes; cunning and class of Luigi Villoresi, who with shrewd and intelligent tactics once again placed second. Giuseppe Farina was forced to retire due to a failure of his Ferrari; the Englishman Hawthorn disappointed again those who saw a champion in him, so much so that Scuderia Ferrari signed him up last winter. Gonzalez set the fastest lap, a sign that the two-litre Maserati did indeed have greater pure speed resources than the similar Ferrari; but Gonzalez soon had to retire due a failure in his Maserati. Fangio's Maserati also could not withstand the strain; the former World Champion then climbed into teammate Claes' Maserati and launched into a spectacular chase. 


From ninth position, Fangio climbed up to third place, thrilling the crowd, but on the last lap - for being too daring - the Argentinean ace ended up in hospital due to a frightening accident. In the early laps Gonzalez and Fangio held the lead in the race; their Maseratis were clearly the fastest today, but the overall safety and performance superiority was still on the side of the Ferraris. In third place, one lap down, was a Maserati, that of Marimon, and in fourth a Maserati, that of the Swiss driver De Graffenried. It was a decent race, but no better than the previous ones in terms of grip. Two of the five Maseratis that started out finished the race, the ones that were less stressed by the drivers' recklessness. Ferrari, on the other hand, came to the finish line with three cars out of four: one in first, one in second and the third in sixth place with Hawthorn. The new fact to emerge from the race at Spa-Francorchamps is, from a mechanical point of view, the fastest lap set by Maserati. As for drivers, the revelation is the Argentinean Marimon, a worthy compatriot of Fangio and Gonzalez; his third place in a great test such as the Belgian one is a sure promise, the first step in the career of a great motor racing signature. As for the outcome of the World Championship, there are six stages to go; however, it is to be expected that not much should change from last year. As for Juan Manuel Fangio, it must be said that the Argentine ace gave the 100.000 spectators at the Belgian Grand Prix the most excitement. First a furious start, together with his teammate Gonzalez; then a rabid, beautiful chase, during which the former World Champion overtook no less than six rivals, moving from ninth to third place; finally, right at the last of the 36 laps of the race, a frightening crash. Fangio was also trying to catch up with Villoresi, who by then was only twenty seconds ahead of him, but near Stavelot the Argentine's Maserati skidded, spun off the road and left the track. The driver was thrown from the car and lost consciousness in the impact against the ground. An ambulance rushed in. Later, at the hospital Fangio does not appear to be in serious condition. At first the doctors feared that the fainting had been caused by concussion. But, fortunately, the X-ray examination rules out the possibility of a skull fracture. Then Fangio regains consciousness; it is likely that he could leave the clinic on Monday or Tuesday. This is the Argentinean ace's second serious accident. The other happened at Monza, about a year ago, when the injured man's condition seemed to be of no concern; Fangio hoped to leave the clinic after a week. Instead, a cervical injury, caused by the helmet, kept him immobilised and away from racing for a long time.


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