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#36 1954 French Grand Prix

2021-04-09 00:00

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#1954,

#36 1954 French Grand Prix

Il 25 Giugno 1954, un pauroso incidente si sviluppa nel pomeriggio all'autodromo di Monza, mentre si svolgono le prove per il secondo Gran Premio Supe

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Friday, 25 of June 1954, at about 4:00 p.m., Giuseppe Farina is victim of a dreadful accident at Monza’s Autodrome, while the practices for the 2 Supercortemaggiore‘s Grand Prix are being held, reserved to cars of the international sort category, which will be run next Sunday over the distance of 1008 kilometres. The Italian driver, went on track at the wheel of a new Ferrari car model made especially for Sunday race, just at the first lap, while he speeds through at 240 km/h on the straight in front of the grandstands, recalls the attention of the attendees because a flash comes through the car. The official statement issued during the night from the Automobile Club Milano attributes the accident to a backfire; however more accurate investigations allowed to reconstruct the dramatic adventure experienced by the Turin driver. As the speed increases, a mechanical organ suddenly blocked for unknown causes, determines the machine to stop suddenly, with the consequent cracking of the tank. It is assumed that the gasoline, which spread instantaneous on the exhaust pipe, caused the car to ignite. Farina with quick thinking manages to stop the car and save himself by throwing himself out of it and rolling in the grass to put out the fire that has stuck to his race suit. The car remains liquefied. The unfortunate driver was immediately transported to the Circolo of Monza hospital, where the doctors on duty found first and second degree burns to his lower limbs and some burns to his hands, which could be cured in a month.
 

Kidney complications were initially feared; but in the course of the evening this danger seems to have been averted and the patient's conditions do not cause concern. Giuseppe Farina had just returned to competitions after the dramatic adventure of the Mille Miglia. Starting at full speed, in the Brescia race, the former World Champion had gone off the road in Peschiera after a few kilometres of the race and had hit a tree. Both the pilot and the mechanic, only by a miracle, had suffered no serious fractures. Farina, after a stay in the Maria Vittoria hospital in Turin, had hastened the time of recovery. As soon as he was able to move his right arm, he went back to training, protecting the limb with a special bandage. Last Sunday he competed in the Belgian Grand Prix. The fate also in the Belgian competition had been unfavourable to him. The driver had had to put an end to his impetuous race due to a trivial mechanical accident, while he was in the lead after twelve laps covered at very high average. Today, due to another fatality, Giuseppe Farina once again faced a fatal risk, in an accident against which little could do his skill as an expert and tested driver in thousand mishaps. The Turin driver, however, had the great merit of stopping the fireball in flames avoiding worse troubles for himself and for others and this was a demonstration of exceptional cold blood. His wife warned by telephone of the misfortune rushed by car to Monza, terrified by the thought that a pitiful lie had hidden a more serious disaster from her. Giuseppe himself, embracing her, reassured her:

 

"Don't worry, it's nothing. I'll be back racing soon...".

 

Among the first to visit the former World Champion are Gonzalez and Maglioli; the Argentine driver, in a Ferrari, provided the best time during the test, completing the lap of the track in 2'04"9, at an average of 181.585 km/h and winning the first prize of 150.000 lire. A remarkable time was also established by Maglioli, that he should have run in tandem with Farina, shooting through at an average of 180 km/h. Also Mucci, in a Ferrari, went off the track, but without any consequence.  Official practices will resume on Saturday. The 2nd Supereortemaggiore Grand Prix will see thirty cars and sixty drivers in the race, who will take turns driving, because each cannot stay behind the wheel for more than four hours. The race will take place from 4:00 p.m. at 10:30 p.m. approximately. Dr. Vecchia, Farina's personal doctor, in the meantime arrives on Saturday 26 June 1954 in Monza to visit the unfortunate driver who suffered severe burns on Friday. Dr. Vecchia had just arrived from America when he learned of the misadventure that the Turin driver had suffered, and in the course of the evening he had called from Turin receiving tranquillising news. Then, however, during the course of Saturday morning he learned that Giuseppe Farina had spent a rather agitated night and wanted to be next to the driver, especially as a family friend. The doctors of the Monza hospital in fact assured that the conditions of the Turin ace of the steering wheel do not cause concern and that Farina will be able to recover soon. All necessary care was promptly and effectively given to the pilot. The accident, as is well known, occurred while the Italian driver was testing the new Ferrari model (and it was precisely the first lap).

Farina, launched on the straight at about 250 km/h, was hit by a blaze at the legs. The Italian driver tried to dominate the car but, overcome by the agony, he was forced to throw himself out and roll in the grass to soothe the burns in his legs. Farina will have to treat first and second degree burns to the lower limbs for at least a month. The hands are also slightly burned. Excluded the danger of kidney complications. The Supercortemaggiore Grand Prix which will take place on Sunday 27 June 1954 at the Monza racetrack for cars of the international sports category will therefore not see Ascari, Villoresi and Farina in the race, the first two engaged in Portugal and the third in hospital following the incident mentioned above.The 50.000.000 lire up for grabs in Sunday's race, however, attracted the attention of the best manufacturers, who will compete for the 20.000.000 lire prize reserved for the winner, while the respective drivers will fight to win the 30.000.000 lire prize provided by the regulation. The best three-liter Europeans will be represented by the brand new Ferrari to Maserati, from Gordini to Aston Martin, from Osca to Connaught. The 2nd Supercortemaggiore Grand Prix was a great success, which saw - after an exciting and hard-fought race - the victory of the Maglioli-Hawthorn couple on Ferrari. Second place goes Gonzalez-Trintignant. The first hour of the competition was marked by a thunderstorm, which literally lashed the track. However, under this chaos since the beginning Maglioli, Behra, Gonzalez, Bentosi and Manzon give rise to a tight and compelling fight.  On the tenth lap Hawthorn - who replaced at the wheel his team mate Maglioli - is in the lead followed by Behra, Gonzalez, Marimon and Manzon. On the twelfth lap Gonzalez advances to second position remaining there until the fifteenth. On the next lap, while the storm is still raging, Hawthorn retains the lead. 

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The classification on the twentieth lap sees first the Gordini of Behra in 50'35"7 at an average of 149.421 km/h, which precedes Hawthorn and Gonzales, but on the twenty-fourth lap Behra is overtaken by the English. On the thirtieth lap the classification sees in the lead Hawthorn, followed by Maglioli. On the thirty-ninth lap Gonzalez improves again the lap record in 2'11"4, at an average of 172.601 km/h. The storm is violent but short-lived and now the sun is peeping out of the gash of clouds. The classification at the fiftieth lap sees Gonzalez first. The Argentine, however, before the sixtieth lap stops to refuelling for one minute and twenty seconds, giving the guide to Trintignant. The others take advantage, Hawthorn to take the lead, and Behra to become second. But on the sixty-first lap Hawthorn, in his turn, stops for 45 seconds, giving the lead to Maglioli. On lap 80, Behra leads on the average of 162.136 km/h, but then gives the drive to Frère. Maglioli, having switched to the lead, does not let the victory slip by now. Behind him Marimon and Gonzalez fight fiercely to secure victory. The latter with an impetuous comeback takes over.

 

Simultaneously the Oporto Grand Prix ends with a brilliant success of the Italian cars and drivers: 1st Luigi Villoresi on Lancia, 2nd Castellotti on Lancia as well. Brilliant affirmation, obtained after a close fight under a scorching sun and along a troubled circuit. The difficulty of the race remains documented by the fact that of the sixteen starters, only seven finished. Most of those who retired had mechanical failures and among these there is a very illustrious name: the World Champion Ascari - aboard the brand new Lancia 3.800 cc - who had to stop at the thirty-ninth lap. The course is 338 kilometres long, corresponding to forty-five laps that are completed only by Villoresi and Castellotti, while the third finisher - the Englishman Whitehead has just completed forty-three laps. The two first arrivals raced with the Lancia 3.300 cc. Particularly noteworthy is Villoresi's statement when we consider that the Oporto Grand Prix was the first competition in which he participated after the frightening accident he suffered during preparation for the Mille Miglia. The popular rider from the Turin-based manufacturer covered 1.333 kilometres in 2 hours, 14'14"0, reaching an average of 148.90 km/h. The Ascari race was very popular with the technicians and, as we said, led to the debut of the last type of the Lancia of 3800 cc. It can be said that substantially the World Champion has carried out a severe test of this car, reaching the thirty-ninth lap, as mentioned.

 

Once again the Automobile Club du Champagne has organised a real speed fair for a night and a day, as in 1953, with a 12 Hour sports car race, from midnight on Saturday 3 July 1954 to noon on Sunday July 4, 1954, and, after a lunch break, the French Grand Prix for Formula 1 cars. Under the direction of Raymond Roche, the Club continued to improve the circuit's services, providing more stands, restaurants, a row of shops and one of the best refuelling systems ever. This last addition is very welcome, given the negative episode of the previous year, when there was a great disorder and numerous misunderstandings during the refuelling phases of the racing sports cars. The new installation includes a large tank positioned behind the garages with underground pipes that reach each box, where flexible pipes and a fast-acting nozzle are hung, with very efficient filters and shut-off valves to avoid the risk of spills. Not satisfied with just the improvement of the circuit's comforts, the Club has changed the layout once again, this time at the Thillois hairpin leading to the finish straight. The original track included a very narrow right-hand hairpin that suddenly dropped in level and with a surface made of pebbles. About ten meters before the hairpin , a new stretch of road was built to replace the old one: the result is an easier and faster curve. The old section, on the other hand, remains as an escape route for anyone who goes beyond the braking point.

 

For four consecutive years, starting in 1950, the Reims circuit was thus modified; as a result, a new set of records is set every year, but now it seems that things have stabilised and it is believed that the records to be set in 1954 will be lasting. The location of the Reims circuit on the RN 31, which is the main road to Soissons and a local road to the village of Gueux, is such that the closure to normal traffic involves only a small detour, so that the test sessions can be organised in the late afternoon and evening on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays before the following races. The first test session, dedicated to sports cars, was attended by most of the participants.The 12 Hour race is expected to be a repeat of Le Mans, as nearly all of the cars competing had raced there. In some ways it is a shame that the Reims race could not have preceded the Le Mans one, as it would certainly have been an excellent test for the most important 24 Hours. Team Jaguar is the favourite, especially since Ferrari has only entered one car, one of the new 3-litre Monza Type 750S is thought. The drivers for the Jaguar are the same as in Le Mans and each pair uses the same car used in the 24 hours. The pairs are: Moss-Walker, Rolt-Hamilton and Wharton-Whitehead. A standard C-type driven by the duo Manussis-Dunham also participates in the tests. The Bristol team is also on track and includes the pairs Wisdom-Fairman, Keen-Line and Mayers-Wilson, who appear remarkably confident they can repeat their 24 Hours performance. Then there are the two Chrysler-powered Cunninghams, which appear faster than the Le Mans, now equipped with new double-barrel Solex carburettors that require large bulges in the upper part of the hood.

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The two pairs of drivers are Cunningham-Johnston and Fitch-Walters, racing alongside the Jaguars. The Talbot Team participates with only one car, shared in the testing phase between the two pairs Levegh-Fayen and Gaze-A .Whitehead has a new H.W.M. with Jaguar engine and gearbox: it is an exterior replica of the official H.W.M. car, although in reality it differs greatly from it, having coil springs and wishbones and a different shape of tube arrangement at the rear. It is thought that the most interesting challenge in this 12 Hours will be among the members of the 2-litre class, since in addition to the Bristol team there are also Maserati, Ferrari and Gordini among the participants ; mostly private enrolled, but still with the latest models available. Picard-Pozzi alternate on a four-cylinder Ferrari Mondial; father and son Monneret in a Maserati A6G, as well as Roboly-Bourillot; the Gordinis haven't shown up yet. The rest of the participants belong to the under 1500cc category, including Flower-Llewellyn with a Porsche 1.500 Super, Seidel-Glockler with a car with a very light German-made two-seater body, and most of the DB Renault, DB Panhard, Aerodynamic Panhards and Monopoles which had raced in Le Mans. The Jaguars are very fast from the outset and Wharton records a time of 2’38"8, while Walker is forced to stop due to a broken gearbox. The Cunninghams are extremely noisy, arguably the most unruly cars ever produced in terms of noise quantity and quality, while the Bristol team is as quiet and impressive as it had been noisy and meaningless the previous year. While the sports cars are exercising, the Formula 1 cars also begin to arrive in the paddock.

 

Much of the interest is focused on an object wrapped in a tarp next to a large Mercedes-Benz van. During the winter, the German company announced that it would be ready to run three cars in Reims and, despite widespread rumours they suspected that the promise could not be kept, three cars are unloaded from the vans and are ready to take part in the first session of tests, while a fourth car remains as a reserve. From the very beginning, the Mercedes-Benz team sets the pace, overshadowing all the other competitors, not only because of the publicity given to them in the daily press, but also because of their looks, the great confidence shown by the team in their abilities, for the exhaust noise and the remarkable  times registered on a lap . During the first practice session, Fangio made four laps in rapid succession, the last of which in a time of 2'29"4, at an average speed of 200.042 km/h. As if the team hadn't already had enough publicity, this crossing of the 200 km/h average lap speed threshold is cheered loudly by all. The changes on the Reims circuit led to a new standard time of 2’30”0: this is the goal to aim for. None of the other drivers of the Mercedes-Benz team comes close to Fangio's lap time. Even if with a good pace the new German cars are far from being perfectly functional: from time to time the engines shut down completely for a fraction of a second, then come back with a bang; during the lap at 200 km/h Fangio's engine had the same problem three times on the long straight. Apparently the problem is caused by tiny dirt particles in the fuel that clog the injector pump. Since Mercedes-Benz has mixed its own fuel, it cannot blame anyone but itself.

 

From the amount of smoke that escapes from the exhaust gases at start-up it appears that a percentage of oil has been added to the fuel to lubricate the pump plungers, and perhaps this also contributes to these engine cuts. There are only three other Formula 1 cars for these first tests, including an HMW reduced to 2.3 litres in an attempt to keep the block in one piece. Then Salvadori with Gilbey Engineering Maserati and Wharton with Rubery Owen Maserati, the latter shiny new car in its first race. The H.W.M. is equipped with S.U. injection on the same principle used on the Alta engines in the previous year, but with the pump mounted on the front of the crankcase; in the absence of Macklin, during the tests the seat is given to Fairman. The two Maseratis are proceeding well, with Salvadori faster than Hermann. The day after, priority in the practice session rests with the Formula 1 single-seaters, with the sports cars running until 11:00 p.m. instead to practice in the darkness of the late evening. Once again Mercedes-Benz takes the whole stage and Fangio completes a lap in 2’29"5, confirming the performance of the previous day. But the new time, despite being only a hundredth of a second slower than the previous one, fails to capture the attention of the public in the same way, as the average speed is only 199.908 km/h, and not 200 km/h. The performance of the Maserati team is being overshadowed by that of the German manufacturer, and it is interesting that Ascari and Villoresi are joining forces with Marimon on the cars equipped with the de Dion bridge. After the recent accident of Farina, Gianni Lancia had come to the conclusion that there would be no Italian drivers to defend national honour in the French Grand Prix, thus deciding to offer the services of his two Grand Prix drivers to Maserati. For the first time, Ascari tests a new Maserati, or any six-cylinder Orsi car, and after just two laps to gain confidence he records a time of 2'31"3.

 

After the pits in Reims there is a long right-hand corner, tackled at 225-240 km/h on a blind edge, and in his fast lap Ascari runs through it without ever lifting his foot, something that no one else has the courage to do. Fangio is probably going faster, but the Argentine driver has still slightly reduced the pressure on the throttle of his Mercedes-Benz. Although both drivers are driving two totally different cars, Ascari and Fangio are the fastest on the track, proving to be of a higher level. The Maserati of Ascari and Villoresi are equipped with latches in the gearbox to prevent the use of the lowest gear as well as for starting, indicating the use of an axle format that allows you to travel the entire lap at three speeds. Ascari remains at 8.200 rpm, while Villoresi is satisfied with only 7.600 rpm, thus turning around 2'42"0. The Maserati B.R.M. are not in top form due to the bending of a transmission shaft the day before which blew all the floors, however Salvadori and Bira are running on the circuit. There is still no sign of the official Gordinis or the official Ferraris on the track, even though the drivers are all present in the paddock. On the track with the corresponding private cars, however, there are Berger in his Belgian-owned Gordini and Manzon with his Ferrari. Once again the Mercedes-Benz Team is the most confident, but it is difficult to make predictions given that Ascari is not yet completely at ease with the Maserati, and knowing the pace of Maserati and Ferrari, the arrival of the four cylinders is expected with impatience. Following the spectacle offered by the Formula 1 single-seaters alone, sports cars also enter the track, which appear rather boring from the point of view of the show. The activity on the track is intense, the lights are adjusted as the sun goes down and the scoreboards used on the pit wall to communicate with the riders are prepared. With the arrival of night, the annoying problem of being able to overtake 160 km/h cars with 270 km/h cars also arises.

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There are many doubts regarding the choice to mix the different cars on the track, especially since some of the drivers of the small French cars are practically amateurs from René Bonnet's Monomill school, with the vice of not looking in the rear-view mirrors and of using all the track width. Almost everyone is on track to become familiar with the dark, with only two important exceptions: the two official Porsches and the official Ferrari. At the wheel of the 4.5-litres Ferraris are the americans Masten Gregory and Biondetti. Belgians Laurent and Swaters occupy the seats of the Jaguar C-type which also raced in Le Mans, now painted yellow. Abecassis and Macklin have the H.W.M. at their disposal, just returned from Portugal where it had raced in the Oporto race. Salvadori and Davis are on track in Gilbey Engineering's sport Maserati, while a similar car painted blue and yellow is driven by Tomasi-Lopeg, two Argentines. Before the end of the tests, both the H.W.M and the English-owned Maserati suffer severe damage that forced them to stop the practice session. In the meantime the whole group is settling down and most of the riders can say they are ready for the race. The last practice session took place on Friday 2 July 1954 and in view of the upcoming French Grand Prix, Mercedes-Benz is back on track, this time mainly with Kling to optimise the measures on his single-seater. Maserati is also on the track, and finally Ferrari is also present. Gonzalez and Hawthorn have the 1954 cars available and the Trintignant a 1953/54 model, with a similar car as a backup. Kling lowers the lap time, taking it to 2’30"4, running without pause, but suffers a broken radiator, which was then quickly changed by the Mercedes-Benz mechanics.

 

Meanwhile, the chrome star and crossbar are removed from the nose of all three German cars, which are starting to overheat due to the high intensity of the track work. Ascari gets confident with the Maserati with the de Dion bridge and records a time of 2’30 "5. Marimon is also competitive and records a time of 2’31”6, while Villoresi has the opportunity to practice only for a few laps, given the long work on his car to change the oil pump. Gonzalez scores a remarkable time of 2’30"6. Hawthorn is forced to a stop, first for a change of the rear axle ratio and then because of the rain, two unexpected events that prevent him from finishing a lap in optimal conditions, however managing to take home a decent time in 2'35"6. Trintignant on the old car cannot go below 2'36"1, but the big surprise among private drivers is represented by Prince Bira, who recorded a time of 2'35"1. Mieres, Schell and Rosier also practice with their private cars, two Maseratis and a Ferrari respectively. At the end of the session Hawthorn causes a brief moment of panic at Ferrari when he pits in the back of Ascari's Maserati, havingy suffered an oil line rupture on his new car. There is still no sign of the Gordinis, whose seats should have been occupied by Behra, Pellet and Frére. The tests for the Formula 1 single-seaters come to a conclusion and all the competitors are ready for the race, with a dominant feeling that the German cars, even if fast, will probably not hold up, and that Ascari and Gonzalez will give the best of themselves.Between Fangio, the fastest in practice, and Marimon, the fifth fastest, there are only 2.2 seconds of difference. The possibility is being considered that this year too the race on the French circuit will be just as exciting as the previous year's.  


When the sports cars are ready for the final tests, the rain still beats on the asphalt, causing delays in the start of activity on the track. The Jaguars finish only a few laps; the Bristol does not even come out of the pits; the open Porsches, equipped with engines using four camshafts, driven by Polensky-Frankenburg and Veuillet-Olivier, hit the track for the first time, as did the Ferrari 750S, the car that had finished second in the recent race in Monza, now driven by Maglioli-Manzon. The three Gordinis finally appear, a 2.5-litres with five-speed gearbox, driven by Guelfi-Pollet, a 2-litres for Rinen-Loyer and a four-cylinder 1.100cc for Thirion-Gendebien. The Belgians Claes-Herzet have at their disposal the private 2-litre Ferrari of the latter, formerly a coupe, now equipped with a two-seater body on the lines of a Jaguar type C which appears rather bulky for a 2-litre. The day of Saturday 3 July 1954 is dedicated to the final preparation. On one hand the members of Team Bristol standing up, with their best uniforms on and their hands in their pockets, are so ready and confident, and on the other hand the members of the Cunningham team furiously changing an engine, or those of Team H.W.M. trying to find the time to break in a newly rebuilt engine. For Grand Prix cars it is instead the moment of the practice of technical checks, which mainly consists of painting the official numbers on the single-seaters, a quick look at the driving license and an examination by a doctor to see if the drivers are perfectly in form. The three Gordinis show up just in time, with Behra having the new 2LS front brakes on his car, with new drums with very thin fins; Instead, the five-speed gearbox was maintained as in the SPA meeting, with first and reverse on the right, second and third on the left, fourth and fifth in the middle, and an extra gear on the lower part to be engaged only during the starting phase.

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In the late afternoon on Saturday the cars are lined up in the paddock. With sunset and darkness, the climate becomes decidedly cold and threatening, unusual being the month of July. Rain clouds cover the track. As midnight approaches, the cars are lined up on the grid, ready for a Le Mans-style race. A few drops of rain begin to fall on the track. The flag is lowered but not everyone has an ideal view to pick up the start signal: many imitate the movements of the other pilots in front or in the queue, others anticipate the start. Guelfi on the 2.5-litre Gordini is the most skilled at the start and takes the lead. As the cars make their way under the Dunlop bridge the traffic is already unbearable, with a traffic jam worse than that of Le Mans, now being in artificial light and not with perfect visibility conditions. Fortunately, any kind of accident is escaped, and at the end of the first lap Moss already proves to be of a higher level, followed by the other Jaguars, the Cunninghams, Maglioli, Behra on the 3-litre Gordini arrived at the last minute, and the rest of the group in tail. On his third lap and less than 15 minutes out of twelve hours, Moss is already lapping the rear of the pack. With the passing of the laps. Maglioli finds a good pace and darts into second position, starting to gain on Moss, who in the meantime continues to fly. Behra begins to climb the rankings with his Gordini. Abecassis pit stops with H.W.M. and is forced to retire due to mechanical problems. Moss is proceeding at such a pace that after only thirty minutes of the race he is already lapping the Bristol team. Maglioli is in the queue and passes the lapped cars left and right, without lifting his foot, and further back Behra does the same, driving to the limit and finding himself on the grass on more than one occasion.

The Ferrari moves to 10 seconds behind Moss and then stabilises, while Behra overtakes Wharton and quickly gains on Rolt; but, just before the end of the first hour of the race, braking in the corner the Gordini rammed the Jaguar clearly. Both cars are forced to pit at the end of the lap: Rolt is furious and his Jaguar has a damaged hood, while the Gordini has much worse damage to the headlights and a radiator, which forces Behra to retire. Ferrari loses pace and several seconds per lap on Moss, obviously in difficulty. Shortly after 1:15 a.m. Maglioli brings his car back to the pits and retires due to transmission problems. In a few minutes the race is completely turned upside down: we go from an interesting battle between Jaguar, Ferrari and Gordini, to a Jaguar domination, as neither the Cunninghams nor the American-owned 4 and a half-litre Ferrari can keep up with the Coventry of Moss, who after 1 hour and 40 minutes of the race has already lapped all his opponents, including his teammates. As soon as the lapping phase is over, however, his Jaguar goes on five cylinders, forcing him to stop to change the spark plugs, an opportunity also taken to refuel. The stop brings him back to fourth position, behind Wharton, Fitch (Cunningham) and Gregory (Ferrari), with Rolt, Johnston (Cunningham), Laurent and Manussis in tow. In the 2-litre class, Loyer-Rinen's Gordini is far ahead of the rest of the group and the Maseratis, while the only French-owned Ferrari is mingling with the Bristol team. The two official Porsches continue at a good pace, with Polensky-Frankenburg leading on most 2-litre cars. Stops for refuelling begin and one car after another return to the pits. Some cars are entrusted to the second drivers, while others continue without changes.

 

Overall, the routine stops go on for more than an hour, reshuffling the ranking. Moss, who had stopped earlier, is back in the lead as Wharton hands his Jaguar over to second driver Whitehead, and begins to build a solid lead. Behind the two are Walters, now on the Cunningham instead of Fitch, Rolt, Cunningham, Gregory and Manussis. Rinen with his 2-litre Gordini is still comfortably ahead of rivals in the same category. Around 3:30 in the morning a thick fog settles over the circuit, accompanied by rain. Conditions are awful. In the meantime, the Jaguars have taken the top three positions, in order Moss, Rolt and Whitehead. The Bristol team refuel and skilfully changes drivers, but Wilson-Mayers' car remains stuck in the garage for some time while the spark plugs are changed, wet from water entering the air intake. Shortly after 4:00 in the morning, dawn breaks, but there is no sign of improving weather conditions. Moss stops to refuel and records one of the fastest pit stops. A third of the race has already passed and forty of the forty-one drivers present at the start are still in the race. In the various classes Jaguar, Gordini, Porsche and Panhard maintain an excellent pace, but generally the weather conditions are slowing the pace, making the race more peaceful. Walters darts relentlessly past the second Cunningham and shortly after 4:30 in the morning overtook the Jaguar in third position. A few minutes later the Jaguar in the lead stops at the side of the road, just after the Thillois hairpin.

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Walker had been driving for just half an hour when the universal driveshaft broke, forcing him to abandon the car off the track and leaving Whitehead in the lead, followed by Walter and Hamilton. This order, however, is once again upset, as Whitehead stops to ask for a new visor given the poor visibility. This stop puts the Cunningham in the lead, but only for about twenty minutes, as the next refuelling stop allows the remaining Jaguars to pass forward. Halfway through the race there are still thirty-five cars in the race: the first three driven by Hamilton, Whitehead and Fitch, with the Gordini still leading in the 2-litre class and the Porsche leading in the up to 1.600 cc class. Guelfi-Pollet's 2.5-litre Gordini is doing well, but the clutch suddenly locks up and forces a pit stop. Meanwhile, Fitch-Walter's Cunningham began to show signs of suffering and due to a blown gasket, it was in turn forced to make numerous passes through the pits, also used for refuelling and for an exchange between the drivers. The race continues and the weather conditions gradually improve until 7:30 a.m., when the sky is finally clear. The drivers breathe a sigh of relief and so do all those who attend the Grand Prix that will follow the 12 Hours. The order of competition is now Rolt-Hamilton, Wharton-Whitehead, Fitch-Walters, Laurent-Swaters, the latter two continuing at a steady pace, Cunningham-Johnston, Gregory-Biondetti, Manussis-Dunham, Loyer-Rinen and Polensky- Frankenburg, the bottom two pairs easily lead in their classes. This order persists, with one exception for the Manussis-Dunham couple's Jaguar, which spun in a cornfield. Taking advantage of the improved track conditions, the Jaguars push the gas pedal, and both Hamilton and Wharton set new lap records, the latter with a time of 2’43"8.

 

The H.W.M. of Gaze-Whitehead proceeds smoothly and surpasses the leading Porsche. The 2.5-litre Gordini begins to slow down due to previous clutch problems, and at 9:00 a.m. it returns to the pits completely out of fuel. The Cunningham begins to overheat to such an extent that smoke is seen coming out of the car. Shortly after 10, just two hours from the end, both the increased-displacement Gordinis give away, the 2.5-litre with the clutch completely gone and the 2-litre with the gearbox broken. For the other cars remaining in the race, the problem of rain recurs. One hour from the end, the Maserati of Portago-Chiron, third in its class up to now, returns to the pits in a cloud of oil smoke and is forced to retire. The two official Jaguars now precede the Belgian Jaguar and the American Ferrari, followed by Cunningham-Johnston and Fitch-Walters, the latter's car that increasingly suffers from engine overheating. Porsche is eighth in the overall standings, ahead of the first car in the 2-litre class, the Ferrari Mondial of the Picard-Pozzi duo. The Chancel brothers are leading the French small cars race with their Panhard. A Jaguar victory now seems certain but at 11:30 a.m., just 30 minutes from the end, Hamilton takes his Jaguar to the pits, with smoke coming from the differential. The smoke is dry and incredibly hot, and continues to escape from under the rear wings even after the car comes to a stop. Whitehead takes the lead, while in the pits the mechanics try to solve the problem on the Jaguar to allow Hamilton to finish the race. Hamilton gets back on track, begins to slow down and after a lap he stops, just before the finish line, to wait for the end of the 12 Hours. Despite the forced stop Hamilton is still in second place, as the yellow Jaguar was unable to recover the gap.

 

Just to be sure not to break any regulation on the time taken for the last lap of the race, Hamilton makes another extremely slow lap during the remaining ten minutes that allows him to stay in front of the type C car, so that at the end of 12 Hours the Jaguars finish first, second and third, followed by the Ferrari 4 and a half litres, the Cunningham of Cunningham-Johnston, CV Fitch-Walters, the H.W.M, the Porsche, the Mondial Ferrari and the Bristol team. The race was run in horrible conditions, but the Jaguar pocketed a well-deserved victory, helped also by a bit of luck. The Porsche's speed was remarkable, causing embarrassment to a good number of bigger-engined cars. Also the H.W.M.  takes home a good result in his first appearance in a 12 Hours. After a break for lunch and for the well-deserved rest of those who participated in the 12 Hours, the Grand Prix cars begin to line up in front of the pits to warm up the engines and to change the spark plugs. The crowd, ready to watch the race, becomes more and more numerous. Contributing to the pre-race hustle is the exhaust noise of eight-cylinder Mercedes-Benz cars, with mechanics warming them up by accelerating to 3.000 rpm. As the starting time approaches, the cars are brought to the grid, followed by the drivers and accompanied by applauses from the public. Fangio is clearly the favourite of the day, but high expectations also fall on Gonzalez. Ascari, on Maserati there’s still an unknown factor. Hawthorn is also among the favourites for the win. The finish line in Reims is located before the pits and stands, so that after the start, along the Tribune d'Honneur, the challenge is already on. Fangio, Kling and Ascari start in the front row, with Gonzalez and Marimon just behind, then Bira in the third row, accompanied by Hermann and Hawthorn. In the fourth row are Trintignant and Salvadori, followed by the rest of the twenty-one riders, with the Gordini team queuing for not having participated in the tests.

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When the national flag falls, the first row moves in unison, then Ascari hesitates and is overtaken by almost all the opponents. Fangio and Kling make no mistakes and jump into the lead, passing under the Dunlop Bridge side by side, already 100 meters away from Gonzalez, Hawthorn, Marimon and the others. Meanwhile, poor Ascari tries in vain to keep up with his Maserati, even if evidently something is broken in the transmission. Climbing towards Thillois, the two Mercédès in the lead and Gonzalez are already leading the way from the rest of the group.Only after a few seconds Hawthorn, Marimon, Bira, Mieres, Hermann and the others appear on the horizon. At the end of the lap Gonzalez in his stocky Ferrari overtakes the elegant Mercedes of Fangio, with Kling in the lead. On the next lap Fangio takes second place and Gonzalez begins to lose ground. The pace of the German cars is too frenetic, even if Hermann is not as fast as his teammates, being bottled in the middle of the group with the Maserati of Bira and Mieres. Fangio overtakes Kling while there is a gap between all the cars. Gonzalez pushes the Ferrari to the maximum but fails to keep up, even if well ahead of Hawthorn and Marimon. In front of the private cars and some official cars, Bira is driving masterfully, pushing his new Maserati to the maximum. In the meantime, at the bottom of the group Behra forces his Gordini trying to recover positions and getting involved in demanding challenges with the opponents. On lap five Hermann is proceeding at a good pace after passing Hawthorn and Marimon, and is now attacking Gonzalez. The challenge goes on for three laps, with the two riders almost 20 seconds behind the leading pair. Gonzalez is trying in every way to avoid a hat-trick by the Mercedes team and his strategy is effective, at least until the thirteenth lap, when the engine of his Ferrari dies at the Thillois hairpin, causing a spin but fortunately leaving Hermann enough room to go unscathed.

 

Gonzalez sets off again heading to the pits, aware that the battle is over, with oil streaks all over the hood showing the serious damage suffered by the car. With Gonzalez retired at the end of lap thirteenth, the Mercedes-Benz team is now in complete command, in order Fangio, Kling and Hermann, with a gap of 5 seconds between the first two and 38 seconds between the two German drivers. In the meantime they stop for mechanical problems Jacques Pollet (engine) on lap eight, Mike Hawthorn (engine) and George Berger (engine) on lap nine, and Macklin (engine) on lap thirteenth. Given the intensity of the challenge among the first in the race, the other participants go almost unnoticed. Little attention falls, for example, on the formidable battle that lasted for five laps between Behra, Mieres, Salvadori, Villoresi and Manzon, while Bira proceeds quietly in sixth position far ahead. Hawthorn and Marimon press each other and Ferrari is the first to give in, with a big bang coming from the engine similar to the previous one on Gonzalez's car. Hawthorn struggles to stop the car due to the splashed oil from the engine on all the tires. Meanwhile, Wharton is not satisfied with Owen's Maserati, with the driveshaft causing terrible vibrations. Behra wins the battle in the middle of the group and breaks away from the four opponents, then reaches Trintignant: the two attack Bira, but the little prince does not give up and the battle between the three is one of the most spectacular of the Grand Prix. Overtaking and counter-overtaking, side by side with each other, no one wants to take their foot off the acceleration pedal. On the twentieth lap the three arrive at the Thillois hairpin literally side by side, and only at the end does the blue and yellow Maserati give up, braking first, leaving room for the two Frenchmen.

 

But Bira has perfect timing, and as Gordini and Ferrari take the lead in this group, elbowing around the corner, the prince's Maserati accelerates inward with a smart and clean tactical move. Bira passes the two opponents and immediately gains a good gap on Trintignant, while Behra has to stop in the pits because during the battle he hit a containment fence crushing the nose of his Gordini. This challenge takes place in the rear of the leaders, but even if it started as a battle for fifth place its winner will finish third in the race, as Hermann, having set a record lap, stops at the Thillois hairpin in a cloud of smoke. during the sixteenth lap, and Marimon, just gained the third position, is forced to return to the pits to change the spark plugs, then returning to the track in the queue of all the opponents. The pace is so high that the cars begin to give away: Salvadori stops on the grass during the fifteenth due to a break in the rear axle, the weak point of the new Maserati, and the same fate then falls to Schell, during the nineteenth lap, due to a reluctant fuel pump, and to Wharton, stopped in his Maserati due to transmission failure. With only a third of the race disputed Fangio and Kling circulate in close company, detached from all possible opponents. In third place, unusually, there is a private car. Behra is furious at being led to an escape route and for having damaged the car, and is forced to pit. Hitting the front of the car the hood folded, with the latches not going to be secured properly; a mechanic takes care of the problem but Behra, in the cockpit with the engine running and impatient to get back on track, loses control of the situation, gets out of the car and takes it out on the mechanic, accused of being too slow in carrying out his work.

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The Gordini's engine turns off and Behra takes off his helmet, in a fit of anger, and leaves the pits. Gonzalez was sitting quietly in the garage at Le Mans, after a step away from the victory of the 24 Hours this had been snatched from his hands. Fangio calmly watched the 1951 Belgian Grand Prix progress as mechanics scrambled to remove a stuck wheel on his car during a pit stop - two examples that prove that true champions aren't ordinary people who get easily caught up in anger. Behra's pointless display of losing a mediocre fifth place looks pathetic, and shortly thereafter he seems to notice it too. When the bonnet is repaired, the French driver re-enters the cockpit and starts again without saying a word, now in last position. Meanwhile the two Mercedes-Benzes continue to go around, never more than a few seconds apart, with Fangio in the lead most of the time, and occasionally Kling leading the way. Bira is firmly third, albeit half a lap late, followed by Trintignant, Manzon, Villoresi, Frere, Rosier, Marimon and Behra. During the twenty-seventh lap Villoresi stops to change a spark plug, while Rosier retires. The two Mercedes-Benz pass them side by side, with Kling scratching his nose such that the advantage is so comfortable, despite having just finished the lap in 2’35"0 due to the lapping. During the twenty-fourth lap Mieres suddenly stops due to a broken piston, after having pushed his 1953/54 Maserati to the maximum. Halfway through the race, around the thirtieth of the sixty-one total laps planned, there were only eight cars left out of the twenty-one present at the start. The last to retire is Marimon, due to the breakdown of the gearbox. The race is now off and is reduced to a demonstration race of Mercedes-Benz, remarkable being the first race of the German team with a completely new car.

 

At the wheel of the only remaining official Ferrari, Trintignant begins to slow down and is joined by Manzon; a lap or two later, exactly on lap 36, the car from Maranello stops in the pits with abundant smoke escaping, therefore forced to retire. So far the weather has been mild, but the rain begins to fall as the last official Ferrari retires. This hinders Bira, with the lenses of his glasses fogging up: with poor visibility conditions given by the water falling on the asphalt and with his vision problems, the Thai driver is forced to slow down. Manzon catches up to him and passes him, taking third place behind the German cars. Both Frère and Villoresi stop in the pits for some expedients on their respective cars, while the two leaders continue to run non-stop. The rain only stopped towards the end of the race, allowing Bira to accelerate again, quickly approaching Manzon in the final stages. At the same time, Fangio and Kling begin a head-to-head that lasts for the last ten laps, just as Frère stops in the pits at the end of the fiftieth lap with smoke coming from the rear axle of his Gordini, putting an end to any hope of being able to finish the race. Side by side the two Mercedes-Benz cars pass in front of the pits, and one attached to the rear of the other descends on the straight, first Fangio in the lead and then Kling. It seems that no team orders are addressed to the two teammates, who therefore battle as real opponents, even if their lap times are quite high, around 2’36"0. In the last five laps the two Mercedes drivers cross the finish line side by side, and starting the sixty-first lap it is Kling who has an advantage of a few centimetres. Towards Thillois Fangio is in command, but arriving on the final straight Kling comes out of the Argentine driver's slipstream and tries to overtake him on the line, failing by a matter of a few meters. In a triumphant way, with cars clearly superior to those of the rivals, the Mercedes-Benz team concludes the French Grand Prix with two cars in the first two positions.

 

This clash between the top two finishers at the last minute overshadows an equally thrilling battle for third place, with Bira overtaking Manzon during the fifty-eighth lap only to be overtaken again upon arrival on the final straight, with a lap of lag behind the leaders, as the prince's Maserati runs out of fuel. Villoresi finishes his race in fifth place, three laps late, and the last to reach the finish line is Behra with his dented Gordini. Only six riders finish the race out of a total of twenty-one riders at the start. In addition to the dominance of Mercedes, it is certainly worth underlining how two private cars finished in third and fourth place. At the end of the race Fangio is proud of the deserved victory. Kling, even if defeated, says he is satisfied with the result, outcome of hard work carried out for several months with numerous tests and updates on the cars. The German company receives a cash prize of 1,800 pounds. One hundred thousand people witnessed the resounding victory of Mercedes yesterday in the 41st French Grand Prix at the Reims circuit. A victory which, although not too clearly hampered by the Ferraris and Maseratis, constitutes a real triumph for the German manufacturer’s bolides, who on this occasion made their debut in the Grand Prix reserved for Formula 1. The anticipation of the eve that spoke of an exciting Italian-German duel was disappointed by the fate that too soon, over the 606 kilometers of the race, removed the standard bearers of the Italian cars from the fight. Ascari, who Lancia had authorised to race for Maserati, was forced to retire from the first lap due to a mechanical breakdown, while Gonzalez, who in the initial hundred kilometres had clearly shown he could give a hard time to reckless rivals, was the victim of a trivial mechanical accident, however, enough to force the retirement of the very strong Argentine driver.

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With him disappears the most valid conductor of the Italian machines from the battle and thus must yield to Germanic supremacy. After all, the race was very hard, so much so, that of the twenty-three starters only six managed to cross the finish line. Six and among them the Fangio-Kling tandem, aboard two Mercedes, after having managed to lap all the competitors, competed for the victory in an exciting sprint on the long straight line facing the stands: only one tenth of a second separated the two rivals in favour of the Argentine. The race was led from start to finish by the three Mercedes (the third car driven by Hermann stopped when, with the other two, he was in command of the race) and only experienced a few moments of emotion until the Ferrari of Gonzalez managed to keep in the leading group; after his abandonment we can no longer speak of a fight or at least we must emphasise the fact that the victory was disputed in the family. Behind the two German cars was placed the Ferrari of Manzon followed by the Maserati of Principe Bira and Villoresi, the only Italian who managed to finish the gruelling competition. The victory of the Germans in the French Grand Prix was matched by the success of the British in the 12 Hours, a test reserved for sports cars and held on the same circuit in Reims. The Jaguars in fact finished in the first three places, closely followed by Biondetti-Gregori's Ferrari. Maglioli from Biella, who competed alongside the French Manzon, left after a brilliant debut due to a breakdown. The victory of the new Mercedes Formula 1 in Reims makes an impression even if it was not entirely unexpected. Now the Italian sportsmen await the rematch. For this reason there is a lot of talk about the Reims race in Turin. Lancia has machines in the pipeline that can beat the Germans. Fine-tuning them is a time-consuming and not just a skilful undertaking. When will the red bolides from Turin be able to compete?

 

"It is an event that could happen tomorrow as in a month or two, or three or even more. The new situation has not changed our program".

 

The presence of Ascari and Villoresi, loaned by the Turin manufacturer to Maserati, in addition to being an act of courtesy and allowing the World Champion to defend his chance in the World Championship standings, has put two Lancia drivers in a position to closely monitor the possibilities of Mercedes. The report of the envoys in Reims is naturally kept very secret. However, we know that the strength of the Mercedes lies in the recovery. Another good feature of them is, of course, speed. The characteristics regarding stability and braking, however, are less satisfactory. In conclusion, it is believed that the first round was favourable to the Germans, but that the other rounds still to be disputed allow for new surprises, starting with the upcoming British Grand Prix, which will take place at the Silverstone circuit. The Germans are also convinced of this, so much so that we are talking about a curious Mercedes project. For the fast circuits, the German manufacturer will adopt the characteristic aerodynamic bodywork tested on Sunday in Reims, while for the less rapid track, the cars will be seen in the race undressed, that is torpedo, and lighter by several kilograms. We will see the new cars being tested. Meanwhile, while waiting for the Lancias, the standard bearers of the Italian colors, Ferrari and Maserati, are sharpening their weapons.

 

Simone Pietro Zazza

 

Translated by Maria Vitiello

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