#3 Hall of Fame: Alberto Ascari

2021-04-15 00:00

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#Hall of Fame, Fulvio Conti, Luca Varano,

#3 Hall of Fame: Alberto Ascari

Alberto Ascari was born in Milan on July 13, 1918. Son of the Venetian Antonio Ascari, famous racer of the 1920s, Alberto will become one of the pione


Alberto Ascari was born in Milan on July 13, 1918. Son of the Venetian Antonio Ascari, famous racer of the 1920s, Alberto will become one of the pioneering drivers who will participate in the Formula 1 World Championship, but above all he will be the first driver to win for Ferrari the World Championship. To tell the story of Alberto Ascari, however, we need to open a short preamble, and talk about the inexplicable death of his father, an event that takes place on the Montlhéry circuit, near Paris, during the French and European Grand Prix, on July 26, 1925. Antonio Ascari appears at dawn on the track among his companions and the mechanics, animated by talkative joy, which seems to authorize every good omen. Slapping him on the shoulder and pointing him to the bystanders, standing in his red shirt, a few steps from Campari, Count Brilli-Peri exclaims, almost summing up everyone's secret thought:


"Here are the two winners".


The prediction is so legitimate that it does not seem excessive to anyone. Ascari, with his usual swashbuckling good humor, says that he races to offer a rematch to the French Delage cars, beaten by Alfa Romeo in Lyon the previous year, and in Spa a month earlier. But everyone knows that he says so out of his good-natured malice, not to give himself airs, not to say, in short, that he would have won another time. And he smiles at himself watching Antonio turn around his car, bend over and scrutinize with his bright eyes and big hands the still mysterious physiognomy of his car. At 8:00 a.m., the start of the race is punctually given. The faith in an Italian victory is immediately confirmed from the first lap: Ascari first, Compari second. The race always continues with the same monotony, so much so that on the twentieth lap the nerves of the crowd, too tense, begin to collapse. The attention is diverted; look for a diversion. On the twenty-third lap Ascari passes in front of the stands but makes a slow sign with his hand to his friends: shaking his index finger in the air, he seems to want to tell them that something is wrong. What's wrong? Nobody understood. But there is no time to question, to search. He rings a phone. At the end of the Sant'Eutropio straight, before the color change, the ambulance comes out from behind the supply sheds. Is it Campari? The megaphone echoes mournfully. But here is number 3 passing in front of the central stands. So it's not Campari: it's Ascari, who has overturned. The disaster occurred shortly before the color change of Santo Eutropio, a kilometer and a half from the stands. Why? Ascari attacked the corner at full speed and the car was carried outwards. Because of this, it seems that it has hit with a front void against one of the posts that delimit and flank the track. 


At a speed of about 150 km/h the machine rears up, spins on itself, tumbles madly on its axis, like a top, for about a hundred meters; then it falls, inert, straight, on the middle of the track. After the first moment of terror, some of those present approach the car and manage with great effort to extract the inanimate and bleeding body of Antonio Ascari from the wreckage, which is placed on the embankment at the side of the track. The car remains in the middle of the road and the oncoming cars, faced with the sudden obstacle, have to brake and make an abrupt maneuver to avoid it. Afterwards, the car is moved and dropped into the side ditch. For Antonio Ascari, having arrived at the Montlhéry hospital, there is nothing more to do. A few minutes after noon the disappearance is announced by the megaphone. Under the rain that begins to thicken its gusts, Campari, having heard the news, abandons the race. He gets out of the car in front of the shed, hurriedly throwing away his glasses, through which tears no longer let him see anything. Running no longer interests him. It is from this circumstance that the entire life and career of Alberto Ascari, his son, will develop, despite the passion for cars that does not immediately bewitch him. The Milanese rider in fact began to approach the world of racing through motorcycle races, making his debut with a Sertum, on June 28, 1936, in the 24 Hours of Northern Italy. Thanks to his innate speed skills, Alberto immediately found success on two wheels on the Lario circuit on July 4th of the same year, a few weeks after his debut in racing. In 1937 he bought a Gilera 500 cc, with which he won eight category victories and the victory in the Biella-Oropa, an important uphill race, while the following year he joined the Bianchi Team, conquering several other successes in the world of two wheels in the following two years.

Alberto runs, despite having in mind the death of his father, and despite being extremely superstitious, he will be convinced that luck is on his side when, racing on a motorcycle, at the very beginning of his racing activity, at the Padua circuit, in 1938, the rear tire bursts and the bike, wheelie, throws it about twenty meters away. Alberto will find himself bent double on the branch of a sturdy plane tree, unharmed, and telling the episode, he will say:


"I was convinced that luck in that business was on my side".


Determined to follow in his father's footsteps, Alberto made the transition to the world of four wheels in 1940, making his debut at the Mille Miglia aboard an Auto Avio Costruzioni 815 spider Touring supplied to him by Enzo Ferrari. The fast Milanese centaur gets the steering wheel of one of Enzo Ferrari's creations right from his debut in the world of four wheels, since Auto Avio is nothing but Ferrari in disguise, due to the division between Ferrari itself and the Alfa Romeo, an episode that prevented the Italian manufacturer from making Ferrari-branded racing cars for at least five years, as per the agreements made with the car manufacturer del Portello. At his debut, Albero seems to dominate the race and have no rival, but just when he is alone in the lead he is forced to a disappointing retirement due to a mechanical failure. As everyone knows, a short time later Italy too was involved in the Second World War, an event that effectively suspended any European sports competition at a later date. During the conflict, the Ascari family workshop, located in Milan, was used for the repair of military vehicles, and Alberto dedicated himself, together with his partner and friend Luigi Villoresi, to the transport business, supplying the Italian army with petrol in North Africa. During the war years Alberto came up with the idea of ​​hanging up his helmet, but it was Luigi Villoresi, his mentor in motor racing, who convinced him to change his mind, getting him a contract with Maserati at the end of the terrible conflict. With weapons laid down, in 1947, we return to normal life, if we can say so, and Alberto returns to racing, obtaining his first victory on the Modena Circuit, at the wheel of a Maserati A6 GCS, also in his first success, in a race suspended on the twenty-fourth lap due to a serious accident that occurred to Giovanni Bracco, who during the nineteenth lap had tried in vain to avoid Franco Cortese, who had braked abruptly in front of him, and then tried to avoid the crash of the crowd.


While the wheels nailed to the brakes whistle on the asphalt, Giovanni Bracco's racing car, a very heavy Delage of 5000 cubic centimeters, bends all over to one side and with a frightening swerve points its nose against the crowd, causing the injury of about twenty people and the disappearance of five spectators. The collision against a tree of the car prevents the massacre from being larger. Now considered one of the best promises in the Italian automotive scene, the Milanese won his first Grand Prix in 1948, more precisely in San Remo, winning the Ligurian success after a heated duel with Nino Farina, in a race where even Tazio Nuvolari participates. Initially, the Mantuan driver took command of the race, followed by Ascari and Farina who, on lap 28, was forced to retire due to carburetors malfunction. In the following laps, the comeback Villoresi will engage in a gruelling fight with Ascari, before the latter is unable to outpace his opponent, and win the race. The season continues with the tragic death of Achille Varzi in the Swiss Grand Prix, in which Ascari is in fifth place. Following this terrible event, in July Alberto is contacted by Alfa Romeo to participate in the French Grand Prix at the Reims circuit; but despite an excellent third place finish, the driver decides to continue the season with Maserati, thus leaving the French race the only one of his career disputed for the car manufacturer that made his father Antonio famous. The Ligurian success is not an isolated case, and after a terrible accident during a day of testing with the Italian car, in which he comes out incredibly unharmed, the Milanese conquers the success in the Acerbo Cup on August 15, 1948, after taking the lead in the lap eighteenth, despite his participation he had remained in the balance until the last moment, not even being considered among the favourites for the final victory. The following year Alberto took part in the Temporada Argentina and won the Buenos Aires Grand Prix, the first race of the championship.


The continuation will not be happy: Ascari will be forced to retire several times, and in the Rio Grand Prix, raced in Gávea, on March 27, 1949, Alberto will remain in the lead for nine of the total fourteen laps, before being the victim of a terrible accident. To avoid the skid of another competitor, Alverto ends up against the rock wall that flanks the road, and rebounds on a plant: the car overturns but Alberto is lucky enough to be thrown out of the cockpit. The Milanese runner is found unconscious, with a broken collarbone and three ribs, and with a tooth stuck in the bronchi, a factor that will give him months of fever. The accident coincides with the epilogue of the collaboration between Maserati and Alberto Ascari, who has a contract in his pocket with another Italia team whose name has remained far from the world of racing for too long, Scuderia Ferrari. The contractual clause with Alfa Romeo has ended and Enzo Ferrari can return to brand his cars with his glorious trademark, and on board Ferrari car Alberto obtains the definitive consecration, winning the Grand Prix in the rest of the season. Bari, Switzerland, the British Racing Drivers' Club International Trophy and the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, thus replicating the success of his father achieved twenty-five years earlier, in 1924. The 1949 season ends, as scheduled, with the Temporada Argentina, an event in which numerous European drivers take part with the aim of beating local idol Juan Manuel Fangio. This triggers a fierce duel between the Milanese driver and the Argentine: on December 18th Alberto wins the success of the General Peron Grand Prix in front of his Argentine rival, while a few weeks later, on January 9th, Fangio replies the favor during the Evita Peron Grand Prix, a race in which Ascari is forced to retire. The following Grand Prix of Mar del Plata sees the Italian driver again, while Fangio and Villoresi are the protagonists of a bad accident: the latter breaks the steering and hits the Argentine's car at high-speed causing it to overturn. The last race of the Temporada is the Rosario Grand Prix, in which Ascari is forced to retire due to engine problems. 


In 1950, in response to the World Motorcycling Championship introduced the previous year, the FIA ​​organized the first true World Drivers' Championship. The 1950 season did not start in the best way for Alberto, who obtained a retirement at the Mille Miglia, driven together with Senesio Nicolini, and missed the first race of the World Championship at Silverstone due to the forfeit of Ferrari, which prefers to concentrate on a Formula 2 in Belgium. The debut in Formula 1 for the Italian takes place at the Monaco Grand Prix; in the streets of the Principality, Alberto gets an excellent second place finish. In the following round, Alberto is again forced to retire after a few laps due to mechanical problems, while in Belgium he is fifth. The overall performance not excellent led the team to participate, in the next appointment in Reims, in the Formula 2 race that takes place before the world championship race, winning it with Ascari. We then come to the Italian Grand Prix, the epilogue of the first Formula 1 World Championship in the history of motoring. In the home race, Scuderia Ferrari produces a brand-new car, the 375 F1. The car immediately proved competitive and Ascari won, together with Dorino Serafini, second place in the home race. At the end of the season the driver from Milan is fifth in the World Drivers' Championship, with a total of eleven points. The 1951 season begins with the success of the Rally del Sestriere, a regularity race for touring cars immersed in the Piedmontese Alps, but continues with a sad episode that involves Alberto during the Mille Miglia. The Milanese driver and Senesio Nicolini, who started during the night at the wheel of a Ferrari 340 America, after having completed 23 kilometers in just eight minutes despite the rain flooding the roads of northern Italy, overwhelm a spectator around 4:24 a.m. on April 29th. following a road exit caused by the headlights of a public car, which blind the driver from Milan. At night it is difficult for spectators to distinguish the number painted on the car, which allows them to recognize the identity of the racer. Ascari says that while he was taking the curve a car stopped on the side of the road turned on his headlights to illuminate the number of his Ferrari:


"I was blinded, I had no more knowledge of the road, the car began to spin like a top, I felt three or four bumps against the rear of the car then I found myself wedged between the supports of an advertising billboard. I was safe. But I immediately had the anguished premonition of something terrible".


The stricken spectator loses his life, while four other spectators are injured. Ascari and his mechanic Nicolini, unharmed, will return crying to Brescia aboard another car after helping to rescue the wounded. Subsequently, the Milanese driver will have to attend court on charges of manslaughter, and will then be fully acquitted by the judge. After this sad chapter, the Italian returns to race with an open-wheel car in Genoa, on the occasion of a Formula 2 race organized a week before the important Swiss Grand Prix. The Italian is in the lead, when on lap thirty-seventh, perhaps due to a leak in the tank, which then widened after refueling, the car caught fire. Alberto miraculously manages to stop the vehicle and get out of it quickly with a leap, reporting only minor burns to one arm, and helped by Biondetti who was stationary having previously retired throws sand on the car, with the intent of putting out the fire. Subsequently, Ascari heads with another car to his villa on the Riviera, where he receives the medications. This episode seems to question his participation in the world championship. Yet, despite the fact that he was not in perfect physical condition, the Milanese shows up in Bern. But both for skin problems and for an outdated car like that of his teammates Piero Taruffi and Luigi Villoresi, the Milanese driver is unable to go beyond a sixth-place finish. The second round in Belgium turns out to be decidedly more fortunate: Alberto Ascari in fact conquers the second place behind Giuseppe Farina and in front of teammate Villoresi, thus recovering five points from Juan Manuel Fangio, who finished far from the leaders due to a problem when changing tires. All the European teams skipped the American stage in Indianapolis, the fourth round of the season is held on the very fast Circuit of Reims, where once again Ascari and Fangio are the protagonists: both forced to retire due to a breakdown in their car, they conclude the race respectively in second and first place using the cars of González and Luigi Fagioli. After a heavy retirement in the English appointment at Silverstone, in which however he had managed to qualify close to the Alphas, the Italian driver seems to find himself out of the fight for the world title, as Fangio, finished second, has more than double his points: twenty-one against nine. We therefore arrive at the German Grand Prix, on the difficult Nürburgring circuit, where the Italian driver had triumphed in 1950 in a Formula 2 race. 


On the German track, which has a conformation favorable to the characteristics of Ferrari, Alberto Ascari reconfirms the good performances of the previous year, signing his first pole position and obtaining his first victory in a race valid for the World Championship ahead of the Argentine, author of the fastest lap, in front of an audience of 300.000 people. Started the race at 12:00 pm with very hot weather, Ascari starts his run-up from the third lap, but until the ninth the lead is disputed between him and Gonzales. Subsequently, however, Ascari leads the race with superiority, triumphing among the jubilation of the public. There are therefore two races left at the end of the season. At Monza, the penultimate round of the world championship, the Milanese must absolutely impose himself to reopen the games in the world championship standings, but at the same time it is necessary that his rival does not score points. A very difficult situation, but this is what happens, with the Ferrari of the Milanese winning the victory in front of Fangio, after an engine failure. At the start, Fangio got off to a good start but was joined by Ascari on the second lap. After a series of exchanges, on the eighth lap Fangio got back in the lead, and on the fifteenth lap he accumulated an advantage of fourteen seconds when suddenly a front tire bursts in front of the pits in the car of the Argentine driver. Fangio loses a minute, while Ascari continues leading the race. The Argentine throws himself into a desperate run-up to his opponent, but on the twenty-seventh lap he is forced to a new stop, in which he loses a further fiftyeight seconds. Again Fangio starts again and moves to fifteen seconds behind Gonzales, but on lap 40 he stops in the pits with the smoking car: he is forced to retire. Alberto Ascari wins undisturbed, therefore, at the end of the Italian appointment, the Italian is therefore two points behind the head of the world championship. The last round of the World Championship in Spain, on the Pedralbes circuit, is therefore decisive. The weekend starts well for Alberto, who wins the Pole Position in front of 300.000 people, but the problems come during the race: an unfortunate choice by the technicians on the type of tires to use, despite the contrary advice of the supplier, forces him to four pit stops, thus making him lose the world title. Ascari goes from first to second place during the fourth lap, then to sixth during the tenth lap. Subsequently the Milanese driver was forced not only to make four stops, but also to slow down his pace to preserve the grip of the tires.


After the enormous disappointment in the world championship, which he suffered in front of the Italian ambassador in Madrid, the Marquis Taliani de Marchio, the consul general Scaglione and the Marquis Trevisani, vice president of the Automobile Club of Italy, the Milanese ended the season participating as a couple with Villoresi at the Carrera Panamericana, a race reserved for sports cars. Despite a difficult start due to excessive wear of the tires initially adopted, the Italian crew managed to climb up to the second overall position, behind teammates Taruffi-Chinetti. The 1952 season begins with a rather particular episode, given that Alberto Ascari is awarded by the Milanese group of journalists as the best athlete of the year 1951. The current year seems to be the right occasion to win the championship, given that the rival Juan Manuel Fangio, seriously injured in an extra-championship race in the Grand Prix of the Autodromo di Monza, is absent, and the Alfa Romeo has announced the official retirement from racing. The Ascari-Ferrari duo is deadly: the Italian driver after missing the first round of the world championship in Switzerland to surprise the trip to Indianapolis, which ended with a retirement due to the failure of a wheel, wins six consecutive wins in the last six races on the program, thus winning the world title by beating the competition. Furthermore, the victory at the German Grand Prix, his third consecutive on the German track, earned him the title of Master of the Nürburgring. 


A success, made even more incredible by the fact that towards the end of the race the Milanese driver found himself forced to return to the pits for a top up of oil; having restarted, Ascari threw himself in pursuit of teammate Farina, overtaking him on the last lap and preceding him for a few hundred meters. The 1952 was a year of new adventures for the Milanese, who in addition to racing in Indianapolis, took part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first time, but was also forced there to a disappointing retirement. The 1953 saw the Fangio-Ascari duel come back, with the first recovering completely after a year of rest. But Alberto's class is extraordinary, and despite the inaugural Grand Prix being held right at his rival's home in Argentina, the Milanese driver immediately proves to be in excellent shape: starting from pole, Ascari scores the fastest lap in the race and wins the race after having been in command from the first to the last lap and having lapped all the other competitors, winning the first Grand Chelem of his career. It is curious that Ascari, before the race, had requested to install special retrospective mirrors on his car near the dashboard, in order to keep an eye on the pursuers, and it is even more amazing to find that during the race, due to the increased oil temperature, Alberto burns his left foot but resists the pain and wins the race. Fangio, on the other hand, retires due to an engine failure amid the disappointment of the home crowd, on the day of his rival's maximum speed expression. The victory of Ascari and Ferrari arouses unconditional admiration throughout Argentina, despite the genuine fanaticism surrounding the local idol Fangio. Interesting is an interview with Ascari, published by a South American newspaper. Ascari said:


"When Fangio was forced to retire on lap 36, I had the certainty of winning. Everything was easy, without Fangio. My friend Fangio is a real threat, he is the most difficult opponent to beat in any race. at the beginning I felt at ease, having him behind me and not having to be chasing him. Frankly, I didn't think Fangio could run very well after almost eight months of inactivity, but I'm very happy that it is, because we are great friends, despite being rivals, and it doesn't happen often".


About his own race, Ascari says:


"I suffered from discomfort caused by the temperature of the oil, which increased after the first half hour of the race; then I agreed to have a burn on my left foot".


However, Ascari does not comment on the fact that he ran for two hours and cuts off with a burned foot, but rather simply says that the credit for the victory was all of the car.


Five months after the opening in Argentina and a week after the Indianapolis 500, the World Championship returns to the Zandvoort track in the Netherlands, to compete in the Dutch Grand Prix. Ferrari comes with four cars for Ascari, Villoresi, Farina and Hawthorn. The Maserati with three for Fangio, Gonzalez and Bonetto plus the private one for De Graffenried. This race also has no history. Alberto Ascari starts in the lead and reaches the finish line first without ever having been threatened by anyone, while Fangio is again forced to retire, this time due to the failure of the rear axle. Farina is second, third the Maserati of Gonzalez-Bonetto who in the final with the Argentine at the wheel passes the Ferrari of Hawthorn. With this result, Ascari is already at the top of the championship standings with a very clear margin of ten points over Villoresi and eleven over Gonzalez, Hawthorn and Farina. Two weeks later, the Belgian Grand Prix takes place at the Spa-Franchorchamps circuit. For this Belgian Grand Prix, Johnny Claes shows up in the official Maserati together with Fangio, Gonzalez and Marimon, while Ferrari brings four cars for Ascari, Villoresi, Farina and Hawthorn. Surprisingly, pole goes to Manuel Fangio in front of Ascari with Gonzalez's other Maserati closing the front row. In the race, the two Argentines from Maserati take the lead, while Ascari follows in third position. On the eleventh lap the accelerator on Gonzalez's Maserati broke, allowing Fangio to leap into the lead with an advantage that seems unbridgeable. However, Fangio's season continues to be tormented by mechanical problems. Maserati then stops the Belgian Claes; Fangio gets into the car and gets back on Ascari but during the thirty-fifth lap, due to an oil stain at the Stavelot corner, the Argentine loses control and goes off the road. Having become the protagonist of a splendid and crazy comeback from ninth to third position, Fangio is fortunately unharmed, despite having been thrown out of the car. Ascari wins again, followed by his friend Villoresi, while Marimon, Fangio's pupil in his second experience in World Championship races, reaches the finish line in third place. The rivalry between Ferrari and Maserati explodes during the summer, starting with the French Grand Prix at the Reims circuit. The eight cars (four per team) of the two Italian car manufacturers occupy the top eight places on the grid, with Ascari in front of everyone. Gonzalez started with the fuel tank half empty, in the first part of the race he moved away from the group, while behind the three Ferraris of Ascari, Farina, Hawthorn and the Maserati of Fangio continually exchange positions in a succession of overtaking and counter-overtaking. 


Having recovered Gonzalez, the five continue to exchange positions until Hawthorn breaks the delay and stretches, followed by Fangio. The race will be decided at the last corner where the Englishman will win over Fangio; Gonzalez arrives to one second, Ascari to four. After the beautiful race in Reims there is a lot of anticipation for the next British Grand Prix, but the uncertainty about who will be the winner does not last even a lap: after a good start, before the end of the first lap Fangio is overtaken by Ascari. The Ferrari driver leaps into the lead and will remain there until the end ahead of Fangio. Behind Hawthorn loses the third position due to a spin, while Gonzalez, just conquered the third place, has to slow down due to a mechanical problem so that in the end Farina will take the last place on the podium. Ferrari and Maserati meet on the Nurburgring circuit with the usual four drivers on each side. Ascari, Farina, Hawthorn and Villoresi on one side; Fangio, Marimon, Bonetto and De Graffenried on the other. In practice Ascari is the only one to go under ten minutes, but in the front row next to him is Fangio on Maserati and his teammates Farina and Hawthorn. At the start Fangio takes the lead followed by Ascari but by the end of the first lap the Italian has already regained the lead of the race. Behind Ascari, Fangio and Hawthorn fight each other to the sound of overtaking. Then, however, on the fifth lap Ascari passes in front of the garage on three wheels, so that Hawthorn takes the lead in front of Fangio but behind finds Farina strongly who on the eighth lap takes the lead. Ascari, who in the meantime got into Villoresi's car, started a chase that led him to improve the fastest lap three times but had to retire due to the failure of the engine of his Ferrari 500. Farina wins in front of Fangio, Hawthorn and Bonetto. Three weeks later, on the occasion of the Grand Prix in Switzerland, the battle between Ferrari and Maserati moves to the Swiss circuit of Bern. Fangio takes pole in front of the Ferraris of Ascari and Farina and starts well in the race but immediately punctures a tire and Ascari flies in the lead in front of teammate Farina. On lap forty-seventh the World Champion stops in the pits due to ignition problems: after replacing the spark plugs, the Italian driver resumes the race behind Farina and Hawthorn. At this point, with just about twenty laps to go, the yellow/blue flag is displayed in the Ferrari garage, ordering the maintenance of the positions. 


Farina, who also has a problem with the fuel system as he loses fuel, believes he has the race in hand and Hawthron is satisfied with second place. Ascari, on the other hand, is very fast and after a few laps he overtakes them both and goes on to win, mathematically becoming World Champion for the second consecutive time in front of an audience of eighty thousand people. Farina, however, does not look favorably on Ascari's victory, as the internal rule of the team would have foreseen the freezing of positions after two thirds of the race. The dispute is resolved, however, at the next motoring event: the 1000 kilometers of Nürburgring for sports cars, as the two drivers win the German race alternating driving the Ferrari 375 MM, despite the fact that in the meantime Ferrari manufacturer's decision to withdraw racing. The last test valid for the assignment of the Drivers' World Championship, on the home circuit, has a different ending from that hoped for by the thirty thousand fans who arrived in Monza; not many, given that the football championship starts at the same time as the race and, on the other hand, the motoring public is today not a very large elite; we must also consider that Monza is a very uncomfortable trip for those who do not have a vehicle. Those who venture there once, by train, then by tram, finally on foot, hardly return to the next Grand Prix. The three red racing cars, marked with the numbers 4 (Ascari), 6 (Farina) and 50 (Fangio), alternate in the lead, crossing the straights and curves, grazing and sometimes touching each other lightly. 


On the penultimate lap, on the straight opposite the arrival one, Farina and Ascari pass by at one meter, followed by Fangio at five meters. The audience is all on their feet and is now scrutinizing the straight opposite to that of arrival, in order, Farina, Ascari and Fangio. But the Argentine Fangio on Maserati emerges from the last corner and crosses the finish line victoriously amidst the general surprise, then at eighty meters from him is Farina, and Villoresi who is one lap late. And Ascari? At the finish line, in the pits, agitation rises. The wife of the Italian rider is very pale, upset; the expectation of her is terrible. In the last corner, passing Farina's car, Ascari first made a skid, then the car slid backwards uncontrollably. Farina, who is following Ascari at no more than five meters, brakes and avoids the investment of his teammate, while Fangio, also favored by the slowdown of his two opponents who precede him, albeit just a little bit, first whizzes past the inner edge of the curve. But Ascari's misadventures are not over: in fact, the Argentine Marimon, with his Maserati, swoops on the back of Ascari's Ferrari, making them give a terrifying jolt. Marimon is slightly injured in the face, while Ascari, completely unharmed, reaches the finish line in another car, amid thunderous applause of the audience. Ascari gets upset from the touring car that took him from the accident curve to the finish line, after which he embraces his anxious lady in a moment he regains the extraordinary calm of his temperament. He doesn't beg for excuses, and immediately admits:


"I was wrong but what anger, what anger. What did I think at that moment? I thought: Goodbye victory".


Despite this, Ascari's second consecutive title is even more important than the one he won the previous year, as he managed to beat his long-time rival on the track. After the championship and decided to retire from racing, Ferrari gives consent to the use of its cars at the 12 Hours of Casablanca, a race held on December 20, 1953, by Ascari, teamed with his friend Luigi Villoresi. The Italian takes second place with the 500 Mondial model. After that, the uncertainty about the future of Ferrari manufacturer leads us to learn, on December 31, 1953, and exactly at 5:15 pm, that Ascari has decided to continue the collaboration with Enzo Ferrari, through a press release issued by the press office of Stable itself:


"With the thirty-one centimeters the existing collaboration relationships with the runner Alberto Ascari cease. This divorce had as its sole cause the desire of Ascari to orient its future business in order to ensure prospects also of a commercial nature and in any case such as to guarantee a a peaceful future for the family he heads. The Ferrari team learned the decision with intuitive regret. While understanding this necessity of the aspirations that led Mr. Ascari to abandon the house that collaborated with him in the conquest of two World Championships, Ferrari still regrets not having been able to offer what, evidently, other car manufacturers have guaranteed or will assure the World Champion".


Immediately it is assumed that the outgoing World Champion may marry at Mercedes, retracing that glorious path that Tazio Nuvolari had traced years ago. However, Ascari himself, while not denying the offer received, assures that he would not have raced for foreign car manufacturers, but only with Italian cars. On January 22, 1954, Gianni Lancia announced that Alberto Ascari and Luigi Villoresi will be part of the Turin car manufacturer's sports programs for the next few years. The debut took place at the 12 Hours of Sebring, and the Turin cars turned out to be extremely fast but too fragile, with the Milanese forced to retire sadly. A few weeks later, Alberto Ascari with a Lancia D24 makes him the Mille Miglia in a totally unexpected way. The start of the World Championship is near, but Lancia is late with the production of the Formula 1 cars, the D50, and thus grants Alberto Ascari an exemption to participate in the third round of the season, after having skipped the inaugural stage in Argentina and the Belgian appointment. Alberto Ascari makes his debut on the Reims Circuit, aboard a Maserati 250 F, but the race is dominated by the brand-new Mercedes, while the Italian driver is forced to retire from the first lap, due to the transmission failure. The following week Ascari disputes a test session in Monza with his friend and teammate Luigi Villoresi, to finally test the Lancia D50, but is the victim of an accident at the corner after the underpass: the car loses grip on fallen leaves in track due to a storm and comes out on the lawn stopping his race against a hedge, fortunately leaving the driver unharmed. Despite this unpleasant episode, after two weeks the Italian is regularly on track for the British Grand Prix, at Silverstone, taking part again at the wheel of a Maserati, as the Lancias are not yet ready for their debut. The race is no less unfortunate than the previous one and ends with a double retirement: first in his own car and then in that of his teammate Villoresi, in both cases due to mechanical failures. Surprisingly, Alberto does not participate in the German Grand Prix, at the Nurburgring, as the team wants to prepare itself as best as possible for the 1000 km which is run on the same circuit. However, the race was canceled due to organizational problems and Ascari only took to the track at the Italian Grand Prix. The Milanese returns sensationally aboard a Ferrari car for his home race, thanks to an agreement between Gianni Lancia and Enzo Ferrari. 


Ascari's participation with Ferrari rekindles the hopes of Italian fans to stop the excessive power of Mercedes. The Italian does not disappoint expectations, as he marks the second-best time in qualifying just two tenths from Fangio, but in the race, after a long duel with the Argentine and the English Stirling Moss, alternating in command of the race up to forty-ninth lap, he retires due to the failure of the engine. The following week the Italian driver participates in the Tourist Trophy in Belfast, but it turns out to be the worst race weekend of his entire life. In fact, the hotel where Alberto is staying catches fire twice, while in the race he accuses yet another retreat after the bottom is damaged by the crankshaft coming out. In the following weeks, Ascari concentrated with the team on fine-tuning the D50, and in early October set the new Monza track record in a test session. The top management of the team thus decided to anticipate the debut, scheduled for the following year, by taking part in the last round of the world championship in Barcelona. The new car turns out to be fast and Ascari sets the best time in all the practice sessions, conquering his fourteenth career pole position, more than a year after his last one in the Italian Grand Prix, in 1953. In the race he is forced to retire after just ten laps due to a clutch failure, but still manages to set the fastest lap, the twelfth in a world championship race. The 1954 season was the worst of his career for the Milanese, who saw his rival Juan Manuel Fangio win the crown without too much resistance, aboard the very fast Mercedes. The 1955 season seems to herald the eternal Fangio-Ascari duel, as the Lancia are finally ready to compete for the world title. The Italian, after retiring on his world debut in Argentina following an off-track caused by an oil stain, wins two victories in extra-championship races: the first at the Valentino Grand Prix in Turin, and the second at the Naples Grand Prix. The Turin-based company has been working tenaciously around the new car for over a year, and Ascari collaborates with all its passion and great experience and driving sensitivity in the delicate phase of setting up the vehicle. In the Valentino Park in Turin, home of the homonymous Grand Prix, at the start Ascari, who started from pole, is surprised by the Maserati of Luigi Musso, Roberto Mieres and Jean Behra, the quartet of drivers remains compact for the first stages of the race then, on the twenty-first lap Musso, who is in the lead, leaves the track, fortunately without consequences for the driver, due to a broken oil pipe, and leaves the command to Ascari. 


Despite the efforts of the Argentine Mieres, who will finish in second place, Behra's subsequent retirements and the mechanical troubles that afflict the Ferraris deliver the first historic success for Scuderia Lancia in a Formula 1 Grand Prix, also sanctioning the return to victory in the top racing series of the two-time world champion, whose last success went back to the 1953 Swiss Grand Prix. When the amaranth-colored car comes out victorious at the end of the straight, Alberto's right arm is seen raised high, waving in joy towards the mechanics and managers of the Lancia And when he stops after the lap of honor, the Italian driver immediately goes to look for Vittorio Jano, the designer of the Vittoriosa machine. Jano is in a corner, alone, in the large park of the Valentino. When Ascari intercepts him, he runs towards him, then looks into his eyes and exclaims:


"Thank you, Commendatore".


We then reach the Monaco Grand Prix, where, in qualifying, Fangio and Ascari mark the exact same time, but the Pole is given to the Argentine driver, since he is the first to have marked the best performance. At the start, however, Ascari got off to a bad start and dropped to fourth position, preceded by Fangio, his teammate Castellotti and Moss. Shortly before halfway through the race, Fangio retires due to the bridge breaking. He thus moves on to lead Moss, with a minute and twenty-two second advantage over Ascari's D50. All the others have already been dubbed. Despite the enormous advantage, Stirling Moss continues to push beyond the limit, perhaps to even reach Ascari, who is the last competitor at full speed. For this reason, when there are twenty laps to go, Moss is stopped by an engine failure and Ascari is in the lead; the numerous Italians present are preparing to celebrate the new leader of the race. Ascari is now awaiting the passage, who is now in command, but Lancia number 26 does not appear. A moment and the voice arrives in a flash preceded by the frenetic gestures of the other competitors who, passing in front of the pits, immediately give the impression that something serious has happened. The chilling news is unbelievable: Ascari has gone off the road ending in sea. Over there in the direction of the so-called chicane, after the tunnel that leads to the promenade of the marina, people are rushing, and the boats that sail placidly converge towards a point where the water is still boiling. Ascari, after breaking through the light barrier of straw bales and passing between large mooring pylons, was literally catapulted out of the seat and ended up in the water about twenty meters from the car. Fortunately, the Italian pilot did not suffer injuries such as to prevent him from re-emerging immediately and from reaching a boat with four strokes that immediately headed towards him and collected him, then approaching the shore. Ascari loses blood due to a light cut to the nose and after a brief dressing is transported to the hospital in Munich, only minor injuries were found, including the rupture of the nasal septum and some bruises. Lying on the bed with a plaster on his nose, that same evening he quietly tells his wife and a small group of visitors, including Gigi Vilioresi, the young Perdisa, Ugolini, Amorotti and Meazza, of Ferrari, the terrible moments lived:


"I can't figure out how it happened. Coming out of the tunnel I braked as on every lap at that point: I don't know if there was oil on the ground, but the car got sideways, hit the pavement and she jumped on the opposite side, aiming sharply outwards and passing very narrowly between two iron pylons, while I literally flew in a dive that never ended. I actually made a good escape. But in any case, better there 'water than a wall. Just think that the day before yesterday, while I was walking the circuit together with Vilioresi, we stopped at that point and I said: you could go to the bathroom here. Well, these are not forebodings".


A little later, Stirling Moss arrives to shake his friend's hand:


"And to think that you could have won".


Stirling Moss says in French to his Italian friend.


Four days after the Monte Carlo accident, Ascari receives a phone call from friends Luigi Villoresi and Eugenio Castellotti, who warn him that at Monza they would try a Ferrari 750 Sport for the next Supercortemaggiore Grand Prix. What will go through Alberto Ascari's mind from this moment on is unclear. On the morning of May 26, 1955, he says to his wife:


"I have to put my nerves in order, but for this very reason I have to free my nervous system from any residual fear".


But he reassures her that he won't try. Actually, Alberto really has no intention of trying, since he does not bring with him the suit, nor the gloves, nor the helmet that he always wears as an amulet and that he does not let anyone touch, not even his wife. After that he leaves for Monza, where he joins friends Luigi Villoresi and Eugenio Castellotti, arriving however at the end of the practice session. In the house on Corso Sempione, Signora Mietta, Alberto Ascari's wife, looks at her watch. It's been a while since noon: just before one, as she had told her on leaving, Alberto must have been back. Mrs Ascari and the children then appear on the balcony, but Father does not arrive. She rings the phone. It is Alberto, who two minutes before starting his tragic last race, says to his wife:


"I do two laps, then I'm at breakfast".


It must have been the acrid smell of gasoline and burnt oils, that intoxicating atmosphere that invades the tracks and ignites the blood that made him forget, he is so superstitious, some rules that he had always obeyed until today Alberto Ascari, who since started to fork a motorcycle and then drive a car, he never completed the tests, nor had he participated in races that coincided with the 26th of the month. This is because on that day, in July 1921, his father Antonio Ascari lost his life in a car accident during the Monthléry circuit in France.


He had never got behind the wheel of a racing car without his overalls, he had never put his foot on the accelerator if he wasn't wearing his helmet-amulet. The table is ready, mother and children wait a long time, but Ciccio does not arrive.


It was just after 12:30 pm when Castellotti stopped his Ferrari 3000 on which he made numerous test laps. The car has responded excellently to all the driver's requests and appears perfectly fine in every device. Ascari talks a little with Castellotti then suddenly tells him:


"After the blow on Sunday I have to do a few laps: two, three, we'll see, and let's go to breakfast".


He insistently repeats Alberto to Count Giovanni Lurani Cernuschi, to Villoresi and to Castellotti, who ask him if he is really well, if he does not mind the broken nose and the sore back.


"You can maybe do it tomorrow, you have plenty of time, listen to us".


Friends suggest him while he starts the engine. But, in the roar of the car, Alberto, smiling, shouts:


"But Nuvolari also ran with a plaster bust, if you remember".


With a broken nose and a contusion in his back, Alberto seems to have by now given up on racing the Monza 1000 Kilometers, a race for sports cars in which he intended to participate with a car other than the Lancia he was used to racing on.


Instead he starts the laps to test right on day 26th. Alberto is not wearing the suit but borrows his helmet from his friend and disciple Castellotti. The young driver certainly does not think the worst; in front of a runner like Ascari everyone bows. He takes off his helmet and hands it to her. Then she helps him settle into the small seat. Who knows, perhaps Ascari wants, with this sum of contradictions, to challenge the bad luck that for some time he believed was haunting him, but he does not take into account his impaired physical condition after the accident in Monte Carlo. Alberto starts fast, runs the first lap in 8'08"0 at an average of 177 kilometers. In the second lap he forces his pace but no sign of weakness shines through the man or the engine. The average rises to 187 kilometers, a negligible speed for Ascari: At that hour the track is deserted, the other riders have ceased practice and are at the bar freshening up. On the asphalt ring, Alberto Ascari is alone. At the middle of the third lap, exiting the Serraglio curve, on the external part of the track, almost in front of the central grandstands, the tragedy occurs. Some workers of the Luca shipyard who work a hundred meters from the place where the tragedy takes place, hear only a crash and run. Alberto Ascari is on the edge of the track, lifeless, with the car a little further away, still shaken by the vibrating of the engine. Faced with this image, the workers decide to climb over the barbed wire fence and run to the bar to warn the racers and managers of the racetrack: Villoresi and Castellotti are launched, followed by some technicians. Once on the spot, Alberto is lifted and transported to the Monza hospital. However, there is no longer any hope. It is now around 1:30 p.m., when the phone rings again in the house in Corso Sempione. On the other end of the phone, however, Villoresi's sister, informed of the tragedy by her brother, tells Mrs. Ascari, her friend of hers:


"Alberto has fallen, don't think badly; Gigi says to go there immediately".


A quarter of an hour later, Signora Mietta and her children, tight as if in a tangle of anguish, weep in despair at the disappearance of their loved one. In tears the poor lady keeps repeating:


"I felt him and I wanted to hold him back; but he smiled at me, always so sure of himself".


Ascari's children are then taken to an aunt's home. With some friends, the lady will later return to Milan, to look for the blue ceremony dress, for the last public appearance of the fastest man in Italy, who for two years had also been the fastest motorist in the world. Meanwhile, attempts are made to reconstruct the tragedy on the Monza racetrack. So the commissioner from Milan arrives and the technicians measure for a long time the strange run of the machine that is no longer controlled. Coming out of the Serraglio curve, after having taken the straight line of the underpass, the car, no one knows for what reason, must have skidded. Ascari, perhaps in an attempt to control it, only managed to put it sideways. For a stretch of twenty meters, you can see the black stripes left by the tires on the asphalt, which caused a very strong friction, before the car overturned. On the track, together with the paint of the bodywork and the helmet, the traces of the blue fabric of Ascari's jacket remain. After having covered 160 meters, pirouetting, the car straightened up and in that moment Alberto Ascari was thrown out. The car passed over him and after continuing to run for another thirty meters he stopped in front of a pile of straw bales. No malfunctions in the car's vital devices are found. A few meters away, Ascari's wallet is found, inside which there are a few thousand lire, the photographs of the two sons Antonio and Patrizia with their mother and some sacred images. The news of the tragic end of Alberto Ascari, which spread in Modena a few minutes after the accident, arouses general consternation throughout the city. Ascari, for professional reasons, often went to Modena and for this reason almost everyone knew him: his figure is also known to those who are not very interested in sport. The news also arrives quickly to Enzo Ferrari, communicated by sports director Nello Ugolini. The Italian builder, informed of the fact, suddenly turns pale and the people who are with him have to run to support him.

Without saying a word, while tears stream down his face, Ferrari almost staggers out of his office, gets into his car and is taken to his villa in the countryside. He will not release any comment and the phone will ring in vain for the constant calls of people who want news or comments. The tragic end of the ace Alberto Ascari arouses a deep impression and great condolences throughout the sporting world. In the French capital, the news spread quickly, despite the lack of newspapers, caused by the strike of the printers. The figure of Ascari is very popular in France, since the Milanese driver had achieved several triumphs, but above all because many Frenchmen remember the terrible disaster of 1925 in Monthléry, in which his father lost his life. At the same time, Fangio is informed of Ascari's death by a journalist in Adenau, Germany. Moved, the Argentine driver expresses his sorrow for the disappearance of his friend, declaring:


"I can hardly believe this terrible news. I saw Ascari last Sunday in Monaco, and never like that did he give me the impression of being in good physical condition. The way in which, during the Monaco Grand Prix, he avoided a danger more serious throwing himself boldly into the sea, it was a proof of his extraordinary presence of mind and his remarkable glance".


The next day, through an interview, Luigi Villoresi tries to reconstruct Ascari's drama:


"I saw him die and it was all blood; he suffered as no one has perhaps ever been able to. I would like to explain why Ascari killed himself, what may have happened to the engine yesterday in those three laps that Ascari did. We saw the vehicle parade in front of him. He had nothing, absolutely nothing less than normal. It could not have been a driving mistake, because Alberto was who he was as a racer: an unquestioning ace. Alberto also knew the course as well as the car. The curve del vialone is not a mystery to any of us. It is a perfidious curve, because it seems easy, very easy, and instead you find the car moving to the left. It is a small vice of the Monza circuit. Alberto cannot have forgotten it. suddenly. Not even the car was an absolute novelty for Alberto. A new but not revolutionary means. I am sure that the misfortune did not depend on this. Alberto may have fainted at the wheel, could he have lost consciousness from petrol gas? It is true that Ciccio had a fractured septum, and was practically breathing only with his mouth. But how many laps had he made? Three in all and was traveling the fourth. In about twenty kilometers, as many as he had traveled, it was therefore physically impossible to breathe so much poison as to faint. It couldn't have been like that. Even at this moment I cannot explain why Ascari decides to come to Monza, because on the spot he stuck and wanted the car; he already knew that with ninety out of a hundred chances he would not have raced. He got behind the wheel with a common walking suit, with his tie well knotted. He had only to put Castellotti's helmet on his head. He even seemed hasty. This was another thing I can't explain about him, always so calm, so precise to the point of fussiness. I've never seen him act so hastily. Yesterday Alberto skipped all his precautions; he skipped all the preparation for driving which for him was like a ritual. He got into the car as if it were no longer him that bed, from which he will never get up".


Fifty years after his death, the causes that led to the accident remain unclear. The pilot will then be buried in the monumental cemetery of Milan, together with his father, where he still lies. Following the death of its top driver, Lancia will announce its farewell to competitions, selling all the technical equipment, cars and engines, to Ferrari. It is curious to note how the fate of two axes of the steering wheel, which were Antonio and Alberto Ascari, was so similar, but the battle motto Allé Allé, beer to all, with which the first World Champion Ferrari made it clear to everyone that no rival would be spared during the competition.


©​ 2024 Osservatore Sportivo


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