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#60 1957 French Grand Prix

2021-04-20 00:00

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#1957,

#60 1957 French Grand Prix

Martedì 4 Giugno 1957 i piloti di tradizione europea rompono definitivamente i concordati con gli organizzatori della a 500 Miglia di Monza, e deciden

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Tuesday, June 4Th, 1957 the drivers of European tradition break definitively the agreements with the organizers of the 500 Miglia of Monza, deciding to confirm the total abstention. Already on the occasion of the 1000 Kilometers of the Nurburgring the runners had conferred to a commission, composed of Chiron and Maglioli, the task of informing the organizing committee of the 500 Miglia that the elevated track of Monza presents too many dangers for the high speeds that can be reached. However, Chiron and Maglioli, instead of being received by the organizers at the Automobile Club Milano, prefer to meet at another location after informing the representatives of the organizing committee and the interested Houses. Chiron and Maglioli, together with the Secretary of the International Professional Drivers' Union, signed a statement to reiterate the non-participation in the speed race of 29 June 1957, combined with the Monza Lottery. For its part, the organizing committee takes note of the new decision, reserving the right to state on Thursday evening. The reasons why the organizers of the Monza 500 decided to recreate this race almost equal to the Indianapolis 500, derives from the fact that the US technical committees never recognized Fangio as World Champion, for the simple fact that he never competed in Indianapolis, despite being present in the calendar of the Formula 1 World Championship. Now it is clear that the strong Argentine driver would come out badly from a defeat by American specialists, and that the other riders would aspire, instead, to an estimate of the prize of engagement, taking into account the dreaded skill of the Indianapolis drivers, who could easily guarantee the fifty million lire up for grabs in the 500 Miglia of Monza.

 

Despite the defection of traditional European drivers, the Automobile Club d'Italia seems intent on running the race, which would see in the race the riders of Indianapolis and those who are not part of the Union drivers. While from Indianapolis it is announced that the cars will be transported to Italy on board the transatlantic Constitution that will sail on 12 June 1957, while the pilots, the mechanics and the owners of the cars will reach Italy by plane. Before that, however, the focus shifts to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which is one of the most important events of this uncertain, difficult car season. Needless to say, the 24 Hours has undoubted importance that comes from thirty-four years of tradition, very strict regulation, and technical results often very interesting. Created by Charles Paroux as a test of speed and endurance for sports cars, the 24 Hours is still one of the most accredited automotive events, of international resonance, and test world championship brands. As always, this year all the most prepared formations of the European Houses will face each other. In front of the Ferrari and Maserati (whose overall superiority is however in the French race often unsurpassed obstacles, and if Ferrari has managed to impose itself twice, never the blow went well for the other House of Modena) the Jaguar sides, This circuit seems congenial (four victories in the last six editions) and the Aston Martin, which after the amazing success achieved at the Nurburgring must be considered with much respect, all the more so as this seems to be the moment of the British drivers and cars. Ferrari starts with four cars of 3800 cc and crews Collins-Hawthorn, Musso-Gendebien, Hill-Trintignant and Severi-Evans.

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Maserati presents its powerful 4.5-litre cars with Moss-Schell and Behra-Simon, while Scarlatti-Bonnier will pair up on the 3-litre. The Jaguar 3100 of Scuderia Scozia will have as drivers the winners of the previous edition, Flockhart-Bueb and Sanderson-Lawrence. A third Coventry car, privately registered, is that of Hamtiton-Masten Gregory. Finally, Aston Martin lined up three of the brand new 3700, with Leston-Salvadori, Brooks-Reid and the brothers' Graham and Peter Whitehead. Big battle, however, also because the issue of the world title is unprejudiced: Ferrari with his 25 points is not safe at all against 19 of Maserati. And the same Aston Martin, with 8 points, could be able to recover, as well as the Jaguar stops at 7 points. Judging by the huge turnout of spectators at official practice for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, it would seem that the gruesome memory of the terrible disaster of two years before has almost vanished, or at least that the interest in this difficult and fast race is stronger than any other consideration. The circuit of Le Sarthe, which even before the tragedy was considered among the safest in the world, has undergone important changes related to the protective systems, but this does not mean that the enormous speeds that are reached (in the test were widely, and for the first time, exceeded 200 km/h average) give cause for some concern, because the organizers of the 24 Hours insist stubbornly in wanting to admit to the race sports machines of all displacements, with speed differences, between the most powerful and the least powerful, over 100 km/h, although the total number of competitors allowed is limited. It should also be added that, after a year of quarantine, have been readmitted to the race the big cars without capacity limits, machines with huge powers, higher than those of the same Formula 1 racing cars, and as such far removed from the reality of normal automotive technology.

 

On this point, the French press itself is beginning to condemn this dangerous regulation, which has been revived at a time when the whole of motorsport is under public scrutiny. Saturday, June 22, 1957, at 4:00 p.m. fifty-four cars start following the unchanging formula: cars lined up in front of the riders, and across the street the drivers standing still waiting for the fateful sign that gives the start to the race. The blond and snappy Peter Collins is the quickest and passes first in front of the tide of crowds that witnesses the fascinating spectacle of the almost contemporary start of fifty-three cars, since the only Talbot who tries to start stops after just one hundred meters. The fantastic carousel is now launched and Collins is replaced at the command by Hawthorn, also on Ferrari, which is followed by the Maserati driven by Moss. First, at the start, Collins will also be the first of the great drivers to be forced to retire: on the fifth lap the Englishman stops at his stand and the mechanics push the car towards a fence, at the entrance of which a humorist draws a big cross. Jean Behra, who drives one of the two 4500 ccs, sets the first official record of the race, making on the straight of one kilometre the average of 274.182 km/h, and the Frenchman a few laps later leads to second place behind Hawthorn’s Ferrari. With the succession of laps, however, the superiority of the displacement of the Maserati driven by Behra begins to impose the inevitable law of the strongest: pushed deeply by the champion of France, Hawthorn does not resist the infernal cadence that is imposed and is forced to a stop; so Behra can finally jump to the head of the race.

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Turning with an average of over 200 km/h, the Maserati driver gains with regular chronometry a few seconds per lap. But the generous effort of the Frenchman proved vain: he too is forced to retire because of an irreparable failure. Maserati has had no luck. Stirling Moss, who drives the other 4500 ccs is also, meanwhile, stopped for several minutes at the stand of the House of Modena, and probably the reason is identical to the one that put out of competition Jean Behra. Shortly after midnight the couple Gendebien-Trintignant are forced to retire for mechanical troubles. Thirty-seven riders are still in the race, but the balance sheet of the great engine comparison closes again this year to the liabilities for the Italian companies. The official Ferraris and Maseratis disappear from the fight after a few hours of racing and, more than the first, are the second to disappoint the wait and the crowd. It would be useless and wrong to want to establish the causes that with the passage of hours and miles have vanished one after another hopeful, but one fact is certain: the triumph of the British Jaguar is the logical result of a preparation closer to this competition of regularity and endurance. At the end of the twentieth hour, when eighteen Italian cars started at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, there are only five left in the race, in the lead is a Jaguar, the number 3 of the pair Flockhart-Bueb, followed by three other Jaguars, And in seventh place still a Jaguar. Five cars racing on the five that had started. Without any doubt the drivers of Maserati and Ferrari, whose official cars were driven by very strong drivers, namely Collins, Moss, Behra, Hawthorn, Trintignant, and Scarlatti, animate in an exciting way the first hours of the race.

 

The only Brooks, with his Aston Martin, in the night manages to fit in second place, in the opposing group. But because of a collision, which occurred around dawn, with the Porsche driven by Umberto Maglioli, Brooks is injured and forced to retire, as well as the Italian driver. Both will be transported to the hospital of Le Mans, but fortunately, nothing will be found excessively serious; Maglioli can return during the morning to his hotel, while the English, who has suffered a fracture of some ribs, Remains hospitalized, but certainly not life-threatening. For the third year in a row, the British Jaguar won, while another British car, Lotus, took first place in the special classification. After the appointment with the Le Mans, the 500 Miglia of Monza, which takes place on Saturday, June 29, 1957, on the high-speed ring of the Monza circuit, was to be the first official meeting between the specialists of Indianapolis and the champions of European tradition, For when the first test of the trophy of the two worlds was announced, the names of Fangio, Collins, Hawthorn, Moss, Farina, Trintignant, Musso, von Trips and Hermann appeared on the first communiqués as certain participants. But things went differently, and the American pilots, landed Tuesday, June 25, 1957, at 2:30 a.m. at the airport of Malpensa, welcomed by Giuseppe Farina and Luigi Villoresi, ironically comment on the defection of Fangio and the European pilots, Declaring themselves willing to exchange the machines to give more interest to the race:

 

"We will give our cars to them, and we will race with Ferrari and Maserati".

 
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Statements with a polemical background rather than a practical one; however, at noon on June 29, the 500 Miglia of Monza will start with the homonymous lottery. Owners, family members, mechanics, announcers, technicians, managers, timekeepers and escorts escort the drivers who enjoy unlimited popularity in the States. To qualify for the national championship, they must compete hard in twelve competitions, some of which are held on hard-bottomed circuits and others on so-called dirt tracks, that is, on clay, sand or ash. On the American circuits, the drivers must maintain a fast and constant gait, and rarely detach the foot from the accelerator: it requires therefore great physical resistance and exceptional cold blood. The qualifying and skill tests (minimum speed 225 km/h) will take place on 27 and 28 June, and they will also participate in two Maserati, one of 4200 ccs eight cylinders and one of 3500 ccs twelve cylinders; three Jaguar; a Gordini and perhaps a Ferrari 4200 cc, But not in official form. Maranello has confirmed that it will not participate in the 500 Miglia of Monza for reasons already communicated to the organizers, reasons that have no reference to the characteristics of the competition, nor to the reservations expressed by some drivers. In the first laps made by some American drivers on the ring of Monza were already achieved respectable speeds. Eddie Sachs, famous at home for his audacity, Tuesday, June 25, 1957, runs the tour in a minute net, at an average of 255 km/h. Less fast are Jimmy Bryan, Russo, Parson, Crawford and Ruttman.

 

The first 500 Miglia of Monza, partially modelled on that of Indianapolis, was won by Jimmy Bryan on Den Van Lines. The name of Jimmy Bryan had never appeared in the previous days in the succession of records continuously beaten in qualifying, glory touched instead, Sachs, Pat O'Connor and especially in Bettenhausen. The day opens with good wishes for a magnificent sun, whose summer heat is tempered by a gentle wind. There is no crowd to get among the first to the best places, but already in the early morning many cars enter the park, and some fans line up in the stands and the meadows. It is inappropriate to talk about typhus, if not for motor racing itself. The lack of a strong European complex and especially of an Italian group gives rise to a day of passion but without cheering. In short, ultimately a failure is soon forgotten. Friday, July 3, 1957, a scary adventure involves Phil Hill, one of the official guides of Ferrari on the Modena track. Hill is on the racetrack as a spectator and attends the tests of a Cooper 750 modified to participate in the Formula 3 championship from Modena manufacturer Stanguellini, recently bought by the son of the American billionaire Barbara Hutton, which is located in Modena just to try and buy racing cars. The billionaire’s son, after some laps, turns to Hill asking him to try the car and give him a judgment. Hill leads three laps at low speed, then accelerates. On the fifth lap, while boarding the S-turn, sadly known for being the cause of the tragic death of Castellotti, the car skids, and enters the lawn and capita twice. Hill, who has promptly curled up in the cockpit, gets away with no injury, but the car will be found completely wrecked.

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A serious fatal accident was also the French Grand Prix, held in Rouen on Sunday, July 7, 1957, a few minutes before the start of the fifteen competing cars. A flight of steps, leading to a walkway that crosses the track, collapses under the weight of too many spectators. As a result, twenty-four people were injured, of whom six were quite serious. One of them is admitted to the hospital in Rouen for a fractured spine, and doctors do not pronounce the prognosis. The accident occurs while on the track performing demonstration laps of an experimental turbine machine, built by Renault. The crowd, to better see the fireball, goes up on the walkway built with iron tubes; the central scaffold resists but the access staircase collapses, and all the spectators who are on it fall to the ground. Police officers present shall immediately admit the injured to the hospitals in Rouen. Once calm has returned, the race can begin. For the 1957 season, in the internal challenge between the various local clubs for the organization of the French Grand Prix, it was the Automobil Club of Normandy, which returns to organize a race valid for the World Championship after the race hosted in 1952. The track chosen for the race is Rouen-Les Essart, a semi-permanent circuit with a mixed surface, located in Orival, near Rouen. Inaugurated in 1950, the track is considered one of the most fascinating of the time, able to alternate a modern sector characterized by an avant-garde box area and wide caress that contrasts with the road, With asphalt creeping up and down through the woods of this Normandy area, with very few escape routes. Therefore only the best can emerge.

 

Compared to the edition five years earlier, won by Alberto Ascari, some updates are made to the circuit and the total length goes from the original 5.100 kilometres to the 6.542 kilometres of this edition. Speeding from the main straight you face two fast bends of over 200 km/h, before arriving at one of the most characteristic features of the track; after the Virage des Six Fréres, the drivers run the Virage du Noveau Monde, a hairpin with a cobbled bottom that requires riders a clean and precise driving style to earn valuable tenths to be exploited for the next climb through the valley, a climb to be covered at full speed. In the central section of the track, the elevation change increases considerably, starting from the fifty-six meters of altitude of the hairpin bend mentioned above, climbing up to 149 meters of the Virage du Gresil, with a maximum gradient that reaches even 9%. In this ascent, the riders face the new stretch that, after passing the already present Virage de Beauval, now also includes the Courbe de l'Etoile, which uses the existing state road to connect to the Gresil curve, a right-hand bend to be driven at high speed. In the final sector of the lap, a straight line leads to the Scierie curve, another right turn that connects to the Virage du Paradis, now transformed into a very fast curve that culminates in the finish line. Returning to the protagonists of the Championship, the French weekend begins in a worrisome way for the British team of Vanwall, with both the starting runners who do not participate in the race: Stirling Moss is blocked by sinusitis, After being hospitalized for two days in a clinic in Rouen, Tony Brooks is still recovering from a slight injury at Le Mans. Replacements are Salvadori and Lewis-Evans.

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There are only fifteen drivers registered for the race, this guarantees a grid position for all participants. The four official Ferraris of Musso, Collins, Hawthorn and Trintignant challenge the four Maseratis entrusted to Fangio, Behra, Schell and Menditeguy. Then, in addition to the aforementioned Vanwall, the British fleet includes the Cooper of Brabham and MacDowell, and the two B.R.M. of Flockhart and Mackay-Fraser. The only private, obviously on Maserati 250F, is the English Horace Gould. This event also highlights how Formula 1 is increasingly becoming an English-speaking issue. In addition to the young English teams, ten drivers come from countries of British origin or former colonies of the Empire. Of the five drivers of Latin origin left on the grid, only Musso can be considered a novelty on the international stage, while Fangio, Behra, Trintignant and Menditeguy are part of the pioneering era, underlining this trend further. During the qualifying Juan Manuel Fangio makes everyone understand, in particular the young people present on the track, why he is called the Master: despite having never seen the circuit, the forty-six-year-old Balcarce finishes over a second to the group winning the pole position. In the front row, along with Maserati’s ace, Jean Behra is second and Luigi Musso third, on Ferrari. Schell and Collins follow in the second row. Excellent sixth position for Salvadori on Vanwall, seventh Hawthorn and eighth Trintignant both on Ferrari, before Menditeguy on Maserati. More detached are the remaining British cars, which do not seem to have many opportunities for glory in this race. The number of sessions scheduled to reach the three-hour limit is seventy-seven. For the first time, a French Grand Prix was held without French cars. In the annals of motorsport, such a complete defection was not yet recorded: a sign of the increasingly difficult times. Moreover, the participation of French cars in this race would have had only a symbolic value, since the Gordins could not have been well represented in the struggle waged by the three major European brands: Vanwal, Ferrari and Maserati.

 

On the starting line-up Jean Behra, just before the start, skids the tires of his Maserati and sprints in advance, taking Musso’s opponents by surprise and, above all, Fangio who goes down to the third position. At the end of the first lap, Musso is in the lead, hunted by Behra and Fangio; Collins on Ferrari overtakes Schell who drives a Trident car. However, the best start is the prerogative of Mackay-Fraser, who immediately gains five positions and is sixth. The escape attempt of Luigi Musso continues, always followed by the two bishops of Maserati; only now it is Fangio to be second and in the wake of Ferrari. A very fast start at a dizzying pace that will be fatal to the English Flockhart, whose B.R.M. skids in the curve during the second lap, and capsizes. The Englishman is transported to the infirmary with his right leg fractured. In the meantime, Salvadori, after a pit stop, managed to start again, while at the head of the race there was a small group in which Fangio, who managed to overtake Musso’s Ferrari, took the lead. A contact on the fourth lap eliminates both Brabham and Gould; now, despite being in the very early stages of the race, three drivers have already abandoned the Grand Prix on the fifteen starters. Meanwhile, Fangio grabs the head of the race and begins his solo march: after ten laps the advantage is about eight seconds, which rises to twelve seconds on lap 20. The Argentine once again demonstrates, if there were any further need, a great ability to read events, the ability to take advantage of the uncertainties of opponents and a huge talent in driving. As already happened in qualifying, the reigning World Champion makes the difference to the Du nouveau monde curve, which runs very clean and profitable.

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This latest modification sees the end of the oleo-pneumatic suspension struts used for so long by Bourne, for the rear ones are replaced by coil springs at Monaco, when the location of the de Dion tube by a Watt-link system is also incorporated. The Coopers are Formula II cars, with rear-mounted Climax twin-cam engines, the Brabham car being the 1.9litre and using drum brakes, while the McDowell car is a normal 1.5litre Formula II-engined car, using disc brakes. The spare car is also a 1.5litre, and all three twin-cam engines are fitted with pairs of double-choke Weber carburetters. To comply with the self-starting regulations the engines are fitted with starter motors, as used on the sports versions of this unit, and they are wired to a plug in the tail. A battery trolley with flexible lead is plugged in, a button at the end of the flexible lead pressed, and the starter whirls the engine into life; certainly one of the neater starter installations. All three cars are painted a dark green and the turn-out is a credit to Surbiton, even though they are not full-blooded Grand Prix cars, and are the result of a combined effort between Cooper Cars and Pippbrook Garages. Fangio is making his first visit to Rouen and he takes one look at the circuit, rubs his hands, and says: This is for me. Whereupon he proceeds to throw the six-cylinder and 12-cylinder Maseratis round the circuit in a manner that demonstrates his driving style and ability more continuously than one has seen for a long time. On most circuits there is perhaps one corner on which he demonstrates his ability over all others, but from all round the Rouen circuit comes reports of the fantastic way the old man is sliding the Maserati through the fast bends. Certainly, on the downhill swerves he is the only one who is motor-racing, with the possible exception of Musso, who seems to be at the top of his form, while Behra is motoring very fast, aided by an intimate knowledge of the circuit from past races with sports cars. It is Behra who sets the pace on the first morning, but only until his team leader finds the way round, and the Scuderia Maserati are in fine condition, having four six-cylinder cars and one 12-cylinder car for their drivers to play with, the team men being Fangio, Behra, Menditeguy, Schell and Scarlatti, the last-named being reserve. 

 

The Scuderia Ferrari are out in full force with their V8 Lancia-Ferraris, driven by Musso, Collins, Hawthorn and Trintignant, and though they are going fast the cars do not seem so suited to the contours of the Rouen circuit as do the Maseratis. For the British it is a sad day, for Vanwall is robbed of the services of Moss and Brooks, the former suffering from a nasal disease caught while holidaying on the Mediterranean, and the latter not yet fully mended after his Le Mans crash. For the first day of practice Salvadori is the only Vanwall driver, he having changed his cars in mid-season, abandoning the B.R.M. contract in favour of a Vanwall one, and he spends the morning trying the Vanwall cars and feeling his way into their characteristics. The second car of this team remains empty, though various drivers keep sniffing round it in the hope that they would be invited to drive. With Salvadori out of the B.R.M. team Bourne is relying on the faithful Flockhart, while new boy Mackay-Fraser is being given a try-out in the second car, taking things quietly and steadily and not doing anything heroic that might end in disaster. To complete the works teams there are a pair of Coopers with rear-mounted Coventry-Climax twin-cam engines, these cheeky little cars being driven by Brabham and McDowell, and the Surbiton lads even brought along a third car as a practice machine, just like Mr Maserati and Mr Vandervell. Looking rather lonely and being the only private owner accepted for the race is Horace Gould with his Maserati, making the field up to 15, there being no Gordini, no Bugatti and no Connaught, these three teams having fallen by the wayside in the race for survival that is Grand Prix racing. As the morning grows warmer and warmer, Rouen being in a heat wave, Fangio’s pace gets hotter and hotter, and he finishes the practice with fastest time on the six-cylinder car and second fastest time using the 12-cylinder car, while Behra is third fastest; so that Maserati are jubilant. Ferrari are not so happy, Collins only just beating Musso for fourth best time and the other two being way down in midfield, being beaten by Flockhart with the B.R.M.

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Have Brooks and Moss both been fit enough to drive, there is little doubt that the Vanwalls would be well up amongst the Maseratis, but as it is, Salvadori is not as fast as Flockhart, having tried the car allocated to him and the practice car, and deciding to use the practice car for the race, preferring its characteristics. Next morning sees another early practice session and once again Fangio outshines everyone, his cornering under full power in long controlled slides being a poem of mechanical artistry. He continually throws the car into deliberate slides on his approach to the fast open bends and drives round on full power, judging the slide to a nicety so that it finishes a few inches from the kerb. The result is an even faster lap than the day before, and though Behra is really trying he cannot approach Fangio’s time for the first day of practice, while Musso is the only other driver to look like staying with Behra. The Vanwall team are a little happier this morning for they borrow Lewis-Evans from Ferrari to drive the second car, as Moss is still in hospital and quite unfits for any racing. Like Mackay-Fraser with the B.R.M., Lewis-Evans is feeling his way in the Vanwall with caution, while Salvadori is getting quicker, but this loss of star drivers is putting the green cars back to the position they use to be in a few years ago, that of filling in the rear ranks of a Grand Prix, which is heartbreaking after the progress we saw these past two years. Everybody in the Maserati team try all the cars, and Fangio even does a few laps in the old works-hack, and all the time it becomes more and more obvious that the Maserati is really suited to the Rouen circuit. Before the morning finishes there occurs one of those incidents that a good team manager kittens over, for, quite by chance, four cars come by in close formation, in the order Behra, Fangio, Collins and Musso. An unholy dice commences in which Behra is not going to be passed by Fangio, although the old man is going at a speed that is faster than Behra anyway; Collins, seeing Fangio in front, tries to hang on to his tail, and Musso is out to get Collins.

 

For lap after lap this quartet sears round the circuit, until Fangio goes round the outside of Behra on the downhill swerve after the pits, and then it is all over, but Musso wears Collins down and Behra makes second fastest lap of the day. This little incident turns out to be the best bit of Grand Prix racing throughout the whole meeting. It has become normal in a major Grand Prix for the leading six or seven cars to be separated by fractions of a second, a time of one-tenth of a second being sufficient to space drivers on the front row, but this time, due to the exacting nature of the circuit, Fangio is 1.1sec faster than Behra, with a time of 2'21"5; Musso is only 0.1 sec slower than Behra, followed by Schell 0.5sec behind and 0.1sec, quicker than Collins. The times and grid order is as follows: Fangio 2'21"5; Behra 2'22"6; Musso 2'22"7; Schell 2'23"2; Collins 2'23"3; Salvadori 2'25"1; Hawthorn 2'25"6; Trintignant 2'25"9; Menditeguy 2'26"1; Lewis-Evans 2min 27.6sec; Flockhart 2'27"8; Mackay-Fraser 2'29"9; Brabham 2'30"9; Gould 2'35"0; and McDowell 2'38"9. It will be seen that the general run of drivers is keeping well to form, beating each other by the odd tenth of a second, but only those who see Fangio in action can appreciate how he manages a time differential of 1.1sec over the next man. After this wonderful demonstration during the practice periods it almost seems a waste of time to run the race itself, but as that is the whole point of the meeting the cars lined up on the grid in the heat of the afternoon sun on Sunday, July 7th. The start is unforgettable, for there is a rule that all cars have to be started by mechanical starters, no pushing is allowed, and with the cars in three-two-three order, with Maserati, Maserati and Ferrari on row one, Maserati and Ferrari row two, Vanwall, Ferrari and Ferrari row three, Maserati and Vanwall row four, B.R.M., B.R.M. and Cooper row five, and Maserati and Cooper row six, it can be seen that there would be some rushing about by the mechanics with the portable starters.

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Due to a crowd of spectators falling off a footbridge the start is delayed quite a time and nerves are on edge over this engine-starting business, until suddenly the organizers say one minute to go, whereupon all hell breaks loose. Mechanics push starters up the tails of the Ferraris and get in the way of Vanwall mechanics inserting starters in noses of the green cars; Trintignant’s car would not start, neither would Menditeguy’s; people trip over starter-cables; batteries are being ground flat; and at the back of the field Gould is in a sweat waiting for the works mechanics to come to his aid. While all this is going on the 30sec signal is given and the front row snicks into gear and begins to creep. Then the man with the flag realizes that some of the cars have not started and that the track is covered with starter trolleys, cables and mechanics, so the final 30sec is prolonged for well over a minute, those drivers who are ready, trembling on the clutch pedal, not realizing why there is a hold-up. As the last mechanic leave the grid everything happens at once and in the middle of it all the flag falls, but Behra is already well on his way, Musso is stationary with his rear tires nearly on fire with wheel-spin, everyone dodges everyone else, and the snarling pack rushes away down the hill towards the hairpin at Nouvelle Monde. The relief when all this excitement disappears is almost painful to experience, but very soon the 15 cars can be heard roaring their way up the hill on the far side of the circuit and it is Musso who is leading the opening lap, followed by Behra, Fangio, Collins, Schell and, of all things, a B.R.M., driven by Mackay-Fraser. On the next lap Fangio takes second place and on lap three he is close behind Musso and ready to go into the lead. On this lap Salvadori slides on the bend before the pits and spilts some oil and Flockhart, who is following, loses his BRM, goes off the road, writes the car off and sustains leg injuries. The Vanwall driver stops at his pit for the oil-tank cap is undone, and when he sets off again he is almost at the end of the field.

 

Lap four sees Fangio well in the lead and from then on he settles down to increasing his lead every lap, setting up fastest lap after fastest lap. Musso is really going well, and though he cannot challenge the leading Maserati he is holding on to second place ahead of Collins, Behra, Schell and Mackay-Fraser, the last-named making the B.R.M. really show its paces. The little Coopers, being underpowered, are running at the back of the field and Brabham has an unfortunate mix-up with Gould when the latter’s axle seizes, and the result is that both retire on lap five, the Cooper having bent its rear suspension on some straw bales. Then Trintignant comes into the pits with his Lancia V8 engine misfiring, and starts a series of stops to try and make it run on eight cylinders. Menditeguy gets into his stride and passes Lewis-Evans in the Vanwall and Mackay-Fraser in the B.R.M., and begins to chase after Schell, while Hawthorn is having difficulty in getting rid of Mackay-Fraser. For a number of laps these two pass and re-pass, and eventually Lewis-Evans catch them up and join in the dice. Menditeguy is battling with Schell, passing and re-passing; meanwhile, way out ahead of everyone else, Fangio is continuing to set up new lap records and is now 11sec ahead of Collins, who has got himself ahead of Musso. By 25 laps Collins is in the swing of things and sets up a new lap record on two occasions, leaving it at 2'23"0, but Fangio immediately replies with 2'22"8 and Collins has shot his bolt, for his gearbox is now giving trouble, so that Musso soon catches him and retakes second place. At the back of the field there is much trouble, Trintignant eventually giving up after numerous stops, a magneto being found at fault; Salvadori over-revs badly during his slide early in the race and the valve springs suffers, so that he eventually withdraws after 26 laps; and Mackay-Fraser’s gallantry with the B.R.M. ends in the previous lap when a rear universal looks like seizing, but it is not before he disposes of Lewis-Evans and Hawthorn, who is obviously out of tune with both his car and the circuit.

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After the withdrawal of Brabham the other Cooper pulls into the pits and McDowell lets the Australian take over, but he is running at the back of the field. On lap 31 Lewis-Evans arrives at the pits to complain of stiff steering and overheating, and the car is promptly withdrawn, so that by less than half-distance the race as such is over and the only British car left running is the little Cooper of Brabham. The order is still unchanged up in front, with Fangio a comfortable 25sec ahead of Musso, who is in turn over a minute ahead of Collins. After a long gap comes Behra, now suffering from a split exhaust pipe and fumes coming into the cockpit, so that Hawthorn is catching him, and Schell is coasting past the pits and down the hill trying to cool his very much overheated Maserati. Menditeguy goes out with a typical flourish, first of all overtaking Schell on the outside of the Rouen end hairpin, then bouncing over the straw bales, taking away some of his oil system, passing the pits in a cloud of smoke, and finally blowing the engine to pieces on the way down the hill towards Nouvelle Monde. On lap 44 Hawthorn takes fourth place from Behra, but he is a whole lap behind Fangio and for the remaining 33 laps no one passes anyone. Fangio and Musso are still going round at undiminished speed, some 25sec apart, while Collins is dropping farther and farther back, but not quite lapped by the leader. Schell’s car gets worse and worse and soon begins to run on five cylinders, then on four, while Behra is now getting soaked in oil from a leak from the engine, as well as being asphyxiated and burnt from the broken exhaust system. After 60 laps there are signs in the Maserati pit that Fangio might stop to change the left-hand rear tyre, which is taking a lot of punishment on this circuit, and in consequence Musso speeds up, setting a new lap record on his 65th lap with a time of 2'22"2 and getting within 16sec of Fangio, but lap 67 sees his downfall, for he spins on the Nouvelle Monde hairpin, and though he does not stall his engine he is back to a 28sec gap.

 

Fangio does not stop to change his wheel so Musso’s efforts are in vain, and the maestro sails home the winner, showing without doubt his supremacy as master of the art of Grand Prix racing. The plucky Behra, who never gives in despite personal suffering, drives his car to a standstill just before the finishing line on lap 69 and waits there, grimly wiping the oil off his hands and face, until Fangio completes the race, whereupon he coasts over the finishing line to be classed fifth, just ahead of Schell, whose Maserati only just drags itself round the last few laps. Finally, buzzing merrily along but many laps in arrears, comes Brabham with the little Cooper. Apart from being a personal victory for Fangio, the French Grand Prix is a fine achievement for Maserati, for the winning car sounds perfect at the finish, as does the three Lancia-Ferraris which are second, third and fourth, though has the World Champion been in a Maranello car the positions would have been reversed, for it seems that Fangio will win irrespective of what car he uses. Fangio dominates and crosses the finish line as the winner, with about fifty seconds ahead of Musso. Third is Collins, about two minutes, followed in the fourth position by the other Ferrari, that of Hawthorn, rounded. Schell closes the points zone, with seven laps behind, while Behra is sixth. The pair Brabham-MacDowel closes seventh and last classified. The victory never in question was that of Fangio, the third out of three appearances of the season and that allows the Argentine to lock the fifth personal title since he is first in the overall standings with 25 points and with a seventeen lead over the second driver, Sam Hanks, winner of the Indianapolis stage. To find the first European rival you have to go down to third place, with the seven points won by Musso in France. These numbers are enough to give a dimension of the class and natural talent that has the Argentine ace, which now only awaits the official status of the fifth title of Formula 1 World Champion, although not recognized as such in the United States. For the moment...

 

Luca Saitta

 

Translated by Andrea Torelli

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