1954 British Grand Prix race report - Ferrari Vanquishes Mercedes-Benz
Gonzalez Wins Magnificently, with Hawthorn Second. Lotus and Aston Martin Dominate Sports-Car Races. Moss First in 500-c.c. Event
The British G.P., organised by the B.R.D.C. for the R.A.C. and run at Silverstone on July 17th, was the most interesting race we have seen since the war. A big crowd, said to be 90,000, braved the rain to watch a grim battle, over 270 slippery miles, between Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, Maserati and Gordini, with the usual supporting entry of F. II Connaughts and Cooper-Bristols, a 2 1/2-litre Cooper-Alta and the 2 1/2-litre Vanwall Special; a total field of thirty-one.
Mercedes-Benz., arriving in England for the first time since their sensational appearance (although beaten by Auto-Union) at Donington in 1937, were fresh from Victory at Reims on their initial entry in G.P. racing since the war. Their equipage of vast lorries and workshop van, private Mercedes-Benz cars including a beautiful 300SL coupe, with Neubauer and Uhlenhaut in attendance, was impressive. Ferrari was out for revenge. Maserati had secured from Lancia the services of World Champion Ascari and Luigi Villoresi to assist Marimon to demonstrate their recently-found speed, with private owners supporting them. Gordini fielded Behra, Pilette and Bucci.
A great race was promised, and materialised. The Mercedes proved unsuitable for Silverstone, with their aerodynamic bodies. Gonzalez, driving faultlessly, led all the way for Ferrari on an impeccable non-stop run. He finished as unruffled as if he had been down to Brackley and back. Hawthorn came home an enormously popular second after a duel with Moss’ Maserati, displaying the hall-mark of the true G.P. driver by obeying pit-signals and not over-revving as Moss vanished into the rain-mist. Moss had disgusting luck when a recurrence of back axle trouble retired his car ten laps from the end from an absolutely unassailable second place. Marimon finished third for Maserati after a very fine drive, his driving in the rain, which fell for the second half of the 90-lap race, being masterful. Fangio could do no better for Mercedes than fifth, his car dented where be had misjudged the corners due to poor driver-visibility, and troubled by fumes and a gearbox defect. Kling was very slow in the rain, left the course in a slide early on, and was as low as seventh.
Those who said, after Reims, that the Italians are finished in the field of G.P. racing had been made to munch their words well and truly. However, it must be said for Mercedes-Benz that Silverstone is a circuit of which they had no pre-war knowledge to guide Team Manager Neubauer’s judgments and Engineer Uldenhaut’s slide-rule. Their defeat, particularly by that hard trier, the prancing horse, was sweet to many, especially with an Englishman in second place, but if we are to be fair we must hope that the wild publicity which made the B.R.M. a laughing-stock will not spoil Stuttgart’s return to G.P. racing. They won convincingly on their first appearance; they finished, but badly placed and at disappointing speed, on their second. We should give them at least until the chequered flag falls at Nurburg on August 1st before passing harsh judgment. Meanwhile, the greatest praise and jubilation follows the proof that Ferrari beat Mercedes-Benz, using last year’s chassis design, and that Gonzalez has again showed himself the equal of all drivers, save perhaps of Ascari. Formula I racing is now TRULY STIMULATING — W. B.
* * *
Mercédès-Benz practised on the Thursday and Friday before the race, but Gordini found his drivers absent until Friday, while Maserati had the drivers but no cars, as the two big Fiat vans conveying them had gone to the wrong port in France. They hove to at Silverstone at noon on Friday and a special practice session had to be arranged. By then rain was falling, so no fast times were established. Thursday’s practice had been wet likewise, but on the Friday morning Fangio had done 1 min. 45 sec., equal to 100.35 m.p.h., unofficially ripping to piece’s both Gonzalez’ F. I race-lap record and bettering by 0.19 m.p.h. Farina’s absolute race-lap record with the Thinwall Ferrari. In the course of this motoring the Argentinian hit a marker drum, denting the near-side front cowling, which caused him to bite his fist in amusement and Neubauer to smile imperceptibly. Continental 7.00-16 tyres were in use on the back wheels; after a hesitant getaway all eight cylinders would bite and the silver aerodynamic cars sang round sounding rather like Teutonic B.R.M.s. Kling’s, however, only managed 1 min. 48 sec.
Ferrari replied with 1 min. 46 sec. by Gonzalez and Hawthorn, Mike in fine form, while Trintignant did 1 min. 48 sec. All three cars were the 1953/4 machines but with the latest engine.
Moss, in his virtually new Maserati, showed promise of his race form with a lap in 1 min. 47 sec., Wharton took Owen’s new Maserati round in 1 min. 49 sec., and Behra (Gordini), Trintignant (Ferrari) and Salvadori (Maserati) all equalled Kling’s 1 min. 48 sec. Bira did 1 min. 49 sec., Collins in the Vanwall, its curious tube-radiator now cowled over and with the engine size increased to 2,237 c.c., did 1 min. 50 sec.
Leaving the G.P. cars to their coming struggle, and Neubauer to dine his drivers at far-away Waddesdon (where, contrary to daily-paper stories they were not in bed by 7 p.m.). the sports-car practice produced a sensation when enterprising G. H. Williamson’s Riley Nine engine literally fell out of the Morris Minor tourer in which he had installed it — with true amateur enthusiasm he had another one in by Saturday morning.
* * *
Saturday dawned wet and blustery but the rain had stopped in time for the first event, a 17-lap race for sports cars up to 1,500 c.c. with Le Mans start, a mode of commencement where any hesitancy can spoil otherwise good chances in a short race.
Colin Chapman soon overtook Gammon — aerodynamic Lotus against the square-rigged variety — and these two held off Hermann in a 4-o.h.c. Porsche, a fine effort fully appreciated by the spectators. Coombs wasn’t quite so fast, but remained fourth in the other aerodynamic Lotus, behind which McAlpine’s Connaught got the better of Riseley-Pritchard’s Cooper-Connaught and Scott-Brown’s Lister-MG. in a fine triangular duel.
It was sad that, when Greenwood’s Lester-M.G. spun, Watling-Greenwood hit a straw bale in his beautiful little R.W.G. in taking avoiding action, damaging it extensively. A works Porsche and Reece’s Osca beat Parker’s Kieft with the new Coventry Climax engine in the 1,100-c.c. class.
* * *
With the course dry, but a strong threat of more rain, the cars came out for the Seventh R.A.C. British Grand Prix. The Maserati mechanics were in a last-minute flap, for oil was, pouring from the front of Villoresi’s engine. They were allowed to substitute a spare car, numbers and wheels being changed in a flash.
On the front row of the grid were Fangio’s Mercédès-Benz, the Ferraris of Gonzalez and Hawthorn, and Moss’ Maserati. In the second row Kling was flanked by Salvadori and Jean Behra. The third row contained Collins (Vanwall), Bira, Wharton, and Trintignant’s Ferrari. In the fourth row were Parnell, and Bucci and Pilette with works Gordinis. Next line consisted of Gerard’s Cooper-Bristol, Beauman’s Connaught, Schell’s 1953/4 Maserati and Manzon’s Ferrari.
The rest of the field comprised Riseley-Pritchard’s Connaught, Gould’s Cooper-Bristol, Whitehouse’s Connaught, Brandon’s Cooper-Bristol, Whitehead’s Cooper-Alta, Thorne’s Connaught, Marr’s Connaught, Marimon’s works Maserati, Villoresi, Mieres in the 1953/4 Maserati with 1952-type gear-change which Daponte drove at Rouen (his own car having been completely wrecked when its van was “pranged”), Ascari, and Rosier’a 1953/4 Ferrari.
As the flag fell Gonzalez catapulted into the lead and when the race settled down at five laps he led Fangio by 5 sec., at 91.79 m.p.h., Hawthorn third, Moss fourth, Behra fifth, Marimon sixth. Fangio was doing his best to get the lead, having closed the gap to 3 sec. after 10 laps, and to 1 sec. at 15 laps. Moss had now passed Hawthorn to lead him by a second.
Rosier, starting unhappily, had dropped out after three laps, Whitehead was curing an oil-pipe leak on his Cooper-Alta, and Bucci’s Gordini was suffering from plug trouble. For three laps Moss led Hawthorn, then the Ferrari again led the Maserati — for the next 16 laps. Stirling then re-passed, the Ferrari came by again, then Moss pulled out all the stops, in the rain, leaving Hawthorn far behind, and six times equalling the old lap record, five on consecutive laps. Returning to the early part of the race, Whitehead retired after eight laps, Whitehouse’s Connaught was delayed with fuel-feed trouble. Ascari stopped for 2 min. on his ninth lap to have the Maserati’s steering examined.
After 20 laps Gonzalez had a lead of 2 sec. over Fangio, and the leading placings were unchanged. Kling, never in the picture with slow drivers taking him on the corners, had a nasty skid and left the road at Copse, and Collins, pushing the Vanwall along very effectively, passed the Mercédès, only to retire with suspected gasket failure. Bucci hit the bank at Copse, where a new surface was proving slippery, retiring, Ascari went out with valve trouble but took over Villoresi’s Maserati, and Parnell was seen walking in, his Ferrari retired out on the circuit.
That Fangio was still a danger to Gonzalez was proved when both drivers lapped in 1 min. 50 sec. before the rain began to fall in quantity. But the nose of the German car was damaged on both sides when the driver, sitting low in a cockpit flanked by the wide aerodynamic body, had misjudged just where the never-very-well-defined Silverstone circuit went to, and he had lost third speed from the gearbox.
At one-third distance the order was Gonzalez 5 sec. ahead of Fangio, Moss leading Hawthorn by a length, and farther back, Behra’s Gordini and Marimon’s Maserati.
Salvadori’s Maserati had been trailing a tank strap and lost four minutes while this was fixed and the car refuelled. Gould’s Cooper-Bristol stopped with a seized front-wheel race but eventually resumed, and Maserati’s official team hopes were now centred on the steady Marimon, for the Villoresi/Ascari car had succumbed to loss of oil. Then Salvadori went out, with transmission failure.
Could Fangio have been held back, we wondered, until half-distance in the hope that Gonzalez’ Ferrari would blow up? At 45 laps the Argentinian led his fellow-countryman by 3 sec., at a rousing 94.08 m.p.h. Moss was third, now 10 sec. ahead of Hawthorn, whose engine tended to falter, still Behra’s brave Gordini held fifth place, Marimon’s Maserati 4 sec. behind. Even this sixth-place man had averaged 92.31 m.p.h. and the road was new quite wet!
Fangio had obviously no reason to hold back now; he had, it would seem, been trying hard to catch Gonzalez from the start. In the rain, and with other troubles, like a gear lever that had to be held in fourth gear, his task was hopeless, and in desperation he went up to 9,600 r.p.m. Moreover, Moss was driving in his faultless style in a car which was really giving him a means of proving his virtuosity. Cheers front the crowd rang out as he came into sight in second place, having passed the Mercédès-Benz. Soon afterwards Hawthorn also passed Fangio.
At 60 laps Gonzalez was 19 sec. ahead of Moss, who led Hawthorn by 15 sec., Fangio being 14 sec. behind Hawthorn, whose Ferrari’s tail was dented, and 48 sec. behind the Gonzalez Ferrari. German domination of the British G.P. had not materialised and now never would!
Gonzalez drove on, untroubled by teeming rain showers, keeping his right foot well depressed in spite of appreciable slides. In contrast, a troubled Fangio almost blipped his way round the corners. Moss eased up only slightly; Hawthorn and Marimon were noticeably steady in the wet. After 55 laps Behra’s fine drive ended with failure of the Gordini’s rear suspension, but Pilette was still running.
It seemed now to the thrilled and contented spectators that Italy must win, with British drivers second and third. Alas, Moss had a return of the bad luck which has dogged him too long, his back axle failing with 10 laps to go, when he was in second place, 24 sec. behind the leader and 26 sec. ahead of Hawthorn — rotten in the extreme. Bira was taken ill, stopped his Maserati, and Flockhart took over but at Copse flipped it three times. He was lucky to get flung clear.
Ferrari’s manager stood smilingly beside the mechanic who held out Gonzalez’ pit-signals — now merely small numbers indicating how many laps remained. As “No. 1” was held up any barrier that may have existed between manager and mechanic was forgotten as they joyfully acknowledged one to the other that their task was successfully completed.
So, to rain and grey skies, the British G.P. ended, a convincing victory for Gonzalez and Ferrari, with Stuttgart due to think again.
British Grand Prix — Formula I — 90 Laps (270 Miles) — Wet and Cold
1st: F. Gonzalez (Ferrari), 90 laps in 2 hr. 56 min. 14 sec. … 89.69 m.p.h.
2nd: J. M. Hawthorn (Ferrari), 90 laps in 2 hr. 56 min. 24 sec…. 89.10 m.p.h.
3rd: O. Marimon (Maserati). 89 laps in 2 hr. 57 min. sec. … 88.31 m.p.h.
4th: Fangio (Mercédèz-Benz). 8 laps; 5th: Trintignant (Ferrari), 87 laps;
6th: Mieres (Maserati), 87 laps, 7th: Kling (Mercédèz-Benz), 87 laps;
8th: Wharton (Maserati), 86 laps; 9th: Pilette (Gordini), 86 laps; 10th: Gerard (Cooper-Bristol), 85 laps; 11th: Beauman (Connaught), 84 laps; 12th: Schell (Maserati), 83 laps: 13th: Marr (Connaught), 82 laps; 14th: Thorne (Connaught), 78 laps; 15th: Gould (Cooper-Bristol). 44 laps.
Fastest lap: 1 min. 50 sec., by Gonzalez; Fangio, Moss, Hawthorn, Behra, Ascari and Marimon 95.79 m.p.h.
Retirements: Rosier (Ferrari), 3 laps; Whitehead (Cooper-Alta), oil pipe, 8 laps; Manzon (Ferrari), cracked block; Collins (Vanwall Special), gasket, 17 laps; Bucci (Gordini), crash; Ascari (Maserati), valve trouble; Parnell (Ferrari), Villoresi/Ascari (Maserati), lubrication, 40 laps; Bira/Flockhart (Maserati), crash; Behra (Gordini), rear suspension, 55 laps; Salvadori (Maserati), transmission; Moss (Maserati), back axle, 80 laps; Riseley-Pritchard (Connaught), skid.
* * *
The day’s racing concluded with the 25-lap big sports-car race, on a nearly dry course, and a 17-lap 500-c.c. race in dismal rain.
In the former Peter Collins led everyone in a whirlwind drive in a DB3S Aston Martin. Parnell’s VI2 Lagonda held second place but sounded B.R.M.-ish and fell back, Salvadori working up splendidly to second place in another DB3S to a neck-and-neck finish, the American Shelby taking third place in his blue and white DB3S and Reg just keeping fourth place although chased strongly by Scott-Brown’s Lister-Bristol which won the 1 1/2-2-litre class. Abecassis was well up in the H.W.M. until he spun off.
* * *
The 500-c.c. race saw Moss, Master of F. III, run away from everyone in the Beart-Cooper-Norton, waving to Sally Weston as he did so. Bicknell, his Revis rolling so much on the corners that it appeared to have shed a front wheel, just kept Bueb at bay for second place, their times being declared equal!