1955 British Grand Prix race report - Moss has his chance

Stirling Moss wins the 1955 British Grand Prix at Aintree; the first British home win and first World Championship victory for Moss: Motor Sport's original report

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Stirling Moss in his Mercedes-Benz at Aintree

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For the first time since 1948, the British Grand Prix did not take place among the green fields of Buckinghamshire but instead was organised in the industrial north-west of England, on the Aintree circuit just outside the port of Liverpool. With the postponement of the French Grand Prix, the various teams had almost a clear month in which to prepare for the British round of the World Championship, and in consequence, a large entry began to head northwards.

In view of then sweeping victories in the recent Grand Prix races in Belgium and Holland, the Mercedes-Benz team were rather naturally the centre of interest. In addition, there was the possibility that the Daimler-Benz organisation might permit a reversal of normal team orders and allow Moss to set the pace ahead of Fangio, in deference to the young Britisher’s first appearance in his home country with one of the German cars. Practice began after lunch on the Thursday before race day and as the 4.83-kilometre circuit was new to most of the teams and the drivers, everyone was away as soon as the circuit was open for training.

The German team brought along a selection of five cars, four to be used by the team drivers, as Taruffi had been taken on as the fourth member of the team, and the fifth was to be used as a hack. Fangio and Moss had the short-chassis models, with outboard front brakes; that of the latter having a new type of bonnet which hinged forward complete with the radiator cowling as on a DB2 Aston Martin. Kling and Taruiffi had the medium-length cars with outboard front brakes, as first tried at Spa, and the reserve car was an original 1955 model, which is to say a medium-length car with inboard front brakes. In all other respects, the cars were unchanged from earlier races this season.

Having been to Aintree before, the Maserati team were well under control and brought along four cars, three being the regular 1955 team cars, with unlouvred bodywork and large-port cylinder heads, driven by BehraMusso and Mieres, while the fourth was one of last year’s cars and was driven by Simon, who replaced Perdisa at the last moment. The car driven by Mieres was fitted with a new five-speed gearbox, outwardly the same as the others but distinguishable by reason of the extra slot on the gear-gate. As Behra had driven at Aintree last year he was familiar with the circuit and looked like providing the major opposition for the German cars.

“On lap 17 Fangio retook the lead, probably from force of habit, or else to remind “the boy” that he was still about the place.”

The Ferrari team brought along three Tipo 625 cars, similar to the one with which Trintignant won the Monaco race, as they thought the comparatively slow Aintree circuit would not suit the stumpy Tipo 555 Super Squalo, it being more at home on a high-speed circuit such as Spa. The drivers were the same as at Zandvoort, being Hawthorn, Trintignant and Castellotti, and the English driver was the main hope for the team as he had driven at Aintree before.

The expected new eight-cylinder Gordini did not arrive and it was the usual three cars that were prepared for the race, Manzon on the 1954 car with 1955 engine and disc brakes, da Silva Ramos on the 1955 car, and a newcomer to Grand Prix racing, though well known in sports-car racing, Mike Sparken driving a 1954 Gordini. The Vanwall team entered two cars and both arrived, the drivers being Wharton and Schell, the American having his first try with one of these cars. In addition, there was McAlpine with the original streamlined Connaught, Fairman with the factory-owned experimental car, Marr with his privately-owned car, the first production streamlined one, and Rolt with R. R. C. Walker’s new car. All these Connaughts were the 1955 Grand Prix models, powered by Connaught-prepared Alta engines, with fuel injection. Rolt was sharing his car with P. D. Walker, no relation of the owner of the car, and this one was the newest Connaught and was fitted with a normal Grand Prix body and not the fully streamlined one.

There were four privately-owned Maseratis, Collins driving the Owen car and Macklin driving the Moss car, both having Dunlop disc brakes and wheels, Salvadori on the Gilby Engineering car and Gould with the ex-Bira car, now painted a dark green. In spite of normal International regulations the Macklin Maserati was painted grey with a sickly green bonnet top, and the Rolt car was dark blue.

To complete this excellent entry was a potentially fierce machine entered by Cooper’s and to be driven by Jack Brabham, the Australian. It was a very slightly enlarged 1,100cc. rear-engined sports-car chassis fitted with a Bristol engine which had been bored out to 2.2 litres. Somehow, room had been found in the back for this unit and it was coupled to the Cooper-modified Citroën final drive and gearbox, only the top three ratios of the special box being fitted. Having the fully streamlined body, the car looked exactly like a Cooper-Climax except for headlights and number plates.

 

QUALIFYING

On the opening afternoon, only four of the entry did not practise, these being McAlpine, Fairman, Gould and Brabham, while the Owen Maserati was not out for long. The existing lap record was officially held by Moss with his Maserati, set up last October, with a time of 2 min 00.6 sec, and though at the time he thought it sounded too fast to be true and was probably an error in timekeeping, nothing could be done about it. It did not take him many laps in the short-chassis Mercedes-Benz to find that with a far more powerful car, greater driving skill and better conditions, he could not better the time. By the end of practice, he had equalled it but only by trying all he knew, and Fangio could not get near it. All four Mercedes-Benz were going well and Taruffi was showing remarkable form, taking to the new car in a big way. It was interesting to hear the German engineer Uhlenhaut and the Italian driver/engineer Taruffi discussing the car using their only common language, which is English. All four drivers were doing a great deal of practice, as was Uhlenhaut, and when they were not driving their own cars they went out on the spare practice car, as the aim was to make it cover the distance of two full races, during the practice periods, as an endurance test. The only real opposition to the times set up by the German team came from Behra, who was feeling really at home on the flat northern circuit, though Simon and Mieres were supporting him well.

The Ferraris were not very happy and were barely faster than the Vanwalls, while Castellotti broke his gearbox before he even found the way round the corners. Practice lasted from 2 pm to 5 pm, which seemed ample time for most people as the activity was not intense, and the day ended with Moss and Fangio comfortably faster than the rest.

The next afternoon everyone was out again, with the exception of the Owen Maserati, and the missing cars from the previous afternoon appeared. The Cooper had trouble with its clutch before the track was opened, it being impossible to free it, so Brabham did a few laps to qualify and left it at that. All the Connaughts were out, once again Walker making better lap times than Rolt, with the dark blue car.

It was again Moss and Fangio who set the pace, and they were comfortably faster than Behra, the former recording 2 min 00.4 sec, fractionally faster than the race lap record, while Fangio managed 2 min 00.6 sec. Behra got down to 2 min 01.4 sec and on the corners, it was very obvious that these three drivers were really trying and doing some very good Grand Prix driving. Kling and Taruffi were in good form, recording 2 min 02.0 sec and 03.0 sec, respectively, followed closely by Mieres, who gets steadily better and will surely win a Grand Prix one day, with 03.2 sec. Outstanding was Schell, who proved that a Vanwall could really be made to go and put in a best lap of 2 min 03.8 sec, after which came a big gap and Manzon and Castellotti equal with 05.0 sec. The former had been driving hard and kept ahead of Trintignant for a number of laps, while the latter had never looked at all fast, driving very smoothly and relaxed. No one was having any really serious trouble, the Gordini disc brakes were occasionally playing the fool, and the five-speed gearbox on the Maserati of Mieres was not always selecting properly. By 5 pm, most teams were fairly happy but McAlpine was thrashing round right to the bitter end trying out experiments with the fuel injection.

Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss get off to a roaring start at the 1955 British Grand Prix

Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss roar off the line

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RACE

The afternoon of race-day was very hot and an enormous crowd turned up to witness this 8th British Grand Prix, the loudspeakers welcomed everyone in four different languages, a nice Continental touch, and the drivers were paraded round the circuit sitting on the backs of a line of Austin-Healey sports cars. A minute or two before 2.30 pm the familiar pandemonium of starting the cars broke out, some mechanics push-starting, others running from one team car to another with the portable electric starter trailing long lengths of cable.

On the front row were Moss, Fangio and Behra, in that order, with Kling and Taruffi in row two, and Neubauer indicated to his drivers when there were ten seconds to go. An inspiring sight for the British spectators was the green Vanwall, driven by Schell, in the middle of the third row of the grid, completely surrounded by red cars, while less inspiring was the motley array of greens on the cars on the back of the starting grid. In his usual manner Fangio shot into the lead, with Moss close behind, and Behra made a hesitant getaway.

As the dust and smoke died down it was seen that Schell and Marr had both stalled and mechanics rushed to their aid to push them off into the fray. Streaming round the first corners, the 24 cars, Fairman being a non-starter due to some experimental parts failing, could be seen heading infield across the great Aintree stadium and rounding Country Corner Mercedes-Benz were 1-2-3-4 in the order Fangio, Moss, Kling and Taruffi. Behra swept through the field after a hesitant start and was third at the end of the opening lap, but already Fangio and Moss were off on their own.

In the general bumping and boring of the opening lap, Simon and Hawthorn received dented tails and the former had to stop as his gear selector was not working properly. On lap three, Fangio let Moss go by and it became pretty obvious that the British Grand Prix was under control by the Mercedes-Benz team, barring another mechanical fiasco such as Monte Carlo. Clearly, Moss was going to be allowed to set the pace and probably win, so interest turned to the rest of the field. Behra was hanging on to the leaders, as best he could and was leaving the rest of the runners behind, while Mieres was in great form and passed Taruffi, taking fifth place behind Kling; Musso was not far behind the last of the German cars. As the long line of-cars came down the straight towards the main stands colour classification formed a very definite pattern, in order silver, red and green, with blue cars filling the odd gaps along the line.

The rear-engined Cooper was disappointing, being left far behind, while the Connaughts could not really cope with the Gordinis. Wharton’s Vanwall was near the back, but Schell was trying hard, and successfully, to make up for his bungled start. At five laps the two masters were lapping at 2 min 04 sec and were comfortably out on their own, and behind them came Behra, Kling and Mieres, in a close group. Already the Cooper was lapped by the first two cars, and the only green hope was the Vanwall of Schell which was gaining ground rapidly, being in 11th place and in sight of Trintignant. Behra began to pour out smoke and finally came to rest at Waterway Corner, and at 10 laps Moss was leading Fangio by one and a half seconds and Kling was over 30 seconds behind, with Mieres, Taruffi and Musso in very close attendance. At 50 seconds from the leader came Hawthorn, with Collins pressing him hard, and a little way back Trintignant, with Schell still gaining. Castellotti came into his pit to complain that the thing wouldn’t go and after looking at a plug the mechanics sent him off again.

Although the first two cars were running round unchallenged they were not going slowly and Moss was having to drive impeccably to be allowed to stay in front of the World Champion, while behind came the other two German cars, each with a Maserati worrying at its tail, and for a brief moment Musso got past Taruffi. The real interest lay in the progress of Schell, who swept past Trintignant’s Ferrari and closed tight up on the Hawthorn/Collins duel. Collins got his Maserati past the factory Ferrari and then Schell went past, and while the Ferraris were not happy on the circuit, it was also obvious that Hawthorn was not his usual self, and in point of fact, he was suffering from the heat which was pretty intense for the north of England. Manzon petered out and walked back to the pits, and Rolt arrived at his pit with a very flat-sounding Connaught, the throttle linkage causing trouble. Moss and Fangio were now catching the tail-enders, and as they lapped the numerous green cars their “traffic driving” was a joy to watch, neither of them wasting a second nor hesitating as they weaved their way through the backmarkers.

On lap 17 Fangio retook the lead, probably from force of habit, or else to remind “the boy” that he was still about the place, and Simon rejoined the race, while Gould and Wharton left it for a short time to make adjustments. On lap 20 the pair were 40 seconds ahead of Kling and Mieres, who were still close together, and then came Taruffi, Musso, Collins, Schell and Hawthorn in quick succession. Almost immediately after this Schell broke his accelerator pedal off at the roots, so hard had he been pressing on it, Marr spun off and stalled his engine, also damaging a brake pipe, and Castellotti withdrew with a faulty transmission. Although Fangio and Moss were comfortably in the lead they were setting a good pace and the rest of the runners were suffering. McAlpine went past with his Connaught sounding rough and woolly, and, in very direct contrast, Wharton went by with the Vanwall sounding beautifully crisp.

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Moss had a go to regain the lead as they rounded Tatts Corner but Fangio did not give way, and then on lap 26 he got by at the end of the long straight and it was clear that if Moss was going to be allowed to win, he was going to have to work for it. On the next lap they arrived at Tatts Corner at the same time as McAlpine and he hastily stepped sideways to let them through, nearly stopping in the process. They were still lapping in 2 min. 06 sec. and giving a nice demonstration of good clean driving.

The other two Mercedes-Benz cars still had their satellite Maseratis with them and every one sounded very healthy, but at the back of the field Salvadori had gone out with gearbox trouble and then Collins had the clutch break and coasted the Owen Maserati back to its pit and withdrew. Rolt had had his throttle put right and let Walker set off in the car, while on lap 32 Wharton broke an oil pipe and trailed oil all the way back to the pits to get the car repaired. On lap 37 Musso got by Taruffi once more and this time stayed in front, and Moss had got a 4-sec lead over Fangio, while yet another green car fell by the wayside when McAlpine withdrew his Connaught with a very flat-sounding engine and no oil pressure.

By lap 40 Moss had twice lapped his own Maserati, driven by Macklin. Walker was now having trouble with the dark blue Connaught, and on the next lap Brabham withdrew the Cooper due to engine trouble, and Moss increased his lead to nine seconds due to nipping through some gaps in the traffic, while Fangio had to wait. At half-distance, Moss and Fangio were given the “RG” sign, which means keep stations and carry on at the same lap speeds, and Taruffi was urged to try and get past Musso once more. At this point Macklin, in Moss’ Maserati, spun off at Tatts Corner on the oil spilt by Wharton, and, leaving the car in the straw bales, he walked back to the pits.

Next time round Moss wondered how much it was going to cost him to put it right, and was greatly relieved to see it motoring again after a short time, Macklin having returned with his mechanics and restarted the car. Hawthorn was feeling decidedly unwell due to the heat and handed his car over to Castellotti, and soon after this Schell rejoined the race at the wheel of Wharton’s repaired Vanwall. The comparatively slow Aintree circuit, plus the heat, was taking its toll and as one car rejoined the race so another would fall out, and this time it was poor Mieres who retired in a cloud of smoke, after having driven a spirited race.

Stirling Moss leads at Aintree on the way to victory in the 1955 British Grand Prix

Stirling Moss on the way to victory and a Mercedes 1-2-3-4

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The leaders were now signalled to slow down and, barring accidents, the race was over, Kling being in a very secure third position half a lap behind, and Taruffi was now fourth, having made a big effort and re-passed Musso, whose car was beginning to show signs of the distance and slowing visibly. Castellotti, in Hawthorn’s car, and Trintignant were having a private dice together until the Frenchman’s car had a plug break up which ruined the cylinder head. Schell began to display the ability of the Vanwall once more and caught and passed Castellotti very convincingly, though many laps behind, finding that the second Vanwall handled far better than his original one. Sparken had the only remaining Gordini running, getting weaker and weaker, but he struggled on and by lap 75 the ten cars that were left running seemed lost on the vast open space that is the Aintree stadium. The end was now in sight, 90 laps being the full distance, and Moss was 4 seconds ahead of Fangio and had lapped everyone except Kling, who was at Bechers Bend as they went past the start. Nose to tail the two short, squat-looking Mercedes-Benz completed the closing laps and as they approached the finishing line, Fangio drew up alongside Moss finishing half a car’s length behind him, just as Moss had done with the sports Mercedes-Benz at the Nürburgring earlier in the season. Kling and Taruffi finished third and fourth, respectively, the former not having blotted his copybook for once and the latter showing remarkable form in his first race with the German car.

After the prize-giving Moss paid a nice tribute to Mercedes-Benz for giving him the opportunity to be the first Britisher to win the British Grand Prix, and especially to Fangio for allowing him to do it. With Mercedes-Benz cars finishing 1-2-3-4 it would seem that their decision to withdraw from Grand Prix racing next year due to lack of opposition is not a wild misstatement.

RESULTS

British Grand Prix — Formula 1 — 90 laps — 435 Kilometres — Very Hot

1st: S. Moss (Mercedes-Benz W196) … 3 hr. 07 min. 21.2 sec. … 139.19 k.p.h. (86.47 m.p.h.)

2nd: J. M. Fangio (Mercedes-Benz W196) … 3 hr. 07 min. 21.4 sec.

3rd: K. Kling (Mercedes-Benz W196) … 3 hr. 08 min. 33.0 sec.

4th: P. Taruffi (Mercedes-Benz W196) … 3hr. 07 min. 36.0 sec. — 1 lap behind

5th: L. Musso (Maserati 250/F.1) … 3hr. 09 min. 29.2 sec. — 1 lap behind

6th: J. M. Hawthorn / E. Castellotti (Ferrari 625) … 3 hr. 08 min. 27.2 sec. — 3 laps behind

7th: M. Sparken (Gordini 1954) … 3 hr. 08 min. 19.0 sec. — 9 laps behind

8th: L. Macklin (Maserati 250/F.1) … 3 hr. 08 min. 28.0 sec. — 11 laps behind

9th: K. Wharton/H.Schell (Vanwall Special) … 3 hr. 08 min. 02.8 sec. — 18 laps behind

Record lap: S. Moss (Mercedes-Benz), in 2 min. 00.4 sec. — 144.37 k.p.h. (89.70 m.p.h.).

Retired: J. Behra (Maserati), R. Manzon (Gordini), H. Schell (Vanwall), E. Castelloti (Ferrari), A. Simon (Maserati), R. Salvadori (Maserati), P. Collins (Maserati), L. McAlpine (Connaught), L. Marr (Connaught), A.P. Rolt (Connaught), J. Brabham (Cooper-Bristol), R. Mieres (Maserati), H. da Silva Ramos (Gordini), H. H. Gould (Maserati), M. Trintignant (Maserati).

*****

As an introduction to the British Grand Prix, the B.A.R.C. occupied the morning with a Formula III race and a sports-car race (divided into capacity classes), each of 17 laps or 51 miles.

The 500s became spaced out along the Aintree straights, for after the first lap, when Russell, Bueb, S. Lewis-Evans and Boshier-Jones were out in front in close company in their Cooper-Nortons, Lewis-Evans and Russell drew well away from the field, to commence an exciting race-long duel. Bueb hung onto Boshier-Jones for a while, then the latter drew away, in third place, until he pulled off the course by the Melling Crossing on lap seven with a run big-end. His Norton engine normally lasts 500 racing miles between overhauls, with a maximum of 7,000 r.p.m., and was just about due for stripping.

Bueb having broken a drive-shaft on lap four, third place was now taken by the South African newcomer. A. J. F. Fergusson and these three dominated the race to the end.

The Russell/Lewis-Evans duel proved the highlight of the race. Lewis-Evans closing right up on lap 13, but after this falling away with a trace of misfiring from his engine. Leston, in Beart’s Cooper-Norton, was a long way behind in fourth place, followed by Allison’s Cooper, while Don Parker’s Kieft was amongst the also-rans on this occasion.

Howard (Cooper-Norton) ran off the course at Anchor Crossing and didn’t restart. Marsh (Cooper-Norton) succumbed to engine trouble, Wicken (Cooper-Norton) was in trouble with gearbox and brakes, and the Ray Martin Special retired with an overheating engine and the Erskine Staride seized-up.

Williams’ Emeryson was lapped twice by the leaders, being passed one on each side by the duellists Leston and Allison on the Railway Straight on lap 16, and Bicknell had his Revis-Norton sideways-on at the corners. So the race ended, with Steve Lancefield-tuned Cooper-Nortons with R. R. Jackson heads in first and third places.

*****

The sports-car race was a great triumph for David Brown’s disc-braked 3-litre DB3S Aston Martins, for after Hawthorn’s tail-finned works D-type Jaguar had led the first two laps, Salvadori took the lead and a lap later Collins was second, while after five laps the Aston Martins were 1, 2, 3, 4 in the order Salvadori, Collins, Walker, Parnell. On lap seven Parnell passed Walker and left him behind, but otherwise, the order remained unchanged, Reg trying hard but unable to catch Collins.

Hawthorn, hampered by a less effective chassis and not in his usual state of fitness, had to be content with fifth place, although driving hard, and far behind the other D-type Jaguars of Berry and Sanderson, the latter the Ecurie Ecosse entry, tagged along. The 2-litre class was depleted early in the race, for Scott-Brown, obviously much fancied, stopped a short way from the line in the familiar Lister-Bristol, and Rogers lost his Cooper-Bristol at Melling Crossing on the second lap, coming very fast into the corner, sliding onto the grass on the right, to shoot across the course, miraculously missing following traffic, to stop against a straw bale protecting a tree, the car half-overturned and badly damaged, and the driver half out of it from the position he had assumed in the passenger’s seat. He was scarcely hurt, and rested until the race ended and he could be taken to hospital for a check-up.

David Hampshire, driving neatly, led in Green’s Lister-Bristol, from Alan Brown in the Gilby Engineering Cooper with Maserati engine, Cliff Davis’ Lotus-Bristol taking third place. However, the 2-litre cars were overshadowed by the 1½-litres, Colin Chapman staging a fine comeback in his M.G.-powered Lotus to lead Hampshire, while McAlpine’s Connaught held off Bueb’s Cooper-Climax, its engine enlarged to 1,200 c.c.

Of the others, Alan Moore’s Lister-Bristol was delayed at the pits after an incident which damaged a wing, Scott-Russell’s Lotus-Bristol lost its fan-belt and Sopwith’s Cooper-Connaught retired with clutch trouble, while Coombs’ Lotus-Connaught, with dual exhaust pipes emerging above the near-side rear wheel, the upper from cylinders two and three, the lower from cylinders one and four, made expensive noises on the warming-up lap, other non-starters being Hamilton’s D-type Jaguar, the other Ecurie Ecosse Jaguar, Crook’s Cooper-Bristol, Keen’s Cooper-Bristol, and Brooks’ Frazer-Nash, so that the race was robbed of some of its interest.

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