1957 Moroccan Grand Prix
Vanwalls are Beaten
Casablanca, October 27th.
To conclude the 1957 Formula 1 season the Royal Automobile Club of Morocco organised an event at Casablanca, on a scale equal to any of the Grandes Epreuves held this year, though the event did not count towards the Championship. Much effort and money was poured into the meeting in the hope that next year it will receive Grande Epreuve status. In a matter of weeks a new circuit was laid out at Anfa, just on the edge of Casablanca, and pits, grandstands and control tower all showed a permanent frame of mind in the construction. The circuit itself, of tarmac, was smooth and fast, having many high-speed bends rather than long straights, and it undulated over 7.618 kilometres of the sandy desert soil on the Moroccan coast. The only serious fault was in not providing a sharp dividing line between the edge of the track and the sandy infield, such as a bevelled kerb, for many drivers used quite a lot of the sandy edges, throwing sand and gravel on to the road. Only at the sharper corners were straw bales used and these were the only scenery around the circuit, the general decor being rather barren and arid.
Getting to Casablanca presented a major project in itself, some of the teams travelling by boat from Bordeaux or Marseilles, the more adventurous driving their lorries to Gibraltar, taking a ferry to Tangier and driving down the coast, while most of the drivers and important personnel travelled direct by air. By Thursday, all the regular members of the European Grand Prix circus were assembled, with teams from Ferrari, Maserati, Vanwall, B.R.M. and Cooper ready to practise on this new circuit. Private owners were not encouraged by the club’s European agent, Giambertone, though Piotti, Godia and Lucas managed to get entries through influence.
The Scuderia Ferrari entered Collins and Hawthorn in the two V6 cars that appeared at Modena recently, the former’s car having an engine of 2,417 c.c. and the latter’s an engine of 2,200 c.c., these units still being experimental enlarged F. II engines and running on aviation fuel, ready for next season. Having scrapped the V8 Lancia/Ferrari cars, and there being only two of the little ones built in time for Casablanca, Musso was dropped from the team as he had been given preference at Pescara back in the summer. The Scuderia Maserati fielded Fangio, Behra and Schell in the regular lightweight six-cylinder cars, Scarlatti in the old six-cylinder works car, and had the Monza offset transmission V12 as a training car. They were also looking after Godia and Lucas, the latter driving the 1956 car owned by du Puy. Fortunately, Piotti decided not to turn up. The Vanwall team were in their usual happy state, with Moss, Brooks and Lewis-Evans as drivers and with four cars for them to choose from. Since Monza, some modifications had been made to the oiling system, there being a tubular header tank mounted behind the water radiator, this acting as a defrothing device for the oil tank, mounted below, and also allowing a larger capacity of oil to be used, for the engine oil has to lubricate the gearbox as well and the original capacity had never been completely satisfactory. The B.R.M. team were well to the fore, with three cars, two for Trintignant and Flockhart and one as a spare for training, while to complete the field, R. R. C. Walker had combined with the Cooper factory and Brabham and Salvadori were mounted on 2-litre Cooper-Climax rear-engined cars, the former in the Walker car and the latter in the works car, the Pippbrook Garage transporter being used for the whole team.
Although nearly November when the meeting took place, the weather was superb and as hot as an average Italian summer day, and, with the race being controlled by officials from France and the loudspeaker system also in charge of a regular French announcer, there was little to suggest that the “circus” was in darkest Africa. Literally five minutes before practice began, Moss arrived hot-foot from England by air, and then the battle to sort out the starting grid began. With everyone new to the circuit the situation was very open, and it was Brooks who first set the pace with times around 2 min. 35 sec. Fangio then beat the Vanwall times with a six-cylinder Maserati, only for Brooks to improve things once more. Then Fangio went out in the V12 Maserati and almost reached 2 min. 30 sec., the average speeds approaching 110 m.p.h.; it looked as though the 12-cylinder car was at last finding a circuit to suit its difficult power curve. At this point, Moss had learnt the way round and began to join in the open battle, improving twice on Fangio’s time, but then Lewis-Evans thought it time he registered his presence and recorded the first time in the 2 min. 27 sec. bracket. The one-lap high-speed trials now commenced in earnest and Fangio went out again in the six-cylinder car and clocked 2 min. 27 sec. exactly, later lowering this to 2 min. 26.5 sec., whereupon Brooks promptly equalled this time, and to show that Vanwalls really-meant business, Moss wound up the afternoon’s practice with a fastest time of 2 min. 26.4 sec., and really clinched things with an ultimate time of 2 min. 24.2 sec., a speed of 189.786 k.p.h. (approx. 118 m.p.h.). All this time the Ferraris were busy practising but could not hope to join in the battle, being somewhat down on power compared to their alcohol-burning rivals, while B.R.M. were going all right, but could not match the top-line drivers in the other teams, and Coopers were down on roadholding on such a fast circuit.
As the first day was only in the nature of a feeler for the new conditions, it was anticipated that the Friday practice would produce some real fireworks, but it was not so. The first setback was that Moss subsided into bed with an attack of fever and did not put in an appearance, and, secondly, the time for practice was later in the afternoon than the day before and by the time the air cooled the sun had become too low for good visibility. However, Brooks set the pace once more, trying alternately his own car and the one Moss had driven previously, while Schell was out in the 12-cylinder car and Fangio and Behra in the six-cylinder Maseratis. Brooks equalled the existing best time, and then Lewis-Evans lowered it to 2 min. 24 sec. exactly, and for a while no one else could challenge the two green cars. The Ferraris were going much faster and both drivers were down in the 2 min. 27 sec. group, Collins with 27.2 sec. and Hawthorn with 27.9 sec., the extra 217 c.c. of the bigger car counting for a lot on such a small Grand Prix machine, and Hawthorn had to pull out all the stops in his driving to keep pace with his team-mate.
With Moss absent, Brooks took over the role of team leader and rang the changes on his own car, Moss’ and the practice car, doing fuel and tyre, consumption checks and generally being kept pretty busy. The B.R.M.s were trying hard, but even so could only just scratch under 2 min. 30 sec., and were slightly embarrassed by Brabham, who was doing great things with the little Cooper and practically equalling the times of the Bourne cars. Salvadori in the other car from Surbiton was slow by comparison. During all his test driving Brooks was getting faster and faster; and with his own car he lowered the f.t.d. to 2 muin. 23.8 sec.; with Moss’ car he knocked it down to 2 min. 23.3 sec. The only hope of opposition was coming from Maserati, and Fangio tried his hardest but could only manage 2 min. 24.3 sec. with the six-cylinder and did not even bother to have a go in the 12-cylinder car, which by now had been given to Scarlatti to put in some endurance testing. Failing to keep up with the Vanwalls, the World Champion gave them best and went home. but not Behra — he stayed on in the hope of doing something when the temperature cooled off a bit. Brabham’s happy dicing came to on end when the clutch broke on the Cooper, and Schell was trying to put up some sort of show in the six-cylinder Maserati when he spun off and bent the tail. With Vanwall cars holding the first three positions in these practice speed trials, in the order Brooks, Lewis-Evans and Moss, with times of 2 min. 23.3 sec., 2 min. 24.0 sec. and 2 min. 24.2 sec., they were content to call it it day, especially as they had experienced no mechanical trouble. Under the worst possible conditions, with sand on the track and a setting sun in his eyes on the back leg of the circuit. Behra went out in his six-cylinder Maserati and, in a final do-or-die effort, using all the road and a lot of the sandy edges, he did an electrifying 2 min. 23.4 sec., thus breaking up the Vanwall monopoly. With practice over, there was the unusual position of the World Champion and the runner-up for this year being relegated to the second row of the starting grid, the front row being taken by Brooks, Behra and Lewis-Evans. Next came the two Ferraris and Schell, followed by the B.R.M.s, Brabham, Godia, Salvadori, Scarlatti and Lucas.
Saturday was a completely free day, except for the mechanics who had to prepare the cars, and with the start timed for 2.30 p.m. on Sunday, there was a pleasant air of leisure about the meeting; this being heightened by a long-drawn-out presentation and ceremony involving The King of Morocco and a colourful coterie. On Saturday night Moss had disappeared off to England, being too ill to race, while by the time the cars were on the starting grid, Schell was perspiring profusely and claiming to be suffering from a fever, and Hawthorn and Fangio were looking very green-about-the-gills. Due to the French rule that cars had to be started by portable starters, the grid was still in a shambles when the flag fell, but the leaders got away well, and Behra led into the first corner. At the end of the opening lap there was a surprise for everyone when Collins appeared well and truly in the lead in the little 2.4-litre Ferrari V6. At first sight this seemed impossible but, bearing in mind the all-uip starting line weights of the various cars, it was explainable. Collins established himself firmly in the lead for seven laps, followed by Behra, Brooks, Lewis-Evans and Fangio, with the B.R.M.s some way behind, andi Hawthorn, Schell and the others bringing up the rear.
On the eighth lap Collins lost the Ferrari on a bend and went off into the rough, allowing Behra to take the lead and Brooks to close up, getting right on to the tail of the Ferrari in the next two laps. It was not a Vanwall day, for Brooks’ car then began to splutter and he drew into the pits with the engine misfiring badly and, once he had switched off so that the mechanics could have a look at things, it was impossible to get it going again. There was a complete lack of sparks, even though everything was going round as it should, so the car was withdrawn and all the Acton hopes now rested on Lewis-Evans, but as he had just been passed by Fangio, things did not look so good for the green cars. On lap 12 British hopes sank in a big way, for Flockhart drew into the pits with a throttle that was sticking open; as there was nothing obviously wrong he carried on, having to crash his gear-changes and hope that the gearbox would stand up to the strain. On the same lap Salvadori coasted into the pits with a broken gearbox, and Brabham had already gone out with the same trouble, the 2-litre Coventry-Climax engines producing more power than the modifiedi Citroen gearboxes could deal with. Hawthorn’s race was brief for a piston broke and while mechanics investigated the engine, Amarotti, the team chief, noticed that the rear axle/gearbox unit was split. After this bit of excitement the order of the race was Behra, driving a beautiful race, Collins trying to make up for his spin, Fangio getting into his stride, and Lewis-Evans keeping up well. Trintignant was unable to challenge the leaders, but was leading Schell, Scarlatii and Godia, while Lucas had already been lapped by Behra, and did not even catch Flockhart while he was at the pits.
On lap 16, Collins hit the straw bales on a sharp right-hand corner, bent the front end, and stayed there, leaving Behra completely unchallenged., and Fangio now in a comfortable second place, with Lewis-Evans third. The pattern of the race now settled down, and all Behra had to do was to circulate well within his limits and keep a regular pace, which he did in an expert manner. Fangio was gaining no ground at all and on lap 24 was overdue, so that Lewis-Evans came by in second place, to be followed by Trintignant, now in a secure third place and driving nicely and steadily. On the same lap Schell, now in fourth place, was lapped by Behra, and then Fangio appeared and drew into the pits, having a dented nose cowling full of straw. He had gone off the road, and while the Maserati mechanics checked the front end, the left rear wheel was changed as tyre wear was looking a bit dodgy. Meanwhile, Flockhart had been in once more to report that the clutch was protesting at being used for gear-changes with the throttle partly open, and when he tried to restart it would not free at all, so he had to be push-started and carried on without using the clutch. However, it lasted only six more laps and then would not free or drive, and the B.R.M. had to retire, but there was some consolation for Bourne in that the other car was running like clockwork in third place unable to improve its position but unlikely to be caught by anyone. When Fangio stopped at the pits it dropped him down to sixth position, and though he caught Scarlatti easily enough, it took him much longer to gain on Schell. Once again things were settling down, when Brabham in the dark blue Cooper motored out of the paddock and shot off back into the race, his mechanics having fitted a new gearbox. This having been done behind the pits, it naturally invoked the wrath of the officials, especially the race director, Raymond Roche, who bore down on Rob Walker muttering dark threats. After a shouting match, he returned to the starting line and prepared to bring Brahham in with the black flag, but, unfortunately, Mr. Roche is short-sighted and the lowering sun made visibility difficult, so that he flagged everyone except Brabham! There being no number displayed with the flag, as required by F.I.A. rules, no one took any notice, until Fangio received the flag. Next lap round the World Champion drew into the Maserati pit, only to be waved on back into the race. It later transpired that he had been push-started earlier when he hit the straw bales and had stopped through guilty conscience! Eventually this comedy came to an end when the Cooper pit signalled Brabham in and the car was withdrawn, but not before the Moroccan public had given vent to their dislike of the race-director. Of course. he was perfectly correct in disqualifying the car, for the regulations always say that all work must be done in the pit area.
This had brightened a dull period of the race and now things became more interesting, for first Fangio broke the lap record, held since lap 14 by Collins, and two laps later be broke it again, obviously all out to try and catch Schell. The Maserati pit signalled to Behra to have a look at his rear tyres as he went by to start his 37th lap. and next time round be came in and the left-hand rear one was changed; he set off again still comfortably in the lead, nearly 20 sec. ahead of Lewis-Evans and with plenty in hand. Schell was also given the tyre inspection signal and he came in, looked at the treads as he drove up to the pit, considered them safe and roared off again without stopping, but this slowing down had allowed Fangio to come within striking distance and on lap 44 the Argentinian went by, to take fourth place, but still a lap behind Behra. It is interesting that as Fangio was about to pass him, Schell made his fastest lap of the race, while in getting close enough to pass Schell’s car Fangio set another lap record. It was now virtually all over, Behra was driving as smoothly as ever, Lewis-Evans was slowing his pace, certain of second place, but not too sure about his fuel, and driving to conserve it, while Trintignant, still on the same lap as Behra, was holding third place and gaining very slightly on the slowing Vanwall. As Behra went by the pits at the end of his 50th lap Fangio caught and passed him, having completed 49 laps, so that he was now a whole lap less a couple of car lengths behind the leader. Schell was a lap further back, Godia yet another, and Scarlatti bringing up the rear another whole lap to the bad; while poor Lucas, who had been at the rear, had crashed and sustained rather severe injuries. It was a joyous Behra who received the chequered flag at the end of the 55th lap, and Lewis-Evans and Trintignant had upheld British colours, making a very open result, with Maserati, Vanwall and B.R.M. the first three cars home, and though Ferrari had both his cars retire, he was satisfied in knowing that the new little V6 cars were already one race ahead of the others as far as experience on 1958 fuels was concerned. Having finished with Casablanca, the other three teams had to turn their attention to engine tuning in 130 octane aviation fuel in place of alcohol and nitro-methane mixtures.
Although this race was not a Grande Epreuve, it was the sort of event that the racing world could well repeat, namely a full-blooded Grand Prix on a circuit that justifies Grand Prix cars. One looks forward to more Grand Prix races at Casablanca in the years to come. — D.S.J.
Grand Peix du Maroc – Casablanca – 55 Laps – 418.997 Kilometres
1st: J.Behra (Masarati 250F) 2 hr. 18 min. 23.0 sec. – 181.283 k.p.h.
2nd: S. Lewis-Evans (Vanwall) 2 min. 18 min. 53.1 sec
3rd: M. Trintignant (B.R.M.) 2 hr. 19 min. 49.4 sec.
4th: J. M. Fangio (Maserati 250F) 2 hr. 20 min. 23.8 sec.
5th: H. Schell (Maserati 250F) 1 lap behind
6th: F. Godia (Maserati 250F) 2 laps behind
7th : G. Scarlatii Maserati 250F) 3 laps behind
Fastest lap;J. M. Fangio (Maserati), on lap 42 in 2 min. 25.6 sec. – 187.961 k.p.h.
The Vanwall was lucky to finish the race as the engine cut during the last lap due to shortage of fuel, but picked up again as the few pints sloshed about in the tank.
That Behra drove a good steady race was indicated by his rev.-counter tell-tale, which showed 8,100 r.p.m. at the end. Fangio had obviously been a bit harassed — his showed 9,000.
When questioned about the business of “trying it on” by sending Brabham out having once retired, the Cooper team said: “Well, it livened things up during a dull period.”
Mr. Vandervell was not present at the race, the first he has missed this year, but as he put it, “I have to work sometimes, can’t play motor-racing all the time.”
The B.R.M. is certainly improving. It seems that since the Silverstone demonstration, Mr. Owen has been much more generous and things can now get done. They still cannot catch the Vanwalls, however.
If Moss had stayed to start the race he would have had the car with the duff magneto, for it was the car he was due to race with, being given toBrooks once Moss had left for England. Hawthorn was very happy that his car blew up, for his condition was very feverish before the start, while Fangio looked a strange yellow colour instead of his usual bronze.