A Grand Prix team that aspires to success and greatness must nowadays embark on a programme of events that continues from the beginning to the very end of the year. No longer is it possible to rest on the laurels of a summer season and enjoy celebrations over past victories, for if you do your competitors will spend that time chalking up more victories during the summer season on the other side of the world.
This winter in the Northern Hemisphere saw the three British Grand Prix teams working away in order to be ready for the opening of the European season, while the Italians were one jump ahead. The Scuderia Ferrari workshops at Maranello were working at full pressure to build six new Lancia/Ferrari cars in readiness for the Argentine season. These follow the general lines of the cars used during 1956, though the wheelbase has been shortened by 4 inches and the disposition of the tubes of the space-frame have been altered and “tidied-up.” Mechanically the cars remain the same as before and the V8 engine now gives around 290 b.h.p. with improved inlet porting and still using double-choke Solexs carburetters. The fuel tank in the tail has been reduced in size, the total carrying capacity being maintained by enlarging the cockpit tanks, and this, together with one or two other minor modifications has altered the weight distribution and the handling on slow corners. Other experiments were carried out with different length front wishbones and longer travel rear suspension. Although still fundamentally of Lancia design, the new cars are essentially Ferrari built, but Motor Sport will continue to refer to them as Lancia/Ferrari cars while 85 per cent. of the design emanated from the Turin drawing offices in 1954.
This work, together with new 3½-litre V12 sports-car engines, with four overhead camshafts, has kept the Scuderia Ferrari design and construction department so busy that work on the projected Formula II Ferrari had to he put to one side, but not before three V6 engines had been built and one chassis frame nearly completed.
In Modena the Maserati factory put all their energies into building their new V12-cylinder Grand Prix engine which it is hoped will weigh approximately the same as the existing 2½-litre six-cylinder unit. Apart from this project, 250/F1 six-cylinder cars were prepared for a world tour, official entries having been made in the Australian Grand Prix and the Argentine Grand Prix. This naturally depleted the racing staff and with 3-litre sports cars under construction for the factory team, as well as for sale, no time was left for considering any projects in Formula II. All three interested firms in Italy, Ferrari, Maserati and Osca feel the same way about Formula II, namely that it must be taken as seriously as Formula 1 with cars specifically designed for the job and not merely single-seater versions of existing 1,500-c.c. sports cars.
For the trip to Australia Maserati took two Grand Prix cars, for Moss and Behra to drive and as the event was Formule Libre they took the opportunity to experiment, with a view to the Buenos Aires Formule Libre race. While Moss had a normal Grand Prix car with 2½-litre engine, Behra’s car was fitted with a 3-litre sports-car unit, as used in the 300S model. These two had no difficulty in dominating the Australian Grand Prix, held in the Albert Park in Melbourne, over 80 laps of a 5-kilometre circuit. The Scuderia Ferrari did not enter for this meeting, concentrating all their efforts on preparing for the Argentine races, but Whitehead and Parnell had a pair of special Ferraris built in the Maranello workshops. These were old Super Squalo chassis frames, with modifications to the suspension and bodywork, and fitted with four-cylinder 3½-litre engines, as used in 1956 in the Type 857/4C works sports cars, the type with which Collins/Klementaski won the Giro di Sicilia. Like the Maserati sports engine in Behra’s car, these Ferrari four-cylinders were suitably tuned to run on alcohol fuel and were reputed to give something like 320 b.h.p. Opposition to these four cars came from Wharton, driving a 1956 ex-works Maserati owned by du Puy, Jones and Hunt, the two top Australians, with similar cars, and Neal with an old Formula II Maserati fitted with a modern 2½-litre engine, while Davison had the Type 625 Ferrari with 3-litre Monza engine taken to Australia last year by Tony Gaze. Needless to say Moss led from start to finish, giving a polished display of Grand Prix driving, while Hunt and Jones waged a fierce personal battle until the latter had a crankcase breather pipe break and slowed a little, amidst a spume of smoke. Moss set a new circuit record in 1 min. 52.8 sec. and the last ten laps were run in a torrential downpour. The week before this event a sports-car race was run in which the two works Maserati drivers had 300S models and finished first and second, the Britisher winning, while Wharton was third in a Monza Ferrari; on the same day a short race over eight laps for the Grand Prix cars saw Whitehead victorious over Hunt and Neal, the two works Grand Prix cars not being entered.
After this visit to Australia the Maserati team made their way to Buenos Aires for the Argentine G.P. and the European private owners set off on another long sea voyage to New Zealand to compete in the Grand Prix meeting of that country on January 12th. The Grand Prix event was preceded by a sports-car race in which Ken Wharton was unfortunate in going end over end in his Monza Ferrari and sustaining injuries from which he died. The Grand Prix was held on the same circuit, on Ardmore Airfield at Auckland, and provided a win for Parnell with the 3½-litre Super Squalo, followed closely by Whitehead on the sister car, while Australian Stan Jones finished third in his ex-works Maserati.
On the Buenos Aires Autodrome, known as the 17th October circuit, Fangio led the Maserati team to a resounding 1-2-3-4 victory in the Argentine G.P., with Behra in second position, Carlos Menditeguy in third place and Schell fourth. It will he remembered that Menditeguy was in the limelight last year during the Argentine season when he drove a works Maserati with great gusto and also partnered Moss in a 300S sports Maserati to win the Buenos Aires 1,000-kilometre race. He intended to stay with the Scuderia Maserati for the European season of 1956 and was driving for them at Sebring, again in a 300S sports model, when he had a terrific crash due to a marshal moving some straw bales without warning drivers, and this put the Argentinian out of action for the rest of the season.
With Fangio on Maserati until he gets a better offer, for he is racing in 1957 as a free-lance in Grand Prix, and Moss as leader of the Vanwall team, the Scuderia Ferrari have taken on Hawthorn, which puts all three teams on a very even footing as far as drivers are concerned. Collins, Castellotti and Musso are staying with Ferrari as last year, but whether Hawthorn will be given number one position over these three is unknown. As Ferrari has added von Trips and Perdisa to his list of drivers it is more than likely that he will try and control them all on equal terms, as a united team and not a collection of temperamental “prima donnas” who must be told how good they are all the time by being given team positions. While Fangio is with Maserati he will have Behra as supporter, the French driver being full-time with the factory as chief tester and works driver, while other factory cars will be driven by Menditeguy, Moss when available, Schell on the same basis, and Taruffi, Bonnier and other lesser lights will be kept closely in touch with the factory’s requirements.
The Australian and New Zealand races are gaining importance each year, and the visit to the former event by an official Maserati team must surely be a landmark in the short racing history of that Continent. Neither event counts in the World Championship yet awhile, but there is no reason to suppose that a few more successful meetings organised in those two countries might not see them included in the Championship, making it truly a World affair. In spite of the fact that the two races were low on the International list, they nevertheless afforded Maserati and Ferrari each with a further win to add to their lists of successes. Of the Argentine Grand Prix one can only say that Maserati are yet one more Grand Prix victory ahead of Connaught, B.R.M. and Vanwall.
Argentine Grand Prix — January 13th — October 17th Circuit — Buenos Aires — 100 Laps.
1st: J. M. Fangio (Maserati 250/F1) 129.740 k.p.h.
2nd: J. Behra (Maserati 250/F1).
3rd: C. Menditeguy (Maserati 250/F1).
4th: H. Schell (Maserati 250/F11).