THE Belgian Grand Prix, run over 36 laps of the magnificent Francorchamps circuit, giving the full 500 kilometrea that is usual for a Classic event, was packed full of drama and interest.
After the first practice period, it was clear that all records for the race would be broken, and that the difference between the Alfa-Romeo team and the Ferrari team was not very great. This meant that pit stops would play a vital part in the outcome of the race and this they did to a greater extent than anyone anticipated.
The starting list of thirteen cars made up in quality what it lacked in quantity, with three 159 Alfa-Romeos, three 4 1/2-litre 24-plug Ferraris and seven Talbot-Lagos. Fangio had the latest 159 Alfa with de. Dion rear axle, fuel tanks on either side of the driver’s legs, another in the top of the scuttle and a long cylindrical one alongside the engine on the off-side, all in addition to the normal fuel tank, giving a capacity of some 70 gallons. Farina and Sanesi had the normal swing-axle 159 cars, the former with a similar tank layout to Fangio’s, less the scuttle top tank and the latter with three cockpit tanks. In practice it had beem found that tyre wear was excessive, due to the non-skid surface, and Fangio was using 700 by 19 Englebert tyres on the rear against his team mates’ 18-in. tyres. The 19-in, wheels were a new type with alloy rims and all the spokes on the inside; in other words the rim was offset to the hub. Ferraris increased their rear tyres to 750 by 17 with 600 by 16 on the front. Ascari, Villoresi and Taruffi all had 24-plug engines with three 46mm. Weber carburetters and the now standard de Dion axle long chassis. The first two were complete new cars and Taruffi’s was the chassis driven by Ascari at Berne. Of the Talbots there was little new, apart from Rosier having a modified air intake and Claes having three S.U. carburetters in place of the original Zeniths. Giraud-Cabantous was driving his ex-Sommer car and the young Belgian Andre Pilette was driving his newly acquired ex-Grignard car. Other Talbots were driven by Chiron, Levegh and Etancelin.
As is becoming general practice now, Alfa-Romeos did not dominate the starting grid, for Villoresi was in the front row with Fangio and Farina, while second row was occupied by Ascari and Taruffi, Sanesi in the third Alfa being behind with the Talbots. The start was notable for Farina putting his goggles on at the five seconds to go signal, Ascari jumping the start and Sanesi stalling and being left behind. The field almost immediately divided into groups, the first containing the Italians, the second the Talbots of Rosier and Cabantous, with the rest of the field in the third group. After three laps Farina drew away slowly but surely from the rest of his group, reducing his lap time to 4 min. 27 sec. On laps 9 and 10 Fangio opened up and clocked 4 min. 29.9 sec., and 4 min. 22.1 sec., the last being the ultimate lap record, equal to a speed of 120.44. m.p.h. This brought him very close to Farina who was about due for his first pit stop, but at the end of lap 12 when everyone was ready in the pit Farina went straight by and didn’t come in until the and of the 14th lap. In under one minute he had been refuelled and new rear wheels and was away with Fangio now in the lead. One more lap and the Argentine came in for the same treatment, but then pandemonium broke out for the near-side rear wheel would not come off the hub. A spoke head had got behind the splines and no amount of levering or banging would move it. Six and a half minutes had ticked by before the complete wheel, hub and brake drum were removed from the half-shaft and still the hub could not be levered out. Meanwhile everyone had gone by and all hopes of regaining the lead were gone for Fangio.
A more wonderful display of calmness you could not wish for, he just stood by while the mechanics poured sweat, and occasionally busied himself cleaning his goggles or the windscreen, all quite unmoved outwardly. Eventually the struggle to dislodge the hub was given up and in under three minutes the tyre was removed from the rim, a new one fitted and inflated and work commenced to replace the whole unit. Some 14 1/2 minutes after he stopped Fangio drove off to accompanying cheers, all hope of a win gone, or even a place, and with the knowledge that he could not stop again for tyres but would have to drive steadily through to finish.
Farina was now unassailable and Villoresi and Ascari ran steadily in third and second place respectively. Meanwhile Sanesi’s radiator had burst and Taruffi was stopped out on the circuit. Rosier was by far the fastest of the Talbots, though not fast enough to challenge the Italians, even though he was going through non-stop. At 16 laps Ascari refuelled and changed rear wheels as did Villoresi after lap 19, the Ferrari pit work being surprisingly rapid. After 21 laps “Gigi” paused for an incredibly short space of time while the front off-side wheel was changed and after 25 laps Farina made his second routine stop for fuel and tyres and was away in under 3/4 of a minute but had sufficient in hand over the two Ferraris to be able to slow up towards the end of the 36th lap. All three finished on the same lap while Rosier was two laps in the rear in fourth position. The Frenchman’s ability to put up a polished and regular drive goes without saying, but the young Belgian driver, Pilette, impressed everyone by coming home sixth after a similar steady and polished drive, in his first G.P. event.
In the opening stage’s, while Alfas had full tanks, the Ferraris appeared capable of holding them, but as the 159’s load lightened they drew away, sufficient to be able to make two pit stops against Ascari’s one. However, the gap between the two limits of the present Formula is definitely closing.
Results (36 laps, 316 miles):
1st: G, Farina (Alfa-Romeo 159), 2 hr. 45 min. 46 sec., 114.25 m.p.h.; 2nd: A. Ascari (Ferrari 4 1/2-litre un-s/c), 2hr. 48 min. 37 sec., 112.32 m.p.h.; 3rd: L. Villoresi (Ferrari 4 1/2-litre un-s/c), 2 hr. 50 min., 111.32 m.p.h.; 4th: L. Rosier (Talbot 4 1/2-litre un-s/c), 2 laps behind; 5th: Y. G. Cabantous (Talbot 4 1/2-litre un-s/c), 2 laps behind; 6th: A. Pilette (Talbot 4 1/2 litre un-s/c), 3 laps behind; 7th: J. Claes (Talbot 4 1/2-litre un-s/c), 3 laps behind; 8th: P. Levegh (Talbot 4 1/2-litre un-s/c), 4 laps behind; 9th: J. M. Fangio (Alfa-Romeo 159), 4 laps behind.
Fastest lap: J. M. Fangio (Alfa-Romeo) 10th lap in 4 min. 22.1 sec., 120.44 m.p.h.
Retired: Etaneelin (Talbot), first lap; Taruffi (Ferrari), ninth lap; Sanesi (Alfa-Romeo), 12th lap; Chiron (Talbot), 29th lap.