The race, for Formula II cars, was run in two 137 mile heats. Cars which completed 29 laps in the first heat were eligible for the second race. The final results were arrived at by adding together the times of the two separate heats. Total prize-money was 3 million lire, with a sweepstake. First prize 40 million lire, depending on the results.
Starters : Ferrari four-cylinder (Farina, Ascari, Villoresi, Simon and Fischer) ; Ferrari 12-cylinder (Carini, Comotti. Walker, Bianchetti, Volonterio, de Tornaco, Ruggiero) ; Maserati Type A6G (Gonzalez, Barletta, Fangio) ; Maserati six-cylinder (Landi, Bianco) : Aston-Butterworth (Aston, Charrington) ; Cooper-Bristol (Brown and Brandon) Monaci (Rocco) ; Veritas (Ulmen) ; HWM (Hamilton, Claes and Gaze) ; Alta (Whitebead) ; Fraser-Nash (Wharton).
The Maseratis, driven by Landi and Bianco, were the prototypes of the new A6G. The Monaci was an attractive little machine powered by two Fiat 1,100 cc engines mounted in tandem.
The fastest lap in practice had been made by Ascari (Ferrari) in 2 min 53/5th sec, but Gonzalez was less than 3 sec slower on his Maserati. Some time before the race, Fangio had put in 35 fast laps on one of the team cars without anything coming apart, so evidently the “Masers” had got something in their new A6G models. Racing conditions were perfect, sunny and a slight breeze, and the immense concrete grandstand was packed with spectators.
First Heat : Meanwhile the cars were taking their places in fours on the starting grid, with Ascari, Farina, Gonzalez and Villoresi in the front rank and Simon, Bonetto, Fischer and Walker in the second. Fangio, who had not done any practice laps, occupied an unaccustomed place in row eight.
A roar of engines as the flag dropped, and Gonzalez shot off in the lead with Ascari half a length behind. Before the leading cars reached the end of the pits, Bonetto had cut round outside them to the front, and maintained his lead throughout the first lap. Fangio meanwhile had forced his way from the rear into seventh place.
Ascari caught Bonetto on the second lap, Farina was lying third and Gonzalez fourth, but there was no sign of Fangio. His car had skidded and somersaulted twice coming out of the tricky Lesmo curve at the far side of the circuit, possibly as the result of oil on the track. The driver lay unconscious at the side of the track, within a yard of following cars. He was seriously injured in the head and back, but is now recovering. Villoresi was fifth in the second lap, but a record for this race at 109.1 mph brought him into third place at lap four. Gonzalez had speed in hand, however, and regained his fourth place.
Aston, on the Aston-Butterworth, retired at this point. Peter Walker (Ferrari) was eighth, Ken Wharton on the single-seater Frazer-Nash tenth, and Peter Whitehead (Alta) 11th, Ascari and Farina maintained their lead, with the speed increasing slightly every lap. Gonzalez and Villoresi were scrapping furiously for third place, passing one another almost on alternate laps.
The Villoresi-Gonzalez duel came to an end on the 19th lap, when “Gigi” had to pull in and retired with a bent valve. Gonzalez’ car started misfiring on its 27th lap and retired with ignition trouble.
Ascari had already put up a record time on lap 11, and raised the speed further on lap 20, to 110.3 mph. The French driver, Andre Simon, who was driving a steady race on the fourth works Ferrari, came into fifth place on lap 19, and on the 27th caught Bonetto and stepped up to third position. Fischer, the Swiss driver, who finished sixth in last year’s race, made good use of his new four-cylinder Ferrari and joined the leaders in fifth place.
Obviously nothing could stop a Ferrari victory. Hamilton on the new type HWM had dropped out with bearing trouble, but Whitehead, Claes and Tony Gaze were still lapping steadily. Charrington on the Aston-Butterworth was still going strong too, and likewise Wharton (Frazer-Nash) and Brandon and Brown on the Cooper-Bristols. A pity we cannot gain speed as well as stamina!
1st : Ascari (Ferrari) 1 hr 15 min 12 sec, 109.1 m.p.h. 2nd : Farina (Ferrari) 1 hr 16 min. 63/5th sec. 3rd : Simon (Ferrari) 34 laps.
Second Heat : Sixteen cars qualified to run in the second heat, but there were five non-starters. amongst them Wharton, whose Frazer-Nash developed a cracked chassis.
On the first lap Ascari and Farina came round two lengths apart with Bonetto and Simon at 50-yard intervals. On the second lap Farina was in the lead, with Simon in third place. On the third lap Ascari was leading, on the fourth Farina ahead again, while Fischer had overtaken Bonetto. Farina’s sixth lap was only a second slower than Ascari’s best in heat one, and Ascari replied on the eighth with a lap at 110.8 mph, 3/5th sec faster than his previous record in heat one. What had at first seemed a “staged” race to keep the spectators amused was developing into a first-class battle, and the crowd in the stand were on their feet with excitement as they watched the leading cars passing and re-passing on the far side of the course.
Average speed was higher in the second heat, and Farina broke the record again on the 11th lap at 111.5 mph. He led on the 12th lap, then Ascari again. Farina on the 14th. Sensation on the 15th lap—Farina came round alone. Some minutes later Ascari came in slowly, finishing by pushing his car to the pits. Much frenzied work with the bonnet open and then the car was pushed slowly off the track, trouble apparently a seized camshaft.
Simon moved up into second place, 53 sec behind Farina, while Bonetto was holding down third place another minute to the rear. Fischer was fourth and Walker fifth, a great performance on one of the older cars. When we clocked him he was running only 71/2 sec a lap slower than Farina.
Farina and Simon continued their high-speed progress with only a split second’s difference each lap, likewise Bonetto on the sole surviving Maserati, but on the 30th lap his car was missing from third place. He had broken down with a damaged fuel-pump half a mile from the pits, but pushed his car slowly along the finishing straight and was loudly cheered as he crossed the line.
Farina never let up until the end of the race, his average rising during the last five laps. It was a wonderful exhibition of high-speed driving on a difficult track, and what is perhaps equally interesting for future events this season, his average speed for the second heat was only about 0.05 mph slower than that by the two-stage Alfas over the same course in the 1951 Italian GP.—TGM
Second Heat : 1st : Farina, 1 hr 14 min 582/5th sec. 2nd : Simon. 1 hr 16 min 273/5th sec. 3rd Fischer 33 laps.
General Classification : 1st : Farina (Ferrari), 2 hr 31 min 15 sec. (274 miles). 2nd : Simon (Ferrari) 2 hr 31 min 52 sec. (69 laps). 3rd : Fischer (Ferrari) 2 hr 31 min 26 sec (66 laps). 4th : Walker (Ferrari) 66 laps ; 5th : Brandon (Cooper-Bristol) 65 laps ; 6th : Brown (Cooper-Bristol) 64 laps : 7th : Bonetto (Maserati) 64 laps; 8th : Claes (HWM) 63 laps ; 9th : Gaze (HWM) 61 laps.