The pleasant town of Spa filled with visitors eager to see the Formula II European GP run over the full 300 miles on the fast 8.77 mile Francorchamps circuit on June 22nd. English enthusiasts were encountered at every turn and GB plaques were numerous.
The circuit seemed hard on tyres and Hawthorn borrowed some foreign ones, but found that Dunlops lasted longer. Fresh supplies arrived by air for the Ecurie Richmond, whose Cnoper-Bristols shared a garage in Spa with a 1919 FN tourer. Brown had a slight argument with a bank, necessitating some chassis straightening on the Saturday afternoon. Hawthorn was troubled by slight clutch slip, so a new clutch was installed. Stirling Moss’ new ERA-Bristol, fresh from tests at Silverstone and Lindley, seized its pistons after only a few laps. Another engine was flown over in solitary stale in a Silver City’s Bristol Freighter, and Leslie Johnson’s five ex-aircraft mechanics worked all night in the Citroen garage at Spa on the completely stripped car. It has a light-alloy tubular chassis, double wishbone front and de Dion rear suspension with coil springs and a special Bristol engine with drys-sump lubrication. The Bristol gearbox is in the back axle, which necessitates moving the driver to one side, with the fuel tank beside him, so that the rather angular body is of two-seater width. A 3.27 to 1 back-axle was used. Steering column and brake pedal position were being altered at Moss’ request. The “works” Ferrar’is did not trouble to practise on the Saturday, and John Heath, with his HWM team based at Stavelot, reported all well as his drivers made routine runs, some them in the rain. On the platform of Spa station however, elaborate work was being done to the engine of the Veritas.
It was raining as the cars lined up on the grid, before the permanent tribunes, the flags of many nations glad against the sombre sky, the scene offset by deep pine woods with, above, the Englebert balloon tossing on the breeze.
The three “works” four-cylinder Ferraris occupied the front row of the grid, Ascari having made fastest practise lap, followed by Farina and Taruffi. Behind were the six-cylinder Gordinis of Manzon and Behra, behind again Hawthorn’s Cooper-Bristol, Wharton’s Frazer-Nash and Paul Frere in an HWM. The remaining starters were the Cooper-Bristols of Brown and Brandon, Claes in a sports Gordini, the 11/2-litre Gordinis of Prince Bira and the American O’Brien (the latter Claes’ yellow car), the four-cylinder Ferraris of Rosier and the Francorchamps driver de Turnaco, Macklin, Collins, Laurent and Gaze in the remaining HWMs, Legat’s yellow single-seater Veritas-Meteor, Charrington’s blue and white Aston-Butterworth and the odd-shaped ERA.
At the last moment the tyre pressures of the Ferraris were checked. At flag-fall Taruffi hesitated badly and the field began to sweep past him. Ascari led Farina until, with tremendous elan, Behra took his Gordini past the two Ferraris, to lead lap one. Hawthorn was some way behind in third place, Wharton fourth and Frere sixth. Moss too, went off like a squib in the ERA working up to about fifth place in half a lap, only to have a very nasty time when the engine “blew-up,” locking the back wheels. The new ERA never reappeared ! Lap two saw Behra, now third behind the two Ferraris, spin at the Tribunes hairpin, but without losing that place, while Taruffi had climbed from ninth to sixth.
Soon the rain was teeming down and for a time the interest lay in watching Taruffi making up lost ground, fifth on lap three, fourth on lap four, but not in third place until lap 13. Then, on the very next circuit he and Behra took Malmedy corner in too close company and both fell into the ditch, without injury, but quite unable to retrieve their cars !
Meanwhile Collins’ HWM had been retired after three laps with what appeared to be a return of the rear wheel trouble. Gaze had called at his pit and Ken Wharton, who appeared to be having a tussle with the Formula II Frazer-Nash but who had passed Hawthorn on the fifth lap, spun off the course at Stavelot. lacerating his back on some barbed-wire. Rosier’s blue Ferrari came in after lap five, and was in for good a lap later, after his mechanics had worked for some 10 minutes. Gaze whose HWM was running last, came to his pit, but resumed, while after lap 11 Macklin stopped for 50 sec, during which time fuel was put into his HWM.
Thus early— there were 36 laps in all, the complexion of the race had changed appreciably. But out in front Ascari went by as regularly as a train, averaging more than 167 kph lap after lap. After 10 laps he led Farina by 48 sec, and Behra was 72 sec behind that second Ferrari.
Charrington had been going quite well, but after 15 laps lost some 2 minutes while his air-cooled flat-four was refueled, and on the very next lap he stopped again, the car’s bonnet was removed and another 2 min or so went by ere he resumed the race, engine now rough-edged. After 17 laps, Gaze and Charrington both came in, the former off after a refuel in about 60 sec but Charrington’s race over.
By half-distance Ascari had averaged 167.584 kph and still led Farina by 48 sec. He wore a blue helmet and his Ferrari had a blue nose cowl ; Farina was in white crash hat, his car having a ehequered cowl. Incidentally, the “works” Ferraris all had 7.60-16 Englebert back tyres, whereas Rosier’s used 7.00-/16 Dunlops, Tornaco’s 6.00-16 Engleberts. Manzon had replaced his unhappy team-mate in third place, which he took on lap 14 immediately after the Behra/Taruffi episode, passing Hawthorn to do so. The remaining positions at half-distance were : Frere, Brown, Bira, Claes, Brandon, Tornaco, Laurent, Macklin, Legat, O’Brien and Gaze. Both Manzon and Hawthorn were driving brilliantly, but could make no impression on the leading Ferraris, Farina being 2 min 56 sec in front of Manzon, And a gap of 43 sec separating blue Gordini from green Cooper-Bristol.
It was at half distance that the leading Ferraris were signalled to ease up ; but Ascari’s average, if anything rose slightly for the second half of the race.
Lap 20 saw Paul Frere, fresh from his Chimay victory, and naturally a favourite with the crowd, make his refuelling stop in 60 sec, retaining fifth place, for Brown’s Cooper-Bristol was a lap behind. Flutter of excitement a lap later when Legat spun the Veritas at the hairpin without losing 13th place to O’Brien.
Although the HWMs were needing fuel, the pit-work was excellent, Laurent stopping for one minute after lap 21. By this time the rain had stopped, but the road remained slippery and Bira altered what had become a processional order by a slide, falling behind Tornaco and Brandon, the latter’s engine prone to fluctuating horses. Ascari was still averaging some 104 mph, with Taruffi a discreet distance behind him. Ferrari had spare wheels and starters outside in the road before their pit, but never needed them.
Legat and O’Brien visited their pits after 27 laps, the latter over-shooting, and a round later the British contingent, who were at Spa in force, gasped as Hawthorn pulled in. A leak was exhausting his fuel tank and had put paid to the anticipated non-slop run. But the surprised pit-staff dealt calmly with the situation, and after 42 sec, including a long push, he was off again, his fourth place intact, for Frere, who got signals from a remote point, was not in sight. Brandon and Macklin also came in for fuel and oil.
As Ascari completed his 30th lap, having averaged 167.928 kph (104.3 mph) the rain fell in torrents. He now led Farina by 1 min 33 sec.
Claes had been going well in the sports Gordini, followed by at spray-cloud, but now he seemed in trouble, and lacking brakes, while the vivid yellow Veritas was touring to finish.
After 31 of the 36 laps he had to do, Hawthorn again stopped for fuel, which put him nearly a lap behind Manzon, whose little Gordini Six sounded as healthy as ever and was untroubled by its old transmission complaint.
The race was virtually over and in sun mingled with rain Ascari continued with clock-like regularity, to cross the line after 36 extremely polished laps, 1 min 55,3 sec in front of Farina, who was no doubt driving to orders. Manzon received well-deserved applause for bringing the Gordini home third, on the same lap, but 2 min 33.2 sec behind Farina. Mike Hawthorn, in spite of his two pitstops, was fourth, a lap behind, a grand effort in his first Continental engagement. Frere had again proved his virtuonity as an HWM driver, beating all the “home products,” and Brown had brought his Cooper-Bristol steadily in to sixth place. There had been accidents, but no serious injuries, although Gaze was badly savaged by a bird of the feathered variety near the end, it presumably thought it had time to cross the road ! Not at single tyre had had to be changed in the whole 508.22 km. Ascari set fastest lap in 4 min 54 sec on his 12th circuit. a speed of 172.197 kph, which is 31.9 sec (or approximately 13.2 mph) slower than Fangio’s lap reeord last year in a two-stage Formula I Alfa-Romeo and in the wet ! Ferrari at all events, with some 30 bhp more than the most powerful British cars are approaching last year’s Fl speeds. The GP d’Europe was continued emphasis of their supremacy, and as he walked, wet and dirty, to be received by Prince Albert, Ascari was no doubt cheered by the thought that he now leads on points, with Taruffi for the 1952 World Championship. Taruffi’s poor start perhaps precipitated his close-shave tactics which ended, not in more Championship points, but ignominiously in a ditch. The leading placings to date are : Ascari and Taruffi, nine each ; Ruttman, eight; Fischer and Farina, five each; Behra, Hanks and Manzon, four each.—WB
Belgium was well represented among the drivers, but one regrets that there are no longer any Belgian cars for them to drive. Where are the Bolides, Pipes, Germains, Minervas, Metallergiques, Excelsiors and Nagants of yesteryear ?
Indeed, apart from the old FN aforementioned (whose owner refused 50,000 frs for it), the only Belgian cars seen were a nice Minerva of perhaps 1930 vintage, used as a laundry van, and an aged Imperia.
At Our hotel on the morning of the race we were disturbed by the front-page newspaper heading “L’Auto tue plus de monde que les bombardentents.” It was, need we add, a “Billet de Londres”.
One and half hours before the start the grid was painted on the road in front of the Tribunes a young boy-scout supervising the correct positioning of the numbers,
The official programme said : “Hawthorn est veritablement la revelation de la saison.” He certainly is—and took home from Spa the Winston Churchill Challenge Cup for au concurrent anglais le mimic classe.
Motor Sport chartered its usual Transair Avro Anson to cover the race. It was the Buick taxi from Liege to Spa which induced travel sickness !
M Charles Faroux was writing away as briskly as anyone in the press box. He must have been covering motor races for some fifty years now, and we wonder just how many he has reported in his time. *
It is just fifty years since circuit racing was invented in Belgium, in the shape of the first Circuit des Ardennes. But the anniversary seems to have passed unnoticed.
Although the new Maseratis, to have been driven by Fangio and Gonzalez, did not appear and no AFMs were present, all the cars listed in the programme started ! Gaze was rumoured to be driving a Mark V Cooper 500, but although there was one of these in the huge Ecuri Richmond van, the Australian started in his recently acquired 1951 HWM.
Police and officials could hardly have been nicer and we venture to say, British organisers, please copy !
The race started dead on time, to the astonishment of the BBC. Warm tribute is due to Raymond Baxter for a first-class commentary delivered under anything but ideal conditions.
Commenting on Formula II the programme made reference to la menace illusoire de la BRM.
There only seems to be one sort of red, blue or yellow for Italy, France and Belgium, but there are now almost as many shades of green as there are British entries.
With deep dismay we learn that Fagioli passed away on June 20th, following his recent accident at Monte Carlo.