1953 Dutch Grand Prix

FERRARIS STILL DOMINANT – Zandvoort, Sunday, June 7th.

The Dutch Grand Prix held on the twisty Zandvoort circuit was the first European race to count for the World Championship and in consequence it drew a formidable entry. Both Maserati and Ferrari entered teams of four cars, while Gordini ran three, as did Connaught, and H.W.M. two. These were supported by the private Ferrari of Rosier, the Gordini of Wacker, the Connaught of Claes and Wharton’s Cooper-Bristol.

Ferraris were out in full force with Ascari, Farina, Villoresi and Hawthorn all driving the normal 4-cylinder models, while a fifth car was kept as spare. The Maseratis were the new models, that first appeared at Naples, with parallel instead of splayed 1/4-elliptic rear springs, left-hand gear-levers operating in the central gate by a swinging link arrangement, the 12-plug engines and the redesigned bodywork. Fangio and Bonetto had brand new cars, while Gonzalez had the one with the small headrest that Fangio had driven at Naples. Graffenried, fresh from a victory at Eifelrennen, was driving the fourth car which was the first of the new models and that which Gonzalez had driven at Naples. Of the Gordinis, Trintignant was on the dual-exhaust system car and Schell and Mieres were on the normal six-cylinders as was Wacker. The three works Connaughts were all fuel-injected, driven by Salvadori, MacAlpine and Moss, though the last one was not officially entered by the factory, but was hired by Moss to replace his Cooper-Alta that had not gone too well at Nurburgring the previous Sunday. The two H.W.M.s were driven by the normal team men, Macklin and Collins.

Only just over a week before the race the circuit was completely resurfaced with a special non-skid tarmac, but the top dressing had not worn off with the result that there were large quantities of loose gravel about the place and the corners were terribly slippery. To add to the drivers’ difficulties the usual layer of fine sand covered the whole area, the course being situated in sand dunes, and this rose in a fine spray as cars braked heavily, having a sand-blasting effect on anyone following.

During the practice periods great efforts were made to gain good starting-line positions and it was soon evident that Ferraris and Maseratis were the only teams with any hope of winning. The battle between these two rose to untold heights and by the end of the second practice period the tension was as exciting as any race, with final honours going to the Ferraris, Ascari making fastest lap in 1 min. 51.1 sec. This was over a second faster than Fangio’s best but nowhere near the existing lap record of 1 min. 46 sec., due to the bad surface. On the spare car which Ascari played with, a large wire gauze screen had been fitted in an attempt to minimise the danger of flying grit; this car was also fitted with 4 ½-litre front brakes, which are larger than the normal Formula II type. However, this car was not used on race day and stayed in the paddock under a dust sheet. The Maseratis took a leaf front the Ferrari book and were fitted with wire mesh screens running the full width of the cockpit, held in place by the rear-view mirrors, more or less admitting that they did not expect to spend much time in the lead. The line up for the start saw Ascari on the inside of the front row, with Fangio and Farina beside him, while behind were Villoresi and Gonzalez. Then came Hawthorn, Graffenried and Rosier, and in row four the first green car, Moss’ Connaught with Schell alongside in the first Gordini. The fifth line comprised Salvadori, Trintignant and Bonetto, followed by MacAlpine and Macklin and then Collins, Claes and Wharton with Mieres alone at the back as Wacker did not start.

From the fall of the flag the race was dominated by Ascari who leapt into the lead with a string of red cars following him, and as they jockeyed for position to go into the first corner Fangio was squeezed almost to a standstill by Villoresi and Farina converging on him from each side. By the end of the first lap Ascari was out on his own and ran the whole 90 laps non-stop and faultlessly with no possible fear of ever being challenged. After the squeezing episode Fangio never had an opportunity to get near the three Ferrari regulars and the Ascari-Farina-Villoresi order was unchallenged for two thirds of the race. Fangio ran a steady fourth with Hawthorn in fifth place, after which there was a big gap before the rest of the field appeared. Moss had clung on to the tail of the red cars at the start, but by the fourth lap his position changed from tailing the leaders to leading the “also-rans.” Gonzalez, as so often happens, made a poor start, finishing the first lap in 14th position and then proceeded to work his way through the field, passing Trintignant, Rosier, Schell and Bonetto, who were locked in a fierce battle, and Graffenried, soon outpacing the last named to run on his own in the long gap between Hawthorn and the Baron. Gradually he gained on the English-driven Ferrari until he had it in sight and then on lap 22 he coasted to a standstill behind the pits with a half-shaft broken on the near side. This disaster had its fortunate side for it meant he was able to walk quickly back to the pits and take over from Bonetto who was flagged in. This broke up the interesting battle he was having with Schell, the latter driving a brilliant race, but as their duel was for eighth place it was more important that the burly Argentinian should have the car. He started off again in ninth place shortly after Hawthorn had gone by, now a whole lap in front of the Maserati, and the determination with which he set about catching the Ferrari again was a wonderful sight. Meanwhile, with less than a third of the race completed, Macklin was out. Wharton retired with a broken rear wishbone, Salvadori had been into his pit to change a plug but continuing on three cylinders retired with valve-gear trouble and Claes started a series of long pit stops with rear-suspension bothers. The highlight of the race now was the driving of Gonzalez which was of the inspired type that only the Latin temperament can seem to produce. Five laps after restarting he had Hawthorn in sight up the hill behind the pits and every lap he came out of the hairpin in a long tail-slide, steering with his left hand and shaking the other fist at the disappearing tail of the Ferrari. By lap 32 he got past and pressed on with a complete lap to make up in the remaining 58 if he were to get in the money. By now only the first five were on the same lap, Ascari out on his own, Farina and Vilioresi very close and occasionally changing positions, Fangio running alone and Hawthorn bringing up the tail of the race-dominators. On lap 37 Fangio retired out on the course with his rear axle broken and this left Ferraris in full command of the first four places, While Gonzalez passed Graffenried and was now fifth, and at the speed at which he was making up the lost ground it was clearly possible for him to catch Hawthorn. Ferraris hung out the faster sign, but the English boy was going as fast as he could with safety and made this clear to them. Slowly but very surely the screaming Maserati closed on the Ferrari and on lap 48, while all alone on the long Tarzan hairpin, Gonzalez spun completely round ending up rolling gently backwards at right-angles to the direction of travel. He still had the engine running and letting the clutch in with a bang he continued, with his rear wheels spinning furiously. Ascari was causing a little worry in his pit as there was smoke coming out of the bonnet side from a faulty exhaust manifold, but due to the pits being on the opposite side of the car the mechanics could not see the cause and stood ready for an emergency pit-stop, but it was not necessary. Shortly after half-distance Ascari lapped Hawthorn, which meant that only the leading three Ferraris were on the same lap and ten laps later Farina and Villoresi lapped the junior member of the team. However he was still circulating regularly and fully justifying his place among the “big boys,” though naturally not able to match their ability. About this time Schell’s brilliant run came to an end when the Gordini transmission gave up and MacAlpine, who had been holding on to Rosier for a considerable time, pulled in with a suspected collapsed piston. Moss, in the remaining works Connaught, was running ‘ninth and then appeared very slowly with a bung blown out of the pressure relief of the injection system. This was stopped up again, the tanks refilled and he continued at the back of the field. Shortly after he got away the Ferrari pit had a surprise when Villoresi stopped on the hairpin behind the pits; the car was made to run again to finish the lap and was then withdrawn. This left the order Ascari, Farina, Hawthorn, Gonzalez, the Maserati driver now having the last Ferrari in sight once again and re-commencing the wild fist-waving business, urging the car on with great heaves of his body. Trintignant was running well in sixth place behind Graffenried, both six-cylinder engines Sounding beautifully crisp, while Rosier, Collins and Moss brought up the tail end. With only 12 laps to go Gonzalez achieved what had appeared impossible, making up a complete lap on the Ferrari, and he passed Hawthorn to take third place, a lap behind Farina. For two laps Hawthorn clung on to the tail of the masterly-driven Maserati, but frightened himself so many times in the process that he very wisely eased up and contented himself with fourth place. Ferraris, however, were not so content and thought he should have kept the Argentinian at bay, though second thoughts made them realise that a young driver who knows his own limitations will be far more use to them in the Iong run.

The last ten laps ran out and Ascari was flagged home the winner of the Dutch G.P., smiling happily and sure in the knowledge that he is still “il maestro.” Magnificent as Ascari’s demonstration had been the real hero of the day was Gonzalez and the crowd showed their appreciation of his efforts in a big way, and though he had driven on the limit for most of the race he climbed up into the Press box to make a recording for Argentinian radio as soon as he got out of the car, being a little puffed, but not so much that he couldn’t describe his feelings into the microphone for about a minute and a half without a break. The first round of the European leg of the World Championship had proved a glorious day for the red cars and we can look forward to further great battles between the Ferraris and Maseratis.

To open the day’s proceedings a one-hour sports-car race was held, restricted to non-expert drivers, by the simple expedient of refusing entries from drivers of the calibre of Moss, Wharton and Salvadori, who would have liked to have run. This produced a very mixed bag of cars and drivers, and F. C. Davis had very little difficulty in winning with his fast Bristol-engined Tojeiro, painted green for the occasion. For a time the Dutch driver de Koster in a 2-litre Maserati made some opposition but he soon tired. Three of the peculiar central-driving-seat Kieft-M.G.s ran, driven by Meyers, Lines and Van de Lof, but were not able to compete with larger engined cars. The Maserati was interesting, being a cross between the 1949 type of A6G and the present model, having the latest type of engine and front suspension, but the earlier ½-elliptically sprung rear end. During practice Fangio demonstrated the possibilities of the car by lapping consistently in 2 min. 4 sec. and later took the new owner round in the passenger seat to show him how it was done. Third man home was the pre-war driver Hertzberger with a DB 2 Aston Martin saloon.