A Race full of Tense Drama
SPA, Sunday, June 21st.
The circuit of Francorchamps, in the south-eastern corner of Belgium, is one of Europe’s fastest as well as being one of the most picturesque; also, from a spectator’s point of view, it is admirable, while to tour round it, let alone race, is a pleasure. For the Belgian Grand Prix, run over 36 laps of the 14 km. 120 m. circuit, the Ferrari-Maserati battle that started at Zandvoort was to be continued and, the circuit being one for very high speed, it seemed likely that the Maseratis would set the pace, as they had done at Monza at the end of last season. Villoresi, Farina and Hawthorn were driving the same cars as at the last Championship meeting, while Ascari was using the car that had been spare in Holland. This car had had the 4 1/2-litre-type front brakes replaced by normal Formula II brakes, but had a new system of carburation, as had Farina’s car. This consisted of two Tipo 50 DCO 4 Weber double-choke instruments, replacing the normal four-cylinder layout of four separate carburetters. These new ones were rigidly mounted on a tall welded steel framework that was fixed to the chassis side-member and the intake pipes were joined to cylinder block-cum-head by rubber pipes, thereby allowing the engine to move on its rubber mountings without affecting the carburetters, other than this the cars were unaltered. Maseratis were out in force, with three works entries, driven by Fangio, Gonzalez and Claes, as a gesture to the Belgians, de Graffenried and Marimon with private entries. All five cars were the latest-type six-cylinders, Gonzalez driving his Zandvoort car, as was Fangio, Claes having one of the early models that ran at Naples, de Graffenried his usual car, and Marimon a brand new one and the latest in the series, this car, being painted blue with a yellow bonnet. being an Argentinian entry. The car Bonetto drove at Zandvoort was in the garage as a spare. The battle between these two teams started from the first lap of practice, and it was soon clear that Maseratis had the legs of the Ferraris on sheer speed, while the rest of the field were left way behind. Trintignant, Schell and Behra were on works Gordinis, Wacker on his personal car, Rosier with his Ferrari, Pilette was driving Clues’ Connaught, Berger, a local man, had a Gordini, and the total of 19 runners was made up by three H.W.M.s driven by Maeklin. Collins and Frère. When the very high-speed practising had finished it was Fangio fastest, with 4 min. 30 sec., followed by Ascari with 4 min. 32 sec., closely followed by Gonzalez, Villoresi and Farina. Hawthorn could not get near the leaders and realises he still has much to learn when the “big boys” start trying, In the last practice session Claes changed his Maserati for the one that Bonetto had driven at Zandvoort and improved his time greatly, and to show it was a good car Fangio put in a lap very near the record with it. While Ferrari was trying out his new carburation system, the H.W.M. tried out some new Solex carburetters, double-choke affairs very similar in general appearance to Webers, but though they gave more power at the top end they did not accelerate cleanly, so they reverted to the 40 DCO Webers.
Under a very hot sun the cars lined up for the start, with Ascari in the uncomfortable position in the centre of the front row, with Fangio on his right and Gonzalez on his left. Behind were Villoresi and Farina, then Trintignant, Hawthorn and Marimon in row three, Claes and Graffenried in row four, followed by Rosier. Schell and Frère in row five. Wacker and Behra in row six. and Pilette, Macklin, Collins and Berger at the back. While the flag was up Graffenried was still being pushed up and down in an endeavour to start the engine, but it fired five seconds before the start and he was just able to join in the rush down to the ess-bend over the Eau Rouge. Ascari was rather worried at the start, with the Maserati drivers on each side, and made a very bad getaway, with the result that Gonzalez led Fangio up the hill towards Burneville. both of them having a good lead over the rest of the field. At the end of the first lap there was doubt about the issue: the two Maseratis were way ahead and Ascari came by in the unusual postion of third place, followed by Farina, Villoresi, Hawthorn, Marimon, Graffenried, Trintiguant, Claes and the rest. This was indeed an unusual sight, though not a surprise after the practice laps, and by the end of the second lap Ascari was 14 sec. behind Fangio and dropping back rapidly. Gonzalez went on at a terrific pace, putting in two laps at 4 min. 34 sec, and pulling away from his team-mate, who was in turn leaving the leading Ferrari by six seconds a lap and this pace went on for lap after lap. Clearly Ferraris could do nothing about the speed of the six-cylinder Maseratis and it was a question of whether they would stand the pace. By the tenth lap Gonzalez still led from Fangio and nearly a minute behind the leader came Ascari unable to make any impression at all. Farina was keeping him in sight and had outstripped the rest of the works cars, while Hawthorn. Marimon and Villoresi were battling for fifth place, the two new boys making veteran Villoresi really try, the result on the tenth lap being Hawthorn. Villoresi and Marimon. A fair way back came Trintignant, driving his usual brilliant race, followed closely by Graffenried and Claes, while Schell and Rosier were at grips farther bark. The rest of the cars were already lapped by the leaders, while many of them were in trouble. Frère had stopped to have a throttle arm repaired, Collins was out with a broken clutch, Berger had retired and Macklin’s exhaust pipe had broken and he stopped to have the one from Collins’ car fitted. Behra and Wacker were both in trouble with their engines and Pilette was not proving very fast with the Connaught.
Just when it seemed that the Maseratis were going to hold together and Ferraris were going to be “seen-off” at last, it was reported that Gonzalez was going slowly at Masta, later to stop near Stavelot, on the far side of the course. This let Fangio into the lead 34 sec. in front of Ascari, but it only lasted for one lap and at the end of the 13th lap he drew into the pits and the car was withdrawn with engine trouble. Ferraris were now 1-2-3. in their accustomed position. in the order Ascari, Farina, Hawthorn, with Marimon driving very well, in fourth place. Although miles-an-hour faster, the Maseratis still lacked reliability and the hard-working “fours” from Modena were once again in full command, but not before Ferrari had been thoroughly frightened. Graffenried and Trintignent were still close together having a terrific scrap and then Claes was called-in for Fangio to take over his car. The Belgian jumped out without any hesitation, giving Fangio an encouraging pat on the back, to which the Argentinian responded by shaking Claes’ hand as he started off. He was now in eighth place and had 23 laps still to do, so there was hope and he drove really hard, using every inch of the road through the Eaux Rouge sweep past the pits and getting every ounce out of the screaming Maserati engine. Ascari was now way out on his own, with Farina second, then a big gap and Hawthorn leading Marimon and Villoresi, but at the end of lap16 Farina came coasting down the hill to the pits indicating that his race was over. In the space of a few minutes the whole character of the race had changed completely, for Hawthorn was now second to Ascari, while Fangio was making up ground on Trintignant and Graffenried who were still battling for fifth place. By lap 20 he had caught the Frenchman and the Swiss and passed them, taking fifth place, but a long way behind the trio who were still running for second place. Schell and Rosier were having a private race a long way back, but running non-stop, and the rest of the field were going in fits and starts. Macklin stopping with a piston lying in pieces under the car.
For a few laps things settled down and everyone seemed to have found their place, the order being Ascari, Hawthorn 2 min. 10 sec. behind, Marimon 8 sec. later, Villoresi 10 sec. more and Fangio 1 min. 14 sec, farther back. With only seven laps to go things happened thick and fast and once again the whole character of the race underwent a complete change. Hawthorn had a fuel pipe split and ran short of fuel, coasting into his pit for a refill, while Marimon came into his pit to report a Sudden Ioss of power, continuing at a much reduced pace. This left the order of the race Ascari, still way out on his own, Villoresi and Fangio, followed by the slowing Maserati of Marimon and then some way behind a three cornered battle between Trintignant, Graffenried and Hawthorn, the last-named having restarted just as the other two went by. This was all most unexpected and Hawthorn, having got back into fifth place, stopped again for more fuel while Tringtignant and Graffenried continued their private battle. As Ascari started his last round there was only Villoresi and Fangio on the same lap and just over two and three-quarter hours after the start Ascari was flagged home the winner of the Belgian Grand Prix, his third Championship win. It was one of the luckiest of his successes, but it was success nevertheless. As Fangio started his last lap he was looking down into the left side of his cockpit and while everyone was waiting to acclaim him third place, after a magnificent drive. it was announced that he had spun round at Stavelot and a few minutes later he arrived at the finish in an ambulance. He was suffering only from bruises and abrasions. but was certainly the luckiest man of the day. An inspection of the Maserati as it stood beside the road with the front wheels in a ditch revealed that there was no connection between the steering column and the drop-arm and as neither of the front wheels had come into contact with any solid object it appeared that this steering failure had caused his crash. It occurred on the straight after Stavelot, while the car was accelerating and the tyre marks indicated very heavy braking and 180 degree skid. While being the most unlucky driver of the day, Fangio was also the luckiest in that the accident happened on a clear part of the course. This last minute drama so flummoxed the officials that they gave Ascari and Villoresi their flowers and forgot to ask them to do a lap of honour, with the result that they both drove off home while the multitudes waited patiently imagining them to be on their way round the course. In the midst of this dramatic finish Hawthorn caught Trintignant and Graffenried and might have beaten them for fourth place had not Wacker been in the way due to being lapped. Marimon had limped home third in his sick blue and yellow Maserati and once again the day proved to be one for the “Rampant Horse.” It has been suggested that flag marshals be given a special “Fallen Horse” flag to wave to all competitors the day Ferraris get beaten: it nearly happened today and the indication is that it may happen at Reims on July 5th.
While trying Rosier’s Ferrari during practice, to see if it would really go Trintignant spun round half-way up the Eaux Rouge hill, turning through 180 degrees but ending up in the right direction; engaging bottom gear and letting in the clutch he continued unabashed describing the incident as a “beau travail.”
In practice, as well as the race, all the Maseratis were losing a great deal of oil about their rear ends, Gonzalez sprinkling the track liberally during the second evening’s practice, to the consternation of the other drivers.
Ascari now leads the World Championship with 25 points, followed by Villoresi with 13 points and Gonzalez with 9 points.
Jean Leroy, who does the running-comntentary for the Grand Prix. is an absolute godsend for those in the Press-box as well as for the spectators, and many British commentators could profit by a few lessons from him. For a man who has the motor-racing world at his finger-tips he has no equal in Europe.
The timekeepers were so busy recording the race time to one-hundredth-of-a-second that bulletins seldom contained more than the average speed for the leading car.