Gonzales at Silverstone: Act two

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If the 1951 British Grand Prix was a thrilling race, the 1954 edition was doubly so. This time, the roles were reversed, with Ferrari as the all-conquering masters of the sport and Mercedes-Benz out to steal its glory. At Reims, a fortnight earlier on the world championship debut of the WI 96, the new breed of Silver Arrows had proved dominant, Fangio and Karl Kling lapping the field, and blitzing Ferrari’s 625s. The W196 was purpose-built for the new 2.5-litre regulations, and brand new, while the 625 was essentially a 500 from the previous two seasons of Formula Two-regulation grand prix racing, with a suitably enlarged engine. The Mercedes had eight cylinders, the Ferrari just four. Motor Sport described the ’54 British Grand Prix as the most interesting race it had seen since the War.

Two things contrived to scupper the Mercedes: wet weather and aerodynamic bodywork that made it impossible even for a driver of Fangio’s calibre to accurately position the car in the corners. The lead battle, once more, was between Gonzalez and Fangio. This time it was Fangio who scored pole position, with the Ferraris of Gonzalez and Mike Hawthorn and the Maserati 250F of Stirling Moss joining him on the front row. Conditions were dry at the start but were predicted to change soon.

Unlike in 1951, Gonzalez made a brilliant start and headed Fangio going into Copse, driving as if possessed and pulling out a second a lap on the field for the first five laps. Fangio, however, was merely waiting to come fully to terms with the tricky handling of his W196 before pegging the gap back to three seconds after 10 laps. Five laps later he was on the Ferrari’s tail. And there he stayed until he misjudged a corner and hit an oil-drum marker, damaging the nose of his W196. The Maestro was also now without third gear, yet at 30 laps he was still just five seconds behind the Ferrari. At halfdistance, 45 laps, it was three seconds. But now Fangio was in a lot of trouble, having to seriously over-rev the engine just to stay in touch and needing to hold the car in fourth gear. It was too much, even for him, and soon he dropped back, letting first Moss and then Hawthorn through into second and third

places, much to the delight of the crowd. Moss retired 10 laps from the end with transmission woes, thus allowing another Maserati, that of °noire Marimon, into third.

And so Gonzalez headed a Ferrari 1-2, having led from flag to flag and never once making a mistake in track conditions that varied from bone dry to torrential rain. Five weeks earlier, he had won Le Mans and the world now seemed at his feet. In fact, his second grand prix win was the last major victory of his career.

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