Grand Prix de Bordeaux

A race of interest but not excitement

Bordeaux, May 9th.

The third Grand Prix to take place at Bordeaux was particularly memorable for two reasons. First it caused the abandonment of the Naples Grand Prix which was due to he run on the same day, and secondly the entry was first-class and yet there was not one Italian driver in the race. Almost everyone who is currently in the smaller Grand Prix events entered for Bordeaux and the Naples race received only the entry of Marimon (Maserati) and an X (Ferrari), which was thought to be Gonzalez. After Farina’s crash in the Mille Miglia the X was withdrawn and Gonzalez appeared on the entry list for Bordeaux, so only four days before it was due the Naples event was cancelled. The Bordeaux meeting thus took on a greater importance than was expected, and chief interest was a return match between Ferrari and Gordini on a small twisty circuit that favoured the French cars as the Pau circuit had done.

Ferrari entered Gonzalez and Trintignant on 1953 chassis 2-litre cars and they were supported by Rosier and Manzon with their private models of the same type. Gordini entered Behra, Bayol and a new driver, Pollet, on his usual six-cylinder car, all with anti-roll bars back and front; Behra and Bayol’s car having the new type of cockpit fairing. A fourth Gordoni six-cylinder was entered by Berger, being the yellow Belgian-owned car shared by him and Pilette. The Maserati factory are not yet running an official Grand Prix team, but they are giving the private owners factory support, Schell and Mieres being the two semi-official runners looked after by the factory organisation and personnel. These two were on the same car used at Pau and B. Bira had a similar model, while a fourth Maserati was in the hands of Stirling Moss. This was a brand new car, the latest to be built, with the multi-tube frame, longer wheelbase, de Dion rear axle and lower build. He had taken delivery of it, painted it his own personal green only a few days before, and this was to be his first race at the wheel of a thoroughbred racing car that was also the latest model. The four Maseratis made a vivid collection in the paddock, for they were all different colours, Schell’s being pale blue, Mieres’ dark blue with a yellow bonnet, Bira’s a lighter blue down to hub level and from there downwards a rich yellow with yellow wheels, and Moss’ a pale green. Looking rather lonely among these quartets was Whitehead’s Cooper-Alta, now with 2 1/2-litre engine, Bristol gearbox, H.W.M. front brakes and drums, Rudge hubs and wire wheels all round and an early model Ferrari-type grille.

Practice saw a fierce battle between Ferrari and Gordini, or rather between Gonzalez, Trintignant and Behra. None of the others could approach their times and last year’s Formula II record set up by Ascari was easily beaten. Bira was the only driver to get a Maserati near to the leaders and he was driving splendidly, seemingly very much at home in his Maserati. Moss was feeling his way carefully along, wisely deciding to use the race purely for gaining driving experience of something that was entirely new to him. Shortly before the end of practice Mieres overdid things on a corner and bent his front suspension as well as breaking some-vital steering parts so that he was unable to start in the race itself. The starting grid was in rows of three-two-three and Trintignant, Gonzalez and Behra were on the front row, with Bira and Manzon behind them, times haying been recorded in that order, with Trintignant fastest. Next came Bayol, Moss and Schell and down as far as Moss everyone had beaten last year’s lap record of 1 min. 24.3 sec., Trintignant being exactly 3 sec. faster for the 2.457-km. lap. The last two rows of the grid contained Pollet and Rosier and Berger and Whitehead, the last-named having practised on a fuel-injection system, but replaced twin dual-choke Weber carburetters for the race.

Throughout practice Bordeaux had been bathed in sunshine, but race day was cloudy and spots of rain began to fall as the cars lined up on the grid. Trintignant leapt into the lead at the start, while poor Rosier stalled his engine and Manson hesitated with wheelspin. From the end of the first of the 123 laps to be covered it was clear that there was no one to challenge Trintignant, Gonzalez and Behra, who were lapping in close company in that order. Schell was leading the rest and Moss, Bira and Bayol were in a bunch. Whitehead managed only five laps before he retired with an obscure misfiring and on the second lap Manzon spun round and dropped to the end of the field, nearly a lap behind the leaders. For 12 laps the leading three swopped places, then Trintignant stopped to have his rear brakes adjusted, which left Behra and Gonzalez on their own. For two brief laps Behra got his Gordini ahead of the Ferrari, but it was not to last and when a gentle rain began to fall the pace settled down with Gonzalez a few seconds in the lead. By 25 laps this gap began to increase and with the rain now falling steadily Behra dropped farther back, until he was 15 seconds behind and then on lap 34 he stopped at the pits. The rear of the car was jacked up and the gearbox found to be lacking any indirect gears so the car was withdrawn, much to the regret of the crowd who were anticipating another Pau episode.

Although his pit stop had dropped him to sixth place, Trintigant had soon caught and passed Bira and Moss, while Schell had retired forcibly into the straw bales when his clutch had exploded, bursting the clutch housing. The leading Gordini’s retirement left Gonzalez nearly a lap in the lead in front of his team-mate, followed by Behra, driving very well, Moss allowing the others to set the pace, and Bayol slowing visibly because of the very wet roads. The only person who did not seem affected by the wet surface was Manzon who was making up ground very rapidly. On lap 45 Bira stopped to complain of an oil leak and as it was found to be irreparable he had to retire from a good third place. Two laps later Moss stopped and had all four wheels changed for tyres with a different pattern, to try and combat the wet roads. All this let Manzon into fourth place and he pressed on relentlessly and caught Bayol, taking third place. The Gordini pit took a poor view of this and flagged Bayol to stop and hand over to Behra, but flatly refused. Behra, wearing crash hat and vizor, tried in vain, from both sides of the track, to make his team-mate stop, but still Bayol went on, losing ground all the time and with Moss now gaining on him. By three-quarters distance the rain stopped and the roads dried; until now Manzon had been lapping faster than anyone, catching and passing Gonzalez, thus reducing his lap deficit to 3/4 lap. With 25 laps to go and the roads dry Gonzalez put on speed and repassed Manzon drawing away to more than lap from Trintignant, 1 3/4 laps from Manzon and 2 laps from Bayol and Moss. The only other runners were Pollet and Berger, many laps behind. With the dry roads Moss began to increase speed tremendously and enthused the crowds with his driving, for he was now getting used to the car, and the Maserati sounded beautifully crisp. He caught Bayol, who then stopped at his pit to report the gearbox not working properly, but after the refusal to hand over to Behra he was not popular, and continued as best he could. With 10 laps to go Trintignant lost all his oil pressure and in an effort to finish and not blow up he began coasting at every possible chance, nursing the engine along to the finish. This allowed Manzon to catch him and take second place, but third being better than retirement, Trintignant continued to coast as much as possible. Moss was going at a tremendous pace, thoroughly enjoying himself and reduced a three-lap deficit to one lap from the second man; but for his pit stop he would have caught the limping Trintignant.

Gonzalez thoroughly deserved his win, having driven a very intelligent race, taking no risks and running to pit signals like a train. Manzon’s driving, with his private Ferrari, was superb and showed that his year’s “retirement” from Grand Prix racing has not done him any harm and he can still drive with the best. Moss enjoyed the rare experience, for him, of completing a Grand Prix without mechanical trouble and Bayol finished fifth, saying that Behra couldn’t have gone any faster with the car, due to the gearbox trouble. Whether he would have stopped if the car had been perfect he didn’t say.

The third Bordeaux Grand Prix was a damp affair, and while there were no fireworks, it was a race full of interest and a fascinating sign of the times, — one English car and no Italian drivers!