A Maserati Benefit
Bordeaux, April 24th.
The Bordeaux race was the third of this season’s smaller Grand Prix events, and once again the Maserati team were out in force, though this time opposed by Ferrari, instead of Lancia as at Pau. The Maserati factory team consisted of the trio, Behra, Mieres and Musso, driving the same cars they used at Pau, and they were supported by numerous private owners driving Maseratis. Mieres had the new cylinder head on his car, with the three 45DC0 Weber carburetters mounted on slightly-inclined inlet ports, the carburetter flange being separated from the head by a rubber block, while those on the 1955 head on Behra’s car, now with equal-length intakes, were mounted rigidly. Musso still had the small-port head and 42-mm. carburetters, as did the private owners, who were Moss, Rosier, Bira and Simon. The British-owned Maserati had undergone many changes, as seen at Goodwood at Easter, but since, then the S.U. fuel-injection system had been removed and the engine fitted with the original Weber carburetters once more, though still retaining the “corners-by-Dunlop,” which included the brakes, wheels and tyres.
The main opposition to the Maserati team were the two “Super-Squalo” Ferraris to be driven by Farina and Trintignant. These were unchanged in any major aspect from the one that appeared briefly at Turin, and the Ferrari team were rapidly gaining confidence in these new cars, for this time they did not bring any of the earlier models as spares. These two rather ugly new models, designated the Tipo 555, were identical but for one detail, this being the steering box, which was mounted on the right of the frame on Farina’s car and on the left of the frame on Trintignant’s car, with the steering column running along the respective side of the engine and coupled to the steering wheel by universal joints.
Supporting the two factory cars was the privately-owned Tipo 625 of de Portago, but he had the advantage of being looked after by the Ferrari mechanics and team organisation. To complete the entry of twelve cars there were two Gordinis, as used at Pau; Bayol having the new car with the disc brakes and Manzon the 1954 model with 2LS brakes on the front, both cars being fitted with the new type of engine.
By way of a change the sun shone brilliantly over Bordeaux throughout the meeting, and the little T-shaped circuit of 2,457 kilometres was in good condition, except for some loose gravel on the two right-angle corners where the road had been widened on the inside. The first practice was late on Friday afternoon and the Maserati team were in fine form, being in the charge of a new team manager and the cars being in the care of Bertocchi’s younger brother for the first time, the regular head mechanic being busy with the preparation of cars for the Mille Miglia. Behra went straight out and set the pace of the meeting with laps at 1 min. 24 sec., and Musso soon joined him at this pace; then Behra got his time below the 24-sec. mark and, as the two Ferraris were having trouble with brakes, the Maserati team were content. The lap record stood to Gonzalez in 1 min. 22.7 sec., set up last year, and when Moss went round in 1 min. 22.3 sec. everyone sat up and took notice, while the Maserati mechanics had a cautious glance at the car when it came into the pits, for they were no longer looking after it, as last year, Moss now being a true private owner having to buy his spares the same as anyone else.
Behra went out again and this time got down to 1 min. 21.7 sec., and all the Maserati drivers agreed to leave it at that, but Ferraris were not content and Farina tried both cars, recording his best time a 1 min. 23.6 sec. with Trintignant’s car. The Ferraris were going well and seemed to have stopped giving trouble, but they just were not fast enough to deal with the Maseratis.
Some observations made during the height of practice showed that Moss was leaving his braking for the hairpin after the pits quite a lot later than anyone else, the disc brakes seemingly justifying their reputation, but the factory cars had more acceleration out of the hairpins, as had the two Gordinis, which were going well but not well enough to provide any serious opposition.
The second practice was again held in the sunshine of the late afternoon, but proved to be one long session of trouble, for on the way to the circuit Portago’s Ferrari split an oil pipe, which delayed his practice; and Musso was lapping very fast, putting in one at 1 min. 22.1 sec., when there was a puff of smoke as a valve dropped in and that finished his practice.
The two works Ferrari drivers were really trying to lower their times, Farina using brakes and gearbox to an extreme in trying to slow for the hairpins, while Trintignant was cornering very near the limit, but neither could beat the times of the Maserati drivers. While Farina was trying hard the Ferrari burst the oil feed to the rear tank and spewed oil all round the track on its way back to the pits. This caused a long delay while mechanical sweepers tried to dry the surface, and though everyone started to practise again it was impossible to approach earlier speeds so one by one the drivers packed up and went home, eventually leaving only the two works Ferraris circulating until it was almost dark, both of them trying to put in a time that would get them in the front row of the start, but all to no avail.
After lunch on Sunday, April 24th, the twelve competitors lined up on the starting grid, with Behra, Musso and Moss in the front row, all in Maseratis, and side by side in row two were the works Ferraris. Just as the flag went up and everyone was beginning to ease in their clutches Farina stalled his engine and there was a moment of chaos. Head mechanic Meazza was the first to see what had happened and he ran to the car, shouting to the other Ferrari mechanics to bring the portable starter and the shaft that has to be inserted through the radiator of the Ferrari. The director of the race kept the flag up for a few seconds longer until the Ferrari engine was running again, and as the mechanics whipped out of the way down went the flag and the twelve cars got away amid the smoke of exhaust fumes and burning rubber, all scrabbling into the first hairpin in a tight bunch. It was Behra who came out first, followed by Musso and Moss, and they kept that order round the swerves of the opening lap. Behra had already got 3 sec. over the rest and he went by determined to build up a big lead in the opening stages.
On the second lap Moss began to have trouble with snatching brakes which locked the front wheels, and one by one nearly the whole field got past him in the ensuing laps. Behra gained 1 sec. per lap over Musso and Trintignant, who were only a few feet apart, while Farina was some way back in fourth place. By the time the first 10 laps had been completed Behra was leading comfortably and Trintignant had forced his way past into second place, his Ferrari having a dent in the nose, and Musso’s Maserati a dent in the tail as a result. Farina slowed and stopped at his pit to say the gearbox was not working properly, and though he was stationary for only a second or two, the pace was so hot that it dropped him from fourth to eighth place. Trintignant had set the lap record to 1 min. 22.3 sec. and the race average was nearly equal to the old lap-record, but try as the Ferrari driver would he could make no impression on Behra’s lead, though he got well away from Musso, who was in third place. At the end of lap 14 Farina retired with a broken gearbox, Trintignant knocked another tenth of a second off his record, and on the succeeding two laps Behra got down to 1 min. 21.9 sec., followed by 21.7 sec., and then the pace began to settle down.
Portago was in trouble with an overheating engine, and shortly afterwards Bayol broke the transmission of his Gordini, having held a worthy fifth place, while all the time Moss was being worried by his grabbing brakes and was nearly a minute behind the leader and having difficulty in keeping up with Simon (Maserati).
In spite of the furious pace set by the leaders, all twelve competitors kept up and it was not until after 20 laps that Behra began to lap the tail of the field, which was comprised of Rosier, Bira and Portago.
As is usual, the race now began to settle down and from lap 30 to lap 45 the only interest centred around a little private scrap between Moss and Simon, the disc brakes now beginning to behave themselves on the green Maserati. Bahra was circulating steadily in times of 1 min. 23 sec. and the afternoon was beginning to prove very warm, a rare thing for Bordeaux. Portago’s engine suffered from the overheating and he gave up and later Trintignant found the heat of the Ferrari cockpit too much for him and he came in and handed over to Farina. This dropped the car from second place to sixth place and left the Maserati factory team in full command, running line-ahead in 1-2-3 order, followed by Moss and Simon, the Britisher now beginning to speed up and lap as fast as Behra, but nearly a lap behind him. Farina tried all he knew to get the Ferrari up amongst the leaders, but the Maserati position was unassailable and the three team cars toured round in a demonstration run. After spinning completely round on the right-hand corner joining the back leg of the straight, Farina gave the Ferrari back to Trintignant, and this dropped them to next to last and all hope of getting anywhere was gone.
Interest now centred on Moss, who was beginning to lap in terrific style, and he began to gain seconds on the leaders, but on lap 62 one of his tank straps broke and trailed behind him and, four laps later, he was forced to stop at his pit and replace the broken strap with wire and this lost him 3 ¾ min., nearly three laps over the leaders. With all opposition gone the factory team closed right up and toured round in a polite group, in the order Behra, Musso and Mieres, and on lap 70 Trintignant retired with non-existent brakes on the Ferrari and only Simon was on the same lap as the leaders, he being in fourth place.
Moss had rejoined the race and was going at a terrific pace, but with little hope of getting near the leaders, and for the next 20 laps a deadly calm settled over the circuit, with the leading Maseratis having a grand tour, only 4 sec. separating them. They moved aside to let Moss flash past, reducing his handicap to two laps, and at lap 90 there were eight cars still running, seven of which were Maseratis, the odd man out being Manzon with the second Gordini, but he was in trouble with rapidly fading brakes. Moss was last, but still lapping in 1 min. 23 sec., whereas the Leaders had slowed to laps around 1 min. 28 sec., and just when it seemed that all the Maseratis were going to finish without trouble. Rosier dropped out with a broken gear-change, Bira lost a lot of time at his pit trying to make his brakes work, and Simon retired with engine trouble. All this moved Moss up to fifth place behind the brakeless Gordini of Manzon, and now the green Maserati began to show its real form. For the second time Moss swept past the factory team, now only one lap behind, but this time they did not move aside so willingly and Mieres received a sharp dent in the tail, and after Moss had lapped in 1 min. 21.3 sec., the Maserati pit signalled to Behra and he put in a 1 min. 22.4-sec. lap in order to keep an eye on Moss.
On lap 104 Moss broke the lap record again, with 1 min. 21.2 sec., and just to make sure he did it again on lap 105 with 1 min. 20.9 sec., and there he let the matter rest. For a moment the Maserati team began to panic, and Behra drew away to a 10-sec. lead over his team-mates, spoiling the nice demonstration run. Moss sailed past Manzon into fourth place but was still a whole lap behind the leaders and, realising that even Moss could not make up the distance in the last 10 of the 123 laps, the three red Maseratis closed up again and toured in to win a resounding victory for the Modena Trident. For the last few laps they were going one way along the double-track road as Moss was going the other way and he waved to them over the straw bales, but the Italian team did not respond, they still were not too sure about the fast “Inglese.”
The Maserati team have been going from strength to strength so far, while Ferrari is still floundering about with his new Tipo 555, and it will be interesting to see if the six-cylinder cars can keep up the pace in the second round of the World Championship, at Monaco.
IV Grand Prix Of Bordeaux — Formula 1 — 123 Laps — 302 Kilometres — Very Hot
1st: J. Behra (Maserati 250/F1) … 2 hr. 54 min. 12.6 sec. … 104.112 k.p.h.
2nd: L. Musso (Maserati 250/F1) … 2 hr. 54 min. 12.8 sec.
3rd: R. Mieres (Maserati 250/F1) … 2 hr. 54 min. 13.8 sec.
4th: S. Moss (Maserati 250/F1) … 1 lap behind.
5th: R. Manzon (Gordini) … 2 laps behind.
6th: B. Bira (Maserati 250/F1) … 4 laps behid.
Fastst lap: S. Moss (Maserati), on 105th lap, in 1 min. 20.9 sec. —109.371 k.p.h. (record).
Retired: Farina (Ferrari), lap 15, gearbox; Bayol (Gordini), lap 23, transmission; de Portago (Ferrari), lap 42, overheating; Trintignant (Ferrari), lap 71, brakes; Rosier (Maserati), lap 92. gear-change; Simon (Maserati), lap 100, engine.