The XIV Gran Premio Napoli

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76

A Ferrari Test Run

Naples, Italy, April 12th.

Wth races crowding on top of each other, Naples suffered from the lack of factory support from Maserati, just as Pau had lacked Ferrari support the week before, but in spite of this there were sufficient private owners to fill the field. The circuit of Posillipo, on the heights overlooking the bay of Naples, remains unchanged each year, being a pure street race, with innumerable corners and continually-changing gradients; in fact no part of the 4.1-kilometre circuit is on level ground, even the start being on an uphill gradient.

The Ferrari team was out in full force as soon as practice started, with Collins in a Lancia/Ferrari with swing-axle rear and Hawthorn in the one with Ferrari front suspension, and Musso in the 1½-litre Formula II car. It has been a bone of contention with drivers that the lap record for the Posillipo circuit remains to the credit of Ascari driving a 1953 Formula II Ferrari 2-litre, with a time of 2 min. 7.7 sec., and though many have tried to improve on this time, using current Formula 1 cars nobody had succeeded. The power/weight ratio and handling of the old 2-litre Ferrari, together with Ascari’s ability, plus the fact that he was trying hard to make up time after a pit stop, resulted in freak conditions that were absolutely right for the circuit, with the resultant record time. Since then cars have had a lot more power and it has been difficult to approach Ascari’s time on this twisty circuit, for the surplus of power over that required has been more than the drivers could cope with.

It was Collins who set the pace, soon lapping around the 2 min. 10 sec. mark, the new independent rear suspension proving to be very good on the tight corners. Musso was lapping consistently with the Formula II car and getting down to 2 min. 14 sec., while poor Hawthorn was feeling very put out as he could not better 2 min. 17 sec. It appeared that the swing-axle car was far superior to the de Dion rear end, judging by the times, for Hawthorn has not lost any of his ability to drive, yet all was not well, for Lewis-Evans was lapping faster than Hawthorn, in spite of the Connaught not being right on carburation. No one was taking this first practice period very seriously, most of them finding the way round the twisty circuit first of all, and Gould, Halford and Volonterio were having a quiet look round. Unfortunately for Halford a half-shaft broke, so that he had to spend the Saturday practice period waiting for a new shaft to be collected from Modena. Before the Friday practice ended Hawthorn tried the swing-axle car, to see if it was really as good as Collins thought, but after only one lap he stopped, for his knees were firmly wedged under the rim of the steering wheel, making dicing impossible.

The Saturday practice was much more serious, and times were being counted for starting-grid position during this session. Over-night the Ferrari mechanics discovered that one of the half-shafts on Hawthorn’s car was seized solid in the splines, so that he had been driving with only one half of the rear suspension working properly the day before, which accounted for the funny handling and his poor lap times. This discovery was a great relief to Hawthorn, as he was beginning to feel he had lost his touch. Apart from changing this half-shaft his car was also fitted with new brake drums on the front, these actually being identical to those on the Formula II Ferrari, and they were assembled with the Super Squalo back-plates, showing a nice degree of design interchangeability in the Ferrari planning. Collins was still convinced that the swing-axle car was superior to the de Dion for this twisty circuit, and got his lap time down to 2.min. 8 sec., but this theory was rather spoilt when Hawthorn equalled this time with his de Dion car. With identical times for the lap Ferrari must have been rather puzzled, for it meant that the driver/car combination was identical, yet both cars were completely different in their handling characteristics. Amongst the Ferrari big boys dicing, Musso was going round and round in the Formula II car, the engine never missing a beat, and his times got lower and lower, finally ending with a remarkable 2 min. 9.2 sec., which gave him third fastest time of the day.

Of the others, Gould “wound the spring” of his Maserati really tight and did a few searing laps, settling for 2 min. 12.6 sec. and fourth best time of the day, while Gregory was out in the Centro-Sud Maserati but not going anything like as quickly. Lewis-Evans was delayed at the entrance gate, due to practice starting at the wrong time, but eventually got going, and with the Connaught now in good form he soon got down to 2 min. 14.2 sec. in the short time at his disposal. Nobody else was very outstanding, though everyone was out on this sunny afternoon. From practice activities it was going to be a Ferrari walk-over, but bearing in mind the 1956 race when similar circumstances prevailed, and both works Ferrari entries retired, leaving Manzon’s Gordini to win, nobody was making any definite speculations.

Race day was hot, though not as hot as it normally is in Naples at this time of the year, and without too much delay the cars were lined up on the grid. Hawthorn, Collins and Musso were in the front row, followed by Gould and Lewis-Evans, then Gregory, da Silva Ramos and Maglioli with the sports Porsche, and the other assorted runners behind, including Bellucci with the Maserati 2-litre he had won Saturday’s sports-car race with. Due to missing Saturday’s practice, while waiting for a new half-shaft, Halford had been relegated to the back row of the start, alongside Volonterio.

As the flag fell it was Gould who was first to move and by making a truly sprint get-away he shot between Hawthorn and Collins and led the field up the hill to the first corner. At the back of the grid Halford was hemmed in by sports cars running as Formula II machines, and Volonterio was having trouble starting due to water entering the cylinders. Down the first hill Gould was frightening himself silly with two works Ferraris round him, and before half a lap he moved aside and let them through, so that the order at the end of lap one was Collins, Hawthorn, Gould, Musso, Lewis-Evans, Gregory and the rest. The H.W.M. driven by Mann took a long time to appear, for he spun on the lowest point of the circuit and took some time getting restarted. Collins and Hawthorn soon left the rest behind and settled down to play games amongst themselves, it being arranged that Hawthorn should win this race, as Collins had won at Syracuse. For third place there was an interesting scrap between Gould, Musso and Lewis-Evans, in Maserati, Ferrari Formula II and Connaught, respectively. This lasted only until lap three, however, when Musso got by Gould and set off on his own, leaving the Connaught the problem of getting past the hurrying Maserati. Halford was now getting past the slower cars and moving up amongst the Formula 1 machinery, while Gregory was not going as fast as expected. The two leaders continued to give a demonstration of fast driving, lapping at around 2 min. 8 sec. and by 10 laps had half a minute lead over Musso, while Lewis-Evans was pressing hard on the tail of Gould. The Gordini was in trouble with a locking rear disc brake and the H.W.M. had come to rest with a broken rotor-arm in its Lucas magneto. Apart front Bellucci and Maglioli, all the sports cars had been left far behind and lapped by the leaders. On lap 10 Lewis-Evans got by the fighting Gould and then drew away, settling down to catch Musso, who had got quite a lead over the Connaught.

The Scuderia Ferrari demonstration run went awry on lap 13, when Hawthorn drew into the pits with fuel spraying into the cockpit, for the pipe leading to the fuel pressure gauge had split. Amid some confusion the pipe was squeezed flat to stop the leak and Hawthorn set off again, but not before he had been passed by Musso, Lewis-Evans, Gould, Gregory, Bellucci, and Halford, while Collins had completed another whole lap. Hawthorn now began to show his true fighting spirit, to say nothing of his ability, and any thoughts that he is no longer in the top rank were quickly dispelled. He now really began to “tiger” with everything he had got, and within four laps he had shattered Ascari’s long-standing record, with a lap in 2 min. 7.6 sec., following this with 7.3 sec., and after a few more laps he got down to 2 min. 6.3 sec., and this with the de Dion car reckoned to be unsuitable for the Naples circuit. He fairly gobbled his way through the field, flashing past Collins so that he was on the same lap as the leader and then catching the cars in front with regular consistency. This terrific drive by Hawthorn almost overshadowed the efforts of Lewis-Evans, for once he had got the Connaught past Gould’s Maserati he closed rapidly on Musso and by lap 23 moved into second place, now lapping at well under 2 min. 10 sec. and sitting comfortably in front of the Formula II Ferrari. There was no possibility of this new young driver to Grand Prix racing doing anything about Collins, so he was wisely settling for a certain second place, having plenty in reserve to deal with Musso and being too far ahead for Hawthorn to catch him. Looking remarkably at ease, and not the least bit overworked, Lewis-Evans ran steadily in second position, 45 sec. behind Collins and a few seconds ahead of Musso. The fourth place was still being held gamely by Gould, keeping well ahead of Gregory and Halford, but by lap 33 Hawthorn was on the Maserati’s tail and soon went by into fourth place, setting another lap record in the process, this time with 2 min. 5.9 sec. Three laps later saw the Farnham boy go even faster and he set an ultimate record of 2 min. 5.6 sec., and still continued to keep up the pace. These fantastic laps by Hawthorn were overshadowing everyone else, so that it almost went unnoticed that Musso also broke the old lap record with a time of 2 min. 7.3 sec., which says an enormous amount for the new Formula II Ferrari.

On lap 43 there was a groan from the Connaught pit for Lewis-Evans did not come by, thus letting Musso into second place, Hawthorn third and Gould back into fourth place. Some time later the green Connaught appeared, going slowly, and drew into the pits to retire, Lewis-Evans smiling and welI content with the way the car had been going. The left-side front hub had split circumferentially and with the wheel wobbling precariously on the outer ball-race he came to a stop arnid generous cheers and clapping from the appreciative crowd. This was the third full-length Grand Prix the car had done without returning to the factory for a thorough inspection, so the failure was received with a certain amount of tolerance.

There was nothing to do now except for the three Ferraris to complete the 60 laps of the race, Collins certain of yet another win, followed by his team-mates. However, Hawthorn was not giving up and carried on at full pressure, closing slowly but surely on Musso, who was being informed of progress from the pits. The three Ferraris were now the only ones on the same lap, and as they started the last lap Hawthorn was right behind Musso, passing him down the final leg of the circuit, to take second place by a few yards. In fourth place Gould was sitting prettily and had so much lead over Gregory that he took time off about three-quarters of the way through to stop at a garage and have a bucket of water thrown down his back, for Posillipo is a tiring and wearing circuit and the temperature was high. All set for fourth place and well in the money, he nearly had heart failure on lap 57 when a valve dropped in on number one cylinder. Keeping in top gear he limped round for two more laps wth his fingers crossed and managed to finish, one lap behind the leader but still ahead of Gregory. The nine finishers came in at various distances from Collins, who, though he had had an easy unchallenged victory had an exciting moment when he spun on a downhill stretch, due to hitting a pool of spilt fuel on a left-hand bend. By sheer luck the car stayed on the road and after completing a full 360-degree turn it carried on down the hill, with the driver breathing a little faster than before. Gregory also spun on this fuel, spilt by Taraschi’s Ferrari, but he ended up the wrong way and had to be restarted by the marshals.

But for Hawthorn’s pit stop it would have been a rather dull Ferrari procession; as it turned out we were able to witness some truly magnificent driving, for when Hawthorn is on form and in the right car there are few who are his superior, and Enzo Ferrari does seem able to provide him with the right car.–D. S. J.