The Future of Grand Prix Racing

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Now that the races in the Argentine have become so popular that they command full factory entries from the regular European Grand Prix teams, it means that development and preparation has virtually no rest at all. At one time the Grand Prix season was a cut-and-dried affair starting at Easter and ending in September, so that teams had at least six months in which to prepare for the next bout of racing. Gradually this six months has been whittled down, first by the addition of events on the end of the season, such as the Spanish Grand Prix, extending activity to the end of October, while at the beginning of the seasons of recent years, the Syracuse meeting has begun things long before Easter. With the Argentine races in January and February there are but two months in which to modify existing designs or prepare new ones. Evidently this is far too short, so that development and design of new ideas must of necessity be coincidental with the actual racing programme, which in turn means that a factory going all out for racing can no longer plan in terms of separate years of activity but must continue their racing and development plans on parallel lines, and as each new idea or new car is completed it must be put into service almost immediately. This inevitably entails extra workers in order to keep a full racing team on the go at the same time as a full design and production staff are operating. This state of affairs is all right for a large or wealthy organisation, but comes very hard on the semi-private concerns who are hard pushed to keep a full racing team going, and if things go on as they are many names will disappear from the entry lists.

In some ways events have turned full circle, for in the immediate pre-war era of Grand Prix racing the main fixtures were a playground for the German Mercedes-Benz and Auto-Union teams, with Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Delahaye struggling to keep pace with the rapid developments and speeds produced by the efficient German organisations. The private owner, or even the independent driver with a degree of factory backing, considered himself very lucky to get a start in a major Grand Prix, let alone have any hope of success.  In addition to front-line Grand Prix racing there was “Voiturette” racing, in those days the 1-1/2-litre class, in which the small man could have quite a good go. Today it is the Italians who dominate the Grand Prix world and one can foresee nothing to stop them during 1953; equally their speed of progress in design and power goes ahead at such phenomenal velocity that there is only the French Gordini team that can hope to compete. The rest of the runners, most of which are British, have little or no hope of keeping up, and towards the end of last year it became very obvious that British cars such as Cooper-Bristol, H.W.M., Connaught, Aston-Butterworth and Fraser Nash were only being accepted in races to make up the starting-line numbers. All things being equal, none of them had much chance of getting into the picture at all in a first-line event. Now, with the season already well under way, the Argentinian races having been run, the outlook gets even worse, for only one new Cooper-Bristol was ready to compete, and that was very much out-classed by Ferrari, Maserati and Gordini. With the new Formula l coming into force in 1954 it is understandable that our regular team, H.W.M., and the up-and-coming Connaught Syndicate, are retaining the same cars for this season due to a shortage of finance, but it will mean that they cannot hope to put up much of a show against the Continentals. If everyone’s plans for 1954 materialise then we can look forward with a degree of confidence, but whatever happens we are going to be losing a year’s racing experience, so one hopes that 1954 designs will be raced wherever possible during 1953, for it will be useless to wait until the first official Formula 1 (1954) event is held. Ferrari has already tried out one of his 1954 designs under race conditions, and the 2.3-litre engine in the sports Gordini is obviously teaching Amédée a great deal. Now that Colombo is working for Maserati we can expect some pretty rapid development work from that factory, and Mercedes-Benz have announced their withdrawal from 1953 sports-car racing in order to concentrate on preparing their 1954 Grand Prix cars, which will undoubtedly appear under racing conditions on test during the coming season. So far none of the projected 1954 ideas from this country has made any appearance, even on test, and unless some of them appear in Formule Libre events this season, the results of the new formula races will not be calling for “God Save the Queen.”

This urgency of enforced progress in the design, development and production of racing cars is regrettable in many ways but nevertheless it is inevitable, and is merely a reflection of the speed of progress in all scientific spheres. Grand Prix motor-racing is no longer a sport for moneyed young men, but a technical battle between designers, factories and organisations, and this ever-increasing urgency is just one more factor in the game.

Returning to the Argentine races, we can foresee with very little effort the form for 1953. Ferrari has obviously regained his self-confidence, which appeared to be waning at the end of last year, and whatever transpires during the coming months no one can gainsay the fact that his organisation have two victories’ lead over everyone else, and race victories are bound to add much to a team’s experience. With Ascari, Farina and Hawthorn making up his team of drivers, Ferrari can be considered to be in an almost unassailable position. Not unbeatable by any means, but whoever is to knock Ferrari or the top of the tree has a mighty big task in front of him. At one time it looked as though Gordini was going to do this, but now his team do not seem to be so dangerous as they were in mid-season 1952. Manzon, Behra and Trintignant still form the Gordini team and there is no doubt that it is just about as good as France can produce, though one feels Simon deserves a place in a French équipe. He is probably still contracted by the Sacha-Gordine concern, but one cannot help feeling that this project, though interesting technically, has been hanging fire too long to provide much serious opposition when it does appear. As a French contemporary said: “It has made rather too much noise already.” The remaining first-line contender for the tree-top is Maserati, and one foresees some truly immense battles between the Colombo-influenced cars and the Lampredi-designed Ferraris. With Fangio, González and Bonetto driving the six-cylinder Maseratis there can be no doubt that justice will be done to the car’s potentialities and already Fangio has shown that he has lost none of his form, while González has never been known to do anything other than “go like a rocket.” It is a pity that business dealing has caused the Maserati firm to be Maserati only in name, for actually the true Maserati racing car comes from the O.S.C.A. concern, which is run by the brothers Maserati, all of which makes things a little confusing. The new Osca that appeared at the end of last year showed good promise, but as yet nothing has been revealed for 1953, so that they are already two races behind everyone else, and as pointed out earlier, the present situation will not allow anyone, even an Italian, to get one race behind the leaders in development.

One thing that seems possible in the coming season is that teams will have to decide between competing all-out in Grand Prix events or in sports-car events, for there is so much activity that it will be impossible for anyone to support both to the full. Already Mercedes-Benz have shown their appreciation of the situation by withdrawing from International sports-car rating, and it is not difficult to foresee Gordini having to do the same. Ferrari seems to have unlimited resources, and will probably race teams of sports cars and Grand Prix cars longer than anyone, but the day is fast approaching when most people will have to make the same decision as Mercedes-Benz have made. Now that sports cars of the 300 SL, 4.1 Ferrari, Gordini,  XK 120C, DB3 and so on have nearly the same performance as the leading Formula ll cars, and a greater performance than many, one wonders whether the era of the early 1930s is not approaching. The way things are going the time would appear to be ripe for considering a single class of racing for the leading lights. Somehow one cannot visualise such classics as the Mille Miglia or Le Mans being discontinued, neither can one see Grand Prix events being dropped, but there is a great deal of duplication among the competitors in both categories. Mercedes-Benz have found their saloon 300 SL to be faster than the open version, Gordini’s sports car is faster than his single-seater Grand Prix car, and the 4.1 Ferrari cannot be far off the Formula II cars from that factory.  Alfa Romeo have been perfecting their Disco Volante sports car with a view to duplication in Grand Prix form, so that it looks as though the 1954 Formula could happily constitute the sole form of first-line racing. While this would ease the lot of the factories already in the game, it would mean that the gulf between the beginner or private owner and the top-liners would become impassable and little concerns like H.W.M., Ecurie Ferrari France, Scuderia Espadon, Scuderia Platé, Ecurie Richmond and so on would be ruled right out of the game.

With all scientific progress one is left wondering where it is going to lead, and with Grand Prix racing there is the same feeling, although one can surmise on the probabilities; but somehow there is the feeling that it cannot be controlled, and the old saying about “the survival of the fittest”  would appear to be the true answer. Come what may, 1953 does not look like seeing any falling off in the battle for honours, and if that is: so it will provide some excellent racing, but it will inevitably mean that the note of urgency will be raised to an even higher level.—D. S. J.

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