Siracusa, April 11th.
As well as opening the European Formula racing calendar, the Syracuse Grand Prix was also the first European event to be run under the new Formula I of 2 1/2 litres unsupercharged, 750 c.c. supercharged. The Scuderia Ferrari were out in full force and on the first day of practice produced two new cars, of the multitube frame type tried out at Monza last year, and two of last year’s well-tried cars, as well as a fifth car as a spare, all, of course, with 2 1/2-litre engines. The two new cars, to be driven by Farina and Gonzalez, had undergone detail modifications during the winter, the wheelbase being lengthened by 2 1/2 in., the left-hand pannier fuel tank being replaced by a tail tank, with the tail in the shape of a high head fairing behind the driver, while the left-hand-operated remote-control gear lever was re-positioned fairly high on the chassis side.
In other respects the cars were as seen at Monza last year, the bore size being increased and two double-choke Weber carburetters of 58-mm. bore being used. The two 1953 cars, as used at Rouen and in the Argentine, were to be driven by Hawthorn and Trintignant, the latter being given his first try-out as an official team member. Two private Ferraris were down to run, the yellow 1953 model of the Belgian Ecurie Francorchamps with Laurent as driver, this having been fitted with a new 2 1/2-litre engine, and the pale blue one of Rosier that Trintignant had in the Argentine recently, now to be driven by Manzon. In opposition to the Ferrari cars were two new Maseratis, with multi-tube frames, 6-cylinder engines, de Dion rear axles and beautifully smooth, sleek-looking bodies in direct contrast to the rather bulbous, but vicious-looking, new Ferraris. The Maserati team’s main trouble was lack of drivers, as Fangio was still in the Argentine, having signed up with Mercédès-Benz, and Gonzalez was with Ferrari, leaving only Marimon from their last year’s team. He was accompanied this time by a new Italian driver, Mantovani.
By the end of the first afternoon’s practice Gonzalez had made fastest time with 2 min. 4.8 sec., against the 1953 race record by Ascari of 2 min. 5 sec. The new stumpy Ferraris were still not handling too well, being rather sudden in the way they reacted to break-away and snaking badly under high-speed braking. With lap speeds around the 100-m.p.h. mark this was not good and Farina was wishing he could have one of last year’s cars, Hawthorn being most content with his. Gonzalez was just taking things as they came and putting up with the peculiarities of the new model. Both Maseratis were being temperamental and developing misfires after only a lap or two, though Marimon got in some fairly fast ones, on one occasion coming very close to having an accident when he overshot his braking point, and slithered for 150 yards with locking wheels, to finish up a bare yard from the straw bales. On this same corner Farina was trying all he knew and also had a very big moment when he got the new Ferrari completely sideways on the apex of the corner, sorting it out superbly and only just clipping the straw bales.
On the second day of practice the Maseratis were performing much better and Marimon tried both cars, while Farina tried the spare Ferrari as well as the new one; this spare car was also lent to Manzon as the blue car had not arrived. Towards the end of practice things began to warm up considerably when Marimon equalled the best Ferrari time, at which Gonzalez went a lot quicker and so did Farina, until it seemed settled that the two new Ferraris would be in the front row. With only 15 minutes to go Marimon put in a searing 2 min. 2.6 sec., which Gonzalez immediately equalled, and everyone was content with the two Argentinians tieing for best lap. The Maseratis had been run up to 8,200 r.p.m. and sounded perfect, while the new Ferrari was comfortable at 7,200 r.p.m. As practice was about to finish Farina appeared once more in the new Ferrari, not content with letting the Argentinians lead the way, nor very content with having to drive the new car when one of the more handleable old ones was standing idle. Earlier he had got within one fifth of a second of his best time with the new car driving the 1953 model, and with less sweating of the brow. After a lap at 2 min. 5 sec. he set off to have a go at the fastest time, but did not reappear for a long time, eventually coasting into view round the bend before the pit area with a dead engine. Something vital had broken somewhere; the rev.-counter was at 8,200 r.p.m., Farina looked non-commital, Lampredi puzzled and the mechanics furious. A short consultation was held and then the new car was wheeled away and Farina entered on the 1953 model for the race.
Held over 80 laps of the 5.5-kilometre course, the day was dull and -cloudy, but ideal for racing until rain showers began to fall, making the circuit slippery in patches during the morning. By the time the start was due, however, the course had dried out, but Lampredi made his drivers each do a preliminary lap to make sure of conditions. Trintignant returned from his with the nose of the car considerably dented due to having hit a dog, and some frantic work was needed to straighten and check the front end in time for the start. With Marimon and Gonzalez having equal times, lots were drawn for the No. 1 grid position and the Maserati driver won, leaving Gonzalez in the middle, with Farina, now in the spare Ferrari, on his left. Behind were Hawthorn and Trintignant, and in the back row Mantovani, Laurent and Manzon, the last named now in the privately-owned blue car. All eight cars got away to a splendid start, Manzon in particular being immense, passing the whole field on the outside and leading until the first sharp corner, followed by Hawthorn and Gonzalez. Realising he could not hope to stay in the lead against the works cars, Manzon then moved over and waved Hawthorn by, so that the end of lap one saw the order Hawthorn, Gonzalez, Marimon, Farina, Trintignant, while the others were already dropping back. By the fourth lap Farina was losing ground on the first three and Hawthorn looked comfortably in command of the race. Then, on lap five, he missed a gear change leaving the hairpin bend and Marimon and Gonzalez swept by, but the Englishman caught and passed his team-mate on the next corner, so that they started off on the sixth lap in the order Marimon, Hawthorn, Gonzalez, with only a few lengths separating them, while Farina was 300 yards behind. On the sharpest left-hand corner of the course Marimon got into a slide and touched the straw bales with his hub-cap, sending a shower of straw over Hawthorn, who was immediately behind. Unable to see the road and aware that Marimon might still be sliding ahead of him, Hawthorn swerved, which caused him to strike the wall on the edge of the road. By this time the exploded straw bale lying all over the bonnet had caught fire from the red-hot exhaust pipe, so that fuel from fractured pipes and tank, due to the impact, immediately went up in flames. Hawthorn leapt out and had the brilliant presence of mind to jump over the wall into a field of wet corn and roll over, thus putting out his flaming clothes. Meanwhile Marimon had gone on completely unaware of what was happening behind him, while Gonzalez had stopped, left his car and run to help Hawthorn. Farina swept by and then the car Gonzalez had vacated in going to the Englishman’s aid rolled forward down the slightly sloping road and ran into the burning Ferrari and the two cars became a roaring inferno. Next round was Trintignant, who immediately stopped to offer help, thinking the cars had probably crashed together, and the other three drivers also stopped, for by now the road was almost impassable. This meant that the end of lap six saw Marimon leading, with Farina 12 seconds behind and no one else arriving. As he came upon the burning wreckage on his next round Marimon stopped to see if Hawthorn was all right and Farina swept by, through the flames and into the lead. By now Hawthorn was being well cared for, Gonzalez had no car to continue the race with, and Marimon set off again, now 20 seconds behind the flying Farina, with the rest of the field now re-joining the race a lap to the bad. The two Ferraris were burnt out completely, Hawthorn was taken to hospital and Marimon tried to make up the time lost due to stopping, but Farina was now well in front. What had started as an interesting race with a brilliant three-cornered duel had turned into a dismal procession, and Farina reeled off the 80 laps with Marimon behind him, the distance varying from 36 seconds to 12 seconds until 15 laps before the end, when the, Maserati began to give signs of a slipping clutch when changing from third to top. With oniy eight laps to go and second place a certainty, poor Marimon came to rest when his clutch went completely, and Farina sailed over the line the winner by two laps from Trintignant and five laps from Mantovani, whose Maserati only just finished, his fuel tank having split. Manzon completed the race with a very woolly-sounding Ferrari, and Laurent’s engine blew up within sight of the finish and he manfully pushed the car the last few hundred yards to be classed a finisher.
Visiting Hawthorn in hospital after the race, I was relieved to find his burns were not of a serious nature and he was in fine spirits, while be in no way blamed Marimon for the accident, being more reproachful of himself for bungling a gear change and letting the Maserati get by.
IV Gran Primo Siracusa — 80 Laps — 440 Kilometres — Warm and Dull
1st : G. Farina (Ferrari 4-cylinder), 2 hr. 51 min. 57.9 sec, — 153.350 k.p.h.
2nd: Trintignant (Ferrari 4-cylinder), 2 hr. 52 min. 40.0 sec. — 2 laps behind.
3rd: L. Mantovani (Maserati 6-cylinder), 2 hr. 59 min. 29.3 sec. — 5 laps behind.
4th: H. Manzon (Ferrari 4-cylinder). 2 hr. 53 min. 19,4 sec. — 7 laps behind.
5th: H. Laurent (Ferrari 4-cylinder), 2 hr. 52 min. 8.9 sec. — 12 laps behind.
Fastest lap: O. Marimon, (Maserati) on 42nd lap, in 2 min. 3.8 sec. — 159.935 k.p.h. (new record).
Retired: J. M. Hawthorn (Ferrari), lap 6, crashed; F. Gonzalez (Ferrari), lap 6; O. Marimon (Maserati), lap 72, clutch.