1952 Italian Grand Prix race report: Ascari wins race and title

Alberto Ascari his first world championship whilst Maserati produces surprise

This year's GP was for Formula 2 cars and consequently lap speeds were down by 20 seconds or more and a lot of the glamour of past Italian GPs was lost; however, some consolation was gained from the wealth of technical interest antong the unblown 2-litre cars and also by the many new contestants, especially from Great Britain.

Alberto Ascari in his Ferrari 500 rounding Curva Sud 1952 Italian Grand Prix. Monza, Italy. 7 September 1952.

Photo: Motorsport Images

The two practice days saw immense activity as the regulations permitted only the 24 fastest cars to compete and 34 were present to do battle. On the first day the new 2-litre Cisitalia eliminated itself quite unintentionally by scattering a rod and most of its crankcase over the track; this was an ohv four-cylinder, with four Del Orto motor-cycle carburetters, mounted in a typical Cisitalia multi-tube chassis with independent suspension all round, transverse leaf spring and wishbones at the front and a combination of radius tubes and wishbones at the rear, with he outer universal joint of each half axle mounted in the wheel hub. Although the car was reputed to be new the outward appearance was that of a well-used model. Bill Aston could not get the Butterworth half of his Aston-Butterworth to function properly and was slow in consequence, while neither of the "works" HWMs nor Gaze's private car could produce enough speed.

"The 'boy-wonder' Hawthorn made his Bristol engine take him round in 2 min.11.2 sec. and then made his father endless work by having a gasket collapse"

When practice finished on Saturday evening there were nine disgruntled drivers who were ruled out - all three HWMs (which was a very unhappy occurrence in view of their past records), the 12-cylinder Ferraris of Whitehead and von Stuck, the latter car belonging to the Ecurie Espadon, the Belgian-owned four-cylinder Ferrari, Crespo and Graffenried with the Maserati-Plates and Aston. An idea of the closeness of this eliminating was shown by Ascari's fastest lap in 2 min. 5.7 sec. and Stuck with the slowest in 2 min. 22.8 sec. The last man to qualify was Bianco (Maserati) with 2.inin. 17.1 sec., and just over 5½ seconds covered the nine cars that were ruled out.

The starting grid consisted of five "works" Ferraris, all four-cylinders of the latest type, driven by Ascari, Villoresi, Farina, Taruffi and Simon, the French trio, ManzonTrintignant and Behra on Gordinis, Gonzalez, Bonetto and Rol with the new "works" A6GCM Maseratis, Landi, Bianco and Cantoni with the Scuderia Bandierantes A6G Maseratis, Rosier and Fischer on their private four-cylinder Ferraris, and Bayol with a very pretty new six-cylinder 2-litre OSCA with normal OSCA ifs, a de Dion rear end hung on splayed ¼-elliptics not unlike last year's HWMs but with inboard brakes and differential-mounted gearbox. Last but by no means least were three Cormaughts, looking clean and new and a credit to any country, driven by Moss, Poore and McAlpine, and four well-tried and proven Cooper-Bristol driven by Hawthorn, BrandonBrown and Wharton. the last being the Ecurie Ecosse car. Moss, by reason of one of the cleverest pieces of slip-streaming behind Ascari, had got a practice lap in at 2 min. 9,8 sec., while the "boy-wonder" Hawthorn made his Bristol engine take him round in 2 min.11.2 sec. and then made his father endless work by having a gasket collapse.

Alberto Ascari enjoys a cup of coffee in the paddock, 1952 Italian Grand Prix

Ascari enjoys a pre-race coffee Photo: Motorsport Images

From the outset it was the Maseratis that set the pace, Gonzalez building up it substantial lead from Ascari and Villoresi, while behind, for fourth place, Bonetto was driving the race of his life engaged in a dog-fight with Farina, Taruffi, Simon and Manzon. Never has there been such open "bumping and boring" between such a collection of front-rank drivers and the pace was so furious that they nearly all suffered minor dents and tyre marks on the noses and tails of their cars.

"Never has there been such open 'bumping and boring' between such a collection of front-rank drivers"

This melee was followed at a discreet distance by Landi and Moss and then, after a gap, came the rest of the field, headed by Dennis Poore, driving well to keep in front of Rol. Fischer went out on lap 4 with his valves too near the pistons. McAlpine on lap 5 with rear suspension trouble, while Bayol only completed one lap. Hawthorn came into the pits on lap 3 with' his ignition deranged and stayed there until lap 42 before the car could be made to go again. The Gordinis, of which much was expected, ran into bothers early on, Trintignant going out after six laps when his scavenge pump failed, letting the pressure pump fill the crankease with oil, and Behra stopped on lap 11 with a stripped thread on a valve adjuster; he got going again but finally bent a valve stem after 43 laps.

The five-cornered battle for fourth place continued unabated until the 16th lap, when Taruffi fell back and shortly after stopped to fix his throttle control, and Simon lost the other three at the same time. Bonetto, Farina and Manzon continued the fight until lap 34 when the Maserati came in to refuel and change rear tyres, and all this time Gonzalez had been drawing away from Ascari, but when, just before half-distance, he too stopped for fuel and tyres. Ascari and Villoresi went past, as did Farina, who was now on his own as Manzon had a valve touch a piston and stopped to investigate, later continuing on five cylinders. Farina's third place lasted only seven laps and Gonzalez was now over 50 seconds behind Ascari, due to his one minute pit stop, but providing the Ferrari could complete the 80 laps non-stop, Gonzalez could not make up the time lost. However, he continued to drive on the limit and at the same time Bonetto was lapped by Ascari and for lap after lap he stayed with the Ferrari, passing it quite easily along the straights.

Mechanics stand beside the track with pit boards, 1952 Italian Grand Prix, Monza.

Mechanics relay vital information, inches away from the speeding cars Photo: Motorsport Images

All English hopes dwindled whim Moss came in just before halfway, when lying seventh, and although he continued for another 20 laps at the end of the field the valve gear trouble re-occurred and he stopped. Poore, in the other Connaught, continued to lead all the Cooper-Bristols as well as Rosier and was in ninth place when he had to stop for fuel, and Wharton, driving his usual impeccable race, led the also-rans. Shortly before the end Gonzalez eased up and when he lapped Bonetto the two Maseratia, ran together for a time, sounding as crisp and healthy as they had at the start, It was reputed that they were using pure alcohol fuel on a 14 to 1 compression ratio and their consumption and exhaust notes indicated this.

Ascari came home the winner in his usual joyous state, but some idea of the pace is shown by the first few cars all being on the same lap after 504 kilometres. Although it was another Ferrari victory, the day had been won by Gonzalez and the new six-cylinder Maserati, ably supported by the swarthy Felice Bonetto, who had shown superb form. Chico Landi also deserved credit for a very steady and unflurried drive into eighth place with the first non-"works" car, as did Wharton, who finished ninth on the same lap, having run non-stop never more than halfway down the field.


1st:   A. Ascari (four-cylinder Ferrari) 2 hr. 50 min. 45.6 sec. 177.09 k.p.h.

2nd:  F. Gonzalez (six-cylinder Masarati) 2 hr. 51 min. 47.4 sec. 

3rd:   L. Villoresi (four-cylinder Ferrari) 2 hr. 52 min. 42.8 sec. 

4th:   G. Farina (four-cylinder Ferrari) 2 hr. 52 min. 57 sec. 

5th:   F. Bonetto  (six-cylinder Masarati) 1 lap behind

6th:   A. Simon  (four-cylinder Ferrari) 1 lap behind

7th:   P. Taruffi  (four-cylinder Ferrari) 3 laps behind

8th:   C. Landi  (six-cylinder Masarati) 4 laps behind

9th:  K. Wharton  (six-cylinder Cooper) 4 laps behind

10th:  L. Rosier  (four-cylinder Ferrari) 5 laps behind

11th:  A. Cantoni  (six-cylinder Masarati) 5 laps behind

12th:  D. Poore  (four-cylinder Connaught) 6 laps behind

13th:  E. Brandon  (six-cylinder Cooper) 7 laps behind

14th:  R. Manzon  (six-cylinder Gordini) 11 laps behind

15th:  A. Brown  (six-cylinder Cooper) 12 laps behind

Still running: M. Hawthorn (six-cylinder Cooper)

Fastest lap and record: Ascari and Gonzalez, 2 min. 6.1 sec. 179.857 k.p.h.

Retired: E. Bayol (O.S.C.A.), R. Fischer (Ferrari), K. McAlpine (Connaught),  M. Trintignant (Gordini), F. Rol (Masarati), J. Behra (Masarati), and S. Moss (Connaught)