25th Gran Premio d'Italia
Monza, September 5th.
As the World Championship series draws to a close at the end of the season, the Italian event is traditionally held at the Monza track, which while not being a pure road circuit calls for some pretty steady driving, but the main thing required is high speed and acceleration for the 6.3 kilometre lap. In consequence of this all the regular runners in the season’s Grand Prix events tend to put in all they have for this end-of-season blind. It is at Monza, where the car as a whole is not strained so much as at Spa or Nurburgring, that the factory technicians pull out all the stops.
This year, although practice did not start officially until Friday, the previous two days saw some activity, for the track is always available for testing, and unofficial timing showed that lap times of 2 minutes were possible with the new Formula 1 cars of 2 1/2-litres capacity. Maserati had set the pace by letting Gonzalez do a lap in one of their cars and he recorded just under 2 minutes, while Ferraris turned up after that and it was reported that they too had been going round in 2 minutes. Then Mercédès-Benz hired the track and Fangio did some very definite “under 2-minute laps,” and later it was officially announced that Ascari was going to drive a Ferrari in the race, and it was he who had been going round so fast. Gonzalez had only borrowed the Maserati for fun, but as Moss was driving a works entry he would obviously be lapping about the same as Gonzalez. The result of all this pre-race activity meant that by Friday things were getting very interesting. Practice was in the afternoon and Mercédès -Benz had two streamlined cars of the Reims type And two normal “Nurburgring type” single-seater models. They had only entered three cars so one of the open ones was marked T and run purely for training purposes and this was used by Lang and Herrmann, for the quicker of these two was going to drive in the race. Fangio and Kling were the mainstay of the Mercédès -Benz team and they set out to find out which of the two types of W195 models was going to be most suitable for the Monza circuit. Fangio soon showed that the streamlined car, in spite of any difficulties he might have on the corners, was the faster car and consistently showed it to be 2 seconds a lap faster than the normal single-seater. Kling was not quite so quick as Fangio, but he too confirmed that there was about 2 seconds difference between the two types of car. In addition to these satisfying results both of them were doing under 2 minutes, Fangio being fastest with 1 min. 59 sec. and Kling with 1 min. 59.6 sec. Of the other two Lang was doing just under 2 min. 6 sec. and before Herrmann could really get going the car gave some bother and was wheeled away.
In the Ferrari camp things were not at all well, for the regular “prima donnas” of the Rampant Horse cars were having their noses put a little out of joint as all attention was being given to Ascari, who had returned to the fold for this occasion, Mr. Lancia having agreed to lend him again as the Turin cars were still not ready for racing. Having tried Maserati at Reims and Silverstone with rather miserable results, Ascari was going to have a go with Ferraris again, and they realised that he was probably the only possible driver who could out-drive Fangio, though whether he could after so long an absence and with Fangio in his present high state of tune, was not certain, but it was worth a try. The Ferrari factory were still working hard when practice started with the result that there were only four cars available and they had six runners. Trintignant had a 1953/54 car with the new type of engine, now with the twin magnetos back in the forward facing position as at Rouen earlier in the year, while there were two similar cars for Ascari to use and choose the best. Gonzalez and Hawthorn had no cars as yet and had to share a normal 1953/54 car, with early type engine, with Maglioli, who was going to drive it in the race. The sixth Ferrari entry was that of Manzon who was supposed to drive a works car, he now being fully recovered from his Berne crash, but Ascari was busy trying to make up his mind about his two cars, so that Manson had to stand by to see what was left; the 1954 type engines in these cars were of 94 by 90 bore and stroke and had the 100 deg. valve layout. Not only was there a considerable amount of shuffling about going on in the Ferrari camp, but times were not very satisfying, and oddly enough it was Gonzalez who made the fastest Ferrari lap while driving the old hack car when he lapped in exactly 2 minutes. Ascari was not much off form, for he did 2 min. 0.2 sec., but he had clearly lost the art of getting a four-cylinder Ferrari away front a standstill. In the past his take-offs were perfection, but now they were far from clean.
In the Maserati camp there was more activity than ever seen before, there being no fewer than six de Dion cars being looked after officially, while a seventh Maserati under the care of the factory was the old model of Daponte. Number one runner was Moss, his own car having a works engine, though being, prepared by his own mechanic, and for the first time he had the rear-mounted oil tank with the “Heath-Robinson” pipe system as illustrated in Motor Sport last month. This tank is bolted onto the rear of the petrol tank, the whole weight being taken by bolts in shear, and as none have broken up to now, it was felt that it would probably be all right. The main advantage of this rearward placing of the tank was a reduction in temperature of the oil with resultant improved oil pressure. As second string was Villoresi with a works car, while supported by the works, but actually customers, were Mantovani, Musso and Mieres, and a surprise addition to the ranks of the Modena trident was the Frenchman Rosier. Having struggled along with his four-cylinder Ferrari until Pescara he finally got tired of it and decided to buy a Maserati, so as a preliminary outing he was driving one of the works cars under their supervision. It was painted dark blue for the occasion and in addition to the rear-placed oil tank it also had the new riveted alloy petrol tank, as had Villoresi, Mieres and Musso, the last-named also having a rather improbable looking exhaust system that was claimed to give more power at the top end. This consisted of the normal pair of three-branch manifolds, but instead of running into two tail-pipes one above the other, they fed into a large-diameter single pipe. As expected Moss did not hang about for long and his best recorded time was 2 min. 0.8 sec., which was not bad for a first practice session, but surprise of the day was Villoresi who turned in 2 min. 0.2 sec. and it was not only a question of the Maserati being very fast, but Luigi was having a real go on the corners. The speed of the Maseratis was proving to be much more than anyone anticipated and to prove this Mantovani did 2 mm. 2.7 sec. and Musso 2 min. 4.4 sec.; two times that were very good for two comparatively inexperienced drivers, though Mantovani has been making steady but rather unspectacular progress all season, his driving being very safe and certain. Mieres was learning his way round Monza pretty quickly and was between the other two with 2 min. 3.6 sec., while Rosier toured quietly round finding out what the Maserati was all about; in spite of this it broke and he waa given another red car for the race.
The fourth team of cars were the three Gordinis, driven by Behra, Bucci and Wacker, as at Berne, and apart from Behra they were rather wasting their time in this heated battle, though Behra only got down to 2 min. 2.4 sec. by tucking in behind Gonzalez while he was really trying and getting sucked along. Normally the Gordini limit seemed to be about 2 min. 0.5 sec., a time that was hopelessly out of the running. The only remaining runner was Peter Collins with the Vanwall Special and it was still fitted with the 2.3-litre engine, the new 2.5-litre one having damaged itself during some testing just prior to leaving. Mr. Vandervell deserved full marks for putting the car in the thick of the opposition, and though the four Amal G.P. carburetters were being it bit bothersome, Collins was by no means outclassed by giving away nearly a quarter of a litre in this battle where every c.c. was going to count. Knowing the Italian climate and the conditions of running at Monza, the Vandervell equipe wisely fitted a normal radiator to the car as they had not had sufficient experience with the surface-type one to try it under such extreme conditions. A small point this, but at least it showed a healthy appreciation of the job in hand and augured well for the future of the Vandervell team, for we have seen too often the results of lack of thought before leaving the home base when going to a big Continental meeting. That completed the list of runners and it was rather interesting to note the only individual entries by private owners were those of Daponte and Manson, though the former was being looked after by the works mechanics and the latter was driving a works car, so in effect the whole entry for the Italian Grand Prix came from factories. a most healthy state of affairs for Grand Prix racing in the grand manner and one that has been approaching all season; if the expected teams of Lancia, Alfa-Romeo, Bugatti and B.R.M. join in next year, then a shortage of room is going to make itself felt and someone will have to drop out, while driver shortage is already a problem.
Practice ended with Mercédès-Benz on top with their two first-line drivers and they had set the pace, but it was very obvious that Ferrari and Maserati were breathing very heavily down their necks.
The order of the first six fastest was Fangio, Kling, Gonzalez, Ascari/ Villoresi and Moss, with only 1.8 sec., or a flick of the timekeeper’s eyelids, between the first and sixth, Things were indeed warming up and the next practice period was looked forward to with great interest.
Whereas Friday had been rather overcast and heavy as far as the weather was concerned, Saturday was a perfect Italian day and the heat was terrific. Although practice started at 2 p.m., no one was very keen to start because of the heat and only Mercédès-Benz were out to begin with. They were running their T car, the single-seater one, and all the team, including the chief of the technical department Uhlenhaut, were taking turns to thrash it round. Fangio and Kling almost got down to 2 minutes with it, Kling using 8,700 r.p.m. and Fangio being content with 200 less, while Uhlenhaut was doing consistent laps in 2 mm. 6.0 sec., which was incredibly good for “chief-of-department” and “number 8 hat”; Lang and Herrmann were having a battle to decide who would drive in the race and eventually the younger man won, though the 1939 star was not so far behind. While all this was going on everyone else was sitting in the shade waiting for the temperature to drop a bit and it was not until nearly 4 p.m. that things began to liven up and then suddenly the pace became as hot as the weather had been. Ferrari produced all his cars, Gonzalez having a “stumpy” 1954 model, Ascari having a 1953 chassis with an engine from the “stumpy” model fitted, which is to say the 94 by 90 bore/stroke and 100 deg. valves, but with forward placed magnetos very low on the timing case and the water pump mounted horizontally just above them. Hawthorn, Trintignant and Manzon had normal late-type 1953/54 cars the second of the three having a reserve fuel tank fitted just forward of the driving seat on the floor of the cockpit, while Maglioli still had to be content with the old car that everyone had used the day before. Gonzalez could not improve on his time with the old car, which did not prove anything but merely puzzled everyone, Hawthorn got to within a fifth of a second of breaking 2 minutes, while Ascari did 1 min. 59.9 sec. which brought forth loud cheers from the vast crowd in the grandstand and a new lease of life to all Italians.
In the Maserati camp things were still going well, for Moss was within a tenth of a second of 2 minutes and confident of being capable of better things, and Villoresi had really got his teeth into the new Maserati, being only fractionally slower than the English driver. It looked as though Villoresi had regained his youth the way he was going round the corners, for he was really trying and occasionally he tried a bit too hard, once using a considerable amount of grass and another time spinning the car completely, but each time pressing on again without the slightest pause. As if to prove to themselves that the large-diameter tail-pipe did not really do anything it was taken from Musso’s car and fitted onto that of Villoresi’s, without any noticeable difference. Mantovani improved on his previous best, as did Mieres and Musso, these three now having laps at 2 min. 1.6 sec., 2 min. 1.7 sec. and 2 min. 3.5 sec., respectively. The Gordinis improved slightly, but still were not fast enough to keep up with the general pace, and the Vanwall had cured its bout of misfiring and now sounded really delightful as Collins flung it about. He got down to 2 min. 5.2 sec. and on occasions tried so hard that he had the car sideways-on coming out of the corners.
After this hard bout of activity there was a slight lull until 15 minutes before practice finished, when Moss went out again and with no apparent effort he clocked 1 min. 59.3 sec., which not only was fastest time of the day, but was only 0.3 sec. slower than Fangio’s all-time best. This made everyone sit up and take notice and Moss thought he had fixed things, but Ferraris were equal to it and Ascari went off immediately afterwards, while everyone held their breath to see what would happen. It was very obvious that Alberto was giving his car the big stick and when he did 1 min. 59.2 sec. on the last lap of the day, just as the red flag announced end of practice, the Italians clasped each other and screamed with delight. The English were happy, for Moss had stirred things up well, while the Germans still had the best practice time, so everyone went home contented, while the mechanics set to work to get the cars ready for the following day.
A national sports-car race attracted the customers and generally got everyone into a racing frame of mind during the Sunday morning, and after lunch the Grand Prix cars were wheeled out and lined up in rows of three for the start at 3 p.m. Conditions were ideal for racing, it was warm and dry, but a cloudy haze covered the sun and kept the intense heat away. There were 20 cars on the grid, the only non-starter being de Riu whose old 2-litre Maserati was not fast enough to qualify, and in the front row were Fangio, Ascari and Moss, on Mercédès-Benz, Ferrari and Maserati, respectively, and as their nationalities were Argentinian, Italian and English, one could not wish for a healthier situation in Grand Prix racing. In addition to this, row two contained Kling, Gonzalez and Villoresi, on Mercédès-Benz, Ferrari and Maserati, respectively, in the same order as row one and in row three was again one of each of these three makes, in the order Ferrari, Mercédès-Benz, Maserati, the drivers being Hawthorn, Herrmann and Mantovani, in that order. The race was clearly going to be an almighty battle and the result was as open as the grid was mixed, for in row four were Mieres, Trintignant, Behra; row five, Maglioli, Musso, Manzon; row six, Collins, Bucci, Wacker and at the back Daponte and Rosier, there being just 12 seconds covering the difference in time between the first car and the 20th car.
As the flag went up the tension rose and the whole pack of cars strained to be away and as it fell Kling made a perfect start from row two and was abreast of Fangio as everyone surged forward. Ascari was slow off the mark and it was Moss who nipped in behind the two Mercédès-Benz cars as they accelerated away up the wide straight. From the start the cars can be seen as they go down the return leg of the course and after a brief pause as the field jostled its way through the tricky Lesmo corners in the woods on the far side of the course the two streamlined German cars were seen leading the pack down the back leg. This opening lap saw Kling leading by a few feet from Fangio and just behind, literally side by side, came Ascari, Gonzalez and Moss, followed by Hawthorn, Herrmann, Maglioli and the rest all in a bunch in this mad scramble of an opening lap. At the end of the next lap the two Mercédès-Benz were still together, in front of the field, and it began to look as though a repetition of Reims was going to take place, and when the third time round saw Kling, with Fangio a few inches behind him, still leading by some yards from the Italian cars, everyone was sure that the streamlined Mercédès-Benz were going to be uncatchable. For third place there was an almighty scrap going on between Ascari, Gonzalez and Moss, the three of them being hub to hub as they raced past the grandstands, while behind them the rest of the field were spreading out, the pace already telling on some of them. Behra’s Gordini was the first to give up, only to be followed a little while later by Bucci’s Gordini losing a tyre tread and having to stop at the pits to change the wheel.
Lap five saw Kling make a slight error on one of the corners, and so close was the racing that before he was sorted out not only had Fangio gone by but Gonzalez, Ascari and Moss also, they having already changed their positions. Kling was now fifth, with Hawthorn not far behind, followed by Herrmann and Villoresi. The leading four cars now were out on their own and Gonzalez was beside Fangio on lap five, while Moss passed Ascari, and the next lap saw Ascari pass the lot of them so that the order was Ascari, Gonzalez, Fangio and Moss, but with only a few feet separating the first and fourth. Now there was no possible chance of a German runaway victory, for Fangio was surrounded by Italian cars, Kling could make up none of his lost ground and Herrmann drew into his pit on lap seven to have a plug changed, which lost him a complete lap, so the German team were now very badly placed. Once in front Ascari really showed that he had lost none of his touch and is still a master-driver, and by the time 10 laps had been completed he had made 6 seconds lead over Fangio who still had Gonzalez and Moss alongside him. Villoresi had not only got past Kling, but also past hawthorn and was 20 seconds behind Ascari and he was staying there, losing no ground whatsoever, which was quite remarkable. Already the tail-enders had been lapped and in spite of some spirited driving going on in the middle of the field, the leaders were not far from lapping people like Maglioli, Mieres and Musso who were having a wheel-to-wheel battle the whole way. At 15 laps Fangio had managed to shake Gonzalez and Moss from his slipstream and began to close up on Ascari, while Moss got past Gonzalez and settled in third place. It was not until lap 17 that the pattern of the race began to settle down for Gonzalez dropped out of the running with “stumpy” Ferrari when its gearbox gave out, and on the same lap a second Ferrari retired, when Manzon’s car had engine trouble.
At 20 laps, a mere quarter of the total distance, Fangio had got alongside Ascari, Moss was 10 seconds behind, so obviously sitting and watching the two great masters carve each other about that it was amusing, while Villoresi was back in his youth and never dropped as much as a second on Ascari. Some way back came Kling and he had left Hawthorn well behind, while young Mantovani was driving a very smooth race and steadily making up ground on Hawthorn. The remaining nine runners were spread out behind, the Mieres, Maglioli, Musso battle having been broken up when Ferraris called their man in so that Gonzalez could take over. Collins was running in the middle of the “rest,” the Vanwall sounding extremely crisp and smooth, but in spite of the fact that it was performing well for a 2.3-litre car, the leading pace was so hot that on lap 20 Moss lapped Collins, Ascari and Fangio having already done so. The issue was now pretty clear and Fangio was not going to have any nonsense from Ascari, for on lap 22 they dead-heated over the line, lap 23 Fangio led, lap 24 Ascari led and for the next six laps they were never more than 2 seconds apart anywhere. All this time Moss was comfortably relaxed in third place, a consistent 7 seconds behind, sufficiently close to watch the two masters trying hard to push each other off the track, and still Villoresi was in fourth place just 20 seconds behind the leader. Kling was now in some difiiculties, as oil was blowing from the engine, he could not see through his goggles and his windscreen was getting smothered, but he managed to hold on to fifth place in spite of this. Mantovani had now come to grips with Hawthorn and the two of them started a battle that was remarkably evenly matched. Hawthorn’s superior driving ability overcoming the difference in speed between the Ferrari and the Maserati. Among the remainder Musso retired out on the course, Mieres had a rear shock-absorber and part of the chassis frame break off, Trintignant had a split exhaust pipe and stopped to have it wired up and Gonzalez stopped for an extra seat cushion as he could not really control the Ferrari using Maglioli’s driving position, the Italian being very tall.
Just before half-distance Ascari was still leading Fangio by 1 sec. and the two Maseratis of Moss and Villoresi were sitting behind. The Englishman then decided to move up and see how the battle between the two World Champions was going and on lap 37 he was on Fangio’s tail, but, at the same time Villoresi also speeded up and reduced his gap from Ascari down to 9 seconds, so clearly the Maseratis were going incredibly fast, and in fact were probably the fastest cars in the race for sheer speed. Rather typically there was very little system in the running of the Maserati team, with the result that at the end of the 40th lap, which was half-distance, Ascari led by a few lengths, but Fangio had the two Maseratis right alongside, Villoresi now having passed Moss, while the next lap saw Villoresi ahead of Fangio and it looked as though he was going to start pressing Ascari. Fully appreciative of the absurdity of racing against his own team-mate Moss eased back and sat behind Fangio and on lap 43 Villoresi came into his pit and retired with a ruined clutch. In his efforts he had taken the Maserati engine up to 8,800 r.p.m. and bits had flown off the clutch. Moss now took up the battle and swept past Fangio; on lap 45 he got past Ascari and the young Maserati driver was now in the lead, with the two greatest drivers of this present age pressing him hard, but still Moss looked completely unruffled and when the three of them lapped Hawthorn, Mantovani and Gonzalez, the six cars went round in a bunch, the slower ones slip-streaming along the straights. While all this excitement had been going on Kling had gone straight off the road into the woods at Lesmo due to not being able to see through the oil mist, but luckily he was completely unhurt ; so Hawthorn was now in fourth place, with Mantovani still only a few feet behind.
For two laps Ascari got the lead back from Moss, only to lose it again and on lap 49 the Ferrari dropped a valve into its engine and that was that, Alberto was out, but not until he had shown that he was still on the top of the tree. While this little battle had been going on, Fangio was having trouble with Gonzalez, for the fat Argentinian, although a lap behind, refused to be shaken off and clung onto the tail of the Mercédès-Benz for lap after lap, so that with Ascari out Moss had a clear run and built up his lead second by second until he was 15 seconds in front by lap 60. Gonzalez eventually had to let Fangio go and after this little dice he stopped and gave the car back to Maglioli, now being in fifth place. A lap behind the Hawthorn/Mantovani duel was still waging, there never being more than 1 second between them.
Collins had been running very steadily and had moved up into sixth place on consistency as others dropped out, but on lap 63 he had to stop at his pit as the oil pressure gauge had burst internally and was leaking into the cockpit. After stopping the leak by the simple expedient of flattening the pipe. Collins continued, the Vanwall four-cylinder still sounding very healthy. Moss was now way out on his own, 20 seconds ahead of Fangio, and was driving so smoothly and relaxed that it was hard to believe that he was leading the ltalian Grand Prix, having battled with all the great Grand Prix names. There was no question of straining the Maserati, the car was running well within its limits, but on lap 68 the Moss bogey arose and he pulled into his pit. The oil pressure had started to fall on corners and he was losing oil. Very quickly, almost too quickly, oil was poured in and he was away, but Fangio had gone by and as Moss finished the next lap oil was streaming out of the tail of the car. He was running just in front of Hawthorn as they went by and Mike waved frantically at the Maserati pit and pointed to the tail of Moss’ car, but it was too late, the engine had already suffered front the loss of oil and Moss completed the lap pushing the wrecked Maserati and had to watch Fangio take his victory from his grasp. He pushed the car to within a few feet of the line and sat and watched the Mercédès-Benx tour round to complete the final 12 laps. Most people would have torn their hair out and screamed blue murder, but Moss drank his Coca-Cola and was satisfied that at least he had shaken the opposition in no mean manner. What had happened to the Maserati was that the suction pipe from the rear-mounted oil tank had cracked round the flange where it joins the tank, and consequently had drawn in gulps of air, and air is not a good lubricant for bearings. The Maserati team were heartbroken for a win at Monza meant more to them than anything else, and as if the Modena Trident had not suffered enough, two laps later Mantovani stopped with a broken de Dion tube and then continued to drive slowly round in an endeavour to finish, letting Hawthorn go unchallenged on into second place, a lap behind the leader. The last few laps saw Fangio touring round, with a straggling procession following him and for the second year running Fangio won the Italian Grand Prix due to other people’s misfortunes, while Mercédès-Benz chalked up another win in the 1954 Grand Prix series, but this time a very shaky and chancey win. One lap behind came Hawthorn in second place, through no fault of his own, followed by Maglioli in third place, thanks to Gonzalez having driven the car most of the way, while fourth was Herrmann who had quietly made up for his pit stop at the beginning of the race. The rest of the eleven finishers came straggling in, Moss pushed his car over the line into tenth place, and Mantovani kept his Maserati in one piece to finish ninth.
The Italian Grand Prix had been a hard battle from the moment practice started and the scene of desolation among the cars was enormous, while the result as such gave no indication whatsoever of the character of the race. Morally everyone, even the Italians, felt that Moss was the winner, for he had driven the most intelligent race, being content to sit just behind Ascari and Fangio while they tried to break each other up. Ascari had been out to prove that he could still drive and did so in no mean manner, while Fangio was out to win another Grand Prix, which he was lucky in doing. Although it was a lucky win for Fangio he deserved it in one way in that he was completely alone in upholding the Mercédès-Benz name and was attacked on all sides throughout the race. First Gonzalez battled with him, then Ascari, then Moss, then Villoresi, Moss again and in addition Gonzalez fought him furiously when he was being lapped, so that Fangio never had a moment’s relaxation until 10 laps before the end when Moss was finally out; all the time he had to do battle against one or the other of the opposition, and it says a great deal for his tenacity that he stuck it out right to the end. He was very tired when he finished and there was no doubt that it was one of the hardest races he has ever won, but by doing so he because undisputed 1954 World Champion, having won the Grand Prix events of Argentina, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy, two with Maserati cars and four with the new Mercédès-Benz in their first season of Grand Prix racing since 1939.