Ascari still the master
AS has been traditional for many years, the Swiss Grand Prix was held at Berne on the Bremgarten circuit, acclaimed by many people as one of the best road-racing circuits in Europe. Lying just outside the City of Berne, literally at the end of the municipal tram tracks, the Bremgarten circuit is fast becoming unique in that it remains unaltered throughout the years. Nowadays so many circuits present an entirely different aspect each year that it is difficult to form any sort of continuity between the races held over a period of years. Since its inception the Berne circuit has remained unchanged in shape and the only changes have been slight widening and resurfacing, so that pre-war records still mean something today. In one feature the Bremgarten stands alone and that is the fact that it has no straights, being made up entirely of curves and corners, and the slowest of these is a hairpin taken at around 50 m.p.h. The result is a circuit upon which driving skill pays dividends and road-holding is all important. It is rather significant that the out-and-out lap record still stands to Bernd Rosemeyer with an Auto-Union in 1936 at 2 min. 34.5 see., a speed of 169.632 k.p.h., and though Fangio approached this in practice in 1951 with a 159 Alfa-Romeo to within fractions of a second, as a race record it still stands.
Naturally the Swiss Grand Prix counted for the World Championship but also it is something of a classic event in its own right, for it is held at the height of the holiday season, the town of Berne is fascinating and Switzerland at any time is a good place to be in, with the result that Berne is one of those events that everyone feels they must attend. The meeting has the further attraction of being combined with the Swiss Motor-cycle Grand Prix, so that the two internal combustion engine worlds combine in a veritable orgy of speed.
Over the years the Bremgarten circuit has attained a reputation for being a dangerous circuit, due to numerous fatalities that have occurred in the past, but this is not altogether justified, for while it is not the safest of circuits, it is certainly not the most dangerous, but it is, however, not a circuit on which to learn, nor is it a circuit on which to make mistakes. In the past a number of accidents have occurred at the Eymatt corner, at a point where the circuit changes from very fast downhill swerves in bright sunlight to an uphill section under the shade of large trees and thick undergrowth, and it is said that the sudden change of light conditions is severe on the human eye and likely to cause faulty judgment. This year the corner was lined with a wall of straw bales, painted black and white, and the road width was reduced slightly in an endeavour to make competitors more conscious of the corner’s severity and visibility, on the old principle that the more dangerous a thing appears the more cautious people will be. Apart from this modification, as remarked at the beginning, the circuit remains unchanged.
Two evening practice periods were allotted the Grand Prix cars and right from the word go the battle for the front row of the starting-grid commenced. Ferraris were out in full force with Ascari, Farina, Hawthorn and Villoresi, supported by the private four-cylinders of Swaters, Rosier and Hirt, the last driving the Ecurie Espandon car, while de Terra was driving the old 12-cylinder car from the same stable. With Gonzalez being out of action the Maserati force was weakened somewhat, and Fangio, Bonetto and Marimon were supported by Hermann Lang on the fourth works car, while de Graffenried had the Plate car and “Chico” Landi was making his first European appearance this year, with one of the Scuderia Banderiantes cars of last year, now fitted with a 12-plug engine, so that it was eight Ferraris against six Maseratis. With Harry Schell at Goodwood. Gordini fielded two cars only, driven by Trintignant and Behra. With the entry limited to only 21 cars, this meant only another five vacancies and all these were allotted to English cars. Wharton was an obvious choice, with his Cooper-Bristol, having finished fourth last year with the Frazer-Nash, the three H.W.M.s were very old customers and reliable starters, and the remaining place was allotted to Connaught. with Bira nominated as driver. However, this last entry did not arrive and for the first evening’s practice his place was taken by Wacker with his Gordini Six. Ascari used his practice car and for some peculiar Swiss reason was allotted a new number from that in the programme, and he even kept to this number for the race.
The first evening was fine and sunny and ideal for fast motoring, and the opportunity was taken to travel across the centre of the circuit and watch some cornering, for gone are the days when cars were fast enough to get into difficulties: out the curve past the pits. The 1½-litre Alfa-Romeos used to take the pits curve on the very limit of adhesion and driving styles could be compared with ease, but since the domination of Formula II this curve has presented no difficulty whatsoever. Observing on an uphill left-hand bend, on a rather bumpy surface, Ascari’s ability stood out, his speed through this bend being noticeably faster than anyone else’s. It was soon seen that the battle of times was between Ascari and Fangio and, though the Maserati’s road-holding was inferior, Fangio was really motoring. Farina was fast, but never seemed to be on the same line twice, while Villoresi was not outstanding and Hawthorn was not feeling very fit, his driving suffering in consequence. On this same bend the H.W.M.s showed clearly that their road-holding leaves nothing to be desired, though they lack sheer power, and Wharton was driving superbly in spite of the dubious handling of the Cooper, as was Trintignant, the Gordini looking most dangerous as it skittered on its suspension. Marimon enlivened the proceedings by getting his blue and yellow Maserati into a lock-to-lock bounce as he approached the corner, correcting in an effortless manner and cornering with that blank look on his face like a Sunday tripper to Brighton. At first it seemed rather unwise of everyone to motor so fast on the first practice day, for Fangio was fastest with 2 min. 40.1 sec., Ascari next with 2 min. 40.7 sec., followed by Farina next in 2 min. 42.6 sec. and Trintignant in 2 min. 43.8 sec., but it turned out to be a wise move for the next evening’s period was run in heavy rain and everyone’s times were naturally a great deal slower. Ascari retained his spare car again and having done some pretty steady training he took over Hawthorn’s car and went even faster. Hawthorn afterwards took it over again and proceeded to beat Ascari’s time by 0.1 sec., these two being easily the fastest in the wet. Fangio also indulged in some car changing; having done 2 min. 51.5 sec. in his own car, he took over Lang’s and did 2 min. 58.7 sec., whereas the German driver could not better 3 min. 2.2 see. with it. Paul Frere, who was driving an H.W.M. in place of Duncan Hamilton, went very quickly in the wet, very nearly equalling Trintignant’s time, but all the others were much slower. When practice finished, in almost total darkness due to the, very bad weather, it was Hawthorn who had made fastest time but, of course, he was a lot slower than the previous day.
This year the race was lengthened from the usual 42 laps to 65 laps, a total distance of 473.2 kilometres, and under perfect weather conditions the field lined up for the start, with Fangio. in number one position, the grid being as follows :- Farina (Ferrari) Ascari (Ferrari) Fangio (Maserati) Marimon (Maserati) Trintignant (Gordini) de Graffenried (Maserati) Hawthorn (Ferrari) Villoresi (Ferrari) Bonetto (Maserati) Wharton (Cooper) Swaters (Ferrari) Behra (Gordini) Lang (Maserati) Macklin (H. W.M.) Rosier (Ferrari) Secherrer (H.W.M.) Hirt. (Ferrari) Frere (H. W.M.) Landi (Maseraii) de Terra (Ferrari)
As the flag fell both Fangio and Ascari moved off together, but after only a few yards the Maserati began to forge ahead, while Farina hung very badly and was passed by half the field before his Ferrari would pick up properly. Everyone was away and as they streamed round the Bethlehem corner after the start it was Fangio in the lead, but not for long, for when they re-appeared at the end of lap one it was Ascari who was in the lead and by a considerable distance, followed by Fangio, Hawthorn, Marimon, Villoresi, Bonetto, Farina, de Graffenried, Trintignant and the rest of the field, all of them being spaced at fairly regular intervals. A quick count showed that not the whole field had passed; there were two cars missing, the Ferraris of Rosier and Swaters, and, as last year on the opening lap, Rosier had spun off the road on the climb up through the woods on the return leg of the course. In the general melee he had touched Frere’s H.W.M. and been deflected into the bushes. fortunately without damage, but it meant be was out of the race as soon as it had begun. The other private Ferrari, that of Swaters, also ran into the bushes in the crowding for the Forsthans hairpin, but again with no damage, while the other Belgian driver, Frere, was out on lap two when a con.-rod broke on his H.W.M. Meanwhile Ascari steadily built up a commanding lead and for four laps the order remained unchanged among the Italian ears, but, on the fifth lap Marimon lost some time and dropped back three places and Farina began to get into his stride, catching first Bonetto and then Villoresi and Hawthorn, and by lap seven was in third place. By 10 laps Ascari was out on his own and Fangio looked to be losing ground and, sure enough, at the end of that lap he came into the pits, to be followed very soon afterwards by Bonetto. In quick time they changed cars and rejoined the race, but the next lap Fangio was in again to have the near-side front wheel changed, so that Bonetto was still ahead, now in Fangio’s car. Already Ascari had lapped the slower cars and before another five laps were over there were only nine cars on the same lap, at the tail of which was Wharton, driving remarkably well and keeping ahead of de Graffenried’s Maserati and not far behind Lang’s.
Now things began to settle down, with Farina in second place, after Fangio’s stop, Villoresi and Hawthorn scrapping for third place. followed by Marinton. Bonetto. Trintiguant and Fangio, the last rapidly making up time. When all looked fairly settled, Villoresi suddenly arrived at his pit with the nose cowling dented from contact with the palisades on the edge of the track, the dent being deep enough to foul the steering connections. While this was cured he dropped back to sixth place and soon after that was passed by Fangio, who was now moving up pretty steadily, but not lapping as fast as Ascari for he was now over a lap in arrears and still losing ground on the leader. Things began to settle down again, with Ascari still all on his own, followed by Farina, equally alone, then Hawthorn with Marimon not far behind and gaining a little, these two not yet having been lapped by the leader. After a lengthy pause came Fangio, then Bonetto, Villoresi and Trintignant and after another long pause was Wharton, now leading the two Maseratis of Lang and de Graffenried. Right out of the running came the remainder of the field, in the order Macklin, Behra, Minch. Scherrer and de Terra, the last going slower than any Ferrari has ever gone. On lap 28 Fangio passed the pits with a cloud of smoke coming out of the exhaust pipe that was so vast that following cars had to slow to a crawl due to the bad visibility, and it looked rather as though a con.-rod had come out through the side in a big way. He managed to complete another lap and came into the pit, the mechanics lifting the bonnet very carefully and taking a quick peep underneath only to hurriedly shut it and wheel the car away. It was one of the biggest engine blow-ups seen for a long time and the anti-splash guard on the side of the engine cowling was covered in tiny particles of aluminium, while the maximum indicating needle on the rev.-counter stood at 9.700 r.p.m. A little white later Macklin put up another smoke screen, but much smaller, and he was out with a broken piston.
By less than half-distance Ascari had settled into such a commanding lead and was lapping so regularly that it seemed that nothing could stop him, and Farina was equally settled in second place. Third position, however, was a different story, for Marimon, who had been speeding up for some time, now caught Hawthorn, and the two younger members of the Grand Prix fraternity started an interesting duel that took the attention from the leader, until on lap 39, as he passed the start, Ascari’s car suddenly made it very flat-sounding noise just as if the magnetos had got on full retard. He completed the lap and came into the pits just as Farina took the lead, and the mechanics spent 11 minutes looking for the trouble. The engine was firing on all four cylinders but seemed to have gone flat and Lampredi looked underneath to see if anything was hanging out. Eventually the trouble was traced to a choked jet in one of the carburetters and a judicious tap with a mallet freed the obstruction and all the power returned. Ascari accelerating back into the fray, now in fourth place behind the Hawthorn-Marirnon scrap. All this naturally left Farina with a long lead, which he made sure of by putting in a lap in 2 min. 43.1 sec., and it seemed unlikely that Ascari could make up the loss, but he tried hard and on lap 44 set up a new record for the race in 2 min. 42 sec., a speed of 162.778 k.p.h. Marimon eventually won his duel, but no sooner had he outdistanced Hawthorn than the Maserati went sick and he dropped right back, eventually to disappear out on the circuit with mechanical trouble on lap 47. In the meantime, Trintignant, who had, as usual, been the only non-Italian car in the running, stopped out on the circuit as well, with a broken rear end, while Behra was already in the dead-car park with a broken oil pipe. Villoresi was in twice for water, the car sending up a gusher of steam when the radiator cap was released, but, contrary to all text-book ideas, a can of cold water was poured straight in and he was away again. Wharton did a smart refuel without losing a place, but he had already been overtaken by Lang, though de Graffenried was still behind. The works cars were all going through non-stop, only the slower cars having to refuel, and Landi was as swift at taking on fuel as de Terra was slow. After taking on more water. Villoresi came in yet again, this time to have his right-hand rear wheel changed, and this let Lang get by into fifth place. though the Ferrari was not too far behind, and at the same time de Graffenried stopped at the pits and retired his Maserati with internal trouble.
As the leaders came by on lap 50, more or less equally spaced in the order Farina, Hawthorn. Ascari, the pit gave them the blue and yellow flag and a sign to ease up now, for they were all more than a lap in front of the nearest Maserati, that driven by Bonetto. However, at this point the sun was going down and as the drivers came round the curve by the start they received its glare full in the face and had to drive with one hand, shielding their eyes meanwhile with the other. It may have been due to this that none of them saw the signal, or, alternatively, they conveniently forgot what it meant, for none of them slowed up and the very next lap Ascari was on Hawthorn’s tail, to pass him on lap 52. One more lap and he had got Farina in sight and on the next lap he was back in the lead. At this point in the race, with only eleven laps to go, Landi came to rest with a broken gearbox on his Meserati, which left only seven cars in the running, though the two Swiss drivers, Scherrer and de Terra, were still circulating, the former on the only remaining H.W.M going quite well, and the latter going so slowly on the old 12-cylinder Ferrari that on every lap it looked as though he was coming into the pits, but he never did. Scherrer had spun round on the hairpin, just before half-distance, and stalled the engine and had valiantly pushed the car back to the pits, a distance of nearly a kilometre. Having arrived be told the mechanics it would not go, meaning that the engine had stopped due to spinning round, but omitted to mention that, with the result that they began to look for some trouble and the only thing they could find to suspect was the magneto, which was changed in double quick time and the Swiss driver rejoined the race, whereas in actual fact there was nothing wrong with the car apart from a stalled engine. Villoresi continued to press along and re-caught Lang, taking fifth place, but no sooner had he done this than the Ferrari was again boiling and he had to steep on lap 58 and have more water poured in, which let Lang by once more. Not content with catching Hawthorn and Farina. Ascari continued to motor quickly, and built up over a minute lead from his team-mate and kept up the pace right to the end of the 65 laps.
The last eight laps were reeled off without incident, quite a change after such a varied race, for at no time had the entire field settled down to any sort of order, as usually happens in a long race; if it was not an unexpected pit-stop, it was a battle for a position, or a retirement, but at all times there had been something of interest happening.
By winning the Swiss Grand Prix and also making fastest lap, Ascari put the seal on the World Championship and, though there remain the Italian race and the Spanish race, he now cannot possibly be beaten on points. Ascari, Farina and Hawthorn finished in that order, on the same lap, with Bonetto in fourth place, one lap behind, having driven a very steady and reasonably fast race in Fangio’s car. Three laps behind came Lang, Villoresi and Wharton, the last having driven an excellent race in a car that was hopelessly outclassed on performance but which nevertheless finished creditably by reason of its driver’s ability. The two Swiss nationals were way behind, content at having finished, but with a large deficit of laps.
While being a walk-over for the Ferrari team, it was by no means an easy race for them, for though the opposition gave no trouble, they were hampered a bit by their own mechanical reliability but managed to have all four cars finish the race. Maseratis, on thee other hand, made an early tactical error in changing drivers, for had Fangio kept to his original car he would have certainly been fourth and possibly third, instead of which he achieved nothing but a ruined engine, whereas the swarthy Bonetto, who obviously does not take the stuffing out of a car like the Argentinian, had no trouble in finishing fourth. Lang’s drive in the Maserati team for the first time, while not outstanding, was a sound first attempt, for he finished without damage and not having done anything stupid, which, after all, is the most important thing to do when lent a car for the first time, for a searing first-lap lead and car upside down in the ditch never impresses the team-chiefs or anyone else for that matter. Apart from all that, of course, there is nothing like keeping your hand in, on someone else’s car, ready for the 1954 Grand Prix season.
The Berne meeting always spreads the racing over two days, and this year the Saturday was given over to national sports-car races, with classes for standard sports cars and “racing” sports cars. These events produced some of the dreariest drivers imaginable and, apart from one or two exceptions, there seemed little point in wasting petrol in some of the cars.
The first category was for under-1,500.c.c. cars and the standard class was a procession of Porsches, while the super-sports class should have been won by a Glockler-Porsche, but this blew up soon after the start and a Veritas won at a a vastly inferior speed to the standard Porsches. The over-1500-c.c. class was enlivened by the presence of Willy Daetwyler with his V12 Alfa-Romeo, this being an ex-Ferrari car with a similar chassis to that of Dennis Poore’s 3.8-litre but fitted with the s/c. 4½-litre 12-cylinder engine that Alfa-Romeo played with in 1936-37 but never used for racing. With a very light two-seater racing shell this car is fantastically fast and, in winning the super-sports class, Daetwyler set up a new sports-car record in 2 min. 52.4 sec. – 152.019 k.p.h., beating Lang’s last year record with the 300SL Mercedes-Benz. The rest of the class were two laps behind in 10, while the winner of the standard class, run at the same time, was only one lap behind. Behind three standard Jaguar 120s and in front of a Nash-Healey came a Bugatti coupe, religiously described as a 57SC, but which. was in fact a rather well-preserved Type 55.
To complete the speed orgy the Swiss Grand Prix for motor-cycles and for sidecar machines was run during the two days and at the end of each of the four races, three solo and one sidecar. the crowd stood to “God Save the Queen,” for British riders dominated the whole meeting in spite of strong opposition from Germany and Italy, but unfortunately, apart from the sidecar outfit, they were all mounted on foreign machines : it would appear that England is equally out of the running on two wheels as she is on four wheels.
The Bremgarten has a peculiarity of its own for it is one of the rare circuits. on which the present-day Formula II cars do not seem able to go fast enough to approach pre-war times or Formula 1 times, and now the motor-cycles are going quicker : Coleman (500-e.e. A.J.S.) put in a race lap of 2 min. 41 sec.. a whole second faster than Ascari’s best.
The Swiss appear to appreciate the value of English racing cars and offer starting-money accordingly, with the result that certain entries did not accept on the grounds of the price being too low. The H.W.M. team, while not the fastest of English racing cars, at least get regular entries in most of the Continental events, being content to accept the organisers’ idea of their value. Also, of course. they have a five-year reputation of always being on the starting-line, even if they don’t always finish.
Congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Desmond Scannell, of the B.R.D.C., on the birth of a daughter, Deirdre Ann.
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The MOTOR SPORT race at the Nottingham, S.C.C. Silverstone Meeting was won by F. C. Hill (Empire Special), at 66.71 m.p.h., from P. A. Desoutter’s Lotus and Peter Gamma’s M.G.. The next race is at the S.U.N.B.A.C. Meeting on September 6th.
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