The 1953 French GP: The Greatest Race?

One of the neat things about this project is finding these occasional ‘gems.’  I was prepared for a rather boring season.  But,  I have stumbled upon, what was called at the time, “the race of the century.”  First, however, a couple preliminary notes: (1) the length of the circuit changed; and (2) the name of the circuit changed.  So, old data comparisons are out.  The track was “modernized” into a higher-speed track.

The Race of the Century, at the time.

The 1953 French GP was known, for a long time, as the race of the century.  The modernized track was, of course, the Reims Circuit in Reims, France.  It took place on the weekend of July 5, 1953 and was formally tagged, “XL Grand Prix de l’ACF.”  I apologize in advance; the race was extra-large, indeed.

Most of my information is coming from a great article I found (gotta give credit where it’s due).  So, let us get get on with it, shall we?

Wikiepedia graphic showing the lead changes of the 1953 French GP

Lap leaders at start/finish of the 1953 French GP (Graphic Credit: Wikipedia)

The battle, like all great battles, occupied the entire latter-half of the race.  But first, we should probably take a quick look at qualifying.  Alberto Ascari put Scuderia Ferrari on pole with a time of 2:41.2, making his average pace approximately 116 miles per hour.  You can see from the Wikipedia graphic just how epic the race was.  There are lead changes nearly every lap or two.

However, an additional piece of data gets us started.  Specifically, Juan-Manuel Fangio scored the fastest race lap on his 25th with a time of 2:41.0.  Notably, that lap was two-ticks quicker than anyone’s time in qualifying.  From what I have seen, it is unusual to see the hammer drop in the middle of the race.  Usually, it occurs toward the beginning or the end.  So, it is reasonable to infer that Fangio was thrashing his cars through the corners bound and determined to taste victory.  Fangio is one of the all time greats and had not yet won a race this season.  Maserati had come on strong and fast, but, as you can see, it was not enough to prevail this day.

Moreover, contemporary reports suggest that this graphic still doesn’t represent every change in position between Ferrari’s Mike Hawthorn and Maserati’s -recently returned- Juan-Manuel Fangio.  Reportedly, they were changing position at nearly every turn.  Well, I had intended to walk through turn by turn, but I think I have said enough already.  But, if you are interested in more, I would highly recommend checking out the article linked above.  Now, on to the next order of business: a comparison of the Ferrari, Maserati, and Cooper chassis’.

A Look at 1953 Formula 1 Cars.

First, as a disclaimer, technically, an argument can be posited that there is no such as a 1953 F1 car, because Formula 1 was run under F2 regulations.  The distinction is irrelevant, for our present purposes, and I will call them Formula 1 cars, for the sake of simplicity.  But, I have prepared the following graphic (not to be confused with a child-like collage; which this very well may be).  Pictured first is the Ferrari 500, followed by the Cooper T20, with the Maserati A6GCM on the bottom.

Black and White pictures of 1953 Formula 1 Cars

Top: Ferrari 500; Intermediate: Cooper T20; Bottom: Maserati A6GCM

Now, the  Maserati has proved to be quickest.  And, I have said it before, I am sharing this information as I learn it.  Such is the nature of this project.  So, occasionally I may get details wrong.  If you’ll please just comment, or otherwise alert me, I will attempt to edit the pages as errors are discovered.  On the other hand, part of the point of this project is to share the experience of a relative newcomer re-look at the era.  I guess, it’s a point of view thing that I am hoping to bring to the table.  So, in other words, the content of these posts remain just my opinions.  That being said, I strive to be as factually accurate as possible.

The Maserati has a different nose from the Cooper and Ferrari.  I wonder if that played into why it was proving to be faster than the Ferrari 500, and its’ cowled nose.  In any event, I just want to highlight some of the differences and similarities of the F1 cars of 1953.  Also, you gotta love that exhaust work, especially on the Cooper, in the middle.