‘Looking Forward’ to the 1955 F1 Championship Season.
The 1955 Formula 1 season can be defined in two parts, demarcated by an external event. Specifically, the entire motorsport world was changed by the tragedy at the Le Mans road car race in 1955. Before the tragedy, the season was about competing with the still dominant Mercedes-Benz W196 chassis. After Le Mans, it was about reconciling the very existence of motorsport in light of the tragedy that killed over 80 spectators at Le Mans. Even this week, at the NASCAR Nationwide Series race, spectators were injured. To me, this indicates that we still have not learned or lesson. Or perhaps, the lure of the quest for speed blinds us when it comes to safety. I hope to explore this topic more, but the discussion is most appropriate once I reach the 1955 Le Mans tragedy. Until then, I will focus on the optimism of the new 1955 season.
The Constructors and Drivers of 1955 Formula 1.
We are still a long way from the British Invasion of the 1960’s, which would eventually give way to corporate sponsorship. At this point, the only names that remain today are Scuderia Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz. I do not know the stories yet, but in time, I will share the demise of Maserati, Lancia, Vanwall, and many other great teams snuffed out by the our cold and bitter mistress–Formula 1 racing. At this stage, it may be a gentleman’s game. But, in time, determination and money will change the game into an around-the-clock pursuit of technology. Those who cannot keep pace are squeezed out of the sport with ruthless efficiency. But, as I mentioned, we are not there yet. Even though racing, in its semi-modern form, has been around for over half of a century at this point. While Grands Prix, as a form of racing, are well-established in the public perception, Formula One (qua the brand and the sport) remains in its infancy. At this point, I would not even consider Scuderia Ferrari, in all of their glory (and hubris), is still a small, fledgling company.
For various reasons, which are somewhat unclear to me, Scuderia Ferrari was simultaneously developing two chassis, the 553 and the 625. As a note, and this applies to any discussion of particular chassis’ during this era, chassis were not set in both form and identification as they are today. It was a muddier process of evolving the physical racer that you had. So, numbers are unable to characterize a particular chassis as they do today. But, at the very least, Ferrari was simultaneously updating two distinct variations.
In terms of lineup, Ferrari had a stable of drivers including Nino Farina, Umberto Maglioli, Jose Froilan Gonzalez, Maurice Trinitignant, American Harry Schell at the next race in Monaco, and Britain Mike Hawthorn in the last one-third of the season.
Daimler Benz AG would continue their technological dominance this year. The team was still governed by Alfred Neubauer’s approach to racing. Notably, among his concepts was the modern race pit-stop where every crew member has a purpose in changing the tires, refueling the car, and so forth. Fair warning, as a Mercedes-Benz road car was involved in the tragedy at Le Mans, the team will withdraw prior to the end of the 1955 F1 Championship season.
In terms of drivers, the great Juan-Manuel Fangio was on board with the factory Mercedes crew. Also on the team was Germans Karl Kling and Hans Hermann, Britain Stirling Moss, and Frenchman Piero Taruffi at the end of the season.
Their chassis remained the technologically dominant W196 with a 2.5 liter straight-eight naturally aspirated engine.
On the one hand, Maserati continued their involvement in F1 racing; however, by this time, their 250 F1 chassis was unable to keep pace with Mercedes’ F1 car. On the other hand, the 250 remained popular due to its relative affordability–especially for privateer teams. Their most notable driver was Jean Behra, however, Peter Collins also made his debut with Maserati this year.
Lancia did not enter any races past the fourth race of the season. For the most part, they only fielded a full team at the Argentinian GP and the next race of the season in Monaco (Monte Carlo). However, the Lancia D50 was noted to be nearly as fast as the Mercedes. The tight budget of Lancia would ultimately be cited as their primary reason for withdrawal. The great Alberto Ascari was their primary driver. However, heavy hitters Luigi Villoresi and Eugenio Castellotti were also members of the team.
Not much to say here, other than that they are a British team representing the seedlings of the British invasion that would dominate Formula One in the very late 1950s and throughout the entire 1960s.
The 1955 Argentinian GP.
The 1955 Argentinian Grand Prix was a dry and very hot affair. In fact, to this day, it remains tied with the 1984 Dallas GP and the 2005 Bahrain GP for hottest Grand Prix ever, at 104 degrees Fahrenheit. As it was so hot, it was a confusing affair characterized by shared drives. A shared drive is a historical oddity, in which a driver could retire their car, and then return to the race in the car of another team member. This technique was creatively employed to give the drivers temporary breaks, a respite from the heat, as it were.
Juan-Manuel Fangio won the race, in part, because he was the only driver who did not need a break from the heat. The rest of the race is so overwhelmingly confusing, that I am afraid my commentary would only confuse you, the reader. So, Fangio wins a hot and seemingly little contested race. The second and third place were occupied by shared drive confusion.
But please, check back! The next race at Monaco reaches EPIC status and I hope to bring you an insightful commentary of the race in a few days time.