The 1955 Belgian GP

Lancia Withdraws from F1.

1955 Lancia D50

1955 Lancia D50 (Photo credit: al_green)

Lancia, despite their foray into Grands Prix racing, was struggling financially.  Lancia was sold to new ownership.  The new owner, as he tried to ‘right the ship,’ had little interest in continuing their expensive F1 development program.  Consequently, Lancia withdrew from Formula 1.  This was too bad.  The Lancia D50 was the only real competitor to the dominance of the 1955 Mercedes-Benz W196.  The 1955 D50 was an odd car.  You can see this with the outboard fuel tanks wedged between the wheels on either side of the car.  Eugenio Catellotti must have loved the car.  When Lancia withdrew, he bought one of the teams Lancia D50s.  As a further footnote, between now and 1956, somehow, Enzo Ferrari convinces Lancia to pay Ferrari to take on their racing assets.  I’m not clear as to how this happened, but it has been suggested that this evidences Enzo Ferrari’s genius at deal-making.  If this story proves to be true, I tend to agree!  Hopefully, I can get to the bottom of the story and fill you in once GP Evolved arrives at the 1956 F1 season.

The 1955 Belgian Grand Prix.

The old configuration Circuit de Spa-Francorch...

The old configuration Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps (in comparison to modern). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is my understanding that the Mercedes-Benz team typically arrived first.  They had special ‘high-speed’ car transports which could cross Europe a bit faster than the other teams.  This, as usual, would have been a demand from Alfred Neubauer and his never-ending pursuit of efficiency in all aspects of racing.  He did, in fact, invent the modern racing pit stop.  The teams would have gone about preparing the cars with hand tools and ingenuity.  The drivers would need to refresh their memory of the track, as many would not have seen it for over a year.  I note this simply because modern drivers log so many simulator hours that they have a significantly increased opportunity to learn the track.

Eugenio Castellotti set a blistering qualifying time of 4:18.1 around the nearly nine mile Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.  This is particularly frightening given that the circuit was a true road-circuit, in that many of its parts were public roads during the remainder of the year.  This meant obstacles such as homes, light-poles, and other items waiting to stop the driver who had drifted off the road.  At high speeds, even a slight mistake meant certain injury for the driver.  The great Juan-Manuel Fangio was not far off in terms of qualifying pace–he was only 1/2 second behind Castellotti.  Another 1/2 second behind was Stirling Moss.  As you may recall, Fangio and Moss were both Mercedes-Benz factory drivers in the great M-B W196.  Jean Behra qualified on the second row with his now-aging Maserati 250F.  Mike Hawthorn qualified ninth in his British Vanwall; however, his gearbox failed on the eighth lap of the race.

On Sunday, the drivers lined up in their qualifying positions, engines revved, the flag dropped, and the race was underway.  Fangio had little trouble beating Castellotti, and his privateer Lancia D50, off the line.  In Fangio was untouchable all afternoon.  The true battle was farther back in the field.  Moss soon overtook Castellotti as well.  This left the Mercedes-Benz factory boys running 1-2.  Over the course of the race, they would pull away from the rest of the field.  Castellotti held third for the first half of the race.

Juan Manuel Fangio

Juan Manuel Fangio (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The real battle was for fourth.  Karl Kling, Guiseppe “Nino” Farina, Jean Behra, and Paul Frere fought with honor.  The battle was close, but eventually, Farina proved to be the victor of the battle for fourth place.  At about the halfway mark, Castellotti’s gearbox failed.  This put Farina into the third place.  The drivers held their places, at the front, through the remainder of the race.

Mercedes-Benz showed their dominating pace.  Juan-Manual Fangio finished the 315 mile Grand Prix in 2:39:29.0.  Moss crossed the line, a mere eight seconds behind his teammate.  Nino Farina, held third, but was 1:40.5 behind.  This would have meant that he was several miles behind the Benz’ ‘boys.  Scuderia Ferrari did not have the pace they have had in prior seasons.  One must wonder if 2013 will prove the same thing as they battle Red Bull for this years’ championship.