15th January 2012

SWISS GRAND PRIX

FERRARI DEFEATS ALFA......     AND HOW!

It had to happen eventually but nobody could have predicted the total turnaround that was witnessed in the Bremgarten Forest this weekend. The race was a complete debacle for the hitherto invincible Alfa Romeos and beyond their wildest dreams joy for Ferrari. But let's go back to the beginning....

The fast tree-lined circuit in the Bremgarten forest outside Berne plays host to round 3 of the World Championship series. Following their crushing victories at Silverstone and Monaco, Alfa Romeo will once again be challenged by the Ferrari works team, plus numerous Maseratis and Talbots, with additional interest being provided by cars from England - B.R.M and H.W.M.

CIRCUIT

Following the loss of my dear wife Heather in September 2011 I now live in an apartment overlooking the Mediterranean on the island of Malta. I mention this because this apartment has a very large lounge area which has enabled me to redraw the Bremgarten circuit, not only making it much longer than the track I was able to fit into my shed in Wales, but also it is now a much more accurate representation of the real circuit as I hope you will be able to see from the included image.

ENTRY

The entry is numbered in order of nationality, alphabetically, although this system seems to have collapsed in places. The Belgian band-leader Johnny Claes heads the list with his yellow Talbot Lago, followed by the French contingent with their Talbots; Etancelin, Giraud-Cabantous, Rosier and Louveau being the pilotes of the blue cars. Next up are the Brits, or at least, some of them; Abecassis and Moss will drive the smaller-engined H.W.Ms while Peter Whitehead tries his luck again in the Thinwall modified Ferrari 375. The B.R.Ms are not next, though theoretically they should have been.

Two of the Ferraris come next - with Villoresi and Ascari at their controls and these are followed by the Alfa steamrollers. Fagioli seems to be out of favour so along with regulars Farina and Fangio and test driver Sanesi, getting another go, the Turin team have pulled a clever stroke by handing the fourth car to Swiss star Toulo de Graffenried. Italian cars but without Italian drivers come next with B. Bira and Chiron having their 4.CLT Maseratis ready to go, followed by Felice Bonetto who will drive one of Enrico Plate's Maseratis. No doubt the pipe-smoking Italian will find the car vastly different from the Alfa he drove at Silverstone. From here on the numbering seems to go awry.

The two B.R.Ms are next up with Reg Parnell and Peter Walker hoping to survive somewhat longer than they managed in the British Grand Prix where both were out by lap 10. The two Argentine Maseratis are next on the list with Antonio Branca sharing the driving with the burly Froilan Gonzales. Appearing to be something of an afterthought, Piero Taruffi has a works Ferrari as the 22nd car on the entry with Harry Schell (U.S.A ?) almost bringing up the rear. The fact that the only truly Swiss entered car is last is probably simply a matter of Swiss modesty. Rudi Fischer's 375-bodied but 212-engined Ferrari being the final car on the 24-car list.

1st PRACTICE

The first of three practice sessions underlined the superiority of the Alfa Romeos over all the other cars on the entry. Fangio's best lap was a second and a half quicker than that of the local driver Toulo de Graffenried who was beside himself with joy at having been granted a drive by the Turin equipe. Villoresi managed third fastest in his Ferrari followed by Farina in another Alfa Romeo. Gonzales with the Argentine Maserati was fifth fastest but then an alarming gap of over two seconds separated him from the rest, the best of whom was Ascari, somewhat troubled by rather poor handling in his Ferrari. Rosier and Etancelin were the quickest of the Talbots while Stirling Moss was a very encouraging 11th with his 2 litre H.W.M.

Not everyone had a trouble free session; Harry Schell had steering problems with his Maserati while Louveau's Talbot sounded terrible. Chiron's Maserati belched blue smoke and soon expired. Parnell was struggling with the B.R.M although team-mate Walker was actually going quite well.

2nd PRACTICE

Fangio's domination continued and as the track rubbered in Juan Manuel lopped 3 seconds from his best lap the day before easily to retain pole position. However, both Farina and Ascari made great strides and took 2nd and 3rd places, with the Ferrari driver finding no less than 6 seconds compared with session 1. De Graffenried and Sanesi made up four Alfas in the top five and things looked bleak for anyone who was not in one of the supercharged cars from Turin.

All but one of the runners improved on their first session time, the exception being Abecassis with the second H.W.M who found his car not working at all well. Chiron's engine had been rebuilt and although the Monagasque driver looked quick the watches told a different story and he was still down in 21st place. Schell made some improvement too, but was still 23rd.

3rd PRACTICE

Unusually, there were three practice sessions for this race although the final session made little difference to the overall positions. Only 8 of the 24 drivers went faster than they had gone the previous day and of those only Abecassis, Parnell and Whitehead made significant progress. The H.W.M jumped back ahead of poor Harry Schell who simply could not get anything like the speed who should be getting from his Maserati; Parnell found over 4 seconds but only gained three places while Whitehead in the Thinwall Ferrari gained both 2 seconds and two places.

Inevitably, Fangio was one of the others who went faster, though only by 6 tenths and this simply confirmed his pole position by over one and a half seconds ahead of Dr. Farina - who, as they say, was not amused.

Here is the full grid order

    1   24 J. FANGIO ALFA ROMEO 158     2.35'95
    2   22 G. FARINA ALFA ROMEO 158     2.37'97
    3   20 A. ASCARI FERRARI 375     2.39'13
    4   26 E. de GRAFFENRIED ALFA ROMEO 158     2.39'13
    5   28 C. SANESI ALFA ROMEO 158     2.39'56
    6   18 L. VILLORESI FERRARI 375     2.41'10
    7   42 F. GONZALES MASERATI 4.CLT     2.41'53
    8     4 P. ETANCELIN TALBOT LAGO T.26     2.41'88
    9   16 P. WHITEHEAD THINWALL Spl. FERRARI 375     2.42'45
  10   44 P. TARUFFI FERRARI 375     2.42'57
  11     8 L. ROSIER TALBOT LAGO T.26     2.43'55
  12     2 J. CLAES TALBOT LAGO T.26     2.44'66
  13   30 B. BIRA MASERATI 4.CLT     2.44'95
  14   40 A. BRANCA MASERATI 4.CLT     2.45'42
  15   38 P. WALKER B.R.M Mk.2     2.45'69
  16     6 Y. GIRAUD-CABANTOUS TALBOT LAGO T.26     2.46'71
  17   14 S. MOSS H.W.M     2.46'72
  18   34 F. BONETTO MASERATI 4.CLT     2.46'90
  19   36 R. PARNELL B.R.M Mk.2     2.47'01
  20   48 R. FISCHER FERRARI 212     2.48'58
  21   32 L. CHIRON MASERATI 4.CLT     2.49'73
  22   10 H. LOUVEAU TALBOT LAGO T.26     2.50'17
  23   12 G. ABECASSIS H.W.M     2.53'26
  24   46 H. SCHELL MASERATI 4.CLT     2.55'85

THE RACE - 42 laps

Whether or not it has any bearing on the remarkable outcome of the Swiss Grand Prix, it must be mentioned that Pirelli supplied a different tyre to the competitors at this race. They were introduced before the second practice session and seemed to make little difference to the relative performance of the cars. However, once the race began it became obvious that the Alfas were not happy on the new rubber, because from a dominant position at the front of the field, they were immediately swamped by Ferraris and Gonzales' Maserati, which jumped into the lead from the start. By lap 6 half the Alfas had gone. Farina lost a rear wheel at Eymatt Corner on lap 3 while de Graffenried spun off at Tenni, just a bit further up the road on lap 6. While this was happening, Fangio was clearly struggling to keep his Alfa anywhere near Villoresi and Ascari in their Ferraris, who were running 2nd and 3rd behind Gonzales.

Further down the field, the Maseratis were on the move; Bonetto, Chiron and Schell had all had very poor practice performances but the new tyres seemed to suit them very well. By lap 10 all three had moved up into the midfield and were looking to progress farther.

On lap 8 Villoresi passed Gonzales and began to draw away very quickly. Ascari was a little held up by the Pampas Bull but was still leaving a frustrated Fangio further and further behind. On lap 11 Sanesi was called in and Farina took over #28, rejoining in 9th place but with scant hopes of a high finish, one suspects. Around this time two of the Talbots retired with engine woes while Walker's B.R.M suffered a total loss of drive with a failure in the transmission train. Just before half distance, Ascari finally passed Gonzales but by this time his mentor was 15 seconds up the road. By lap 20 the remarkable Harry Schell was up to 10th and closing in on the Maseratis of Branca and Bira. Following a fairly low key start, Taruffi was on the move with the third works Ferrari and had moved into the top six by half distance. A word should be said for Peter Whitehead who was going splendidly in 5th place at the half-way mark and who would almost certainly have finished in the points had he not spun of at the Glasbrunnen Ramp on lap 33.

For the next 15 laps Ascari gradually caught Villoresi but neither were having to push too hard because the opposition was simply not quick enough. Gonzales' car seemed to be fading and both Fangio and Taruffi had passed him by lap 30 and although Piero was well over half a minute behind Fangio, the gap was coming down quickly. The three Maserati musketeers were by now running 9, 10 and 11 with Bonetto ahead of Chiron and looking to move past Schell too. So the race ran its course and Ascari eased up a little, allowing Villoresi to take the chequered flag alone 13 seconds ahead of his young compatriot. The excitement at the end centred om the frantic efforts of Taruffi to pass Fangio, which he managed two laps from the end, giving Ferrari an imperious 1-2-3 finish. And that was not all; Gonzales' engine was failing and he limped across the line a lap behind, narrowly ahead of the amazing Felice Bonetto who set the fastest race lap on his very last tour, passing Bira in the process to take a well-earned Championship point for fastest lap. None of the Maseratis retired and they followed one-another home in 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th places.

Etancelin's engined failed four laps from the end leaving Claes as the only Talbot finisher while Parnell's B.R.M which never really got going properly, did have the dubious distinction of beating both the H.W.Ms though all three were at least two laps behind.

Fangio would not apportion any blame on his tyres, such is his way, but one suspects that things may be said by the Alfa management before the cars meet up again at the Belgian Grand Prix or possibly at Caracalla, should Alfa decide to run there.

Here is the full result of the 42 lap race

    1   18 L. VILLORESI FERRARI 375   1. 57. 14'84
    2   20 A. ASCARI FERRARI 375   1. 57. 28'14
    3   44 P. TARUFFI FERRARI 375   1. 58. 17'37
    4   24 J. FANGIO ALFA ROMEO 158   1. 58. 23'93
    5   42 F. GONZALES MASERATI 4.CLT       41 laps
    6   34 F. BONETTO MASERATI 4.CLT       41 laps
    7   30 B. BIRA MASERATI 4.CLT       41 laps
    8   46 H. SCHELL MASERATI 4.CLT       41 laps
    9   40 A. BRANCA MASERATI 4.CLT       41 laps
  10   32 L. CHIRON MASERATI 4.CLT       41 laps
  11     2 J. CLAES TALBOT LAGO T.26       41 laps
  12   36 R. PARNELL B.R.M Mk.2       40 laps
  13   14 S. MOSS H.W.M       40 laps
  14   12 G. ABECASSIS H.W.M       39 laps
  15     4 P. ETANCELIN TALBOT LAGO T.26   38 laps N.R.F
Fastest lap:   F. BONETTO, MASERATI 4.CLT   on lap 41,   2.42'51
Retired:
  16 P. WHITEHEAD THINWALL Spl. FERRARI 375         32 laps
    8 L. ROSIER TALBOT LAGO T.26         25 laps
  28 C. SANESI / G. FARINA ALFA ROMEO 158         22 laps
  48 R. FISCHER FERRARI 212         20 laps
  38 P. WALKER B.R.M Mk.2         13 laps
  10 H. LOUVEAU TALBOT LAGO T.26           9 laps
    6 Y. GIRAUD-CABANTOUS TALBOT LAGO T.26           8 laps
  26 E. de GRAFFENRIED ALFA ROMEO 158           5 laps
  22 G. FARINA ALFA ROMEO 158           2 laps

BERNE BANTER:

  • It gave many people great joy to see Luigi Villoresi win a Grand Prix, not least his young protege Ascari.
  • Seldom has practice form been so utterly reversed in a race. Alfa management will require answers.
  • Of couse, Farina cannot blame his tyres for causing a wheel to fall off.
  • Gonzales showed that Maserati are not far off being competitive with the other Italian cars.
  • The race pace of Bonetto, Schell and to a lesser degree, Chiron was nothing short of remarkable.
  • While Bira and Branca drove steady unspectacular races in their Modena machines.
  • The Talbot drivers were not very complimentary about their tyres, either. It seems the larger tyres run by Alfa and Talbot are not as good as the smaller ones.
  • The less said about the performance of the British cars, the better.
  • Rudi Fischer is hoping to obtain a new engine before he runs his Ferrari again.
  • The next race in this series will be the Grand Prix des Frontieres at Chimay.

    Go here if you wish to find out more about my Titans series.

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