Ascari versus Fangio chapter excerpt

Ferrari sent his four drivers on the 36-hour journey to South America for the start of the season, which consisted of the Argentine Grand Prix and the non-championship Buenos Aires GP, as well as the 1,000 km sports car race. They were joined by Olivier Gendebien, the Belgian heir to an industrial fortune, whose rally success had caught the eye of Ferrari, who then took him on to race sports car events and selected Grands Prix, the South American leg of the season being his debut GP races.

Before starting preparations for the Grand Prix, Fangio had invited his team-mates to his Buenos Aires apartment. He was accustomed to share his thoughts and expectations for the upcoming racing season with his team-mates. And for his endeavours with Ferrari, he knew it was of utmost importance that he won over his team-mates to support him, should he need them to. Already history had proven to him that every once in a while, any world champion driver needed his colleagues’ assistance, and with the spirited Ascari as team-mate, Fangio might need it during 1956.

– “You’ve done quite well with Lancia and Ferrari, last year, Eugenio. How do you perceive your chances for this year?” asked Fangio.
– “I hope to build on my results from last season”, answered Castellotti, who had been the youngest driver to take pole position, in Belgium, the previous year, “But above all I would like to learn from you, Maestro, and I hope to assist you wherever possible.” Quickly adding, after crossing eyes with Ascari: “And Alberto, too, of course.”
– “It won’t be long before you are a Grand Prix winner, you know.” Fangio then turned his attention to Collins: “What about you, Peter? You won the International Trophy last season.”
– “Well, first of all, I would like to improve on my qualifying”, answered Collins, whose highest grid position in a world championship grand prix was sixth, on his 1952 debut. “So I hope to learn some tricks of the trade regarding qualifying from you and Ascari. And be of assistance whenever possible.” Collins, returning the question to Fangio, asked: “And you, Maestro?”
– “Well, gentlemen, I hope to build on my own experience and that of the team to fight for the world championship again”, said Fangio. “With the absence of Mercedes, we stand a very good chance to take top honours, I believe. All us could finish on the podium in any of the grands prix, while the regular drivers, Ascari, first and foremost, Castellotti, Collins, and hopefully I, too, have a shot at the title.”
– “What do you think, Alberto?” asked Fangio, curious for the thoughts of his fiercest in-team competitor, yet — and, as a matter of fact, a driver with whom he had been quite competitive off the racetracks, as well, albeit all in good manners.
– “As you know, Juan, I was very much in doubt whether I would return to racing at all, after my two crashes in May of last year,” Ascari replied. “But by the time I had almost fully healed and Mr Ferrari invited me to race the Lancia at Monza in September, I could not resist temptation. I wanted to make sure I still had what it takes to fight for race wins and perhaps another world championship, too.”

The Italian then added, seeking eye contact with all at the table, one by one: “To achieve the best for Ferrari, we will need to work together in a professional manner. Of course we should fight for our own chances, but when circumstances ask us to do so, we should sacrifice our own results for the greater good of the Scuderia.”

Castellotti, Collins and Gendebien nodded in agreement.

Moss versus Clark chapter excerpt

The word hadn’t gotten out. When the Ferrari transporter appeared at the Silverstone gates, reporters and enthusiasts alike all came running. Earl Howe and his BRDC people knew, of course, since Ken Gregory had scratched his double Lotus entry the night before, to replace it with a couple of Ferraris. There was much laughter when the transporter was parked next to the UDT-Laystall service van in the paddock spot reserved for the British Racing Partnership. As soon as the cars were offloaded, though, amazement soon transformed into shock. Both red cars carried a pale green stripe along the length of their noses. The names of Moss and Ireland could be read on the cockpit sides of the 156s. So that was why that single Lotus 18/21 had Masten Gregory’s name on it!

— “So what’s this all about, Ken?” Chapman was quick to ask once he had cornered his rival team owner. — “I thought we had a deal about your buying a pair of brand new 24s.”
— “Oh, that deal’s not off, Colin. We will still need those by the time we head to Zandvoort.”
— “I’m sorry but then I must ask again: what is going on here?”
— “Just doing Ronnie a favour, Colin. Just doing Ronnie a favour. The Colonel is his concessionaire around these parts, in case you’ve forgotten.”

Chapman, having already seen the pale green 250 GTO run in conjunction with Ronnie Hoare’s Maranello Concessionaires, seemed to see the logic in that, but kept having his reservations. Why was Moss also driving a Ferrari? And why hadn’t Rob Walker ordered his 24s yet? Moss driving for BRP in the pre-season was a different thing from Moss being a Walker-contracted driver for the World Championship. His next stop for a chat should be Mr Walker, Chapman thought, as he spotted good old Maurice Trintignant walking ahead of him. Maurice was driving Rob’s old Lotus while Moss was honouring his spring commitments with BRP. As he caught up with the French veteran he patted him on the shoulder and asked, “Last time for the old warhorse, Maurice?”
— “Oh yes, Colin. I’m sure I’ll be driving something else at Monaco!” Trintignant replied, unwittingly.
— “Still have to sell a couple of cars to your boss, though.”
— “Oh, I’m sure he won’t wait too long. Look, there he is. Go ask him yourself!”
— “I certainly will. Listen here, Rob, Maurice is telling me you still need two new cars from me.”
— “Two cars?” Walker replied, before he realized that his genuine surprise at Chapman’s question had just blew the whistle on his plans.
— “Well, what is Maurice going to drive if you only need one? Or am I the one to break it to your driver that you won’t be requiring his services after this race?”
— “No no, Maurice will be driving for us this season.”
— “Then what will Stirling drive?”
— “You’ll read it in the papers, Colin!” said Walker, and turned away while pointing vaguely into the direction of the BRDC club house, feigning that he was expected at some meeting. Chapman knew enough.

In the race, the sport’s supertrio fought hard, staging an epic battle for the lead that would be remembered for a long time. In the end, though, Moss’ Ferrari blew a gasket and was forced to retire, leaving Hill and Clark to thrash it out to the finish line, the BRM beating the Lotus by a whisker, in a strange prelude to what would happen in the forthcoming championship. Fighting with his new challenger and the surprising Hill in his quick new BRM had been satisfying for Moss, and not finishing the race didn’t leave him too bothered. Something else did, though, and it was the topic of a frank exchange of thoughts with Innes Ireland while going over their report for Maranello. Both of them had been impressed by the professionalism of the team.

— “They have done everything perfectly, don’t you agree, Stirl?” said Innes to his team mate. — “Everything was perfect, except that the car handled like a bowl of soup.”

Moss nodded. They had worked for hours and hours, trying to cure its terminal understeer, only for the car to suddenly switch to violent oversteer. “It did feel sure in the rain, though. But then it doesn’t always rain in Europe, so you really need to dial out those handling quirks.”

Moss knew. He’d driven around them here, getting to grips with a set-up that switched from understeer to oversteer in the same corner. It had left Innes a distant fourth, whereas he himself had been far away from the dominance this car had shown during the 1961 season. He now realised why, though. The engine was a massive step ahead compared to the Climax four-pots he had used the previous year, but the rest had caught up. — “You can rev these engines like hell!” Innes said, and that’s exactly what he thought. Compared to BRM’s and Climax’ new V8s, however, there wasn’t much in it, and with the Ferrari flexing in every directions, the British were trumping the Italians with their chassis.

Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea after all to start the season with two cars, Trintignant driving the new Lotus 24. If all else would fail, he could always take that car.

Villeneuve versus Prost chapter excerpt

Even the press had left the Heidelberg University Hospital when two relatively short, Francophone young men entered the building. Not even a Ferrari representative was seen keeping the nosy parkers at bay.

“I’m not sure if I can allow you up”, the receptionist said sternly when the pair informed about the whereabouts of Didier Pironi’s room.

Seeing Gilles’ apparent nervousness this seemed a logical reaction but then Alain stepped in.

— “Do you have children?” he asked. The receptionist nodded.
— “A boy and a girl.”
— “And does your boy like motor racing? Did he watch the Grand Prix this afternoon?”
— “I’m not sure what you mean.”
— “I’m sure your son would love to have the autographs of two Formula 1 drivers. This man here is Gilles Villeneuve, the famous Ferrari driver!”
— “As is Herr Pironi upstairs…”
— “His team mate, no less. I know it’s late and that we haven’t announced ourselves through the proper channels, but we would very much like to see our friend.”
— “I’m not sure he is able to talk to you.”
— “What’s your boy’s name?” asked Alain, while grabbing a piece of paper from the receptionist’s desk.
— “Klaus…”, she answered, almost with a question mark rather than stating a fact.
— “So, ‘To Klaus’ – with a K, right? – ‘always race for the win’”, said Alain, dictating to himself the words he was writing down on the papier.
— “Alain Prost, Equipe Renault Elf. Here, Gilles…”
— “Maybe it’s best that I accompany you to his room”, the receptionist said.

Catherine was there, of course, who said that Mauro Forghieri had stopped by earlier in the evening. The operation had gone extremely well, she said, although it had lasted for five hours. The doctors told her he could be transferred from the intensive care unit later this week. The receptionist had been right, though. Didier wasn’t able to talk to them. He was fast asleep, the only sound coming from the machines surrounding him.

“But you can go in and have a look”, said Catherine. Hesitantly, the two agreed.
For some five minutes, the two Grand Prix winners remained silent as they stood at the bedside of their rival.

— “Would he hear us?” Gilles finally asked Alain. The Frenchman shrugged his shoulders.
— “Didier?”, the Canadian said, a bit too loud, and he scared himself with the echo of his voice. — “Didier? I never really cared about the championship. It’s yours. You will have it.”

This seemed to have stung the Renault driver next to him, who gave him a very surprised look.

— “Do you really mean that?” Alain whispered acutely. — “Are you mad?”
— “Of course. If it has to be like this, I don’t need all the fuss”, Gilles said out loud.
— “But you were livid with Didier for trying to steal your championship!” Prost’s whispering got an even bigger sense of urgency.
— “Now it’s all changed. I wouldn’t want to beat a guy who’s in hospital anyway. He can have the championship, I’ll go for the race wins instead. That’s all I’ve ever been interested in anyway.”
— “Man, if you get those race wins, you’ll be champion all the same! I know what I’d do…”
— “So you’d steal his title?”
— “That’s not stealing. That’s motor racing! For all I know he could have blown his engine for the next couple of races – that’s not that strange, you know it’s happened to me all the time this season! You keep on winning like today, and you’re champion.”

Gilles seemed taken aback by that argument, and looked at Didier. “Are you sure he can’t hear us?”
— “If you won’t take it, I will”, added Alain, back to whisper mode again, and more to himself than to Gilles. Now it was Villeneuve’s turn to look to his side. Did that guy really say that?
— “And if I was in that bed?”
— “Doesn’t change a thing. I mean, we’re mates, I’m sure you will agree, but once we’re out on the track we’re on our own. With the amount of bad luck I’ve been having I’ll gladly take four wins and the championship.”
— “So at all cost?”
— “Not at all. Bad luck happens in motorsport. Didier just had some spectacularly bad luck. I pity him for it, but he’s one less rival to worry about. I’d also be worried about who would be my team mate next season. You won’t be having Didier, that’s for sure. And I won’t be having René, that’s a fact as well. I’d rather have a number two who is honest and that I can handle. We’re in the same boat on that point.”

A small detail in Alain’s words had caught Gilles’ attention.

— “What do you mean René won’t be with you next year?”
— “Well… he just won’t… And I’d be talking to Piccinini if I were you.”

Catherine Bleynie, Didier Pironi’s girlfriend, was surprised by their expression when she saw the two men leave Didier’s room. Instead of looking sad they looked puzzled. What had they been doing there? What is something with Didier? She rushed inside but found her boyfriend in the same narcoleptic state as she left him one hour earlier.

It couldn’t have been something he had said. So was it something he actually hadn’t said?

Richard Williams read our book and “enjoyed it” :-)

We’re very proud to have learnt that Richard Williams, former chief sports writer of The Guardian, author of books like ‘The Death of Ayrton Senna’, ‘Racers’, and ‘Enzo Ferrari: A Life’, has read our own scribblings, and “enjoyed it”.

Thanks for the compliment, Richard!

GPFans’ podcast looks at Senna versus Schumacher

Last week GPFans’ podcast dealt with the 25th anniversary of Ayrton Senna’s death. Presenters Rob Watts and Matt Scott also talked about the potential Senna versus Schumacher rivalry that never happened. And they briefly discussed our book, too. Make sure to check it out on your favorite podcast platform.