The Monaco Grand Prix made a long awaited comeback onto the Formula One calendar in 1955 after a five year hiatus; it would mark the start of a continuous run for the race that remains unbroken. Badger GP looks back on a memorable day in Monte Carlo.
There was a generous turnout of twenty-three entries for the race, however only twenty cars would be allowed to line-up for the race start on Sunday. The Mercedes of Juan Manuel Fangio would start on pole ahead of Alberto Ascari (Lancia) and team-mate Stirling Moss. The third Mercedes of German Hans Herrmann didn’t qualify after the promising youngster had injured himself in practice.
Herrmann wouldn’t race again that season. In the aftermath Mercedes quickly drafted André Simon in as his replacement. It would mark the start of a seriously bad run of luck for the Silver Arrows in the principality.
Fangio held onto the lead as the race started, with the Lancia of Eugenio Castellotti slotting in behind him for second. Ascari fluffed his getaway allowing Castellotti and Moss by. With Fangio romping off into the distance it was imperative for Moss to get by Castellotti as quickly as he could. Eventually he passed the Lancia setting up a Mercedes one-two.
While the Mercedes duo continued to dominate proceedings Ascari snuck past Castellotti to begin a furious battle between the pair and Frenchman Jean Behra. In the end Behra emerged ahead of the two Italians. An overshoot at the hairpin left Castellotti with a deflated tyre and seemingly out of contention for a podium. Behra first had oil troubles which left him needing to pit for a top-up, then after switching cars with team-mate Cesare Perdisa he spun out with a clutch failure.
Disaster struck Fangio on lap fifty as his gearbox began to splutter before giving up the ghost completely. It was cruel to see such a dominant drive go unrewarded. Moss inherited the lead from his team-mate, and for thirty glorious laps the Brit led wonderfully until heartbreakingly his engine blew up. Moss had been on the brink of lapping second placed Ascari such had been the superiority of the Mercedes cars.
The drama wasn’t finished there, as Moss came spluttering into the pit garage Ascari was emerging from the tunnel and hurtling down towards Quai des Etats-Unis. The Lancia was uncontrollable leaving Ascari unable to negotiate the chicane. His car dramatically speared into the Monte Carlo harbour before Ascari even had the chance to realise he was now the race leader. A group of frogmen had to rescue Ascari from the wreckage of his steaming car after which he was transferred to the local hospital. Miraculously he escaped only with a broken nose.
All this chaos left the Ferrari of Maurice Trintignant in the lead where he remained for the last twenty laps of the race. Castellotti finished in second place despite all his earlier issues with Perdisa rounding off the podium places after taking over Behra’s Maserati.
Tragically just four days after his plunge into the harbour, Ascari was killed while testing a Ferrari sports car around Monza. He was a famously superstitious man who would refuse to race in anything but his baby blue helmet. However he chose to forgo his superstitions and bore the white helmet of Castellotti on the day he was killed. Curiously the only other driver to have crashed into the Monaco harbour, Paul Hawkins, would also die on the 26th of May.
Perhaps more startlingly were the several similarities between the deaths of Alberto and his father. Alberto Ascari died on the 26th of May 1955 aged thirty-six. Antonio Ascari was also thirty-six when he died, on the 26th of July 1925. Father and son were killed four days after surviving serious accidents. They both had crashed fatally at the exit of fast left-hand corners, both had thirteen grand prix wins to their name and both men were survived by their wives and two children.