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THE ITALIAN GRAND PRIX—MONZA 1955

THE 1955 ITALIAN GP, held at Monza, was the seventh and last race of that year’s World Championship of Drivers. Indeed, sixth if you discount the Indy 500, which was included in the calendar though its rules were utterly different from those of Formula One. 

Also held at Monza was the 2022 Italian Grand Prix, nestled 16th among an astounding 22 races beginning with the Bahrain Grand Prix, March 20, and ending back in the Middle East at Abu Dhabi on November 20.  

Of course, there’s a world of difference in Formula One over these 67 years. Exemplary of this are tidbits about Monza GP happenings in 1955, as reported by R&T’s Bernard Cahier.

A New Circuit. Bernard wrote in R&T, December 1955, “Indeed, Monza was inaugurating a new type of track, six miles long, a combination speedway and road circuit, each part having roughly the same length, and the total resulting in the fastest road circuit in the world.”

This and other images from R&T, December 1955. Follow numbers 1-30 to identify the use of both road course and oval.

There have been no less than seven versions of the Monza circuit between 1955 and today, thus complicating comparisons of lap times and ultimate speeds. Nonetheless, Monza was considered the fastest Grand Prix circuit of the 1955 season and, with the exception of the Azerbaijan Baku circuit (with its 1.33-mile straight), is the fastest today. 

Above, “By lap No. 2, Fangio had taken the lead from Moss and kept it through the remainder of the race.” Below, Taruffi, driving an open-wheeled Mercedes, finished 2 sec. behind Fangio.

Streamliners. Bernard said, “As usual the Daimler-Benz thoroughness was shown in the variety of their cars which included streamlined models plus long, short, and medium mono-postos.” He noted that Gordini, “still on a shoe-string budget,” came with “a yet untried, sleek-looking job, design for Reims.” This French circuit being another with long straights. 

Maserati and Lancia also had semi-streamlined variants: Maserati’s open wheels with bodywork fore and aft of them; Lancia, with central pontoons.  

The Maseratis, traditional and otherwise. Behra’s kinda-open-wheel variant finished fourth behind Castellotti’s Ferrari.

Tire Problems.  “During these trials,” Bernard said, “Lancia looked, next to Mercedes, like the fastest car. However, they encountered unusual tire trouble…. due to an unusual strain on the tires caused apparently by a suspension unsuited to this new speedway. The morning of the race the sad news came that the Lancias were non-starters, officially for this reason, and Castellotti would mount a Ferrari, while his teammates Farina and Villoresi would be spectators!”

Castellotti’s Ferrari was to finish 3rd.

Stirling Moss’s Drive. Bernard described, “Twenty-two cars took flight and at the end of the half lap, at the point where the road circuit passes a second time in front of the grandstands and branches off into the speedway part, Moss was in the lead. However by the time the whole lap was finished, the maestro, Fangio, had taken over….”

Moss leads Fangio on the first lap’s speedway portion.

“The first 20 laps of this 50-lap race were covered by the flying Fangio at the fantastic speed of over 129 mph,” Bernard said. “There was excitement on the 18th lap when Moss stopped at his pit to change his shattered windshield. The whole job was done in 1’4’’ but for him his chances of finishing second were greatly diminished. Once again Moss made the mistake of driving too close to Fangio and as a result his windshield was pulverized by a stone.” 

“Moss, after his pit stop,” Bernard continued, “gave for a few laps a mad display of driving which, although it thrilled the public and brought up the lap record to the astonishing speed of 134 mph, was not appreciated by his clutch which decided that it was time to rest at the side of the road. At the same time Kling, all in good team spirit, broke down, conveniently in front of the pits, chugging to a stop with a broken transmission.”

Behra’s Streamliner’s Fate. “During the last 15 laps of the race,” Bernard reported, “Behra, pushing his Maserati to the maximum, tried to catch up with Castellotti for the third place. Gradually he cut down the gap to 22’’ but two laps before the end he broke a piston and finished those laps putting along, lucky to be able to cross the finish line still holding his place and issuing a great cloud of smoke.”

Yes, rules, regulations—and racing—were different in those days. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022  

2 comments on “THE ITALIAN GRAND PRIX—MONZA 1955

  1. Mike B
    December 3, 2022

    The speed point sent me to Wikipedia, of course, to look up Texas Motor Speedway. The 2001 Champ Car (now Indy Car) race was cancelled after the drivers were partially blacking out during practice and qualifying due to g-forces at 230+ mph on the 24-degree banking! Maybe driving suits need to become g-suits? How did they manage back in the day when the high banking at Monza was used (yes, I know, they were (possibly) slower then, but…)?

  2. Bob Storck
    December 4, 2022

    While you state “the Indy 500, which was included in the calendar though its rules were utterly different from those of Formula One” we have to consider that in ’55, each race had significant variations in the rules, dictated by the country and the promoters. The FIA sanctioned the events but did not write all the competition rules. For instance, drivers were accepted or rejected for arbitrary, often nationalistic, reasons.
    The Indy race was included for largely political and financial reasons. The cars were similar enough, in displacement and weight, despite the quaint and curious qualifying and competition regulations.

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