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1956 French Grand Prix

The fourth round of the 1956 World Championship took place on July 1 in France at the Reims circuit, which, despite the cancellation of last year's Grand Prix and the introduction of increased safety requirements for motor racing after the Le-Mans tragedy, has not undergone any significant changes, and its length still was 8.3 km, while the drivers had to complete 61 laps. At the same time, as in previous years, the "12 Hours of Reims" sports car race was held on the same track alongside the Grand Prix, with some drivers taking part in both competitions.

Reims 1954.jpg

After three rounds of the World Championship, the fight for the championship crown was in full swing, and the main contenders for the title were the drivers of the two Italian teams Scuderia Ferrari and Maserati, which, like in Belgium, were represented most impressively, fielding five cars each. In the Scuderia Ferrari, the three main drivers remained unchanged, including Juan-Manuel Fangio, Peter Collins and Eugenio Castellotti, while the guest drivers this time were Olivier Gendebien, who had already driven for the team in Argentina, and Formula-1 debutant, Spanish aristocrat Alfonso de Portago.


At the same time, given the high-speed configuration of the Reims circuit, the Maranello team, in addition to their usual Ferrari D50 cars, brought to France another experimental model with a streamlined nose.


The Maserati team was also represented by five drivers: Stirling Moss, Jean Behra, Cesare Perdisa and Chico Godia, who represented the main line-up, as well as by Italian veteran Piero Taruffi, being invited to this one race. At the same time, the Modena team, like the Scuderia, in addition to the main Maserati 250F cars, also brought one experimental model with a streamlined body, which had already been used last year in Monza.


Besides, in addition to the factory team, three more usual Maseratis 250F were brought to the start by private drivers Luigi Villoresi, Louis Rosier and André Simon.


Meanwhile, one of the most significant events of this Grand Prix was the debut of the French Bugatti team, which presented to the local public their first Formula-1 car, the Bugatti T251, which was designed by the creator of the famous Alfettes, Gioachino Colombo, and caused a real sensation.


The main distinguishing feature of this car was the mid-engine arrangement, which was absolutely innovative for the French racing car industry, with the in-line 8-cylinder power unit located transversely to the chassis directly behind the driver.


Besides, the French car was very different from rival cars with its swollen sidewalls, in which fuel tanks were located, with a wide streamlined nose completed the unusual image. It was the honor of Maurice Trintignant, who was temporarily loaned to the French team for this one Grand Prix by the Vanwall team, to bring this engineering marvel to the track.


However, Bugatti was not the only French team to take part in the national Grand Prix, because after one missed stage, Amadeus Gordini's team returned to the World Championship with three unchanged drivers Robert Manzon, Nano da Silva Ramos and André Pilette.


At the same time, Amadeus brought two of his new Gordinis T32 for the first time, which were driven by Manzon and da Silva Ramos, while Pilette got the good old T16.

The last factory team to take part in the French Grand Prix was the British Vanwall, this time represented by as many as three drivers. Considering that Trintignant had temporarily joined Bugatti, Tony Vandervell invited Mike Hawthorn to replace the Frenchman, who, in the absence of his main BRM team, was glad to have the opportunity to try out another British car and became the teammate of the American Harry Schell. However, an even bigger surprise was the appearance of the chief designer Colin Chapman at the wheel of the third Vanwall, who decided to experience all the advantages and disadvantages of the car developed and  became the third driver of the British team.


As usual, the long straights of the Reims track provided a great opportunity to show off the speed of the cars, and this year it was the Ferraris that were the fastest with three drivers taking the whole first row of the startinf field. At the same time, the fastest driver of the Maranello team was again the three-time world champion Juan-Manuel Fangio, who this season proved to be a real master of qualifications, having already won the fourth pole-position in a row!


Nonetheless, his teammates Eugenio Castellotti and Peter Collins were also quite fast, only 1.3 and 2.3 sec behind the Argentinean respectively, while the other two Ferrari drivers de Portago and Gendebien were not so convincing, taking only 9th and 11th positions. As for the Ferrari experimental car, contrary to expectations, it did not bring any tangible speed advantage, and therefore all the drivers preferred to start the race on usual Ferraris D50.

However, the real surprise in the qualification was the incredible speed of the Vanwall cars, thanks to which the drivers of the British team were able to challenge the Maranello team and take the next three places on the grid after the scarlet cars. At the same time, the American Harry Schell stood out in particular, who managed not only to take 4th position, losing less than 3 sec to Fangio, but also to secure Chapman's 5th place on the grid, driving another excellent lap behind the wheel of Colin's car. However, this did not help Vanwall's chief designer at all. Colin himself was not very fast, seriously inferior to his teammates, and during one of the fast laps, the Englishman, due to the brake lock in the Thillois hairpin, first crashed into Hawthorn's car, who was on the warm-up lap, and then completely flew off the track, ramming a concrete pilon. Fortunately, Chapman himself was not injured in this accident, but his car was seriously damaged, which actually put an end to his further participation in the Grand Prix.

Meanwhile, at Maserati, things were not going well. The drivers of the Modena team were desperately short of speed, and the best that Behra and Moss managed to achieve was 7th and 8th on the starting field.


The rest of the Maserati drivers performed even worse, showing only 13th, 16th and 17th results, while Villoresi looked much better in his private Maserati, managing to get into the top ten. As for the French teams, they had nothing to boast of in their homeland. Da Silva Ramos and Manzon on the new Gordinis showed almost identical results, which allowed them to take only 14th and 15th places on the starting field, while Maurice Trintignant spent all the training in the fight against his new Bugatti and took only 18th place of 20 participants at all.



After lining up of the racing cars on the starting line, Moss' and Villoresi's Maseratis have problems with cranking the engines, which leads to some commotion on the grid. 30 seconds before the start, Moss' mechanics throw away the useless starter and begin to push the Englishman's car forward, past the cars in front and further along the straight! Finally, the engine cranks and the mechanics push the Maserati back into place, while Villoresi's mechanics continue to conjure the Italian's car until the very start!


Start. Fangio, as usual this season, starts poorly and misses both of his teammates, while Collins breaks into the lead!


Meanwhile, Moss gets off to a great start after all his misadventures with the car, and the Englishman breaks through to 4th place, but already during the first lap he misses two Vanwalls of Schell and Hawthorn, who manage to start the race superbly. As for Villoresi, his mechanics manage to start his Maserati only when the entire peloton has already disappeared around the first corner, and the Italian begins the race with a serious backlog from all his rivals.
Position after lap 1: Collins, Castellotti, Fangio, Schell, Hawthorn, Moss, Behra, de Portago, Gendebien, Perdisa.
Lap 2: Castellotti attacks Collins and passes him, leading the Grand Prix for the first time in his career! Moreover, the Englishman immediately misses Fangio as well, thus dropping to 3rd place at once!


Meanwhile, the second gear falls on Schell's Vanwall, and the American misses several rivals at once, dropping to 9th place! As for Moss, he, as in qualifying, clearly cannot keep up the pace of faster rivals, and, having missed Behra and de Portago, becomes only 7th! Besides, on the same lap, Villoresi already manages to catch up with the rest of the peloton, and the Italian wins back one position, getting ahead of Simon.
Lap 3: Debutant de Portago is having a great time at his first Grand Prix and is already climbing to the 5th position, overtaking Behra!


Meanwhile, Moss loses another position, missing Gendebien, while Trintignant and Villoresi, on the contrary, win back one position each.
Lap 4: After two laps behind Castellotti, Fangio finally goes on the attack and passes the Italian, taking the lead in the race!


Besides, despite the Bugatti skidding in the corners, Trintignant manages to win back one more position, overtaking his compatriot Manzon!


Meanwhile, Taruffi has problems with his Maserati and the Italian makes a stop in the pits.
Lap 5: Maseratis in this race clearly do not shine with speed, and following Moss Gendebien passes another driver of the Modena team, Jean Behra!


Meanwhile, on the same lap, Godia overtakes Rosier.


Lap 6: In addition to the problems with the gearbox, Schell also has problems with the engine, and the American pulls into the pits! After inspecting the car, the mechanics discover that the entire engine is flooded with water, and Harry has no choice but to leave the race.
Position after 10 laps: Fangio, Castellotti, Collins, Hawthorn, de Portago, Gendebien, Behra, Moss, Perdisa, Godia. The trio of Ferraris confidently lead the race, being within a second and a half of each other, and are ahead of the next Hawthorn already by 13 sec!


Lap 11: Villoresi continues to break through and wins back one more position, leaving behind Manzon!


Lap 12: Hawthorn, who hasn't slept a wink all night because of his participation in the "12 Hours of Reims" race, begins to get tired, and the Englishman pulls into the pits to hand over his car to Schell. Naturally, the American was only too glad of the opportunity to return to the race again, and, taking a seat in the Vanwall cockpit, he immediately gets back to the track, but several cars still manage to rush past, and now Harry is only 8th.


Meanwhile, behind the close struggle between Rosier and Godia continues, and now the Frenchman is getting ahead.


Lap 13: On Moss' Maserati, who already had a not very convincing race, the gear lever breaks, and the Englishman turns into the pits, retiring. Besides, on the same lap, Villoresi wins one more position, overtaking Trintignant.
Lap 14: Rosier and Godia, fighting each other, catch up with Perdisa in another Maserati and pass him one by one!
Lap 16: Schell catches up with Behra and easily passes the Frenchman to move up to 6th!


Besides, on the same lap, Perdisa counterattacks Rosier and Godia and passes them both at once!
Lap 17: The struggle between Rosier and Godia continues and now the Spanish is ahead!


Lap 18: Schell wins back another position, overtaking Gendebien, and is already 5th!


Besides, on the same lap, Trintignant pulls into the pits with a jammed throttle, thus drawing a line under the extremely unsuccessful debut of the Molsem team.
Position after 20 laps: Fangio, Castellotti, Collins, de Portago, Schell, Gendebien, Behra, Perdisa, Godia, Rosier. The trio of Ferraris still comfortably lead the race within two seconds of each other, but the fastest driver on the track right now is Schell, who manages to reach an incredible speed of 285 km/h on the long straight of Reims and wins back two seconds per lap from the Scuderia drivers!


Lap 21: De Portago, confident in his debut race and clearly in contention for the points, is forced to retire in the pits with a faulty gearbox! At the same time, after the Spaniard retired, it is Schell now who takes 4th place, keeping on to fly along the track and reducing his gap from the leaders to 25 seconds already! Meanwhile, on the same lap, Perdisa is called into the pits, and the Italian, as in Belgium, hands over his Maserati to Moss, who returns to the track only 7th, lagging behind the leaders for a whole lap!


Lap 24: Schell reduces his gap to the top three already to 15 seconds, but in the Scuderia pits they are sure that the American is behind by a lap, so they leave their drivers in the dark about Vanwall catching up with them. Meanwhile, behind Villoresi has problems with the brakes, and the Italian leaves the race.
Lap 27: Godia and Rosier continue their duel, and the Frenchman again takes the lead!
Lap 28: Schell makes another fastest lap, closing his gap to Ferraris already to two seconds, and it is at this moment that in Scuderia they finally realize that the American is in the same lap, and team manager Sculati immediately informs his drivers, ordering to pick up the pace!


Lap 29: Despite their best efforts, the Ferrari trio can't get away from Schell's Vanwall and the American is already in range!


Lap 30: Collins and Castellotti do their best to block Schell by constantly moving around the track and going straight side by side!


Lap 31: Despite the resistance of the two Ferraris, Schell manages to pass both of them at once before the Thillois hairpin, and thus the American is already 2nd!


Lap 33: Schell does his best to get close to Fangio, but the Argentinian responds with the fastest lap and breaks away from Vanwall for a couple of seconds at once!


Besides, on the same lap, Godia again manages to get ahead of Rosier.


Lap 35: Fangio laps even faster, while Castellotti and Collins, recovering a bit from Schell's fabulous breakthrough, counterattack the American and push him back to 4th!
Lap 36: Castellotti and Collins close ranks again, giving Schell no chance to pass through again, much to the outrage of British team boss Tony Vandervell!
Lap 38: Schell's Vanwall starts having fuel supply problems and the American pulls into the pits! During the inspection of the car, it turns out that the problem is in the fuel pump, so the repair takes a whole five minutes, as a result of which Harry returns to the track only 8th, having lost any chance of competing for the podium! At the same time, with the danger from Vanwall over, Sculatti once again orders his drivers to slow down.
Lap 39: Fangio is in trouble! The Argentine's car begins to lose fuel, and Juan-Manuel also drives into the pits, where mechanics discover a crack in the fuel line. Having closed it with a rubber tube and wire, the mechanics let the Argentine back onto the track, but by this time Fangio has already dropped to 4th position, almost a whole lap behind his teammates!


Meanwhile, on the same lap, Gendebien has clutch problems in another Ferrari, and the Belgian drops out of the race, giving up his place in the points to Moss. Besides, Rosier manages to overtake Godia once again, and thus the Frenchman is already 6th!


Lap 40: After Fangio's problems, Castellotti becomes the new leader, but Collins is still on his tail, who would obviously not mind winning his second victory in a row!


Position after 40 laps: Castellotti, Collins, Behra, Fangio, Moss, Rosier, Godia, Schell, Ramos, Manzon.
Lap 41: Simon has engine problems, and the Frenchman leaves the race.
Lap 42: Taruffi has an identical problem, and the Italian also retires.
Lap 47: After clinging behind Castellotti for a few laps, Collins finally goes on the attack and passes the Italian, taking the lead in the race!


Besides, on the same lap, due to a poorly adjusted fuel mixture, Schell again begins to lose ground and lets da Silva Ramos into 8th place.


Lap 49: Castellotti clearly does not intend to miss his first victory, and Eugenio counterattacks his teammate, regaining the lead again!


Lap 50: Collins gets ahead of Castellotti again and, to the Italian's great dismay, it is at this point that the Scuderia drivers are ordered to stop fighting and hold their positions!


Lap 53: Schell misses another Gordini, this time of Manzon.
Last lap: Collins completes the last lap and crosses the finish line first for his second win in a row!


At the same time, thanks to this success, the Englishman not only receives a solid cash prize from BP company in the amount of 10,000 pounds, but also seriously strengthens his leadership in the championship, ahead of the nearest rival by 5 points already!


Peter Collins: "My father gave me a motor business so I don't have to race... but I like it and I like the money. I don't think I'm as fast as Stirling but my car today was. I always have a go."

Meanwhile, second behind Peter is his teammate Castellotti, who today was only one step away from his first Grand Prix victory, but was not as lucky as the Englishman. Behind two Ferraris, in third place, is Jean Behra in a Maserati, and given the rather mediocre form of the Modena team in this Grand Prix, this can be called a success, especially since the 4 points received will certainly not be superfluous for the Frenchman in the fight for the title. Meanwhile, 4th, only 5 seconds behind Behra, finishes Fangio, who, as usual, attacked to the last and, as in Monaco, managed to show the fastest lap in the race already at the very finish! As for the 5th place, it goes to Moss, who looked as pale as ever today, and as a result, the Englishman gets only one point, sharing the second one with his teammate Perdisa.

P.S. After an absolute disastrous debut, Bugatti refused further participation in Formula-1, and as a result, this Grand Prix still remained the only one in the entire short history of the French team.


Interesting facts:

- Eugenio Castellotti first leading in the Grand Prix;
- Bugatti team's debut and only Grand Prix.

Driver standings


Alternative GP results

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