Grand Prix photographs in color from the 1950s are comparatively rare, primarily because most magazine and other publishers would not print color at that time. In this image the factory Lancia team cars are shown lined up in the pits during practice for the 1955 Monaco Grand Prix which would take place on May 22nd.
These were the Lancia D50 which was a quite innovative design for that time. The D50 had been designed by the famous prewar Alfa Romeo engineer Vittorio Jano who created a new V8 2.5 liter motor with four overhead camshafts which was a stressed member within the chassis and offset to allow a lower driveline. Also, to achieve lower polar moment of inertia and, hence, improved cornering performance, Jano placed the fuel tanks in side sponsons located between the wheels which had the added advantage of reducing aerodynamic drag. On the other hand, his design made the cars rather less predictable when they reached the limit of adhesion, requiring drivers of outstanding ability.
The D50 had been promised for the 1954 season but delays in its development, combined with Lancia’s limited finances, resulted in only one appearance at the end of that season for the Spanish Grand Prix on the Pedralbes circuit at Barcelona where Alberto Ascari demonstrated the car’s potential by qualifying on pole and leading the race after the start before retiring.
However, four cars were on hand for the first European Championship race of the new 1955 season to challenge a similar four-car lineup from Mercedes-Benz. The Lancia drivers were Italians Ascari (#26), Eugenio Castellotti (#30) and Luigi Villoresi (#28) plus Monégasque Louis Chiron (#32). The Mercedes of Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss were in the front initially until Fangio retired. On the 81st lap Ascari, who was running in second place behind Moss and about to overtake him as the British driver was having mechanical problems, made a mistake at the Chicane where the road returns to the harbor front. Ascari went through some hay bales and his car vaulted into the harbor. The Italian driver soon appeared on the surface and was quickly rescued. Moss then retired and the eventual victory went to Maurice Trintignant in a Ferrari 625, followed by Castellotti’s Lancia. The other D50s finished fifth (Villoresi) and sixth (Chiron). The four Mercedes all failed to finish.
A Lancia D50 for Castellotti appeared again at the Belgian Grand Prix, but subsequently Lancia could no longer finance a Grand Prix team and its cars and spare parts were turned over to Ferrari. But that’s another story…
Ascari’s accident had an unfortunate sequel. Four days after his swim at Monte Carlo, he showed up at Monza where his friend Castellotti was testing a new Ferrari 750 Monza sports car. Asking to try the Ferrari for a few laps, Ascari borrowed Castellotti’s helmet and set out. On his second lap he evidently lost control in the fast Vialone left hander behind the paddock (now the site of the Ascari Chicane), the car rolled and threw him out with immediately fatal results. His accident at Monza had certain eerie similarities to his father’s fatal crash during the French Grand Prix at Montlhéry 30 years before. Alberto Ascari was one of the best Grand Prix drivers of all time.
Photo by Günther Molter ©The Klemantaski Collection