The 1954 Spanish Grand Prix

Mike Hawthorn, Ferrari, klemcoll

An old friend and often commentator to our points, Jim Sitz, has suggested that we do a post about the Grand Prix held on the Pedrables street circuit in Barcelona on October 24, 1954. Although the Championship had already been decided in favor of Juan Fangio, and this being the last race, Spain was indeed important with the front row consisting of four cars, each from a different constructor and each representing a different design approach.

Ferrari, klemcollShown above is the eventual winner Mike Hawthorn with a Ferrari 553 “Squalo” which had been introduced earlier in the year with a new engine approach by designer Aurelio Lampredi. His 553, seen at the left in the pits during practice, still used a four cylinder motor but now with a wider 84° included angle between the intake and exhaust valves in an attempt to improve gas flow. Hawthorn’s 553 also had other innovations, at least for a Ferrari, having been fitted with coil spring front suspension together with an anti-roll bar which together replaced the traverse leaf spring used previously. The coil spring approach was a major improvement and would be adopted for some of Ferrari’s F1 and sports cars in 1955.

Mercedes-Benz was also in Barcelona with their new W196 cars for Fangio, Karl Kling and Hans Herrmann. These were each Mercedes, Karl Kling, klemcollopen wheel versions, although there was also a streamliner-bodied car on hand as a spare. Due to the tight sections of the Barcelona circuit all the drivers preferred the open wheel versions. The W196 allowed higher revs and greater reliability with its desmodromic mechanical closure valve system. But they would discover an unexpected problem here with the radiators becoming blocked by paper debris, as may be seen on Kling’s car here. In true Mercedes style, a system was then installed for future street races where the driver could move the grille screen to dislodge paper should it again be blocked.

On pole for the race was the previous year’s World Champion Alberto Albertyo Ascari, Lancia, klemcollAscari, with one of the new Lancia D50s, another being given to Luigi Villoresi. The D50 was a new design from Vittorio Jano which included a new and very powerful V8 four-cam motor with side fuel tanks to reduce the car’s polar moment and an angled drivetrain to lower the driver. That Ascari had qualified a full second quicker than Fangio gave an adequate indiction of the potential of the Lancia. Ascari took over the lead on the third lap, Villoresi having to retire at the end of lap 1, and held the lead until his own retirement on the 10th round.

Also on the front row was Franco-American Harry Schell with a works-supported Maserati 250F. He decided to start Harry Schell, Maserati, klemcollon half-full tanks to get an initial advantage which allowed him to take the lead at the start which he held for the first two laps until passed by Ascari.

The Mercedes cars were obviously not happy, being uncompetitive, and all were overheating due to the paper debris blocking their cooling air. This problem also affected others and much of the race involved a duel involving Schell, Hawthorn and Hawthorn’s teammate Maurice Trintignant. Schell eventually retired as did Trintignant and Herrmann. There were nine finishers of the 21 starters.

At the end it was Hawthorn taking the win as the last survivor who could still turn a quick lap.

Mike Hawthorn, Ferrari, klemcoll

Photos by Yves Debraine and Ami Guichard ©The Klemantaski Collection –

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