Alberto Ascari was born in Milan on July 13,
1918.Alberto father Antonio was the greatest Italian driver of his day
and frequently used to take his son with him to races in which he competed.Just
before Alberto’s seventh birthday, Antonio Ascari was killed while leading
the French Grand Prix at Montlehry. It was Alberto’s passion to become
a racing driver like his father. So absorbed was he with this ambition
that he twice ran away from school and at the first possible moment bought
himself a motor-bike. His first motor race was the 1940 Mille Miglia, the
car he drove was a Ferrari.
Alberto resumed racing in 1947. He bought
a 4CLT Maserati from the new owners, the Orsi family. He managed to scrape
together 3 million lire, and his friend Gigi Villoresi helped with some
of the other 2 million Lire. Ascari and Villoresi raced successfully on
the tracks of Northern Italy, and the Milanese crowd bestowed the nickname
"Ciccio" meaning "Tubby" on Alberto. 1948 proved another successful year
for the two friends in improved San Remo Maseratis. Ascari also had one
race in a 158 Alfa, finishing 3rd in the French GP at Reims
behind team mates Wimille and Sanesi.
Enzo Ferrari, who had been a great friend
and team mate of Alberto’s father, had been taking a keen interest in Alberto’s
successes, and he signed both Ascari and Villoresi in 1949. That year Ascari
had five victories plus another win at Buenos Aires in the Peron GP.
In 1950 he had nine Ferrari victories and
in 1951 six, despite Ferrari playing second fiddle to the aging 158/159
Alfa Romeos, but 1952 was his most successful season with 12. He missed
the first race of 1952, the Swiss GP, as he was away qualifying at Indianapolis
with the big 4.5 litre Ferrari, which suffered a wheel collapse in the
500, but for the other races he had a comparatively easy ride, Fangio of
the rival Maserati team being out of racing for most of the season after
a crash in the Monza GP in June. He won the World Championship at a canter,
then repeated the feat in 1953, despite the tougher opposition from the
Maseratis of Fangio and Gonzales.
Ascari was most relaxed when out in front
of a race, and was unlike most drivers in that he appeared not to give
of his best when further back. As Enzo Ferrari later recalled, "When leading,
he could not easily be overtaken – indeed it was virtually impossible to
Ascari was not a relaxed driver, he seemed
to whip his car along and his sensitive hands constantly manipulated the
steering wheel. When he was really in a hurry he took his bends in a series
of dicey jerks rather than in one controlled slide.
To meet the German challange of 1954 with
Fangio driving the Mercedes, were winning the championship with ease, the
Lancia's with which Alberto had joined with for 1954 had not yet made thier
debut.Clearly something had to be done, and so two Lancias, maroon-red
paint hardly dry, were rushed out to make their debut at the final race
of 1954, the Spanish GP, held on October 24 round the Pedralbes circuit.
Alberto started impressively and by lap 8 had built up a big lead. On lap
9 however, a moan of dismay went up as he stopped with clutch problems.
After one more slow lap, Ascari retired. Villoresi had already retired
on lap 4. Although Hawthorn’s Ferrari won the race, Fangio won the World
Championship of 1954, thanks to the Mercedes Benz W196, and due to the
belated arrival of the Lancia D50.
Although all 3 Lancias retired in the Argentinean
GP of 16 January 1955, the D50s won two minor F1 races and with the powerful
team of Italians, Ascari, Gigi Villoresi, and young Eugenio Castellotti,
Lancia was well placed to take on and even beat the hitherto all-conquering
It was May 22, 1955,the Monaco GP at Monaco
on the 81st lap Moss the leader swung his smoking Mercedes Benz
into the pit. The pistons had packed up for the day. As Fangio had already
retired with a broken transmission on lap 50, the German challenge was
finished leaving the stage clear for a debut Lancia GP victory.Alberto
was distracted by the crowd while exiting the tunnel on the 81st lap,It
distracted his attention for a vital second as he covered the downhill
approach to the chicane and the corner became impossible. He chose the
only way out and took the Lancia clean through the barriers into the sea.
Steam from the hot engine mingled with the
dust and fragments of straw floating in the air. For an agonizing three
seconds everyone’s breath stopped. Then the pale blue helmet appeared bobbing
on the surface. Ascari was hauled into a boat before even the frogmen could
Four days later, at Monza, Ascari was on
his feet again, watching the practicing for the Supercortemaggiore race.
Just before going home to lunch with his wife he decided to try a few laps
with the Sports Ferrari of his friend Castellotti. With Castellotti’s helmet
he set off. As it emerged from a fast curve on the third lap the car unaccountably
skidded, turned on its nose and somersaulted twice. Thrown out on the track,
Ascari suffered multiple injuries and died a few minutes later. Ascari’s
death was regarded as a national loss. Telegrams of sympathy were received
from the heads of three foreign states. From the front columns of the Church
of San Carlo al Corso hung black drapes and a huge inscription: "On the
Last Finish Line, meet, O lord, the soul of Alberto Ascari." Three days
after the funeral, Lancia officially suspended all racing activity, and
in July they handed six Lancia D50 cars, engines, blueprints and spares
over to Ferrari.