|1954||Lancia||A Ascari, L Villoresi||1||2||0||0||0||-||0||1||1||1||1||0||-|
|1955||Lancia||A Ascari, E Castellotti, AL Chiron, L Villoresi||3||8||0||1||3||2||0||1||3||1||0||0||-|
|First race||Spanish Grand Prix||Pedralbes||October 24, 1954||Race results|
|Last race||Belgian Grand Prix||Spa||June 5, 1955||Race results|
Vincenzo Lancia was one of the charismatic early racing pioneers. Born in 1881, the son of a soup manufacturer, he was an apprentice to the Ceirano brothers, whose firm became Fiat. He was chosen as their test driver and then raced in some of the sport's earliest events. In one he was flying the Italian flag admirably when a holed radiator eliminated his Fiat. Lancia wept bitterly.
He founded his own company in 1906 to build touring cars and racing cars, although he continued to drive for Fiat. Gianni Lancia took over the company from his father and decided to return to motor racing in 1954. After two years racing to Formula Two rules, the World Championship was run to a new Formula One for 2.5-litre cars.
Lancia recruited highly respected designer Vittorio Jano to build a car, which did not appear until late in the season. It also had the dominant Mercedes W196 to contend with. Although the W196 was renowned for its high-level technology, Jano's Lancia D50 was in fact more novel. The engine was positioned diagonally in the chassis, allowing the propshaft to pass through the cockpit without going under the driver's seat. This meant that the car could be built closer to the ground, which led to improved handling.
The D50 was Lancia's first grand prix car and it utilized an ultra-light chassis of small diameter tubes, while the engine block and crankcase were stressed. Fuel and oil were carried in special side pontoons between the wheels on each side. The trend at the time was for rear tanks behind the axle line. As the fuel load changed on the Lancia, the variable weight actually occurred between the wheels and so did not have such a marked effect on the handling. Another positive spin-off was a cleaning up of the turbulent area between the wheels. Tipping the scales at just 620 kilos, the D50 was one of the lightest contenders.
The Lancia drivers were Alberto Ascari and Luigi Villoresi, who were loaned to Maserati while the D50 was being finished. It finally made its debut in the Spanish Grand Prix of 1954, where Ascari was fastest in practice and showed everyone a clean pair of heels until he retired after nine laps with clutch failure.
Things looked highly promising for 1955, although Mercedes had signed Moss to back up Fangio and the pair made formidable opposition. Fangio won the opening grand prix in the tremendous heat of his native Argentina, but the D50s won minor races with Ascari in Naples and Turin.
Lancia ran Ascari, Villoresi, Castellotti and Louis Chiron - at the age of 56 - in the Monaco Grand Prix. Moss and Fangio took an early lead, but then encountered engine trouble and retired, leaving Ascari in front until he made a big error and landed himself in the harbour. He was rescued from drowning but, back on the track, Castellotti was beaten by Trintignant's Ferrari. Ascari was killed testing a Ferrari at Monza just four days later. Like his father Antonio 30 years before him, Alberto was killed on the 26th of the month while driving in a borrowed helmet.
Ascari's accident was inexplicable, with some people feeling that he was still affected by his Monaco accident, but both Villoresi and Gianni Lancia were deeply upset. Lancia decided not to continue and the D50 raced as a Lancia just once more, when Castellotti entered one privately in the Belgian Grand Prix. In addition to his feelings for Ascari, Lancia was also having to cope with the fact that his company was in financial trouble.
He sold Lancia and handed over the D50s to Enzo Ferrari, complete with all his spares, designer Jano and Castellotti. A five-year Fiat subsidy was also arranged. That was Lancia's last appearance in Formula One.
Reproduced from The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Formula One published by Carlton Books