68 years ago on this day, Alberto Ascari, Ferrari’s first and also Italy’s last F1 world champion, died. The terribly superstitious pilot broke with his habits on the day of his death, and fate gave him only four days to survive the fall into the sea.
On May 26, 1955, i.e. exactly 68 years ago, Alberto Ascari suffered a fatal accident. The late Italian driver was one of the best drivers of his time and still holds records that are unlikely to ever be broken. To name just two, in one of his seasons he won 75 percent of the races and was “excused” for the ones he didn’t win, and he also holds the record for the most consecutive fastest laps with seven.
Ascari was born on July 13, 1918 in Milan. It is not known whether this date caused him suffering, in any case, the suggestion, which seems strange at first, has a basis. The Italian pilot was extremely superstitious and hated not only the number 13, but also its multiples. Also, he was afraid of black cats and never let anyone take his racing gear. And without his light blue helmet, he was only willing to sit in a racing car once…
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Ascari was superstitious all his life
Racing easily infected him, as his father, Antonio Ascari, was also a successful driver. Shortly after his son’s seventh birthday, however, he lost his life at the French Grand Prix, but this did not deter Alberto from following in his footsteps. It’s true, he first tried two wheels, he started his first race at the age of 18.
At the beginning of the Second World War, he then switched to car racing. At the end of 1939, together with Lotario Rangoni, a nobleman from Modena, they approached Enzo Ferrari to build them a car for the next year’s Mille Miglia, Italy’s biggest road race. This happened, and although the brand of the car was not yet Ferrari at the time, it could practically be considered as such. Ascari performed well, leading after one lap, but in the second the control unit failed, so he gave up the fight.
He luckily escaped the war, as the company he operated together with his friend Luigi Villoresi supplied fuel to the North African front, so he was not drafted into the army. Instead, he started a family and had two children. After the conflagration ended, he almost stopped working because of them, but Villoresi convinced him, so he got into a car again in 1947.
That year and the next were spent with Maserati, but the Italian marque withdrew from Grand Prix racing by 1949 to concentrate on other areas. As a result, they both ended up at Enzo Ferrari’s team, which at that time was actually called Scuderia Ferrari. Although both Ascari and the manufacturer won their first Grand Prix races at the Swiss Grand Prix, and the Italian took home the title, the season was not a successful one overall.
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Ascari was already able to stand on the podium in his first World Championship race in Monaco
In 1950, the world championship as it is known today started. Ferrari was not represented at the British Grand Prix, but they were already there in Monaco. After a mass crash at the start of the race, Ascari finished in second place behind his later great rival, Juan Manuel Fangio. As a result, Ascari essentially became the first to stand on the podium in his first F1 race without having to do so.
At the season-ending Italian Grand Prix, Ascari even competed with the season-dominating Alfa Romeos: he took second place behind Fangio in the qualifying session, but messed up the start, but then fell back to second place behind the later world champion, Giuseppe Farina. He then dropped out with a half-shaft failure, but Dorino took over the car from Serafini and moved up from sixth to second. With this, he significantly contributed to his compatriot writing history, since considering that it was the first and last F1 race of his life, he is still the only one with a 100% podium rate.
In the 1951 season, Alfa Romeo was still the strongest, but Ferrari was getting closer to them. Although the first F1 victory in the history of the team from Maranello was won not by Ascari, but by José Froilán González, later the Italian driver also won two races and was in the fight for the World Cup title with Fangio until the end of the season. This year he was also part of an unfortunate tragedy, as he hit a doctor on the Mille Miglia, who later died of his injuries. As a result, he was charged with murder and acquitted only three years later.
Since Alfa Romeo withdrew from Formula 1 at the end of the season, and essentially Ferrari would have remained the only manufacturer, 1952 was forced to be organized according to Formula 2 rules. At that time, Ascari faced reality: He did not start in Switzerland because of the Indy 500, where he was eliminated in the race organized with a completely different set of rules, but he won the next six races, moreover, he ran the fastest lap every time. Since only the four best results were counted in the final calculation, the Italian rider collected all the points that could be obtained, which later only Jim Clark could repeat, but he no longer needed the fastest laps for that.
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Apart from the Indy 500, Ascari won every race he started in 1952
A year later, Ascari started with three wins out of four, and since the fourth race was the Indy 500, he could claim to have won nine consecutive races in which he started. Only Sebastian Vettel could set this record 60 years later. For the following season, however, he was guided by Ferrari, as the rules changed again, and the project of Lancia returning to grand prix competition seemed much more encouraging.
However, the car was not ready in time, so Ascari completed two races for Maserati and one for Ferrari before the D50 arrived at the end of the season. The Italian competitor ended all four games with elimination, so his 1954 season was a disastrous one. His only consolation was his victory at the Mille Miglia, which he restarted despite having vowed never to do so again after the events of three years earlier.
The first race in 1955 also ended with elimination in Argentina, followed by the Monaco Grand Prix. The Mercedes of Fangio and Stirling Moss could not be overtaken on their own, but both cars broke down. However, shortly after the British driver pitted and Ascari had a chance to take the lead, he skidded in the post-tunnel chicane and his car crashed through the barrier and into the sea.
Miraculously, Ascari was able to climb out of the Lancia and when he surfaced, a diver was already waiting to help him. Looking at the accident, it can even be said that he escaped with minor injuries, since he only suffered a cut on his nose and bruises, and of course he probably suffered from shock.
Before the season, Ascari said that he was afraid of this year, since his father lost his life at the age of 36, and he was the same age then. Little did he know that at the time of his accident in Monaco he was exactly the same age as his father. In any case, the thought of death still preoccupied him. “I never want my children to love me too much, because one day I might not come back,” he declared to a friend the day after the accident.
Ascari had originally traveled home to rest after being released from hospital, but Eugenio Castellotti called him to see if he would like to visit Monza to test the Ferrari 750 Monza sports car. As Ascari had canceled the weekend’s race, he was only expected to be a spectator and accordingly visited Monza in a tie and suit, without even his blue helmet.
In the end, however, he couldn’t bear not to try the car, and to the astonishment of Villoresi, who was also at the scene, he borrowed Castellotti’s white helmet and got into the car with it on his head. He really accelerated in the third lap, but in a fast left turn, in the Curva Vialoné, the Ferrari slipped, and after several overturns, Ascari flew out of the car. The two-time world champion suffered such injuries that he died in Villoresi’s arms while being transported to the hospital, just four days after his fall in Monaco. That part of the track has since been rebuilt and the chicane bears his name.
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The fatal car
The circumstances of the accident are still unclear. It was suggested that a man ran in front of him, others said he was distracted by his flag tie, but it was also thought possible that his fall in Monaco caused a blood clot in his head, causing him to momentarily lose consciousness. The most likely theory, however, is Mike Hawthorn’s: the 1958 world champion said the rims were simply too narrow because the parts they wanted to use weren’t available at the time. In the later part of the year, Paul Frére also suffered a huge accident behind the wheel of the Ferrari 750 Monza.
Hearing the news of Ascari’s death, Italy fell into mourning, but at the time they hardly knew that they had lost their last world champion. Fangio also mourned his rival, whom he referred to as his friend, and stated that he did not consider his World Cup title of the previous year to be as valuable precisely because of his absence. Lancia withdrew from Formula 1 and has not returned since.
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