1953 French Grand Prix

The 1953 French Grand Prix was a Formula Two race held on 5 July 1953 at Reims. It was race 5 of 9 in the 1953 World Championship of Drivers, which was run to Formula Two rules in 1952 and 1953, rather than the Formula One regulations normally used.

1953 French Grand Prix
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Reims-Gueux layout
Reims-Gueux layout
Race details
Date 5 July 1953
Official name XL Grand Prix de l'ACF
Location Reims Circuit, Gueux, France
Course Temporary road course
Course length 8.347 km (5.187 miles)
Distance 60 laps, 500.820 km (311.195 miles)
Weather Hot, dry
Pole position
Driver Ferrari
Time 2:41.2
Fastest lap
Driver Argentina Juan Manuel Fangio[a] Maserati
Time 2:41.1 on lap 25
First Ferrari
Second Maserati
Third Maserati
Lap leaders

It is popularly known as The Race of the Century because of the sixty lap battle between Briton Mike Hawthorn and Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio.[3][4] Hawthorn won the duel after they reportedly swapped the lead at virtually every corner on the Reims circuit. In addition, after 500 km of racing, the four lead cars were less than 5 seconds apart.


For 1953, the Reims-Gueux circuit's layout changed. The new, faster and slightly longer circuit bypassed the town of Gueux and as a result, the circuit was now called just Reims.

Coming into the French Grand Prix, Ferrari driver, and 1952 World Champion Alberto Ascari had a large lead in the championship, having won the first three races of the season (not including the Indianapolis 500 in which none of the Grand Prix contenders took part). Meanwhile, early favourite, 1951 World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio, driving for Maserati, had yet to even finish a World Championship qualifying event in 1953.[1][5]

Unlike in 1952, in 1953 Maserati and Ferrari were quite evenly matched. The Maseratis had slightly more power, and hence straight-line speed, but the Ferraris had slightly better brakes, road holding, and low-end acceleration. Both works teams sent four drivers. For Ferrari there was Ascari, Luigi Villoresi, Nino Farina and Mike Hawthorn. Maserati had Fangio, José Froilán González, Onofre Marimón and Felice Bonetto. Both Ferrari and Maserati were also represented by a single private entry each, Louis Rosier driving a Ferrari and Toulo de Graffenried a Maserati.[1]

All of the other entries had little chance of winning, as they had significantly less power than the Ferraris and Maseratis, as well as generally worse road holding. They consisted of two privately entered OSCAs (one to be driven by Louis Chiron in his last French Grand Prix start), four works Gordinis and three of each of Connaught, HWM and Cooper. The works Gordinis were poorly prepared, the team instead focusing on the 12 hour race which ran from midnight to midday on the same day as the Grand Prix. Two of the Connaughts were works entries, and were notable as the first fuel injected cars to start the French Grand Prix.[1]


There was very little activity in the earlier practice sessions, with the Ferrari team only arriving just in time for the final session. González was the early pacesetter for Maserati, but was eventually outdone by both Villoresi and Ascari for Ferrari. González would again set the fastest time of 2:41.5, but in Bonetto's car, but Ascari would finally take pole position with a time of 2:41.2 late in the session. The front row of the 3-2-3 grid was therefore Ascari, Bonetto and Villoresi, with Fangio and González sharing row two.[1][6]

The fastest six cars were separated by just 1.3 seconds, with the Ferraris and Maseratis clearly quite evenly matched. The first non-Ferrari or Maserati was the Connaught of Prince Bira with 2:53.2, 12 seconds slower than Ascari and around 2 seconds slower than Rosier in the slowest Ferrari.[1][6]

Qualifying classificationEdit

Pos No Driver Constructor Time Gap
1 10   Alberto Ascari Ferrari 2:41.2
2 24   Felice Bonetto1 Maserati 2:41.5 + 0.3
3 12   Luigi Villoresi Ferrari 2:41.9 + 0.7
4 18   Juan Manuel Fangio Maserati 2:42.0 + 0.8
5 20   José Froilán González1 Maserati 2:42.4 + 1.2
6 14   Nino Farina Ferrari 2:42.5 + 1.3
7 16   Mike Hawthorn Ferrari 2:43.5 + 2.3
8 22   Onofre Marimón Maserati 2:44.4 + 3.2
9 46   Toulo de Graffenried Maserati 2:46.1 + 4.9
10 44   Louis Rosier Ferrari 2:51.1 + 9.9
11 42   Prince Bira Connaught-Lea-Francis 2:53.2 + 12.0
12 38   Bob Gerard Cooper-Bristol 2:54.2 + 13.0
13 36   Stirling Moss Cooper-Alta 2:55.7 + 14.5
14 40   Ken Wharton Cooper-Bristol 2:55.8 + 14.6
15 34   Élie Bayol OSCA 2:56.9 + 15.7
16 26   Lance Macklin HWM-Alta 2:57.2 + 16.0
17 28   Peter Collins HWM-Alta 3:02.0 + 20.8
18 30   Yves Giraud Cabantous HWM-Alta 3:06.7 + 25.5
19 50   Roy Salvadori Connaught-Lea-Francis 3:23.0 + 41.8
20 6   Harry Schell Gordini 3:25.8 + 44.6
21 48   Johnny Claes Connaught-Lea-Francis 4:06.5 + 1:25.3
22 2   Jean Behra Gordini No time
23 4   Maurice Trintignant Gordini No time
24 8   Roberto Mieres Gordini No time
25 32   Louis Chiron OSCA No time
  • ^1 – González set the second placed time of 2:41.5, however he was driving Bonetto's car. Thus Bonetto started from second place, while González started in fifth with his fastest time in his own car of 2:42.4[1][6]

Pre-race controversyEdit

The Grand Prix was preceded by the 12 hour sportscar race which ran from midnight to midday. During that race, the leading Ferrari, driven by Umberto Maglioli and Piero Carini, was disqualified, ostensibly for receiving a push start, and for switching off sidelights before the appointed time. Many, including Ferrari team manager Ugolini, felt this quite unfair, since the push-start had been to get clear of spilt petrol in the pitlane, and nearly every other car in the race had already switched off their sidelights by the time Maglioli did the same. Many in the crowd also disagreed with the disqualification, with the crowd booing and throwing rubbish at head officials Charles Faroux and Toto Roche.[5]

As a result, Ferrari threatened to withdraw their cars from the Grand Prix, which would have surely handed Maserati an easy win. However, after several phone calls between Reims and Modena, the Ferraris were eventually allowed to start in the Grand Prix.[5][6]


For the race, González decided to start with half a tank of fuel and make a pitstop in the race, while all of the other main contenders started with full tanks hoping to last the whole distance. This of course meant that González would need to build a large enough gap to make his pitstop.[1]

At the start, from the front row Bonetto and Ascari both made good starts, while Villoresi was slow away, leaving a gap for González to quickly move into the lead with his much lighter car. At the end of the first lap González had built a 2.8 second gap over the other Italian cars, the order being Ascari, Villoresi, Bonetto, Fangio, Hawthorn, Farina and Marimón, with the gap from second to eighth just 2.2 seconds. Further back was the first of the non-Italian cars, with Bira just ahead of the Gordini of Maurice Trintignant, who had started from the back having not set a lap in practice.[1]

On the second lap, González continued to pull away from the main pack, now led by the Ferraris of Ascari, Villoresi and Hawthorn, all disputing second place, with Farina close behind. They were followed by the Maseratis of Fangio and Marimón, with Bonetto dropping to ninth after a spin, behind Trintignant, Bira and de Graffenried. Apart from the three Ferraris contesting second place, the order near the front remained the same for the next 20 laps or so, at which point González ceased increasing his lead, making it unlikely he would be able to hold it when he made his stop.[1]

On lap 23, Fangio overtook Farina, who responded by setting the then fastest lap of the race and retaking the position. On the following lap Fangio overtook Farina again, setting the fastest lap of the race in the process. This increase in pace of Fangio and Farina had now placed them in the middle of the three Ferraris, Fangio now in third place. Some shuffling of the pack took place by the time González made his pitstop on lap 29, with Fangio now leading it ahead of Hawthorn, with Villoresi dropping back to Marimón. González's pitstop took just 27 seconds, but this allowed Fangio into the lead, with González dropping all the way down to sixth, ahead of Villoresi but behind Marimón who had just passed him.[6][1]

At half distance, Fangio lead Hawthorn and Ascari, the top three separated by less than a second, followed at small intervals by Farina, Marimón, then González and Villoresi just a second apart, around 20 seconds behind Fangio. Bonetto was over a minute and 20 seconds behind Fangio, and no other drivers were still on the lead lap.[8]

Over the next few laps, Fangio and Hawthorn would swap the lead several times, sometimes more than once a lap, pulling slowly away from Ascari who was locked in a close battle with Farina, González and Marimón. Villoresi, meanwhile, fell back, but not enough to be challenged for seventh place. González continued to push, catching and overtaking Farina then Ascari on lap 37. This spurred Ascari on, and he and González duelled for third place over the following 20 laps. Both the duels, for first place and for third place, would last until very near the end of the race, with the drivers separated by not more than a carlength at any stage.[1]

With two laps to go, Fangio and Hawthorn crossed the finish line side by side, followed less than a second later by González and Ascari, also side by side. Hawthorn led into the last lap, with González very close now, but Ascari well off the pace having eased off. Coming into the final straight González was able to overlap slightly on Fangio, but Hawthorn lead the pair, winning the race by just one second from Fangio, with González just 0.4 seconds behind in third place.[1]

Race classificationEdit

Pos No Driver Constructor Laps Time/Retired Grid Points
1 16   Mike Hawthorn Ferrari 60 2:44:18.6 7 8
2 18   Juan Manuel Fangio Maserati 60 + 1.0 4 71
3 20   José Froilán González Maserati 60 + 1.4 5 4
4 10   Alberto Ascari Ferrari 60 + 4.6 1 3
5 14   Nino Farina Ferrari 60 + 1:07.6 6 2
6 12   Luigi Villoresi Ferrari 60 + 1:15.9 3  
7 46   Toulo de Graffenried Maserati 58 + 2 Laps 9  
8 44   Louis Rosier Ferrari 56 + 4 Laps 10  
9 22   Onofre Marimón Maserati 55 + 5 Laps 8  
10 2   Jean Behra Gordini 55 + 5 Laps 22  
11 38   Bob Gerard Cooper-Bristol 55 + 5 Laps 12  
12 48   Johnny Claes Connaught-Lea-Francis 53 + 7 Laps 21  
13 28   Peter Collins HWM-Alta 52 + 8 Laps 17  
14 30   Yves Giraud Cabantous HWM-Alta 50 + 10 Laps 18  
15 32   Louis Chiron OSCA 43 + 17 Laps 25  
Ret 24   Felice Bonetto Maserati 42 Engine 2  
Ret 36   Stirling Moss Cooper-Alta 38 Clutch 13  
Ret 42   Prince Bira Connaught-Lea-Francis 29 Differential 11  
Ret 34   Élie Bayol OSCA 18 Engine 15  
Ret 40   Ken Wharton Cooper-Bristol 17 Wheel bearing 14  
Ret 4   Maurice Trintignant Gordini 14 Transmission 23  
Ret 26   Lance Macklin HWM-Alta 9 Clutch 16  
Ret 6   Harry Schell Gordini 4 Engine 20  
Ret 8   Roberto Mieres Gordini 4 Axle 24  
Ret 50   Roy Salvadori Connaught-Lea-Francis 2 Ignition 19  
  • ^1 – Includes 1 point for fastest lap[a]

Championship standings after the raceEdit

Drivers' Championship standings
Pos Driver Points
  1   Alberto Ascari 28
  5 2   Mike Hawthorn 14
  1 3   Luigi Villoresi 13
  4   José Froilán González 11
  2 5   Bill Vukovich 9
  • Note: Only the top five positions are included.


  1. ^ a b Some sources credit Alberto Ascari with equal fastest lap.[1][2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Hodges, David (1967). The French Grand Prix. pp. 156–161.
  2. ^ Higham, Peter (2020). Formula 1: Car by Car 1950-59. p. 129. ISBN 9781910505441.
  3. ^ "French GP 1953". sportscars.tv. Retrieved 9 December 2012.
  4. ^ Mathieu, Christian. ""The Grand Prix of the century" : Reims 1953". flyandrive.com. Archived from the original on 11 June 2011. Retrieved 4 August 2015.
  5. ^ a b c Grant, Gregor (1959). World Championship. pp. 76–79.
  6. ^ a b c d e Lang, Mike (1981). Grand Prix! Volume 1. pp. 59–60.
  7. ^ "XL Grand Prix de l'Automobile Club de France". silhouet.com. Retrieved 11 January 2017.
  8. ^ "1953 French Grand Prix: Hawthorn takes debut win". Motor Sport Magazine. 29 (8): 23–25. August 1953.
  9. ^ "1953 French Grand Prix". formula1.com. Archived from the original on 18 January 2015. Retrieved 4 August 2015.
  10. ^ "France 1953 - Championship • STATS F1". www.statsf1.com. Retrieved 4 March 2019.

External linksEdit

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