Thursday, July 13, 2017

Alberto Ascari Born In Milan, Italy - July 13, 1918

July 13, 1918 - May 26, 1955
 Alberto Ascari
(Photo; en.espn.co.uk)
Born in Milan, Italy.
Alberto Ascari was twice Formula One World Champion. He is one of two Italian Formula One World Champions in the history of the sport, and he won both his championships in a Ferrari.

Alberto was the son of Antonio Ascari, a talented Grand Prix motor racing star in the 1920s, racing Alfa Romeos. Antonio was killed while leading the French Grand Prix in 1925 but the younger Ascari had an interest in racing in spite of it. He raced motorcycles in his earlier years; it was after he entered the prestigious Mille Miglia in a Ferrari sports car that he eventually started racing on four wheels regularly.

Following the end of World War II Alberto Ascari began racing in Grands Prix with Maserati. His team-mate was Luigi Villoresi, who would become a mentor and friend to Ascari. Formula One regulations were introduced by the FIA in 1946, with the aim of eventually replacing the pre-war Grand Prix structure. During the next four transitional years, Ascari was at the top of his game, winning numerous events around Europe. He won his first Grand Prix race in Sanremo, Italy in 1948 and took second place in the British Grand Prix the same year. Ascari won another race with the team the following year. His biggest success came when he joined Villoresi on the Ferrari team and won three more races that year.

The first Formula One World Championship season took place in 1950, and the Ferrari team made its World Championship debut at Monte Carlo with Ascari, Villoresi and the famous French driver Raymond Sommer on the team. The team had a mixed year, their supercharged Tipo 125 was too slow to challenge the dominant Alfa Romeo team so instead Ferrari began working on an unblown 4.5l car. Much of the year was lost as the team's 2-litre Formula Two engine was progressively enlarged, though when the full 4.5l Tipo 375 arrived for the Italian Grand Prix Ascari gave Alfa Romeo their sternest challenge of the year before retiring; he then took over team mate Dorino Serafini's car to finish second. The new Ferrari then won the non-championship Penya Rhin Grand Prix.

Throughout 1951, Ascari was a threat to the Alfa Romeo team though initially he was undone by reliability. However, after winning at the Nürburgring and Monza he was only two points behind Fangio in the championship standings ahead of the climactic Spanish Grand Prix. Ascari took pole position, but a disastrous tyre choice for the race saw the Ferraris unable to challenge, Ascari coming home 4th while Juan Manuel Fangio won the race and the title.

For 1952, the World Championship season switched to using the 2-litre Formula Two regulations, with Ascari driving Ferrari's Tipo 500 car. He missed the first race of the championship season as he was competing for Ferrari at the Indianapolis 500, at the time a World Championship event. He was the only European driver to race at Indy in its 11 years on the World Championship schedule, but his race ended after 40 laps without having made much of an impression. Returning to Europe he then won the remaining six rounds of the series to clinch the world title and recording the fastest lap in each race. He scored the maximum amount of points a driver could earn since only the best four of eight scores counted towards the World Championship. He won three more consecutive races to start the 1953 season, giving him nine straight championship wins before his streak ended when he finished fourth in France, although it was a close fourth as the race was highly competitive. He earned two more wins later in the year to give himself a second consecutive World Championship.

Following a dispute over his salary, Ascari left Ferrari at the end of the season and switched to Lancia for the 1954 campaign. However, as their car was not eventually ready for the final race of the season Gianni Lancia allowed him to drive twice for Maserati and once for Ferrari. Ascari did at least get to win the Mille Miglia driving a Lancia sportscar in the meantime. When the Lancia D50 was ready it took pole position on its debut and Ascari led and set the fastest lap before retiring, meaning a full season of competing against Fangio's previously dominant Mercedes was much anticipated.

His 1955 season started promisingly, the Lancia taking victories at the non-championship races in Pau and Naples, though in championship events he retired in Argentina and at Monaco, where he crashed into the harbour after missing a chicane while leading, reportedly distracted by either the crowd's reaction to Stirling Moss' retirement or the close attentions of the lapped Cesare Perdisa behind. He escaped with a broken nose.

Four days later, on May 26, he went to Monza to watch his friend Eugenio Castellotti test a Ferrari 750 Monza sports car, which they were to co-race in the Supercortemaggiore 1000 km race. Ascari was not supposed to drive that day but decided to try a few laps. In shirt sleeves, ordinary trousers and Castellotti's white helmet he set off. Ascari was a very superstitious man and had previously always insisted on using his distinct pale blue crash helmet. His usual helmet was at the repair shop, having a new chin strap fitted after the incident in Monte Carlo. As he emerged from a fast curve on the third lap the car unaccountably skidded, turned on its nose and somersaulted twice. Thrown out onto the track, Ascari suffered multiple injuries and died a few minutes later. The crash occurred on the Curva del Vialone, one of the track's challenging high-speed corners. The corner where the accident happened, renamed in his honour, has been subsequently replaced with a chicane, now called Variante Ascari.

There were several similarities between the deaths of Alberto and his father. Alberto Ascari died at the age of 36. Antonio Ascari was also 36 when he died, on July 26, 1925. Both were killed four days after surviving serious accidents and on the 26th day of the month.

Motor racing fans from all over mourned as Alberto Ascari was laid to rest next to the grave of his father in the Cimitero Monumentale in Milan, to be forever remembered as one of the greatest racers of all time. His distraught wife Mietta Ascari told Enzo Ferrari that "were it not for their children she would gladly have joined her beloved Alberto in heaven". His death is often considered to be a contributing factor to the withdrawal of Lancia from motor racing in 1955, though the company was also in considerable financial trouble, needing a government subsidy to survive.

A street in Rome named in his honour, while both the Autodromo Nazionale Monza and Autodromo Oscar Alfredo Gálvez have chicanes named after him. In 1992, he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. The British supercar manufacturer Ascari Cars is named in his honour.

Italian-born American racing legend Mario Andretti counts Ascari as one of his racing heroes, having watched him at the Monza circuit in his youth.

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