Probably not Alf Francis' finest...
- Felix Muelas, Mattijs Diepraam
- 8W April 1999 issue
- Automobili Turismo e Sport - Angry at Laura, by Felix Muelas/Mattijs Diepraam/Robert Blinkhorn
- Scuderia Centro Sud - Italy's Maserati privateer, by Mattijs Diepraam/Felix Muelas
- Scuderia Serenissima - Merchants of Venice, by Mattijs Diepraam
Mario Araujo de Cabral
1964 Italian GP
One of the more mysterious entries to make it onto the grid in the sixties was the Derrington-Francis powered by an ATS unit, with ATS being Automobili Turismo Sport, the Ferrari rebel faction that started life of its own in 1963, tagging along Ferrari greats Phil Hill and Giancarlo Baghetti.
Mistakenly referred to by some sources as another ATS entry, this was in fact an ATS 100 adapted to the unrecognizable, similar to the Apollon and McGuire rebuilts of the late seventies. Chassis no.02, its driver at the 1963 Italian GP responsible for pushing its 1964 driver off the grid, was submitted to a process which Dr. Frankenstein would have kindly supported. Two people, a prominent British manufacturer and supplier of automotive performance equipment named Vic Derrington and a very famous ex-Moss and ex-Walker racing mechanic of Polish birth, Alf Francis, were performing the experiment.
Francis, living and working in Italy as result of his association with Valerio Colotti (who created the Tec-Mec) convinced Vic Derrington that the dead creature, the collapsed ATS animal, could be revived. As in the Mary Shelley story, Alf conceived and quickly built a spaceframe chassis some six inches shorter in wheelbase than the original Chiti-designed ATS, installed the original brain (oops, engine) in it, and clothed the complete car in neat squarish-section aluminium bodywork. This car, that at the time everybody took for an ATS (see the original reports in Autocar and MotorSport, or even by Mike Lang) was later recognized by Mike Lawrence as a separate car. We like the name Lawrence gave the car in retrospect, and so, even against some very serious historians' opinion, we will call the car Derrington-Francis ATS, as in this case the modifications made to the original chassis ATS 100-02 were enough as to justify that change of name.
As all monsters, the D-F had a short life and a very clear destiny. This time it was Monza, and its driver could not be anyone other than the man treated so unfairly by it the year before: Mario Araujo de Cabral. Mario's international career started off as the local boy at the second running of the Portuguese GP at Monsanto in 1959. Until Pedro Lamy, Cabral remained the only Portuguese to make it to the grid of an F1 race, with Pedro Chaves failing to do so in all his efforts. As the single Portuguese representative on a top level, Cabral did well on his debut, qualifying in front of Hill and Ireland in one of Centro Sud's Cooper-Maseratis. Neither Hill nor Ireland finished but Cabral did, making headlines on the way by blocking championship leader Jack Brabham while being lapped, the outcome of it that Brabham shot off the road into a telegraph pole. The Aussie was lucky not to be seriously hurt as the car was completely wrecked. With regular driver Ian Burgess making his comeback for Monza, nothing else was heard of Mario that year.
Cabral and that Cooper probably had a love affair because a year later Mario was back at the wheel of the F2-59-13 for a second home attempt, this time at Oporto. In fact, it was the result of the "local hero" theory, whereby the organizers had the possibility of nominating a local driver to compete in their national Grand Prix. This time, though, the Oporto circuit, incorporating roundabouts, tram rails, lamp posts and the like must not have been Cabral's favourite, because he qualified his ageing machine at the back of the grid and although he drove in the entire race in front of Von Trips, Ireland and Gendebien he was forced to retire with gearbox trouble at two-thirds' distance. A shame, as a sixth could have been on the cards.
For 1961 he was two make two further attempts in F1, although at non-championship level. The first one, and probably the one that remained his best ever, was in the Pau GP in April 1961. Much has been said about the excellent showing of the two Scuderia Centro Sud Coopers (still the old Type 51s F2-12-59 and F2-13-59). For this Pau GP there were 19 entries, with reigning champion Brabham and the full Lotus Team being the real forces on the grid. Full teams from Ecurie Nationale Belge, Camoradi, Scuderia Colonia, Centro Sud and Serenissima were filling up the places, plus a couple of "real privateers", in their T51's.
So, what's the deal?
Well, Clark won his first ever Formula One race leading flag-to-flag, Bonnier was second in the Scuderia Colonia Lotus 18 whilst Bandini and Cabral took the following two places for Scuderia Centro Sud. There must have been some tension regarding this excellent showing, because John Thompson reckoned, in his Formula One Record Book that "Scuderia Centro Sud tried to improve their chances by using oversized engines" but in reality, the cars finished two and three laps down on Clark, so the experiment being true or not, the discussion is now long gone. It seems that Thompson's theory might have been originated by the difficulties that Trintignant had trying to overtake them both when recovering from a start from the back. Anyway, for Syracuse Cabral was again called up by the Scuderia, but this time he was pushed aside by new boy Massimo Natili, Mario only nominated as a reserve driver.
In 1962 Cabral's racing career was interrupted by National Service, Mario serving as a paratrooper in Angola. The following year Mario returned, and again with Scuderia Centro Sud. With the BRM P57 (the Old Faithful) in the hands of Bandini, and the only remaining 51 assigned to Carlo Abate, Mario was left in charge of a Cooper-Maserati T53. Have you guessed its chassis number? Just in case you haven't, it was F1-13-61...
His first 1963 race came at Solitude in July, where did a decent job, qualifying 18th out of the 25 starters and finishing in his favourite 10th place. Having proved how to survive against the numbers, the Scuderia commissioned him to drive the newly acquired ex-factory Cooper-Climax T60 F1-17-61 (Bruce McLaren's car in 1962) for the German Grand Prix, with Carlo Abate watching from the stands as a reserve driver. As we know, the majority of the efforts were concentrated on Bandini, and so Cabral found the car difficult to drive. He qualified near the back and the gearbox gave in at around mid-race. Whilst he had been in the race, he was quite at ease... in tenth place! So he wasn't fired, but again was offered the T60 drive at Enna-Pergusa for the non-championship Grand Premio del Mediterraneo. For the record, Mario had his best ever qualifying position there (7th) and managed to keep that position in the race.
Carlo Abate, meanwhile, had had enough of watching from the stands and convinced the young Count Giovanni Volpi di Misturi (the man who inherited a fortune from his father, later created the Scuderia Serenissima and stood at in the origin of Automobili Turismo Sport before leaving) to lend him the Porsche 718-203 that Juan Manuel Bordeu drove in Vallelunga back in May, to finish this time... behind Mario. The "revenge" should have taken place in Monza, for the Italian Grand Prix, but didn't, Abate not entering his Porsche at Monza.
So, what happened to Mario in Italy? Officially, if one takes a look at the statistics, he did not qualify. But of course, as one should always do - if only for health reasons - statistics do not tell the whole truth. There were 33 entries for this race originally expected to be run on the combined banked and road circuit. Of course, 33 entries for a race where 30 people would take the start sound quite reasonable. For the first practice, Mitter, Seifert, Ian Burgess and Carlo Abate were absent, so this leaves 29 for 30 places. Perfect. Soon after practice began, the cars were seen to be leaping about the track surface and there were several mechanical failures which included Bob Anderson losing a left rear wheel and skating down the banking into the infield. At this point practice was stopped and the circuit inspected. It was felt that it was unsafe to carry on and the rest of the meeting was run on the road circuit alone. The track shortened to half its original length meant a reduction in the number of starters from 30 to 20. Mario only set 21st time, but after Chris Amon's seriously crashing his Lola, Cabral was in. Or so it seemed...
Among the other non-qualifiers was none other than home boy Giancarlo Baghetti in the second ATS, a fact the organizers regretted immensely. So they started to "encourage" all drivers in front of him to withdraw, starting with the only one qualified for the race - Cabral - and followed by Raby, Settember and Beaufort. We are told by our Portuguese friend Joao Paulo Cunha of Forix that Mario Araujo de Cabral still remembers this incident, and until this very day is less than amused about it...
It sounds like a weird incident, but it was to mark the beginning of the end to Cabral's aspiration to consolidate his F1 career. From Signor Mimmo Dei he purchased the T60, and for 1964, he entered the car himself in the BARC 200. The car was really obsolete, and Mario did not qualify, what at the time should have come as another disappointment for him. Then he heard that one of those extraordinary coincidences in life was about to happen, as the bloody Baghetti car, the ATS 100-02 that pushed him so unfairly off the Monza grid in 1963, was about to be transformed into the Derrington-Francis contraption, causing a big smile to appear on Cabral's face.
Mario did two very important things that weekend in Monza in 1964: first, he qualified the car, and this time he wasn't last man on the grid, beating Maurice Trintignant at the wheel of an agonizingly slow and well-known BRM P57... the Old Faithful! And Trintignant only made it because Jean Claude Rudaz's Cooper T60 (the twin brother of Mario's F1-17-61) gave up before the race. Second, Cabral qualified the car faster than anybody driving an ATS had done before. Not even World Champion Phil Hill had managed to drive the ATS that fast, even though part of the merit might have laid in Alf Francis' design (who knows?).
Cabral, Peter Revson and Trintignant enjoyed a fierce battle for the first 20 laps, even when racing at the back of the field. Only Revson was to finish, and when on lap 25 Mario had to park the car because the engine had stopped due to ignition troubles, he probably stepped out of the car, put his helmet and goggles off, looked at the car, and smiled. Neither the car nor Mario were seen again in an F1 race, but fair enough - history was made.