Benelli, MM, Bianchi, Gilera... Ferrari!
- Felix Muelas
- 8W August 2000 issue
- Alberto Ascari - Cursed natural talent, by Mattijs Diepraam/Felix Muelas/Leif Snellman
1950 Italian GP (3 September 1950)
Teodoro - "Dorino" - Serafini was born in Italy, in the small town of Pesaro on July 22, 1909. From his young age he started racing motorcycles, his most successful being a Benelli of 175cc. He remained loyal to Benellis up to 1933, when he switched to another Italian make, MM. The combination Serafini-MM in 175cc soon became the one to beat, and by the end of the year Serafini had won enough races to be crowned Italian Champion. In 1935 he "jumped" to 500cc racing driving a Bianchi. 1936 would surrender a second Italian Championship to him, this time in the 500cc series. With few things left to prove on home soil, he accepted the offer in 1938 to become works driver for Gilera, mainly in charge of developing their powerful 4-cylinder supercharged machines. Come 1939, and Serafini, now used to the bike, had a fantastic year winning the Grand Prix of Sweden, Germany and Ulster to become European Champion of 1939.
At the end of the war, not being a youngster anymore and using his motorbike record as a calling card, Dorino started racing cars. Not really unusual, as other holders of European two-wheel titles include the likes of Nuvolari, Taruffi, Tenni and Georg Meier. Some of them were more successful than others, but all of them provided entertainment, as the real racers they were.
Biographies tend to mention that he started his four-wheel career driving Austin-Healeys and Frazer-Nashes, which is probably true. But it is only in 1947 when we start seeing Serafini at the wheel of a single-seater. In July that year, on two consecutive weekends, he took the wheel of a Cisitalia D46 and took part in the I Coupe de Petites Cylindrées at Reims and in the IX Grand Prix de l'Albigeois, obviously at Albi. Details are scarce, but he retired in both races.
Later in the year Serafini was entered by Scuderia Milan at the wheel of one of their Maseratis 4CL on the XIII Grand Prix de Comminges to be held at St Gaudens. His performance was a blistering one as he led the race from the start, signing the fastest lap of the race on the early stages. However all that came to an abrupt end in a shocking way when Serafini found that both the steering wheel and the column came away in his hands! He hit a tree head-on and was very seriously injured, his ribs, arms and legs broken, while also suffering some burns. Against all odds - some chronicles of the time even mention that he would never race again - he survives.
His comeback to single-seaters had to wait, though, until the end of the following year, 1948. For the final race of the F2 season, on the Circuito de Firenze, Maserati fielded a works team of three drivers that would stay together like a match made in heaven, although not on the Maserati payroll but on Ferrari's: Ascari, Villoresi and Serafini. In this race, Serafini retired, but more of this trio would follow.
During the year 1949, Serafini drove an OSCA in several F2 races and, at the end of the year received an offer from Ferrari to join the Scuderia and drive for the team together with Ascari and Villoresi.
1950 is a busy year, Serafini driving both the sportscars and single seaters for Ferrari. He also drove at Le Mans, partnering Sommer. In sportscars, Dorino won both the Giro di Calabria and the Giro di Toscana and finished second in the Mille Miglia, where only Marzotto was able to beat him.
But as a full member of the Scuderia, he also raced single-seaters, starting with an inauspicious retirement on the first lap - after qualifying last - on the Gran Premio di San Remo in April, where he drove a 125. Before getting the taste of the F1 car again, he is charged with a 166 in several F2 races (Modena and Monza in May and Angoulème -partnering Sommer - in June). Only Monza would bring some satisfaction, as Serafini finished second to Villoresi in his heat and completed a Ferrari 1-2-3 in the Final with Ascari completing the picture. Then he was back at the seat of the 125 for the IV Gran Premio de Bari in July, where he finished a distant 7th.
And then finally the new 166F2/50 appeared. Its debut came later in July, at the III Prix de Geneva. Although the Simca-Gordinis of Trintignant and Simon took a convincing first and second place, Serafini finished on the podium with the new car. Next stop was the Nürburgring for the German Grand Prix, run to F2 regulations in 1950. Serafini qualified very well (3rd) but would retire with a broken gearbox on lap 6.
The Grand Prix des Nations at Geneva had marked the first appearance of the 4.1-litre Ferrari, and, driven by Ascari, gave the Alfa Romeo team their biggest fright for some time; the car lying second for 62 of the 68 laps before retiring with water pouring from an exhaust pipe. Villoresi also did well in the 3.3-litre car but had the misfortune of spinning on some oil and sustaining injuries in the resulting crash.
With Villoresi unable to recover in time for the Italian Grand Prix, Ferrari decided to offer Serafini his debut in the final race counting towards the World Championship. At some point there were talks of Sommer actually driving the car, but luckily for Serafini those ended in nothing.
The Ferrari team started practice for the Italian Grand Prix - our picture - full of confidence, for Ascari had already recorded an unofficial lap time of 1 min 59.0 sec in the 4-litre Ferrari. Alfa Romeo was well aware of this and spent the two days of official practice trying to beat the time. Of the five cars entered though, only Fangio succeeded in breaking the two-minute barrier. He eventually got down to 1m58.6s near the end of the final session to take pole position from Ascari who had previously recorded 1m58.8s. Like Fangio, Farina was also driving one of the new Tipo 159s and he and Sanesi completed the front row of the grid.
As the flag fell on a hot Sunday afternoon the three Alfa Romeos out-accelerated the lone front-row Ferrari with Farina taking the initiative. Ascari, though, was not behind for long and at the end of the first sizzling lap he was right on Farina's tail, having passed Sanesi and then Fangio. For thirteen laps Farina held off the Ferrari challenge but then on lap 14 Ascari shot past the leading Alfa only to be overtaken two laps later. Ascari continued to hold out until lap 22 when the Ferrari's rocker gear broke. Two laps later it was Fangio's turn to retire when his gearbox seized. Sanesi was already out after his engine had blown up; the terrific pace was certainly taking its toll...
Now the remaining Alfas began their first stops for fuel and tyres and when Taruffi stopped, his car was handed over to Fangio. But it was not to be Fangio's day and on lap 35 he retired a second time when the engine dropped a valve. By then Ascari had walked back to the pits and taken over from Serafini, who was fighting with Fagioli for second place, when he stopped for tyres but Farina was now well over a lap ahead and even Fagioli, now in second place, was nearly half a minute away. The Lago-Talbots of Sommer, Étancelin and Rosier completed the first six.
By lap 50 Farina had made his second and final stop for fuel and was still nearly a lap ahead of Ascari so consequently he was able to ease off. Fagioli remained second until his fuel stop on lap 51 allowed Ascari to move ahead. For the remainder of the race there was no change on the leader board apart from Sommer retiring with gearbox trouble on his 49th lap. Farina went on to win the race at his own pace, the victory making him the first World Champion.
Really delighted about the performance of his third driver, Ferrari was reassured by his performances in October. First, on the Circuito del Garda, he followed Ascari to finish second in the last F2 race of the season. A fortnight later, the whole team travelled to Barcelona to take part in the X Gran Premio de Penya Rhin, at Pedralbes. Serafini qualified second and finished second again to Ascari. A final race in Argentina, for the Eva Perón Cup at Buenos Aires also resulted in second place for Serafini.
The year 1950 had yielded nine podium finishes for Serafini. The two wins on the Giros, a second in the Mille Miglia, three more second places in Formula One races, and two thirds in Formula 2. Surely what was expected of a Ferrari driver, so he was retained by the Scuderia for 1951.
The 1951 season started in March with the Gran Premio di Siracusa. Serafini drove a 212, qualifying in third spot and finishing second to Villoresi: his third second place in succession in a Formula One race.
Then came Easter Monday, which in the fifties meant Pau and although Dorino again qualified third, once more at the wheel of the 212, he experienced problems during the race, had to stop to change plugs and finally retired on lap 49.
On April 8, Dorino qualified his usual 166/50 in third spot for the IX Grand Prix de Marseille, run to F2 rules. Villoresi won the race, and Serafini finished in fifth position. On April 22 he finally got his hands on a 375 for the VI Gran Premio di San Remo. Performing as usual, he qualified the car fourth and, you might guess, finished second yet again, this time to Ascari.
Next on the agenda was the Mille Miglia and, of course, after the performance in 1950 and the experience accumulated during the year, the combination Serafini-Ferrari was favourite for the win. Chronicles recall that in Martinsicuro, in the region of Abruzzo, the Ferrari had a brake fade and Serafini had to make an emergency move to avoid hitting a house. It was too late, and car and driver disappeared into the bottom of a steep riverbank. Thankfully, Serafini was alive - obviously one of his specialties! - but as in 1947, seriously hurt. This time though, that ditch signalled the end of his racing career, and poor Dorino would have to suffer a lengthy and painful recovery process involving several operations over the years.
By 1954 he tried to make a comeback, now at the wheel of his Lancia on the Brescia-Roma-Brescia race. He won the GT class and finished seventh overall, but had probably decided that his racing days were over.
49 years after the Martinsicuro accident, July 3, 2000, Dorino Serafini, just two weekends away from his 91st birthday, died peacefully in a hospital in his hometown, Pesaro. The man thought to be a steadying influence within Scuderia Ferrari, the motorbike European Champion of 1939, the survivor of two World Wars and two frightening accidents, the man who finished second in five of the seven Formula One Grands Prix he participated in - that man now rests in peace. God bless him.
Reader's Why by Marc Ceulemans
An ex-motorcycling ace became a good third driver and a faithful mate.
The race: Farina takes the First World Championship
Nicknamed the "three Fs", Farina, Fangio and Fagioli would be the winning trio of the first drivers' world championship. The understanding between the three Scuderia del Portello drivers (the Alfa Romeo team) seemed perfect before the GP of Italy start, last round of the world challenge. One of the three drivers would be champion, it was sure. But the Italian press and public didn't understand Alfa Romeo's firm consideration for the Argentine Champion, from transalpine lineage however.
So there was an air of nationalistic fervour at Monza as the fanatical Italian fans could celebrate a momentous victory for Dr Giuseppe Farina, "Nino" as he was more commonly known. It has been suggested that Alfa Romeo may have favoured Farina over team-mate Fangio as they both had a strong chance of taking the title. The Italian fans had a lot more to cheer about as Ascari managed to score a podium place for Enzo Ferrari's promising team.
Scuderia Ferrari entered two cars with new engines bored out to 4494cc for Ascari and Dorino Serafini, a stand-in for a convalescent Villoresi (broken leg). The works cars were supported by the private 125 of Peter Whitehead. Alfa Romeo entered no less than five cars were for Farina (a modified 159), Fangio, Fagioli, Taruffi and Sanesi. The Farina car had a new 159-type engine. The usual Lago-Talbot, Maserati, ERA, Simca Gordini and a special Jaguar-engined Ferrari F2 completed the entry list.
The front row was made up of pole-sitter Fangio, Ascari and two other Alfas driven by Farina and Sanesi. On the second row, we found Fagioli, Serafini, Taruffi and the first Talbot, driven by Raymond Sommer, who died one week later.
As the flag fell the Alfas easily outgunned Ascari but he fought back valiantly to keep himself in second place by the end of the first lap, ahead of the leader Farina. On the seventh lap Fangio set the fastest time of the race and on lap 14 Ascari took Farina only to be retaken two laps later. By now Sanesi had retired leaving Fangio in a comfortable third place, biding his time. On lap 22 Ascari's Ferrari broke its rear axle, while two laps later Fangio lost his gearbox. Both men took over the cars of their team mates, Serafini and Taruffi, and continued to chase Farina who had by now extended his lead. Before leaving his car to Ascari, Serafini was sixth. Fangio was again forced to retire, this time with engine problems on lap 34. Despite making a second fuel stop Farina coasted home some almost a minute and a half ahead of Ascari to take the chequered flag and the first world title.
Winner at Monza and the first F1 champion, Giuseppe ("Nino") Farina drove an Alfa Romeo 158 and 159, capturing the British, adding the pole and fast lap in the process, and Swiss GP as well, along with non-championship wins at Bari and Silverstone. Farina, who topped Juan Manuel Fangio by three points in the 1950 season, was best remembered for his style of driving; the relaxed, inclined position and outstretched arms that was to influence a whole generation of drivers. Even in post-war days, many of his contemporaries still sat crouched, fighting with the wheel.
Dorino Serafini was born on 22 July 1909 in Pesaro, Italy. Very young his racing career began on a 175 cc Benelli bike and he won his first race in 1928. In 1933 he signed for the Bologna Works MM and won his first Italian championship (175cc). In 1935 Serafini ran in the 500 cc category with Bianchi and won the prestigious Circuito del Lario. In 1936 Serafini won his second Italian championship, now in the 500cc class. In 1938 our Italian boy drove a 500 cc 4-cylinder Gilera with compressor and won again the Lario race. 1939 would be his year: he won 3 GPs, Switzerland, Germany, Ulster and the 500cc European Championship.
Just after the war, Serafini became racing car driver and joined Count "Johnny" Lurani's team, Scuderia Ambrosiana. From 1947 to 1949 Serafini drove various cars: Cisitalia (Consorzio Industriale Sportive Italia), Healey Elliots, Frazer-Nash, Maserati and OSCA.
In March 1947, about twenty drivers, including Serafini, Ascari, Taruffi, Cortese and Brivio took part in the first Cairo GP, where all the drivers had the same car, a Cisitalia D46. Piero Dusio would have liked to create a series but the one-model racing idea foundered and the race was a one-off.
Serafini's transition to four wheels was marred by a huge accident when, five months later, his Maserati 4CL's steering column failed in the Comminges GP.
In 1937, three of the surviving Maserati brothers had sold the original Maserati company and were retained on a ten-year service contract. In 1947, they set up as independent constructors again and created the Officine Specializzate Costruzioni Automobili Fratelli Maserati, known as OSCA. It specialised at first in small sportscars. With a 1100cc OSCA, Serafini took up with victory, winning the sportscar race at the Circuit of Garda in October 1948.
In 1949 the team Ambrosiana entered a Frazer-Nash High Speed for the Giro di Sicilia with Dorino Serafini as driver and Rudi Heller as co-driver. Serafini led the whole race for more than half distance and then skidded into a kerb and bent the steering, which caused his retirement, but the car had shown its capabilities in rugged mountain racing. Following this, the pair took part in the Mille Miglia but neither Frazer-Nash figured in the running. On 25 September 1949, Serafini and his OSCA won the Giro delle Calabrie.
At the end of 1949 Serafini was signed up by the Scuderia Ferrari to drive both single-seater and sport cars. He became the third official works driver, behind Alberto Ascari and Luigi Villoresi. His Ferrari career would be short, from December 1949 to April 1951. They had decent results for the 1949-1950 Argentine Temporada, classified second behind his leader Villoresi in the Eva Peron Cup at Buenos-Aires. Back in Europe, Scuderia Ferrari often entered Serafini, not really in GPs, but in sportscars or F2 races. Did he respect team orders? Anyway, he scored good results behind his team-mates. He tried to win the 1950 Mille Miglia but finished a good second behind Marzotto, in the same Ferrari 166 MM/195 S 2340 V12 Barchetta Touring. The team's stars, Villoresi and Ascari, had to retire.
He also won the Giro delle Calabrie (6 August 1950) and the Giro della Toscana. In the 24 Hours of Le Mans, he shared with Raymond Sommer but it was a big setback: all five Ferraris retired. At the wheel of the Ferrari 125-08C, Serafini ran two non-championship F1 races, without success. (San Remo, retired, and Bari, 7th.)
Fangio won the last Grand Prix des Nations in Geneva, a race marred by a bad crash that saw Villoresi seriously injured (broken leg) and three (four?) spectators dead. Villoresi was not recovered for the Italian GP and Serafini took his place as second driver of Ascari, giving him his car when Ascari had to retire. The sharing car finally took the second place, 1 minute adrift of Farina. Click here to see a Enzo Ferrari smiling and celebrating the second place of the Italian GP, surrounded by his two drivers, Alberto Ascaro and Dorino Serafini.
Serafini was again second in the Penya Rhin GP and went on to score more second places in two 1951 pre-championship F1 races, Syracuse and San Remo.
With Salani as co-driver, he started in the 1951 Mille Miglia on the fast Ferrari 340, seven days after the San Remo GP. In the Abruzzi, the brakes of his Ferrari 340 didn't respond. Serafini lost control and the car fell over a precipice. Numerous surgical operations and a long convalescence forced him to withdraw from high-level competition. He did make a victorious return, though, winning the GT class of the 1954 Brescia-Rome-Brescia in a Lancia, finishing seventh overall.
Last year, a book called Dorino Serafini: Storia e leggenda di un asso pesarese (click here to see the cover) written by Franco Andreatini, was published by Fondazione della Cassa di Risparmio di Pesaro. This book celebrates the racing life on both two and four wheels of Dorino Serafini. It paints a vivid picture of early post-war racing and was sponsored by a bank in Serafini's home town of Pesaro.
If you understand Italian or just want to see pictures of Serafini's double career, you must take a look at this website.
Dorino Serafini died on 5 July 2000, aged 90.