It only won eight Formula 1 World Championship grands prix, but the graceful Maserati 250F transcends “mere” statistics and remains the epitome of beauty in a racecar.
There are no points for elegance or style in grand prix racing. Function is everything in the tenths gained short term. Yet those point-less attributes, ethereal and unquantifiable, are what create memories that linger longest. At worst they burnish success with a gloss that is slow to fade. At best they forge legends greater than the sum of their parts – the nuts, bolts and rivets – and more vivid than a final tally of wins and championships.
Maserati’s charismatic 250F, for example, spanned 2.5-liter Formula 1 – we can safely ignore without rebuke its 750cc forced-induction element – from 1954-’60; it won its first race and finished 13th in its last. Between times it scored just seven other World Championship GP victories in seven seasons. It broke no new technical ground – its “innovation” reputedly was thieved from neighboring Ferrari – oozed oil from every joint, and suffered recurrent failures that should have been easily cured.
But, boy, she was beautiful – and would improve with age. No other would come close as the epitome of front-engined, cigar-shaped open-wheel racecars. Fashioned around a tubular space frame-style chassis by a fat man with a hammer – Medardo Fantuzzi was fluent in aluminum – in a bustling Modenese workshop that veered between happy-golucky and Johnny-come-lately, 250F encapsulated a feel for the sport as much as an understanding of it. Crafted rather than constructed, she blew in on a lulling breeze rather than the urgent wakes and eddies of a wind tunnel.
Facts-and-figures substance lay beneath that slinky skin, of course: a twin-spark, twin-cam straight-six based on an old sports car design and generating an unremarkable 240hp at 7,200rpm; a four speed gearbox in-unit with the final drive; front suspension by unequal-length wishbones with interposed coil springs; rear by a de Dion tube located fore and aft by double radius rods and laterally by a ball rising, falling and pivoting within a central, vertical, bronze-lined channel.
Simple, strong and easy to drive, 250F hit its target market: privateers. From its 1926 inception, Maserati had made its racing cars available to wealthy amateurs.
Although there were outright faster cars, no other provided the same satisfaction for the driver, or thrill for the spectator. Case in point: Fangio “skiing” through the fearsome 130mph downhill sweepers at Rouen in 1957, scribing long and graceful arcs every lap on his way to victory in the French GP.
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