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The ten best drivers of the 1950s to never win an F1 title: Eugenio Castellotti

Italian driver lit up the F1 world, but saw his career cut short

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Eugenio Castellotti had a promising career during F1’s formative years. Tragically, he would be killed without winning a Grand Prix. 

Eugenio Castellotti leads in his Lancia at the 1956 French Grand Prix (Image Credit:@VintageLastFlag on X)
Eugenio Castellotti leads in his Lancia at the 1956 French Grand Prix (Image Credit:@VintageLastFlag on X)

When every driver goes into F1, they all dream of one thing: Becoming F1 champion. In this series, I’m going to be looking at drivers who came close but never won it in their careers,

But this series has a twist: only the ten best drivers of the 1950s have not won an F1 championship in their entire careers.

Beginnings with Lancia

Born in Northern Italy in 1930, Castellotti began racing professionally in 1952, winning several European sportscar races. Lancia saw this, and he signed up for Lancia in 1953, taking part in the 10 Hours of Messina. He won that and made his own entry for the 1953 Mille Miglia, retiring with clutch issues.

Castellotti was now awaiting Lancia’s Grand Prix car, which was to be designed by the legendary Vittorio Jano. He competed in the 1954 Tourist Trophy. Driving the Lancia D24 with Robert Manzon as his co-driver, the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio was one of his teammates. Castellotti finished third in that race. He would be co-piloting Fangio for Sebring but retired 51 laps in with a rear axle problem.

After waiting for two years, Castellotti finally had a Grand Prix car to drive in 1955. This car was identical to the Lancia D50. His debut was decent. He qualified 12th before switching with Luigi Villoresi, who crashed out of the race on lap 35.

Monaco was next and Castellotti did fantastic in qualifying, beating Villoresi by 1.7 seconds and being eight-tenths behind Alberto Ascari. Castellotti ran high up in the early stages, duelling with Ascari and Jean Behra for third until lap 36. Eugenio then hit issues and ran as low as ninth.

He made his way back up the field, being aided by retirements to Stirling Moss and Fangio and Ascari famously binning it in the harbour. Castellotti came home second behind Maurice Trintignant but probably felt he could have won.

Mid-season momentum
Eugenio Castellotti racing his Ferrari at the 1956 Monaco Grand Prix (Image Credit: @PrixRetro on X)
Eugenio Castellotti racing his Ferrari at the 1956 Monaco Grand Prix (Image Credit: @PrixRetro on X)

His momentum continued, and he qualified on pole for the Belgian Grand Prix. However, his one lap did not materialise in the race. Running third behind the Silver Arrows of Moss and Fangio, he suffered a gearbox error on lap 16. This was a common problem at Spa.

Halfway through the season, Castellotti was sixth in the standings. Indy 500 winner Bob Sweikert (so fifth then), Guiseppe Farina, Trintignant and Fangio were ahead of him.

Mid-season, Lancia pulled out due to a combination of financial issues and Ascari’s death five days after Monaco. What was left of Lancia went to Ferrari, including Castellotti.

He debuted for Ferrari in Zandvoort and qualified ninth. He would finish fifth after retirements to Peter Walker, Karl Kling and Trintignant. Now he was tied fifth with Sweikert and closed in on Trintignant and Farina in the standings, as Farina was suffering from injuries after crashes in the Mille Miglia and the Supercortemaggiore Grand Prix at Monza, leaving him to withdraw from the season.

Silverstone Struggles
Eugenio Castellotti at the 1956 British Grand Prix at Silverstone (Image Credit: @PHN16 on X)
Eugenio Castellotti at the 1956 British Grand Prix at Silverstone (Image Credit: @PHN16 on X)

Silverstone came and Ferrari struggled desperately, with Castellotti being the highest Ferrari in qualifying in tenth. It was a poor race for Ferrari in general, with Castellotti retiring on lap 16 and then finishing sixth in a shared drive with Hawthorn.

Due to the sheer power of the Mercedes, they dominated qualifying, with Castellotti being the best of the rest, some 1.3 seconds behind Kling in third. Annoyingly for the competition, Piero Taruffi had also entered a Mercedes, and thus, the threat of a 1-2-3-4 seemed likely.

The fears of a Mercedes 1-2-3-4 seemed to be achieved, with them running for 18 laps before Moss dropped the order. The following 15 laps gave hope, as Moss retired on lap 27 with engine trouble, and both Luigi Musso and Kling retired with gearbox trouble on laps 31 and 32.

Now Castellotti ran third and remained there comfortably for the rest of the race. Crucially, Trintignant finished eighth, moving Castellotti up to third in the standings in the last race of the year,

A tragic end to a promising career

Despite having an average qualifying position of 3rd, he was only sixth in the standings in 1956 due to being shafted by Ferrari in favour of Peter Collins and Fangio and due to poor car reliability. He almost won the French Grand Prix, but Peter Collins came out on top by just three-tenths of a second.

Much was expected in 1957, with a fourth-place qualifying in Argentina before retiring again due to an issue that wasn’t his fault. Sadly, this would be his final Grand Prix, as he was killed in a testing accident at Modena violently due to him hitting a high kerb. Castellotti was just 26.

He had successes in sports cars, winning the Mille Miglia in 1956, the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1956, the 1000 KM of Buenos Aires in 1957 and finishing third in the Targa Florio.

Eugenio Castellotti is considered one of F1’s finest to have not won a Grand Prix and is tenth on my list.

 

Feature Image Credit:@SnapLapNews on X

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