No. 27 The Maserati 250F

The F2 hy­brid and en­dur­ing pri­va­teers’ favourite that de­fined an era


“A great car,” was the ver­dict of Stir­ling Moss on the Maserati 250F, “but built from crappy ma­te­ri­als.”

Nei­ther as quick nor as suc­cess­ful as the ma­jor­ity of its ri­vals, the el­e­gant, front-en­gined 250F nev­er­the­less came to epit­o­mise an era. It won one driv­ers’ cham­pi­onship, con­trib­uted to an­other, and was on the grid for both the first grand prix of the 2.5-litre era in 1954 and the last in 1960. It en­abled some of the most tal­ented driv­ers of the 1950s – Moss in­cluded – to make their mark in the sport and move on­wards and up­wards, and en­abled pri­va­teers to race com­pet­i­tively and cost-ef­fec­tively at a time when F1’s very ex­is­tence was in doubt.

Grids had dwin­dled over the first two years of the cham­pi­onship, with man­u­fac­tur­ers un­will­ing to build new ma­chin­ery to the ex­ist­ing for­mula of 1.5-litre su­per­charged and 4.5-litre nat­u­rally as­pi­rated en­gines. By early 1952, af­ter Alfa Romeo’s with­drawal from the sport, it be­came nec­es­sary to throw the cham­pi­onship open to For­mula 2 cars be­fore the new F1 for­mula for 2.5-litre nor­mally as­pi­rated and 750cc su­per­charged en­gines be­gan in 1954.

Maserati spotted a gap in the mar­ket and filled it with the 250F, a de­vel­op­ment of their F2 car that even used the same sus­pen­sion for a while. Leg­endary en­gi­neer Gioacchino Colombo had a hand in both this and the straight-six en­gine, be­fore de­part­ing for Bu­gatti. The tube-frame chas­sis, clothed in body­work built by Medardo Fan­tuzzi, re­lied on drum brakes all around, as was con­ven­tional at the time.

The plumb­ing for the oil sys­tem on early cars was not quite up to the harsh rigours of rac­ing, but even so the 250F quickly found cus­tomers – so much so, that at the first grand prix of 1954, which Juan Manuel Fan­gio won in a 250F, their cus­tomers had to make do with F2 chas­sis hastily adapted to ac­com­mo­date the F1 en­gine and trans­mis­sion.

Fan­gio soon re­ceived a bet­ter of­fer from Mercedes and jumped ship once their all-con­quer­ing W196 was ready. Lan­cia, too, pitched in with a bet­ter car than the 250F, but quickly ran out of money, while Mercedes with­drew from mo­tor­sport in the aftermath of the 1955 Le Mans dis­as­ter in which one of their cars struck an em­bank­ment, killing 84 people. Fan­gio demon­strated his knack for find­ing the best car by mov­ing to Fer­rari for 1956 while they ran the ex-Lan­cia D50s, then on to Maserati when Fer­rari’s de­vel­op­ment fal­tered.

For 1957, Maserati re­designed the 250F’s chas­sis to make it lighter and stiffer, and lib­er­ated an­other 30bhp from the straight-six en­gine. Fan­gio won four races – in­clud­ing the Ger­man GP in which he staged an epic come­back af­ter a slow pit­stop, claw­ing back a one-minute deficit to the lead­ers to claim his fifth world cham­pi­onship. But Maserati, like Lan­cia be­fore them, had run out of money.

The re­main­ing 250Fs were sold to pri­va­teers and con­tin­ued to help fill F1 grids un­til the new gen­er­a­tion of rear-en­gined ma­chines ren­dered them ob­so­lete.

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