Bellasi: She's beautiful, oh yes!
- Felix Muelas, Mattijs Diepraam, with additional input from Beat Schenker
- 8W April 1999 issue
1970 Dutch GP (qualifying)
Lugano-born Guglielmo Bellasi was a marginal constructor in the late sixties trying to establish a foothold in the Tecno-dominated Italian market, when his name rather surprisingly appeared on a short-lived F1 car. A one-off Bellasi on Brabham lines was raced in Italian F3 events by Bellasi in 1966, and in the following year a monocoque F3 car was introduced. The F3 Bellasi which ran in 1969 Italian races was a notibly petite tubular chassis with a pronounced wedge body on Lotus 61 lines (it was dubbed "Cuneo"). It had an untidy outboard suspension all round and the peculiarity of a rear-mounted water radiator, where the coolant was apparently warmed by the exhaust. The cars made no impression, although one was driven by Giorgio Pianta.
Nevertheless, Swiss Silvio Moser, who had been racing a Brabham BT24 with a DFV in place of the Repco V8 and had met Bellasi during their F3 days, commissioned his fellow Ticino resident to produce a F1 car for 1970. The reason for this apparently strange move was that Moser needed a monocoque replacement for the Brabham (a tubular spaceframe) he had been racing because of regulations calling for bag fuel tanks. The two started working on the idea in the winter of 1969-'70, with the original idea being to build a new frame based on Moser's BT24-3. The frame was to be financed by Bellasi while the Moser Racing Team SA brought in the engine (the old DFV 802), gearbox, wheels and other parts from the old Brabham. In February 1970, having started out with the BT24-3, Beat Schenker, Moser's faithful mechanic, found out that Bellasi was full of ideas but short of a clear project. So Schenker took over the command to design and build the remaining 90 to 95 per cent of the car.
The car, codenamed F1-1-70, appeared for the Dutch Grand Prix in June, as a fairly simple monocoque car with the engine used as a stressed member and sensible outward lines. The DFV and gearbox from Moser's Brabham were used, and the suspension was inspired by that car. Unfortunately, Moser failed to qualify it for the grid at his Zandvoort debut, running almost 3 seconds slower than the last of the qualifiers, Graham Hill in Rob Walker's Lotus 49. Two weeks later he was entered in the French Grand Prix, missing the cut just by one position. Again, the man to push him away was Graham Hill, although this time the margin had been reduced to half a second. Remember that a lap around Charade those days used to take around 3 minutes. To put the performance into perspective, the other two non-qualifiers - Alex Soler-Roig and Pete Lovely's Lotus 49s were on average a full 7 seconds slower than Moser!
The team missed the 1970 British Grand Prix, as the confirmation of their accepted entry reached Switzerland too late for Moser, Schenker and the car to arrive on time. For the next race at Germany, Moser made the trip but when he crashed the Bellasi at the Ostkurve, the team found that it hadn't brought enough spare parts for a rebuild, and so Silvio joined the non-qualifying ranks of Andrea De Adamich, Brian Redman driving the De Tomaso for Frank Williams and local hero Hubert Hahne.
With the new Österreichring ready, an entry list of 26 for 24 places and that little bit of luck (Ronnie Peterson failing to appear due to engine problems and Rob Walker's new Lotus 72 for Graham Hill still not ready), Moser finally qualified for a Grand Prix. As everyone suspected, he qualified last, but just half a second slower than George Eaton's BRM. The Bellasi lasted only 13 laps, but it was a new point of view for the car - actually racing! The reason for its early retirement was a crash in the warm-up on Sunday morning that cracked the radiator. As the team did not have a spare, the concurrent water loss during the race caused the engine to overheat.
At Monza, in another weekend to forget, Moser did not qualify the Bellasi and one can now, taking a look at the car, probably guess why. Money being short, Bellasi suggested to give it a miss for the last races of the year and Moser followed his advice. In 1971, the Swiss was back for a last time, giving the Bellasi its fourth and last Championship race meeting appearance, retiring from the 1971 Italian Grand Prix. But they qualified!
As was perfectly logical, Moser again focused on his Formula 2 passion for 1971, making 17 appearances (of which five were at European Championshp level) and finishing sixth twice, at the London Trophy and Vallelunga. Now back to Brabham, and under the very supportive umbrella of the Scuderia Jolly Club, a name he later swapped for Marlboro Racing Team (both sponsor-related entry names of the very same Silvio Moser Racing Team) his season was dull, but at least he raced. He got his small revenge at Hockenheim where he qualified 8th and finished 4th.
Meanwhile, the Bellasi story took two further chapters before coming to an end: chapter one came in January, when Silvio and the Scuderia Jolly Club included the Bellasi as part of the luggage they had to send to South America for the Colombian F2 races they were going to participate in early February. The 14th Grande Premio de Argentina (a non-championship F1 race) gave Moser and the Bellasi the longest racing period the pair were ever going to get, Silvio qualifying in front of the five Formula 5000 cars present and making 42 laps in the hour that took Stommelen to finish the 50 laps of heat one. In the second heat he managed a further 26 laps, but the car was probably exhausted by then...
The year 1971 went by, but Silvio had that thing about Monza. Some people called it passion. He didn't know that the love affair between him and the fast Italian track was to end in the worst possible manner three years later, and such was the (fatal) attraction that he and the Scuderia Jolly Club filed an entry for him and the Bellasi for the Italian Grand Prix. If we like to find similarities, Moser must have known something from his 1970 appearance that made him confident on a second chance. A year gone by and everybody was two seconds faster. Even Moser! His time from 1970 improved and he was in. Plus, this time he wasn't even last. Jean-Pierre Jarier making his debut was the first - and last - F1 driver seeing a Bellasi in front of him on the grid. But it turned out to be enough excitement for a weekend as the Bellasi lasted only three laps whilst keeping away not only Jarier but also Andrea De Adamich and Jo Bonnier. The car's upturn in performance was due to Schenker making a small suspension geometry adjustment, but with supplier Armstrong doing a bad job on the shock absorbers' overhaul, the car was out after just 10 miles of racing. The rest of the car was still in full working order...
Of course, Moser went back to his original love, Formula 2, where he had a rather interesting 1972, his best result a second place at - you guessed right - the Monza Lottery GP, and a dull 1973. By then he went on with his impossible love with Formula 1. For this, he worked together with new sponsor Bretscher to buy himself one of the 1973 works Brabhams to race it in several GPs. This particular BT42, chassis number 06, was bought during the winter of '73-'74. It was the last to have been built, driven by Rolf Stommelen for MRD in Austria, Italy and Canada. The idea was to run a full F2 season with a Bretscher-sponsored March for Moser and do some outings in the Brabham F1 as well. The F2 season would start off with a BMW-engined Lola T294, the enterprise again masterminded by Schenker.
The team made its first entry for the 1974 Spanish GP at Jarama while Moser raced at Monza in the 1000 Kms sportscar race the week before on April 25. Driving a Bretscher Lola, the unforgiving track betrayed Moser's love, Silvio sustaining serious internal and head injuries after a huge accident. Despite several operations, he died in hospital on May 26, without regaining conciousness.
What follows is one of F1's almost unsolvable entry mysteries, with enough unrecorded withdrawals, forfeits and did-not-appears to make grown men cry. If the names De Bagration and Londono-Bridge are stirring your soul, you know what we mean...
So what's this about?
For starters, Moser's entry at Jarama, withdrawn for obvious reasons, is still missed by otherwise very commanding sources. But the real mystery starts just after Moser's fatal accident.
For unknown reasons, even before Moser's death the Bretscher Brabham was bought and fielded by Scuderia Finotto for the Belgian GP on May 12 at Nivelles, in the same pale blue colours of Bretscher, the sponsor transferring its money to Finotto. At the wheel was another sportscar regular, Gérard Larrousse, later of Renault and Larrousse/Calmels/Venturi fame. Larrousse made the race and drove the car again at the French GP on July 7, this time failing to qualify. Only twice again the BT42-06 was entered in a GP: in Austria and Italy, where the best efforts of Helmut Koinigg (driving it under the Elan Racing Team brand) and Carlo Facetti were simply not enough to qualify the car.
But then there are these two remaining ghost entries that must have popped in and out of the provisional entry lists for the German and Italian GPs before anyone could have noticed. Still it is said that a certain Manfred Möhr practiced a Finotto Brabham in Germany - or at least tried to - and that some guy called Jean-Louis Lafosse was entered for Monza. Also, Andy Sutcliffe is said to have entered his home race before his other single disaster with RAM Racing.
In the official entry lists of the events there is no sign of them, so it's easy to dismiss the rumour. With Facetti already in the car for Monza, the Lafosse story looks nothing more than a fanciful whim. But the connection between the drivers are pretty clear: Lafosse, Finotto and Möhr were all contenders in in the European Touring Cars Championship (finishing 5th, 4th and 3rd respectively), while Facetti was usually driving for the Alfa squad, of which Finotto was to become part as well. Furthermore, Finotto, Facetti and Möhr shared a BMW at Le Mans, with Lafosse sharing a drive with Bell, Brambilla and Gagliardi in several races. To make things funnier, our friends Lafosse and Möhr even had an accident between them, on lap 3 of the 1000 Kms of Imola, Möhr driving an AMS and Lafosse his usual Abarth.
It all becomes more obvious with Paul Sheldon's uncovering of the Bretscher team originally buying two Brabham tubs, the 06 chassis the team's official race car, the 05, also acquired by Bretscher, used as a spare at Jarama and Nivelles. Further investigation by Sheldon then leads us to retract our spoof allegations. Firstly, a provisional entry list shows that Scuderia Finotto entered a No.31 Brabham for Carlo Facetti plus a No.32 Brabham for Mr Lafosse. As Lafosse's entry was refused by the organizers he was out before the rest of the world knew. As for Sutcliffe and Möhr - both eventually failed to show up in Britain and Germany, allowing several overzealous experts to keep a clean sheet. But that they were intended to be there is a fact now unshaken by doubt.