Alberto Ascari was one of the greatest drivers to ever grace the Formula One tracks. An extremely popular character, Ascari was one of the most beloved champions the racing circuit has ever witnessed. Born in Milan, Ascari was just seven years old when he lost his father, the reigning European Champion, at the French Grand Prix of 1925. Alberto, even at that tender age, had totally immersed himself in the sport and had already, through his father, met almost everybody who mattered including the great Enzo Ferrari.
Ascari had his father’s reputation that preceded him wherever he went and it was this privilege that led him to his first start, but on two-wheelers. At 19, Alberto was roped in to ride for the Bianchi Motorcycle team. In 1940, at 22, he got his first chance to drive a four-wheeler when in the Mille Miglia Enzo Ferrari gave him the chance to ride the Tipo 815 Spyder. The Ascari garage in Mila was forced into maintaining military vehicles during the Second World War. Ascari took advantage of the war and also setup a transport business that supplied fuel to the Italian army depots in North Africa. Luigi Villoresi, a close friend and mentor became his partner. The war ended and Ascari emerged on the other side of the war as a married man with two children.
Alberto was not keen on racing due to his family but it was Villoresi who asked him to continue, and Ascari did!
In 1952, Ascari drove the Ferrari 500 like never before and won six of the seven races in the Championships to take the title. In 1953, he repeated the title winning act although this time, he just won five races.
Although he was rich and had a powerful past, his superlative driving skills and his wonderful personality led him to become extremely popular. Nicknamed ‘Ciccio’, which reflected his chubby nature, Ascari was extremely friendly and cheerful.
Despite his incredible skills, Ascari was extremely superstitious when it came to racing and truly believed that it was his superstitions that were keeping him safe through his dangerous moments. Amongst other things, Ascari stayed miles away from black cats, had a long list of unlucky numbers he stayed away from and never ever, under any circumstances, allowed anyone else to carry his briefcase that contained his racing gear - his lucky blue helmet & his teeshirt, goggles and gloves.
Alberto Ascari always treated his family without displaying any affection mainly because he feared that if he ever got killed, it would pain them lesser if they loved him less. This seemed to be a rather wasteful task as Ascari was one of the most unlikely people to ever get involved in accidents. Ascari was renowned to know his car well and never exceed its capabilities. He had always ensured that he maintained certain strict safety margins and in any case, his driving style always gave the impression that he had enough ability to correct any mistakes that he might make.
Ascari moved to Lancia to cash in on a higher pay-check but was forced to sit out for the 1954 season as Lancias were not worthy to race yet. In 1955, he had a terrible year. At Monaco, his car flew off the Harbour Chicane after losing control and ended up sinking into the Mediterranean. Ascari bobbed up to the surface and later, in the hospital, was almost embarrassed to end up in the hospital.
Exactly four days after this terrible accident, Ascari was at Monza to watch Eugenio Castellotti test a Ferrari sports car that Ascari was meant to share in an upcoming endurance race. Out of the blue, to prove that the accident had not caused any permanent psychological damage, Ascari announced that he wanted to race a few laps. Ascari, to everyone’s surprise and without his lucky racing gear, took to the tracks in the Ferrari in a jacket and tie, wearing Castellotti’s white helmet. He died on the third lap after the car crashed badly on a long left hand turn.
The cause of the accident remained unknown to the world but its occurrence was to become one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the Formula One world.
Alberto Ascari’s death was stunningly similar to his father, Antonio Ascari’s death. Both men died on the 26th day of the month; Alberto on May 26th, 1955 while his father perished on June 26th, 1925. Both racers had won 13 championship races when they perished and both were coming off of a major accident that had occurred four days ago. Both drivers had had accidents on fast, but easy left-hand corners and both men were survived by a wife and two children.
Alberto Ascari’s funeral procession included 15 carriages that carried wreaths and flowers while his hearse, drawn by black horses, carried his famed light blue helmet on top of his black coffin. The procession passed through a silent Milan and almost one million mourners as it to Alberto Ascari to his final resting place, next to his father.