How Maserati's storied past shaped its motor racing future

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How Maserati's storied past shaped its motor racing future

The last time Maserati took to the streets of Monte Carlo was some 66 years ago. This weekend, the famed marque returns to the Principality - the home of MSG Racing, the ultra-experienced, race-winning team behind the Trident's Formula E effort.

Monaco Fangio

Motorsport and competition is in Maserati’s DNA. The company was born on the track with the Maserati brothers jumping in-car for their racing debut 96 years ago.

The iconic Maserati Trident badge made its first appearance in the 1926 Targa Florio – an endurance race in the Sicilian mountains – and won its class, with Alfieri Maserati behind the wheel.

One of the sport’s all-time greats, Juan Manuel Fangio, sealed the Formula 1 World Championship for Maserati in 1957, and the last time one of its single seaters was seen on track was in the hands of Maria Teresa de Filippis – the first woman to qualify for an F1 Grand Prix – in 1958.

The brand’s MC12 raced in sports cars in the 2000s, taking 14 titles in FIA GT between 2004 and 2010.

The Maserati 250F in the hands of Juan Manuel Fangio takes one of the all-time wins in motorsport history, Germany 1957

Among the all-time greats

Maserati MSG Racing signalled the return of the Italian automaker to top tier motorsport in Formula E after decades-long absence. The last time the Trident competed in a single seater World Championship was back in 1957, with five-time Formula 1 champion Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss behind the wheel of the Maserati 250F.

The car was almost a caricature of the archetypal early Grand Prix machine - and among the most beautiful to grace a race track with its sleek, slender chassis in rosso corsa - typically Italian in flair and beauty.

The team had two of the all-time greats behind the wheel with Moss pairing the inimitable Argentine Maestro Fangio. The Brit made debuted a privately-run 250F in 1954, on the suggestion of Mercedes F1 team principal Alfred Neubauer. Fangio, meanwhile, sealed his first title that same season as well as his fifth and final title - also Maserati's final World Championship crown as it pulled out of competition at the end of the 1957 season. 

“I bought a Maserati 250F, but the first I knew about it was coming back on the Queen Mary,” Moss told Top Gear's Jason Barlow. "We used my winnings to buy it. Now the chips were down. I’d only been driving moderate cars up until then. I hadn’t been in a car capable of winning and now I had one.

“He was a paternal figure," said Moss on Fangio. "I had a great respect and love for him. He was a wonderful man, and an absolute gentleman.”

Monaco start
Fangio leads the 1957 Monaco Grand Prix on the way to victory

A different era

Maserati took time out of competition over the war, and made its return to F1 with the 250F, housing a 2.5 litre inline six cylinder engine - in its initial spec from 1954, it put out about 220bhp (161kW). Eventually, the team made the switch to a 2.5-litre V12 engine developed by Alfieri which hit around 320bhp (235kW).

Aluminium bodywork was wrapped around a tubular space frame with independent front suspension and slightly old-hat drum brakes - with Jaguar having pioneered disc brakes by this time. The 250F was well balanced and ahead of its time.

"At the race in Bern, first day in practice, I managed to put my car on pole in the wet in front of Fangio and [Alberto] Ascari," added Moss in that chat with Top Gear. "That day Neubauer was sufficiently impressed to give me a test the following January. The 250F was very user-friendly, had a lovely balance to it, even in the wet.

“In a good car like the Maserati, in 20 laps in testing I wouldn’t expect my lap time to vary by any more than a fifth of a second during the whole lot. It’s actually a lot easier to do that than it is to go two seconds slower.”

The fuel was a scary mix of 35% petrol, with the rest made up of methanol, acetone, benzol and castor oil.

Fangio Monaco win
1957 champion Fangio seals the win in Monaco for Maserati

Peerless in its time

Its first outing in 1954 saw Mercedes unveil the W196 - with its silver streamlined bodywork and an eight cylinder engine ushering in a new era in single seaters. The German giants also managed to steal Fangio from under Maserati's noses - and in his hands the three-pointed star strode to consecutive Drivers' titles.

The 250F innovated further still with fuel injection and better brakes but Moss, having moved from Mercedes, was unable to outstrip Fangio - who'd moved to Ferrari to seal his third title on the spin and fourth total.

With the V12 engine in the car from 1957, Fangio was coaxed into a Maserati return. As well as winning in Monte Carlo, the Argentine took one of the most famed victories in motorsport history at the German Grand Prix - closing a 50-second gap to Mike Hawthorn, caused by a pit stop mix up, on the way to victory at the fabled Nurburgring. At points, he was lapping some 15 seconds quicker than the Brit - unbelievable.

“When it was all over I was convinced I would never be able to drive like that again – never. I had reached the limit of my concentration and will to win," said Fangio, reflecting on that drive.

Maserati's exit and single seater return

Maserati Gen3 livery 2

The Italian manufacturer pulled out of motor racing after a fatal crash involving Ferrari driver Alfonso de Portaga at the 1957 Mille Miglia.

Come the end of its spell, the 250F, in the hands of the factory squad and 11 different private outfits, won 46 F1 races across 277 total entries and secured eight victories while Moss concluded that the 250F was the best car he'd driven - the most satisfying and exhilherating.

On 11 January 2022, Maserati announced that it would join the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship from Season 9 with the debut of the GEN3, Formula E’s lightest, fastest and most powerful racing car yet.

READ MORE: Covers off the Maserati Tipo Folgore

The arrival of the legendary Maserati Trident on the grid for Season 9, as Maserati MSG Racing, marked its return to single seater competition for the first time in 66 years. It also made history as the first Italian brand to compete in Formula E.

The leap in technology and performance could scarcely be more stark since the 250F's day, with petrol, methanol, acetone, benzol and castor oil replaced by net zero battery electric power, with motors running at approaching 97% efficiency.

Performance has leapt from an absolute peak of 330bhp at 10,000rpm from a V12 engine to dual electric powertrains delivering 470bhp (350kW) and a top speed of over 200mph (322kph). A carbon fibre tub and regenerative braking in place of the tubular steel and aluminium chassis and drum brakes complete the leap.

Maximilian Guenther

Up to the challenge

The beginning of the GEN3 era has been marked by a supremely high level of competition, even by Formula E standards.

The first eight races have seen six different winners for five different teams with only TAG Heuer Porsche steering both drivers to the top step. A total of 10 drivers have finished on the podium and every full-time driver has scored a point, while only one driver - Norman Nato (Nissan) - has failed to make the Duels in qualifying. Some 18 drivers have led a lap so far in 2022/23 - a Formula E record.

READ MORE: Guenther makes the podium in Berlin

Maserati MSG Racing have been a slow burn so far in Season 9. Despite them heading the way in dominant fashion in pre-season testing - the outfit, as multi-race-winners in Formula E looked to have stolen a march on the rest - it took until Berlin and Round 7 for the team to seal a first World Championship single seater podium since 1957. Eyes will be on the team in its back yard in Monaco.

“The GEN3 is a new car for us, it’s a new car for everyone, and you naturally have a steep learning curve to learn how to extract the potential of the package," says Maximilian Guenther. “We were moving in a good direction in the races before Berlin, and even before we got to the track, I was feeling good and positive and behind the wheel, it was the best I’ve felt all season. “I told the guys after practice, regardless of the position we classified, that I was feeling good and that there was a lot of potential to build on during the weekend,” and the German duly delivered.

"This year is tough, and we just need to keep on pushing, keep on working, trying to improve our situation, and hopefully the better weekends will come," says teammate Edoardo Mortara - a multiple race winner in Formula E. "Motorsport is always a work in progress. It's never black or white.

"The problems that you have in the previous race, we take them with what we do and you bring some solutions. But it's always very difficult to choose the right ones. We have to continue experiencing, trying to experiment with new things."


Maserati's electric future

Maserati CEO Davide Grasso feels the brand’s racing heritage aligns perfectly with the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, and even given Maserati’s history, the marque is eager to put down new roots and signal its intent at the beginning of a new era for the Trident with competition in the world’s first electric motor racing series.

The aim is to take advantage of the pressure cooker of world-class motorsport to drive the performance, innovation and prestige of its “Folgore” fully-electric vehicle line forward, as learnings on track feed back into its road car effort.

READ MORE: Maserati front and centre in Monaco

“We are very proud to be back where we belong as protagonists in the world of racing. We are powered by passion and innovative by nature. We have a long history of world-class excellence in competition and we are ready to drive performance in the future,” said Grasso.

“In the race for more performance, luxury, and innovation, Folgore – our electrified line and it is the purest expression of Maserati. That’s why we decided to go back to racing in the FIA Formula E World Championship, meeting our customers in the city centres of the world, taking the Trident forward into the future.”

“It is a great pleasure for STELLANTIS Motorsport to play a part in getting Maserati back in the race,” says Jean-Marc Finot, Senior VP of Stellantis Motorsport.

“Beyond this piece of history, Maserati Formula E will be our technological laboratory to accelerate the development of high-efficiency electrified powertrains and intelligent software for our road sports cars.

"Formula E is the perfect championship for this purpose and we are very proud to be the first Italian brand to join the fold.”