Part 2 - A New Decade, a Historic Era - the 1950 Formula 1 Season Review
Farina got off to the perfect start in the UK, but Fangio obviously had the outright speed. Could the Italian veteran hold off his Argentine teammate?
If you haven't read part 1 I will link it here for you to read first. Then you can get a cup of hot drink and immerse yourself in part 2.
Momentum is a big thing in motor racing, and it was something Guiseppe Farina clearly had after his season got off to a perfect start at the British Grand Prix, but the next race was on one of the toughest tracks of the season, Monaco. The place where dreams can be dashed in an instant and careers ended in one cruel swipe of the concrete-lined course. Some parts of the track didn't even have walls and a mistake could leave someone swimming with the fish in the Mediterranean Sea
26 cars entered for the race, only 12 of whom raced at Silverstone, which was only seven days earlier. The three Alfas were there as Parnell’s entry was a one-off, and three works Talbot entries plus that of Claes showed up, Eugene Martin had elected not to run at Monaco. Six Maserati cars entered, two works entries for home-boy Chiron and debutant Franco Rol, the Plate duo, and a new entrant, Scuderia Achille Varzi, fielding Argentine drivers Alfredo Pian and promising Argentine Jose Froilan Gonzalez. There was an important debut this weekend too, the Ferrari name graced F1 for the first time, with three works 125 models for Ascari, Luigi Villoresi, and Raymond Sommer. Gordini was another to make its debut at Monaco, with two T15 cars for Manzon and Trintignant. The rest of the field were private entrants, though one significant entry was that of Harry Schell. It was not only Schell’s first race but the first for an American in F1, the first for Cooper and the first for a mid-engined F1 car, though the T12 he entered with wasn’t at all competitive with its tiny two-cylinder 500cc engine.
Qualifying saw the first-ever crash in Formula 1, Alfredo Pian, who looked very quick, lost control of his car on an oil slick and hit the wall, sustaining leg injuries that ruled him out of the weekend and ultimately ending his F1 career.
Aside from that incident, qualifying was trouble-free, and again Alfa Romeo asserted their dominance, with Fangio comfortably on pole by 2.6 seconds from Farina but the surprise of the session was the giant-killing performance by Gonzalez who put his underpowered, but lighter Maserati third, followed by Etancelin who likewise performed well to put his Talbot in fourth, with Fagioli a lacklustre fifth place. Villoresi and Ascari were sixth and seventh in Ferraris while Chiron put his Maserati eighth followed by the Sommer Ferrari and Rosier rounded out the top 10 in his Talbot. The best of the Gordinis were 11th and the best ERA 14th.
Off they go up to the Casino
The Monegasque flag fell and off they charged through the Monaco streets. Farina led the first few corners before Fangio passed him and the pack sorted themselves out. Meanwhile, at the Tabac turn, a large wave hit the track causing consternation as the field approached. A moment which had problems written all over it.
Then it happened...
Farina lost it on the water and spun, catching Fagioli and they hit the wall. Fangio narrowly escaped the scene, but behind complete chaos ensued as Gonzalez hit Farina and the pack behind piled up in a sea of debris, oil, and water, ten cars were out on the spot. While Gonzalez did manage to continue, it didn’t last long as he and Villoresi had their own crash at the station hairpin the very next lap, with Gonzalez sustaining burns after his car caught fire. Villoresi continued and charged through the nine cars still running. The Italian made it up to third and the race then settled down, with little in terms of on-track action. Etancelin retired on lap 36 followed by an unlucky Villoresi on lap 63 meaning the field was down to seven.
Oh dear... the now famous Monaco pileup.
Out at the front, however, it was a Fangio monopoly, and he won his first race a lap ahead of the pack. Ascari put his Ferrari second with Chiron making Monaco proud in third. Sommer and Bira rounded out the points with the only other finishers being Bob Gerard in an ERA and Johnny Claes in his Talbot.
The title was now tied on points, with Fangio taking all 9 available. Fagioli and Ascari were also tied third on points with Chiron fifth.
The Grand Prix train then arrived at Switzerland
The Swiss Grand Prix was held at the revered and feared Bremgarten Circuit. This track was regarded by drivers and fans alike as the toughest racing circuit of all, and in a day with tracks such as Dundrod and the old Spa, that’s saying something.
Both Alfa and Ferrari brought updates to their cars for the weekend. Alfa brought a larger radiator to cope with the strain of the fast blast through the Swiss mountainside, while Ferrari fully re-engineered their car to have a new suspension, camshaft, and 4-speed gearbox.
All three of the Alfa cars sported the upgrades, while only Villoresi had the upgraded Ferrari. Ascari had to do with the older spec while Sommer had to make do with a stripped 166 sportscar, after his 125 broke. Joining them on the grid were five Maserati cars, the works team with one for Chiron, the two Plate cars, a single Varzi car with motorcycle ace Nello Pagani driving as Gonzalez was injured, and a private Maserati for Toni Branca. Gordini did not run, but Talbot did, with six cars. Four works entries as Martin was back to join the team, along with two private entries for Claes and Schell. The last entry was an odd one; the Milano team ran a highly modified and re-badged Maserati for Felice Bonetto, he and the small team making their debut. Only 18 cars had entered this race as the British, Monaco, and Swiss Grands Prix were all held within a month and the stress was taking its toll.
The all-swallowing hole at the front of the upgraded Alfa Romeo
Qualifying saw the usual Alfa dominance, Fangio on pole from Farina and Fagioli. Villoresi was fourth in the upgraded Ferrari with Ascari fifth. Talbot seemed to have the edge over Maserati at Bremgarten with Etancelin and Cabantous next followed by Bira then Rosier and Martin rounding out the top 10. Bonetto’s Milano was 12th and Sommers sportscar 13th.
The Swiss flag dropped, and the cars were away, and almost immediately there was a retirement as Cabantous spun and was out. Fangio led Ascari for half the lap before the other Alfas got ahead and the Ferrari slipped back before retiring on lap 4. It was a bad weekend for the prancing horse as Villoresi and Sommer followed in quick succession. Then there was drama as Eugene Martin had a bad crash in his Talbot. He was badly hurt and although he survived, his racing career was over. At the front it was a free-for-all as the three Alfas battled away, Farina and Fangio swapping the lead twice before Farina shot clear. Etancelin retired from a point paying position while for Fangio the bad luck from Britain hit him again as his car spluttered its way to a halt and he was out.
The race wound down and Farina won by half a second from Fagioli in a formation finish. Talbot had something to smile about as Rosier crossed the line third to take his and Talbots' first podium. Bira was fourth in his Maserati while Bonetto surprised fans by finishing fifth in for Milano at their debut.
Fangio was having a tough time in the Alfa Romeo, retiring twice in the first three races.
Farina once again got all 9 points taking his tally to 18, six points ahead of Fagioli with Fangio third.
That's it for Part 2 of the 1950 Formula 1 season review. With half the season done, there is still half to go. Part 3 will be slightly longer than these first two parts but I'm sure it will make for edge of the seat reading as the three Alfa drivers converge on points and, ultimately, battle tooth and nail for the title, but a spanner in the works is also to come!