Part 2 - The Rise of Ferrari, the 1951 Formula 1 Championship
Farina led the standings, but only just. Two points separate the top two with a third of the season gone, but car updates prove critical to success.
Part 1 can be found here.
The next round was the French Grand Prix at Reims, and Ferrari had a new driver for their factory team. Jose Froilan Gonzalez had impressed Enzo Ferrari in his private Maserati, and he decided to give the young Gonzalez a shot in the 375 Ferrari to replace an unwell Taruffi. The rest of the team was unchanged. Alfa Romeo also added to its lineup. 52-year-old Luigi Fagioli semi-retired in 1950 but came back to do this race as a one-off. The other three seats were also unchanged. They were joined by three other works teams. Gordini made their first appearance of the year, fielding three new T15 cars for Maurice Trintignant, Robert Manzon, and debutant Andre Simon, and an old T11 for Aldo Gordini, the son of the team owner. Milano entered their only race of the season, with a car for newcomer Onofre Marimon. The final works entrant was an important debut, Tony Vandervell entered a modified Ferrari for Reg Parnell, marking the debut for the Vanwall team.
The rest of the field were private entries. The Plate Maserati's returned, with de Graffenried and Schell driving, and Whitehead was back in his 125 Ferrari. Mairesse started his last race in a Talbot, with Chaboud ending his career in France as well. The rest of the field were Talbot regulars Cabantous, Claes, Rosier, Chiron, and Etancelin.
The start of the 1951 French Grand Prix
Qualifying spoke louder than the engines of the cars. Alfa Romeo, the team that had dominated power circuits such as Reims had a real battle on to take pole, with only five seconds separating the top six. It had been known for some time that the 159 was at the end of its development cycle, but nobody could've predicted such a close pole race. It was, though, still Fangio on pole, from Farina. Ascari was third, from Villoresi and Sanesi, with Gonzalez and Fagioli rounding out the heavy hitters. Alfa and Ferrari were virtually level on pace by this stage of the year, and Ferrari could still develop their newer machine. Eighth was Chiron's Talbot, 11 seconds slower than Fagioli, followed by the Vandervell Ferrari of Parnell with Etancelin rounding out the top 10. Marimon put the Milano 15th, with de Graffenried 16th, and the best Gordini being Aldo Gordini in 17th.
Off the start, Farina went nowhere and was swallowed up by the pack as he tried to get going. Ascari led the first six laps as cars dropped like flies in the French summer heat. Major contenders for scraps like de Graffenried, Manzon, Marimon, and Whitehead were all out by lap 5, and only a few laps later, they were joined by Ascari's Ferrari. He took over Gonzalez's healthy 375, but the big news the next lap was Fangio having major problems. His engine was misfiring in all manner of ways, and he dropped to last while more midfield contenders, Trintignant and Schell, retired. It was a race of survival, which Fagioli and the Ascari/Gonzalez cars were winning. On lap 24, Alfa Romeo ordered Fagioli in to swap cars with Fangio. Fangio then drove the car from third to the lead in a few laps, as Sanesi retired his Alfa. Ascari passed Farina to lead the race for a few laps before being passed by Fangio, meaning five different cars had led the race, though only three drivers manned them. The race of attrition then ended, what still stands as the longest distance covered in a single race, at 601km, was won by the Fangio/Fagioli car, followed by Ascari/Gonzalez, with Villoresi driving a quiet race to third. Being in it to win it was the name of the game, and Parnell put the Vandervell Ferrari third, with Farina rounding out the points after a late-race misfire. The points were split for shared drives, and Fangio getting the fastest lap meant he earned five to Fagioli's four, with Ascari and Gonzalez getting three each. Fangio led Farina by one point in the title race, with Ascari third, 6 points back. Despite the win, Fagioli was furious at having to hand his Alfa over to Fangio, and announced over the speaker after the race he was quitting Grand Prix racing there and then, so the 1951 French Grand Prix would be the Italian legends final race.
Alfa vs. Ferrari was the story of the second half of the season
The next round was a hop over the English Channel for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Ferrari was confident coming into the race after the strong showing at Reims. Alfa brought four cars, with Felice Bonetto becoming a full-time driver for the rest of the season. It was also Sanesi's last race. Ferrari only brought three cars this weekend, Taruffi was still unwell and didn't come to the race. Gordini entered but didn't run, and the Vandervell Ferrari employed the services of Whitehead, it was the last appearance for the team until 1954. The final works team was big news, the BRM project finally made its debut, with Parnell and Peter Walker driving the two P15 cars. The rest of the grid were privateers, the internationals being regular Talbot drivers, with Duncan Hamilton in the final Talbot. The rest of the field were solely British. Alta made their only appearance in the hands of Joe Kelly, in his last F1 race, and ERA likewise, with Brian Shawe-Taylor in his last race, and Bob Gerard in his final for a few years, and finally there were three Maserati's on the grid, driven by John James, David Murray, and the man with the most British name ever seen, Philip Fotheringham-Parker.
Qualifying was history in the making. For the first time in Formula 1, an Alfa wasn't on pole. It was Jose Froilan Gonzalez who took his, and Ferrari's first-ever pole position. Fangio and Farina followed, with Ascari next, followed by Villoresi, Sanesi, and Bonetto. The Vandervell Ferrari was best of the rest, With Rosier's Talbot ninth and Gerard's ERA tenth. The best Maserati was 15th, the best Alta 18th and the BRM's didn't set a time, so they started last.
The race start was chaotic, Fangio and Gonzalez shot away parallel, Villoresi and Farina lost out on the start but it was Bonetto with the best of the lot and found seven spots to lead into the first turn. Parnell and Walker also made good starts from last and were in the top 10 by the end of lap 1. Gonzalez passed Bonetto on the second tour, though the Italian held firm and stuck with him in a grand battle for the lead involving five cars. Eventually, Gonzalez shot clear and Bonetto fell back, with Fangio in second and Ascari third. James' Maserati was the first casualty on lap 23, while Fangio had got past Gonzalez for the lead. It wasn't to last, as all the Alfa's needed fuel. Gonzalez was unchallenged on his way to a historic win, the first for him, and the first for Scuderia Ferrari. Fangio was second, with Villoresi third, Bonetto fourth, and a brilliant Parnell in fifth, his BRM running well. Farina was a late-race retirement with clutch problems, but he got the fastest lap point as a small consolation award.
One of the most famous images of Formula 1 in the 1950s.
Fangio now led the drivers' title by 6 points from Farina, with Villoresi third and Gonzalez fourth.
The first post-war German Grand Prix was the next stop on the calendar. This was at the 22km long Nurburgring track, demanding the utmost respect by all who drive it. Alfa Romeo brought four cars, replacing Sanesi with Germany's own Paul Pietsch for the race. Taruffi was back from illness to man the fourth works Ferrari, and Gordini had three cars for Trintignant, Simon, and Manzon. Rudi Fischer entered his 212 Ferrari, and the last two red cars were Maserati's, a Plate car for de Graffenried, and a private one for Toni Branca in his last race. The rest of the grid was Talbot. Usual suspects Chiron, Cabantous, Rosier, Etancelin, and Claes were joined by Hamilton, Pierre Levegh, and debutant Jacques Swaters.
Qualifying was another Ferrari upset. Ascari was on pole from Gonzalez. Alfa was third and fourth with Fangio and Farina, before Villoresi and Taruffi in the final works Ferrari's. Paul Pietsch in the third Alfa was seventh. It was a good day for underdogs with both Fischer's 212 Ferrari and Manzon's Gordini outqualifying the Bonetto Alfa, which was down in 10th. Cabantous was the best Talbot in 11th, with the best Maserati that of de Graffenried in 16th.
Away the 22 cars went then, and almost immediately the Alfa team were down to three as Pietsch binned it in a big way on lap 1. He spun at high speed and was lucky the shrubbery was there to catch the car before it hit an earth bank or fell off a cliff. He continued but was well off the pace and retired. Fangio led the first few laps until he inevitably needed to stop for petrol, and Ascari then led. Then a big blow for Alfa, both Farina and Bonetto retired with engine issues and it was Fangio versus the four Ferrari's. Gonzalez led at the halfway mark before Fangio took the lead again. Unfortunately for him, the 159's unquenchable thirst forced him into the pits again, and Ascari led until the chequered flag. It was Ascari's first Formula 1 win, but Fangio took the fastest lap and second. Gonzalez rounded out the podium with the points completed by Villoresi and Taruffi.
Paul Pietsch was one lucky boy, but unfortunately for him, the cameras caught his mistake. A rarity in the 1950s.
The championship now looked just about sealed for Fangio. He was over a race win ahead now and only bad luck could rob him of the title. The race for second was heating up though, only two points separated Ascari, Farina, Gonzalez, and Villoresi in that battle.
That's it for Part 2 of this season, Part 3 will be out shortly. I hope you enjoyed and I'll see you all when Part 3 comes out!