Teams José Froilán González
72Jose Froilan Gonzalez: The Forgotten FigureheadBy Jeremy McMullen
While not a name recalled with much immediacy amongst the casual Formula One fan, the name Jose Froilan Gonzalez must command a special place of importance in the heart and mind of every Ferrari fanatic. And, sadly, as of the 15th of June all that is left is the name of that other famous Argentinean.
Not including the Indianapolis 500, which counted toward the World Championship during the 1950s, Gonzalez would be just the fourth different driver to win a round of the new Formula One World Championship. But, it would be who he was driving for that would forever cement him in the lore of Formula One.
Born in Arrecifes, Argentina in October of 1922, Gonzalez would grow up not far removed from the world of automobiles. The son of a Chevrolet dealer, Gonzalez would grow up in and around the automotive industry but would certainly be a talented individual in many other sporting endeavors. In spite of his stout size, Jose would be quite adept as a swimmer and very good as a shooter. What perhaps is most intriguing, given his size, is that he was also an avid cyclist.
Prior to the 1950s, Gonzalez's father would help him set up a business of his own and he would use this business to fund his dream of motor racing. It was a successful endeavor and it would have been enough for most people.
But it would be automobile racing that Gonzalez longed for and that would really attract his attention. Enthusiastic about cars and racing, Gonzalez would finally earn enough money to focus just on motor racing and would actually join his fellow compatriot, one Juan Manuel Fangio, to Europe in 1950. Fangio had already made his first trip to Europe and had immediately begun to make his mark. It wouldn't be too long before Gonzalez would do the same.
Arriving in Europe, Gonzalez's style of driving would quickly earn him the nickname 'The Pampas bull'. Pushing hard no matter what he drove, Gonzalez would be fast. Unfortunately, the cars of the period didn't necessarily stand for being pushed as Gonzalez liked and there would be more than a few early retirements. But, when Gonzalez managed to earn a 2nd place result in a grand prix in Albi, France in 1950 Europeans finally would get to see the talent that many of his peers, especially Fangio, believed him to possess.
When Gonzalez had made his Formula One debut in 1950 he would do so with Scuderia Achille Varzi driving a Maserati 4CLT/48. As usual, he had proven to be fast starting the Monaco Grand Prix from the front row alongside Giuseppe Farina and Fangio. Unfortunately, an accident on the first lap would reduce the field by a significant number. Gonzalez would be one of the few to make it through, but, an accident on the very next lap would end his Formula One debut.
Then, at the French Grand Prix held in Reims in July, Gonzalez would find himself starting the race from the third row of the grid. Unfortunately, after making a good start to the race engine problems would result in yet another early retirement.
After taking part in sporadic events throughout the 1950 season, Gonzalez would be back in Europe for the following season and would prepare for a much busier season of driving, a season of destiny.
He would begin his Formula One World Championship season with a privately-entered Talbot-Lago T26C-GS. Unfortunately, oil problems would cause him to fail to finish his third-straight World Championship event. More unfortunate results were to come until he managed a 2nd place finish in the non-championship Grand Prix de Paris held at Bois de Boulogne at the end of May. It seemed clear that if Gonzalez had a car capable of lasting a whole race he had the talent to make the most of it.
Back in South America in between the 1950 and 1951 seasons Gonzalez would get a chance to drive prewar Mercedes-Benz W163 in a couple of Formula Libre events. In these races he would shine and would impress many showing he truly did have the talent as long as he had the car.
Those with Scuderia Ferrari realized this, and, after his failed attempt in the Talbot-Lago and a failed attempt at the Belgian Grand Prix with Enrico Plate, Gonzalez would earn a drive with Scuderia Ferrari. Gonzalez would waste no time proving the fact that with the right car he could contend for, in the French Grand Prix, he would start from the third row of the grid and would run as high as 2nd before he would turn his car over to Alberto Ascari for the remainder of the race. Dueling with Fangio, Ascari would have the lead at points but would end up 2nd when it was all said and done. This shared drive would earn Gonzalez his first podium, but it would also set up a very interesting dynamic heading into the very next round of the World Championship.
Gonzalez had shown his talent at the French Grand Prix coming up from 6th place on the grid to enjoy a shared 2nd place result with Alberto Ascari. Unfortunately for Gonzalez, he had also had his first experience of handing over his car to another driver and having to take a back seat. Alberto Ascari was certainly Ferrari's leading driver and this would play on Gonzalez's subconscious during the momentous British Grand Prix.
Heading into the British Grand Prix in 1951 Gonzalez would be casually told by his good friend and countryman Fangio that 'I think this time you'll win'. And, as practice got underway it soon seemed clear that Fangio certainly could have been on to something as Gonzalez would take the pole by a whole second over Fangio. This was the first pole position for Ferrari, let alone Gonzalez. But it would only get better during the race.
There was a reason as to why Fangio believed Gonzalez had an opportunity for victory at Silverstone. The thirsty supercharged Alfa Romeos would need to stop more often to cover the race distance while Gonzalez would need to stop just once.
Gonzalez would lead early on but would soon battle with his fellow Argentinean for the lead. Gonzalez would look strong throughout and would have a rather comfortable margin in hand before he made his one stop.
But there would be a problem plaguing Gonzalez. Ascari had retired from the race. He was leading it. Would he be tapped on the shoulder and told to give up his car to Ascari so that he could take the win? He would make his way into the pits for his stop, and then, sure enough, there would be a tap on his shoulder. There stood Ascari. But instead of asking him to remove himself from the car, something he was about to do, Ascari would tell him to go on. Certainly a little surprised, but no doubt happy, Gonzalez would roar back into the race and would go on to win that truly historic race for Ferrari, their first of many.
It would be a truly remarkable season for Gonzalez. After the momentous victory at Silverstone, Jose would end the season with three 2nd place results and a 3rd to finish the second World Championship 3rd in the standings. When it came to non-championship events he would score victory in the Circuito di Pescara and a 2nd place in the Gran Premio di Bari. He was certainly showing his talent.
The 1952 season held a lot of promise but would be a very difficult one for Gonzalez. In spite of a victory in the Easter Monday races in a Ferrari 375, the majority of the 1952 season would be absent of Gonzalez's presence. The Argentinean would earn support from his friend and compatriot and would end up joining him at BRM. Again, he would show his speed having the 16-cylinder BRM 15 at his command, however, the troublesome car would routinely let him down and he would be left without any kind of result for the length of the season.
Sportscar racing held very little in the way of positive results for Gonzalez as well. Therefore, the 1952 season would be winding down with just the forth winner in Formula One World Championship history without a ride. This would change just in time for the Italian Grand Prix at the end of the year, but it would not be a truly happy affair.
Having made his debut in Formula One driving a Maserati it made sense he would sign a deal with the Modena-based team. Starting from the second row of the grid, Gonzalez would be less than 2 seconds off of Ascari's pace despite having missed every previous round of the World Championship. Then, in the race, Gonzalez would show that form that had earned him his victory the year before as he would prove to be about the only other driver capable of matching Ascari in pace. Posting equal fast lap times, Gonzalez would be all by himself as he tried in vain to catch the dominate Ascari in the Ferrari 500. In the end, Ascari would win the race but Gonzalez would prove to be the victor himself coming home all by himself in 2nd place beating Luigi Villoresi and Giuseppe Farina in similar Ferrari 500s.
The 1953 season would see Gonzalez back with Maserati and earning no less than three podium finishes. Still, there was very little he could do to battle with Ascari and Ferrari and he would end up the season 6th in the Drivers' Championship standings. He likely could have finished higher in the standings had it not been for a bad accident in a Lancia D23 at Monsanto in late July that left him with vertebrae damage out for more than three months.
Mended and ready for a new season, 1954 would prove to be Gonzalez's most memorable. Signing again with Ferrari, the season would start with a 3rd place in front of the home fans in the Argentine Grand Prix. This would be followed by non-championship Formula One victories in Bordeaux, Silverstone and Bari. Then came Le Mans in June.
Gonzalez had never been fortunate to finish the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Co-driving with Frenchman Maurice Trintignant, Gonzalez would take the Ferrari 375 Plus and would charge to an overall victory beating the pair of Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton in a D-Type Jaguar by more than a lap. This was one of Gonzalez's biggest wins of his career and would beautifully set the stage for a trip down memory lane one month later.
Heading into the 1954 British Grand Prix all of the attention was on the return of Mercedes-Benz and their sleek, new W196. There was good reason for the attention as Fangio would be the first to average more than 100mph around Silverstone and would grab the pole for the race. Starting right beside him on the front row however would be Gonzalez.
Just two months earlier, Gonzalez had driven a dominant race in changing weather conditions to earn victory in the BRDC International Trophy race. The same changing weather conditions existed heading into the 5th round of the World Championship. And, while all eyes would be focused on Fangio and the new Mercedes it would be Gonzalez that would sprint into the lead at the start and would utterly dominate the race leaving Fangio to finish more than a lap behind in a badly beat up W196. His overall advantage over 2nd place Mike Hawthorn would be an impressive 70 seconds.
It had been a remarkable race for Gonzalez and, when coupled with the victory at Le Mans, would mark the greatest period of his racing career. Unfortunately, darkness loomed on the horizon.
Gonzalez's racing ambition would take a serious hit just a couple of weeks after his highest of highs. The Argentineans were very close, looking after each other in distant lands. One Argentinean driver that was close to both Fangio and Gonzalez was Onofre Marimon. In practice for the German Grand Prix, Marimon would lose control around the fast Adenauer Bridge section of the Nurburgring. Impacting hard into a ditch the car rolled numerous times and even sheered off a tree before coming to a rest. He would be pronounced dead soon after being extracted from the car.
Marimon's death would be hard on both Gonzalez and Fangio. Fangio would manage to put the events aside and would go on to score an important victory. Gonzalez, on the other hand, would be overcome in his grief. He would start the race but wouldn't make it too far before he would pull into the pits and hand his car over to Hawthorn, who had retired from the race earlier on.
In spite of the fact Hawthorn would go on to finish 2nd in the race sharing 6 points with Gonzalez, the death of Marimon would impact Jose deeply. Gonzalez would go on to score yet another 2nd place result in the Swiss Grand Prix and would finish off the 1954 season with a 3rd in the Italian Grand Prix, but, he would conclude his time had come. Although he would finish the '54 season 2nd in the championship standings it would be the final time in which he would take part in more than a couple of grand prix in a single season.
Gonzalez's decision to slow down his racing career would be further bolstered after he would suffer yet another terrible accident, this time at Dundrod in a sportscar. The injuries sustain in the accident would end the '54 season and would take more than a couple of months to heal.
Following his brightest season in Formula One, Gonzalez would only take part in one or two races a season. In fact, he would only venture away from his native Argentina once after 1954 and that would be in 1956 when he would be lured by Tony Vandervell to drive his improving Vanwall in the 1956 British Grand Prix.
This move certainly made sense. Gonzalez was in fact the only driver alive at the time to have scored two victories in the British race while it had been held at Silverstone, so he certainly seemed as sure a bet as one could get. Unfortunately, he would travel thousands of miles to take part in the race and it would all come to an end after about a hundred yards when the half shaft broke right there on the grid. Vandervell still offered Gonzalez a drive in an effort to make up for the great sacrifice he had made traveling all the way to England but Gonzalez would turn him down.
Staying home following the disappointing attempt at a third British Grand Prix victory, Gonzalez would earn a 5th place result in the '57 Argentine Grand Prix and then would wait three more years before he would take part in his final grand prix. Driving for Scuderia Ferrari in a Dino 246, Gonzalez would go on to finish the race in 10th place and would virtually disappear from the motor racing scene following the race.
While he would continue to make personal appearances over the decades, Gonzalez would be virtually removed from the racing scene, choosing, instead, to focus on his own dealership. But even though he would disappear from the public scene, his place in Formula One history, particularly Ferrari Formula One history, meant he would still be ever-present. And then came 2011.
It would be a truly magical weekend. The 2011 British Grand Prix would be filled with the usual pomp and build-up. Formula One fans would be camped out around the circuit and everyone would be enjoying the sights and sounds of Formula One. However, there would be a very special moment when a Ferrari 375 would be unloaded and prepped. It was the 60th anniversary of Ferrari's first victory in Formula One.
Fernando Alonso would climb in behind the large steering wheel and, after some orientation, would set off providing a step back in time. That would have been enough, but there would be more. At the time, Formula One would be in the midst of a season dominated by Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull. All eyes would be on them, especially after practice and qualifying. However, in a fashion similar to how Gonzalez had earned Ferrari's first win, Alonso would put in one fantastic performance and would take a car not considered a favorite to win and would beat everyone else in the field to score Ferrari a victory in the British Grand Prix on the 60th anniversary of the event.
It was as much a moment of homage for Gonzalez as it was for Ferrari, and it would go a long way to further cementing Gonzalez's place in the memories of a whole new generation. And, after his passing at the age of 90, it is his memory which is all that we have left.Sources:
'Formula 1: Ferrari Legend Jose Froilan Gonzalez Dies Aged 90', (http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/formula1/22925726). BBC Sport. http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/formula1/22925726. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
'The Driver: Froilan Gonzalez', (http://www.ferrari.com/English/Formula1/History/Pages/the_driver_Froilan_Gonzalez.aspx). Scuderia Ferrari. http://www.ferrari.com/English/Formula1/History/Pages/the_driver_Froilan_Gonzalez.aspx. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
Henry, Alan. 'Jose Froilan Gonzalez Obituary', (http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2013/jun/16/jose-froilan-gonzalez). The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2013/jun/16/jose-froilan-gonzalez. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
Tremayne, David. 'Jose Froilan Gonzalez: Racing Driver Who Gave Ferrari Their First Grand Prix Victory', (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/jose-froilan-gonzalez-racing-driver-who-gave-ferrari-their-first-grand-prix-victory-8662499.html). The Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/jose-froilan-gonzalez-racing-driver-who-gave-ferrari-their-first-grand-prix-victory-8662499.html. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
'Seasons: 1951', (http://statsf1.com/en/1951.aspx). StatsF1. http://statsf1.com/en/1951.aspx. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
'Seasons: 1954', (http://statsf1.com/en/1954.aspx). StatsF1. http://statsf1.com/en/1954.aspx. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
'1950 Non-World Championship Grands Prix', (http://www.silhouet.com/motorsport/archive/f1/nc/1950/1950.html). 1950 Non-World Championship Grands Prix. http://www.silhouet.com/motorsport/archive/f1/nc/1950/1950.html. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
'Drivers: Foilan Gonzalez', (http://www.racingsportscars.com/driver/Froilan-Gonzalez-RA.html). Racing Sports Cars. http://www.racingsportscars.com/driver/Froilan-Gonzalez-RA.html. Retrieved 25 June 2013.