Teams1951 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
Brazilians are very proud and patriotic. One visit to a football game will convince even the toughest skeptic of Brazilian patriotism. Everywhere they go, no matter what they do, their flag figures very prominently; it literally is their guide, their identity.
The same held true for early Brazilian grand prix driver Francisco 'Chico' Landi. He was his nation's ambassador to motor racing and he took the role very seriously.
Chico's very first race happened in Rio de Janeiro in 1934. He was leading and looked to be on track to take a win his very first time out. However, with eight laps remaining, his car broke down and ruined his chances at victory. This did not deter the Brazilian by any means. Driving an Alfa Romeo, Landi would end up winning in Rio in 1941, 1947 and 1948.
During the later part of the 1940s, Landi had been invited to take part in some races in neighboring Argentina, and then, decided to head to Europe to take on the world's best. He was his nation's first driver to head to Europe.
He had been invited to take part in the 1947 Bari Grand Prix. Competing in a Maserati 4CL, his race came to an end after 16 laps due to a problem with spark plugs. Landi was, again, not deterred by this result.
In 1948, many of the top teams and drivers that raced in Europe from springtime on would head to South America during the winter to race in what was late summer in Argentina and Brazil. Of course, impetus to come was added by personal invitations such as from the Perons.
In the period between the middle of January to the end of March, Landi had been able to score a couple of second place finishes and a victory at the Grand Prix of Interlagos. Landi had beaten racing great Achille Varzi for the victory. Landi followed this victory up with another victory at a Formula Libre race at Gavea toward the end of April
In May of 1948, Landi had returned to the European mainland to take part in the Bari Grand Prix again. Driving for Scuderia Besana in a Ferrari 166, Landi started the 60 lap race from 4th on the starting grid. Giuseppe Farina had the pole and Alberto Ascari started 2nd in a Maserati A6GCS. During the race, Farina and Ascari ran into troubles and were forced out of the race. Landi knew the 3.2 mile street circuit well and was able to take over the lead and hold onto it to score the victory over Felice Bonetto and Achille Varzi. This had made it three victories in a row for Landi. After the victory, Landi disappears from the grand prix scene for the rest of 1948.
Nothing is seen of Landi until the Formula Libre Grand Prix of Interlagos in the later part of March in 1949. Driving a Maserati once again, he goes on to finish his first race of the season 5th. Landi faced some stiff competition, however. Three of the competitors were Farina, Ascari and Villoresi.
After Interlagos, Landi would only take part in three more races. After an accident at Gavea, he was down to only two other events in which he would take part, and both of them took place in Europe. However, he would not arrive on the European continent without an impressive welcoming committee.
In the month of June, Landi arrived at Bari once again. However, this time Landi would drive for Scuderia Ferrari. Instead of his usual Alfa Romeo 308, Chico would now drive a V12 powered Ferrari 166SC.
Felice Bonetto had the pole for the 80 lap race in his own Ferrari 166SC, which was the first grand prix car Ferrari had made available for sale. Landi joined Alberto Ascari, Luigi Villoresi and Franco Cortese at Scuderia Ferrari. The race would be a dominant victory for Ferrari. Ascari would win the race followed by Cortese in another Scuderia Ferrari 166. Bonetto was able to hold on to finish the race 3rd. Landi appeared in good form throughout the 265 mile race and was able to finish 4th. In all, Ferrari 166SCs swept the first five spots at the finish.
Landi's last race for 1949 was at the end of June. It was the 2nd Grand Prix of the Autodromo di Monza. Once again Landi was employed by Ferrari to drive in the race. Another gaggle of Ferrari 166SCs made up the starting grid. Luigi Villoresi started the race from the pole.
The race was a long one. It consisted of 80 laps of the 3.91 mile road course and totaled over 313 miles in length. Juan Manuel Fangio, one of the greatest South American drivers of all-time, would go on to win the race for AC Argentina Equipe driving a Ferrari 166SC. The next three finishers were Scuderia Ferrari drivers. Bonetto finished 2nd and Ascari finished 3rd. Once again, Landi just missed out on the podium finishing the race 4th. As had been the case at Bari, Ferrari 166SCs swept the first five finishing spots.
Heading into 1950, Chico Landi stayed home in his native Brazil. He would only compete in two grand prix races the entire year. Both of those races took place toward the end of the 1950 season. The first race was the Boa Vista, held in Boa Vista, Brazil. It was a Formula Libre race and Landi won the race driving a Ferrari 125.
The other race in which Landi took part in 1950 was another Formula Libre race held at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Once again driving a Ferrari 125, Landi took the victory.
Toward the end of the 1940s and early '50s, Landi, and some others, started Escuderia Bandeirantes. Landi, like most Brazilians, was very proud to be Brazilian. His cars were remembered to be painted in overall bright-yellow paint with green letters. Off-and-on, Landi would drive under the team name he would help start. Fittingly, the literal meaning of the team's name was 'The Stable of the Bearers of the Flag'.
After a very short 1950 season, Landi would get back to a more full-time racing schedule in 1951. The first race of his season would be exactly where the last race of the 1950 season had been, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The last time he had been there he had gone away victorious. Chances were good there would be a repeat performance.
At the end of January, Landi entered his Ferrari 125 in the 6th Grand Prix of Interlagos. As he had been able to do the previous October, Landi took his Ferrari and claimed the victory. This had made it three victories in a row, albeit against somewhat lesser competition than what he had faced over in Europe.
Chico tried to make it four races in a row when he entered a Formula Libre race at Boa Vista toward the end of April. It was not to be. Landi's string of victories came undone when he suffered an accident. Gino Bianco would end up winning the race instead.
Landi's last race in his native Brazil for 1951 would come back at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace for the Grand Prix of Sao Paulo. Driving the usual Ferrari 125 Landi was able to get back on track by winning the event.
Landi enjoyed great success before he headed back across the pond to take part in the European grand prix season. Landi's euphoria would quickly, and continually, fade as he took part in races on the European continent.
Landi's first grand prix race in Europe would be the non-championship 13th Grand Prix of Albi. Landi entered the race as a driver for Scuderia Milano and would drive their Speluzzi-powered Maserati 4CLT/50 chassis.
A total of fifteen drivers qualified for the 34 lap race on the 5.56 mile public road course. Maurice Trintignant would set the fastest time and would take the pole with a lap of three minutes and eight seconds. Louis Rosier and Andre Simon would start next to him on the three-car-wide front row. Landi's best time in the Maserati 4CLT/50 was seventeen seconds slower, but good enough for the Brazilian to start from the middle of the third row. The good thing for Landi was the fact he didn't have a car directly in front of him on the grid for the start of the race.
As the race got underway, Trintignant stretched out a sizeable advantage. With the exception of Chiron who started 8th and had been able to come up through the field, the top few spots remained unchanged. Fifteen laps into the race, Landi's race came undone.
While Trintignant and Rosier were lapping the field, Landi's race ran into trouble. Fifteen laps into the 34 lap race the oil pipe in Landi's Maserati developed problems, which forced the Brazilian to retire from the race. Trintignant would go on to win with Rosier coming home 2nd and Louis Chiron finishing 3rd. This was a very inauspicious beginning to Landi's European grand prix season.
Thankfully for Landi, he was headed back to the site of his first grand prix win on European soil. In the early part of September, teams and drivers arrived in Bari, Italy for the 5th Grand Prix of Bari. The competition for the race was going to be stiff and fierce. Scuderia Ferrari came with a force of four cars and Alfa Romeo SpA arrived with two of their 159s, driven by the current World Champion of that time and the leading contender for the same title for that year.
Sharing grand prix cars was a normal practice during those days of grand prix racing. Landi entered one of the Maserati 4CLT/48s that had been shared with a couple of other private entrants. For the grand prix, Landi entered the car and himself under the team he helped to start, Escuderia Bandeirantes. Unfortunately, Landi would be left only holding the flag at the end of the race.
The race was 65 laps of the 3.44 mile road course. As he had done at Albi, Landi started the race 7th, or, from the middle of the third row. His time was a little over eleven seconds slower than pole-sitter Juan Manuel Fangio. Ascari started 2nd with a time that was a second slower. Jose Froilan Gonzalez would start 3rd with a time only four tenths slower than Ascari's.
As the race started, it very quickly became apparent attrition was going to wreak havoc on the field. Four cars were out of the race before ten laps had been completed. By the end, only eight starters would remain running. Unfortunately, Landi wasn't one of them. With almost identical timing as that in Albi, Landi was out of the race after completing just fifteen laps. His Maserati suffered head gasket problems and prohibited him from continuing. Fangio would go on to win with Gonzalez trailing by a little over a minute. Both of the Argentineans had blown away the rest of the competition. Third place finisher Piero Taruffi finished the race three laps down to both Fangio and Gonzalez.
The last race of Landi's 1951 season was his first-ever Formula One race. Though he was Brazilian, he was immersed in Italian. His final race of the season was the second-to-last round of the Formula One World Championship and it was the Italian Grand Prix. For the race held on the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, Landi had been able to secure a 4.5-liter V12 Ferrari 375. Landi would enter the Ferrari under his own name, instead of Escuderia Bandeirantes.
Twenty-two cars and drivers qualified for the 80 lap race around the 3.91 mile road course. Despite the excellent car underneath him, Landi could not get on pace during practice and started the race toward the tail-end of the grid. While Fangio took the pole for the race in his Alfa Romeo 159, Landi was relegated to the back of the grid having set a time only fast enough for the Brazilian to start the race 16th.
Just prior to the race starting, Landi found out he would receive some help without even having turned a wheel. The two BRM teammates were unable to start the race. Reg Parnell's race wouldn't happen due to mechanical problems with the P15. Richardson, the other BRM driver, was out of the race for possessing the wrong license. These non-starters helped Landi because they each had managed to qualify better than he. Despite the help, Landi found out his race wouldn't happen.
Before the field had even completed a lap, Landi was forced out of the race. Right before the start, the transmission in his Ferrari 375 broke. Landi's first-ever Formula One race ended with an embarrassing turn of events.
The celebrated Brazilian grand prix driver hadn't even completed a single lap in Formula One competition. And that was how the Brazilian's 1951 season ended. He competed in, or tried, a single Formula One race. He had not completed a single lap, let alone score a victory or a points paying position. For all of his efforts, he earned zero points toward the championship that year.
As Formula One continued to grow, the victories Landi had been able to score throughout the earlier part of his career vanished. Despite not being on-par with Juan Manuel Fangio, Chico Landi did his part to introduce another South American country to motor racing. Throughout the rest of his life, Landi was very much an influential figure in Brazilian auto sport. Very soon, he would see what his true legacy was as the likes of Fittipaldi, Piquet, Senna, Barrichello and Massa would all go on to bear the Brazilian banner proudly.