TeamsEmilio Giuseppe 'Nino' Farina: The Stiff-Armed Champion By Jeremy McMullen
Through what was nearly the first-third of the Italian Grand Prix of 1950 it would be Juan Manuel Fangio running up near the front with the championship within his grasp. However, on the 34th lap of the race, smoke would begin to pour out of his Alfa Romeo. This would hand the lead, and the inaugural World Championship, to his Alfa Romeo teammate. Had it not been for Fangio's ailments this Italian's image would not hang among the hallows of Formula One greats, nor would he ever be a World Champion If things remain as they are the Argentinean would be crowned champion. But then, to many, Emilio Giuseppe Farina would be remembered for less favorable reasons than for being the first Formula One World Champion.
Emilio Giuseppe Farina would be born into the world of elite motoring. Born in Turin, Italy in October of 1906, 'Nino', as he would become known, would be the nephew of Pinin Farina, the head of the famed coach building company. Growing up in that environment, Giuseppe would become very interested in all kinds of sports and would display a good deal of talent in skiing, football, cycling and some others.
When of the age to attend university, Farina would go to school and would end up becoming a doctor of political science. But having grown up in the automotive world, he would also be quite adept in engineering.
Also, because he did grow up in the automotive world, he would become very interested in motor racing. Using an older Alfa Romeo, his first race would make quite an impression on the man who was now in his twenties. His first race would not be a fairy-tale experience. In fact, it would be a nightmare. During the race, Farina would crash his Alfa Romeo heavily and would suffer because of it. The crash would leave such an impression upon the man that he would abandon all thoughts of motor racing and would look, instead, to a career as a cavalry officer as he was quite an accomplished rider as well.
But, like so many others, once the racing seeped into the bloodstream it would be practically impossible to get out. Therefore, Farina would abandon the cavalry to pursue a career in motor sport. However, in order for him to do that, he would need to get over his experience, his initiation, to motor racing and would have to be willing to make a living out on that edge between victory and life-threatening crashes. And to Farina, the only way to truly overcome any of the fears would be to drive as cold-hearted and as near to recklessness as possible. Then, when comfortable living in those quarters he would be truly able to compete. Unfortunately, this attitude would have its consequences.
Farina would return to motor racing in 1933 and would compete in a number of races as a privateer. But then, in 1936, he would join Scuderia Ferrari driving Alfa Romeos alongside the great Tazio Nuvolari. Nuvolari would become Farina's tutor and the effects of his tutorship would be experienced and loathed by others all the way up into the fledgling early days of the Formula One World Championship.
Under Nuvolari's guidance, Farina would become a star on the rise. During the late 1930s Giuseppe would earn a number of minor grand prix victories and would go on to win the Italian Drivers' Championship some three years in a row (1937-1939). Then, finally, in 1940 at the Tripoli Grand Prix, Farina would succeed on the grand stage taking his first major victory. Unfortunately, with it being 1940, and just as he was beginning to reach the peek of his driving abilities, his racing career would be put on hold because of the outbreak of the Second World War.
In many ways, Farina's break-neck and ruthless driving style would cause many to believe the world had been at war for a number of years prior before Germany invaded Poland in 1939. More than once Farina would be involved in terrible accidents that would get other drivers injured…or killed.
More than one driver would lose his life while tangling with Giuseppe on the race track. And Farina would make little to no apologies for what would transpire either. Though he would become famous for his straight-armed driving style, a style that many others would come to copy, he would also earn an infamous reputation as a brutal competitor that had absolutely no qualms about stiff-arming his competition and putting them into harm's way.
Some of the more famous incidents would include the death of Marcel Lehoux at Deauville in 1936 and Hans Hugo-Hartmann at Tripoli in 1938. In both cases, these men would be involved in collisions with Farina and would pay the penalty as a result of clashing with the Italian that would turn from gentleman outside of the car, into an absolute tyrant when behind the wheel.
The Second World War would rob Farina of some of his most competitive years. It would be a long five years. However, at the conclusion of the war, Farina would be committed to reigniting his past form. He was intent on not becoming like the other pre-war champions that would never gain their form of former glory.
Farina had been a cold and bitter foe behind the wheel of a car before the war, and, wouldn't change when racing resumed afterward either. But despite his fierceness on the track, it could be said that Farina had the necessary attitude in order to make a comeback to top-flight racing at the age of 40.
The proof of this seemed to come with the Grand Prix des Nations held at Geneva in 1946. Driving the Alfa Romeo 158 Alfetta, Farina would win the second heat race over Carlo Felice Trossi and Tazio Nuvolari, his mentor, and, would go on to win the final beating Trossi and Jean-Pierre Wimille. All three would be driving Alfa Romeo 158s.
In spite of the fact that, on the track, Farina would appear as cold and bitter, just ask any back-marker he prepared to put a lap down; outside of the car, Farina was the usual Italian gentleman and was even rather soft-spoken. It seemed to some, undoubtedly, as truly disingenuous and an impossible situation. But, he would manage to charm Elsa Giaretto, a lady from Turin known among the elite social circles and that ran her own fashion business. And, despite her beliefs that racing cars was a stupid endeavor, the two would be married during the 1940s.
However, the appearance of a family life could not and would not hide the fire within Farina. Even outside of the car his passion and intense focus on motor racing would show itself. And it would never be more evident than when he would grab a plane and head to Argentina for a race, just three days after being married.
Unlike so many of the pre-war greats, Farina would rise again and would be a champion. Driving Maseratis and Alfa Romeos, Giuseppe would earn a number of victories throughout the late-1940s. In 1948, he would win in Monaco and his two victories he would score over the course of the season would come back-to-back. 1949 would see Farina struggle. His only result of any real note would be a victory he scored in the Lausanne Grand Prix on the 27th of August. However, despite the struggles and lack of results, Farina, who was 43 years of age by the end of the 1949 season, would still be a force to be reckoned with out on the track. And as such, he would be offered an opportunity to drive for SpA Alfa Romeo for the 1950 season.
While Farina would be a regular sight on the grand prix scene, not unlike many other drivers of the period, he would also be a regular presence in the sportscar world as well. In fact, it would be in 1933 that he would take part in his first sportscar race, the Targa Abruzzi, driving an Alfa Romeo 8C 2300.
Throughout his pre-war career Farina would take part in a number of the long-distance sportscar races like the Mille Miglia, the Spa 24 Hours and the Giro d'Italia. Interestingly, in 1934, Farina would go on to score a wonderful 3rd place result in the Giro d'Italia in a Lancia Astura. Two years in a row, 1936-1937, he would barely miss out on an overall victory finishing 2nd at the Mille Miglia driving, once again, an Alfa Romeo 8C.
Finally, in the final running of the Mille Miglia before World War II would bring all racing to a halt, Farina would score victory. While it would not be an overall victory, he would manage to take a class victory driving an Alfa Romeo 6C. This class victory would very nearly end up an overall victory as he finished in 2nd place for the third time.
At the end of the war, Farina would be slow to return to sportscar racing. Focusing on his grand prix racing, he would take part in just a couple of sportscar races before the beginning of the 1950s. However, his sportscar racing career would pick up as he aged.
But the age thing shouldn't be given too much attention as Farina was already 43 years of age at the start of the 1950 season, which, would see the inaugural season of the Formula One World Championship.
And though he may have been rather advanced in years, Farina couldn't have found a better team in which to drive for that inaugural season. Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, Alfa Romeo had built its 158 Alfetta. Its opportunities to race would be few. However, they would be locked away during the years war raged on the European continent. And when the war came to an end, the 158 would emerge as the most dominant racing car of the period. And, given the fact that all of Europe was having to rebuild after the terrible destruction from the war, it would prove to be the most complete car for nearly a decade.
Many governments didn't have the resources to help rebuild their nations. This meant many of the great manufacturers would be struggling just to get their feet back underneath themselves. Switching sides at the last moment would save the Italian motor industry. Well protected 158s meant Alfa Romeo would be ready to race. And though the 158 would already be a few years old by that time, it would still be an advanced car considering what some of the other manufacturers were able to produce during the same time frame.
So, as teams arrived at Silverstone, in England, for the first ever round of the new Formula One World Championship, it was clear the Alfa Romeos would have an advantage on the competition.
Right from the start, four of the Alfas would dominate the first four positions in the field, and Farina would head them all for the majority of the race. Had it not been for trouble with Fangio's car, Alfa Romeo would have swept the top four. As it was, Farina would take the inaugural victory while Fagioli and Parnell completed the sweep for the Italian team
Despite being well into his forties, Farina would have the car to offer great confidence at each and every round of the new World Championship. He would use the power advantage of the supercharged engine to his advantage scoring victories in the British, Swiss and Italian Grand Prix. And because Fangio failed to finish, and because Farina took the victory, the 43 year old Italian would become the first Formula One World Champion, and therefore, will always be remembered as one of Formula One's greats.
But even though Farina would become the first Formula One World Champion, and would do so at the age of 43, it would far from be the career-ender that others would make it. Nigel Mansell would win the World Championship in 1992 and would promptly leave for Indycar. He would return, but the winning of the World Championship had been his motivation for hanging around. Mike Hawthorn would be another that had been thinking about calling his racing career quits. This would come true when he would become World Champion in 1958. But it wouldn't be true of Farina, as he would just keep racing year after year.
1951 would see him return with Alfa Romeo. Unfortunately, it would be anywhere near as successful as the season before. Instead of three victories, Farina would come away with just one victory in the Belgian Grand Prix. And then came the Formula 2 era of the World Championship and the rise of Alberto Ascari dominance. In 1952 alone, Giuseppe would score four 2nd place finishes and would end up 2nd in the World Championship standings having moved over to Scuderia Ferrari and driving the dominant Ferrari 500 F2. The following year, 1953, Farina would capture yet another victory, the last of his Formula One career, and would end up 3rd in the championship.
By the start of the 1953 season Farina would be 46 years old, and yet, he would continue to be a major challenger at each and every round of the championship that year. Such success at the age would have many begging to ask the question 'How?' And despite all of the different possibilities that could answer that simple question, it would appear the answer would be just as simple. And it would have to do with the paradox that was Giuseppe Farina.
Farina would be one great paradox of a man. Outside of the car he would be considered a wonderful gentleman. But in the car, he would be easily considered as one of the most ruthless and cold drivers to ever take to the track. There would be numerous episodes that would seemingly confirm this all throughout his early career, but even when in his mid-40s, the man could be as cold and as hard as a slab of Italian marble.
This would be the reason why he could swerve to try and avoid hitting a young boy that wandered onto the track in the 1953 Argentine Grand Prix, and yet, not be overcome with emotion after having plowed through a large crowd as a result killing a number of spectators. In such moments it would not be inconceivable for a driver to have a little difficulty getting back behind the wheel, at least for a little bit. However, just a couple of weeks later, and at the same circuit, Farina would be back behind the wheel and would go on to take victory in a non-championship Formula Libre race.
Every driver of the time had to deal with the loss of life, whether on the track or around it. It seemed as much a part of the sport as having need of four wheels on the car. All drivers dealt with the issue differently. Fangio would be brokenhearted over the loss of Onofre Marimon, and yet, would manage to carry on to victory in the 1954 German Grand Prix. But it was the type of character that Farina was that made his competitiveness and ability to carry on after injury after injury and death after death so abrasive to so many. But, Farina wasn't without his moments. That was for sure. He would be one of the first to visit Fangio in the hospital after his terrible accident at Monza in 1952 that would leave him with a broken back. And this was no small gesture given that Farina believed himself to be the team leader at Alfa Romeo despite Fangio having taken the World Championship title only months earlier. It's clear he recognized talent and had no problem in showing respect. It was just the fact he wouldn't show any respect on the circuit that people had to become accustomed to.
Rebels live life loosely and value life in about the same way. And Farina was certainly a rebel. And the same held true even when advanced in years. It certainly seemed to be his way to stay competitive against drivers a fair bit younger than he. And though this factor would not win him many friends on the track, the success he would have, even toward the later part of his career, meant that it certainly worked for him.
Farina would do anything he could to keep racing and remain competitive. He just would not give up. This meant that he was ruthless to others on the track, and just as ruthless with himself away from it.
In 1954, Farina would be on an incredible run of success in sportscars. In 1953, he would win the Spa 24 Hours with Mike Hawthorn and would also win the 1000km of the Nurburgring with Alberto Ascari. The last victory of 1953 would come in the last race of the season, the 12 Hours of Casablanca. Therefore, he would be headed into the 1954 season having a streak to continue. This he would do by scoring wins in the 1000km of Buenos Aires and the Agadir Grand Prix. But then, at the Supercortemaggiore at Monza in late June, Farina would suffer a terrible accident that would bring the rest of the 1954 season to an end for him, whether it be in sportscars or Formula One.
By the end of the season, Farina was now 48 years old. But he was unwilling to walk away from his racing career. And so, in 1955, he would do his best to make a comeback. Visibly in pain from the effects of the accident the year before, Farina would be as tough on himself as any of his competitors. He would load himself up with pain-killers, bear the pain and would continue to climb in behind the wheel of a racing car.
In sportscars, Farina would not achieve the level of success he had just before the terrible accident. His best result would be a 5th place at the Eifelrennen and that was it. In Formula One, however, he would prove capable of still being able to earn solid results. In a shared drive with both Maurice Trintignant and Jose Froilan Gonzalez, Farina would manage to pull off finishing the 1955 Argentine Grand Prix in both 2nd and 3rd. He would miss out on a podium at Monaco by finishing 4th and would score his last World Championship points at the Belgian Grand Prix when he finished in 3rd place.
However, the toll would be too much, even for a man like Farina. And so, after not starting the Italian Grand Prix at the end of the 1955 season, Farina would finally step away from Formula One. But he would not walk away from all racing, at least not yet.
At the wheel of a Maserati 200S, Farina would return to Monza in 1956 to take part in the very race that had brought him to this point in his career—the Supercortemaggiore. This is the race that had brought Farina face-to-face with reality and he would attempt to push back against time just once more. Partnering with Cesare Perdisa, Farina prepared to be as cold and as ruthless with the event as it had been to him a couple of years earlier. But this time, Farina would find the event as ruthless and as cold as he had been throughout his career. An accident suffered during practice meant Farina would not start the race. And instead of making one last start, it would prove to be the end. Taking away the lost years due to the war, Farina had been racing for more than 15 years, but now, it was all over. Or was it?
Though his racing career in Europe would come to an end, Farina would try and make a go of things in the United States. In 1956 he would attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 driving a Kurtis-Ferrari. This would not work out and he would not be in the race. The following year, he would return driving a Kurtis-Offenhauser. However, during practice, Farina would lend the car to Keith Andrews. Andrews would end up crashing it in practice and would lose his life in the process. This would prove to be the final wake-up call Farina would need. He was truly done with motor racing.
Farina would leave the world of motoring against the world's best racing cars and drivers and would be resigned to the world of production cars and common-folk motoring. Amazingly, this would prove to be the toughest competition he would ever face.
On the track, Farina was both hated and respected at the same time. Though ruthless with others on the track with him, Farina would be just as tough on himself. Experience more than his fair share of accidents, Giuseppe always managed to emerge with his life intact, while others would not be so fortunate.
Fangio would say the Virgin Mary protected Farina all throughout his career.
And, speaking of the Bible, in there God says, 'Do not take revenge…It is mine to avenge.' Many would come to question Farina's tactics when he raced. He seemed not at all concerned about life, not his own nor of his fellow competitor. Perhaps that first accident all the way back in 1933 still threatened and scared him. And the only way he could overcome was by being as ruthless back, taking things into his own hands, and thereby, exacting some sort of revenge. God's grace would see him through all those years on the track. However, he would never believe his racing career to be over.
Despite being a decade removed from his last race, Farina would try and traverse some winding roads in the Alps as he made his way to watch the 1966 French Grand Prix. However, he would lose control of the car and would plow head-first into a pole near the French town of Chambery. But, unlike all those accidents in year's past, Farina would not emerge hurt, but not broken. In fact, Farina would not emerge at all. His time had finally come and his death would come by his own hand.
It would be a terrible, and yet, not all that surprising moment for many. Perhaps the only surprise would be the fact that it would be a decade after leaving motor racing, when he had settled down and focused on his Alfa Romeo and Jaguar dealerships, that it would happen. Unfortunately, the only other surprise would be the fact there certainly would be some of those that would have something of a grin on their faces when the tragedy did take place. And in those cases, perhaps Farina did have some vengeance exacted upon himself.
But despite any and all of the feelings toward the man, the truth would be undeniable—Farina would have to be considered amongst one of the greats of Formula One. Though he came close to barely being remembered, he would still come through as the first Formula One World Champion and would be so as the oldest at that time.
Though a number of his achievements would be eclipsed, there would still be a number of achievements that would be impossible to ignore. One of those would be the fact he would still hold the record for the oldest driver to score a pole in a World Championship race. He would be among those on a list for most wins in their first championship season and he would have one of the highest percentages of podium finishes. He would end his career with 5 World Championship victories, set 5 fastest laps, scored a total of 127 points and would have one of the highest percentages of race finishes in the points.
Farina's victories in sportscar races would only confirm that he was truly an all-around racer and his drive, determination and longevity would be the envy of a number of drivers all throughout history.
Though eclipsed in just about every way by his Alfa Romeo teammate, Giuseppe Farina still holds the honor of being the first World Champion. And to those who would question his abilities, achievements and tactics as a driver, they just might find themselves being stiff-armed just like those unfortunate back-markers.