Teams1950 Italian Grand Prix: A Misfortunate Fortune By Jeremy McMullen
The outbreak of World War II had seemingly stolen away the best years of Giuseppe Farina's racing career. And now, heading into the Italian Grand Prix during the inaugural season of the Formula One World Championship, it seemed the Drivers's Championship would be stolen away from Farina at the last gasp. But among the home crowd, in the last round of the World Championship, a misfortune for one would turn into an incredible fortune for another.
When motor racing resumed after the conclusion of the Second World War, Giuseppe Farina was already pushing 40 years of age. And with his only major grand prix win coming in the 1950 Tripoli Grand Prix, it seemed the best years of Farina's career had already passed him by.
However, the man from Turin, Italy would not give up. Ruthless and downright hated by some when on the circuit, Farina would use his fight to overcome his age and would continue his racing career in earnest while many of the pre-war players would find their legacies drawing to a close. Amazingly, by the late-1940s, it seemed as though Farina was experiencing a second chance. He would score a number of victories throughout this time and remained a strong presence on any grid.
Aided by victories in the 1948 Monaco Grand Prix and the 1949 Lausanne Grand Prix, Farina would re-sign with Alfa Romeo to drive alongside relative newcomer, Juan Manuel Fangio, in the new Formula One World Championship that was set to kick-off in 1950.
There had been championships before, but never a very well organized world championship. The circuits would be mostly familiar ones and the title of World Champion was not any more prestigious than some of the now non-championship races held throughout Europe. But still, it would be an opportunity for Farina, who certainly had his best years stolen from him because of the world war to claim some restitution by becoming the best driver in the world.
The number of non-championship races would far out-weigh the championship rounds, but at least the seven rounds of the new Formula One World Championship offered a little more money and prestige than some of the other, more local, events held throughout the continent.
The new World Championship would be Farina's opportunity to prove to the world that he was truly one of the best, if not the best driver in the world. This is something he never really had the opportunity to do because of the war. And therefore, he would need to jump all over the opportunity presented himself.
At the very first round of the inaugural World Championship, the British Grand Prix, Farina would do exactly that. Farina would set the fastest lap time in practice and would start on the pole. During the race, he and Fangio would duel for the lead throughout the first 40 laps. But over the course of the last 30, or so, it would be all Farina.
Fangio would drop out of the running with an oil leak and Luigi Fagioli would be rather content to follow Farina home to an Alfa Romeo one-two finish. Farina would take the victory with Fagioli finishing two and a half seconds behind in 2nd place. Reg Parnell, offered a one-time ride with Alfa Romeo, would complete the sweep of the podium.
The first blow would go to Farina. The second, however, would go to Fangio. A massive pile-up on the first lap of the race would eliminate no fewer than 9 competitors, one of them being Farina. From then on, Fangio would dominate the race. He would complete the 100 lap race winning by more than a lap over Alberto Ascari driving for Ferrari. More than two laps would be the gap back to Louis Chiron driving a Maserati.
The two main Alfa Romeo drivers had traded blows. But then, at the Swiss Grand Prix, Giuseppe Farina would barely hold off teammate Luigi Fagioli to take a second victory on the season. It certainly seemed as though the advantage had swung back into Farina's favor, especially when Fangio retired from the race with a blown engine.
But just when it seemed Farina had landed a solid blow that had caused Fangio's hopes to fade, Fangio would come storming right back and would land a combination of victory at the Belgian and French Grand Prix. Farina would be sent staggering. The man from Turin had re-signed with Alfa Romeo out of the belief that he was the leading driver in the team, and yet, here is this Argentinean challenging and clearly leading the fight for the newly established World Drivers' Championship. This would not sit well with the Italian that had left Alfa Romeo back in the mid-1940s over a team leadership dispute. The most unfortunate and irksome thing would be that there was more than a month in between rounds of the championship. While this would give Alfa Romeo plenty of time to prepare their cars for one fantastic fight, it would also give Farina too much time to sit and wait.
Farina wouldn't be able to find any solace at any of the non-championship races that took place in between the last couple of rounds of the Formula One World Championship. There had only been two editions of the Grand Prix des Nations held on the streets of Geneva, Switzerland. In both cases, Farina had prevailed. Therefore, it was more than likely the Italian was looking forward to the third installment of the race held on the 30th of July.
Instead, the race would only make matters worse. The Alfa Romeo contingent would be large. In all, Alfa would enter four cars for the race with Farina and Fangio driving two, the Swiss Baron de Graffenried driving another and Piero Taruffi taking up residence behind the wheel of the fourth.
The Alfas would be untouchable, but, it would not be Farina that would lead the way. A crash with just 7 laps remaining would ensure that Fangio would come away the victor. There really was no contest as Fangio would come across the line two laps ahead of de Graffenried in 2nd and Taruffi in 3rd.
The Grand Prix des Nations was meant to be a confidence-builder, a source of peace in an ever-frustrating period of waiting. Instead, the race would only add to Farina's frustrations and bitterness. Things wouldn't get any better either after he would learn that Fangio would again score victory in the Circuito di Pescara a few weeks later.
The Italian Grand Prix was rapidly approaching, the final opportunity for Farina to hold off his, in his eyes, up-start challenger for the championship. There would be just one more opportunity for Farina to gain some momentum heading into the 7th, and final, round of the World Championship. And it would come at a place where Farina had been successful earlier on in the year—Silverstone.
On the 26th of August, Silverstone was set to host the 2nd BRDC International Trophy race. Farina had taken victory at Silverstone earlier on in the year as the former bomber training base had hosted the British Grand Prix back in May, the first-ever round of the Formula One World Championship.
In that race, Fangio would suffer an oil leak and Farina would hold off Fagioli by about two and a half seconds to take the victory. Farina seemed to like Silverstone and had run a steady race to take the win. This then had the potential of building the momentum Farina would need heading into the final round of the World Championship.
It would help that Farina was listed in the first heat as the second would suffer a rain shower that slow the times in the second heat, whereas the first would take place under relative sunny conditions.
Conditions would be better in the final and would feature a great duel between Farina and Fangio. The two men would consistently trade the lead back and forth and would also trade and share the fastest lap times during the race. In the end, Farina would manage to hold off Fangio by four-tenths of a second to take the victory and increase his confidence and momentum before the Italian Grand Prix less than a couple of weeks away.
Immediately after the race at Silverstone, the Alfa Romeo team would pack up and would head back across the Channel to get to Italy. The Italian Grand Prix would take place on the 3rd of September and the team would need some time to make those final preparations before the race. Then the team would depart for the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza.
Seeing that it was the Italian Grand Prix, Alfa Romeo would come with a fleet of cars with the intent being to absolutely white-wash the competition. In all, Alfa would enter five of their 158 Alfettas. Giuseppe Farina and Juan Manuel Fangio would certainly be driving two. Luigi Fagioli would be behind the wheel of another. The final two entries would go to Piero Taruffi and Consalvo Sanesi.
As the cars took to the 3.91 mile circuit for practice, as usual, the weather would be absolutely perfect. The sun would be out and the circuit dry. It was clear it was going to be a fast race and the cars would be absolutely pushed to their limits over the course of the 80 lap race.
However, the teams would put all of its focus upon practice and fighting for grid positions. And, during practice, there would be a fight for the pole, but it would not be between the two usual suspects. Ferrari had been making progress with its program over the course of the season and at Monza, the team would enter their very competitive 375. As a result, a great battle would ensue between Alberto Ascari for Scuderia Ferrari and Juan Manuel Fangio for Alfa Romeo. At the end of practice, it would be Fangio that would have the pole, but just barely. Ascari would line up on the grid in 2nd place having posted a time just two-tenths of a second slower. And where was Farina?
Farina was right there as well, but at more than a second and a half slower, it seemed Farina wasn't even a part of the battle. Still, his lap time would be more than good enough to line up in the 3rd position along the four-wide front row. Consalvo Sanesi would make it three Alfas starting from the front row after he posted a time just two-tenths of a second slower than Farina.
Coming into the event, most all of the attention was between the two Alfa drivers and the fight for the championship. However, the presence of Albero Ascari would change the dynamic ever-so-slightly. Not merely would the two Alfa drivers have to worry about each other, but there would be the potential, with Ascari in the mix, to have the pace set by the Ferrari driver. And if Farina fell into the trap of fighting with Ascari, then the likelihood of an early retirement could snatch the World Drivers' Championship right out of his hand at the last moment.
As the cars were rolled out to their starting positions on the grid, Farina could already feel the title being pulled from his grasp. Surely he had to know that Fangio was no up-start that was fighting above his weight class. And now, with the Argentinean on the pole, the tension would be rather acute for the Italian.
Tens of thousands would be assembled around the circuit preparing for the 312 mile race to get underway. Farina knew that the only way he could control events in his favor was to lead from the very beginning. And so, as the flag dropped to start the race, Farina would make a fantastic start and would streak into the lead of the race with Alberto Ascari falling in behind in 2nd place. Fangio would make a poor start and would be a fair distance behind through the first couple of corners. Still, he would be right there in 3rd place. Fangio would be in no hurry like Farina, for all he needed to do was finish the race in a strong position and Farina would have the title taken from him and given to his apparent number two.
Farina would lead through the first 10 laps of the race while Fangio and Ascari battled for 2nd place. But then, it would be Farina that would come under fire from Ascari. The Scuderia Ferrari driver would take over the lead of the race and would put Farina in a very uncomfortable position as he needed to take the victory in order to keep his championship hopes alive. Therefore, Farina would have to fight back. This would put him in a dangerous position. And so, he would need to take over the lead and control the situation from the front of the field as soon as he could.
Farina would get something of a reprieve when, on the 21st lap of the race, Ascari's engine would let go bringing about the end of his challenge of Farina for the lead of the race. Still, Fangio was running well inside the top five, and still, on course to take the championship.
As was the case with most races at Monza, attrition would be high with twelve cars falling out of the race before the race even reached 25 laps. One of those to fall out of contention, surprisingly, would be Fangio. His gearbox would fail on his 158 leaving him without a car strong enough to contest with Farina. But Fangio wasn't about to give up that easy. He would take over Piero Taruffi's car and would begin his pursuit of Farina in an attempt to keep his championship hopes alive.
All of a sudden, due to attrition, roles would shift. Heading into the race, all of the pressure had been on Farina. He needed his car to work perfectly. He needed to make no mistakes. There were a lot of variables in play that could have taken the title, which had seemed to be his after the victory in the Swiss Grand Prix, away from him. However, by the 23rd lap of the Italian Grand Prix, the pressure had now shifted somewhat and was shared by both Farina and Fangio.
Fangio wouldn't go quietly. There was still a lot to fight for. Fangio would find himself way back of Farina. And though it may have appeared at the time as though he could not take the victory, all he really needed to do was to finish better than 4th place and the World Championship would be his. This meant there was still some pressure on Farina to go after the victory. Farina needed the victory or it was all over. But he knew he couldn't push so hard as to jeopardize reliability.
Farina would have a little breathing room, but when Fangio took over 2nd place, Farina would find a great deal of discomfort coursing through his body. Fangio appeared to not be going anywhere, and this place much more of the stress and pressure right back on Farina.
But just when it seemed like Fangio would overwhelm Farina, the Agentinean would be gone. Taking over Piero Taruffi's Alfa, Fangio had pushed and pushed to move the pressure back over on Farina, and, sitting in 2nd place, it certainly appeared as if he had done exactly that. However, in his effort to regain lost ground and put Farina under pressure, Taruffi's Alfa would be pushed a little too hard itself. And, on the 34th lap of the race, Fangio's hopes for a World Championship were beginning to slip through his fingers.
Even though Fangio was out of the race, Farina could not get too comfortable. He still needed to take the victory. And, with 45 laps still remaining, there was more than enough time for attrition to catch up to the Italian. Therefore, Farina would do his best to master the balance between speed and reliability.
80 laps of the Italian Grand Prix would exact a terrible toll on the field. Before the race would come to an end, 19 cars would be considered retired from the race. And, as Farina made his last couple of circulations of the track, there really were only two other cars still in the running. Thankfully for Farina, the other two would not be near enough to give him too much of a problem as he closed in on the victory and the championship.
The Second World War had seemingly stolen the best years of Giuseppe Farina's career. But as he rounded the last corner at Vedano for the final time, it would become immediately apparent that the first-ever Formula One World Championship would be one that would not be stolen from him. And, as he crossed the line a minute and 18 seconds ahead of Alberto Ascari in 2nd place, it would become apparent to Farina that he had achieved his greatest result.
It seemed as though the Second World War had prevented the man from Turin from gaining what he believed to be his rightful place amongst the best in the world. Instead, what would happen is that he would become forever remembered as the very first World Champion, a title that, by its very name, would inherently carry a bit more weight than the achievements of some of his pre-war peers.
Farina's perseverance and fight would be rewarded. His best years, it could be argued, would not be stolen. Instead, his true reputation, his true talents as a driver belonged to a later era. And because of his drive and unbending character, he would be rewarded with the accolades and titles he deserved.
Had his best years been truly stolen by the war, the world would not remember the name of Giuseppe Farina. But instead, his name will forever be listed as Formula One's first World Champion. Therefore, Farina had not missed out, as his driving style and reputation on the track would have suggested, he was time was yet to come. And the victory at the Italian Grand Prix would see what had seemingly been lost turn into something even better, something all the more special.