Teams1953 German Grand Prix: Farina's Curtain Call By Jeremy McMullen
On the 28th of October, 1951 a very poignant moment in Formula One would unfold. Alfa Romeo would take its 159 Alfetta, a car more than a decade old and stretched to its absolute limits, to victory in what would be Alfa's last race in Formula One. Equally aged, and now on his way out as well, would be the driver that would quietly drive to a 3rd place finish. Like the car, it seemed Giuseppe Farina had been stretched thin and would never reach the top step of the podium ever again. But, while the 158/159 Alfetta had out-lived its usefulness and raced its last mile in a grand prix, Giuseppe Farina would have one last memorable performance to act out before he would begin his grand exit. Fittingly, it would come at one of the most hellish circuits in all the world.
In the inaugural Formula One season, the Alfa Romeo 158 Alfettas would be absolutely dominant. Despite being thirsty animals, no other car could touch the horsepower the 158 was able to develop. However, by the halfway mark of the 1951 season, Ferrari's new 375 had made considerable progress and boasted of horsepower very similar to the 159 while not chugging the fuel at the same rate. This would lead to a string of three-straight victories for Scuderia Ferrari kicked off by Jose Froilan Gonzalez's surprise dominance at the British Grand Prix.
But then there would be the Spanish Grand Prix. The Alfa Romeo 159s were truly out-classed in practice by Ascari, but an often overlooked issue would rear its head during the race that would enable one last glimpse of the former dominance the 158/159's enjoyed.
Incredible heat would begin to wreak havoc amongst the Ferraris, which had started the race on smaller tires. The smaller wheels were unable to expel the heat like the larger wheels on the Alfa Romeo and, as a result, the Ferrari tires began to throw their tread. Ferrari would try numerous options to rectify the problem and save the championship hopes of Alberto Ascari but Juan Manuel Fangio would suffer no such problems and would disappear into the distance reminiscent of the 158/159's glory days of the 1940s.
But while Fangio would be taking everyone on a strip down memory lane, Farina would be hanging on for dear life to avoid going a lap down in the same type of car. Alfa Romeo would realize that to make the necessary changes to the 159 to maintain competitiveness would be about the same as designing and building a car from the ground up. It was not feasible anymore. And given Farina's languishing performance while Fangio motored on to his first World Championship, it seemed that Farina's age would make it rather impossible for him to maintain a competitive form in the years ahead.
The announcement of Alfa Romeo's departure from Formula One following the victory at the Spanish Grand Prix would leave race organizers in a panic. Costs were already beginning to sky-rocket. And the only thing really keeping things at bay was the growing rivalry between Alfa Romeo and Scuderia Ferrari. And now, one of those players would be gone. With ascending costs and no competition, the World Championship could have been a two-year fad that faded into motor racing memory.
An alternative formula would need to be found to ensure the existence of Formula One well into the future. But while the debate would just begin about what exactly that would be, the decision would be made to run the World Championship according to Formula 2 regulations for the 1952 and 1953 seasons. And, despite being 45 years of age at the time, Giuseppe Farina would find a drive with Scuderia Ferrari. What he would actually find is worst, and best, case scenario.
The switch to Formula 2 regulations would seemingly benefit the numerous privateer and small manufacturers throughout Europe, but it would be Ferrari that would be in the best position at the start of the season.
Ferrari had been developing a new car, the 625, using a new in-line four-cylinder engine developed by Aurelio Lampredi. The decision to switch to Formula 2 regulations, which meant engines with a maximum capacity of 2.0-liters, would not really affect Ferrari as the engine dimensions would remain the same. It would be just the cylinder capacity that would be lowered to meet the regulations.
Not having to make drastic changes to comply with the Formula 2 regulations, Ferrari would enter the 1952 season with what was essentially a Formula One car, just with a Formula 2 engine. On top of that, most of the competition would be utilizing designs more than a couple of years old, or, that were new and underdeveloped because of lacking resources. Having the resources Ferrari had at its disposal, the 500 F2, as it would be known, would make its debut at the Modena Grand Prix in late September of 1951.
Having plenty of time to test and adjust the car for the upcoming season, Scuderia Ferrari looked to be the dominant team in the World Championship. It was just a matter of just how dominant the team would be.
This would give new life to Giuseppe Farina's career as he would have a real potent challenge at his control, ready to do his bidding. However, Farina would soon come to find that his career was not getting the second or third wind he may have thought. There was trouble ahead. He just didn't know it just yet.
Farina would join Piero Taruffi and Luigi Villoresi at Ferrari. Taruffi was a solid performer, but not the champion Farina was. The same could be said of Villoresi, although he was certainly more of threat to Farina as he was a very talented racing driver that had earned his fair share of victories. Less of a known quantity would be Villoresi's pupil, Alberto Ascari. Ascari would emerge on the scene during the late-1940s and would earn a number of victories. Of course, he would prove to be Fangio's greatest threat in 1951, almost snatching the World Championship away from the Argentinean. So it was clear Ascari had the talent, but he also had the car. And given that he would now be on equal-footing with Ascari, given that they would be driving the same type of car, Farina had reason to believe his signing at Ferrari was something more than to be the number two driver to Ascari.
The first round of the 1952 World Championship would only further bolster Farina's notion of being a number one driver with the team when Ascari wouldn't even make the trip to the Swiss Grand Prix. Instead, he would be on a longer journey to the United States in an attempt to take part in the Indianapolis 500, which was a part of the World Championship at the time.
Giuseppe Farina would take the pole for the Swiss Grand Prix and would dominate until the 17th lap of the race when he would be forced to retire with a magneto failure. The victory would end up going to Piero Taruffi.
Out of no fault of his own, Farina would be forced to give up what certainly would have been a certain victory. It would certainly seem as though Farina was Ferrari's best driver, but Ascari wasn't around to make his claim. However, on the 8th of June, Farina would get his first taste of driving alongside of Ascari.
On the 8th of June, Farina would be busy preparing to take part in the 5th Gran Premio dell'Autodromo di Monza. The race would be most remembered for the terrible accident Juan Manuel Fangio would suffer just 2 laps into the race when he nearly lost his life. What wouldn't be quickly recalled would be the fact that Ascari absolutely dominated Farina during the first heat race. Still, Farina would come out on top when Ascari's Ferrari failed in the second.
Undoubtedly the pace of Ascari attracted Farina's attention. But, the fact that Farina prevailed would have encouraged the doctor concerning his role with the team. All that would begin to change at the very next race.
At the Belgian Grand Prix on the 22nd of June, Ascari would be untouchable in practice setting a pole time three seconds faster than Farina. Then, during the race, Ascari would be just as formidable, even with the presence of rain. In the end, Ascari would go on to score the victory finishing nearly two minutes ahead of Farina.
This would be just the beginning of a period of dominance for Ascari and Ferrari. By the end of the 1952 season, Ascari would win six-straight World Championship victories. Farina would be impressive as well finishing 2nd to Ascari four times and finishing 2nd in the final championship standings. But, it was clear who the number one driver at Scuderia Ferrari actually was, and this would not sit well with Farina.
Throughout the 1952 season, Farina would find his role as the number two driver very difficult to take. Known to be bitter and ruthless on the circuit, and a gentleman off, Farina would find it more difficult to keep the separation between the two. He truly had been on the downward trend of his racing career for a while, but had been masked from the fact driving the best cars at the right time. Competitive to a fault, Farina was coming to face-to-face with his own limitations and change, and he would prove utterly incapable of handling it with his numerous run-ins with Enzo Ferrari. The reality was simple and obvious: Ascari was so dominant that Farina didn't know how to handle it as it was destroying any ideas he had about himself and his abilities.
Throughout his career, whenever Farina had felt threatened to prove himself he would usually become all the more cold and brutal on the track. The sheer level of coldness to which he would go would never be more clear and obvious than at the first round of the 1953 World Championship.
Though called the World Championship, the only race, prior to 1953, that counted toward the World Championship that wasn't based in Europe was the Indianapolis 500. However, in 1953 the World Championship would include the Argentine Grand Prix, and therefore, would become a true 'world' championship.
President Peron was so desirous to host a World Championship race to help his image for the future of Argentina that he would practically make the event free for the public. This was both good and bad. The good part was that there was an incredible throng of spectators present for the World Championship race. The bad part was that there was literally no crowd control and the immense crowd would line the circuit almost like a rally stage. This was a recipe for disaster.
On the 30th lap of the race, a young boy would wander onto the circuit right in front of Farina. The corner was a fast corner and Farina had already committed to the corner when the boy suddenly appeared. Farina would swerve to miss the boy but would end up plowing into the crowd lining the circuit. Some 7 people would be killed right away; many more would be seriously hurt.
To many people, this tragic event would greatly alter their career. Ultimately, Farina would be unemotional about the whole thing and would even go so far as placing the blame on the people for having been in that spot in the first place. There certainly was some truth to the fact, but the clear lack of warmth, of remorse, would certainly be telling of where Farina was mentally at the start of the 1953 season.
Therefore, it would be like needles underneath the fingernails when Ascari went on to score victories in the first three races, and four out of the first five. What would make matters worse would be the fact that a young Mike Hawthorn would prove to be the only other driver to reach the top step over the course of a stretch of eleven races dating back to the season prior.
It was a little too obvious that Ascari, and others, were now faster than Farina. And Farina would finally come to realize and accept this as well. The change with Farina would show up in his driving. Ruthless and brutal with both back-markers and his own car, Farina would focus more on steady, consistent driving and letting races come to him. This would best exhibit itself at the end of July in a race in which he partnered with Mike Hawthorn.
On the 26th of July, Farina would partner with Mike Hawthorn driving a Ferrari 375 MM in the Spa 24 Hours. In that race, the two Ferrari drivers would start from the pole and would go on to score an incredibly-dominant victory enjoying an 18 lap margin over the Ecurie Ecosse Jaguar finishing in 2nd place.
This race would seem to be a turning point in Farina's season and career. The 24 Hour race required the Italian to use his experience to carry the car on through to victory. And when it worked, and worked well, it would seem to be the encounter Farina needed to help him understand how he would best prolong his racing career.
The presence of drivers like Ascari and Hawthorn would force Farina into the realization that he was no longer the faster driver out there on the circuit. This would be important in that he could no longer push a car to the absolute breaking point and get away with it because he was indispensable. He wasn't anymore. Therefore, if he wanted to prolong his racing career, he would need to change his approach and tactics during a race. He needed to switch from being the hard-charger to being the smarter, methodical driver that let races come to him. And the location for the next race in which he would get to put this approach into practice could not have been a better, for the next venue wasn't so much a place that could be beaten. A victory at this circuit occurred, not by beating it, but by out-lasting it.
On the 2nd of August, the infamous Nurburgring would be set to host the 16th Grosser Preis von Deutschland. And at 14 miles in length, the Nordschleife was as much a gauntlet as it was a racing circuit. And as such, it was a venue that required as much brain as brawn.
Conceived and built during the 1925s, the Nurburgring was an apparent approach to safer motor racing after a number of accidents on public road courses around the Eifel mountains left many drivers dead. But though it would be a closed road course, the builders of the Nurburgring's Nordschleife would just manage to contain the dangers.
Measuring a little more than 14 miles in length, the circuit was an epic journey each and every lap and tested one's mind and focus as much as raw talent. With more than 170 corners and numerous elevation changes offering blind entries into corners, the driver that lost focus and couldn't remember where he or she truly was likely would pay for the error. Therefore, the circuit wasn't one of those tracks that drivers dominated. Drivers respected the Nurburgring and became successful by out-lasting it.
The Nurburgring was also a site of some bitter memories for Giuseppe Farina. The year before, he had been leading late into the race. Alberto Ascari had suffered from an oil leak and spent a lot of time in the pits as the crew set about feverishly trying to rectify the situation. This handed a seemingly secure lead over to Farina. Believing to be well and truly on his way to yet another World Championship victory, Farina would fail to realize that Ascari had returned to the circuit and was rapidly gaining ground on him. By the time he would realize this fact it would be too late. Ascari would come past to re-take the lead and Farina would be left wondering what just happened.
And so, there was a score to settle for Farina at the German Grand Prix, but the Nurburgring wasn't a place one got even. Farina would have to be smarter than that. He would have to out-last everyone and wait for the race to come to him.
During practice, Farina wouldn't look like he was waiting for anything. In a short amount of time he would be on the pace and would be amongst the fastest around the circuit. But he would not be the fastest.
Alberto Ascari would be quickest around the circuit posting a qualifying time of 9:59.8. This time would be nearly four seconds quicker than Fangio's time in a Maserati and would be 4.3 seconds faster than Farina's best effort in his Ferrari. Mike Hawthorn's best around the circuit would be almost 13 seconds off the pace but would still be good enough to complete the front row giving Ferrari three cars all along the front of the field.
Farina had pushed hard during practice and would end up only a few seconds down after 14 miles. This wouldn't be terrible, but compared to Ascari, it would be quite telling. It was clear Farina could not match the out-right pace of Ascari, but there was still a lot of hope for the elder Ferrari pilot.
Given the nature of the circuit, coming from the Spa 24 Hour race to the Nurburgring would certainly be something of an advantage as it would teach patience, which is certainly something a driver needs around such a circuit. Going all-out every lap around the circuit was always a risky endeavor. Being on the absolute edge over such a long course with so many corners to memorize and learn would leave very little room for error, or lapses in memory. And so, approaching the race with an endurance mindset could actually pay huge dividends in the end.
The day of the race would be sunny and dry, the type of conditions every driver hopes for at such a demanding a dangerous circuit. The cars would be pushed out onto the circuit and would be rolled toward their grid positions in the lead up to the 2pm start time. 18 laps, or 255 miles, awaited the field of 34 cars. As usual, a huge crowd assemble, more than 100,000, around the circuit preparing to watch the best in the world battle it out on one of the most famous and formidable circuits in all the world.
The cars were lined up, pointing toward the Sudkehre, just the beginning of a 14 mile epic journey. The drivers slid in behind the wheels of their cars and prepared for a long day of racing. The engines would come to life and the roar would fill the air. And just as the roared reached its zenith, the flag would drop to start the race.
As the cars peeled away from the grid, Farina would get a poor start off the line. Fangio, on the other hand, would make a great start and would take over the lead of the race heading into the first turn. Following Fangio would be Ascari and Mike Hawthorn in 3rd place. But even though it would be Fangio that would lead through the first turn, it wouldn't be too long before Ascari's sheer pace would lead him by the Argentinean into the lead. Over the course of the first lap things would also improve for Farina. Recovering from a poor start, Farina would quickly get under control and up to speed. And so, at the end of the first lap, it would be Ascari leading the way with Fangio in 2nd place and Hawthorn in 3rd. Farina would recover and would find himself riding in 4th place comfortably lapping the circuit just waiting for events to bring the race to him. Two cars would not even complete a single lap of the circuit before trouble would end their day.
Hawthorn, however, would have no such problems early on and would be on the move. By the 2nd lap of the race he would make his way past Fangio to move into 2nd place. Ascari would still hold onto the lead and Farina would remain steady in 4th place. At the end of the first lap it was Ferrari running 1st, 2nd and 4th. A number of other competitors would fall out at the same time including Roy Salvadori, Maurice Trintignant.
A couple of the German drivers driving underpowered Formula 2 entries would fall out over the next couple of laps. But, it would still be Ascari soldiering on in the lead, but with Hawthorn quickly gaining ground. Farina, however, would remain content back in 4th place.
Ascari would continue to lap the circuit with lap times right around ten minutes and four seconds, but then, it would become clear he had some sort of problem. About the 6th lap of the race, Ascari's Ferrari would lose a front wheel while at speed. Amazingly, though it would slow him down, it would not prevent him from being able to crawl back to the pits to have the suspension looked over and the tire replaced. Still, this would be a costly affair, time wise, and Ascari would lose a number of positions in the process.
Upon learning of Ascari's issues, Farina, no doubt, had memories of the year before, and therefore, would set about taking hold of his opportunity for victory. It would not be an easy task, however. Hawthorn was now in the lead and Fangio would be between Farina and Hawthorn out on the circuit. But what would happen next would be nothing short of amazing.
Everyone aware that Ascari was stuck in the pits with some kind of problem, the pace would pick up almost immediately. Not only did the front-runners realize this was the opportunity they were looking for, but also, if Ascari did get back into the race, they knew all too well that he would be pushing like mad to get back what he lost.
The competition, at the front, would be tight. Fangio would not be all that far behind Hawthorn, and Farina would realize it was his chance as well. He would push and push and would soon find himself right behind Fangio coming by the pits. Heading into the Sudkehre, Farina would make his move and would take away the position from Fangio. Now, Hawthorn was only about a second or so ahead of Farina—his opportunity had come.
Farina would push even harder putting considerable pressure on the inexperienced Briton in the lead. It would work. Setting the fastest lap of the race at that time, Farina would take over the lead of the race from Hawthorn. But he knew he couldn't relax, not with Ascari back in the race.
Farina couldn't relax as Ascari would be on an absolute mission when he returned to the circuit. With each passing lap he would increase his pace and would regain lost positions. Within just a couple of laps he would recover from 9th to be running in the 5th position. It seemed at the pace he was running at the time he could not be stopped yet again.
Farina would still be holding onto the lead. Fangio would take over 2nd place about the same time that Farina would move past into the lead. Therefore, it was Ferrari-Maserati-Ferrari in the top three. But the fastest Ferrari of them all would be now in 4th place and would be going like a bat out of hell.
Climbing back up the order, Ascari would soon find his car smoking. This would certainly spell disaster if he kept trying to push the car. He needed a new car, and his mentor Luigi Villoresi would be the one to provide it. On the 10th lap of the race, Ascari would take over Villoresi's car. He would lose half a lap in the process but would have somewhat fresh legs underneath him. He would set out on one of the most impressive drives in the young history of the World Championship.
On the 12th lap of the race Ascari would pull out all the stops and would post an incredible lap time of 9:56.0. This was nearly four seconds faster than his own qualifying effort and was faster than the times set by the Formula One cars of a couple of years prior. Ascari was flying. The pressure was on.
By the 12th lap of the race some 15 cars would be out of the running. Of the German entries in the race, there would only be a couple still remaining, and they would be well down in the running order. But there were a number of other more well known names out of the race as well. Prince Bira, Jean Behra, Johnny Claes and Onofre Marimon would all be amongst those on the list having retired from the race. But in a show of experience and patience, Farina would be out front of the field showing absolutely no signs of any kind of problem. He was driving fast, but well within himself.
Ascari, on the other hand, was experiencing an out of body moment as he continued to post some incredible lap times. Still, such a pace would beg the question, 'Could the car handle it?' The answer would come with just 3 laps remaining. To the cheers of the crowd, Ascari would pull into the pits with an exhausted prancing horse. He had run the legs off the car and it had no more to give. There would be no surprise pulled on Farina this time.
Fangio would give chase but would be slowed by no fault of his own. A crack in one of his exhaust pipes was causing him to breathe in the toxic fumes and he was suffering as a result. Still, he would carry on the best he could in an attempt to come across the line ahead of Mike Hawthorn.
There would be no surprises this time, except for the fact that it was the elder-statesman of grand prix racing taking the victory. A little more than three hours and two minutes after the drop of the flag, the doctor would come cruising across the line to take the checkered flag and victory. It had been a tremendous performance. He had out-lasted everyone, even the circuit, and would come away with a well-earned victory. Farina had changed his approach, his mindset, and it would see him rise to the top once again.
The performance would be a dominant one. Fangio would hold on to finish the race in 2nd place coming across the line a minute and 4 seconds behind. Nearly 40 seconds later, Hawthorn would come through to finish in 3rd.
The victory by Farina would be no small achievement. Turning 47 at the end of the year, Farina's victory would make him, at least at that time, the oldest to earn a grand prix victory. In addition, the success would give life to a grand prix career seemingly coming to an end. He had proven he had not out-lived his usefulness, at least not yet. But, the 1953 German Grand Prix would be the 5th, and last, victory for the man from Turin. And so, on one of the most hellish circuits in the world one of the most formidable competitors during the early days of the World Championship would take one last curtain call.