Chapter Two


1950 to 1959


Gradually, following WWII, more and more races were organised. Scattered mostly throughout Europe and ranging from proper, national Grands Prix to much less important races, and from quick sprints to 300 mile marathons. The teams and drivers competed somewhat randomly wherever they considered their best chances of victory were, and/or where the best starting money was being offered. It didn’t take long before there was a move to bring together all the best teams and drivers and get them to compete in the best races. To this end a world championship for the drivers was arranged by the world governing body of motor sport, then called the Commission Sportive Internationale (CSI), the sporting subsidiary of the Federation Internationale l’Automobile (FIA). It was run to the Formula 1 rules of the time, 1.5 litres supercharged engine capacity, 4.5 litres unsupercharged, and races run to a minimum of 300kms (186.41 miles) or 3 hours, whichever was reached first. The Championship would be over just seven races throughout the year, six in Europe (British, Monaco, Swiss, Belgian, French and Italian) and one at Indianapolis where the 500 mile race was already well established, albeit to a separate formula. The American race was included to try and persuade some cross-over between the continents, and maybe to encourage the United States to adopt the “European Way”. Points would be awarded to the first 5 places on a sliding scale of 8 for 1st, 6 for 2nd, 4 for 3rd, 3 for 4th and 2 for 5th with an extra point for fastest lap.

Alfa Romeo dominated the 1950 season with their supercharged Type 158 and their three main drivers: Giuseppe Farina, Juan-Manuel Fangio and Luigi Faglioli who finished the year in that order.





1950/Alfa Romeo 158/Farina/Silverstone






As there were no rules about having to contest every race and there were still a lot of races that did not count towards the championship, the organising body decided that only the best four results would count. For example, Fagioli scored 28 points in total (4 x 2nd place), one more than Fangio, but had to drop his points for his 3rd place at Monza, leaving him with 24 points and third place in the championship. Their closest rival by season’s end was Louis Rosier in the Talbot-Lago.






1950/Talbot-Lago T26C/Rosier/Spa






Alberto Ascari (5th in the Championship) struggled a bit in the Ferrari 125 and the 375, only participating in five of the seven championship races.





1950/Ferrari 125/Ascari/Swiss GP







It took a while before the Championship idea really caught on and there were often grids with only around 15 cars on them. Gradually more races were added to the championship list.  In 1951 there were 8 races counting towards the Championship as the German and Spanish GPs were added to the list and Monaco was dropped.  Alfa Romeo upgraded the 158 to the 159 and Fangio won the first of his five World Championships on the way to winning 24 out of the 51 championship races he started!


Description: 1952 ferrari 500 f2 ascari belgium




1951/Alfa Romeo 159/Fangio/French GP/Reims






Ascari was runner up in the Ferrari 375 and José Froilán Gonzáles came third also in a Ferrari.






1951/Ferrari 375/Gonzáles






Formula 1 went into decline after Alfa Romeo withdrew from racing at the end of the 1951 season and as Ferrari were the only real contender, the World Championship race organisers ran their races for Formula 2 cars running 2 litre unsupercharged engines.

Of the three famous Alfa drivers Fangio moved to Maserati but following injury didn’t contest any World Championship races, Fagioli walked away from the Championship after being forced to hand over his car to Fangio in the 1951 French GP, and Farina joined Ferrari, whose drivers – Ascari, Farina, Piero Taruffi and Rudi Fischer - filled the top four places in the Championship.  In fact, apart from the Indianapolis 500 (where Ascari started 19th but retried after 40 laps while running 9th when a rear wheel bearing seized) Ferrari won every race with Ascari winning all six European races he started. There were still eight rounds as the Spanish GP was dropped in favour of the Dutch GP.





1952/Ferrari 500F2/Ascari/Spa






For 1953 the number of races went up to nine with the addition of the Argentine GP to the World Championship, but still only the best four results counted, and they were still running to Formula Two rules with, generally, the same cars.  There was still no serious interest in the Indianapolis “cross over” hoped for by the FIA at the time.  Ascari continued his run of victories, taking the first three European races and going on to win the Championship.  Fangio was back, still with Maserati and managed one win and a number of podium finishes to clinch second place.





1953/Maserati A6GCM/Fangio/Monza







For 1954 the FIA decided that the best 5 results should now count out of the nine rounds (the Dutch GP dropped in favour of bringing back the Spanish GP).  More importantly, the World Championship was back to Formula One rules as the FIA came with a new formula of 2.5 litre unsupercharged or 750cc supercharged engines (although nobody adopted supercharging under this formula).  At first these engines only produced around 260hp and although not particularly quick they were lapping faster than ever. Lighter cars with better brakes, acceleration, road-holding, etc. Where have we heard that before? Now the designers were producing better streamlining and the drivers were able to “drift” their cars around corners - a method of sliding the car in a long, controlled high-speed skid that left the driver able to leave the corner at higher speed for greater straight-line velocity; in many case over 180mph. 

Maserati came up with the 250F which Fangio drove for the first two races…



Description: 1954 maserati 250F fangio ar





1954/Maserati 250F/Fangio/Buenos Aires






while waiting for Mercedes to bring out the excellent W196 with which he went on to win his second Championship in both its open-wheel and streamlined versions.



1954/Mercedes-Benz W196/Fangio/Reims





Ferrari took the next three places with their 625 and 553 models in the hands of Gonzáles, Mike Hawthorn and Maurice Trintignant.





1954/Ferrari 625/Gonzáles/Silverstone








In 1955 they brought the Monaco and Dutch GPs back to the World Championship, and, with the dropping of the Spanish GP, had originally arranged for ten rounds.  The season opener in Argentina was a particularly hard race in very high temperatures (and is dealt with in detail elsewhere on this website), and the 2nd round at Monte Carlo was renowned for Ascari crashing his Lancia into the harbour.  A footnote to that incident is that Ascari went to Monza four days later to watch a Ferrari test and decided to have a go himself. Unfortunately he crashed again but this time he was killed.  Lancia were badly affected by this and withdrew from racing, selling their cars, a little ironically, to Ferrari.

Round three was the Indianapolis 500 during which leader Bill Vukovitch crashed and was killed on his way to a hat-trick of Indy 500 wins.  Following an uneventful Belgian GP there was a dreadful crash at the Le mans 24 hour race in which over 80 spectators were killed. This almost immediately led to motor racing bans in Switzerland, France, Germany and Spain.  The latter three said the ban would be lifted once track safety was improved, but in Switzerland it was banned for good and that still holds true today. The result of these bans was the cancellation of the French, German and, of course the Swiss GPs (there was no world Championship Spanish race that year anyway) leaving only seven races left.  While all this was going on Fangio went on to win the Championship with his new Teammate Stirling Moss right behind him. 





1955/Mercedes W196/Moss/Aintree






1956 saw the number of World Championship races move up to eight with the French and German races back but the Dutch dropped.  The Indianapolis 500 was still on the card as a World Championship race but apart from Ascari in 1952 there had been no serious cross-over from Europe until this year when Farina, having finished with F1 had a go with Bardahl-Ferrari special, but failed to qualify for various reasons. Back in Europe Mercedes had withdrawn at the end of ’55 as the Le Mans crash had an adverse effect on the company as a whole, so Moss moved to Maserati with the venerable 250F and Fangio to Ferrari who were using the Lancia D50 cars bought by Fiat when Lancia went bust at the end of 1955.  Fangio didn’t have the season all his own way but still managed to win his Fourth Championship with Moss only three points behind with only their best five results counting.


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1956/Lancia-Ferrari D50/Fangio/Spa






In 1957 there were still only the best five results from eight races counting towards the Championship with the Pescara GP replacing the Belgian race.  Stirling Moss finished his Maserati contract after the Argentine GP in January and arrived at the next round, Monaco, in May as a Vanwall driver in their VW5 model.  Tony Brooks, Moss’s teammate, came second showing the potential of the new model.  The car eventually won its first World Championship race in Moss’s hands at the British GP at Aintree after he’d taken over Brook’s car. But when Moss wasn’t winning Fangio was and it was the Argentine who clinched the title, his 5th and last.  The Pescara GP, also won by Moss, had been run since 1924 but the 1957 race was a one-off World Championship round. It was a 16 miles triangular circuit through public roads on the coast north east of Rome, bordered by trees, houses, factories, lamp posts, banks, ditches and shops.





1957/Vanwall VW5/Moss/Pescara







1957 also saw the last serious attempt at the Indianapolis 500 by Giuseppe Farina when he entered a ubiquitous Kurtis Kraft 500G under his own name.  However, his teammate, Keith Andrews crashed the car in testing with the outcome that Andrews was killed and Farina had no car.


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Example of a 1957 Kurtis Kraft 500G as raced at Indianapolis







From 1958 races were to be run between 300 and 500 kms (186.41 to 310.68 miles) and be of at least 2 hours duration. Lap records were being broken all over Europe and the FIA introduced another new formula to try and curb speeds. This time they banned the use of methanol and nitro-methane (a “rocket fuel” that could release its own oxygen and had the effect of supercharging while simultaneously cooling the extremely hot engine valves). Now only high-octane petrol (rating 130) could be used. It had the desired effect for a while, but soon the cars were back up to speed!  The Belgian and Dutch GPs returned to World Championship status, and with Portugal and Morocco joining the fold the FIA declared the best 6 scores out of the 11 races would count.  After Ferrari’s poor 801 model of 1957 (really a development of the old Lancia-Ferrari D50) they came up with the Dino 246, a much better prospect and one in which Mike Hawthorn, who had won his first World Championship event for Ferrari as far back as 1953, was able to triumph, despite only winning one race, but coming 2nd five times, while Moss won four and finished 2nd only once, leaving him second in the Championship, while Tone Brooks, also in a Vanwall won three races.  Moss was generally accepted as the quicker driver and had been one of the main influences in Fangio’s decision to retire from full-time racing.

Description: 1958 ferrai dino246 hawthorn reims




1958/Ferrari Dino246/Hawthorn/Reims







In 1959 the FIA went back down to the best 5 results from only 9 races in the championship.  Belgium was dropped again, as was Argentina and Morocco, but there was now a proper United States GP being held at the end of the year at Sebring, as opposed to the Indianapolis 500 being run in May under different rules.  Vanwall had decided to withdraw from racing over the winter and maybe they had inside information about Cooper and decided there was no point any more!  Although The Cooper Car Company had been dabbling in Grand Prix racing since 1953 it wasn’t until 1957 before people took any notice of the little rear-engined cars when Jack Brabham took sixth in Monaco with a F2 Cooper-Climax T43. The following year the team started to show the future was rear-engined with some good results including Roy Salvadori coming 2nd and Maurice Trintignant coming 3rd at the Nurburgring in T45’s. Eight T51’s and one T45 turned up for the opening round of the 1959 season at Monaco in both team and private hands, and when Moss took Pole and Jack Brabham won in T51’s it was pretty clear to everyone that the rear-engine revolution was now well under way.  Despite a valiant effort from Tony Brooks in the now-outdated Ferrari Dino246 Brabham went on to win the Championship quite convincingly.


Description: 1959 cooper t51 brabham monaco



1959/Cooper T51/Brabham/Monte Carlo






Next: Part 3, 1960 to 1969


Ian Bushnell


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