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Flashback: Britain ’51 - Gonzalez seals Ferrari’s first F1® win 25 Jun 2013

Froilan Gonzalez (Ferrari 375) on his way to a debut world championship victory for him and Ferrari. 1951 British Grand Prix, Silverstone. Race winner Jose Froilan Gonzalez (Ferrari) tries out Reg Parnell's BRM P15 for size. 1951 British Grand Prix, Silverstone. Giuseppe Farina (ITA) Alfa Romeo 159 No. 1, leads eventual race winner Froilan Gonzalez (ARG) Ferrari 375 No. 12 away at the start of the race. The win by Gonzalez was the first for Ferrari in a World Championship Grand Prix. Formula One World Championship, Rd5, British Grand Prix, Silverstone, England, 14 July 1951. Eventual race winner Jose Froilan Gonzalez (Ferrari) chases Alfa Romeo's Juan Manuel Fangio. 1951 British Grand Prix, Silverstone. Jose Froilan Gonzalez (Ferrari) makes a pit stop as team mate Alberto Ascari (retired) looks on. Gonzalez went on to claim his and Ferrari's first Grand Prix win. 1951 British Grand Prix, Silverstone. Alberto Ascari (Ferrari 375) leads Giuseppe Farina (Alfa Romeo 159). They would both retire with mechanical problems. 1951 British Grand Prix. Silverstone Jose Froilan Gonzalez (Ferrari) on his way to his and Ferrari's first Grand Prix win. 1951 British Grand Prix, Silverstone. Giuseppe Farina's stricken Alfa Romeo 159. He retired with a clutch problem. 1951 British Grand Prix. Silverstone Race winner Jose Froilan Gonzalez (Ferrari) crosses the finish line to claim Ferrari's first world championship victory. 1951 British Grand Prix, Silverstone. Race winner Jose Froilan Gonzalez (Ferrari) is embraced following his and Ferrari's first Grand Prix win. 1951 British Grand Prix, Silverstone. Race winner Jose Froilan Gonzalez (Ferrari) on the podium. 1951 British Grand Prix, Silverstone. 1951 British Grand Prix programme

The Formula One world recently mourned the death of two-time Grand Prix winner Jose Froilan Gonzalez, who passed away in Buenos Aires aged 90.

Ahead of the 2013 Formula 1 Santander British Grand Prix, we pay tribute to the Argentinian racer by remembering his historic victory at Silverstone in 1951 - the very first of Ferrari’s record 221 Formula One world championship wins…


It was not for nothing that Jose Froilan Gonzalez was christened ‘The Pampus Bull’ by his British fans - not only did Gonzalez have a stocky frame, but he also possessed the kind of hunched-over-the-wheel, hard-charging driving style that thrilled spectators.

But whilst clearly a talented driver, the fact that Gonzalez arrived at Silverstone in July 1951 to race for the emerging Ferrari team was something of a surprise, not least to the man himself. After all, he’d only come to Europe a year earlier - on the coattails of friend and countryman Juan Manuel Fangio - and his two world championship outings that year in a privately-entered Maserati had both ended in retirement.

Nevertheless, impressive Formula Libre performances in his native Buenos Aires in 1951 had caught the eye of none other than Enzo Ferrari and when his team’s regular driver, Piero Taruffi, was taken ill, the man who’d come to be known as il Commendatore and was himself once an Alfa Romeo employee, turned to Gonzalez.

Gonzalez’s first race for the Scuderia was the French Grand Prix at Reims, and after briefly leading he pulled over and dutifully handed his 375 to team leader Alberto Ascari whose own car had given up the ghost. The Italian went on to finish second, but Gonzalez would ultimately earn something even more valuable: a Ferrari race contract - the stuff of dreams for the humble racer, even if the marque had yet to establish the aura that it has today.

They may not have entered round five of the 1951 season at Silverstone as race favourites, but it’s fair to say that Ferrari were closer to the performance of the dominant Alfa Romeo 159s than ever before. Whilst Alfa had stuck with their ultra-successful straight-eight 1.5-litre supercharged engines, Ferrari continued to develop their 4.5-litre normally-aspirated V12. It couldn’t match the Alfa for power, but what it lacked in grunt it more than made up for in fuel efficiency.

But even with Ferrari’s race hopes looking up, expectations on Gonzalez were low - he wasn’t even listed in the race programme such was the tardiness of his deal. The winner would surely come from one of the established stars who would line up on the grid with him - Fangio, Ascari or 1950 world champion Nino Farina.

Practice provided the first indication that the formbook might be turned upside down. Whilst his Alfa rivals slid their powerful cars around the Northamptonshire circuit’s fast bends, Gonzalez piloted his well-balanced 375 more comfortably around the track. Such was that comfort that he eventually lapped at an average of 100.5mph to qualify in first - a full second faster than the second-placed Alfa of Fangio - and take the first non-Alfa pole position in Formula One world championship history (Indianapolis 500 notwithstanding). Lining up with the Argentinian pair on a star-studded front row of four were Farina in third and Ascari in fourth in the ‘number one’ Ferrari.

An estimated 50,000 spectators made their way to the former RAF airfield on race day, the majority of them excited by the prospect of a titanic battle for victory, even if no Brits were likely to be involved.

“I was very tense, very anxious,” Gonzalez would say when talking about the pre-race atmosphere in his book, My Greatest Race. “ I had to rush to the toilet about five minutes before the start and I remember I was talking to myself all the time!”

“There were some people there from Argentina trying to calm me, but I couldn’t talk to them. I was thinking about nothing but this race and I didn’t even hear what they were saying. Of course, I didn’t speak English, so I didn’t understand anything else that was going on all round me. I seem to have been in a trance.”

At the start the front four were sprung by another Alfa driven by Felice Bonneto, but on the second lap Gonzalez surged back into the lead, with Fangio on his tail. Wise to the fact that Fangio’s thirsty Alfa engine would require an extra fuel stop, Gonzalez elected to let his countryman by rather than risk going off trying to stay ahead.

Lap by lap, Fangio edged a little further clear but Gonzalez gamely kept up the fight, physically wrestling his car around the track in such a way that the Alfa never got more than 15 seconds or so ahead.

On lap 39, as Farina and Ascari engaged in their own private battle for third a considerable way down the road, Gonzalez retook Fangio for the lead, much to the delight of the home fans. Fangio pitted for a full tank of fuel and new rear tyres ten laps later, but when Gonzalez made his stop 13 laps further on (with Ferrari worried he too might run out of fuel) it looked like his chance of a dream win was over. With Ascari by this stage having retired with gearbox problems, Gonzalez graciously offered his car to his team leader, despite his contract specifying that he wasn’t required to. Thankfully the Italian was having none of it and instead willed his team mate on.

Fangio’s longer-than-average pit stop to quench his Alfa’s thirst had left Gonzalez with a healthy lead and he was able to cruise to the chequered flag for a glorious win, etching his name not only onto the winner’s trophy but also into Ferrari folklore. Fangio came home second and Luigi Villoresi added to Ferrari’s joy by coming third, helped by Farina’s retirement.

As he slowed in front of the pits, Gonzalez was embraced by his overwhelmed mechanics. “It was very confusing, but very exciting,” he’d say of the experience.

“On the winner’s podium I was embraced warmly by Fangio. That meant a lot to me. Then they played the Argentine national anthem. I had never experienced anything like this before. When I saw my country’s flag being hoisted, it was just too much for me and I cried. That moment will live with me for ever.”

Gonzalez would go on to win another British Grand Prix and the Le Mans 24 Hours race (both in 1954), but it’s his mighty performance on that July weekend in 1951 for which he will forever be fondly remembered, not least by Ferrari fans.

“I only realised what winning this race really meant on the Wednesday after (the race), when I met Don Enzo at Maranello," Gonzalez said in 2011.

"In his office hung a big photo of the win right behind his desk! He asked me to sign it and describe the race down to the smallest detail and then he gave me a gold watch with the Prancing Horse on its face. Only three days later did I really understand that it was a special victory.”

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