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The first F1 victory

23 maggio 2019

"In 1951, when José Froilan Gonzalez beat the 159 and the entire Alfa Romeo team behind the wheel of a Ferrari for the first time in the history of our direct encounters, I cried with joy, but tears of excitement were also mixed with tears of pain because on that day I thought: I have killed my mother." Thus wrote Enzo Ferrari in his book Ferrari80. In this instance, the mother he was referring to was Alfa Romeo, for whom he had been a test driver and driver, as well as head of the racing department. Gonzalez had defeated Juan Manuel Fangio and Giuseppe Farina in their Alfa Romeos –  the duo had hitherto proved unbeatable in Formula 1– and the long-awaited success enabled Enzo Ferrari to relive his past.

The 14th of July 1951 was a Saturday at Silverstone, in Great Britain. Starting from pole position, Gonzales got the better of his compatriot Fangio, crossing the finish line with a 50-second advantage. A dual battle between men and machines: an Argentinian and an Italian fighting for first place over a distance of more than 400 kilometres. Ninety laps, completed in 2 hours, 42 minutes and 18 seconds by the winner –crazy distances, if we consider now how spartan the cars of the time were, and how exhausting to drive. It was a hard-fought race, with overtakes aplenty, and Gonzalez's victory also owed a little to the gentlemanly conduct of team leader Alberto Ascari, who refused the offer to use his teammate's car – something that was permitted by the regulations – having been forced to retire due to a gearbox failure. The Ferrari 375 had the advantage of consuming less fuel than the Alfa Romeo, and as such, needed fewer stops, and could refuel in less time than its rivals.

On his return to the track, Gonzalez was able to put on a burst of speed, gaining a good lead over Fangio and crossing the line first at the former RAF airfield. Third place went to the other Ferrari 375, driven by Gigi Villoresi. José Froilan Gonzalez was nicknamed 'El Cabezon' due to the size of his head, which swung to and fro at every turn, although a fellow Argentine also referred to him 'The Pampas Bull' because of his aggressive style. His driving position was unusual, with his elbows wide, almost outside the cockpit, his hands on the upper part of the steering wheel and his torso following the twists and turns of the route, almost as if he was stretching out to accompany his car through the sinuous curves of the track. He was a man who never gave up, which is precisely why Enzo Ferrari liked him.