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The year we won everything: 1952

Ferrari’s first World Championship came during a year when it swept aside all competition on the way to glory
Words – Gavin Green

It was the most dominant performance in World Championship history. Ferrari won every Grand Prix of that 1952 season. Alberto Ascari became Ferrari’s first World Champion, winning all but one GP – and he didn’t start that race (in Switzerland)No matter, Ferrari won it anyway, courtesy of Ascari’s teammate, fellow Italian Piero Taruffi. 


Although the most one-sided World Championship of all, the 1952 season had one of the biggest and most varied entry lists. This is partly because it was held to Formula 2, not Formula 1, regulations.  


Piero Taruffi won the only Grand Prix that fellow Italian Alberto Ascari didn't in 1952

In 1951, two teams dominated GP racing – Ferrari and Alfa Romeo. Alfa withdrew after winning that year’s title. Fearing total Ferrari domination, the organisers decided the 1952 and 1953 championships would be held to Formula 2 rules.  


These were smaller, less powerful cars, with engine capacity limited to 2.0-litres. The lower costs would encourage more teams to enter. Ferrari complained but quietly got on with developing a new car.  


The Tipo 500, arguably the most dominant car in GP history, used a 180 hp four-cylinder engine that was both powerful and reliable. The engine was sited behind the front axle, this front-mid-engine layout improving weight distribution and handling balance. 

1952 World Champion Alberto Ascari chats to the great Enzo Ferrari at trackside

These days, there is no motor racing in Switzerland, banned after the 1955 Le Mans disaster when 83 spectators were killed by a car that somersaulted into the crowd. In 1952, the Swiss GP opened the calendar. Ferrari team leader Ascari was absent in America, preparing for the rich and prestigious Indianapolis 500 in a Ferrari specially developed for the race on the high-speed banked oval.  


The 375 Indianapolis was based on the previous year’s F1 car and used the same 4.4-litre V12. Power was increased from 350 to 380 hp, and the wheelbase and chassis lengthened. Ascari retired when one of the rear F1 wire-spoke wheels broke, sending him into the infield (the locals all used sturdier magnesium rims). It was the Scuderia’s first, and last, entry at Indianapolis. 


There was another reason Ascari crossed the Atlantic. From 1950-60 the Indianapolis 500 was officially a round of the World Championship, no matter that it was run to different regulations, featured different cars, was invariably contested by different (US-based) drivers and was not a ‘Grand Prix’. This bizarre situation changed when the US Grand Prix became established. 

Alberto Ascari smiles proudly following his victory at Indianapolis in 1952 

Meanwhile, back at the Bremgarten circuit in Switzerland, Taruffi led a Ferrari 1-2 to give the Tipo 500 its first GP win.There was another 1-2 at the next round at Spa in Belgium, Ascari beating teammate Nino Farina by almost two minutes 


The French GP saw a Ferrari 1-2-3, and the British GP a Ferrari 1-2, with a Cooper two laps behind in third. Enzo Ferrari clocked the potential of its young driver. Mike Hawthorn would be in a Ferrari the following year. Germany saw a 1-2-3-4 for Ferrari, although a new Maserati did challenge Ascari in the final round, at Monza, scoring second, over a minute behind the new World Champion. 


The following year, 1953, also saw Ferrari and Ascari dominate. 


The mercurial Italian – a winner on motorcycles, in F1 and in sports cars – was famed for his precise racing style and was regarded as one of the safest drivers in that most dangerous of decades. His father Antonio had also been a racing driver and was a close friend of Enzo Ferrari. He crashed fatally while leading the 1925 French GP when young Alberto was just six. 


Ascari was killed in 1955 while testing at Monza in circumstances that still remains a mystery. He was 36, the same age that his father died.