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The Dawn of A Legend

Seventy-five years ago the Ferrari 125 GPC ignited what would become the Prancing Horse legend in Formula One
Words: Davide Marchi

Powered by a 1.5-litre, 12-cylinder engine, the 125 GPC marked its first win after only three outings. Renamed the 125 F1, in 1949 it embarked upon a career that saw it take eight victories and 15 podia.

A car that pre-dates F1 itself, as can be seen from its original designation: 125 GPC. The three letters GPC stood for Gran Premio Compressore, (Grand Prix Compressor), as the car was equipped with a volumetric supercharger and created to race in the Formule Grand Prix, the name given to the precursor to Formula One by the AIACR (Association Internationale des Automobile-Clubs Reconnus – International Association of Recognised Automobile Clubs).

Giuseppe ‘Nino’ Farina at the wheel of the Ferrari 125 GPC at the 1948 Garda GP which he went on to win

Later, however, the car would be known as the 125 F1. The first single-seater built by Scuderia Ferrari, this car made its debut 75 years ago. The Grand Prix series was created in 1921 and its regulations were formally laid out the following year. The first race in the series with a full starting grid was the 1922 French Grand Prix, held at the Strasbourg circuit, which was won by the FIAT 804 driven by Felice Nazzaro. Ferrari made its debut in the series much later, in 1948.

The previous year, the Scuderia had raced predominantly in Italy with the 125 S, a closed-wheel sports car and the first car built at Maranello to ever score a racing win, which it did at the Terme di Caracalla circuit with Franco Cortese at the wheel.

By the end of that first racing season, Enzo Ferrari decided that it was time for the Scuderia to turn its attention to singleseater racing too, for the prestige this offered and as a shrewd commercial move. The first clients of his closed-wheel cars were also beginning to express an interest in that direction, so it made sense to think that Ferrari could repeat this success with a single-seater. And so it was that Ferrari set to work on not just one but two open-wheelers during 1947, developing the 166 F2 – a car conceived for the cadet series, which saw the involvement of many privateer drivers – alongside the 125 GPC.

Luigi Villoresi speeds around a corner at the Silverstone circuit in the UK back in 1949

The 125 GPC was powered by a 1.5-litre 12-cylinder engine and made its race debut on September 5, 1948 at the Italian Grand Prix hosted at Parco del Valentino in Turin, where Scuderia Ferrari fielded three single-seaters, driven by two expert drivers and a young Thai aristocrat.

Although the cars finished fourth and fifth, the first Ferrari victory with the 125 GPC was soon to come. The Scuderia fielded only a single driver in the Circuito del Garda held on October 27 that year at the Sal circuit. That was Farina, who dominated the race ahead of a predominantly Italian grid to bring home the car’s first win in just its third outing. A number of changes and improvements were made to the car in preparation for the 1949 season. Now known as the 125 F1, the car boasted two Roots superchargers and one overhead camshaft per cylinder bank to give the engine more power.

In this new configuration the 125 F1 started to notch up podium placings and wins. Meanwhile, the inception of the new Formula One world championship was announced, and Scuderia Ferrari was one of the first teams to show interest in taking part.

Alberto Ascari gives some honest feedback at the wheel of his 125 F1 as he takes a pit stop during the 1949 Italian GP

Due to a disagreement over prizes, however, the Italian team did not race in the championship’s first event, held at Silverstone on May 13, 1950, and would only premiere at the second race, at Monaco, just one week later, where Ascari finished second. 

In spite of this promise, this was actually the last race in which the 125 F1 would bear the team colours of the Scuderia in the world’s premier racing series, as Enzo Ferrari realised that a completely new and more powerful car was needed to compete with Alfa Romeo, which had just won at Monte Carlo with Juan Manuel Fangio.

Ferrari got to work immediately and had two new cars ready within just a few months – first the 275 F1, with a large 3.3-litre engine, and then the 375 F1, with its even larger 4.5-litre engine.

The Ferrari 125 F1 of Alberto Ascari leads the pack at the 1948 Swiss Grand Prix

Over its career, the 125 F1 was registered in around 50 races, winning eight and finishing on the podium 15 times. In the 75 years since, many Ferrari cars have written even more glorious pages in the history of the constructor and of Formula One itself. 

But the progenitor which set all of this in motion will always be the 125 F1, which first saw light in 1948 as the 125 GPC.