“When, in 1951, Gonzalez and his Ferrari left the 159 and the entire Alfa team in his wake for the first time in the history of our direct clashes, I cried for joy. But mixed in with those tears of enthusiasm were tears of pain because that day, I thought to myself: I’ve killed my mother”. The words of Enzo Ferrari in his book, Ferrari80.
By his mother, the Commendatore meant, of course, Alfa Romeo, where he had not only been a test and works driver but also head of the racing department, developing models that proved hugely successful on the world’s circuits. Gonzalez had beaten the previously-uncatchable Alfa Romeos of Fangio and Farina, and that long-awaited triumph reawakened memories of Enzo Ferrari’s past. The date was Saturday, July 14, 1951, and the place was Silverstone in Great Britain. Argentinian driver José Froilan Gonzalez started from pole and held sway over his fellow-countryman Juan Manuel Fangio, finally roaring across the finish-line with a 50-second lead and taking the first of Ferrari’s unbeaten string of F1 victories. Silverstone was a two-fold challenge between men and machines: a 400-kilometre-plus Argentinian and Italian dual for supremacy. A total of 90 laps which Gonzalez completed in precisely 2 hours, 42 minutes and 18 seconds. A gruelling distance, particularly given how spartan and difficult-to-drive those early cars were.
It was also a hard-fought race with plentiful passing and position-swapping. Gonzalez’ victory was due in part also to the gentlemanly behaviour of Ascari who had to retire after his car developed problems. As lead driver, the Italian was permitted under the rules of the day to take over the Argentinian’s car but turned down the opportunity.
In fact, when the cars pitted to refuel after the halfway point in the race, Gonzalez actually offered the Italian his drive but Ascari signalled that he should keep going. The Ferrari 375 was at an advantage because it was less thirsty on petrol than the Alfa 159, and so required fewer pit-stops and was faster to refuel. Once he got back out on the track, Gonzalez put his foot down and built up a substantial lead over Fangio, ensuring he was first across the finish-line at the former Royal Airforce Station circuit. The other Ferrari in the race, driven by Gigi Villoresi, finished third.
Froilan Gonzalez was nicknamed “El Cabezon” because of his large head which hung out of the cockpit at every corner. He was also known as “The Pampas Bull” because of his aggressive press-on driving style. Even the way Gonzalez sat at the wheel was unusual: his elbows jutting out from his sides, his hands grasping the top of the steering wheel as his torso followed curves of the track, as if he were trying physically to urge his car through them. He also never gave up and that was exactly what Enzo Ferrari liked about him.