1951 British Grand Prix race report - Ferrari beats Alfa-Romeo


Gonzalez victorious at 96.11 mph. BRM'S 5th and 7th. Stirling Moss outstrips all other "500s"

Jose Frolian Gonzalez in his Ferrari on the way to winning the 1951 British Grand Prix

Jose Frolian Gonzalez in his Ferrari on the way to race victory at Silverstone. Photo: Motorsport Images

The R.A.C. British GP at Silverstone on July 14th, watched by a smaller crowd than usual, was a battle royal between the unblown 4½-litre Ferraris and blown 1½-litre Alfa-Romeos. Run at very high speed, the race was won by Gonzalez, who lapped in practice at over 100 mph. He beat Fangio's 159B Alfa-Romeo by 51 sec after 260 miles, the first time Ferrari has vanquished Alfa-Romeo with the new 4½. These intense duellists were followed home by Villoresi's Ferrari, Bonetto's Alfa-Romeo, Parnell's B.R.M., Sanesi's Alfa-Romeo and Walker's B.R.M. One Alfa-Romeo caught fire and a Ferrari retired with gearbox trouble. The B.R.M.s were ready late, arriving at 7 am on race-day and starting from the back row of the grid, having missed practice. By finishing they have fended off some of the bitter criticism to which they have been subjected since they scratched from Reims. For B.R.M. the British GP was not "the pay-off" one paper thought it might be, nor did they "blow up with a loud noise" as another scribe expected, and their performance must have dismayed many of the daily paper boys who have been busy severing connections with Bourne of late. Mays admits that the technical troubles are not over and the condition of Parnell, right hand and left leg bandaged, and of Walker, covered in oil after the finish suggest the cars are hard on drivers, who may need relief in long races. Also, the B.R.M., at its present level, is a year out of date. Parnell's averaged 90.5 mph, which would have placed him third in the 1950 British GP. But both cars lasted the full distance, the pit work was good, and B.R.M. is now on the fringe of the motor-racing map. How much leeway they have to make up is reflected in Farina's new race lap record of 99.99 mph. (beating the old speed by 1.89 mph), and the thought that now Alfa-Romeo probably will release the flat-12 Type 160. Parnell found the engine delightfully smooth right up to 10,500 rpm and the gearbox and brakes very effective. But the cockpit got far too hot, the road-holding wasn't quite right, the front wheels flapped on corners and the seat didn't quite fit him, while the steering wheel tore at his hands. Brakes played a vital part at these speeds—the first three cars home used Ferodo linings.

Certainly, the British GP was a memorable day—especially as it was preceded by a Formula 3 race which Stirling Moss, in the new Kieft, won so easily from strong opposition as to make many skilled 500cc, exponents look like learners. In practice, Moss lapped in under two minutes in a "500" for the first time (86.95 mph) —that after he had blown up the race engine so that he had to use another Lancefield-tuned Norton of fewer horses!

The weather was fine, the organisation generally excellent, save for a threatened strike of hon. medical officers if their wives were not allowed on the circuit, and further petty pilfering from the car-parks, of which we have twice been victim at Silverstone. Let us hope this is not the last time a classic race will be run at this venue.


Alfa-Romeo fielded four cars. Bonetto's was No. 1 Type. 159 with a single cylindrical extra cockpit tank on the off side, 5.50-17 front and 7.00-18 Pirelli rear tyres. The others were 159Bs, with a fuel tank each side of the seat, another under the exhaust manifold, 5.50-17 front and 7.50-18 rear Pirellis, Fangio having car No. 7 with yellow cowl, Sanesi car No. 8 with all-white cowl, blanked off, and Farina car No. 9, with blue and white tan on its cowl, and a simple tin "cubby" on the off side of the facia to hold a rag and its starting-handle stowed by the seat. Farina's had the de Dion back axle. All had rev counters reading to 10,000 rpm. The cars came in two vast Alfa vans, with attendant Alfa truck, Pirelli sent an Austin van from their English depot.

Farina, one foot in a soft shoe, were his mica-peaked crash hat that gave trouble at Bremgarten. All the Alfas used shale guards behind the front wheels. Guidotti, in white linen helmet, sampled each car, The Alfa drivers used a roomy Alfa saloon.

The B.R.M.s looked identical, save that the gas-starter tube above the bonnet of Parnell's was slightly shorter than that on Walker's; 5.25-18 Front and 7.00-17 rear Dunlops were used. The new "pressed tin" dash is quite devoid of instruments, and the strip-type rev.-counter is retained on the scuttle. The workshop lorry accompanied the two vans. Mays came in a Ford Consul, registered in Essex.

Ferrari had Villoresi on car No. 3, with the single Marelli magneto at the front of the 24-plug engine, and Englebert Competition 6.00-10 front. and 7.50-17 back tyres. Ascari had the same type car, No. 4, but with 5.50-16 front and 7.50-16 rear Pirellis, and Gonzalez an older tie Dion car, No. 2, its 12-plug engine having twin Marelli magnetos inclined Inwards at the rear. This also used 5.50-16 front-, 7.50-16 rear Pirelli Corsa Aertlex tyres. Ascari and Villoresi had ventilator flaps open on their cars' scuttles. In spite of having the older car. Gonzalez shook everyone by lapping at over 100 mph. (1 min 43.4 sec). He neatly removed some blue marker tubs from the inside of Stowe one round, Villoresi, who was following, just avoiding them. He did this during the race, too. [N.B.— No spare tubs were available, and no indication of where to replace battered ones, so had a major "incident" happened, Stowe could have changed its aspect quite a bit !] Villoresi came in a Lancia Aurelia, Ascari in a 1,400 FIAT, the cars in their vast Ferrari van, which had trouble en route.

"After the first breath-taking lap, Bonetto led Gonzalez, Farina and Ascari, the rest close behind and going all they knew"

Whitehead's 12-plug Thinwall Ferrari, No.125-0-02, had the inclined-inwards rear-mounted Marelli magneto, a longer, un-faired-in air-tunnel in Its bonnet and its 7.00-16 Dunlops were changed for 7.50-10 Pirellis before the start, With 5:50-16 Pirellis on the front wheels. The valve cover bears the name "Ferrari" instead of "Thinwall"! All three Simcas and Etancelin's Talbot were non-starters, unrepaired since Reims.

The Talbots of Rosier (12-plug) and Chiron (6-plug) arrived in a Renault van. Duncan Hamilton had a 12-plug head on his ex-Claes' Talbot, as had (buses on his own car.

A pleasing pre-GP demonstration was that by Walker and Whitehead in the Le Mans-winning Type C Jaguar, Moss perched on its tail. It was loudly applauded and the mechanics on Bonetto's Alfa-Romeo were persuaded by their manager to stop the engine while Wilfred Andrews of the R.A.C. told us via Antone, all about it. May the B.R.M. follow in its noble wheel-tracks.

The 500-c.c. Race (20 Laps, 60 Miles)

Moss and the Kieft dominated this. Stirling wound into incipient slides with deft movements, found time to rub his face as he slid out of Stowe and pulled farther and farther away from any possible opposition. Rumour has it he wanted the front brakes removed, as unnecessary round Silverstone, and certainly in practice he had gone round every corner full-bore in an SM 15.00 Singer saloon. His win was very popular.

Brandon was second for a lap, then Dryden's J.B.S. and Alan Brown's Cooper passed him, a lap later Collins' J.B.S. also. Bacon's F.H.B. and Aikens' J.B.S. just weren't in the picture.

Nurse's Cooper headed the casualties with fuel pump trouble, Rippon's Cooper holed its piston and Gill's Cooper-J.A.P. faded out. Moor's Iota Wasp now began to press Dryden hard, in turn to be pushed along by Ken Wharton's Cooper.

After only six laps Moss had lapped the Turner-Bardon and now Curly Dryden's Norton engine was fluffing. Moss flew onward, back wheels dancing a bit, completely unassailable. Dryden hung on grimly to seeond place, and Clarke's Cooper came swiftly up to third place, was displaced by a very determined Moor in three laps, and three laps further on Wharton had come up to fourth, hard on the Wasp's striped tail. Dryden. the trouble growing worse, fell back from second to fourth on the 17th lap and on the 18th Wharton got past Moor. The only real episode we saw, from Stowe, was Don Parker scatter the bins and all but overturn the markers were replaced by Pressmen as the marshals were a bit overcome! Three different makes in the first three emphasises the excitement of Formula III.

1st: S. Moss (Kieft-Norton), 42 min. 12.2 sec., 82.13 mph
2nd: K. Wharton (Cooper-Norton), 43 min. 2.4 sec.
3rd: Moor (Wasp-Norton), 43 min. 3.6 sec.
4th: Dryden (Cooper-Norton) ;
5th: Brandon (Cooper-Norton) ;
6th: Brown (Cooper-Norton).

Moss used a Lucas magneto, Esso fuel, Vigzol oil, Ferodo-lined Girling brakes and Dunlop tyres.

1952 British Grand Prix (90 Laps, 260 Miles)

The Grid positions were :—

Front row:

Ascari (Ferrari) Farina (Alfa-Romeo) Fangio (Alfa-Romeo) Gonzalez (Ferrari)
Bonetto (Alfa-Romeo) Sanesi (Alfa-Romeo) Villoresi (Ferrari)
Duncan-Hamilton (Talbot) Gerard (E.R.A.) Rosier (Talbot) Whitehead (Ferrari)
Claes (Talbot) Chiron (Talbot) Shawe-Taylor (E.R.A.)
Kelly (Alta) James (Maserati) Fotheringham-Parker (Maserati) Murray (Maserati)
Parnell (B.R.M.) Walker (B.R.M.)

Reg Parnell and Peter Walker on the starting grid ahead of the 1951 British Grand Prix

Reg Parnell and Peter Walker await the start of the 1951 British Grand Prix. Photo: Motorsport Images

On the warming-up lap, Parnell's B.R.M. Sounded. flat but plugs were changed and it was push-started to test it. Reg. gave a "thumbs up" to please the cameramen, but said he'd rather do it after the race. We told him to imagine he was in the Thinwall and go motor-racing. He wore a compact blue crash hat, ears exposed, and blue overalls, while Walker was in overalls, more conventional crash hat and vizor. As the pack roared away, both B.R.M.s went up to 8,000 r.p.m., jerked forward, Parnell's badly, then, as the drivers eased their clutches, shot off, easing up to avoid loitering Alta and Maseratis—if only they had had the front row! Mays, author someone said of a new book, "Split Liners," turned away, looking happier than at this moment a year ago! As Earl Howe said to Parnell : "We're all with you, whatever happens."

After the first breath-taking lap, Bonetto led Gonzalez, Farina and Ascari, the rest close behind and going all they knew. Parker's Maserati was flapping its bonnet, which was fixed, but seven minutes later it was in again. Gonzalez passed Bonetto and led Fangio by 5.8 sec. after five laps, averaging 93.48 m.p.h. (or m.p.g. as the race bulletins had it I). Further back came Bonetto, Ascari, Farina and Villoresi. Fangio, chasing the leading Ferrari, lapped at 97½ m.p.h. Claes' Talbot came to its pit. Then, ten laps run, Fangio led, a bare second from his rival countryman in the Ferrari, whom he had passed on that lap, the average up to 94.74 m.p.h.

Ascari was pursued mercilessly by Farina, 0.2 sec, between them, Bonetto headed Villoresi by 0.6 sec. and Sanesi headed Parnell in the first B.R.M., Whitehead's Thinwall Ferrari ninth. Walker's B.R.M. some way back in 10th place, Shawe-Taylor behind him. Murray and James were on a sort of private tourists' party way back and on lap 14 Sanesi tail-slid leaving Stowe, and passed Villoresi's soft-sounding Ferrari. By 15 laps, the first six positions unchanged, Fangio, in yellow shirt and blue helmet, led by a mere 0.4 sec., at 95.38 m.p.h., Ferrari chasing Alfa with a vengeance. Gonzalez, a fat, dark little man, bare arms at full length, fought his sliding Ferrari through the corners, and at Stowe Walker once caused Farina to ease up. Certainly Farina was quicker than Parnell here and even Bonetto quicker-than Walker. at this stage of the race. Fangio lapped at 98.84 m.p.h. to Parnell's 92.18 m.p.h.

Back at the pits Parker's Maserati lost two minutes with ignition faults, Claes was again in trouble and all the Talbot's plugs were changed, then Parker stopped yet again (for 150 seconds) for the same "cure" and Kelly's sick Alta tried the same thing (120 seconds). Duncan-Hamilton, whose pit was managed by Louis Giron, indulged in a spin at Copse and to 25 laps the leaders stayed as they were, Fangio 5.0 sec. ahead of Gonzalez, at 95.92 m.p.h. In stern pursuit Gonzalez ran wide at Becketts, but found a gap in the straw bales and went on. He lapped at 99.04 mph to make up and clearly, at this speed, even the Ferraris might stop for fuel! Dramatic!

Chiron, too, was finding the pace hot, and lost 20 sec. having the Talbot's shock-absorbers adjusted. Then—the first Alfa refuel! Bonetto's tanks were replenished in 37 sec., but he lost another 33 sec. later on for fuel and fresh wheels, At the same time James' Maserati was pushed to the dead car park with a split radiator. The average was up to 96.09 rn.p.h. by 30 laps, Fangio 1.6 sec. ahead of Gonzalez. The Motor Sport Jupiter whisked us to the pits at this crucial part of the race.

The Thinwall Ferrari lost 195 sec. over brake adjustment and Duncan-Hamilton stopped in a great frenzy while tins of Pratt's Castor oil were poured into the Talbot. His left arm was cut, but the pit had no first-aid equipment. Duncan refused to wait and, after two glasses of beer, off he roared, after 112 sec. Sanesi came in for fuel and fresh back wheels and, as at. Rheims. one of the Barani wheels refused to budge, so that the Alfa fell back behind the first B.R.M., for the stop took 130 sec.

Meanwhile, the B.R.M. pit, rather over-stocked with white-clad figures, had got their auxiliary refuelling plant going ("Berthon's motor-cycle ") and did an excellent refuel for Reg., in 30 sec. He got out of the car, pointed to the heat-hazed cockpit, but was sternly ordered in, and on. Farina, whose 38th lap was done at the record speed of 99.99 m.p.h., had fuel, water, tyres and one rear wheel changed in less than 60 sec.

Peter Walker's brief stop took only 25 sec., but two further stops came later, so that Walker did not pass Sanesi.

At 45 laps Gonzalez led by 0.4 sec., at 96.83 m.p.h.—speed still going up—from Fangio. Farina was third, Ascari fourth, Sanesi fifth, Villoresi sixth. Then Fangio's Alfa was refuelled and its back wheels changed in a very effective 49 sec. Murray's Maserati was refuelled from milk churns, Murray himself handing one back, while "Wilky" changed plugs. Murray's legs were oil-soaked, the car didn't want to re-start and seemed to leak fuel.

Now Chiron retired, brakes hopeless. after a previous 5½-minutes stop, and Villoresi's Ferrari came in and ten gallons of fuel went in from two churns. Next it was Ascari's turn and as two rear wheels were changed and fuel put in in 33 sec., he put on a crash hat, and asking "Water?" accepted a drink offered by the Vigzol pit. Only the centre of the treads was worn, incidentally.

Next to the leader, Gonzalez, was signalled in with the drop of a flag. He didn't respond at first, then came in, stopped with stalled engine and excitedly got out. He was pushed back in, a mechanic calmly grabbed the electric starter, and in a very short time (23 sec.) he was off, the filler cap snapped shut, as he accelerated. No wheels were changed. Ascari had come in just before this, calmly spoken of gearbox trouble, and as his Ferrari was wheeled away he stood thoughtfully by Gonzalez's car. Gonzalez looked tired, his aero screen was filthy, but there was no time either to wipe it or give him a drink.

Farina was in next, for fuel and wheels, leaving in 55 sec. Meanwhile, Shawe-Taylor had refuelled in 32 sec., Parker had lost 120 sec., while mechanics examined the carburetter; and later 60 sec. refuelling. Gerard took on .fuel and oil in 58 sec. Murray had succumbed to a broken valve spring.

The race was becoming very interesting. Gonzalez led at 60 laps by 1 min. 29.8 sec., at 96.8 m.p.h. After the pit stops, at 70 laps, he led by 1 min, 19.2 sec., at 96.38 m.p.h. Now Fangio, still second, fought hard, hurling the red Alfa-Romeo at the corners, his rear-axle juddering under immense acceleration out of them, the steering wheel spun over to hold the recalcitrant tail. But it seemed obvious, try as be might that the weary Gonzales—who wasn't weary in this hard-fought, high-speed, grim battle—couldn't be caught. Farina was third, but a lap away, Villoresi was trying, in vain, to close with him, and another lap behind ran Bonetto, Sanesi two laps behind him and then claps heralded Parnell in sixth place ahead of Sanesi—only the scoreboard at Stowe put up Walker's number! It also made Fangio lead Gonzales when this Alfa was chasing the Ferrari its hardest!

Parker's sick Maserati amused itself by throwing oil at Beckett's, retiring soon after with a broken oil pipe, the crawling Alta took on 15 gallons in 60 sec.

Still this dramatic race, one of the most intense England had seen, retained its interest. Ascari's Ferrari was dead, and like misfortune befell Farina's Alfa-Romeo, when smoke suggested fire as it sped to Club Corner, where it was left with a useless clutch.

Duncan-Hamilton, trying to pass Kelly outside at Stowe, spun beautifully in the Talbot, right across the course and into the crops, being clapped as he blipped the engine and roared on, just as Gonzalez came up. The B.R.M.s still sounded sharp, revs rising to a fine height between corners. And then, try as Fangio could and did, it was over. Gonzales came round, crash hat and vizor in his left hand, waving them to the crowd. Ferrari with the unblown 4½-litre had at last broken the might of the two-stage 159 Alfa-Romeo, as they have been threatening to do since Monza last year. Froilan Gonzales had driven impeccably and is now in the front rank, following his fine showing at Rheims, when he took over in lieu of Taruffi. He also beat the Mercedes-Benz at Buenos Aires, you remember.

Fangio drove like the master he is, but couldn't catch the Ferrari, nor could his longer pit-stop explain the 51 sec. gap, and he was the meat in the Ferrari sandwich. The Ferrari was the faster car. Villoresi was third, a lap behind, his car off-form. Bonetto's old Alfa was comfortably ahead of Parnell's bravely-driven B.R.M., Sanesi, faulted by the stuck wheel, between that and Walker's B.R.M.

It had been a great race, the average 5.16 m.p.h. faster than the 1950 race, faster even than the short. heats of the Daily Express meeting, and it leaves in its train a host of absorbing speculation— will Alfa field the 160 to meet the new ferocity of the Ferrari challenge, when will B.R.M. race again and how effectively, and has Fangio met his match in Gonzalez? And how these Argentinians drive!

1st : Frollan Gonzalez (4,494-c.c. Ferrari), 2 hr. 42 min. 18.2 sec, (90 laps), 96.11 m.p.h.

2nd : Juan Manuel Fangio (1.488-c.c. s/c. Alfa-Romeo), 2 hr. 43 min. 9.2 see. (90 laps), 95. 61 m.p.h.

3rd : Luigi Villoresi (4,494-c.c. Ferrari) (88 laps) at 93.39 mph.

4th : Bonetto (Alfa-Rome0), 87 laps, 92.44 mph.; 5th ;Parnell (B.R.M.), 85 laps, 90.5 m.p.h. ; 6th : Sanesi (Alfa-Romeo), 84 laps, 89.5 m.p.h. ; 7th : Walker (B.R.M.), 84 laps, 89.11 m.p.h. ; Shawe-Taylor (E.R.A.), 84 laps ; Whitehead (Ferrari), 83 laps ; Rosier (Talbot), 83 laps ; Gerard (E.R.A.), 82 laps: Hamilton (Talbot), 82 laps ; Claes (Talbot), 80 laps. Retired : Chiron (Talbot), brakes, 41 laps ; Parker (Maserati), oil pipe, 46 laps ; James (Maserati), 22 laps ; Murray (Maseratl), broken valve spring, 45 laps ; Ascarl (Ferrari), gearbox, 56 laps ; Farina (Alfa-Romeo), clutch and fire, 75 laps. Fastest tap : Farina (Alfa-Romeo), 99.99 m.p.h.

Jose Frolian Gonzalez crosses the line to win the 1951 British Grand Prix at Silverstone

Jose Frolian Gonzalez crosses the line to win the 1951 British Grand Prix. Photo: Motorsport Images


Gonzalez's Ferrari used Ferodo brake linings, as did Fangio's Alfa-Romeo and Villoresi's Ferrari.

Motor Sport had a very comfortable time in its own Berkeley caravan, towed by a Humber brake, in which we were pleased to drink (milk) with Villoresi after the race. 

The crowd was estimated at only 50,000 and the car-parks emptied quickly this time. 

Parnell won the Fred G. Craner Memorial Car Trophy for first British driver to finish—richly deserved. 

The blue aerodynamic coupe from Shank's Garage caused a mild stir in the pit-area. It has a Ford V8 engine in a tubular chassis, with i.f.s. and four-speed gearbox. 

Guilio Rampeni was dealing. out Hepolite's pin-up girl pictures to the Italian mechanics and persuading the drivers to sign them first ! 

Alfa-Romeo and B.R.M. used pressure refuelling, Ferrari milk drums. 

The R.A.C. banned change of drivers during the race-curious !