Former Ferrari and Maserati Grand Prix driver Jose Froilan Gonzalez died on June 15, aged 90. Together with Juan Manuel Fangio and Onofre MarimOn, he spearheaded Argentina’s efforts in international motor racing from the beginning of the Fifties.
Among his European career highlights, he ended Alfa Romeo’s domination of Formula 1 by giving Ferrari its maiden World Championship victory in the 1951 British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
Born in the city of Arrecifes, not far from Buenos Aires, his career began in 1946, when he contested dust-track races with a self-tuned Chevrolet-powered single-seater. He used several different nicknames at first, due to strong opposition on his father’s part.
After selling just about everything he owned in order to purchase an exFarina Maserati 4CL, he shone in the 1949/1950 Temporada series and was then invited to race in Europe as part of the government-backed Equipo Argentino. He made his World Championship debut at Monaco in 1950, qualifying on the front row in one of the Equipo’s by then ageing Maserati 4CLTs. It was a short-lived race, however, because a loose filler cap left him with substantial shoulder burns.
After Gonzalez crushed Mercedes-Benz’s three-car works team in both races of the February 1951 Temporada, aboard a privateer Ferrari 125, Enzo Ferrari invited him to form part of the Scuderia from that season’s French GP. The burly Argentinian’s maximum attack style soon led to him being nicknamed ‘The Pampas Bull’.
He followed his great pal Fangio (their friendship lasted 50 years) to Maserati for 1952 and 1953, and the first of those seasons was fairly lean. He also guested in the works Gordini and Lancia sports car teams, and raced occasionally for both BRM and Tony Vandervell.
Ferrari came calling again in 1954, which Gonzalez always thought his most successful season, although it was tinged with sadness due to compatriot MarimOn’s death at the Nurburgring. That year, he scored five wins in as many weeks, peaking with victory in the Le Mans 24 Hours with Maurice Trintignant. Despite finishing second in the F1 standings (having scored another British GP success), he waved goodbye to the European circuits towards the season’s end, due mainly to his parents and wife begging him to retire in the wake of young Marimon’s death.
Between 1955 and 1960 (the 1960 Argentinian GP marked his final outing as part of the Ferrari team), he competed in only a few World Championship F1 events, all but one of them at home. He and Fangio disputed the lead in the 1955 Argentine GP, despite Gonzalez suffering severe back pains following a shunt during practice for the Dundrod Tourist Trophy a few months earlier.
His career in South America received a boost in 1957, when Enzo Ferrari let him have an ageing 625. Having transplanted a Chevrolet V8 into the chassis, he went on to dominate South American Formula Libre races for the next three years before finally hanging up his helmet.
After that, he lent out his beloved Ferrari-Chevrolet to several countrymen, giving them the chance to further their single-seater careers in South America. In 1964 he also revolutionised the country’s traditional Turismo Carretera saloon car series, which up to then had catered exclusively for tuned American cars from the 1930s and 1940s. He imported a Chevy II and put a young, up-andcoming driver, Jorge Cupeiro, behind the wheel, which created a huge impact.
In more recent times he was a hugely popular presence at classic car events around the world, always ready to answer fans’ questions and chat about the past. His absence will be deeply felt. Antonio Watson